Here in Texas, Dr. Pepper reigns supreme above all other soft drinks. I suppose you could chock this up to the plant which calls Dublin, TX it’s home. However, Coca-Cola is unequivocally Southern in that it all began at a pharmacy in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia in 1886. Jacob’s Pharmacy no longer stands, but Coca-Cola is alive and well down South. It’s so popular that the nickname “Coke” has become synonymous with any soft drink. Go to any restaurant down here and when the waitress takes your drink order and you order “a coke,” nine times out of ten, she’ll ask you what kind (Sprite? Root beer? Coca-Cola?)
Coke has been popular for over a century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Coca-Cola Cake started cropping up in Southern cookbooks. No one knows whether a homecook came up with the idea of using the popular fountain drink in baked goodies or if the Coca-Cola company distributed the recipe in a clever marketing push, but everyone agrees that it’s a delicious cake! In turn it inspired a host of other soft-drink-cake incarnations. Lemon-Lime Soda Cake, Big Red Cake, Root Beer Float Cake, Orange Crush Cake, and the list goes on and on…
In most of these cases, the syrupy drink is used not just in the cake batter itself, but in the frosting as well! One would think this would make a cloying dessert, and this dessert is certainly one that is rich, but that’s almost the best thing about it. It’s a cake that’s meant to be shared and you don’t need a whole big piece to make a whole big impact on your taste-buds. I suppose you could make this same cake with Dr. Pepper, but why mess with a Southern standard. That would be like making a yellow Texas sheet cake. It might be good, but it’s not the same. I recently tried Joanna Gaines’ recipe for Chocolate-Cola Cake from the first volume of her Magnolia Table cookbook.
One thing I did feel was lacking in making this the very best cake was the omission of a dose of coffee in the batter. I don’t find it in any of the other iterations for this pervasive treat, but a good dose of coffee just so elevates a chocolate flavor that I just couldn’t help myself. I had some Nescafe Clasico on hand and added a heaping tbsp to the batter. I used to manage a coffee shop after college, but I have a secret love for instant coffee. I don’t keep it around for every day drinking, but it reminds me of the emergency canister in my parent’s pantry growing up.
It also reminds me of the time in college when I sent away for free samples of Nescafe Taster’s Choice instant coffee packets after the contestants’ challenge to promote the product on The Apprentice. I blended some with vanilla ice cream in my tiny apartment kitchen for a delicious milkshake. Some girls are fans of the Bachelor… Me? I loved shows like The Apprentice or Top Chef. I didn’t get a business degree or a culinary degree, but something about the drive of the content of the shows reached me more. I never really got into those “dating shows.”
One thing I noted about this recipe is how specific Joanna is in her ingredients. Sometimes a recipe will call for “packed brown sugar.” Often it doesn’t matter whether you choose light or dark, but sometimes it does. Not many know that, though they’re both brown sugar (rich in molasses), the darker variety is more acidic and reacts more distinctly with leavening agents in baking. For more information on this topic, Bon Appétit has a great article here. Light brown sugar is more versatile and mild, but if a recipe specifically calls for dark, you should get your hands on the right stuff.
Joanna also uses salted butter in her recipe. I couldn’t be more excited about this. Nearly every pastry chef on the planet will tell you that baking calls for unsalted butter, however I only buy salted butter. If I’m going to buy butter, I generally only buy one box and it’s going to be salted. Why? It just tastes better. Don’t tell Lorraine Pascale, but I even bake with it. My creations don’t come out salty 99.9% of the time, so I never saw the reason to switch! Joanna is so bold as to use both kosher salt and salted butter in this recipe. She’s truly my spirit animal.
You can find my spin on Joanna’s recipe below.
2c AP flour
1c white sugar
1c packed dark brown sugar
1/2tsp kosher salt
3-1/2sticks salted butter, room temp, divided
3/4c baking cocoa, divided
1tbsp + 1tsp instant coffee granules, heaping
1-1/4c Coca-Cola, divided
1tsp baking soda
1/2c buttermilk, room temp
2lg eggs, lightly beaten, room temp
2c powdered sugar
1) Preheat oven to 350ºF & spray a 9×13 baking dish with Pam. In a lg bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, and salt.
2) In a sm saucepan, melt butter and stir in 1/4c cocoa, 1tbsp coffee granules, and 1c Coca-Cola. Bring to a boil and stir until all is incorporated. Drizzle into the flour mixture and stir until just mixed.
3) In a sm bowl, combine baking soda and buttermilk. Drizzle into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in eggs and vanilla.
4) Pour batter into prepared baking dish and slide into the oven. Bake 40-45min until a knife slid into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on the counter.
5) In a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat butter on med speed until creamy. Slowly add in remaining 1/2c cocoa and remaining 1/4c Coca-Cola. Whisk in remaining 1tsp coffee granules and 1c powdered sugar until all is incorporated and then whisk in remaining 1c powdered sugar.
6) When the cake is completely cool, spread the fudgy frosting over top the cake until all available real estate is covered. Slice, serve, and enjoy!
Makes 12-24 servings, depending on slice sizes.
What is your favorite cake?
Reading: Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro