How many ingredients do you need to make a great chocolate cake?

Illustration for article titled How many ingredients do you need to make a great chocolate cake?
Photo: Olga Burymska (Getty Images)

There are some bakers who believe that the more complicated a recipe is, the better the result will be. And then there are others who prize recipes that only taste like a lot of work went into them. And finally there are those who really prize a combination of two or three ingredients that get whipped into something edible by the magic of science. But can you actually taste the difference? Or are you just working harder than you need to be?

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Alvin Zhou, a scientifically minded baker, decided to find out in a video shared by BoingBoing. He made three chocolate cakes: one with 20 ingredients, one with 10, and the last with just two (plus a little water). The 20-ingredient cake was an elaborate mix of layered flavors. The 10-ingredient cake was a doctored cake mix. And the two-ingredient cake was a stunt with eggs and chocolate that I am very curious to try (especially when Passover rolls around again).

The best thing about this video, though, is how soothing it is to watch. Zhou is a very calm baker, and there’s something very satisfying about watching him spin cakes around on a cake stand as he slathers frosting on them. It’s hard to tell through the medium of video which cake actually tasted best, but when we’re allowed to have parties again, it might be a nice theme.

In the same spirit, Erika, aka The Pancake Princess, has written a series of bake offs in which she compares popular recipes to find the very best version. It, too, is soothing and addictive (though it also proves that it is impossible to anoint one chocolate chip cookie recipe the very best, but that’s okay, because it gives us a reason to keep making them). If there’s anything better to argue about than baked goods, I don’t want to know about it.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

fortheloveoffudge
¿Donde está la biblioteca?

My favourite chocolate cake recipe has six ingredients for the cake, and another six for the frosting. I’m not a fan of adding mayo to a cake, purely because, well, ew? That said, I can see why someone would want to dump mayo in a cake - it adds richness and moisture to a cake that may get fucked over by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. That said...I do have an old recipe book (it’s from the seventies. Probably before most of your parents were even born!) that has a recipe for a cake that I’ve only ever made three times: chocolate chestnut gateau. It has twelve ingredients for the cake and four ingredients for the section ominously marked “To Finish”...

And because I’m nice, I’m going to share the recipe with you plebians. And because 90% of you are idiot Americans who can’t convert cups to grams and litres, I’m going to give you the original recipe with the “American” measurements!!!

(BTW - I take no responsibility for this cake. There’s a reason why I’ve only ever made this three times)

Ahem. “Chocolate Chestnut Gateau”.

You’ll need...metric...

2x15ml spoons of cocoa powder (2 tablespoons for the Yanks)

2x15ml spoons of hot milk (2 tablespoons again for the Yanks). BTW - this recipe is from 1975, so we can all safely assume that everything in this will be full of fat and gluten, so yeah, full-fat milk, bitches)

50g of flour (1/2 cup of flour)

1x2.5ml spoon of baking powder (1/2 teaspoon of baking powder)

112g of softened butter (1/2 cup of butter)

112g of caster sugar (1/2 cup of sugar. I’m going to assume the recipe means “caster sugar”)

50g of ground almonds (1/2 cup of ground almonds)

(This one’s hilarious) - 0.5x 2.5ml spoons of almond essence (Just say it - 1/4 teaspoon of almond essence!)

50g of melted plain chocolate (1/3 cup of semi-sweet dark chocolate, melted)

2x15ml spoons of coffee essence (2 tablespoons of strong black coffee. Hmm, Folgers!)

1x15ml spoon of water (1 tablespoon of water)

2 eggs, seperated (2 eggs, Kramer v Kramer-style, but I’m sure they still love the kid very much)

To finish..

1x 225g of sweetened chestnut puree spread (1x 1/2 lb can of sweetened chestnut spread, but let’s be real here - who the fuck has chestnut puree kicking around their kitchen? I just dumped a load of Nutella into mine)

300ml of double cream, whipped (1 and 1/4 cups of heavy cream, whipped)

1 tablespoon of brandy (I’ve made this with Maker’s Mark, btw. It’s definitely better with MM)

Grated chocolate (Hersheys chocolate. Crushed like your dreams)

To make this monstrosity...

First, heat your oven. Thats at 180 celsius, or 350 Fahrenheit, gas mark 4 if you really want the full Fanny Craddock experience.

Grease and line a deep 20 cm or 8 inch round cake tin. Dust the inside of the tin lightly with sifted flour.

Blend together the cocoa and milk and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, summon the dark forces and at the same time sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients - except for the egg whites - and then add the cooled cocoa mixture. Beat it for 2 to 3 minutes until the ingredients are all well mixed.

Beat the egg whites until they’re stiffer than Mike Pence at the thought of a woman’s bared ankle and then fold into the cake mixture. Spoon the concoction into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for around 30 to 40 minutes or until firm to the touch (keep that Pence imagery in your head for that one. Yeah). Remove from the oven, cool on a wire rack and then remove the paper lining and slice the cake in half - this is copied word-for-word from the recipe so I’m going to guess that we can all assume that means “horizontally” and not “vertically” like my arsewipe cousin failed to do a few years back, yes? Good? Good.

Put half of the chestnut spread/Nutella into a bowl and fold in the whipped cream and brandy/whiskey. Use to sandwich the two halves together and then spread the remaining cream mixture/mess on top and then pipe chestnut spread/Nutella around the top edge. Sprinkle on the grated chocolate/American chocolated-flavoured earwax to make it look fancy.

It might look like a prolapsed anus and it might taste like Willy Wonka’s smegma, but it’s a hilariously evil cake to make.

Now, on the other side, we have one of my all-time favourite cakes to make. I’ve never seen this cake pop up on blogs or Youtube or telly, but it is delicious. It’s dead simple at only six ingredients for the cake and two for the finishing touches, the delightful Gateau au Chocolat Nancy.

You’ll need...

150g or 2/3 cups of softened butter.

100g or 1/4lb of dark chocolate (the darker the better. We’re talking “as dark as my soul”) - oh, you’ll need to melt it too.

4 eggs, seperated.

1x15ml spoon of flour (1 tablespoon of flour)

40g of ground almonds (1/3 cup of ground almonds)

1x5ml spoon of vanilla extract (we’re not using the cheap shit here, Karen.)

To finish...

150ml (2/3 cups) of whipped heavy cream

Icing sugar, for dusting.

To make...

First, heat your oven to 180 Celsius or 350 Fahrenheit or Gas Mark 4 if you fancy. Butter up a 20 centimetre or 8 inch cake tin.

Now, add the chocolate and the butter to a bowl and mix together. Add in the egg yolks and stir well to mix. Beat in the remaining ingredients - except the egg whites - until evenly blended.

Beat those little bastard egg whites until they’re stiffer than a dominitrix’s John on a Sunday night and then fold them gently into the cake mixture. Spoon the mixture into the pre-buttered tin and then bake for thirty minutes. After thirty minutes, remove from oven and leave to cool slightly (I usually give it around 10 minutes) before turning out onto a wire rack and abandoning it like Roxxxy Andrews at a bus stop.

Once it’s completely cool to the touch, slice the cake in half (horizontally, Becky) and then sandwich together with the whipped cream and sprinkle the icing sugar on top. It’s up to you if you want to serve this to your guests or just keep it for yourself. Either way, it’s delightful. (And both cakes freeze really well.  Just remember not to add the whipped cream if you’re going to freeze Nancy and thaw her out in the fridge overnight)