Sunday, September 21, 2008

Double Chocolate Layer Cake

Last weekend, Aunt M came to town for a family event.  "Have you made the double chocolate layer cake from Epicurious?" she asked.  Why no, I hadn't.  And I'd been thinking, lately, that it was time to make a chocolate cake, and that was even before Libby commented on the recent absence of cakely chocolateness.  And, not only that, but my mother-in-law's birthday was coming up, and although my sister-in-law had announced that she was taking care of dessert, I had a sneaking suspicion that, in the press of events, she might welcome being relieved of that responsibility, which, indeed, she was.

So all things conspired to make Double Chocolate Layer Cake imminent, except for the matter of pans.

"You need to try it," said Aunt M, "because the recipe says 10-inch pans, and I don't have room for more cake pans." (Aunt M has the world's smallest kitchen, in which an outrageous ratio of cooking to kitchen takes place, but I can see her point about the cake pans, especially ten-inch cake pans, as will become clear).

Given my cake-baking history, I assumed I had 10-inch pans, but, given my cake-baking history, I knew to check the night before baking.  

When it turned out that I had no such pans.  Luckily, however, I have a private restaurant supply outlet.  Namely: "Honey, can you bring home some 10-inch pans?"  

Well, it turns out that 10-inch pans are not so much the standard: S had to search the restaurant, and the two he turned up...well, let's just say they needed to be scrubbed.  They were also enormous.  Ten inches may not sound like much, in most contexts (hush your dirty minds), but cake pans?  Let's just say there's a reason we cake bakers have a full complement of eight- and nine-inch pans, but are hard-pressed to break out the ten-inchers (I told you: hush!). Let's just say that if all we made was ten-inch cakes, well, there'd be an awful lot of cake around (which, come to think of it, wouldn't be so bad...but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Cake pan challenge solved, I faced the chocolate challenge.  The recipe called for Callebaut, but all I was thinking was semisweet as I stood in front of the wall o' chocolate.  Oh, and I was also thinking three ounces for the cake and a pound for the ganache, which makes 19 ounces, which is an awful lot of chocolate when you are looking at a wall o' chocolate that retails for an average of $19.00/pound, in three-ounce bars.  Um, not the moment for Green and Black or Scharffen Berger.  But Ghiradelli?  Lindt?  Eh, I wanted something better than that.  Eventually (really, you'd think after all these cakes, I could make a chocolate decision more quickly than that, but apparently not), I settled on Icelandic chocolate for $9.00/pound.  I mean, why not?  But then, over in the cheese department--who knew--there was Callebaut for $7.00/pound (more or less).  What to do?  Why was I agonizing about something so ridiculous?  Pick up the chocolate.  Put it down.  Walk away.  Go back.  Regret leaving phone at home so it was impossible to call S (probably a good thing for S).  Went to the checkout counter.  Wait!  The  Icelandic was 45% and the Callebaut 52%--plus cheaper.  Callebaut, it was, with Valrhona cocoa, just to make sure I wasn't being too frugal.

The making of the cake was quite boring, which is to say pleasant.  Really, it's a very easy cake, aside from the outrageous quantities of ingredients--2 1/2 cups sugar?  1 1/2 cups cocoa?  (That's Valrhona, to you.)  And then there's the eggs AND the oil AND the buttermilk (and the vanilla, except not in this cake, because, I forgot it--and, to tell you the truth, nobody missed it...why do chocolate cakes always have vanilla anyways?).  Really, it was all quite a happy, easy story, even with the ridiculous amount of batter (I have never seen the KitchenAid so full in my life--truly--the batter was an inch over the top of the blade).  It took exactly an hour to bake perfectly, and my those were some tall ten-inch cakes.  We were just heading for happily ever after (and you know this buildup means really we weren't).

The ganache was fine too, except chopping A POUND of Calleabaut in an inch-and-a-half-thick chunk is kind of a drag.

And then it was time to put the cake together.  Strips of wax paper on the cake tray (remember?  so that the frosting can drip onto them, and then you pull them away and have perfect cake on clean tray?).  First layer--down!  Ganache in middle--spread!  Second layer--perfectly plopped atop first layer!  And, man, that cake is tall.  And, pound of chocolate and all, that ganache is barely enough.  But still, it's spread and all, and looking attractive, and I insouciantly go to pull out the strips of wax paper, and...galumph.  Or perhaps...kachunk.  Or maybe...splurk.  Yes, the little crack in the first layer which I had noticed but dismissed became a canyonic crack, leaving a crust of cake heading out toward the side of the tray along with the wax paper it was supposed to let go solo, and the top layer slumped down atop the canyonic crack, and we were seriously in the realm of aesthetic and structural collapse.  I poked; I prodded; I maneuvered wax paper; I tried knives and spatulas.  I felt like a high-level Lehman executive round about last Saturday.

At that moment, S called, saying he was on his way home, and I gave up and left it for him.  He got home, looked at it, gave it a desultory poke, and said it was fine.  OK, so maybe Lehman is an exaggeration.  Merrill Lynch?

OK, let's swap hyperbole for realistic honesty: from one side, it was a gorgeous, tall, delightfully-frosted beauty of a cake; from the other, it was a cake with a slumpy gouge on the side.  So what did we do?  Why we kept our best side forward, of course.

And how was it?  I have to say, it was incredibly delicious.  The cake part was practically black: incredibly moist and full of chocolate in your mouth, but not overwhelming, as in everyone wanted to eat it forever and most people had seconds.  The ganache was fine--it was a delicious ganache, but even in the eating, I continued to feel that there was not enough of it to balance the grand enormity of the cake, and I just had an instinct that a thick layer of mocha butter cream might be the coup de grace.  So we'll just try that next time.


Jenny Davidson said...


Libby said...

So how many does this behemoth of a cake serve? It surely wouldn't be worth making just for us...

Aunt M said...

Thanks so much for trying the recipe and for the full account of the effort. Maybe I will try 8 or 9 inches plus cupcakes. It sure sounds like it just might be worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

It was to die for...well, nah...that's world peace...but close and much appreciated by all - a true gastronomic delight:)