A rich buttermilk chocolate layer cake with ganache frosting
Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB


Superabundant dispatch: Buttermilk chocolate cake and this week’s news nibbles

By Heather Arndt Anderson (OPB)
Jan. 26, 2024 1 p.m.

And the chocolate cake scandal that shook Oregon

OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian, food writer and ecologist, highlights different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week, in observance of National Chocolate Cake Day, she shares a recipe for buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache frosting.

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January is the Monday morning of the calendar year, and so far it’s been a real doozy. But here we are, on the other end of the tunnel. We made it through the catastrophic glaze (and the fun bonus of a week of unplanned winter break with the kids). We doomscrolled our way through COVID, RSV, the flu and Drynuary and have emerged victorious, our wits (if not our roofs) mostly intact. Let’s have some cake about it. Fortuitously, Saturday, Jan. 27, is National Chocolate Cake Day, and may it deliver us all from the adversity that 2024 has thus wrought. The late civic leader and premier Oregonian Gerry Frank loved chocolate cake — he loved it so much, in fact, that he judged the Oregon State Fair’s chocolate layer cake contest for 60 years. Do you know how he landed that gig? Read on to find out!

Wildfire whiskey, farm footprints, cultivating clams, apple advances and good things in markets

Even better than turning lemons into lemonade

Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (to use another idiom), one Oregon winemaker is taking smoke-tainted wine and turning it into brandy to blend into a complex and limited-edition whiskey. Your Oregon News’ Gary Allen has the story.

The road to kale is paved with good intentions

A new study published by the University of Michigan reveals that urban agriculture might not be the sustainability solution we think it is. According to the study, the carbon footprint of food produced on urban farms is six times higher than that of conventional farms. (Don’t worry, your backyard tomatoes and other greenhouse-grown crops appear to be absolved.)

Tending Salish clam gardens

Our friends at Cascade PBS have a new video in their fantastic “Human Elements” series, about how the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Washington is working to rebuild their ancestral clam gardens in the Salish Sea. Watch it here.

Cosmic Crisp gets a new sibling

A new apple released by Washington State University — the first since the Cosmic Crisp — may be headed for the cider press. The Capital Press reports that the new variety, WA 64, could be licensed directly to America’s largest independent cidery, Corvallis-based 2 Towns. Though it’s currently only available through commercial licensing, the apple is set to go to market in 2029.

Good things in markets

Last week, when we were all iced into our homes (if we were lucky enough to maintain power, non-busted pipes and a tree-free roof), stored winter produce informed many meals. They weren’t glamorous meals, but they were hearty, satisfying and aptly, skewed Alpine: crisp potato pancakes, a foot across, studded with lardons of paprika speck and smeared with sweet-tart applesauce; a choucroute garnie cobbled together from frankfurters, bacon, sauerkraut, onions and more potatoes; sauerbraten meatballs with rye spaetzle and brown gravy.

Once it was safe to get around outdoors, we still found ourselves gravitating toward earthy comforts like sweet potatoes roasted with za’atar and drizzled with tahini and pine cone syrup (which sounds fancy but was nearly free, made from the green cones foraged from shore pines last summer). It has warmed up considerably, but we still crave sturdy greens braised into submission and splashed with chile vinegar. There was a rice and broccoli casserole topped with sharp cheddar and buttery breadcrumbs.

This week we’re gazing at the rainbow of winter radishes — some rough and black-skinned, turning sweet when roasted, others in watermelon cosplay, white and green skin hiding a vibrant magenta core. We’re still eating radicchio salads in every shade of pink.

Recipe: Buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache frosting

A rich buttermilk chocolate layer cake with ganache frosting

A rich buttermilk chocolate layer cake with ganache frosting

Heather Arndt Anderson / OPB

Among the myriad hats he wore, Gerry Frank was an avowed chocolate lover. (He was perhaps better known as the grand-nephew of the founder of the Meier & Frank department stores or for his time in office as Gov. Mark Hatfield’s chief of staff, but here we pay tribute to his chocoholism.) Before his death in 2022 at the age of 98, Frank was the judge of the Oregon State Fair’s famous Gerry Frank Chocolate Layer Cake Contest, a title he held for 60 years. In fact, the only reason he agreed to work on Hatfield’s 1958 campaign in the first place was that he’d been promised the sweet gig if Hatfield won. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

According to the Oregonian’s coverage of a celebrity bake-off that the Oregon Historical Society held for the Oregon State Fair’s 150th anniversary in 2015, Frank’s idea of a winning chocolate layer cake is one that’s attractive, moist and rich, and preferably made with dark chocolate. Though OPB’s own CEO Steve Bass was among the celebrity contestants, the top honor went to Portland first lady Nancy Hales, whose win was tainted by the revelation that the cake hadn’t been baked by Hales, but by none other than Sarah Iannarone (then a professional baker/cafe owner before her 2020 run for Portland mayor). We did some digging, though, and one thing that the corrupt cake had in common with the reputably winning cake of the 2023 Oregon State Fair is a ganache topping. We’ve added that touch to make this a chocolate cake worthy of a national celebration. Serves 12.


Note: Powdered buttermilk is a pantry staple in the “Superabundant” kitchen — it’s ideal for baking, of course, but it’s also great for making powdered ranch dressing, which we love to sprinkle on popcorn and french fries. If you’d prefer, omit the powdered buttermilk and use liquid buttermilk instead of regular milk. Either way, have all the ingredients at room temperature before you begin.



1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour, leveled

¾ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

¼ powdered buttermilk (see note)

1 ¾ cup sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp fine sea salt

1 cup whole milk

1 cup strong brewed coffee (instant is fine)

½ cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Ganache frosting:

1 cup heavy cream

8 oz semisweet chocolate (look for 50-60% cacao), finely chopped

½ tsp fine sea salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened


  1. Preheat to 350º (with a rack in the middle position). Grease two 8″ or 9″ cake pans and place a circle of parchment paper in the bottoms.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, buttermilk powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a different bowl (or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment), whisk together the milk, coffee, vanilla, oil and eggs until thoroughly blended. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing until fully combined. (The batter will be runny.)
  3. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Run a thin knife along the edge of the cake, then turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack (remove the parchment) and allow to cool completely.
  4. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting by heating the cream to almost boiling, then stir in the chocolate until melted and smooth. Mix in the butter bit by bit until it’s melted and the ganache is smooth, then cover and refrigerate the ganache until it’s firmed up enough to spread. Using an electric hand mixer or whisk, beat the frosting until it’s silky (but not so long that it becomes grainy).
  5. Place a dab of frosting on a cake serving plate to hold the cake steady while frosting, then place one of the layers on the plate, domed side up. Spread the frosting onto the top and sides of the cake — use the frosting to make the top as level as you can, then put the second cake on top, domed side down (this will make a nice, flat top for the finished product). Frost the second layer’s top and sides until the ganache is all used up, smoothing the sides to make a seamless cake. Store leftovers in the refrigerator with a slip of wax paper to cover the cut sides.

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