Sweet And Crumby

Baking, a Love Story

The Hot Cocoa Cake and the Girl Who Cured My Fear of Marshmallows


O.K. if you need a superstar of a cake to bring somewhere, and you want lavish praise and adulation, this one is IT.  It is named the Hot Chocolate Cake and is from Fine Cooking Magazine.  The crazy thing is this cake actually does remind me of the world’s best homemade decadent cup of hot cocoa.

This particular issue of Fine Cooking has been sitting on my nightstand, taunting me for months.  Why I haven’t made it until now were those homemade marshmallows you see there.  YES, those are homemade marshmallows…do I need to say that again for effect…HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOWS!!!! They frightened me.

Who is afraid of marshmallows?  I have a degree in psych., and yet I don’t remember marshmallow phobia mentioned anywhere.  I will have to give that some thought.  I know the giant Stay Puff guy in Ghost Busters was kind of scary, but I am afraid of the normal pop in your mouth kind.

I am a baker 100%, and a confectioner 0%— note that there is no candy thermometer needed in any prior post.  My only previous attempt at candies caused a pretty nasty burn, the caramel never firmed up to “ball stage”, my pot took hours to clean, and I quit.  Q-U-I-T! I have been 0 for 1 ever since.

But somehow it would have felt wrong to make this amazing cake with those Jet Puff kind of marshmallows.  I am a purist when it comes to my baked goods and half-way or prepackaged just doesn’t cut it.  Those marshmallows on the beautiful cover of the mag. tormented me to no end.  I wanted THOSE!

Finally, I decided that I was going to make the cake this very weekend and had in the back of my head that I just may have to succumb to the fear and buy a bag of marshmallows.  But then, my twelve-year-old daughter shamed me into making them.  She’s in seventh grade, and she told me point blank that they were easy, and her whole class in Beginning Culinary Arts made them with no problem.

Yes, if one patient (and wonderful I might add) teacher can get 30 unruly middle school kids to use a candy thermometer without the paramedics being called, then certainly I could handle this (I think…I hope).

Funny thing is… the marshmallows were the easiest part of this cake.  The prep time itself was pretty fast. The major time investment was just waiting for them to firm up (about 3 hours or ideally over-night), but if you follow the directions, then I guarantee you that you will have beautiful and absolutely melt-in-your-mouth soft and squishy marshmallows.  They taste nothing like their plastic bag grocery store ugly cousin.

My daughter and I made them together, with her being the executive chef and me being her sous chef.  Actually, it was the most fun thing I have ever made in the kitchen!  It’s like culinary play-doh.  YIPPEE!  My fear had been conquered!  If you want a great marshmallow how-to in addition to Zoie’s recipe below, go to  Stay Calm, Have a Cupcake.

I wish I could tell you the rest of the cake was a piece of cake, but that would be a BIG FAT LIE, and I am not a liar.  Sure, all of you out there in Blogsville would never have known the wiser until you were up to your elbows in frosting refrigeration, cake layering, spackling the first coat of frosting on, refrigerating, spackling the second coat of frosting on, refrigerating and the beat goes on.  You get it.

I am not a very good sales person when it comes to convincing you to make this delicious hot cocoa cake, and I am beginning to think this post may have actually talked you OUT of making this scrumptious cake, but that would be a CRIME!  Let’s get real… how many absolutely amazing things come attached with little effort?  Only martinis come to mind, but I really can’t think of another.

I was a little worried that the cake would be dense and a little dry because it was so DANG HEAVY to lift the entire cake, but you know what, it was tender, MOIST, rich and SOFT.  REALLY! It’s worth a little extra elbow grease.

So here’s my advice, since that is what you are here for: Make the marshmallows first, on day one….it’s fun and easy and a lot of waiting.  Go ahead and make the frosting on day one as well.  It needs quite a bit of refrigeration.  Those two things together will take you an hour tops of actual work.

Then, on day two (the day you plan to serve the cake) make the cake.  After it cools, you will have all the parts you need to throw it together and refrigerating between frosting won’t seem so annoying as it would have the day before.  The cake will be fresh and delicious and you won’t feel like your entire day was devoted to it.

I am now officially cheering you on and telling you that YOU CAN DO IT!  Is that better?  Have I convinced you to make it yet?  Please let me know how it goes!

