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!!


  1. Bravo et bravo! Looking forward to seeing your final ingredient/technique list (my newly-coined term to replace "recipe")for the Best Damned Chocolate Cake Ever. Sounds like you are very Very Close!

  2. Um, pictures please!