Cake: Good, Bad, and Chocolate
A few weeks ago, I was afraid that I had lost my cake mojo. I have been baking cakes, but they have not all turned out to be good. Since posting my last cake recipe, I have probably baked a half dozen different cakes. Some were good, others were not. Let me start at the beginning.
Really, my downward slide began with the chiffon roll for twd way back in January. To be honest, no one really liked that one. Next, I made a sourdough chocolate cake. It seemed like a good idea to use some of my sourdough starter to try this. It was a moist cake, but not terribly chocolatey. And, something about the sourdough made the cake seem more like bread. It was odd, but it did look good. The bonus with this one is that I learned that coconut oil is really yummy in frosting, but I will have to revisit that another time.
Next on the cake roll was a nutty pear cake. This one turned out well, but was one of those recipes that required a crazy number of bowls and different components mixed together. For something that turned out to be a simple looking coffee cake, it was too much trouble.
Then, I got an idea for a cake into my head. In my head, the cake was moist, gingery and orangey. Most of the time, when I think of something I want, I go looking for a recipe that might fit or be adapted to fit what I want. So I consulted my library of cookbooks and found a recipe for a whole wheat marmalade cake in Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe. It was a yummy cake. But it was dry and dense and more like fruitcake, not the moist fluffy cake I had in mind.
I thought I had found the right recipe for what I wanted when I found an English ginger cake recipe in Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. It used Lyle’s golden syrup. Actually, it used almost an entire jar of the stuff, and even though I followed the recipe and baked the cake in the right size pan, it did this.
At this point, I started to seriously doubt my cake baking abilities. I had not had this many disappointing cakes in such a short period of time in the whole of my baking life. I thought I would take a little break from fruity things and revisit the chocolate cake thing. But, this, too proved disastrous. I have no pictures of this cake disaster, but I will tell you that a cake with no vanilla and an oil/sugar/egg mixture that never emulsifies does not turn out well. I had tried a new recipe from a new bakery cookbook. It was another one of those overly complicated recipes. Too many bowls and too many techniques for just a little cake. After this, I made one more cake recipe from the same book that turned out ok, but the streusel topping was a disaster. I have no pictures of these last two cakes because I had sort of lost hope in cakes and I am not disclosing the name of the cookbook here because I think it may have been just me.
I took a little break from cakes (a week, or maybe two?) and when I felt the need to bake a cake last weekend, I made sure to pick one that was simple and with few ingredients. It was a recipe that originally called for rhubarb, but as much as everyone is wishing for spring here, it has not yet arrived, so I subbed in raspberries from South America instead.
This was a simple pound cakey sort of recipe that I found in Rustic Fruit Desserts and it was perfect. Packed with zingy lemon flavor and polka dotted with raspberries, it was a spring-like cake that cheered us up.
We ate it up so quickly that it was almost gone before I thought to take a picture of this cake win. I had almost given up on taking pictures of cakes as they all seemed to be turning out badly. But, this one was a winner.
Now, after all that cake history, you can understand why I was a little wary of this week’s twd recipe for Mocha Brownie Cake. But, after my lemon raspberry success, I was willing to give it a try. The batter was pretty easy to mix up, except for the folding in of the sour cream at the end. It was super thick and I wasn’t sure it was going to fold in thoroughly. In fact, after I split the cake, I saw that there were little pockets of sour cream that had not been mixed into the batter. I hoped that would not affect the texture or taste of the cake and I am happy to say it did not.
I did follow my cake instincts this time and lined the cake pan with parchment. I am glad for this as the cake looked wonderful after it was turned out of the pan.
In an attempt to make the cake a little less rich for us, I decided to halve the ganache recipe and just cut the cake into two layers instead of three. Partly, I was worried that it would be difficult to cut one layer into three, but after having done one cut, the cake seems sturdy enough that I would probably try two next time and use the full recipe of ganache.
It came together easily. I frosted the entire cake all at once and dispensed with the springform pan and cooling times. The cake seemed cool enough after I cut it into layers and I was worried that the ganache would get too thick to spread if I did not use it all at once. After assembly, I put the cake in the fridge overnight.
Today, I took it out to come to room temperature a couple of hours before dinner. I like my ganache frostings at room temperature because they melt in your mouth a bit more easily.
The final cake is beautiful, easy to cut, and beyond delicious. It’s intensely chocolatey without being overwhelming. The cake is really soft, but not mushy. The ganache melts in your mouth and some of us wished that there was more, but I liked it fine with just that thin layer. It alleviates a little bit of the guilt associated with eating a cake like this so that you can feel good about having an extra big slice. In short, I think this is the best chocolate cake I have had in recent memory and I hope it means that my streak of bad luck with cake is over. This recipe alone is worth the price of this cookbook. If you don’t have it, I urge you to go buy it now.