(Not exactly chocolate cake, but includes chocolate cake, so it counts, no?)
M and I were discussing what to have for dinner on New Year's Eve. It needed to be special, but it also needed to be within my purview (i.e. not prime rib, because I do not eat it, and not oysters, because I cannot shuck them) (though you should not feel too sorry for us, because, as always, we are getting the leftover-from-New-Year's-Eve-at-the-restaurant New Year's Day oysters). M suggested fondue. We both thought this was an excellent idea. Then commenced discussions over whether one needs a fondue pot to have fondue, vague plans to canvass neighborhood friends to see if anyone had a fondue pot, and the like. Then M and I were walking by a large glass alas-soon-to-go-out-of-business housewares store, and in the window were fondue pots on sale for $21.95, which of course meant that we had to buy a fondue pot and have fondue (cheese fondue, of course, but you had already figured that out).
(Are you wondering what this has to do with chocolate zabaglione trifle? Don't fret, it's coming.)
Then, of course, we had to decide on dessert. I thought tiramisu, but there was general consensus (unshared by me, but felt strongly by many, though, come to think of it, none of those many were going to be eating said dessert) that cheese fondue followed by tiramisu was too much cheese. C suggested desserts along the poached pear-raspberry coulis spectrum, but that is just not me.
So I pulled out the cookbooks. I think I had Julia, Rose, and Emily, though I don't really know why I had Rose, because I actually had no desire to make a cake. I flipped through Julia, mainly looking at pictures, and realized I had no desire to make a cake. Then I pulled out Emily and the first recipe I hit was Chocolate Zabaglione Trifle, and I thought Of Course! Trifle is so close to tiramisu that I'm not really sure of the difference (I mean, I know the difference, but, you know...), but the anti-cheese faction (who would not, I repeat, be eating the dessert, cheese or no) approved, so chocolate zabaglione trifle it was.
I already had Valrhona cocoa from E's birthday Domingo Cake, and I think all I needed to buy was some bittersweet chocolate (Scharffen Berger) and heavy cream. Oh, and eggs, because we had a lot of eggs, but this recipe called for a few more, plus we always need eggs. And butter, though this recipe had no butter. So that was a good sign: not needing a lot of ingredients.
Really, this was one of the most stress-free desserts I've made in a long time, even though it involved things like whisking eggs over boiling water, followed immediately by whisking them over ice water, and slicing cake horizontally! I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I made it first thing in the morning. Or maybe it really was as easy as it felt at the time.
The cake was quite basic: a separated-egg...um...shouldn't I know what kind of basic cake this is?! What kind of baker am I?! You know, the kind you make for jelly rolls, and all. No butter, cocoa instead of chocolate, and the lift comes from separated eggs, and it doesn't bake very long. What kind of cake is that?? Sponge, maybe??
So the cake was just like a stroll through a meadow (when the grass is not high, so you don't need to bat away the tall grasses, and it's, say, early autumn, so there are no bugs, but then in early autumn wouldn't the grass be tall? in our meadows it probably would, but let's say this is the meadow of a farmer with lots of cows--except then there would be poop--ok, it's the meadow of a very wealthy country-house owner with well-groomed meadows, which still feel kind of wild, so you can momentarily ignore your guilt about wealthy country-house owners despoiling the social fabric, even as they "preserve" the ecosystem for their own pleasure).
OK, cake, not ecosocial critique.
Recollecting from memory: separate eggs, beat yolks with sugar, add dry ingredients (mmm...cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt), somewhere in there is vanilla, beat whites and fold, spread in 11 x 16 pan (hence the jelly roll associations) and bake for 20 minutes, except that I am beginning to suspect our 350 is a little low, because my cakes keep taking longer, and actually it was 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the zabaglione. Zabaglione?!?! Sounds much scarier than it is. Really, a child could make it. OK, not. Though E did stir it over the boiling water, when I suddenly realized that the need to shift from boiling to ice was imminent, and the ice water was not prepared. Separate a lot more eggs (eight, so I suppose I have to make meringues today, to use up at least some of the whites). Whisk yolks, sugar, marsala, and maybe vanilla? over boiling water until thick. Then shift to ice water and whisk till cool. Doesn't that sound like something that would stress me out? Well, it so didn't! And it just worked: whisk, thicken, cool! I got a little skeptical after I'd whipped the cream, and when I was supposed to fold the custard into the cream, the custard just plopped in (i.e. would it fold?!), but I diligently folded away, with proper form, and it folded.
Now, the assembly could have been a moment of severe anxiety, because it seems as if there must be a neat-and-tidy way to do it, and I am not a neat-and-tidy kind of baker. You need to put some zabaglione in the bottom of your 2 1/2 quart bowl (which I had! and I was smart enough to know that trifle should be in a glass bowl, to show off its beauty, and our 2 1/2 quart bowl is glass!), and then you cut pieces of cake to fit across the bowl on top of the zabaglione, and then you brush the cake with strong coffee, and then you do it again. So I'm sure that someone who is neat and tidy would neatly-and-tidily cut and piece the cake so that it fit seamlessly atop the zabaglione, but I just kind of tore the pieces apart and roughly covered the zabaglione, because, you know, it's trifle, so nobody is going to see it anyway.
Four layers (which only used half the cake, but the zabaglione was gone and the bowl was full, so whatever); cover the top with grated chocolate (recipe said six ounces, but three ounces covered it just fine, and six seemed like it would be excessive); and chill for at least six hours, which also helped give me confidence that any internal messiness would disappear, plus the grated chocolate on top already made it look quite splendid.
Well, that was some delicious cake, custard, and chocolate! In fact, it was ideally perfect trifle: rich and silky and creamy and a little rough on the tongue with the cake, and chocolatey and sweet, but not too sweet. In fact, some children, who will not be named but do not belong to me, had thirds! The cheese fondue--which did cause me anxiety, especially when it boiled, and then when it did not thicken, though then it did--was also triumphant. And my first act of the New Year (aside from kissing girls, watching bad pop stars on TV, and putting E to bed) was to finish E's new hat, which matches the mittens I made her over the weekend, so all in all the New Year started with significant accomplishment.
I'd also like to state, for the record, that vis-a-vis 2009 I have no resolutions, plans, goals, ideas, reflections, or wisdom to offer; I am just trying to go with it (and note present tense, so as to avoid doing one of those my-resolution-is-not-to-have-resolutions doublespeak things to which I am prone).
Happy New Year!