Enhancing A Chocolate Cake

Baking By drea88 Updated 3 Sep 2014 , 3:18am by MBalaska

drea88 Posted 28 Jul 2014 , 4:54am
post #1 of 12

I'm a hobby baker and I would like to get some feedback to improve my caking skills.  To that end, I am thinking about entering the Gerry Frank chocolate cake competition at the Oregon State Fair.  The sole judge, Gerry Frank (who owns a gourmet cake shop), has tasted over 2,400 cakes in the 54 years he has judged the contest.  While my friends and family give good reviews to my favorite chocolate cake recipe, I have my doubts that the cake will stand out when placed up against over a hundred other made-from-scratch chocolate cakes.  Does anyone have suggestions on what I could add to my cake to make it stand out?  Below are the ingredients I use (adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction):


1 and 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour

1 and 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated sugar

3/4 cup (95 grams) natural cocoa powder (not dutch-processed) (I use Scharffen Berger)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I have also used hazelnut oil)

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I have also used hazelnut extract)

1 cup hot water


I don't bake with coffee for religious reasons, so using coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor is out.  Gerry Frank has a preference for "deeply chocolate, moist, visually appealing cakes."  The entries are judged on appearance, texture and flavor and can't contain mixes of any kind.  Thanks!

11 replies
MKC Posted 28 Jul 2014 , 11:37am
post #2 of 12

AYou could use some chocolate extract.

Maybe you cannot use alcohol, but sometimes I replace the water for chocolate stout (beer).

I have also read some posts of people adding chocolate syrup on top of their cake after baking.

FrostedMoon Posted 28 Jul 2014 , 2:42pm
post #3 of 12

I would add cinnamon.  It enhances the flavor without tasting like a cinnamon chocolate cake.  Another option would be chili powder.  Similar to the cinnamon, as long as you don't add too much you don't taste it, but it kicks the flavor up a notch.  Not sure about how much you should use.  In the past I've just eyeballed it.

drea88 Posted 28 Jul 2014 , 2:42pm
post #4 of 12

AThanks for the suggestions!

Rfisher Posted 29 Jul 2014 , 4:25am
post #5 of 12

AOoh, sounds fun. I, however, would totally psyche myself out asking the following questions: The sole judge owns a cake shop that advertises they specialize in vienesse cake shop style? They named what type of chocolate cake after said cake shop owner/judge? What do I think he'd score high on? Something he personally likes,, or something he thinks John Q. Public likes that is mass marketable? As in I would want to lean towards a european style genoise torte, but Johnny Q buys american (oil) butter cakes. I would be sure I did not inadvertently copy anything he had on his menu. Guidelines include appearance and texture. I would make sure the agbay was ready, some sort of (praline?) crunch to add in a filling layer. My choice of ganache would center on a darker milk chocolate such as Green&Blacks. But certainly would employ semi/bittersweet ganache somewhere. I would flirt with the idea of a fruit schmear/ ultra thin marzipan layer over the top layer of cake, under the top SMBC/ganache. I would use part resolidified browned butter in my SMBC if I could make it work with the other flavors. Design would be sleek and minimalist. Going with your current recipe, I would toy with well aged (old and more tangy, not rank) full fat buttermilk, sub some of the white sugar for dark brown, employ cinnamon, ginger, chili, pepper, something from the spice pantry. Not as a major flavor though, just as a background note. Since coffee(and maybe beer) is out, so is oolong tea? Would a herbal blend that had a complementary flavor be out as well? Have fun & good luck!

enga Posted 29 Jul 2014 , 4:39am
post #6 of 12

Well dang Rfisher, those were really great suggestions! ;-D


Good Luck with your cake drea88!

drea88 Posted 30 Jul 2014 , 4:08am
post #7 of 12

AThanks for some more great suggestions Rfisher. I've been googling like crazy to see what he sells, what I can find about past winners, etc. Now off to practice baking.

remnant3333 Posted 30 Jul 2014 , 4:57am
post #8 of 12

It sounds like you have a lot of great ideas to try. It would probably be better to do a test run on the cake and let family members try it out first before baking actual cake Let us know how it comes out!! Good luck and I hope you win first prize!!!

drea88 Posted 30 Jul 2014 , 1:31pm
post #9 of 12

AI plan to take some practice cakes to my family of chocoholics next week. However, the girl who won two years ago was a high school junior, and she said that cake was her first time making a chocolate cake from scratch. Perhaps there is something to be said for not over thinking it. It is an ameteur cake completion, after all. :smile:

drea88 Posted 30 Jul 2014 , 1:33pm
post #10 of 12

AThat should say competition. I don't see where to edit the post on my phone.

drea88 Posted 3 Sep 2014 , 2:22am
post #11 of 12

In case anyone is curious, the winner this year used this recipe from allrecipes.com with some unspecified modifications to the frosting:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/extreme-chocolate-cake/.  I looked it up, and it's the Hershey's chocolate cake recipe.  He mentioned during the competition that he doesn't like his chocolate cake to taste of anything other than chocolate.  I would also say that having smooth icing or leveling the cake is irrelevant, or plays a very little role, in how the cake places.


I got 5th place out of the 49 cakes entered.  Fourth through sixth places were very close, as he retasted those cakes together before making the final placing.  I used the original recipe posted above, but made it with half hazelnut and half vegetable oil, added 1 teaspoon organic chocolate extract, 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper and a dash of cinnamon (which was imperceptible, fortunately, given that I now know he wouldn't have liked to taste cinnamon or chili in the recipe).  I filled it with this chocolate frosting recipe from the browneyedbaker.com using Lindt 70% dark chocolate and Callebaut cocoa powder:  http://www.browneyedbaker.com/best-chocolate-cupcakes-recipe/.  I frosted with chocolate SMBC (using Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate and a little Lindt milk chocolate) using the Well-Dressed Cakes' ratios for egg whites/butter/sugar and using Plugra butter.  The top had a chocolate ganache.  I brushed the cake with this chocolate sauce recipe (with a few minor modifications) before filling and frosting:  http://www.curlygirlkitchen.com/2012/06/homemade-chocolate-espresso-syrup.html.  I added a few modeling chocolate roses made with Guittard chocolate.


Anyway, perhaps this information will help some other Oregonian who wants to compete next year, or just someone looking for a chocolate cake recipe.  Attached is a picture of my cake.  Excuse the poor picture quality, as I took it with my phone and I was in a hurry since my 2.5 year old and 6 month old were waiting on me.  I realize the decorating is far from perfect.   

MBalaska Posted 3 Sep 2014 , 3:18am
post #12 of 12

Congratulations! You did pretty well.  Your cake looks scrumptious.

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