I know I should call this "The Greatest Chocolate Cake Ever In The Entire Known Universe" or something like that.
I have to admit that it's not just modesty that prevents me from doing so. It's the fact that calling my own recipe the best is basically issuing a challenge. Sooner or later, I might find myself called upon to defend myself in cake-to-cake combat.
I could, conceivably, even go down in defeat. Because what I like about this cake isn't that it's the most decadent, coma-inducing dessert I've ever humiliated myself in public by moaning uncontrollably over. What I like about it is that it's just wonderful. Always. Summer or winter. It's a rich, deep, satisfying cake with a terrific crumb, and anyone who's suffered through a piece of heavy, lumpy or brittle chocolate cake will attest that these are no humble claims.
This is a cake you can make pretty much any time you feel like having some, because although it's a treat fine enough for any celebration, the ingredients are everyday. Odds are you've got them on hand right now.
As always when baking a cake, get the eggs -- two of them, in this case -- out in advance and let them come to room temperature. (Don't give up on the whole idea if you don't have time for this nicety; you won't ruin the cake if you take the eggs straight out of the fridge.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
In a large bowl, measure together one and three-fourths cups of granulated sugar, 2 cups of cake flour, one cup unsweetened cocoa powder, one and a half teaspoons baking powder, one and a half teaspoons baking soda, and a teaspoon of salt.
If you don't have cake flour, you can cut it down to one and three-fourths cups of conventional unbleached white flour. Sift it several times if possible.
Whisk all the dry ingredients together, being careful to incorporate the sugar and cocoa powder thoroughly.
Go and put the kettle on, and let the water come to a boil while you perform the next few steps.
Add to the dry ingredients the eggs, one cup of buttermilk, half a cup of vegetable oil, and two teaspoons real vanilla extract. Mix these thoroughly, then beat by hand or with an electric mixer (on medium speed) one minute.
As soon as the kettle comes to a full boil, pour out one cup boiling (not merely hot) water. Stir it in gently just until completely combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans. As it's extremely thin, I use a large soup ladle for this.
Bake for about half an hour -- start checking at twenty-five minutes. Use a cake tester or wooden toothpick to check that the crumb is completely set before removing cakes from oven to cool on wire racks. Let them sit for ten minutes, then carefully remove the cakes from the pans, set them on the racks again, and let them cool completely.
Ice with your favorite frosting. I prefer a buttercream, but chocolate on chocolate is always good.
If you want to play with this recipe, you can add a little peppermint extract, or stir in some chocolate chips. That's the nice thing about a good basic recipe -- it lends itself to variations. But it's also wonderful as is.