This simple cake balances sweet with heat in a rich chocolate treat, and it pairs perfectly with a piping hot cup of coffee on a brisk fall day.
For the Cake
- 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (or nutmeg)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup hot, strong coffee (instant, regular, or decaf works just fine)
- 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3-1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons good vanilla
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
*To make sour milk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk and let stand 5 minutes before using.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray – OR – grease and flour one novelty baking pan (I used this Halloween Skull Cake Pan from Wilton) and one 9-inch round cake pan to make a small, single-layer cake with the leftover batter.
Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, garam masala (or nutmeg), and cayenne in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract, mixing on low speed until just combined. Then, add the hot coffee and mix for another 1-2 minutes on medium. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes; then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.
Note: the batter for this cake is extremely thin, so don’t be surprised if it resembles more of a watery pancake batter than a cake batter when you pour it into the prepared pans.
Once the cake has cooled completely – ideally overnight – it is ready to frost as desired. To make a vanilla buttercream, mix butter and powdered sugar on low speed in a medium bowl until just combined. Add vanilla and milk – a few drops at a time – until it reaches a creamy consistency that is smooth and spreadable.
For a Day of the Dead inspired cake, I frosted my chocolate skull cake with a white base coat of vanilla buttercream. Then, I used liquid food coloring (and this Frost by Numbers guide from the Food Network) to dye 1/3 to 1/2-cup sized portions for decorating, which I spooned into disposable decorating bags for easy clean-up.
If you’re not feeling particularly crafty and/or just want to eat cake, then I would suggest modifying the vanilla buttercream into a spiced chocolate buttercream to frost a two-layer, 9-inch cake. To the vanilla buttercream recipe above, I would just add 1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper – adjusting the amount of cocoa, cinnamon, and cayenne to taste.