Chocolate Cake with Italian Meringue (Marshmallow Frosting)
I make this cake for myself, not my children.
I mean, they can have some, but, you know.
This is a super-moist, dense chocolate cake
with my favorite homemade frosting — Italian
Meringue. Think of it as marshmallow frosting.
In fact, as a matter of semantics, I think
Italian Meringue might actually be marshmallow
frosting. We’ll come back to that.
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For this devil’s food style cake, I start
with a cup of milk in a big sauce pan and
bring it to a boil. Then, turn off the heat,
and whisk in Dutched cocoa powder. That’s
the kind of cocoa powder that makes everything
taste like an Oreo. Yum. I think that YOU
should use a cup and a half of dutch cocoa
powder. I was trying to see if I could jam
two whole cups into this recipe, and the answer
is an emphatic no, you can’t! It was so
thick it stuck to the pan and I literally
had to deglaze with a little bit more milk
to keep it from burning, and the whisk just
turn into this solid baseball bat of undissolved
cocoa. Don’t use that much. A cup and a
half is good. Off the heat it comes.
This step of “blooming” the cocoa in hot
liquid really does intensify the flavor of
the finished cake. I have confirmed that via
experimentation. We need to cool this off
to the point where the eggs won’t scramble
in there when me mix them in. So, in the meantime,
we’ll grab a high-quality four-ounce chocolate
bar and chop it up into little pieces. I like
to have some solid chocolate chunks in the
cake. You could use chocolate chips. I think
they’re too big.
OK, into the pan goes a cup and half of brown
sugar, or you could do white sugar plus a
dab of molasses, because that’s literally
all brown sugar is. And then the key ingredient
— a whole 8-ounce tub of sour cream. I hate
sour cream, but as an ingredient in chocolate
cake, it is magic. Makes it so moist and dense.
You know, trying to light for jet-black cocoa
and snow-white sour cream in the same shot
is, apparently, impossible. Alright, one cup
of vegetable or any neutral oil goes in. I
really prefer oil over butter as my main fat
source in chocolate cake. Butter tends to
make the texture dry. A splash of vanilla
goes in. Then I’m cracking my four eggs
in last, on top of all the other ingredients,
to protect them from the heat of that pan.
Then, whisk everything together. Even if the
pan is still quite hot, I’m pretty sure
the sugar and fat molecules in there would
get between the egg proteins and prevent them
from curdling. It is hard to mix bloomed cocoa
in with other stuff, especially if you used
way too much and it’s all stuck inside your
whisk like that, but just do the best you
can. Little lumps will bake out.
Then, just one cup of flour goes in, and half
a teaspoon each of baking soda, baking powder,
and salt. If you don’t like slightly salty
chocolate, then use a quarter teaspoon, but
no less. Chocolate tastes really flat without
at least a little salt. Whisk that in, and
whisk in your chocolate chunks.
This is a really sticky batter, and the best
way to make sure that your cake doesn’t
stick to the pan and break on the way out
is to use a parchment round. Here’s how
to make one. Take a sheet of parchment paper
and fold it over once. Then turn it 90 degrees
and fold it over again. Fold it over into
a triangle. Then then again, in the same direction,
into a thinner triangle. Turn the pan upside
down, and eyeball the length of the radius.
Cut off the excess, being conservative, because
if you unfold this and it turns out to be
too big, you can just fold it back up again
and shave off a little bit more. Perfect.
Now, I’ll spray the inside of the pan. That
will help the parchment stick to the bottom,
in addition to lubricating the sides, where
I’m not bothering to put any parchment.
You’ll need two 9 or 10-inch cake pans prepared
this way. You could pour the batter in on
a scale to get the two cakes completely even,
but I just turn the spatula around and use
it as a dipstick. If one pan is a little deeper
than another, you can just spoon over the
In the oven they go at 350 F for about 40
minutes. I think that time is gonna be really
variable, but bake them until a toothpick
comes out clean. Let them cool all the way
down before “de-panning.” Here’s why
I don’t think you need parchment around
the edges. You can just run a knife around
the edge. And now, when you turn that out,
nothing could possible stick to the pan. Peel
the parchment off, and those are perfect.
Time to make that frosting. You need four
egg whites. Not a speck of yoke in there,
or they won’t beat up. You could use those
yokes to make the opposite of an egg-white
omelette, I guess. You want to know what that
looks like, stick around to the end of the
Into those, I’m gonna put half a teaspoon
of cream of tartar. Acids help with the beating
of egg whites. Then, a half teaspoon of corn
starch. That’s traditional in some kinds
of meringue, not usually Italian meringue,
but I find it keeps the water in the frosting
from separating out and being absorbed by
the cake, which can happen after a day or
Now, into a small saucepan goes a cup of sugar
and half a cup of water. Also, if you’ve
got it, a squeeze of corn syrup. That’s
a monosaccharide. The cane sugar is a disaccharide.
Mix the two together, and it’s almost impossible
for this syrup to crystalize while you’re
cooking it. That said, I have made many syrups
with just sugar and water, and most have come
out totally smooth and fine. Turn that on
high heat, and while it gets hot, beat the
egg whites until you get floppy peaks, like
this. When the syrup hits Anywhere between
240 and 245 F, you’re ready for the tricky
part, which is to drizzle the hot syrup into
the egg white while simultaneously beating
them. Don’t burn yourself. Boiling syrup
is like a freaking chemical weapon. Then,
you just keep beating this for three or four
more minutes until it doesn’t seem to be
taking on any additional volume. Then I just
do a tiny splash of vanilla, because I don’t
want to spoil that snow-white color.
Look at this beautiful, fluffy stuff. Cake
frostings are usually just too rich for my
taste, but this has no fat in it whatsoever.
You want to work with it while it’s still
a little warm, otherwise it won’t spread
First cake goes on the plate, frosting on
top, then next cake goes on, and spoon all
of your remaining frosting on top. You will
need the whole recipe’s worth. Just let
it fall down around the sides as you smooth
the top. And because I am a child, I like
multi-colored sprinkles on top. They do make
a nice textural counterpart against the soft
That is a big chocolate snowball of fun, right
there. As you cut out a piece, you’ll see
the meringue is still really soft and fluffy
at this stage, which is nice, but by tomorrow
it will set into something more like a marshmallow,
which is really what I prefer.
And yes, I think technically this is marshmallow.
Marshmallow is an aerated syrup stabilized
with protein, usually gelatin, or traditionally
mucilage derived from the eponymous marsh-mallow
plant, but plenty of marshmallow recipes call
for egg whites, and so, yes, I’m calling
it: Italian meringue is a marshmallow.
That is just a wedge of fluffy, chocolatery
happiness right there, and as good as it is
right now, I really do think it’s better
tomorrow, after the marshmallow — there,
I said it — after the marshmallow and the
chocolate chunks inside the cake have both
had time to solidify. Now, want to see what
happened when I tried to make an omelette
with those leftover yokes? I’ll show you
in a sec.
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Now, let’s make that egg yoke omelette.
That’s gotta be a thing, right?
Little bit of pepper, salt and milk, beat
it up. Butter in the pan, and whoa that is
curdling up real fast. Maybe because there’s
so much less water in the yokes?
I guess I’ll grate on some nice sharp cheddar,
fold it over and uh… that does not look
so nice. Fixed it!
Hmm. The texture is surprisingly spongey.
I was expecting more of a gooey texture, since
yokes have so much fat in them. But, I gotta
say, that tastes way better than it looks.
It’s really rich and decadent. I think I’m
gonna have to play with some way to make that
look as nice as the cake from whence it came.
Let’s end on one more gratuitous cake shot.