Candles not required [Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

When the anticipation of decent presents and being another year older have long since evaporated like the memories of that first kiss in the back of the movie theater, I say thank god at least for birthday cake.

This cake is the perfect party cake. Dark, dewy, cocoa-espresso cake layers nest in heavy swathes of bittersweet chocolate frosting. Sitting tall and pretty, decked out in creamy swirls of chocolate, this cake dares you to resist. But you won't, and as you dig your fork into a slice, the velvety cake gently yields under the satiny icing.

But this cake is by no means fancy or elaborate. It's a basic cake that smacks of a simply moist Betty Crocker cake—except that this one's real. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this cake isn't just for birthdays. Every cook has an easy to make, star chocolate cake to pull out of their recipe box at a moment's notice, and today I'm offering up my all time favorite.

And did I say easy? You bet I did. This recipe is a lickety split "dump and stir" method. Simply whisk the wet ingredients into the dry, and in the oven it goes.

Cocoa, espresso, and tangy sour cream flavor the cake. I also swear by vegetable oil in all my chocolate cakes—nothing makes a chocolate cake more moist. For the frosting, the best tasting, quickest frosting, hands down, is based on the very first recipe that I developed for Cook's Illustrated magazine. Unlike chocolate ganache (which you have to chill until it sets), you can frost your cake as soon as you make it. And unlike most quick frostings (which are gritty from the confectioners sugar), swapping some of the sugar for corn syrup keeps it creamy. My chocolate cravings have gotten bigger lately, so this time around I tweaked the original by making it less sweet and more chocolaty.

To assemble, just spread a dollop of frosting in between the two cakes and sandwich them together. If you own a cake wheel and a spatula, you can spin this cake to professional perfection. Otherwise, just do what grandma always did—use the back of a soup spoon to whirl the shiny icing into soft swirly tufts. Sprinkle on the technicolor sprinkles or sugar confetti, load it up with candles, and celebrate another year to eat cake.

Get the Recipe

Chocolate Birthday Layer Cake »

About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore and is currently at work constructing her new blog, "ShopHouseCook".

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