Cookbook Review: The Barefoot Contessa – Best Chocolate Cake Ever?

Review: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

My rating: 4 stars

Fark I lurve Ina Garten. (Yes I speak English).

She is the human version of Martha Stewart. I “HEART” INA. Ahhh Ina.

I love her doughy hands and puffy cheeks. I love the way she chuckles as she adds a crate of butter to a tub of cream. I love the way she says “how easy was that” and wipes molten chocolate off one of her trembling chins. She is the warm, round, overfeeding favourite Auntie of your dreams…

This book from the LifeStyle Food star represents the favourite staples from her famous deli in the Hamptons (ie sheeh-sheeh resort town constantly referred to in Sex and the City).

I’ve actually been looking for an old fashioned chocolate cake for a very long time – No multilayers, no fruit, no crunchy bits, and no bloody flourless. I want a chocolate cake I can ram into my face and eat my way out of.

So, my first option is “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” by Ina Garten.

I’ve tried to convert the Americanisms into Aussie lingo. Similar adaptation here also give you the nutrition panel. But … do you really want to know?

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM CAKE (adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour (ie plain white flour)
  • 1 cup good cocoa powder (Ina recommends Callebaut or Valrhona – Callebaut is about $33 per kilo at I reckon you can use any cocoa powder that has more than 20% fat)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temp (170gms)
  • 2/3 cup of granulated sugar (caster sugar)
  • 2 extra large eggs at room temp
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temp
  • 1/2 cup sour cream at room temp
  • 2 tbs brewed coffee
  • Choc Buttercream recipe

Preheat oven to 350F.(ie 180C).  Butter two 8 inch (20.32 cm) round cake pans. Line. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt. [Put to one side]

In the bowl of an electric mixer, [Note: Ina uses a KitchenAid retro mixer] cream butter & sugar on high speed until light (5 mins).

Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and coffee. On low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk mix alternately in thirds beginning with the buttermilk mixture alternatively in the flour mixture. Mix batter only until blended.

TIP: my batter was so thick it nearly broke my spoon. I had to add a splash of milk to make it pliable

Divide batter between two pans and smooth tops with spatula. Bake on middle rack for 25-30 mins or until toothpick is clean. Cool for 10 mins on a rack, remove from the pans and allow to finish cooling.

 Place one cake on a serving plate, flat side up. Frost the top of that layer with buttercream. Place the second layer on top, also flat side up, and frost the top and sides.

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 10 ounces (283.5 gms) bittersweet chocolate (so this is apparently couveture chocolate with 70% cocoa solids)
  • 8 ounces (226.80 gms) semisweet chocolate
  • A note on the chocolate: This seems like a lot of chocolate!  I used 70% and plain milk cooking chocolate
  • 1/2 cup egg whites (3 extra-large eggs) at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (caster sugar)
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature (454 gms)
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tsp water
  • 2 tbls dark rum (optional).

Chop the chocolates and melt in a bowl over simmering water until smooth. Cool.

Mix whites, sugar, cream of tartar, salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Heat the egg whites in the bowl over simmering water until they are warm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Whisk on high for 5 mins or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak.

TIP: My first attempt at this was as disaster. A big white soupy mess. I had to throw it out and start again. This time I put only a third of the sugar in over the steam bath while I stirred. Then I whisked it and got some volume into the whites, then I added the rest of the sugar.

Add butter, 1 tbls at a time while beating on medium speed.

How can this be right – there is 1 pound of butter here. How can I add this 1 tbls at a time. This will take forever.

Scrape down bowl, add chocolate, vanilla, espresso, rum (optional) and mix for 1 min or until the chocolate is completely blended in. If the buttercream seems very soft, allow to cool and beat again.

There is 1 pound of butter in the icing!! There is almost a pound of chocolate as well!! In metric the icing is 1kg plus!!! The icing ingredients seem totally out of proportion to the cake mix. Can this be right???

I am having visions of The Blob.

Stack cakes upside down and ice.

Finale: How could I doubt Ina. The frosting was perfect for the cake!

