I first made this cake for my sister's birthday. I think I was like 16. I was pretty busy flirting with my boyfriend (now my husband) and forgot to butter and flour the cake pans. I remember trying to explain this to my mother, minus the flirting detail. To this day, whenever I butter and flour a cake pan, I remember the buzz of young love.
This cake has it's own kind of sugary chocolatey buzz going on. For me, it is the quintessential chocolate layer cake. I'll admit, there's no wow factor in the presentation, but I think that's part of it's charm- it's simplicity. The cake is tender (thank you buttermilk) and as the day wears on it does a nice job soaking up the chocolate frosting.
The recipe is courtesy of The Fiddlehead Cookbook. The Fiddlehead was a restaurant and bakery in Juneau, Alaska. I like to think of it as the Alaskan version of Chez Panisse- celebration of local ingredients and beautiful understated cooking. My understanding is that the cake is named for it's creator, who lived on nearby Douglas island.
When I was getting married, my husband and I registered for their cookbook and I was thrilled when we received it along with this thoughtful inscription from it's givers "To love deeply in one direction makes us more loving in all others- Anne Swetchine".
This cake is certainly something to love and share with those you love. Just be sure to butter and flour the pans.
North Douglas Chocolate Cake
1 cup water
1/4 pound butter
1/2 cup safflower or corn oil (I rarely have either and usually substitute vegetable oil)
3 1/2 tablespoons sifted Dutch process dark cocoa (Original recipe note: "other cocoas produce a lighter, sweeter cake and icing, more like milk chocolate". I use Hershey's cocoa powder and it's true that it does make a more milk chocolatey cake.)
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 pound plus 4 tablespoons butter
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sifted Dutch process dark cocoa
3 tablespoons milk (not buttermilk this time, just regular milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1) Preheat oven to 375 and arrange racks so they are evenly spaced in oven. Generously coat two 8 or 9 inch cake pans with butter and dust with flour.
2) Combine water, butter, oil, and cocoa in a small pan and bring to a boil.
3) While butter and water are coming to a boil, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
4) Wisk together eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.
5) When butter and water are boiling, pour over sifted flour (this is very fun). Stir until just combined. (If you have a stand mixer, you might want to let it sit this recipe out- I mix all of this by hand to ensure I don't overbeat it). Add egg mixture and gently fold together. Pour into prepared cake pans.
6) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (8-inch pans will take a little longer than 9-inch pans). Remove from oven when a probe inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Allow to rest briefly in pans, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.
7) In a medium bowl (this is where I find a mixer most helpful) beat butter until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar and cocoa and stir gently until they are partially combined (If you crank your mixer up too high right away, you will end up wearing most of the sugar and cocoa). Stir in milk and vanilla. Beat until smooth and spreadable. (It may be necessary to add additional sifted confectioners' sugar if mixture seems too soft).
Assembling the Cake
8) Place first layer, top side down, on bottom of an inverted cake pan. Spread with 3/4 cup icing. Place second layer on top of first, top side down. Spread with 1 cup icing, allowing a little to go over the sides. Using a straight-sided metal spatula (I can assure you a butter knife is just fine) ice the sides of cake, filling crack between layers with icing. Smooth out top of cake and use remaining icing to decorate cake as you like. Chill cake briefly to firm icing.
9) Using a large spatula, transfer cake to a cake plate (unless you are very brave and very clever- I am neither- do yourself a favor and frost the cake on the plate you plan to serve it on. Just tuck pieces of parchment paper under the edges to catch smudges and then whip them out before serving). Serve at once, or cover and store at room temperature.