It’s almost here, that day when men go mad over flowers, chocolate and other things, not for themselves but to demonstrate their love for the ones they love.  Ridiculous prices loom and we (at least I) don’t usually think about prices when it comes to gifts for my wife. I’m very lucky though that my wife doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day!  To her, it’s another day.  The best gift I can give her is something homemade and decadent.  So here it is, Ruth Reichl’s “Big Chocolate Cake”. Yes, I was skeptical when I read the recipe, seemed like a lot of ingredients and the use of a 9″ x 13” pan – 2 of them, well that seemed a bit much. But, let me tell you, it is my wife’s new favorite chocolate cake. This is a ridiculously moist, awesomely chocolaty, and the perfect amount of sweetness for you and/or your sweetness to enjoy! Guys, skip the flowers and make this for your wife (unless she’s expecting diamonds – then for goodness sake, go out and buy her some), I’m telling you, she will love you for this. Ladies, all you need is a fork and a glass of wine!

Baking this cake in a 9″ x 13” pan works, flipping the second cake over the frosted first cake – can be a challenge. If you don’t do it properly your cake may break into several pieces – not a disaster, just a bit difficult to frost. I’m describing two methods below that work for me. The first cake isn’t hard to flip, just place a wire rack or cake plate over the tin, flip and remove the parchment paper. Frost the base cake and add the sliced strawberries (if using). Lift the second cake out of the pan by the parchment paper ends, and carefully line the edges of the cake so they form a backwards “L” (I find it easier to flip towards me). You need to have a completely cooled cake for this to work. Flip the cake over and adjust so it is directly on top of the other cake. Or, remove the cake from the pan, cut in half, lift, flip and place each half on top of the frosted base. It will be covered with icing so no one needs to know.

I did one variation as my wife didn’t want chocolate icing on the cake, so I made a Grand Marnier and Orange Frosting instead. The recipe is given below. The real star of this show is the cake, so use whatever icing you want, just make this cake. I’ve given amounts in grams and in cups, so use either, but get used to grams – when baking, it’s the only way to go!

I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder – yes this makes a difference – quality chocolate always does, and because I didn’t have whole milk I mixed 1/4 cup of 35% cream with 1/2 cup of 1% milk. In other words, I just made it richer because of the cream. I thought 1% was too low fat content for my cake. I also sliced about a quart of strawberries to put with half the icing in between the two cake layers. I left the sides naked “it’s so today!”

This cake serves between 20 and 25. But you can always cut into 1/3’s, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Always bring to room temperature before serving. Yes the icing will get squished – but yes, it will still be delicious, and most definitely yes, your valentine will still love you days later for making this cake. You know you don’t need to have a valentine to enjoy this cake, just a spoon and life is good! Enjoy this cake on your own, with friends, late at night, early in the day – anytime you and/or someone with you wants to have a moment of bliss. As always – enjoy!

For the frosting:
1 1/2 sticks Churn 84 unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 – 4 cups (360g – 480g) Icing sugar
4 tbsp. Grand Marnier or your favorite liqueur
4 tbsp. orange juice

Make this while the cake is baking:
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the butter and 400g of icing sugar until stiff, adding more if needed
Add the Grand Marnier and beat, add the orange juice 2 tbsp. at a time – taste
You need a texture that is smooth but firm and will hold under the weight of the top layer
Adjust with additional icing sugar and/or orange juice

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100g) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) plus additional for dusting the baking tins
3/4 (175ml) cup whole milk
1 1/2 (7.5ml) teaspoons vanilla
3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour
2 (10g) teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups or 340g) Churn 84, European Style Butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (356g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 (300g) cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 quart fresh strawberries, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350°F
Butter two 13″ x 9″x 2″ baking pans, butter and line the bottoms with parchment paper leaving an overhang on the 9” sides, and brush some butter on the paper as well
Put 2 tbsp. of cocoa in the pan and swirl it around to coat, much like you would if you were using flour – shake out the excess
Whisk together boiling water and the cocoa until smooth
Then whisk in the milk and vanilla
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (using either a hand mixer or a stand mixer)
Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition
On low speed, beat in the flour mixture in 3 batches and the cocoa mixture in 2, alternating between additions – the batter may look curdled and very liquid – it’s not, have faith and all will be fine
This was a messy step as I had chocolate batter on my counter and mixer – and the speed was on low – be warned
Pour half of the batter into each pan and smooth the tops – I used my scale to get the same amount in each container
Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the pan, 25-35 minutes – let the cakes cool completely before turning out and frosting
Once cooled, flip the base layer of the cake onto a cooling rack or cake board, cover with half the frosting, layer with sliced strawberries
Using the parchment paper overhangs, lift the second cake out of the tin, line the long edge of the top layer with the long edge of the bottom frosted cake layer and holding carefully flip over – if it breaks, don’t panic, just patch it together, it’s really delicious cake and no one will care – frost the top, garnish with fresh raspberries or more strawberries or grated chocolate
Grab a knife, plate and fork, cut a slice for yourself – grab a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, or coffee or tea – and enjoy by yourself (really with cake this good, you don’t need anyone else), or with a friend!

And she loved it too!!!!