I first cottoned on to this cake soon after moving home to Seattle after college in the South. I was glad to be back in the Northwest, but had developed a certain affinity for the South that I was most comfortable holding on to and connecting with through food. I tried to align myself with recipes that reminded me of college. Obviously, Coke is a quintessentially American brand that doesn't necessarily have specifically Southern connotations. But in the South, particularly in Atlanta (where a large ratio of my university peers hailed from), Coca Cola is a historical, cultural, and economic icon. It is heartily revered, and the Coke versus Pepsi debate is not just a comical Mac vs. PC face-off, but rather a taking of sides more akin to the Civil War ('scuse me, Ma'am, but don't ya'll mean 'The War of Northern Agression'?)
Lingering over back-issues of Southern Living magazine, I came across an article about Coca Cola Cake, and how the company has all sorts of recipes using it's product. The cake is a favorite though, yielding a moist chocolate batter and with an addictive carmelized crust. I made the recipe a couple of times and marvelled over the texture which was rich and chocolatey without being dense or dry, or bitter like many chocolate cakes. And the crust is truly unique... its delicate and tender yet still somehow chewy, with a caramel cola flavor.
I'm sure the science behind why this cake works so well is really simple... how the acidic pH of the cola works on the cocoa similar to how akalizing would. Or something. But I don't care. It just works and it's delicious.
The recipe I used to make went in a bundt pan, but I had buttered two 9-inch rounds for another recipe, which then only made enough batter for one pan, so I already had pan buttered and ready. I came across another recipe for coke cake in my Warren Brown cookbook, which I found disappointingly uninspiring, but wanted to test out of anyway, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. A side-by-side comparison of his recipe from United Cakes of America and the Southern Living version were surprisingly different, but yielded a cake that was very much what I remembered and love. Again, I don't know why the two recipes both worked the same way, I just know you should try it.
Coca Cola Cake
adpated from Warren Brown's United Cakes of America
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetend cocoa powder (non-alkalized)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Coca-Cola
1/4 cup buttermilk
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
Grease and flour 9-inch baking pan with removeable bottom, or line with parchment. (Finished layer will be just slightly domed, and 1 1/2 inches high.)
Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter and sugar. Mix flour, salt, and cocoa in separate bowl, and Coke and milk in third bowl. Add dry and wet ingredients alternately to butter mixture until smooth. Pour into pan and smooth top, bake until center is set, 40-45 minutes. Cool in pan then invert.
Frost with chocolate or vanilla frosting. I used a vanilla cooked-milk buttercream from the same book, recipe below. He references it as "the mother recipe for buttercream in the U.S.A." I had never heard of a frosting recipe with flour in it, so I was curious to try it just for that. Brown also says, "after one taste, you'll recognize this" but I didn't. It just tasted really vanilla-y because of my excellent Mexican vanilla extract. And the consistency looked a bit curdled, so I wouldn't want to use it for decorating. But it did taste good, and was a great complement to the cola cake. I wouldn't try to cover the dark cake with the white frosting though, especially this one which would be hard to get smooth. Just plop on a dollop, or smear across the top in loose swirls.
Old Fashioned Milk Buttercream
from Warren Brown's United Cakes of America
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whist together 2 tablespoons milk with flour until completely smooth. Whisk in remaining milk and transfer to heavy small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Combine butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla with the paddle of a stand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Pour in cooled milk mixture and beat until desired consistency.