Ina Garten's Chocolate Cake Uses Coffee 2 Ways

There are few things better in this world than chocolate, cake, and coffee, so it is no wonder that we have collectively created countless ways to enjoy some combination of these three elements, from a mocha in the morning to a tiramisu to finish the day. Ina Garten, however, has figured out the ultimate way to have it all in her Beatty's Chocolate Cake recipe.

While Garten is by no means the first person ever to add coffee to chocolate cake, her cake stands above the rest for those who truly love coffee, which she makes use of not once, but twice. Bakers following Garten's recipe get to enjoy the aroma of freshly brewed coffee first when preparing the batter for the cake as one of the wet ingredients that brings it all together, then again when making the frosting. By including coffee in both the fluffy cake and the creamy frosting that coats it, every bite is intensely infused with the complex flavors of coffee and chocolate.

Why chocolate is better with coffee

A cup of coffee makes a great companion to a slice of cake, but something even more magical happens when you use that coffee in the baking process, specifically for chocolate cake. The core ingredients — cacao and coffee beans — have a lot in common. In fact, "chocolate" is one of the tasting notes used to describe certain coffee varieties and, vice versa – "coffee" is used as a descriptor when defining the essence of some kinds of chocolate. This crossover emphasizes the diversity and similarity of the flavors found in each, which range from sweet, to bitter, to earthy. Rather than blend into each other when combined, coffee brings out a more intensely chocolatey taste.

According to a 2020 study published in Foods, coffee boosts our sensitivity to sweetness while reducing our sensitivity to bitterness, impacting how we perceive the overall taste of a particular food. In this way, adding coffee to cake batter does not necessarily add a strong coffee flavor, but instead serves to amplify the chocolate component. For this reason, those who really want to taste the coffee in this cake will appreciate Ina Garten's addition of instant coffee in the frosting. Just make sure you're using a good quality instant coffee — if it doesn't taste nice in the cup, it won't taste nice in the frosting.

Level up chocolate cake with ice cream

Garten's double-the-coffee chocolate cake is pure perfection just as it is, but if you want to make this sweet treat even more special, try taking inspiration from a double-duty dessert that was also made for coffee-lovers: an affogato. This classic Italian pick-me-up demonstrates the delight of having ice cream with coffee, so why not enjoy the two with cake, as well?

If you want the flavors of coffee and chocolate to remain front and center, vanilla ice cream is the ideal choice to complement both without stealing the spotlight. Or you can play on the overall theme and add a scoop of coffee-flavored ice cream.

For those seeking something a little unexpected, however, you may want to consider adding a scoop of ice cream flavored with your favorite tropical fruit. Both coffee beans and cacao originally come from the tropics, so they naturally pair well with other ingredients that are native to these environments. Coconut ice cream contributes a rich and subtly complex flavor to this dessert — while passion fruit ice cream adds both a bright pop of color and a pleasantly tart taste.