The Good Chocolate Cake (just pretend you don’t see the mediocre icing)

This is a really, really, really good chocolate cake recipe.

I am generally of the belief that cake exists to keep people like me from embarrassing ourselves by eating frosting straight out of the bowl (or tub).  You know, the “cake is fine and all but it’s no frosting” camp.

This cake is the exception.  I’d eat it plain, alone, on its own.  And not think twice about frosting.

The second of three weeks of baking recipes from Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this layer cake is deep, immensely chocolatey and just sweet enough.

Of course it is.  Ms. Nosrat describes it her holy grail of cake: moist yet flavorful.

The secret ingredient?  Oil is used as the fat.  I actually learned about this when I took a baking course a few years ago.  The liquid viscosity of oil allows it to surround the protein molecules, keeping water out and preventing the formation of gluten.  The result is a tender rather than chewy crumb.

As if we needed any more proof that a gentle huge can lead to love and tenderness.

The type of oil matters.  The recipe calls for a neutral tasting oil.  This means olive and peanut are out (though chocolate and peanut…hmmm).  I like grape seed oil though a fresh vegetable oil could also be used.

This recipe does have a singular flaw: it only makes two layers.  This is perfectly acceptable, but three would be better.  Luckily this can be overcome: make the recipe twice.  You’ll get a three layer cake and then have another super secret layer to squirrel away for your own purposes.

I think that’s called having your cake and eating it too.

A note on the frosting; it did not come from Samin Nosrat.  It was an Italian buttercream recipe I thought I’d made several times and liked.  Even with the addition of fresh cherries, it was flavorless, clammy and quite honestly an offense to the cake.  You are far better off with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Or, as Ms. Nosrat suggests, a fluffy blanket of fresh whipped cream.

Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake

from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking  by Samin Nosrat

makes two 8-inch cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C (2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 C (10 1/2 ounces) caster sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  •  1 3/4 C (9 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C neutral tasting oil (TMH note: I prefer grape seed for baking)
  • 1 1/2 C freshly brewed strong coffee (okay, water is offered as an option in this recipe…but you don’t really want to do that)
  • 2 large eggs at room temp, lightly whisked

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and line with parchment two 8-inch cake pans.  Grease parchment, sprinkle generously with cocoa (or flour), tap out excess and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour and baking soda.  Sift into a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl (wipe out the one you just used to save some dishes), stir together the vanilla and oil.  Brew the coffee.  Then brew yourself a cup.  Add coffee to the oil and vanilla mixture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients (flour mixture) and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated.  Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth.  The batter will be thin (like you’ll think you’ve done something wrong…but you haven’t).
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Drop each pan onto the counter from a couple of inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles (this is a supremely satisfying step).
  6. Bake bowl cakes in the upper-third of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pan.
  7. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before turning them out.  Don’t forget to peel off the parchment paper.  Ice, frost as desired (or eat as is).
  8. These cakes will keep in the freezer (double wrap in plastic and then in freezer bags) for up to three months.

Some ideas for topping the cakes that are better than what’s in the pictures:

White Chocolate Buttercream

Marshmallow Frosting

Best Ganache Ever

 

Fresh ginger and molasses…wait a second…cupcakes

Samin Nosrat first bloomed into my little world on Friday, April 28, 2017 by way of episode 123 of the Milk Street podcast.  Her New York Times bestseller, James Beard award winning (!!!!!) book Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking had just been published a few days prior.  Her enthusiasm in the interview was buoying and my impression was that she was smart and humble.

Then I, along with most of America fell in awe of her across the four episodes of her documentary with the same title.  If you haven’t seen it, the series is beautifully shot, thought provoking and Ms. Nosrat is so incredibly human and achingly charming that you will want to go back to the beginning and start again when it’s over.

So, I was already smitten by the time I heard her on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert (Episode 107).  Over the course of two and a half commutes homebound down the 110 S, what was a celebrity chef flirtation turned into full-on fan-girl infatuation.  And it’s not just because she grew up in San Diego.

It’s also because she’s so immensely talented–in that way that gives you hope for humans as a species.

And because, as understated as she makes it out to be, Ms. Nosrat works incredibly hard.  While the highlights version of her story sound like a Hallmark movie, dig in a bit and you see resilience and lots of good old, un-fairytale like grit.

I like grit.  Unless it’s in ganache.

The next few weeks are an ode to Ms. Nosrat and her famous debut book starting with these ginger and molasses cupcakes.  The recipe calls for fresh ginger–lots of it.  The result is fragrant, warm and undeniably fall-like.  As written, the recipe is made a double layer cake.  However, I wanted to take them to work so I converted them to cupcakes and topped them with a zingy cream cheese icing.

If these ingredients sounds strangely familiar to you, it’s because this is effectively a brighter, more youthful gingerbread.  Enjoy with a strong cup of black tea or coffee while you dive into Salt Fat Acid Heat.

Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

from Samin Nosrat in Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

make two 9-inch cakes or about 24 cupcakes

For the Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 C (4 ounces) peeled, thinly sliced fresh ginger (about 5 ounces unpeeled)
  • 1 C (7 ounces) sugar
  • 1 C neutral-tasting oil (TMH: grape seed)
  • 1 C molasses
  • 12 C (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 C boiling water
  • 2 large eggs at room temp

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Set rack to the upper third of the oven.  Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment, grease again and then sprinkle with flour and tap out extra.  If making cupcakes, line two-dozen cupcake wells with double liners.
  2. Puree the fresh ginger and sugar together in a good processor or blender until completely smooth, about 4 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and add the oil and molasses. Whisk to combine and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, salt and baking soda then sift into a large bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Whisk the boiling water into the sugar-oil mixture until evenly combined.
  5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually whisk in the water-and-oil mixture until incorporated.  Gradually whisk-in the eggs and stir until smooth.  The batter will be thin.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans or cupcake tins.  Drop the pans from a couple of inches high onto the counter a couple of times to remove any air bubbles.
  7. Bake in the upper-third of the oven for 20-25 minutes for cupcakes or 38-40 for cakes, until they spring back from the touch.  An inserted toothpick should come out clean.
  8. Cool the cakes (cupcake or regular) before turning out and/or frosting.

For the frosting

Ingredients

  • Zest from one large orange, chopped
  • 1/2 C (4 ounces) butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract.

Directions

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese until well blended.
  2. Add-in powdered sugar, vanilla and zest, beat until combined.
  3. Top cakes or cupcakes as desired.