(Photograph copyright 2011, all rights reserved.)
First, I included a picture of flowers because I'm told it's spring in the rest of the world. We just aren't seeing it here. The temperatures are in the 40s instead of the mid-50s where they belong and it's gloomy and threatening rain for tonight. Hence, a picture of flowers is just going to have to do it for awhile since the real thing just isn't happening yet.
(Grumble. Stupid groundhog. Big fat liar. I wonder what groundhog tastes like?)
Sigh. Now. On to the dessert.
The Boy loves his desserts. It's his "thing", if you will. A meal just isn't complete for him unless there's something sweet at the end and no matter how much I try and convince him that a smooch should do, it's not the same. He's disciplined about it, though. Only on weekends. We're getting to the age where we have to earn our desserts, so we can't eat sweets every day.
I just got one of his favorites into the oven, so I thought I'd spread the joy.
The Boy's Chocolate Cake
I have to comment before I start with the recipe. I have a kazillion chocolate cake recipes, and they're all pretty much the same. I've looked online at chocolate cake recipes, and they're all pretty much the same as well. I wanted to tweak it, though. Most chocolate cakes are too heavy and too sugary-tasting for me. I wanted something light and happy, with none of that slap-in-the-face sweetness and thud-in-the-stomach weight that plagues almost everything chocolate. So this is what I've come up with.
Whisk together in a medium bowl:
2 cups flour. I like cake flour, but you don't have to use it if you don't want to. Cake flour just makes it lighter, but almost all the recipes I've seen call for all-purpose flour. Don't be put off making cake just because you don't have the fancy flour on hand.
2/3 cup cocoa. Use the darkest you can find. I like Hershey's Special Dark, which I buy by the six-pack from Amazon. I've heard all of the yapping about dutched vs. non-dutched cocoa, but the result is always the same. Dutch processed cocoa tastes better. No, I'm not going to debate that. That said, it's not mandatory, either. Use what you have.
2 tsp. baking soda.
1 tsp. baking powder.
1/2 tsp. salt
Cream together (I use a food processor. Your goal here is to make this mixture seriously creamy. Liquid, even. The individual sugar grains should be invisible. No stand mixer can do this quite as effectively. A hand mixer would work well if you have the patience to stand there for awhile.):
1 cup room temperature butter.
4 large eggs.
1 cup brown sugar.
1 cup white sugar.
2 tsp. vanilla. (Or go crazy. Use bourbon. Or a liqueur. The recipe doesn't care.)
In a two cup measure, mix 1 cup milk (I used skim) and 1 cup buttermilk.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you have the option to use convection, DON'T. This works better in a conventional oven. I guess convection isn't fatal, though.
2. Prepare two standard 8" or 9" layer cake pans. I use greased parchment on the bottom because it's generally tidier to get the cakes out.
3. Transfer creamed ingredients to a larger bowl. Using a hand mixer... or a stand mixer if you must, but I don't think they're fast enough... add wet and dry ingredients alternately, starting and ending with dry.
Now, the batter you have should be fluffy. Mix the heck out of it between additions. The texture you're aiming for is mousse-like. You should have to spoon it into the pans because it won't pour.
4. Transfer the batter to pans, bake until a skewer comes out clean. About 1/2 an hour to 40 minutes. Don't overbake if you can help it - chocolate cakes can dry out. But you knew that.
5. Cool at room temperature on racks. Make sure they're completely cooled before you take them out of the pans.
And that, as they say, is that. Now some recipes call for ganache as an icing - melt 6 or 7 oz. of dark chocolate in 1/2 cup of heavy cream in a double boiler, cool a bit and spread. Some recipes add corn syrup or sugar, but I prefer 65 or 70% chocolate that speaks for itself. I've also used a buttercream icing on this which can make things too sweet, but it works on this cake.
This recipe is pretty bullet-proof. You can mess with it if you like and have different results. For example, I saw one recipe that called for half whole milk, half heavy cream. That's part of what makes a cake land in my stomach like an anvil - it's too much for me after a meal. I use half skim milk and half buttermilk because the buttermilk does it's lovely chemical thing and makes the batter fluffier and the cake higher.
Some recipes call for all brown sugar, which lends a sort of caramel flavor that I like on occasion. Go ahead and do that, if you like. Use all white, if you want - the recipe won't fail if you do that - but you'll lose some of the richness that makes chocolate cake so good.
What makes this cake fluffy and nice is the fact that it has four eggs - adds volume, buttermilk, which helps things rise, and beating the crap out of it at both the creaming stage and the mixing stage. This is not conventional wisdom. I was taught to gently fold the flour into the creamed ingredients with a spatula and make sure that bubbles were kept to a minimum.
Screw that. Use a good, fast hand mixer and go for it. The first time you make a liquid addition to this batter, you're going to see bubbles. Bubbles are all right at that stage. By the time you're done, this is going to be one thick, but light and fluffy batter and that's what you want. The bubbles will be teeny-tiny invisible little things that won't leave tunnels in your cake.
That's it. It takes about half an hour to mix, another half an hour or so in the oven and you have cake. The Boy loves it and I think he has pretty good taste.