When I was a child, cake was supposed to be dry. If your morsel of devil's food left a smear on the plate, it was considered a disgusting sight. In fact, there was a white angel's food recipe that was so parched, so arid, my sisters and I called it Choke Cake. You had to gasp down a big tumbler of water with each cupcake, just to stay even.
There's a whole generation of recovering Choke Cake victims who've made it a life quest to find the perfect moist chocolate cake. It seems to them that the right sweet dark balm, sheathed in buttercream, would definitely evaporate all nightmares of the desert, and maybe sort out their problems in general. How depressed can you be when you've got paradisal ambrosia melting in your mouth? So they obsessively test recipes.
I'm always baffled by the instruction to add, say, a grand total of two tablespoons of cocoa to the batter. "What was that?" the eater might ask. "It flew by so fast and light, like a dream. Could it have been a whisper, a thread, a tiny seed of--of chocolate? Could the baker spare it?"
I am more the type of eater who wants her chocolate to suggest a herd of chocolate buffalo thundering toward her, who at the last minute magically condense into the delicious bite-sized niblet sitting on her fork. I want my chocolate cake to make me think of whole fields of cocoa, complete with brilliantly colored tropical birds and maybe workers glugging streams of Kahlua out of gleaming jugs. I like my chocolate intense.
I won't claim to have found the best recipe in all eternity. The Amish have it right, and only God can make a perfect chocolate cake. But the following recipe is a very good one indeed, every bit as fine as we earthlings need or deserve. Besides, I've gone through some grief for it.
I have a foodie friend who takes her baking very, very seriously. She says this cake is an imposter. Her nanny-like reproaches include the claim that a true Reine de Saba gateau (note her French) contains NO FLOUR, but it DOES include currants, cognac and ground nuts.
My response is that I've heard no complaint from the Queen of Sheba. She passed thousands of years ago, and is unlikely to be heard from now. Besides, I said, a cake SHOULD have flour in it. I like that glint of grain, a hint of earth. It reassures us that we aren't eating moon food.
So, this is:
PLENTY GOOD ENOUGH QUEEN OF SHEBA CAKE
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 softened stick butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup strong coffee
Put these ingredients in a big bowl in the order given. If you want to be fancy, substitute a couple tablespoons of Kahlua or Godiva liqueur for part of the coffee. Run your mixer on High for two minutes. Bake at 350 in a greased 9" by 9" pan. Begin checking carefully after twenty or twenty five minutes. DON'T LET THAT CAKE GET DRY!!
Frost with your favorite chocolate buttercream frosting. Again, you may choose to add a little Godiva or Kahlua for part of the liquid.
I like to serve the slices on thinnest rosebud china, with the pink cloth napkins...