Sunday, February 03, 2008

If You Make It, They Will Come: A Chocolate Cake Saga

There was no reason to bake a chocolate cake (note barely recognizable gratuitous Victorian novel allusion). Yet there was a recipe: the Mile-High Chocolate Cake in January's Gourmet. And there was the vague sense that a chocolate cake had not been baked in long time. There was baking interest on the part of children. By Thursday there were even ingredients purchased, including a 9.7 oz. bar of Scharffen Berger Unsweetened.

But Thursday night there was swimming and homework and not enough time. Friday night there was a choice between movies and cake, and movies won (Ice Princess, which was unobjectionable to all and enjoyable enough, though M threated to stop watching movies with me if I kept verbalizing my predictions, which are pretty much always right, because one of the weird gifts I have is to pretty much know what will happen in most movies, especially an ice skating tween chick flick, where if you're an hour and a half in, pretty much all that needs to happen is the final competition and kissing the boy, which sure enough happened).

Finally it was Saturday and the conditions were right: ingredients still purchased, no alternative temptations, still no reason, but that was OK. So we baked, and I do mean we. M chopped the chocolate in the tiny cuisinart. E buttered the pans and sifted. M broke the eggs (after I, uh, dropped three eggs--and have I mentioned recently that either I should not be allowed to bake or all those people who say that baking depends on precision are wrong? Because I do things like spill half an egg so the cake ends up with 3 1/2 eggs instead of 4, and it would have been 2 1/2, if I hadn't glanced at the recipe one more time and seen that it was 4, not 3, and then there's the matter of discovering that we had been using the 1/3 cup measure instead of the 1/4, but I figured that 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup cocoa is the equivalent of 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa, and if you don't have light brown sugar, well, I see no reason not to use dark brown sugar, and--spoiler alert--the cake came out just fine). M helped add ingredients. E ran the mixer. M held the bowls while I scraped the batter into the pans.

And what a batter it was, really a paragon of batter, in a lovely bluish-brown hue (I don't know why I'm describing it as bluish-brown, because that sounds hideous, but that's really what it was, and it looked perfect). Fluffy and stiff, it just screamed out, "I am a serious batter, a batter to be proud of." And it was. Except for the pans. The batter that went in the 8" springform pan (remember that 8" springform pan, oh it is such a good thing, that pan) rose up into the most beautiful 8" chocolate cake layer you've ever seen. The batter that went into the regular 8" pan, well, it spilled out a little over the sides and sank a little in the middle and just looked generally pathetic next to its springform cousin. But it was fine. Everything was fine.

All I'm going to say about the frosting is: six sticks of butter. And, being the person who either should not be allowed to bake or disproves all baking laws, I, as usual, didn't have enough patience to let the chocolate mixture cool sufficiently, so the butter got a little melty, but it was fine.

So, round about cooling layers and beating butter, K called. K and D have been in town for a while (yay!) and they were supposed to come over for some kind of dinner that would not be cooked by us because I have cooked dinner for K twice this week, which is some kind of adult record. Truly, I do not think there is anyone besides my children who has eaten food cooked by me twice in a week--except maybe my dad--and I was done for the week. S had been cooking dinner for other people all week, so he was done too. It was going to be restaurant or take-out. But, K said, R and R wanted to have dinner with them, and there was much "whatever YOU want" back and forth, and a few more phone calls, and we ended up with K, D, R, R, and R and R's daughter coming over for take-out and...yes! a reason for chocolate cake!

In case you didn't click over to the recipe, you should know that putting the cake together involved slicing each layer horizontally in two so there were four layers to be held together with copious amounts of frosting. By now it was just me, no children. I used some pretty tricky moves, like the "put strips of wax paper under the cake so that you can be sloppy putting on the icing but still have a clean plate once you pull out the wax paper" move, and the "oh dear, one 8" pan seems to have been bigger than the other 8" pan so I'm just going to trim the edges of the bigger layers so they are the same size as the smaller layers" move, and the "my impatience made the frosting a little melty though still stiff enough but let's put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up" move.

It was a delightful impromptu dinner party. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed high-decibel Hillary-Obama discussion and the children played board games in the living room. And the cake? Well, a lot of milk was drunk. It was definitely mile-high and quite attractive, on its clean plate. And it was very good, though not in a particularly distinctive way. The recipe's claim that it "may just render all your other chocolate-cake recipes obsolete" seems a bit overstated. But everyone liked it. And I will say that a thin slice straight from the refrigerator this morning (last night I took it out before dinner so it wouldn't be too cold) tasted just like Sara Lee, which may be one of my highest chocolate cake compliments.


Jenny Davidson said...

Thank you for a lovely post, this was great!

(I smashed two eggs very accidentally but I fear rather satisfyingly on the floor the other day--they really do smash like something out of a cartoon! I was making two soft-boiled eggs for eggs-on-buttered-toast comfort-food cold-remedy dinner, and thought I might as well hard-boil the last two in the carton at the same time. Fortunately I had already put the two I was planning on eating into the pan, or else I might not have been so amused!)

jackie said...

I know this is blasphemy, but that cake sounds almost too rich and chocolatey for me. Glad you enjoyed your dinner party though!

Libby said...

6 sticks of butter???? That might possibly have stopped me...