Chocolate Coffee Cake – From Baked Explorations

by moderndomestic on October 20, 2010

Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented

I don’t get up to New York that often, but if I did Baked, the bakery and coffee shop in Brooklyn, would be high on my list. Founded by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, two former advertising men turned bakers, the bakery turns out cakes, cupcakes, and classic American desserts that are high on deliciousness and low on fuss.

I got a copy of their new cookbook, Baked Explorations, courtesy of Abrams Publishing. The new book has a lot of southern-influenced recipes, including red velvet whoopie pies, two versions of Mississippi mud pie, and a whole bunch of cakes. But I really fell in love with a photo of their chocolate coffee cake – a chocolate cake, covered in coffee buttercream and topped with a chocolate glaze that dripped down the sides attractively. I had to make it.

Um, doesn't that look to die for?

However, a couple things about the recipe – and the book in general – gave me pause. First of all, these boys aren’t afraid of putting shortening in their cakes, along with the butter. I am very anti -shortening (except for a little in pie crust, which is a necessary evil) – I don’t like the greasy mouth-feel and artificial flavor. And their buttercream recipes are bizarre – you cook milk with sugar and flour until it forms a thick paste, beat it until it’s cool, and then beat in softened butter and flavorings. I think this is an old-fashioned Southern style frosting, but one I had never encountered before.

I’m going to reprint the recipe as it appears in the book, so you guys can judge for yourself. But my inaugural Baked Explorations experience was less than perfect. I wasn’t able to get the icing recipe to work for me. I cooked my sugar/flour/milk until thickened for a full 15 minutes, as the book directed, but the mixture wasn’t thick enough to support the butter. Instead, I made coffee flavored soup, and had to make another icing entirely for the cake (I did a coffee and vanilla flavored Swiss meringue buttercream). I also couldn’t get behind a cake with shortening, so I substituted equal amounts of butter and cut the water by 1/4 of a cup. The cake was a little difficult to work with – it was very soft, but the full butter flavor was well worth it.

Chocolate Coffee Cake 3

My final cake. Man I really had a hard time getting those perfect drips down the side of the cake.

If anyone has any suggestions for what went wrong with my icing, I’d love to hear them. As for the publishers, I think their icing recipes need more descriptive language about just how “thick” the base mixture needs to be.

Will I be trying more recipes from Baked: Explorations? Definitely. After all, a bunch of them look delicious. But unless I can figure out the secret of the boiled icing, I’ll be skipping their buttercreams.

Chocolate Coffee Cake

Mmmmm. I really liked this cake.

Chocolate Coffee Cake
Recipe from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, By Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

For the classic chocolate cake
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbs vanilla extract

For the coffee buttercream
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbs coffee extract

For the chocolate glaze
8 oz good quality (60-72%) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbs light corn syrup

10-12 chocolate covered espresso beans

Perheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper, and butter the parchment, Dust the parchment with flour and knock out excess flour.

In medium bowl, mix the cocoa powder and sour cream with 1 1/4 cups hot water and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes – the mixture will appear to string or ribbon throughout the bowl. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 more minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing about 10 to 15 seconds after each addittion until the egg is incorporated into the mixture. Then turn the mixer to low, add the vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.

Beginning with the dry ingredients, add the dry mixture and the cocoa mixture to the mixer bowl in three alternating parts, ending with the dry. Divide the batter amond the prepared pans. Use an offset spatula to level the batter. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes, rorating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 30 to 45 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let them cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Make the coffee buttercream

In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes about 7-9 minutes; however, you can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or frozen corn around the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 1-2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and coffee extracts and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

To assemble the cake

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as the crumb coating and will help you keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Refrigerate it for 15 minutes to firm it up.

Make the chocolate glaze

Place the butter, chocolate, and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler. Using a rubber spatula, stir the mixture until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir the glaze to release excess heat. Drizzle glaze over the cake. Refrigerate the cake about 15 minutes to set the glaze before serving.

Glaze the cake

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your cake on a wire rack over the baking sheet. Slowly pour about 3/4 of a cup of the glaze over the cake. Use a small offset spatula to smooth it out to the edges. Place the cake in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to set the glaze. Remove from the refrigerator and slowly pour the rest of the glaze over the cake. It should run down the sides in thick streams. You should be able to control the size and length of the streams by the pour. Feel free to experiment, and have no fear n plaing around. This is the fun part, and there is no right or wrong way. Garnish with chocolate covered espresso beans. Chill the entire cake for approximately 20 minutes, or until glaze is set, then transfer to a cake plate. Serve at room temperature.

The cake can be stored, covered in a cake dome or cake saver, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Bonnie October 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I’m glad you posted this. I had recently looked through that book (with one of my Border’s 40% coupons in hand) and came very close to buying it. The photos were gorgeous but I wasn’t sure about the recipes. I like recipes that work the first time and every time like Barefoot Contessas’.


Victoria (District Chocoholic) October 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I was intrigued by this flour-based frosting – it appears that a common mistake might be to not sufficiently cool the flour-sugar-milk mixture before incorporating the butter, as this results in the butter melting. If you cooled it down to room temperature, then I’ve got nothing (until I try it myself).


moderndomestic October 21, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Yeah – I mean, it was definitely cool to the touch (I know because I make meringue-based buttercreams all the time, and you have to cool the meringue before you add the butter). The final mixture was also slightly curdled – it looked like the butter was separating from the flour base. I may have just not beaten it enough, but it looked like there was some kind of imbalance in the fat to sugar ratio. Not sure. I kind of want to try it again and let the custard cool to room temp without beating it (which, I think, would allow it to thicken more) before adding the butter. Other online forums have also said that flour-based buttercreams can’t be re-beaten (you have to use them immediately after you make them), which is a pain in the ass – I could never use a recipe like that for mass production.