Note: I put the cake in the fridge for a while and then cut it without getting it back to room temperature. This caused the cake to crack. So TIP: serve cake at room temp!

Was this the best chocolate cake EVA?

For me the cake was good but the effort that went into the frosting wasn’t worth it. Next time I’ll make the cake but use a traditional soft icing sugar chocolate frosting. ie no warmed whipped egg whites required.


The recipes here use some hard to find ingredients eg buttermilk but by the same token you will make western food that tastes a little bit different to usual Aussie fare.

Nice photography – similar to the visuals of the tv show. Lots of Ina tips in the borders of each page. A very spring/summer type book.

Who should buy this book? : Fans of quality food for group lunches, picnics, semi-posh but extremely tasty food. Helps to have Internet access to translate some of the measures. Recipes work. Delicious.

There are real meal salads – ie salads with tons of protein and fat. The soups are just as hearty. Also being American there are delicious recipes food such as banana crunch muffins, bbq chicken, and crab cakes.

  • hardcover
  • glossy paper


  • Foreword by Martha Stewart
  • Introduction
  • Fresh ingredients for simple food
  • glossary of kitchen terms
  • appetizers
  • soups
  • salads
  • dinner
  • vegetables
  • desserts
  • breakfast
  • assembling party food
  • sources for serving platters, tableware, and kitchen equipment
  • sources for mail order speciality foods

Always shop around. I bought a US edition because it was a lot cheaper at the time from
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Also try

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  • February 19, 2011 - 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for chocolate cake whatever time of day. Looks like it would be nicer with an icing sugar frosting, but still, glad you tried the buttercream one now to share that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be!

  • February 21, 2011 - 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Love your description of ramming your face into the cake. Nothing better is there!

    • Editor
      February 21, 2011 - 7:07 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Leigh. I really want to make the cake again but with regular frosting and repeat the abovementioned face shoving/ eating

  • February 22, 2011 - 9:15 am | Permalink

    I LOVE Ina too! She’s wonderful and I love that she is so passionate about her food. I also find that her recipes always work well for me.

    Your cake looks wonderfully delicious. I was interested to hear what you thought about the frosting as I’ve contemplated making that recipe a few times but discounted it due to the effort so it’s good to know that it wasn’t worth the effort.

    • Editor
      February 22, 2011 - 9:51 am | Permalink

      Hi Delicieux
      I am going to make the cake again this weekend with a traditional frosting. I will let you know how it tastes. The Ina frosting was wonderfully fluffy which was good with the dense cake but wasn’t sweet enough. It was also a massive headache – maybe easier if I had a million dollar kitchenaid food processor!

      I will post photos and review the cake again asap!

  • AllyC
    February 24, 2011 - 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Did you convert the US cups to Aussie cups? Might not have mattered though (for the consistency being too thick) if all the ingredients were in proportion – except maybe the eggs?
    How did you go with your 2nd attempt with the different icing?

    • Editor
      February 25, 2011 - 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Hi Ally
      I didn’t realize US cups were different to UK/Aussie cups until after I made the recipe. I will use UK cups with the next try. In the meantime I tried a couple of new books but lost the photos in a computer fryup. Have felt a bit demotivated since the loss. Will get back on board this weekend for you mate!

      • AllyC
        February 27, 2011 - 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Yeah be careful, metric (Australian) are different to UK which are different to US. Painful!

        • Editor
          February 27, 2011 - 6:51 pm | Permalink

          What! Aussie cups are different again?!! I thought we followed UK cups! Ouch!!!!!

  • AllyC
    February 27, 2011 - 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I think a lot of UK recipes are in metric now (so will be 250ml) but used to be 285ml. Sometimes they have little notes in the books that say what the measures are. Probably not a big issue for most recipes though!

  • KateC
    June 23, 2011 - 11:20 am | Permalink

    This cake sounds delicious! My favourite Ina-ism – after combining cream, butter, sugar, chocolate or any other wonderful combination of fabulousness she says “now how bad can that be?”. Gorgeous!

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