What redeems me

I have an uneasy relationship with chocolate cake.  That makes it sound as though I belong in a certain grinchly minority together with people who don’t like Christmas or refuse to celebrate their own birthdays.  Let me assure you that I am not like those people at all.  What sets me apart – what redeems me, I hope – is the root of my unease, namely, the not-at-all grinchly fact that I happen to like chocolate a lot. What I don’t like is the shift that occurs when chocolate meets cake. I’m talking mainly about texture here, how a smooth and splintery square will snap between your teeth, how it softens on the tongue; how it does nothing of the sort in cake. Flavor takes a hit, too, smothered by flour to a mere whisper of itself.  It isn't right.

My friend Julia disagrees.

Julia is, how do I put this, single-minded in her affection for chocolate.  Not a chocolate lover as much as a chocolate lobbyist. She’ll like your banana bread just fine the way it is, but will take hers with a fudgy swirl the next time around, thank you very much. That cake should be chocolate is a given for her. So sometime last year, I baked her one, and brought it to her place for dinner (for after dinner, I should say; even Julia believes in a non-chocolate, pre-chocolate meal). She liked it so much that I made it again, this time for a joint celebration of birthdays, Julia’s, Mia’s, and my father’s. And when Julia was busy (almost) having a baby that night and missed the cake entirely, I made it for her yet again, this time to celebrate her newly expanded family.

The thing is, by cake number three – okay, number two – I wasn't exactly making it for Julia anymore. Not only for Julia, anyway. I love this chocolate cake.

Unlike the many, many chocolate cakes that have made me feel as though I’m eating something inspired by chocolate, or reminiscent of chocolate, or related, by marriage, a couple of times removed, to chocolate, cakes that cruelly remind me of chocolate so that all I want once I've cleaned my plate is… chocolate, this cake is the real deal. The chocolate’s big here.  The cake is entirely at its service, not the other way around. It’s got a rich, steamy crumb helped along by plenty of buttermilk, oil, and brewed coffee – not to mention an extra yolk – and then, THEN, there’s the frosting. Chocolate. Sour cream. Butter. More brewed coffee. You melt it and mix it and pour it forth, and it swallows your cake right up. The shine is terrific. The cake is terrific. I’m behind it all the way.

Chocolate Bundt Cake
Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, via Joy the Baker

I owe Joy the Baker big time for bringing this cake into my life. Joy’s a gutsy lady when it comes to dessert, so I wasn't terribly surprised when the recipe produced a veritable vat of chocolate frosting, enough to coat the cake completely, and then some. With a little sleuthing, I found out why: Instead of baking the batter in a 10-inch Bundt pan, you can bake it in two 9-inch round pans and assemble a layer cake. If you go that route, you’ll need enough frosting to cover the whole double-decker thing, and this recipe gives it to you. I halved the frosting recipe the last time I made this cake (the Bundt version), but then I didn't have quite enough. Perhaps you could scale it to three-quarters? Or just make the recipe as written and stash the leftovers in the fridge. (Chocolate on toast, anyone? Homemade Schoko-Reiswaffel?) That's my plan  from here on out.

I haven’t tried the layer cake version of this recipe, but I've included the instructions from the recipe’s source, The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, in case you’d like to give it a go.

A quick note about the salt: The original recipe calls for 1¼ teaspoon kosher salt. I didn't have any on hand, so I used fine grain sea salt and (because of the finer grain) reduced it to 1 teaspoon.

For the cake:
1¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon brewed coffee
¾ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or table salt
2½ teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla
2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted      

For the frosting:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (something around 70% cacao), coarsely chopped
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
¼ cup brewed coffee, cooled (omit if you’re frosting a layer cake instead of a Bundt)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 10-inch Bundt pan (or two 9-inch round cake pans if you’re making a layer cake; see headnote).

Bake the cake:
Put the coffee and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and whisk as you bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Put the sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, and yolk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and blend on low speed for about a minute, until fully combined. Add the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract, and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes, then the cooled coffee and cocoa mixture and mix on high speed for 3 minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and bake for 50-60 minutes (or about 35 minutes if you’re making cake layers). Let the cake(s) cool completely in the pan(s), then invert onto a cooling rack.

Make the frosting:
Put the chopped chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl and set over a pot of barely simmering water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a separate pan. When the chocolate is fully melted, remove from the heat, pour the melted butter over top, and whisk to incorporate. Sift half of the powdered sugar into the chocolate and butter mixture, add all of the sour cream, and whisk to combine. Sift in the rest of the powdered sugar andwhisk until shiny and smooth. Whisk in the coffee (unless you’re making a layer cake, in which case skip the coffee and see below), then pour the glaze over the cake, covering it completely. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

If you’re making a layer cake, omit the coffee and let the frosting sit at room temperature for 2 hours until it thickens, as The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook authors say, "to the consistency of soft cream cheese.” Then, spread about half a cup of the frosting over the first cake layer, top with the second layer, and frost the outside of the cake with the rest. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

Top each slice with loosely whipped, lightly sweetened cream, if you’d like. I like.

Serves lots. 8-10, at least.


talley said...

