Today is my mom’s birthday, and if I were in California today, I would most likely be baking her a chocolate cake right now. Most of the time I can't imagine living anywhere outside of New York, but it always feels weird to me not being there to celebrate my parents' birthdays with them in person, especially since I love birthdays so much and have always been the cake-baker in the family. Since we’re on opposite coasts right now, the least I can do is post a recipe for Black Magic Cake in my mom's honor.
Black Magic Cake is a simple two-bowl affair, so easy that even a kid could make it, which is why this recipe came to be one of the very first cakes in my repertoire years ago. You sift all the dry ingredients together into one bowl, mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, then combine everything and bake the batter in a greased 13-x-9-inch pan. That’s it. The recipe only calls for cocoa powder, not melted chocolate, and the addition of brewed coffee intensifies the chocolate flavor. This foolproof cake was a great way to start my baking career once upon a time.
I made Mom’s cake for many of her birthdays as I was growing up, eager for another excuse to hone my baking skills. Always one to reduce the sugar content in any recipe she made, Mom always asked for a dark chocolate cake topped with fresh whipped cream, with no sugary icing to interfere with the bittersweet quality of the cake, and I often turned to the Black Magic Cake recipe for the occasion. This study in black-and-white was the essence of simplicity, exactly the way she wanted it.
However, the very first birthday cake I made for her was a slightly different story. I was 10 years old when I assumed my birthday baking duties. Mom always made her cakes from scratch, but for some reason I thought it would be special to do something different by using a cake mix. Dad took me to the store for ingredients, and as I worked the baking aisle of Albertson’s grocery store that afternoon, I thought I struck gold when I happened upon a box of Pillsbury Devil’s Food Cake with “pudding in the mix”. What 10-year-old wouldn’t be swayed by such an addition? I was also lured by a tub of Betty Crocker lemon frosting, which now makes me recoil in horror to think of the chemicals that must have been contained in that can, but it seemed pretty cool at the time.
“This is a cinch,” I thought as I prepared the cake according to the box directions. I beat whipped cream cheese into the lemon frosting to make it fancy, and my little brother came running in to lick the excess frosting from the beaters as I filled and frosted my cake. However, the overall effect of the finished product seemed a little plain, so I considered making a design with mini chocolate chips or running a knife through the frosting to carve out a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM”. In the end, I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to reach for the can of cherry pie filling in the pantry, but in that moment those cherries seemed to hold the answer to what was missing from my creation, and I basically dumped the entire contents of the can right on top of the cake.
I kept it simpler for Mom’s birthday the next year. I’d baked a number of cakes from scratch by that time and felt pretty confident by the time February 5th rolled around again, especially with this recipe for Black Magic Cake. Like I said, it was so easy that even an 11-year-old could make it on her own, which I did. When I asked Mom what kind of frosting she wanted, she asked for plain whipped cream. “And maybe leave off the cherry pie filling this time, Louise,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Happy birthday, Mom!
BLACK MAGIC CAKE
This is from an old chocolate-splattered recipe card in my mom’s recipe card file. She got the recipe from her friend Kristine, but I can’t trace the recipe’s origins beyond that.
1-¾ cups all-purpose flour
1-½ cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brewed coffee, slightly cooled
½ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13-x-9-inch baking pan with butter.
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix the coffee, vegetable oil, vanilla, eggs and yogurt together with a large whisk in a separate medium mixing bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients into the sifted dry ingredients till just combined, and pour the mixture into the greased pan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan on a baking rack. Cut into large squares and serve topped with large dollops of freshly whipped cream. Serves 8 to 12, depending on how large you cut the squares.