When I was 10, my aunt promised me that when I was 16, she would take me to New York City for my birthday. Low and behold, 6 years later, my aunt kept her promise and brought me to the city that never sleeps. On our first night in New York, a family friend brought us to a fantastical place for dessert – Serendipity. Serendipity is famous for its outrageous desserts and playful personality. The interior of the cafe is filled with classy Tiffany lamps and white marble tables. This restaurant has been adored by celebrities ever since it opened, with notable patrons like Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy O’nassis, and plenty of others. When I was at Serendipity, I ordered their glamorous Chocolate Blackout Cake. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the waiter set a thick, four-layered slice of dark chocolate cake in front of me. I was glad that I ordered a glass of milk to drink. This cake was so rich and chocolatey that one bite almost did me in. But, I had to have more. Three layers and one full, full belly later, I was practically crying…because Serendipity is in New York, and I live in Michigan. The chocolate cake of my dreams was across the country from me…
For three long years I waited, dreaming about having this cake again. Until one day last year, right before my nineteenth birthday, I discovered Amazon.com and the Sweet Serendipity cookbook by Stephen Bruce with Brett Barra. Inside Sweet Serendipity, was my sweet serendipity, the recipe for the Chocolate Blackout cake. I could hardly contain my joy for the next seven-to-ten days as it flew to me in the trusty hands of the United States Postal System.
Every recipe in this book comes with a story. The story for the blackout cake is about how Mia Farrow fell in love with this cake, just like I did, and asked her waiter for the recipe. But the poor waiter was so amazed by Mia Farrow that he forgot to tell her that the recipe was restaurant-sized, which makes three whole cakes. The recipe in the cookbook is enough to make one four-inch layer cake. And me, being over-excited for both my birthday and this cake, I neglected to read that. So, I wound up being what the book calls “up to [my] elbows in blackout” which lead to a lot of blackout batter burning at the bottom of my parents’ oven, and me in tears (Bruce, 38). I was very overwhelmed and very covered in chocolate. The blackout cake ended up tasting delicious, but I had an aversion to making this cake.
But when Colin and Allie came in from Chicago to celebrate Colin’s birthday this week, I knew that this had to be Colin’s birthday. He requested the darkest of chocolate cakes. So, Allie and I teamed up and baked this blackout cake. I had done some work beforehand though, I calculated everything out and cut the recipe in half, so that we would only have enough batter for two 9-inch cakes. We started by sifting cake flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl.
Then in my mixer, we beat butter and brown sugar together….
…and added in the eggs and vanilla and mixed them in completely. I did make sure not to mix it too much though, in case I’ve been over-mixing my batters and then I end up with short cakes.
Next, Allie and I added in the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with cold water.
We added melted unsweetened baker’s chocolate and some sour cream to the batter and mixed it thoroughly.
We filled the buttered 9-inch cake pans halfway so that the cakes would rise as they baked in the oven. Alli and I had some leftover batter and we decided to make some blackout cupcakes. We kept the cakes in the oven for about 35 minutes.
When the cakes were ready, we brought them out of the oven and let them rest in their pans on a cooling rack for fifteen minutes.
While the cakes were cooling, Allie and I started on the frosting. We put chopped unsweetened chocolate in a large mixing bowl. In a saucepan, we heated heavy whipping cream, granulated sugar, and corn syrup just to the boiling point.
Then we poured that into the bowl of chopped chocolate and stirred it around so that the hot mixture melted the chocolate. When it was smooth, we poured in the vanilla.
The recipe said to let the warm chocolate mixture sit until it has reached room temperature. It took a long time for this to happen, but when it did, Alli scooped out some sour cream and I stirred it into the chocolate.
We had a problem at this point. Our cakes were ready to go and our frosting was finished, but it wasn’t spreadable. It was too runny, it would just fall down the sides of the cake and collect on the plate. So, Allie and I let it sit for a while, then we put it in the fridge, then we put it in the freezer, and it was still too runny. I remembered having this problem last year, I knew that eventually the frosting would come together and be a spreadable consistency, but it wouldn’t happen in a timely fashion. This late in the game, Allie and I were tired. We started making this cake at four, and it was now nine o’clock. Honestly, we said “Fuck it”, and poured the frosting over the cake and to begin the assembling process.
We assembled the cake on my new cake stand (a birthday present from my sweet sister-in-law, Ariel!) so that we wouldn’t have to worry about transferring the cake later. We poured the runny frosting over the bottom layer of the cake. I did my best to keep it relatively in check with my split-level spatula. The frosting did come out quite thick, however, and after I had spread out a nice layer, Allie and I covered the top of the layer with mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Then we placed the second layer upside-down on top of the bottom layer and poured more frosting over top. We covered the very top of the cake with chocolate chips as well. By this time, it was ten o’clock. Allie and I were sick of looking at this cake. It had sucked up our day, the frosting didn’t cooperate so we couldn’t make Colin’s birthday cake look as pretty as possible (I secretly wish that all of my cakes looked professional), and Allie and I and my kitchen were sufficiently streaked with chocolate. We stuck some candles in the cake and told Colin to sit his ass down and eat it.
Even though Colin requested the darkest of chocolate cakes, he couldn’t handle this one. He left half of his piece on his plate and retreated to the living room to recover. This cake was amazing, as usual. My calculations had worked out almost perfectly! I just ended up with some bonus blackout cupcakes. The chocolate cake is moist and fudgy, and the frosting adds a dark sweetness. Altogether, it’s a mouthful of blissful sin. It tastes so good, but you know how evil it is. It sucks you in for just one more bite, and then pushes you over the edge into a food coma. It’s as outrageous as Serendipity and New York City itself.
Recipe for Serendipity’s Chocolate Blackout Cake – original recipe has been cut in half to make one two-layer 9-inch round cake.
For the cake:
Unsalted butter, for pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 + pinch baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 pound light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups cold water
1/2 pound unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
For the icing:
1/2 pound unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Sift together the cake flour and baking soda. In a medium bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the cold water. Mix completely. Add the sour cream and melted chocolate and mix until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between two 9-inch round cake pans. (If there’s any extra batter, do what you please with it) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cakes have puffed and pulled away from the sides of the pans. Cool the cakes in their pans for fifteen minutes. The cakes will sink to half their height, but that’s normal. Remove them from their pans and cool them completely on racks.
To make the icing, place the chopped chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Heat the cream, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan just to boiling. Pour over the chopped chocolate and slowly stir until smooth. Add the vanilla and allow to cool completely; then beat in sour cream. The icing should be glossy.
To assemble the cake, place one layer on a plate. Top it with 1/2 cup of the icing and 1/4 cup of chocolate chips. Repeat with next layer and store covered at room temperature.