Hot Chocolate Layer Cake
Taken Verbatim from Fine Cooking, Dec. 09 Issue
For the Cake
6oz. unsalted butter, more for pans
13.5 oz (3 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour, more for pans
3/4 c. canola oil
4.5 oz bittersweet chocolate finely chopped (I used fine bitter chocolate chips)
3 c. granulated sugar
2 1/4 oz. (3/4 c.) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
2 T. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 t. kosher salt (I used sea salt…was fine)

For the Frosting
2 1/2 c. heavy cream
3 oz. (6 T.) unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used fine, bittersweet chocolate chips)
2 c. granulated sugar
6 oz. (2 c. ) natural unsweetened cocoa powder; more for dusting later
1/2 c. Lyle’s Golden Syrup (Who the heck Is Lyle?  I could not find it and used corn syrup)
1/4 t. kosher salt

Taken directly from Zoie’s beautiful recipe book from Miss Collier’s Culinary Arts Class
vegetable oil for brushing
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3 c. granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 c. water
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar

Ok…here is where you get to learn from my mistakes.  Please listen to me and make the marshmallows FIRST, then the Frosting and finally the cake.  I honestly think it’s better to make this over  two days.  Day one = Make marshmallows and frosting and Day two = cake and actually frosting and putting together the parts of the cake.

Cake: Position racks in the bottom and top third of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter 3 9×2 pans and line each with a parchment round or just butter and flour thoroughly (that’s what I did and it was fine…just be thorough).  Dust with flour and tap the flour around the pans and knock out the excess over the sink.

In a 3 qrt. saucepant, combine the butter, oil, chopped chocolate and 1 c. water.  Heat over medium heat until melted.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and cocoa powder.  Pour the hot chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture and whisk or use a stand mixer and beat with a whisk attachment on medium until combined.  Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then whisk in the buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda, and salt.  Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans.

Frosting: In a 4-quart saucepan over low heat, combine the cream, butter and vanilla bean and seeds and stir until the butter is melted.  Remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the chopped chocolate until melted.  Whisk in the sugar, sifted cocoa powder, syrup and salt until smooth–be sure the cocoa powder dissolves completely.  Pour in a 9×13 pan and refrigerate until firm about 3 hours.  Or refrigerate over night, but make sure to cover tightly with plastic wrap over-night.  Don’t cover with plastic wrap while it is still warm, only after refrigerating for a couple of hours.

Marshmallows: Brush a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with canola oil.  Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overlap on the long sides.  Brush parchment with oil; set aside. I used aluminum foil and while it took a little patience to peel the foil away later, it worked just fine.  Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and 3/4 c. water into a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring only at the beginning to dissolve sugar.  Cook until mixture registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, put 3/4 c. cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin.  Let soften five minutes. Using the electric mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin.  SLOWLY at first…the mixture is burning hot and will scald your skin!!!!  OK?!  GRADUALLY, increase the speed, every minute or so increase the speed one setting.  Beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes  Beat in vanilla.  Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula.  Set aside,  uncovered until firm, about 3 hours or over-night like I did.  It worked great.  I loosely covered it with foil…do not let the foil touch the marshmallow and make sure air can flow through.

Sift one c. confectioners’ sugar onto a very clean work surface (cutting board or pastry board).  Unmold marshmallow  by lifting the marshmallow “brick” out of the glass dish and turning it upside down onto the powdered sugar work surface.  Peel away the foil or parchment carefully.  Be patient.  It will happen but ever so slowly.  Lightly brush a sharp smooth knife with canola oil.  Cut one inch strips of marshmallow and then cut across to make mini marshmallows.  Sift remaining 1/2 c. powdered sugar into a small bowl and gently roll each marshmallow in the sugar, tapping to remove excess sugar.  Coated marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

Put the cake together:  The tricks…obviously place the bottom layer on a cake stand and frost, next layer, then frost, and final layer and frost the entire cake.  Here’s the trick…refrigerate the cake then frost the outside again.  Keep the left over frosting in an airtight container in the fridge as well.  This frosting tends to be gelatinous and will melt if it’s too warm.  So to make the cake prettier and to help it hold up well, we refrigerated it between two coats of frosting.  Also, my husband thinks it may help to cut the layers of cake in half.  Then just frost four thin layers of cake (you will have one extra cake layer left over but you can always chop that up and make petit fours!).  This way there is less pressure or weight squeezing out the frosting inbetween the layers.  Our heavy, thick layers tended to make the frosting ooze out in between the layers, and we would have to refrigerate for awhile and then try again with the frosting.  We eventually got it to work though.

