Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lord of the Chocolate Cake II: The Twin Bundts

Hello, readers. Why still no pictures, you ask? Oh lemme tell you, you would not want to see the last two bundt cakes I made. I PAM'd the hell out of them, dusted with cocoa powder and still they stuck in the pans -- WTF!! They were almost Cake Wrecks material, and I couldn't bear to share that with you. It's possible the addition of the chopped chocolate to the batter is a terrible idea, and the cakes were back to being on the wet side. It may even be advisable to lower the oven temp. and bake longer than suggested. So without further ado, here's the latest recipe-in-the-works attempt at the GREATEST CHOCOLATE CAKE IN THE WORLD, using Fine Cooking's Chocolate Stout Cake as the basis.

The Great Chocolate Stout Cake Experiment v1.0
1-1/4 cups stout
1/3 cup mild molasses and dark corn syrup
7-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
2-1/4 oz. (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed); more for the pan
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
10 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar (or white sugar)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (pulsed in a food processor works well)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Spray PAM or other no-stick baking spray in a large nonstick bundt pan and lightly coat with sifted cocoa powder. Tap out the excess cocoa.

In a microwave, bring the stout and molasses to a simmer (note: I don't really see the need for this step, but did it anyway). Dissolve the baking soda in the mixture and let cool while preparing the cake batter.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. With a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth, then add the brown sugar and beat on until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour and stout mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop the mixer at least one last time to scrape the bowl and then beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds. Fold in the sour cream and finely chopped chocolate.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula and wiggling the pan to level the batter. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, 50-60 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Say a prayer to the cake gods and invert the cake onto the rack and remove the pan. Without crying, remove the stuck parts out of the pan and press back onto the cake as decoratively as you can. Let cool until just barely warm, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap if not serving right away; if serving, sift powdered sugar over the top if the cake is pretty; if it's a wreck (and it probably is), opt to drizzle a lot of ganache over the whole thing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Time flies when you're a Guitar Hero (and why cakes should have nothing in common with freshly laundered towels)

Sorry there have been no new posts lately. My last one seems curiously timed to the release of Guitar Hero: Metallica, which was on March 23rd. Lest you worry, my "I'm a baker not a gamer" non-existent readers, my latest hunting expedition was for the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE. In fact, I have made several chocolate cakes recently. I have two good friends with back to back birthdays and cake needs, spurring the quest this year.

Jenni over at Pastry Methods & Techniques graciously analyzed this most-requested version from; read what she had to say about it. Well, I went ahead and made the cake -- a "practice" cake -- before Jenni blogged about it. The problem was, the cake turned out "ooey gooey" just as Jenni predicted and it deflated in the middle as it cooled. Armed with the clear vision of hindsight and Jenni's analytical skills, it was clear the poor cake needed some strength. She suggested replacing some of the oil with butter, using the creaming method (and by later alternating wet and dry ingredients, tighten up the gluten), and dissolving the baking soda in the coffee to avoid overrising. The second version did not overrise and was very dense and good. I split the layers and filled two of them with a sour cherry/raspberry filling and the main middle filling with Jenni's Crazy Good Mascarpone Cream (with 1 c. less whipping cream and 2 T Kahlua instead of Grand Marnier/dessert wine), used a poured ganache for frosting and topped with cocoa nibs and gold dust. It made for a delicious, beautiful birthday cake for my friend.

Are you ready for Round Two of the Best Chocolate Cake Recipe search? Jenni then posted a followup about her favorite Chocolate Stout Cake which is similar to Nigella Lawson's version. That got me to thinking about looking at recipes with stout. So, the next bout was a Stout Cake from SmittenKitchen, based on a recipe published by Bon Appetit and hailing from the Barrington Brewery in MA. The SmittenKitchen recipe was, I believe, just halved so it would fill a bundt pan, i.e., not otherwise altered from the original. The stout I used was Red Hook Double Black with Coffee. The recipe made a dozen cupcakes for another friend's birthday, plus a mini 3-cup bundt left over for us to try. The cake had pretty good flavor but seemed strangely fluffy and dry. You know the sensation of having that first bite of cake, which by all appearances is fine and moist, yet upon swallowing you realize you'd really, really like something to wash it down? And no, I did not overbake the thing! I was poking the bundt like every two minutes after 20 minutes had passed. I wanted something between ooey gooey and fluffy dry.

So now we've arrived at Round Three. Here was another Chocolate Stout Cake recipe from FineCooking, but with a twist: molasses. Hmm, I thought. That could be good, even though I don't really like molasses. So I made this version but didn't follow it exactly. I didn't have any brown sugar so used white. Also, I added 1/3 cup of sour cream because I wanted insurance against fluffy and dry. I baked it for about 40 minutes, then let it cool in the bundt pan overnight. The next morning I went to invert it and it stuck -- real bad. I put the bundt in a pan of hot water. No luck. I put the bundt in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, then gave it another shot. This time it plopped out, but 95% of the top was still in the pan. Why? Because the chocolate bits I folded in at the very end -- as per the recipe -- had all settled to the bottom of the pan during baking. It was almost like solid chocolate down there. Fortunately it wasn't for a special occasion, so instead of giving it the ol' heave-ho, I pulled out my trusty ganache and blasted it onto the sad ugly cake. Later I tried a slice and you know what? By golly, I think I'm onto something here. The texture was perfect: not fluffy and dry like a towel, not ooey gooey like a wet brownie, but just right moist with a little "tooth". The molasses added an assertive note of bitterness on top of the stout. Next time I'll try it with half the molasses (subbing the rest with dark corn syrup or honey), again add the sour cream, and for the love of mike put the chocolate chips in a layer in the middle of the cake pour and then, just maybe, I will have achieved THE GREATEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE EVER!!