Well folks, the moment has arrived….(As I’m typing this, I’m imagining little streamers going off behind me and one of those automated crowd cheers playing… A girl can dream…)
But let’s be serious here for a second. For those of you who know me, cake is my thing. Although I always post recipes that are worth taking the time to make, if I post a cake recipe, it’s a pretty big deal. It is a happy coincidence that my planning of this post fell during the same week as Betty Crocker’s “birthday” (sorry to say friends, she doesn’t actually exist!), and it got me thinking. I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship, as well as a strange fascination with this widely popular baking figure. While her brand fosters the idea of baking in the home, she doesn’t encourage the idea of scratch baking.
If most of the baking people do at home is from a boxed mix, it elevates the art of scratch baking, both at home and professionally. I feel that as a professional baker, people value the skills that I have, and it gives me the opportunity to share those skills and knowledge with others. In fact, I almost feel that it is required of me. Although those of us in the food industry want you to visit our restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and food trucks, we also want to you experience the pure awesomeness that is cooking, and how food can bring people together.
This is why I am thankful for a platform such as this blog! I can share recipes, encourage others to bake yummy things from scratch in the company of the ones they love, and give you some cool baking knowledge to go along with it. Look out, Betty! This recipe has a very special place in my heart. New-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cake is a moist vanilla cake that is packed with velvety chocolate chips, baked to perfection, and sprinkled with more shaved chocolate. Elegant simplicity.
It’s super simple, but it is served every holiday table, family get-together, impromptu dinner, graduation, birthday party, and general celebration that takes place in my family’s life (and since I’m Italian, we can always find a reason to celebrate… and a reason to eat cake!). Many of the recipes that are favorites of my family differ slightly from person to person. My Grandmother’s homemade pizza tastes a little bit different from my Aunt’s, Mother’s, and even my own, because of the differences in the way we make our sauce, the type of cheese we use, even the pans we bake it in! However, this recipe has a dirty little secret.
No matter WHO makes it, what oven they use, or what pan they bake it in, it’s always the same.
And that, ladies and gents, is because of our dearest friend miss Betty Crocker.
Yes, I said it. The secret is the dreaded boxed yellow cake mix (and a package of vanilla pudding mix… double chemicals, yum!).In the back of your mind, you are probably thinking “hey, what’s wrong with cake mix? I use it all of the time! It’s so convenient and easy!”
Well, personally I just want a chocolate chip cake. Not a chocolate chip cake with a little sprinkle of sodium caseinate, a splash of red dye 40, or yellow dye 5, a little bit of cellulose gum, and some propylene glycol monoesters. All of those ingredients and more are in that tiny red and yellow box. Errrrr… gross.And, did you know that the companies that make your cake mixes change those crazy ingredients inside quite often? (have you ever seen the boxes that say “Now, even Fluffier!” or “More Flavorful than Ever!” ?) No thanks.
Despite my rant, I realize that most people grew up eating this stuff (umm, hello! I did!), and that is the taste that they crave whenever they think of cake. In fact, most of my time developing cake recipes for my business includes finding ones that are close in texture and moistness to the boxed versions, but with better ingredients and flavor.
Even my own family is curious as to whether I can find a from-scratch version that is just as good, or even close, to the beloved “family recipe”. But I did… and here’s how…The general premise of a perfect cake is pretty simple. Use these helpful guidelines to spruce up your cake recipes (and other baked goods as well), and you will achieve perfection in no time!Use Whole Milk: In my opinion, there are times to cut calories and fat in baked goods, and times to use more indulgent ingredients. I could never drink a glass of whole milk on its own, but if I’m baking, I usually get a pint or a quart of it just for recipes. You can also use half heavy cream and half water if you don’t have whole milk on hand.
Pump Up the Moisture: Ever wonder why Applesauce or Sour Cream cakes are so moist and delicious? Because they contain mostly dense, moist ingredients. For a layer cake, adding a little sour cream at the end of mixing really balances out the moisture, and doesn’t make it super dense. I replaced that nasty pudding mix in the old Chocolate Chip Cake recipe with sour cream (not low fat!), and it completely did the trick.
