This was the first truly divisive episode of Binging with Babish, given its stomach-turning secret ingredients. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that you add blood and sweat to this cake—not only do they not provide any flavor or nutritional value, they are potentially dangerous, and you just obviously shouldn’t do that, okay? I, however, decided to eschew health and safety codes in favor of accuracy, wiping my sweat and shedding my blood with food podcaster Dan Pashman. The result is the sweet, moist, and absolutely gigantic chocolate layer cake of your childhood dreams. I also can’t recommend that you eat the entire thing in one sitting, no matter what kind of pressure you’re under from your tyrannical principal.
VERDICT: This is a gold-standard chocolate cake that, thanks to a couple of special ingredients, transcends the dry and flavorless out-of-a-box sponge we’ve grown accustomed to. Buttermilk in the batter and cream cheese in the frosting guarantee enhanced flavor, and baking the cakes until just barely cooked ensures a moist crumb.
Butter, for greasing
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 cups granulated sugar
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1½ cups buttermilk
4 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ pounds confectioners’ sugar (about 5⅓ cups), sifted
Whole milk, for thinning (optional)
PREHEAT THE oven to 350°F. Liberally butter three 9-inch round cake pans and dust each evenly with about 1 tablespoon of flour, tapping out any excess. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper rounds.
IN A large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and vegetable oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for at least 30 minutes, then invert the cakes onto the racks, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely, 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
WHILE THE cakes cool, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the cocoa powder and mix on medium-low speed until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar a cup or two at a time, stopping and scraping down the sides occasionally, and beat on medium speed until the frosting is creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. Add a splash of milk, if desired, to thin out the frosting.
FLIP THE cakes right-side up and, using a serrated knife, gently trim off the domed top of each cake layer to completely level it. Place one cake layer on a platter and spread ¾ cup of the frosting on top. Top with a second cake layer, trimmed-side down, and spread ¾ cup of the frosting on top. Top with the third layer, trimmed-side down, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the entire layer cake. Slice into wedges and serve.