This super tall, super moist cake is swathed in a creamy sour cream chocolate frosting and gets a salty kick from crunchy pretzels.
This cake is inspired by one of my favorite chocolate cakes of all time. Pulled off the internet when I worked as a pastry chef at an old country inn in Connecticut, I fell in love with the Double Chocolate Layer Cake from Engine Co. No. 28 at first bake. The recipe produces a generous volume of batter which creates a tall and luscious cake. The crumb is moist from oil and the flavor super rich from a combination of coffee, melted chocolate, and loads of cocoa. Though I adore the original, I've also been inspired by the recipe, adapting or tweaking it into endless variations.
This week I took to creating a pretzel variation simply because I wanted a proper dinner. My husband was set on crunching through an entire bag—which can equate to a meal for him—so I snatched the bag away and said that I needed it for a cake. I had to follow through, but that was fine. At least we'd go out for dinner, and there'd be dessert waiting on the other end of it.
For my cake, I adapted my favorite recipe to include rich sour cream, brown sugar, and a special dark cocoa that I had in the pantry (though regular natural cocoa is just as delicious). For the frosting, I whipped up a light and creamy sour cream-chocolate frosting, sprinkling crushed pretzels in between the layers and all over the top. The pretzels add terrific texture, a hint of smokiness, and a salty kick—a fine pairing for chocolate as always, and an easy way to elevate a chocolate cake into something unexpected.
- For the cake:
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups hot coffee
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup oil
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) cocoa (see note)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- For the frosting:
- 13 tablespoons (6 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
- 2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sour cream
- 7 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners' sugar
- 3 ounces pretzel knots, crushed, divided
For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.
Place chocolate in a large bowl and pour coffee over. Whisk until melted and then cool briefly. Whisk in brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, eggs, oil, sour cream, and vanilla until combined.
Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking power in a medium bowl. Whisk into wet mixture until smooth. Evenly divide batter between pans and bake until just set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans for 30 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
For the frosting: Mix butter, chocolate, sour cream, cocoa, and vanilla in mixer with paddle on low speed until combined. Add sugar and mix until just combined. Increase speed to medium and beat until creamy, about 1 minute. If frosting is too soft to spread onto cake, chill briefly until thickened.
Place one cake on serving plate and spread with about 2/3 cup frosting. Sprinkle almost half of the crushed pretzels on the frosting and then place the second cake on top (rounded side up). Use remaining frosting to ice top and sides of cake. Sprinkle remaining pretzels on top.
Two 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, mixer
The cake base was adapted from the Double Chocolate Layer Cake from Engine Co. No. 28. I used a dark cocoa (such as Hershey's dark), which resulted in a very dark cake, but this is not necessary. Regular natural cocoa will work fine for this cake. Do not use Dutch process cocoa here. The pretzels soften after the first day. If making ahead, omit the pretzels on the inside, and coat top and sides of cake with pretzels before serving.