Googling “dark chocolate cake”

I’m making a wedding cake for a dear family friend and her fiance.  I was feeling unimpressed with the chocolate cake recipes of the past, so I Googled “dark chocolate cake.” Turns out this one from All Recipes has been tried by some 22,000 people. It’s a 4 1/2-star cake with 850+ reviews. Who am I to turn my nose up?

Glad I didn’t. This is one yummy chocolate cake and, as many comments note, even better after a night in the fridge. Meaning it’s perfect for a wedding cake that must be baked a day or so in advance.

Here’s the raw data from a test run:

Putting the “Mmm” in Mistakes

Lately everything I bake has been turning out all goofy-footed. It always ends up tasting great, but it’s never without its surprises. And I think I can blame it on the somewhat lax attitude I’ve taken to following directions these days — a completely un-Jen mindset that’s producing mixed results across the board.

The other week I tried my hand at a Nigella recipe — her Sour Cream Chocolate Cake from “How To Be a Domestic Goddess,” p. 169. My intent was to vary the recipe only enough to add the zest of a whole orange and substitute triple sec for vanilla. Oh…and since I only had fat-free sour cream, to substitute that for the full-fat version. Um…and since that was far thicker than the full-fat version, to make is a little thinner with some milk. Ah yes…and I didn’t have 8″ pans avilable, so I used my trusted 9″ers.

Sigh…

And I wonder why baking occasionally gives me such conniptions.

It didn’t rise. Not a lick. Each layer was less than an inch high. The interior of the cake was terrifically moist and the orange came through beautifully, but there truly wasn’t a bit of height in the whole thing. So I manufactured height. I filled the middle with a basic cream cheese icing spiked with more Triple Sec and orange zest, then piled a whole pint of whipped heavy cream on top and grated zest and chocolate shavings over that. Tad-da! Chocolate-Orange Cream Cake!

It was a hit at the party I took it to. Now, if only I could keep myself from confessing each baking blunder…

Hapless Party-goer: Mmmm, this is good!

Me: Oh, well, you see I completely screwed it up, so I’m shocked it tastes good, let me tell you all about it, it all started with the sour cream….

Hapless Party-goer: I see a drink with my name on it waaaay over there.

Next up? My adventures with rhubarb — my typically stalwart dessert fruit of choice that is also falling victim to my yummy experimentation.

Scones: Ginger-Lime-Orange; Chocolate-Butterscotch

 

The best thing about being a baking addict? When I travel to see friends, they want to bake with me! This is excellent since most of my baking happens between me and my KitchenAid (which I have to name, I think, as she…or maybe he…has become such a trusted companion). But otherwise, I’m generally alone. The Husband is wise and stays in the other room — especially when I’m ruining yet another batch of buttercream.

So it was with much delight that my friend Lisa in St. Louis announced upon my arrival that we were going to 1) shop, 2) bake, and 3) play music. Trifecta of Happiness!

What did we bake? Scones courtesy of the goddess that is Julia Child. I believe Lisa used her basic Buttermilk Scone recipe from Baking With Julia. Lisa, can you confirm this? It was dietetically criminal how easy they were to make. Just a little hand-mixing and patting together of the scones in a lumpy kind of scone-shape. The end product was far less dense than scones of my past; more like a heavy biscuit. But, oh, they were divine.

We made two batches: ginger-lime-orange for me and Lisa, and chocolate-butterscotch for Lisa’s chocoholic-studying-for-med-school-exams-and-therefore-should-get-whatever-he-wants-husband Jim. I much preferred the ginger variety. We used candied ginger chopped rough, and zest from a few limes and an orange to flavor the batch. I apologize in advance that we have no “finished” pictures. They simply didn’t last long enough for me to remember to pull the camera out.

See that butter? That’s gonna go on top. The sugar, too. Ohhhh yeahhhh.

The Jim-Scones

Two batches of British love.

 

Smells Like Burnt Nirvana

There’s this moment when chocolate mousse actually becomes chocolate mousse in baking process that I relish. I’ll call people in from other rooms so they can stand over my shoulder and witness the exact moment when the foamy, crinkling egg whites completely dissipate into the chocolaty, yolky, thinkness of the mixture, all by my simple, patient folding. I consider it, in all honesty, to be a magical baking moment.

Ganache carries with it a similar thrill. The general ratio for a standard chocolate ganache is 1:1 heavy cream and chocolate. The process is simple:

  • Finely chop the chocolate and place in a bowl
  • Heat the cream to just before a simmer
  • Pout hot cream over chocolate
  • Stir gently ’til fully mixed

Just as with mousse, this is where the magic happens with ganache as well. For the first minute, the whole mess looks like just that — a mess. Half-melted lines of chocolate swimming in tan-toned cream; a bowl of sweet-smelling dreck. Then you blink, or turn away to watch the cat do something cute, or answer the phone and SWOOSH! One last stir around the bowl and the mixture knits itself together in a sea of ganachey goodness. Oh sigh…

Of course, it’s not always nirvana. I made a chocolate hazelnut torte on Tuesday wherein the primary ingredient is Nutella. And for the top, a Frangelico-tinged chocolate ganache poured over to set up into a thick layer of loveliness. But I was in a rush; wanted to get to bed; had dreams to dream and snores to snore. So I committed what I would dub a Kitchen Crime: I hurried my ganache. I nagged nirvana.

I tossed the half-heartedly chopped chocolate into a little pot, poured in the cream, measured out a bit of liquor and flipped on the gas flame. And promptly burnt the ever-lovin’ cocoa nibs out of my chocolate.

A few things to remember, folks: Chocolate starts to melt at 80-degrees F, which, if you touched it to your lip, would feel as cold as an ice cube. If chocolate is hot to the touch, you’re in trouble. Chocolate burns at 123-degrees F. And just like when chocolate gets cold, chocolate that gets burned also thickens and hardens as the milk solids change formation. All this is to say… well… I wish I could say I committed this Kitchen Crime in the name of blog-education, but I won’t lie. The pictures tell the story best, anyway:

Bad Ganache
Bad Ganache

Good Ganache made in repentance and poured over torte, side-by-side with bad ganache as a little reminder of my failure:

Good Ganache

The pictures aren’t amazing because they’re taken with the most fickle camera in the world that either takes amazing shots or ruins everything. But I think you get the idea.

Variations:

  • Add liquor when cream is heated (Frangelico, Chamboard, spiced rum all work well)
  • Though when originally combining the cream and chocolate you want to stir gently, after the ganache forms you can vary the consistency from fudgey and pourable (like above) or whipped and spreadable. The more your stir, the more air you work into the ganache and the more whipped and spreadable (like icing) it becomes.
  • Get the best of both worlds: set half of it aside, stir the other half until it’s nice and airy, fill the cake layers with the whipped version and then pour the more fudgy version over top to ice the whole thing.