The Institute of Culinary Education is one of the largest culinary schools in the world, offering both professional and recreational programs in New York City. Here, Chef Jenny McCoy of ICE’s School of Pastry & Baking Arts gives PEOPLE the secret to impressing your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day (hint: it’s chocolate).
My ultra-rich chocolate cake gets an extra dose of deliciousness from the addition of coffee, piles of velvety Nutella-mascarpone frosting, and an exciting crunch from chopped hazelnuts.
What’s more, though it looks and tastes impressive, this simple recipe requires minimal ingredients and no stand mixer or fancy tools — who needs the extra stress on the big day? Trust me: it’ll be love at first bite.
But before you start digging in, here are some cake-baking tips so you can stress less about dessert, and focus more on giving that romance a chance. We can hear Barry White already …
1. The components of the cake can be made up to two days in advance and assembled right before serving.
2. Don’t let the cakes cool in the pans for more that 10 minutes, as this can cause them to shrink and stick to the pans.
3. Can’t find mascarpone? Swap for cream cheese!
4. Use the plate and wheeled ring in your microwave as a cake turntable substitute. (Want to see how? Check out this video.)
5. If you don’t have a pastry bag and pastry tip, just use a spatula to spread the filling over the cake layers.
6. Lining your cake pans with parchment will ensure they don’t stick. — but how to cut a circle of parchment to perfectly fit the size of your pan? Watch this.
7. Thinking about going pro with your cake deco? Check out ICE’s Professional Cake Decorating Program.
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Decadent Dark Chocolate Cake with Nutella-Mascarpone Filling
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1¼ granulated sugar
1 cup brewed coffee, at room temperature
3 ½ cups Nutella or chocolate-hazelnut spread
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 cup of roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1. Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, and lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray. Sift flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda together in a bowl or onto a piece of parchment.
2. In a large bowl, add eggs, sugar and coffee and whisk until thickened and light in color. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients and milk, alternating between the two until fully combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk for another minute until smooth.
3. Divide the batter evenly amongst the two cake pans and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer cake pans to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Gently invert and cool to room temperature before using.
4. In a large bowl, fold the Nutella and mascarpone together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use or up to 3 days. If needed, stir the filling to soften before using.
5. Place one Dark Chocolate Cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard cake round. Pipe a 3/4-inch thick layer of the Nutella-mascarpone filling, starting at the edge of the cake and working your way into the center.
6. Scatter the top of the filling generously with the hazelnuts. Gently place the second layer of cake on top of the filling. Pipe the remaining filling on top of the cake, swirling into a decorative pattern, and sprinkle with remaining nuts.