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A perfect pair: Chocolate cake and milk

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A piece of homemade chocolate cake is a vision. With a tall glass of cold milk alongside, it's a double vision.

Why does milk complement cake so well? Or cookies? The attraction is so strong, one seems lost without the other.

I was looking for a scientific explanation, but only anecdotal evidence turned up in my limited research. So I gave up. All I know is this pairing is one of the most compelling in food.

Virginia Harrison of Goose Creek recently asked for recipes for old-fashioned homemade chocolate layer cake. Just make sure the milk jug is full.

We heard from several people, and recipes covered all chocolate-on-chocolate cake as well as chocolate icing on yellow cake.

Let's go with the all-chocolate versions first.

Cheryl Cote of Summerville writes: "Here's my favorite 'from scratch' chocolate cake."

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

Combine dry ingredients in large mixer bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Remove from mixer; stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into greased and floured pans: either two 9-inch round or three 8-inch round. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Alternatively, bake in a 9x13-inch pan for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool and frost.

Chocolate Fudge Icing

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder

1 box confectioner's sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter in saucepan, add cocoa and heat until it first starts to boil, stirring constantly. Pour into small bowl, add sugar and milk and beat with mixer until spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.

Here's something different from Ivan Greenhut of Summerville: stout beer in the mix. "This is the best chocolate cake I have ever made and tasted," he declares. "I like the cake warmed in the microwave oven just a little so frosting just starts to run. Yummy-Yummy."

Chocolate Stout Cake

For cake:

2 cups (one 12-ounce can will do) stout beer such as Guinness

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 large eggs

1 1/3 cup sour cream

For icing:

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2 cups whipping cream

1 pound bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch sides.

Bring the beer and butter to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Once butter has melted, slowly whisk in the cocoa powder until mixture is smooth and creamy. Take off stove and let cool slightly.

Blend flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another mixing bowl to blend.

Add cooled stout beer-chocolate mixture to egg mixture, and mix just to combine. Add flour mixture slowly and beat briefly on slow speed.

Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally into the 3 pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean (Do this for each pan), approximately 35 minutes.

Transfer pans to cake racks to cool. Turn cakes over onto racks to completely cool.

For icing: Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat.

Add chopped chocolate a little at a time and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable (thick spreadable, not runny). Can take 2-3 hours. Keep checking back until correct.

Place one cake layer on plate and ice top; place second layer on and ice top. Place third layer on and ice top and sides. Cut pieces and wrap in foil. Freezes great.

Lorraine Houghtaling of Goose Creek writes, "This recipe I found in the paper in the late '70s. I have made it many, many times and it is wonderful. Nothing rare or unusual in it. And the recipe my grandmother used for the icing is included."

Classic American Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup butter

1 2/3 cups sugar

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch or 9-inch round pans.

In large bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture. Blend just until combined; pour into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans, cool completely, then frost.

Chocolate Icing

1 stick butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 box confectioner's sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 to 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Milk as needed

Cream the butter, and add the vanilla, confectioner's sugar, salt and cocoa powder. Add just enough milk to get it to spread nicely; start with a couple of tablespoons.

Also thanks to Judy Gusta-ferro of Goose Creek, Jane Naser of Santee, Pat Cleary of Goose Creek, Dee Beaujon of Charleston and Ellen Wells Thomas of Moncks Corner.

Who's got the recipe?

--From Debi Harris of Fair Haven, N.J.: "In 2003 I attended a four-day function with my husband, hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, at the Charleston Place Hotel. One of the evening meals was served across the street at the old theatre. They served a traditional Southern meal which included, for dessert, a peach cobbler. The cobbler was special because it had a lightly spiced cookie-type crust. I can still remember that cobbler and I have tried many times, unsuccessfully, to replicate it at home. Would you possibly be able to get the recipe from the Charleston Place event kitchen?"

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