Finally, decorate with mounds of marshmallows and dust or sift with just a touch of cocoa powder. REFRIGERATE!  and EAT!

41 thoughts on “The Hot Cocoa Cake and the Girl Who Cured My Fear of Marshmallows

  1. Geni,

    This cake looks so delicious!! You did a phenomenal job!! I recently made marshmallows too – my first try at it was a disaster, but the second time around worked pretty well. They were yummy! I’m thinking of turning this idea into a cupcake version – what do you think?

    • Thank you. I forgot that your blog had planted the seed that perhaps I could do make my own marshmallows so I now have linked to yours from this post. 🙂 Absolutely, 100% YES make it a cupcake and blog it so I can see it. I think it would be a whole heck of a lot easier. I also have a Rocky Road cupcake on my blog as well. The cake from the Hot Cocoa recipe is richer so I would definitely use it. It is so fudgy.

  2. I am also scared of making marshmallows but I will try now that you’ve encouraged me. 🙂

  3. Maybe I should send Zoie to you. She was a HUGE help.

  4. The cake looks so good I want to reach in my monitor, grab a slice and eat it! You did a great job on that cake and I think I’ll be bookmarking this recipe to try sometime in the future. I had actually tried to make a layer cake and it turned into a disaster (see my blog post “cake-tastrophe!”) and layered cakes and I have been 1-0 ever since! Perhaps I shall try again very soon!

    • I just stopped by your cake catastrophe. I have had several of those. Unfortunately it’s par for the course if you bake. Sometimes things just don’t work out. This cake seemed a little fussy but fairly full proof. Let me know if you get the gumption to make it! Cheers.

  5. Thanks for linking to my blog Geni – When I have some time this weekend, I’ll make a cupcake version of your delicious looking cake. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

  6. This looks heavenly! I realy wish I could have a piece! Congrats on facing your marshmallow fears…I attempted once, and it was a complete disaster. I think my candy thermometer is broken though, so that would probably explain why!

  7. Homemade marshmallows?? Oh my!!

    I think you should come and cook for me! 🙂

  8. I your cake looks AMAZING. It’s picture perfect. I can’t wait to try the recipe. Keep up with the confections they are so fun to do. 🙂

  9. Ooo my, this looks decadent! I am dieing to try to make homemade marshmallows but haven’t been brave enough yet. Thanks for sharing!

  10. is it just me, or are your titles getting gradually longer?

  11. I found this cooking blog with a lot of asian pastry recipes. (melon bread, red bean paste buns, moon cakes, various matcha things, ect.) its great and made me think of your blog and all the yummy things you make! 🙂

  12. You are true artist. Every post, every cake is a masterpiece!
    Really glad that I have WordPress, just to come and look at your art.

    Amazing post!

  13. That looks like chocolate heaven!! Kudos on making your own marshmellows!!!! You really are amazing!!

  14. wow… this cake sounds wonderful and great job on the homemade marshmallows:)

  15. Your cake looks so rich, and your marshmallows look so pretty. To me this would be so good with coffee. 🙂

  16. wow! that cake looks like it’s straight from a magazine – nice work!

  17. This cake looks AMAZING! I think I want to try to make it. And I have never thought to make homemade marshmallows but they look awesome, too! Great job!

  18. Hi, Geni. This is a sumptuous-looking major production of a cake, but it is exactly the kind I’d love. Good for you for outlining the process and having the patience and skills to see it through!



  19. That is a gorgeous cake! I’ve never made anything so complicated, but this is really inspirational. Impressive! And I wish I could get a bite 🙂

  20. Gosh, do you know most people love dessert? I am one of the big fan of it and I hate you for that hahaha, kidding, the fact is I love every food that you make, but unfortunately it ruins my diet… Lol

  21. FYI Lyle’s golden syrup is a famous British product – its an inverted sugar syrup. Corn syrup or even honey are fine substitutes!

  22. This looks absolutely delicious! I’ve never made marshmallows before because they seem intimidating but you make it sound so easy to do! My sister LOVES marshmallows so I’m going to have to bookmark this cake for sure!

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