MAKES: One 2-layer cake (about 12 servings)

TIME: About 1 hour, plus time to cool

Though usually viewed as opposite flavors, chocolate and vanilla combine beautifully. Vanilla’s perfumy and musky aroma and flavor provide a wonderful backdrop for the earthiness of the chocolate. To get every bit of flavor from the vanilla bean, the whole thing pod and all is minced and incorporated into the batter. They sort of melt away into soft bits. If you don’t think you can finely mince the whole pod, then scrape out the seeds (see Using a Vanilla Bean) or use another teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Sauces, glazes, and frostings you can use with this cake: Not-Too-Sweet Buttercream Frosting, Not-Too-Sweet Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, or Chocolate Ganache. Fill the inside with raspberry jam if you like.

1 vanilla bean, ends trimmed and finely minced

1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup cake or all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

11/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, separated

11/4 cups sugar

1/4 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or nut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350В°F. Grease two 8- or 9-inch cake pans. Put the vanilla bean in a large bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let steep for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Add the yolks, sugar, oil, and extract to the vanilla water and beat until creamy and bubbly. Mix in the dry ingredients until smooth. By hand, fold the egg whites into the batter gently but thoroughly.

04.png Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and let it settle for a few seconds. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before carefully inverting onto racks. Cool completely before frosting first between the layers, then the sides and on top.

Variations

Chocolate Nib Layer Cake. These little bits of cocoa beans are now available wherever you can find excellent chocolate: Instead of the minced vanilla bean, use 1/4 cup finely chopped or ground chocolate nibs.

Chocolate Ginger Layer Cake. Rich chocolate with a kick of ginger: Substitute 2 teaspoons grated or very finely minced peeled fresh ginger or 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger for the vanilla bean. Proceed with the recipe. Add crystallized ginger to the buttercream if you like.

Chocolate Cinnamon Layer Cake. Substitute 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon for the vanilla bean.