Joni Woolf: Chocolate cakes — for the beginner and the seasoned cook

Published 5:01 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017

Occasionally a reader will express an opinion about the recipes featured in this column—especially the dessert recipes. “Give us some easy ones,” a friend said, “one that cannot fail.”  So here are three chocolate cakes, varying in style, substance, and degree of difficulty.  The first is the newest in my collection. Last week I attended a reunion of the Quitman High School Class of 1953, and the woman sitting next to me, the wife of a classmate, had brought a cake to the event. Called the Triple Chocolate Cake, it sat in front of me throughout the meeting and meal, so I knew to save room for a slice. It looked rich and sumptuous—sinful. It was soft, moist and very chocolaty, and I was fortunate that she had brought copies of the recipe to share with those attending. (Our numbers are dwindling: I counted 11 of the original 35 or so, a rather depressing statistic when you’re trying to enjoy a piece of chocolate cake that you know will clog your veins, but you rationalize, and continue to nibble.)
The second cake is one my daughter Carey found years ago on the internet and has prepared several times. Called Chocolate Ganache Cake, it is perhaps the richest dessert I have eaten; a little goes a long way. The recipe’s creator must have known that in advance, for the cake is only one layer thick with abundant ganache frosting. It is a rich, satisfying combination of chocolates. It also makes a lovely presentation with its lustrous frosting, sometimes topped with strawberries, or violets or rosebuds. (Do not eat the violets or rosebuds). The strawberries are a nice contrast to the rich chocolate, so I recommend those as a finishing touch.
A year ago, or longer, I wrote about a chocolate pound cake that my friend Louise Dodd boasted she had made for the great football star, Herschel Walker. They had both lived in Wrightsville, and she had baked the cake for him on one of his trips back to his hometown.  It is a very good chocolate cake.  But I have found one better. It also comes by way of Louise Dodd, with a little help from daughter Carey who adapted Louise’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake recipe to make the best Chocolate Pound Cake I’ve ever had. It is so rich and moist that it needs no frosting. In fact that would be, as we once might have said, ‘gilding the lily.’ Those who already make the Cream Cheese Pound Cake will need add only ½ cup sugar and 1 cup cocoa to the existing recipe, to produce a praise-worthy chocolate pound cake for the most refined taste buds.
These recipes vary in degrees of difficulty, but none is difficult. Try them all: the first one when you’re in a hurry, the second when you have a bit more time, and the third when you are free to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen (including baking time). You will be rewarded with many oohs and aahs from those you share these delicacies with, and will have three new cakes for your collection.

1 package (2 layer size) chocolate cake mix
1 package (4 serving size) Jello Chocolate Flavor Instant Pudding Mix and Pie Filling
1 ¾ cups milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 package (12 oz.) Nestle’s Chocolate Chips
Combine cake mix, pudding mix, milk, eggs and chips in large bowl. Mix with large spoon or spatula until well blended, about two minutes. Pour batter into a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. Do not overbake. Cool 15 minutes in pan. Remove from pan, turn right side up, and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

¼ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 16 oz can Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup heavy cream
8 oz good semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (see note)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour one 8-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Do not overbeat, or the cake will be tough. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Do not overbake! Let cool thoroughly. For the Ganache, cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips and instant coffee in top of double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Place the cake upside down on a wire rack and pour the glaze evenly over the top, making sure to cover the entire cake and sides. You can tilt the rack to smooth the glaze. Decorate with candied flowers, if desired, or fresh strawberries, or a red rosebud in the center. Do not refrigerate. You won’t need to anyway; it disappears as if by magic. (Note about coffee: my daughter does not keep instant coffee on hand, and she tells me she removes a teaspoon of grounds from her coffee pot and tossed that in the mix and it works quite well. In fact, if she had not told me, I would not have known. So use your own judgment) Either way, it’s a fine, fine cake.

3 sticks butter, softened
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
3 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla flavoring
6 large eggs
3 cups plain flour
1 cup cocoa
Dash of salt
Cream butter and cream cheese till light and fluffy; add sugar and mix until smooth. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, mix until smooth. Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt, and add by cupsful, mixing well. Pour into a greased and floured large tube pan and bake in preheated 325 degree oven for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Test for doneness with toothpick inserted near center. Put on wire rack to cool; turn out of pan after 15 minutes, then turn right side up.  This cake will keep for days, unrefrigerated.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at