The not-so-secret ingredient is coffee.
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portrait of Ina Garten and photo of her chocolate cake
Credit: NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images / Quentin Bacon

When we ran this double-chocolate cake recipe in 2007, Ina Garten declared it "the most fabulous chocolate cake that I've ever made." If Garten, a prolific maker of cakes, said this was the best, I was inclined to believe it was the best. Just to be safe, this week I decided to finally make it and find out for myself.

I'm not a confident baker, so what drew me to the recipe was its straightforward instructions and reasonable ingredient list, containing mostly things I already had on hand. Plus, Garten isn't the only one who has sung this cake's praises. My friend and colleague, F&W visuals editor Sarah Crowder, had told me for years this was her go-to chocolate cake recipe — in part thanks to its secret ingredient, coffee, which appears in the frosting and the batter.

"The texture is perfect — moist without being too dense — and the coffee deepens the chocolate flavor," she told me. "I now keep instant coffee on hand exclusively for chocolate baked goods."

Double-Chocolate Layer Cake
Credit: Quentin Bacon

Instant coffee appears in the creamy, lush frosting, and a cup of hot coffee goes into the cake batter, too. When I made the cake myself, after pouring the coffee into the batter, the mixture was much more liquidy than I expected, but I tasted a small, delicious spoonful and resolved to trust the process.

I baked the cake in two heart-shaped pans, rather than the two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans the recipe calls for, and that's where I went "wrong." (When I sent Sarah a photo of how my cake turned out, she called me laughing to the point of tears.) I put wrong in quotes because, while the end result looked completely chaotic (the heart pans were slightly too small, which messed with the cook times), it was the most delicious, moist, flavorful cake I've ever eaten in my life.

So if ugly-looking cakes are wrong, I don't want to be right.