Flour Power: When you are making a cake, decide how you want the inside crumb structure to look before you start baking. Are you going for that super fine crumb, like a boxed chocolate cake? Use Cake Flour. Would you rather have a larger crumb structure like a snacking cake or quickbread? Use All Purpose Flour. I personally like to use a mix of All Purpose and Cake Flour for my layered cakes, because it doesn’t leave the crumb too fine, which can make it dry, and it is still sturdy enough for stacking, cutting, and layering. This chocolate chip cake is baked in a tube pan, so it is more like a bundt cake. I chose to use 100% All Purpose Flour for this recipe. I wanted a larger crumb structure to mimic the yellow boxed cake mix that my grandmother uses, and this cake doesn’t have frosting, so if the crumb was too fine from using solely cake flour, it would be dry.
Bake it Until it’s Done: This may sound obvious, but it is a hard concept to grasp. The key to perfect baked goods is to be able to tell whether a product is finished by touch and sight, not just by an oven timer. This definitely takes experience, but once you master it, you are good to go! For a cake, some key signs that it is done is if the middle springs back when lightly touched, and doesn’t leave in indentation. The sides of the cake will pull slightly away from the pan, and a skewer, knife, or cake tester will come out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, but not raw batter.
So when all of my Betty-crazed thoughts died down, and I sat starting at this freshly-baked cake, I knew that I had achieved some sort of small feat.Besides creating a newer, easier, and more adaptable version of a beloved family classic, I’ve given my family the opportunity to make this recipe a teaching moment for our future kitchen-powerhouses. I was very happy with the end result, and though I will never be able to completely mimic Betty’s boxed creations, I’m perfectly ok with that.
Yield: 1 cake, which serves about 10-15 people
*For this recipe, you will need a 9″ tube pan with a removable bottom. If you wish to make it into a bundt cake or sheet/snack version, that is perfectly acceptable, however I have not tested the outcome of a recipe of that nature, and cannot guarantee that it will easily remove from the pan.* Ingredients:1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips2 cups All Purpose flour1 cup granulated sugar1/2 cup light brown sugar1 Tbsp baking powder1/2 tsp salt1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup Whole milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar)1/2 cup vegetable oil3 eggs1 Tbsp vanilla extract1/2 c sour cream1 ounce chocolate for grating (the family recipe calls for Baker’s German Chocolate, for this post I used chocolate from the Dark Chocolate Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bar)
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Dump your chocolate chips on a cutting board and chop until you have a good variety of sizes of chips. Some should still be almost whole, other should be finely chopped, and some can even be the consistency of grated chocolate (see photos above). This will give your cake good texture and a solid chocolate flavor throughout. Set chopped chocolate aside. 2. In a large bowl place your AP flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt, and mix to combine.3. In a separate bowl, whisk together your buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream until combined. 4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, and add your chocolate chips. *Many recipes will have you coat your chips with flour, so they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake. The best part about this recipe is the different sizes of chocolate, leaving chips throughout. Some of the chips do sink down to the corner of your piece of cake, leaving what is my absolute favorite part. Don’t worry about coating with flour for this recipe!*5. Grease a 9″ tube pan with a removable bottom, and fill with batter. Place in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until it springs back to the touch and a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.6. While the cake is in the oven, grate your chocolate onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper. I use a microplane, but you can also use the smallest holes on a box grater. 7. Once the cake is done baking, let it cool until it is still a bit warm, but NOT hot. Remove the cake from the outer portion of the tube pan (leaving it attached to the center portion). Sprinkle the entire top of the cake with the chocolate shavings. They should melt just slightly so that the bottom later of the chocolate sticks, and the top layer is still a little loose. 8. Once the cake is completely cool, run a knife underneath between the cake and the pan, and around the center tube, and use two spatulas to carefully lift the cake off of the center of the tube pan. 9. Serve and enjoy!
I hope that this recipe brings you as much joy as it does to our family. Feel free to eat it for breakfast or heat it up in the microwave (like my sister does), or continue to steal little pieces a week after it was served, if there’s still any left (like my mom does), freeze half of it and enjoy later (like my grandmother does), or eat it with every meal (like my father and boyfriend do) :)Out with the old-fashioned, in with the New.Until next time, Betty 🙂
[This post is dedicated to my my grandma, who is the queen of keeping traditions alive and will forever be the best Pizza and Chocolate Chip Cake maker that ever was (even if she uses her own version of the recipe).A special thank you to Lauren, for running around with me to find a tube pan and lending me her spare change, and Brea, for recipe testing and being a stellar baker