So, anyway, if you try it I’d LOVE to hear how it goes.


Bonnie October 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Another thought. When the recipe is Chocolate Coffee Cake, most people would expect a breakfast type coffee cake that incorporated chocolate. I wonder if they considered calling it Coffee Chocolate Cake?


Kenneth Moore October 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Om nom nom nom! Jenna, that looks delicious, of course! I agree on the shortening–I prefer me some butter, vegan baking be damned!


matt lewis November 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

thanks for the post. i promise the buttercream is the best ever…and it is tricky, but well worth the effort. it’s kind of hard to diagnose over the internet, but i’ll try to give a few pointers:

-make sure the flour/milk mixture is cool to the touch before adding the butter. sometimes, the bowl of the mixer feels cool, but the mixture inside might be too warm. also, make sure your butter is not “melty”. i wanted to add butter temps to the book, but thought it might scare people off.

and @bonnie…i promise you these recipes have been tested more times than i can count. crazy bananas about making sure they are perfect. the first book has been blogged a bunch and not one mishap thus far. i’ll buy it back from you if you don’t like it :)

and oh, i love the blog. beautiful photos. thanks. let me know if you have any other questions.


Deanna November 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I have made the frostings from the Baked cookbook several times. It works perfectly if you follow Matt’s advice and the other thing I will add is you need to beat it long enough. After several minutes, you think that something must be really wrong – just a soupy mess, but have patience and keep beating (or refrigerate 10 minutes and then keep beating) and it will magically come together. This icing will hold at room temperature for a couple of days. It’s light and not too sweet – almost like a light whipped cream icing.


Shaw Girl January 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I just bought this book last night and made the honey vanilla buttercream recipe tonight. And at first, I too had the soupy frosting. I whipped the flour/sugar/milk/cream mixture until it was cool to the touch before adding the butter. And still, I had soup. So I put the frosting in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes and then whipped it again. After about 10 minutes of whipping, it came together perfectly! The buttercream is smooth and not as sweet as other buttercreams I’ve tried. And I subbed the vanilla for vanilla bean paste and it looks divine! So I’d say try it again, but cool the mixture down considerably before whipping it a final time.


Maria March 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I just made this cake into cupcakes, without the glaze and with a chocolate covered espresso bean on the top of each one in the center. They are adorable and delicious! This is the second recipe I’ve tried from Baked Explorations, and I had much better luck with the buttercream this time (when I made Aunt Sassy’s Cake I had clumpy, separating icing, probably because I didn’t cool the stove mixture enough before adding the butter).


Hickory May 22, 2011 at 10:24 am

This cake is awesome!! I found this recipe via a google search for chocolate coffee cake, for my girlfriend’s birthday. Absolutely the best cake I’ve ever made. Granted it didn’t look much like the ones posted but good enough. I got my espresso beans from Peet’s and had to use Nescafe’ instant coffee to make my extract. Did have some difficulty with the cream by not letting it cool all the way prior to adding butter, so quickly put bowl in freezer for about 10-15 minutes and had no problem after that. Also should note I do not own a mixer and mixed it all by hand with fork and spoon and still turned out wonderful!!


Jody July 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I made the cake today and then Google’d (after the experience) to see if anyone else had, and how they fared. I have not tasted the completed cake, as it is for my mother’s birthday tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

I baked it as required, but they ask you to leave the layers to cool in the pans for a full 30 minutes, something that I would never do. I think that the cake is very delicate, and they probably ask you to do this, to ensure safe layer delivery. However, I think it dries the layers out a bit.

Like you, I thought the icing instructions were bizarro. Mine did turn out. I cooked the flour/sugar/milk/cream concoction for 10 minutes at medium heat. Around the 8 minute mark, the mixture came to a full boil. I kept stirring and cooking for another two minutes. I thought the mixture was thick, but was certainly not spreadable (if that helps you imagine the consistency). It was probably thinner than pudding, more like an ice cream base custard, before being churned.

I then put the cooked flour mixture in my Kitchenaid and beat it for 9 minutes. I had to beat it at medium-high speed, as opposed to high speed, as the mixture would have flown straight out of the bowl otherwise. Once the bowl was completely cool to touch (which took exactly 9 minutes), I began to add my butter, one chunk at a time. My butter was softened, but still cool to the touch. It had probably sat outside the fridge for about 20 minutes or a bit more. I could easily push my finger into it, but it was not that soft, greasy mass that it become when it sits out too long.

I tried beating the icing with the paddle attachment as recommended, but I found that the butter did not incorporate well, so I switched to the whisk attachment until all of the butter was incorporated. After all of the butter was added, I switched back to the paddle attachment and mixed in vanilla extract and (instead of coffee extract which I didn’t have) 3 tbsp. espresso.

The icing is amazing! Such a good flavour and an excellent, thick consistency. I have made a similar cooked icing before for my red velvet cake, however, with that recipe, you cook a flour/milk roux, creating a thick white pudding, chill it, then beat in butter and sugar.

The glaze I was less than enamoured with. I thought that the two glaze descriptions were conflicting. And, I thought the cake was too delicate to transfer to a plate, to a rack, back to a plate, so it just remained on the plate. Most of the ganache ran off and went to waste. The plate is not as pretty as I would have liked.

I believe in following all recipe instructions the first time implicitly, making notes and then changing the second time around. Otherwise, I would have never tackled their odd icing recipe. In the future, I would not follow their ganache instructions, and instead allow it to thicken considerably before applying.

That said, I have high hopes for the cake tomorrow!


Nicole March 21, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I just made the frosting and it seems perfect! I stuck it in the fridge for a few since the cakes are not cool yet — i hope I will be able to beat it without the butter separating like my swiss buttercream did :(


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