Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This cake is the reason my skinny jeans are now feeling a little more like hipster tight denim. This cake, plus the homemade ravioli, the shrimp burrito, the chocolate croissants, and the six (seven?) course pasta tasting menu at Mozza in L.A.
It was a carbohydrate fueled train into a new decade for my now-forty-year-old mate, and I happily climbed aboard.
Let's rewind a bit, though. I stressed over this cake long and hard. At moments the dessert, which had to serve at least two dozen people and be transported, by foot, to the party site, was imagined as mini chocolate mousses, cupcakes, lemon bars, and -- at one bad moment-- rubbery flan with a single candle on top purchased from the Mexican join that was housing the party.
There were so many considerations. 95% of my belongings, and 100% of my cooking things are still in storage from my impromptu move last year. Thus, I had no cake pans, no cupcake pans, no hand-held mixer. Dessert had to be made with a mixing bowl, IKEA spatula, and set of mixing bowls and spoons. If I purchased new cookware it had to be just that: new! An addition to my existing collection, not a replacement.
I thought about making my mother's famous Texas Sheet Cake, but wasn't sure if it would do well in a layered version -- the batter is thin and the frosting poured on hot. I could just picture it all sliding off onto the dirty Mission sidewalk.
Next, I scoured the internet for two hours and, after asking the birthday boy what kind of cake he wanted, finally decided. I would bake Amanda Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake from her book, Cooking for Mr. Latte.
I own this book, but it's in storage (sniff), so I was sure the recipe would be good. The cake and frosting were both very simple, nothing special required. Megan had baked the cake too, which looked towering and chocolate riddled, two requirements for the cake.
I made two versions of it last week-- one layer, one sheet -- and in the seven days since, have gotten several emails gently querying for the recipe. So, here it is, with a few minor tweaks and one warning: find your stretchy jeans.
Chocolate Dump-It Cake
Adapted from Amanda Hesser
A note: The sifting here is important. Don't forget to sift!
2 cups sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick), plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon semi-coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and place a baking sheet on the lowest rack, to catch any drips when the cake bakes. Put the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan. (If you prefer, you can grease it, line it with parchment and then grease and flour it. This is not necessary, but parchment does make getting the cake out easier.)
3. When the chocolate in the pan has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs. In several additions and without overmixing, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice, to blend. "Dump" the batter into the tube pan and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. I baked this cake in two 9 inch rounds with great results. The cake was done in about 25 minutes. I also baked it in a 9x13 pan, and it was marvelous -- done in about 40.
If you bake it in the tube, let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack. (This can be tricky, so if someone is around, enlist them to help. Place a ring of wax paper on top of the cake so you have something to grab onto when turning it out.) Let cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, then let cool to room temperature. It is very important that the chocolate and sour cream be the same temperature, otherwise the icing will be lumpy or grainy. (Test it by stirring a little of the sour cream and chocolate together in a bowl; if it mixes smoothly, it's ready.) Stir in the sour cream, 1/ 4 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Taste some! It's good. If you prefer a stiffer frosting, add 1/2 cup powdered sugar till you have the chocolate peaks you desire. If you want to add a whisper of cinnamon, now is a good time.
5. When the cake is cool, you may frost it as is or cut it in half so that you have two layers (when I do this, I use 2 cups chocolate chips and 2 cups sour cream). My mother uses any leftover icing to make flowers on top. She dabs small rosettes, or buttons, on top, then uses toasted almond slices as the petals, pushing them in around the base of the rosette.
Makes 10 servings. (My mother kept it in the fridge, and it is sublime even when cold.)
Saturday, September 11, 2010
It is nearly the middle of September, but it seems that summer has finally decided to come to San Francisco. After months (months!) of grey and gloom, the sun is out. Today for lunch, I ate very thin crust pizza, watermelon salad, and arugula with white beans and fresh corn tossed in a cumin vinaigrette. There was a crisp white wine to drink. There were tank tops and summer skirts and sunglasses involved. It's about time.
Somehow, it seems just like San Francisco to pull this fashionably-late-to-the summer-season move. I would be annoyed, but it feels so good to finally have the sun on my arms, my toes in the Yerba Buena fountain, and Blue Bottle iced coffee to thirst for, that I really don't care.
The weather also explains the peaches. While everyone else is thinking about sweaters, and boots, and crisp apples, I've got peaches on the brain. I was given seven pounds of over-ripe, organic, saffron colored beauties the other night by a farmer with a bumper crop. "Take 'em," he told me. "And use 'em tonight."
So I went home, and amazingly had just enough jars, and sugar, and lemons around to make jam, which was what I wanted far more than a crisp or a pie. I set to work, cutting around brown spots and rotting cores.
The work reminded me of how sometimes, life is about taking time to enjoy the pleasures of living, and sometimes, it's about getting things done. I'm in the midst of my final book edits right now, which means everything that is not writing (eating, cooking, exercise, fun) is done as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
I was shocked at how quickly the jam came together, and even more amazed at how pretty it looked sitting in the kitchen the next morning. It's exactly what I hope will happen with the book. Rewriting is mind bogglingly hard and complicated at times, but I have this odd feeling that if I just work, sentence by sentence, it will all be beautiful at the end.
In the meantime, I've got peach jam for my toast, (did you know I eat toast every single day, sometimes more than once?) and am far less vitamin d deprived than I was a few weeks ago. I'm too tired to think about what to fix for dinner most nights, but I still have the sense that it is going to be ok.
*There's no recipe here. If you find yourself with a bushel of peaches, you'll figure it out. I did.