Mama Reuven's Chocolate Cake

In the summer of 2008 we took our first family trip to Israel. The kids went crazy over Burger King on the beach in Tel Aviv, while Todd and I swooned over kosher sushi, challah from the shuk (open air market), and the New York style pizza (go figure).

But it was at the home of our dear friend, Sagi, where we really hit the food jackpot. Sagi's mom, a.k.a., "Mama Reuven," produced a feast for 50, though we numbered seven. The dining room table was packed with goodies like spinach pie, roasted vegetables, lasagna AND a pasta dish, and surely one or two I can't recall. Dessert was chocolate cake (warm and ala mode!) that stunned us. "What is this?" I asked. I mean, I knew it was chocolate cake, but the velvety texture and balanced richness made me wonder how she created this magic flavor. "It's Mama Reuven's triple chocolate cake," Sagi said. Triple chocolate, sure, that made sense to me, but I knew there was more to it.

Back home, the cake haunted me. I wanted to deliver this triple chocolate wonder to my people. So I pestered Sagi for the recipe and after about a year he delivered the fully translated version, in need of a measurement conversion here and there and directions like "let butter sit outside for a little bit" changed to "let butter soften at room temperature." The ingredient that sets this cake apart from others? Heavy whipping cream. Ah ha!

I've made the cake twice and while I'm certain it's not quite the same as the original, I think I came pretty close. Mama Reuven gave me her blessing to post her recipe, so here it is. Wait until you see the ingredients. They're sinful.


Preheat oven to 350. Grease two English cake baking dishes or two 8 x 8 baking pans with butter or oil. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl combine:
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together until well combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine:
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature and starting to soften
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • heaping 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 250 ml heavy whipping cream (1 small carton)

Mix with electric beaters or if using a stand mixer, use the cookie batter paddle. Mix about 5 minutes until ingredients are very well combined.

Add one at a time:
  • 2 eggs

Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix until combined. You can finish with a wooden spoon to avoid over mixing. Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans and place them in the oven. Set timer for 28 minutes, though it may take up to 40 minutes*. You'll check it after 28. Meanwhile make the frosting.

In a small sauce pan or double boiler* heat:
  • 250 ml heavy whipping cream

When it's hot, but not boiling, add:
  • Heaping 3/4 cup 58-60% cocoa chocolate chips*

Stir to melt chocolate and turn down heat if it bubbles. Remember, hot but not boiling.

After chocolate and cream are combined well add:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, or an espresso shot mixed with a tablespoon or so of water*

Remove frosting from heat and set aside. You may need to give it a stir or two until you're ready to frost so it doesn't solidify.

Back to the cakes. Check them after 28 minutes. You can insert a toothpick and if it comes out clean or with some crumbs, they are done. If it's wiggly, set the timer for another five minutes and keep checking until done.

Then remove pans and cool them on a rack or trivets for about 5 minutes. With a fork, poke holes in the cake carefully, then pour the frosting over the cakes. Let cakes sit for about 15 minutes, until they're no longer piping hot. Cover with foil keeping it away from the frosting by either tenting the foil and/or putting 4-6 toothpicks in the cakes to prop it up. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.*

Serve cakes cold, room temperature or warmed. To warm, preheat oven to 300, cover cakes with foil (remove toothpicks) and check every five minutes. Remove when frosting is melted a bit.

**Extra! Extra!**
  • My first go at this recipe it baked 28 minutes, but last try I used low fat (instead of regular) sour cream which I believe gave the batter more moisture so it took almost 40 minutes. I'm sticking with the full fat stuff for next time.
  • Fill a pot with about 2 inches of water and find a stainless steel bowl that fits on top without touching the water. Bring water to a boil and add ingredients to bowl. Keep the water simmering and steaming and your ingredients will melt without scorching. You can also use a regular small saucepan but watch the heat; you don't want the mixture to boil or it may burn.
  • Let's talk about chocolate, shall we? Use the good stuff: Ghirardelli or some other premium brand. That goes for the cocoa, too.
  • I use vanilla since I don't own an espresso maker, but I imagine a splash of leftover morning coffee might do the trick nicely as well.
  • If you live with others, look out for sabotage. This cake takes an hour to make and only seconds to disappear. Don't get stuck having to show up to your dinner party with Dunkin' Donuts instead.