An english professor in college, who most likely passed me with flying colors because of my Cher impression, always said, “Nothing was created in a vacuum.” At the time, he was encouraging us to read period appropriate texts in order to give context to what we were reading. Admittedly, I read just enough to get by in that class (if Spark Notes counts), and I wrote my final paper on the interaction of scenery and plot in the Harry Potter films, though I would have much preferred to write about The Sixth Sense. I was a design major, worlds away from becoming a writer (or reader for that matter). But what he said stayed with me.
Nothing is created in a vacuum. Neither then nor now. This makes the world feel incredibly small and you incredibly close. Sure, we may never say hi or bump shoulders on the street. But we may very well make the same chocolate cake recipe over and over. And we may very well read the same websites. And buy the same pointy toed shoes. And wear our hair in a top knot. And our phone without a cover. (I know, I should really buy a cover.)
And my grandma’s one-of-a-kind recipe for peach cobbler may very well be your grandma’s—a cup, a cup, a cup, a stick? That’s the one.
I read it in between the lines. I want it too—to be original, the first to think of this or that. The most. The best. One-of-a-kind. I want to be the only person to name her daughter Hallie (who most often gets called Holly or Haley because of its unfamiliarity). Ingenuity is a good thing, but sometimes it comes at a cost. We let the number of followers next to our instagram handle fuel the obsession to create new, to create different, because that’s what people like. While designing our home, Kev and I often say, “I don’t want our house to look like every other house on pinterest.” For what reason? I’m not exactly sure anymore.
Instead of fighting the vacuum, what if we acknowledged her. She’s not trying to steal our glory. She’s trying to give us context. The context of you and me, and the fact that we exist and have leverage on one another. This world is incredibly small. The internet made it that way. But I’m certain, we’re not as different as we may try. Sometimes I think we’ve gotten so wrapped up in celebrating our differences that we’ve forgotten how similar we are. And there’s beauty in that too.
In the same spirit, this simple chocolate cake is not an original Fauxmartha recipe, though it’s become my recipe from the amount of times I’ve made it. The cake itself is one I learned to make from Warren Brown of Cake Love, who taught me to mix on low and underwhelm the batter until the very end. It makes for a tight crumb and flat top. The frosting is a traditional american buttercream adapted slightly from Add a Pinch. It’s rich, dense, and buttery. And the best for last—that cake stand. It’s a handcrafted stand from AHeirloom. The simplicity in design is absolutely breathtaking. And if you’ve made it this far down the post, they’ve given me one to give to you too. Head over to Instagram to enter (ends 2/2 at 10 am CST).
This chocolate cake is rich with a tight crumb, as I prefer all most cakes. The process of making this cake, learned from Warren Brown, is one I’ve come to love. Kev, a by-standard in the cake making process, says it looks easy to make. I’d have to agree. Slowly cream the butter and sugar, alternately add in the dry and wet ingredients quickly, and finish the batter with a quick but vigorous mix. It’ll be hard to ever make a cake any other way.
1/2 c. + 3 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. half and half
1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 stick (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. pure cane sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. half and half
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
To make the cake. Preheat oven to 350º. Line 6″ pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
Add dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together. Into a separate bowl, measure liquid ingredients. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3-5 minutes. (This will feel odd, but keep it on low.) When ready, butter mixture will begin sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down sides after each addition.
With the mixer speed still on low, add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 4 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move quickly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. This should take a total of about 45 seconds.
Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batters structure.
Distribute batter evenly using a 2-ounce trigger release ice-cream scoop.
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the center no longer holds a finger print when pressed.
Cool cake for 5 minutes before removing from the pan, using an offset spatula to loosen edges. Allow layers to cool completely before assembling. Remove parchment paper.
To make the buttercream. In a separate bowl, sift together powdered sugar and cocoa powder. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter. Slowly add in sugar mixture alternating with the half and half until light and fluffy. Add more half and half 1 tablespoon at a time if needed to reach desired consistency. Scrape down sides. Add in vanilla and salt. Mix again to fully combine.
Assemble the cake. If necessary, level the cakes. Place the bottom layer on a cake stand with scraps of parchment paper underneath to keep the stand clean.
Spread a layer buttercream over the bottom layer. Add the top layer being sure to center it on the bottom layer.
Dirty ice or crumb coat the cake. Scoop about 1/3 cup (I eyeball it) of icing into a separate bowl to keep the rest of the buttercream crumb-free. Spread a very thin layer of icing around the cake to lock in the crumbs.
Spread remaining icing over cake. Start by adding globs of buttercream to the sides of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly around sides. Continue working until fairly smooth. Add remaining frosting to the top, spreading evenly. Once smooth, pull a pattern into the top of the cake if desired. For reference, I gently work the icing for a solid 20 minutes to get it looking the way I do.
Serve or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
• If you’re outside of the US, half and half is equal parts cream and milk.
• If you’d like to make this recipe in a 8″ or 9″ cake pan, here’s the full recipe. It will yield a 2-layer cake. I’d recommend doubling the buttercream.