A Valentine's Day Chocolate Cake Is Sweet Music to the Taste Buds

With so many great chocolate cake recipes around, you would think it wouldn't be hard to find a recipe that fits your (and your family's) particular taste.

But for years, my family and I have gone through recipe after recipe. Some were too sweet, others too moist, or too dry, or too flat, or some just left too much sticking to the bottom of the pan.

(The children never complain about any freshly baked cake, and my husband, who doesn't particularly like chocolate, says I'm just too fussy.)

For Valentine's Day - the perfect occasion for chocolate anything - here is a recipe I can always count on.

I want the spongy texture of a bakery cake willing to slide out of the pan easily, consistent moistness throughout, and a treat good for several days (though baked goods made with butter are always best eaten the first day).

The recipe must call for simple ingredients that are always on hand. (For this reason, sour cream and buttermilk cakes, which create the best flavor, can't be counted on because I seldom have those ingredients and I find their results inconsistent.)

I want to frost my cake and eat it warm for two reasons: It tastes best then, like eating the world's best aroma, and anyway I promised the kids a cake and it's nearly bedtime. (Besides, they helped make it.)

And most important, the cake has to taste great.

This cake is baked in a well-greased, fluted, 12-cup bundt pan.

For frosting I want something quick, easy, and not too sweet. (Confectioner's sugar is just too sweet and starchy for my taste.)

Ganache - a rich, creamy, cooked chocolate filling and topping - fits the bill. It takes only a few minutes to prepare and hardens only slightly overnight.

Use the best chocolate you can find. Nestl semisweet chocolate chips work well, and for bittersweet chocolate, try Lindt, Valrhona, or Perugina.

Forget those instructions that demand that you "cool your cake before frosting." Glaze and eat this Valentine's Day cake while it's still warm.

Cakes warm-from-the-oven, oozing chocolate, are all the rage in fancy New York restaurants.

Is it any wonder?

Cut yourself a piece of cake; pour yourself a glass of cold milk, and go get another piece before it cools (or before it's gone!).

Valentine's Day Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup cocoa

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 sticks butter, softened

1-1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup milk

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan well. (Shortening works best.)

Put cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt in bowl and whisk well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer on high until smooth; add sugar gradually. Beat until mixture is fluffy and nearly white, about 4 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

Add vanilla and milk alternately with dry ingredients.

Scrape bowl well, mix additional 30 seconds.

Pour into pan. Bake about 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out nearly clean. While cake is baking, start ganache (recipe below).

Let cake cool for about 15 minutes. Turn out of pan and let cool another five minutes, while you finish ganache. Drizzle a layer of ganache over top. Wait a few minutes and repeat.

Serve while still warm.

Decorate with your valentine in mind.

Chocolate Ganache Topping

Use good chocolate for this not-too-sweet topping. It's also excellent served hot over vanilla ice cream.

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter

3 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, in small pieces (If your prefer a sweeter ganache use all semi-sweet chocolate.)

Melt the butter in the cream in a pan over low heat. Heat mixture until scalding (until small bubbles appear around the edge - don't boil.)

In a medium bowl, pour hot mixture over chocolate. Let stand for a few minutes.

Mix with wire whisk until smooth.

Drizzle half of the amount on top of warm cake slowly and let ganache drip down sides. Repeat, covering bare spots.

At this point cake is warm and ganache is gooey - the perfect time to have a slice.

For Valentine's Day, you can decorate the cake as you like: sprinkle confectioner's sugar through a sieve over the cake; dot with maraschino cherries, dried tart cherries, or heart-shaped candies and a single red rose; serve small bits of whipped cream on each piece.

Serve warm for best flavor.

Be certain to cover cake over night.

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