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.

 

I’ve got your summer dinner party dessert right here

I know I said we’d be all crazy-go-nuts cookie recipes for a while but I had to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this Ina Garten inspired frozen key lime pie.  It is the perfect summer dessert.  I would know.  I’ve served it at three different dinners this summer to unequivocal (if not redundant) success.

I’m guessing many of you subscribe to Ina Garten which means you also got her recipe for frozen key lime pie earlier this summer.  The recipe arrived in my in-box just days before a small dinner party we were throwing and I stopped the presses on whatever dessert I had planned to make this baby.

With some changes.  First, I swapped-in spicy gingersnaps for the graham crackers.  Everyone knows citrus (especially limes) and ginger are summer besties.  I also added a layer of raspberry jam.  I’m glad I did this because the citrus filling is deliciously zingy and the sweet of the raspberry is a nice note.

Ina’s original recipe calls for fresh lime juice.  BUT the recipe is called frozen key lime pie.  As written, the recipe has no key to the key lime.  And I get it–‘aint nobody got time to juice 100 key limes for 3/4 C of liquid.  Luckily, many moons ago I read, or heard or osmotically gained the knowledge of Nellie and Joes key lime juice.  You can find it in most grocery stores and I always try to have some on hand.  Trust me, it’s good stuff.

I’ve played with the whipped cream topping decorations quite a bit.  I was fairly restrained for the above pie.  However I did another (and got no photographic evidence) where I covered the entire surface in whipped cream roses.

If you need a refreshing but decadent dessert for the next few hot summer months, look no further.  Major bonus?  It can be made a few days in advance.

Next week we’re back at Via Corona where I will attempt to show you show you Tom’s eight foot shower and the master bath.  Temper your expectations.  I’ve tried to photograph the damn room three times now to middling results.  This latest effort is mostly so that I can put the room to bed.

Frozen Key Lime Pie.  With a Twist.

see what I did there?  Because Ina always says ‘blah blah blah, with a twist..

adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press into a 9-inch pie pan, making sure the sides and the bottom are an even thickness. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

For the filling, beat the egg yolks and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for 5 minutes, until thick. With the mixer on medium speed, add the condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Pour into the baked pie shell and freeze.

For the decoration, beat the heavy cream on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm. Spoon or pipe decoratively onto the pie and decorate with lime. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

There is always room for ice cream!

Psssst.  Hey you!  Yes…you.

Need a great dinner party dessert?  Something elegant and impressive but criminally easy to put together?  Something that might make you feel like you are dialing-it-in while outward appearances argue ooh-la-la?

I’ve got what you need.  It’s a little something I call the ice cream torte.  Oh sure, it exists under a variety of names and circumstances.  In fact, the possibilities are nearly endless.  Just mix and match your favorite ice cream flavors and toppings.

For instance, I took some of this.

And some of this.

Added some of this.

And topped it with this (well, really, the brownie formed the base once the whole treat was dished-out).

Even the necessary tools are simple: a vessel (I like to use a loaf pan), plastic wrap and something to spread it all with.

Line your container with cling wrap so that you can easily “un-mold” your creation.

Allow your first layer of ice cream to melt to the point of malleability and evenly spread to desired thickness.  Then, into the freezer until solid (30 minutes or so).  Follow-up with desired layers until you reach the top of the pan.

Then, cover with cling-wrap and let it chill-out until dessert time. This could be hours or days.  Nice huh? About 10 minutes before serving, pop the whole thing out of the mold, slice and sit back and listen to the ooohs and ahhhs.

For those of you playing along at home, here are the layers (bottom to top) from an ice cream torte I made for a little dinner last weekend: brownie, ganache, coffee ice cream, ganache, chocolate ice cream (you can’t really see the ganache layers because they’ve blended with the brownie and chocolate ice cream.  But…they are there).

I know the presentation here is pretty sloppy, but I like to reserve some of the ganache, heat it gently in a water bath and serve against the cold dessert.

There really isn’t a recipe for this one, folks.  The sky is the limit when it comes to what goes into your torte.  I’ve made my own chocolate sauce and brownies here but who says you can’t go store-bought?  My only word of advice is to use ingredients that have about the same consistency when frozen.  If you want some crunch, my suggestion is to  break-up whatever it is (candy, nuts) into smaller bits so that the overall texture similar.