I haven’t made cake from a box mix in ages, and why would I start now? Well my curiosity was piqued when a fellow chef, whose cooking I have longed admired, was raving to me about the Ad Hoc fried chicken mix. Apparently it is the best she has tasted. So when I received a gift card to Williams Sonoma a few months ago, I decided to pick up a bag and see for myself. While I was there I noticed the entire line of Thomas Keller products, including a rather expensive $20 box of chocolate cake mix. I decided to see whether it was indeed worth such a hefty price tag, and also ponied up for the companion jar of dark chocolate frosting.
Admittedly, the bag of fried chicken has stayed untouched in the pantry. Mix, or no mix, fried chicken is an undertaking that requires at least a few hours of cooking time, plenty of elbow grease, and the aftermath of a dirty kitchen to deal with. The chocolate cake on the other hand required much less effort than a homemade version. After cracking an egg, and measuring some oil and water, the cake practically made it itself. As I waited the requisite time for the cake to bake, I dipped a spoon in the jar of frosting to check its flavor. While there was an obvious chocolate component to it, a chemical aftertaste marred any appreciation of its taste. I decided it would ruin the cake if I used it. Instead, I opted to make my favorite homemade chocolate frosting that comes from the book Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers. It is the recipe of Emily Luchetti, whose desserts I adore, and is magnificent in that it requires only three ingredients, no electrical equipment, and has a deep, dark chocolate flavor unlike any other I’ve tasted.
Once the cake was cooled and frosted, my husband and I anxiously cut generous wedges out to try. The shocking verdict, from both us, and the numerous people at his office who sampled it the next day, is that it is the best chocolate cake we have ever tasted. I say that in full disclosure, knowing it was a $20 box mix that took very little effort to make. What makes it stand apart from the countless recipes I have tried for homemade chocolate cake is how incredibly moist it is. It still keeps a soft, light crumb despite its rich chocolate taste, and holds up very well to generous layers of frosting. What’s more is that even on the third day of eating it still maintained its freshly baked composure.
Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:
*From the book Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers, courtesy of Emily Luchetti
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
I C unsalted butter
3 C confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 C plus 2 Tbsp milk
In a double boiler, melt the chocolates and butter together then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Whisk the vanilla and milk in with the confectioners’ sugar. Add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Fill and frost the cake.