Damn Cake

If you’ve been to my house for dinner in the last year or so, there is a good chance I served you this cake for dessert.

I first saw this recipe in The New York Times food section.  My attention was captured with Buddy the Elf like enthusiasm by the title of “World’s Best Chocolate Cake.” Its author, Yotam Ottolenghi sealed the deal (important to note–this is actually Helen Goh’s recipe, read on for explanation).

For being the world’s best chocolate cake, its outward appearance is pretty humble.  Just a single layer topped with ganache.

Even the recipe is easy; reading an awful lot like my favorite brownie recipe.

And yet–here, humble and easy translated become elegance.  The crumb is incredibly dense and rich (especially if you err on the short side of cook time) but balanced by the addition of coffee.

The recipe appeared in the NYT as precursor last fall’s publication of Sweet, the cookbook devoted entirely to Ottolenghi and his pastry chef, Helen Goh’s, desserts.

The cake recipe is as fantastic as it is easy.  However, it’s the ganache technique that was a major game changer for me.  I’ve had middling success with ganache in the past(and I’ve made a lot of it)  More often than I’d like to admit, for reasons I can’t explain, it comes out pellety (probably not a real world) despite my commitment to whisking it the right way.

In Ottolenghi and Goh’s version you get to trade your whisk for a food processor.  Before the addition of the usual cream and butter, the chocolate is basically pulverized into a fine dust making for an incredibly smooth and silky ganache.  Once you Goh ganache, you’ll never go back.

[See what I did there?  I know, I know,  a joke isn’t clever if you have to explain it.]

If you want to serve this at a party or for the holidays, the cake recipe is simple enough that you should probably make it the same day (the crust on the top is part of the cake’s charm but is lost if frozen or left over night).  Instead, if you are trying to save time do what I do–and make up 2-3 batches of the ganache at a time and freeze them.  Then, on the day of, pull the ganache, let it come to room temperature and then use as if you’ve just made it.

Why do we call it damn cake instead of world’s best chocolate cake?  Well, last fall my parents were at our house for dinner.  We were all a couple of gin and tonics into the evening by the time we got to dessert and my mom kept exclaiming how damp it was  (she meant moist).  Another round of gin and tonics and damp became damn.

By the way, the cookbook, like all of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, is superlative.

World’s Best Chocolate Cake, also known as Take-Home Chocolate Cake

In Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh 

Ingredients

FOR THE CAKE:

  • 1 C plus 1 1/2 TBS /250 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 1 1/2 tablespoons), at room temperature and cut into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter cubes, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), chopped into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 1/2 cups/350 milliliters boiling water (TMH note–I use Nespresso powder)
  • 1 ¼ C/250 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ C plus 2 tablespoons/240 grams self-rising flour (see note)
  • ? C/30 grams Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, for dusting
  • ¼ tsp salt

For the ganache

  • 7 ounces/200 grams dark chocolate(70 percent cocoa solids), broken or chopped roughly into 3/4-inch/2-centimeter pieces
  • ¾ C/180 milliliters heavy cream
  • 1 TBS light corn syrup
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/170 degrees Celsius. Grease a 9-inch/23-centimeter round springform pan with butter and line with parchment paper, then set aside (TMH–I’ve also used a smaller 6 inch springform with equally good results).
  2. Make the cake: Place butter, chocolate and hot coffee in a large heatproof bowl and mix well until everything is melted, combined and smooth. Whisk in sugar by hand until dissolved. Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk again until thoroughly combined and smooth. Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a bowl and then whisk this into the melted chocolate mixture. The batter here is liquid, but don’t think you have missed something; this is how it should be.
  3. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is cooked and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few dry crumbs attached. The top will form a crust and crack a little, but don’t worry, this is expected (TMH note–it’s the best part). Leave the cake to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan, then set aside until completely cool.
  4. Make the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate pieces in a food processor, process until fine and set aside. Combine cream and corn syrup in a small pan and place over medium-high heat. As soon as bubbles begin to appear (just before it comes to a boil), remove from the heat. Get the food processor running again, with the chocolate still inside, and pour in the hot cream in a steady stream. Process for 10 seconds, then add butter. Continue to process until mixture is shiny and smooth. (You can also make the ganache by hand; just make sure the chocolate is chopped fairly finely before adding the cream mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost melted, then add the butter. Stir again until the ganache is smooth.)
  5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the ganache into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic actually touching the top of the ganache. Set aside until it has set to the consistency you want. If you want a thin layer to spread over the cake, it can be poured over while liquid so that you get an even, light and shiny coating. For a thicker ganache with a spreading consistency, leave it for about 2 hours at room temperature. (The ganache can be stored at room temperature, providing it’s not too warm, for 3 days or kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen, although it will lose a bit of its shine when defrosted.)
  6. Peel the parchment from the cake and discard. Transfer to a serving platter and spread the ganache, if using, on top of the cake. Slice into wedges, divide the cake among plates and, if using, spoon the mascarpone cream alongside. With or without icing, the cake will keep well for 4 to 5 days in an airtight container.

 

Deep dark chocolate bread

It took me a couple of tries to get this one right.

The first time I tried was last fall when I spent a weekend binge-baking recipes from Christina Tosi’s recently published Huckleberry cookbook.

The original recipes says it makes one loaf.  And even though I thought that single loaf pan was really, really, REALLY full, I went with it.  Luckily my spider sense told me to put a half sheet pan on the lower rack because there was a serious chocolate explosion in my oven.

I made a note to try two loaves the next time I played with the recipe.

Then several months passed and it wasn’t until recently that I was brave enough to risk having to scrub the inside of my oven.

Sure enough, this recipe was meant to make two loaves.  Total success!  My nickname for this cake is “bribe bread.”  If you need a favor from someone who likes chocolate, this will do the trick.