I grew up with a strong - some might call it hate - dislike for chocolate cake. And chocolate ice cream for that matter. Give me vanilla cake with strawberry ice cream and I was a happy little girl. That said, I always liked chocolate in its more slick and solid bar form. I'm now admittedly firmly in Julia's chocolate camp preferring everything with a swirl or a chip. I'm looking forward to making this cake. It almost looks like you melted a vat of chocolate and poured it into a Bundt pan - so shiny and firm. But I can imagine that under that firm coating the 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk and 1 1/4 cups of coffee (that sounds like a good mixture by itself) make for a wonderfully dense and delicious cake. I can almost taste the flavors.

And thank you for linking to the Schokoreiswaffel - I'm in Berlin right now and I'm going to track them down for dessert after a curry wurst, or perhaps just as a snack as I wander.

Katerina said...

Stunning photos! Cake look so dark and yummy [heart bitter dark chocolate]. I'll try it soon!
Thank you for sharing!

koshercamembert said...

Happy birthday to Mia and the rest of your friends/family! This cake looks like such an ooey-gooey ring-o-chocolate! I think I need to tuck the recipe away for my dad's birthday - such a chocoholic that he used to put chocolate milk in his cereal...

Gemma said...

I'm behind this cake all the way too, it looks and sounds incredible. Adding this to my too long list of cakes to make soon...

Nishta said...

unabashed love for chocolate cake in my house (especially on the part of Jill & her father). I will be setting this recipe aside for the next time my in-laws are in town! xo

molly said...

I already considered you awfully swell.

Now, my eldest will be forever indebted. I suspect, in our home, it will forever be "The Jess Cake". I also suspect it will be around about that long, if looks are any indication. I give us a week before we try it out.

And a post every day? How splendid.

thelittleloaf said...

Gorgeous. I don't own a bundt but will definitely be making this in two 9 inch pans.

Kasey said...

You are my kindred spirit, Jess. I currently have about 8 bars of chocolate (all 70% or higher) sitting in my cupboard...as though I'm preparing to hunker down and hibernate. I, too, feel disappointed in my many chocolate cakes (and ice creams, hot chocolate, you name it) because they often taste very faintly of that powerful flavor I love. The dark color of your cake makes me think it's got just the right amount of chocolate for a fanatic like me.

Amy said...

Have you ever tried to make this cake? http://orangette.blogspot.co.uk/2004/09/on-not-getting-killed-learning-to-be.html

It looks awfully similar- might well be worth a comparison. Just in case you felt you hadn't eaten enough chocolate cake recently :P

london bakes said...

I found myself nodding along as I read this - good chocolate is so remarkably complex and so full of depth and that does so often get lost somewhere along the way. I am so excited to try this cake and revel in the richness of the chocolate :)

Rogue Unicorn said...

Happy birthday Mia!
I'm also usually disappointed in chocolate cakes. They're never quite chocolaty enough for me. I want my chocolate experience to taste definitively like itself. There are exceptions though and mostly they involve stout and coffee and are very, very moist. I have a feeling that this cake is going to be added to that exception list. xo.
p.s. so looking forward to a post a day

Jess said...

talley - Have the best time in Berlin! I trust you have your camera in tow, and I can't wait to see the city through your lens. I'm with you on chocolate ice cream. When I was a kid, I couldn't understand why everyone seemed to like it best. I'm a vanilla girl, all the way.

Katerina - Thank you!

koshercamembert - Chocolate milk... in cereal?? That is serious chocolate dedication. He needs this cake, for sure.

Gemma - Do it! (And, you know, I'm sure the other cakes in line wouldn't mind if you were to bump this guy ahead a bit...)

Nishta - Hooray! Good thinking to wait for the in-laws. This cake needs a crowd.

molly - Yes, this cake is HUGE. And yet, it never seems to hang around for long. Hope you and your cute people will love it.

thelittleloaf - Excellent. That's my plan the next time around. Enjoy!

Kasey - Sing it, friend! Try this cake. It will not disappoint.

Amy - I haven't. I will! Thanks for the link.

london bakes - Exactly. I think there's a joke to be made here about having your cake and eating your chocolate too, eh?

Rogue Unicorn - So many of us in the mildly-disappointed-in-chocolate-cake camp. And here I thought I was alone! Stout, you say? That sounds promising. And good luck to YOU with NaNoWriMo. That is the real deal. (And I can't wait to read, if you'll let me.)

Molly said...

I am making this for Thanksgiving, btw. So good! xo

Jess said...

Molly - Oh! Your people are lucky.

Danielle said...

Jess, I just made this today. It is perfect (if I do say so myself). Now, I haven't actually tasted it, but it's beautiful and dark. I'm bringing it to a dinner if fourteen women (in addition to an olive oil cake to balance out the chocolate). It should go over well. I'll post about it next week!

Danielle said...

(I hope I'm not posting twice. I left a comment yesterday but I think it was lost in the internet.)

I made this cake yesterday and it was perfection, at least as it sat on my counter waiting to be eaten. I was to bring it to a dinner for a group of women I used to meet once a week to study Jewish and Muslim texts. Our text study was finished but we were gathering one last time to cook for each other. Last night a massive storm hit Toronto and after driving for over an hour and barely making it down my street, I turned back home with my cake.

It was delicious, my new favourite, going to make until people beg me to stop, cake.