chocolate cake with strawberriesMy birthday is this month, so I have requested a luscious and rich home-baked chocolate cake. And by chocolate cake I mean the kind you can put candles on, not the flourless variety. My husband has gallantly offered to make it, but if he gets too busy, I have no problems getting in the kitchen and whipping it up myself: my birthday, my cake, my prerogative.

I have tried many chocolate cake recipes over the years, always searching for the perfect one. But as with a search for anything great (say a life-changing novel or the perfect kiss), so much can go wrong. Some had a deep chocolate flavor, but were a little dry, while others just weren’t chocolaty enough. Worst of all were the cakes the barely held together. Like sloppy kisses, they were well meaning, but a little too wet.

After many calorie-filled attempts, I have settled on a recipe that I feel is truly the ultimate for chocolate cake. Beatty’s Chocolate Cake is made with good cocoa powder, buttermilk and freshly-brewed coffee. With an intense chocolate flavor that is both nuanced and bold, this flirt of a cake teases out its flavors and leaves you wanting more. I didn’t create this recipe. Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, gets all the glory; or, rather, her friend Beatty for whom the cake is named. Take note that the coffee makes the batter a bit soupy (which worried me a little), but in the end, its flavor accents the chocolate nicely and gives the cake a velvety richness it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Although I love Ina and Beatty’s cake, I veer from their advice when it comes to the icing. Skipping the chocolate frosting Ms. Garten pairs with her cake — as I find a chocolate on chocolate combo a bit overwhelming — I instead went with a vanilla cream cheese frosting. I have found over the years that vanilla makes chocolate taste more robust, and this is definitely the case here. The frosting has the added bonus of having a thick but not stiff texture, so it lays evenly on the cake. It also takes only about three minutes to make and is delicious.

I can’t disclose the cake’s recipe here — it isn’t mine, after all — but can share my frosting recipe. So if you’re having a birthday soon, or are just in the mood for a good old-fashioned chocolate cake, it’s time to indulge.

slice of chocolate cake

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes: Frosting for one cake

8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup softened butter
1 box of powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

1. Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer until smooth.
2. Frost cake and devour.

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting 14 May,2009Denise Santoro Lincoln

  • Elsa

    This is very similar to a family recipe I have from my paternal grandma! I absolutely love it. I usually use soured milk (1 C milk and 1 T white vinegar) instead of buttermilk.

  • Jennifer

    I am wondering what you think of adding crushed coffee beans to the frosting for added crunch and strong coffee flavour?

  • Denise Lincoln

    I don’t see why this wouldn’t work and the coffee flavor would accent the chocolate nicely. I suggest using them sparingly, however, as I wouldn’t want the coffee flavor to be the main highlight. Maybe just a sprinkle on each sliced piece?


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise’s Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor