Dark Fudge Cake with Salted Graham Buttercream / by Chelsea Zwieg

When I was little, we were regularly subjected to this horrible concoction, disguised as breakfast, called graham crackers and milk. It is exactly what it sounds like. Graham crackers crushed up in a bowl, covered with milk and microwaved until they reached a soggy, tasteless consistency that could only be achieved in your nightmares. And this is coming from the girl who would eat anchovy olives and liver sausage sandwiches. There was not a picky bone in my body, and yet something about warm soggy graham crackers just could not sell to me. Ever since then, I've pretty much steered clear of graham crackers. That is, unless they are holding toasty marshmallows and melty chocolate in which case they are the king of the food pyramid. 

Which got me thinking, who ever decided that graham crackers should be paired with chocolate? Did they have one too many bowls of graham crackers and milk and think there has GOT to be a better life for these poor things? Maybe it was the same person who put vanilla wafers into the magical concoction of banana pudding or ladyfingers into tiramisu. Taking the most boring, bland, unloved cookies and giving them a life they can be proud of. I think that must be it. 

Ok, but really, this cake is inspired by that most blessed union of chocolate and graham crackers and it is INSANE. (side note, you have no idea how many words I make all caps and then delete and change back to normal because I don't want to seem like a crazy person that gets way too excited about food. but this is justified because this cake is INSANE.) It's layers of super rich, fudgy chocolate cake paired with a graham cracker buttercream that has the toasty, honey-ish flavor of graham crackers offset by a generous bit of sea salt to keep the whole thing in check. 

It beats graham crackers and milk, and also a lot of other things, any day. 

Dark Fudge Cake with Salted Graham Buttercream

Makes a 3 layer 8" cake or 24 cupcakes

Cake adapted from Magnolia Bakery

Note: The amount of salt in the buttercream below is definitely enough to notice, and get that sweet/salty contrast I love so much, but it's also not enough to really ruffle any feathers. Taste it as you go and, if you like a little more salt, add more. Or, if sweet/salty isn't really you're thing, just start with a pinch. If I had been making this just for me I would have gone full salt mine, but I refrained. 

| Ingredients

For the cake: 

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup very hot, very strong coffee

For the buttercream: 

  • 1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup crushed graham crackers (you want them as close to powder as possible, so I find it's fastest to blitz them in a food processor) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

| Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottoms of 3 8" cake pans with circles of parchment paper. Butter and flour the pans or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to break up any clumps. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil and vanilla until combined. Add wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk until completely smooth. Pour in coffee and whisk until combined. 

Divide batter between the 3 prepared cake pans. Bake 25-30 minutes until set in the center and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 30 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

To make the buttercream, beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until soft. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition. Beat in vanilla and salt until smooth. Add graham crumbs and beat until fully combined.

Once the cake layers have cooled completely, assemble the cake. Level the cake layers and spread the bottom layer with a coat of frosting. I like to use a little more than 1/4 cup between each layer. Top with the next layer and add another layer or frosting. Top with the final layer and use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the top with extra graham crumbs, if desired.