Chocolate Chocolate Teacake

slightly adapted from Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry, Stories, Secrets and recipes from our Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 3/4 C/100 g pastry flour (can sub all purpose in a pinch)
  • 6 TBS/45 g all purpose flour
  • 6 TBS/30g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 C strong brewed coffee, cooled (I used espresso)
  • 1/2 C buttermilk at room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 C/ 300g coarsely chopped dark chocolate, 60-70% cacao
  • 1/2 C + 2 TBS/ 140 g unsalted butter, cubed at room temp
  • 1 C + 2 TBS/ 225 g sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 eggs at room temp

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease 2 9X5 inch loaf pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.
  3. Sift together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.
  4. Combine the coffee, buttermilk and vanilla.  Set aside.
  5. Melt 3/4 C (130 g) of the chocolate.
  6. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
  7. Incorporate the eggs one a a time, beating in between each.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl well.
  8. Pause mixer, add flour mixer and mix on low until just combined.
  9. Pour in the coffee mixture and mix on low until just combined.
  10. Fold in the melted chocolate.  Then fold in the remaining chopped chocolate.
  11. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  12. Allow to cool completely before removing from pans.
  13. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

 

 

Chocolate Stout Cake

Let’s get this month started properly.

Guinness Stout.  Chocolate.  Buttercream.

Shall I continue?

A work colleague (and fantastic baker) introduced me to this cake recipe several years ago. And I’ve been exploiting it ever since.  This is by far my favorite way to make chocolate cake.  It is dark and not as sweet as some chocolate cakes, which makes it a perfect foil for the globs of buttercream I like to slather on top.  And, if you are so inclined (as I am from time to time), it gives you a good excuse to pop the little widget on the Guinness can or bottle and enjoy a pint or two while baking.

This cake recipe is a little unusual in that you start it by boiling together a couple of cups of a good stout beer, butter and cocoa.  Strange brew indeed.

While the brew cools a bit, beat together eggs and sour cream.

Then the beer mixture is added to the sour cream.

After this, the dry ingredients are incorporated.

The result is a gorgeous, silky cake batter.  I’ve made layer cakes, sheet cakes and cupcakes with this recipe.

Here is the do what I say, not what I do portion of the post.  I thought it would be cute to make mini cupcakes without the wrappers so that when I topped them with the frosting they’d look like little beers.  Good idea in theory, a little short-sighted in operation.  First, if making cupcakes, only fill each cup about 2/3 full.  In the picture below they are filled to the top.  Not a good idea.  Second, these guys need wrappers.  Despite oiling the already non-stick pan, I had a heck of a time getting the little buggers out of the pan. This recipe will make about three dozen full-sized cupcakes, six dozen babies or two eight-to-nine inch cakes.

While this cake would be fantastic topped with a cream cheese or sour cream frosting, my go to is an Italian buttercream recipe from Gourmet magazine.  Hey–you know how some people have the dates of their deceased loved-ones in decals across the back windows of their cars.  Do you suppose there is a foodie out there with a Gourmet Magazine RIP on their car?  Just wondering.

Anyhow, Italian buttercream starts by creating a sugar syrup.  Yes, you’ll need your candy thermometer.

While the syrup is coming up to temp, egg whites get whipped into soft peaks with a little sugar and salt.

Then things get really fun.  Start up your standing mixer and slowly add the hot syrup in a steady stream.

This is going to heat things up a bit.  Don’t worry though, keep that whisk attachment (or handmixer) going.

It wouldn’t be buttercream without the butter. The butter gets added a tablespoon at a time.

At some point it will start to look like something has gone horribly wrong.  It hasn’t, keep on whisking.

A little later you’ll think, really, this isn’t right.  It is.

Eventually, the whole mess will come together and you’ll have beautiful, smooth butter cream frosting.

What you do after is up to you.  Me?  I topped my little stout cupcakes with a dollup of butter cream and dusting of sanding sugar.

If what TD says is true about there being a sandwich in every beer, there is definitely a cake in every pint!

Chocolate Stout Cake

Bon Appetit, September 2002

Ingredients

  • 2 C stout (such as Guinness)
  • 2 C (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 C all purpose flour
  • 4 C sugar
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 T baking soda
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 C sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pans

In a saucepan, bring stout and butter to a simmer over medium heat.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  In a separate bowl or standing mixer, beat eggs and sour cream to blend.  Add stout mixture to egg mixture and beat to combine.  Add-in flour mixture and blend briefly on slow speed until just combined.  Divide batter as desired.  Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes our clean, 18-35 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream

Gourmet, January 2004

This recipe makes about 6 cups frosting

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg whites at room tempurature
  • Rounded 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 C water
  • 1 1/3 plus 2 T sugar
  • 4 sticks (2 C) butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
  • 2 t vanilla

Combine whites and salt in a very large bowl. Stir together water and 1 1/3 cups sugar in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan until sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil over moderate heat, without stirring, brushing any sugar crystals down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

When syrup reaches a boil, start beating egg whites with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until frothy, then gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks. (Do not beat again until sugar syrup is ready.)

Meanwhile, put thermometer into sugar syrup and continue boiling until syrup registers 238 to 242°F. Immediately remove from heat and, with mixer at high speed, slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream down side of bowl into whites, beating constantly. Beat, scraping down side of bowl with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 10 minutes in a standing mixer or 15 with a handheld. (It is important that meringue is properly cooled before proceeding.)

With mixer at medium speed, gradually add butter 1 piece at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. (Buttercream will look soupy after some butter is added if meringue is still warm. If so, briefly chill bottom of bowl in a large bowl filled with ice water for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all of butter is added but will come back together by the time beating is finished.) Add vanilla and beat 1 minute more.

Note: buttercream will freeze very well in an air-tight ziplock bag.