Life is hard. Baking this cake is so, so easy.

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The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Credit: Greg Dupree

Chocolate finds its way into an endless array of desserts, from croissants and clafoutis to tarts and truffles. But perhaps its highest calling in the pantheon of American desserts is cake. An old-fashioned layer cake, to be exact, where tender forkfuls of cake get squashed up against just a bit too much fluffy chocolate buttercream. The kind of cake that makes you want a tall glass of cold milk, even though you haven't had one in years. Ready for a slice? Here's how the ultimate chocolate cake comes together.

First, Melt the Chocolate Chips with Hot Coffee

Why start with chocolate chips instead of chopped chocolate? It means one fewer prep step. Just pour the chocolate chips into a bowl. Another shortcut here: Instead of melting chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water, just pour freshly brewed coffee over the chocolate, let the mixture stand for two minutes, and then stir until smooth. You'll be melting the chocolate while adding an even deeper flavor, thanks to the coffee.

Whisk in Oil, Sour Cream, Eggs, and Vanilla

When you use butter in cakes, it often means that you need to wait for it to soften, and then use an electric mixer to beat it until light and fluffy before proceeding with the recipe. Here, canola oil is used instead, creating an especially moist crumb without any extra effort. Along with the oil, you'll add sour cream, which delivers that wholesome dairy taste you would have gained from the butter (and the acid in the sour cream makes the cake tender). Four large eggs and a dose of vanilla extract follow, then you just whisk everything until smooth. No need to pull out the electric mixer.

Whisk Together the Dry Ingredients

Along with all the usual suspects (all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt), the dry-ingredient mixture calls for Dutch-process cocoa, a special variety that yields and especially deep, rich chocolate flavor. Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then stir in the wet ingredients just until combined (folding them in with a rubber spatula is an especially good move).

Bake, Cool, and Make the Frosting

Divide the batter among three prepared cake pans, and then bake in a preheated 350°F oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. While the cakes are baking and cooling, turn your attention to the frosting. This Chocolate Cream-Cheese Frosting manages to be just as quick as your typical butter-and-powdered-sugar frosting, but far less sweet and much creamier, thanks to a generous amount of cream cheese. All it takes is 5 minutes (and your electric mixer) to beat together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla; whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa, and salt; and gradually beat everything together. After a couple minutes of whipping, the ideal chocolate frosting for your cake is born.

Frost Your Cake—Then Frost Again

Start building your cooled cake layers on a platter or cake stand, with strips of parchment or wax paper arranged slightly under the bottom layer of cake for easy post-frosting clean-up. Using an offset spatula, spread a generous amount of frosting between each layer, and then frost the sides and top of the cake, too. Stash the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up the frosting, and then frost the top and sides of the cake again for maximum lusciousness. And there you have it: The Ultimate Chocolate Cake is born.

Get the Recipe: Ultimate Chocolate Cake