July 9, 2010

On birthdays and chocolate cake

My birthday was a week ago, so this post is rather late, I know, but I have a rich, dark chocolate cake for you to muse over and other thoughts to share as well that have been plaguing me all week. One would think that turning twenty-five should be momentous somehow, but things don't really feel all that different. The only change, really (although it's a change that's been creeping up on me for some time now), is that I feel a little ridiculous about still feeling out of place and at a loss as to what to do with myself. At this point, people should know. At the point when turning a quarter of a century, people should know.

Pursuing photography and the writing has been a consistent idea for several years, so at least there's direction, but it's the specifics that get me. How do I pursue these things? What do I do with them in the long run? There are all sorts of photographers and writers out there, all sorts of ways to turn the idea into a career, so narrowing down the possibilities is harrowing, especially when my skills are still at the bare minimum. This blog provides an outlet to explore some options in a small way, a very small way. It's something, at least. Turning twenty-five should be sobering. The effect of such an occurrence has begun to sink in.

A cake such as this one is certainly a way to mark an adult celebration. It is not for the weak of heart. Nor the weak of stomach. It felt appropriate for my birthday, more than appropriate since dark chocolate is one of my favorite foods. It also felt like an accomplishment. Normally simple, single layer, ungarnished cakes are my forte, but constructing a layered cake with ganache is a feat, a feat that will have to be performed again because this is the best chocolate cake that has ever passed my lips. Yeah, there are other chocolate cakes out there that are quite excellent, like the flourless variety, but that is in a different category of chocolate cake, which we won't go into tonight.

Ever heard of the phrase "death by chocolate"? This is that cake. It's the kind that requires deep breaths just to finish the last few bites after greedily cutting yourself a generous slice. It's the kind that requires a gathering of people to fully enjoy the chocolaty goodness. You could keep this cake to yourself, but you'll be wishing you hadn't after several days pass by with chocolate hangovers. It's immense. It would take days to finish off. This is the cake you'll want to make to impress friends and family. This is the cake you'll want to make for a special friend's birthday. This is the cake you'll definitely want to make for your own birthday.

Deep cocoa flavor enhanced with coffee in the moist layers are doused in a smooth, creamy ganache so rich you won't believe it. Every forkful is worth slowing down for and savoring.

The layers are a bit crumbly, but that's nothing to fret about. Just follow the instructions carefully and don't stress over any imperfections like I do. It's not worth it. Aside from the ganache being just a tad unruly (because it was chilled too long), the cake turned out beautifully. Since I only had nine inch cake pans, there was enough extra batter to make about five or six cupcakes. The layers only needed to bake for 55 minutes, and the cupcakes around 20-25 minutes. If you're unsure about the baking time, err on the side of underbaking rather than overbaking so they don't turn out dry and crumbly instead of moist and crumbly. And please, share this with the people you care about. They will appreciate it.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999

For cake layers:
3 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate, such as Callebaut
1 ½ cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups granulated sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup safflower oil
1 ½ cups well-shaken buttermilk
¾ tsp vanilla
For ganache frosting:
1 lb fine-quality semisweet chocolate, such as Callebaut
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp honey
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter

To make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300° F. Butter and flour two 10 x 2-inch round cake pans (or three 8-inch pans). Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans, and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 50 - 70 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert cake layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

To make ganache: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 ½- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and honey to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to ganache, whisking until smooth.

Transfer ganache to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill ganache to spreadable consistency).

Spread ganache between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciated this cake - the ground coffee enhanced the nutty dimension of the cocoa. However, I would suggest that each and every birthday, much like every day, is an opportunity to reflect on the good things in our lives...in addition to the wonders of chocolate. And many of the great posts on this blog demonstrate the immense talents already at your disposal! -- Michael