CHOW magazine (www.chowmag.com), a new San Francisco-based food magazine for the young and not-too-serious, has a portion of this month's issue devoted to recipes that should become part of any cook's repertoire. It also has a few nice looking recipes for cake, in a separate section of the mag. I would argue that a good birthday cake should absolutely be part of a good cook's repertoire--it's probably the one thing I'm called upon to make most.
But I love making them. You instantly become an important part of the celebration, and most people (smart ones, at least) really like cake. My favorite birthday cake recipe comes from my aunt, who got it in a packet of recipes that was put together by the parents of elementary school students in the East Fairfield, Vermont school. It's really Tommy Torbett's mother's recipe, so credit is due to Mrs. Torbett, wherever she may be.
Her Black Chocolate Cake is an instant hit. It's kind of a chocolate cake recipe for children, but adults eat it with reckless abandon, particularly if it's baked into cupcakes. I have made this cake dozens of times, always with great results. My aunt (and I) like to frost it with a classic vanilla frosting (butter, confectionery sugar, vanilla) but you can use any frosting you like, provided it's not that insipid stuff from a can. Don't do it! If I were in Boston today for my brother's birthday, this is what I would make him:
Tommy Torbett's Mother's Black Chocolate Cake
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups boiling water, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or one 9x13-inch pan. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Add shortening and 1 cup boiling water and stir to combine. Add the vanilla, eggs, and an additional 1 cup boiling water, and stir until well mixed. Transfer to prepared pans and bake for 20-30 minutes. You don't want to overbake this one, so set the timer for 20 minutes and check it, adding additional time as needed. If you make cupcakes they won't take as long to bake, so check at 9 or 10 minutes and add additional time as needed.
Once cool, frost with frosting of your choice. No canned frosting! I'm serious!
Happy Birthday, David!