Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake (and a cookbook review)


I grew up spending summers in Alaska– first in Denali National Park and later on way out in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by bush plane. This was a fantastic childhood: running around in breathtaking wilderness all day with my brother, learning social skills by schmoozing the wide variety of guests staying at the backcountry lodges my dad managed, and coming inside at the end of the day to gourmet, wholesome, creative, beautiful meals cooked by an incredibly talented kitchen team. I also spent a lot of afternoons “helping” in the kitchen (don’t tell the food hygiene inspector) and even earned my own apron.


Years later, one of the cooks (also a dear family friend, as many of my dad’s coworkers became) published a cookbook with her daughter. The taste of my childhood, wrapped up in hardcover and presented to me as a college graduation gift: priceless.


The cookbook is called The Abundant Table and is available for purchase here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s worth it. The recipes are creative, seasonally-inspired, whole-foods-based works of love and art, with plenty to keep vegetarians and omnivores alike happy for years. This is my number one go-to cookbook, as you may have inferred from the cocoa powder smudges all over this recipe for Black Magic Cake.

Speaking of which, from the first time I baked this particular cake, I have never tried another chocolate cake recipe. I’ve never needed to. Liz’s Black Magic Cake is impossibly moist, incomparably chocolaty, and impeccably adaptable. It veganizes well, it handles gluten free adaptations with grace, and pairs smoothly with any number of icing choices. Did I mention how all you need is two bowls and a whisk? Everyone needs a solid chocolate cake recipe in their arsenal, and this is mine.


I made cupcakes and topped them with a simple vanilla buttercream and a dusting of cocoa powder this time, but I often pair this cake with a chocolate or salted caramel buttercream… use your imagination!

Liz’s Black Magic Cake
Makes 16-24 servings or approximately 3 dozen cupcakes

2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar
2 1/4 cups (281g) flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (94g) plus 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups (295ml) freshly brewed, strong coffee, cooled
1 1/4 cups (295ml) buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp (125 ml) vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10 by 15-inch Pyrex pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. Measure the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the bowl of sugar and whisk together. In another bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients until well blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until evenly incorporated and blended.
  2. Pour this batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top of the cake springs back when it is lightly pressed with your hand. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before removing from the pan for further cooling.

My notes:

  • For a vegan cake, replace buttermilk with nondairy milk + a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes to sour. Replace eggs with flax eggs: 1 tbsp ground flaxseed (linseed) + 2 tbsp water = 1 egg. Stir together and let sit 5 minutes until slightly gummy.
  • For a gluten-free cake, simply replace flour with your favorite gluten-free all purpose flour.
  • Baking time is for a 10 by 15-inch cake. Reduce time to about 30 minutes for 9-inch cakes, about 20 minutes for cupcakes.

3 thoughts on “Building Blocks: Chocolate Cake (and a cookbook review)

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