Not for little E but for the husband! Last weekend I took another stab at baking my husband’s birthday cake. Another stab because it was the second year in a row I tried the Chocolate Fudge Cake from The Cake Bible. Those of you who have seen this book know that it is a seriouscake book. In fact when you first open it, it is quite intimidating (and it’s not just because there’s a section on wedding cakes). The author doesn’t just give you the cups and tablespoons measurements, she gives you the metric and imperial system. She gives volume and weight measurements. So there is actually a grid for the ingredients section of each recipe. What? This actually turns out to be quite useful, even though at first you are tempted to give up before you start. (She has those recipes too, but you can ignore them. The easier ones are plenty good enough. And the pictures are stunning to look at while you get up the courage for the easier ones). The reason this is so useful is, for example, when you have to measure out sifted cake flour: much easier to weigh it and sift it then try to sift into a cup (oh, I tried that). If like me you have frozen egg whites populating your freezer (OK, probably not, but you should see what else is in our freezer), you can measure their volume to see how many you have. (Because I always think I’ll remember but never do).
Before I continue, I have to confess what happened last year. I was on maternity leave but playing the waiting game. To help keep me distracted, my sister in law Colleen came over to help me bake a cake for the husband’s/the big brother’s birthday. (It was appropriate we used the Cake Bible as she gave it to me for Christmas one year after I kept looking at her copy). We went to the nearby grocery store (this was, sigh, when we really could walk everywhere) and looked for cake flour. Since the nearby grocery store was, however, a co-op, it did not have regular cake flour (except for one fairly beat-up package neither of us thought looked very promising), so we got “whole wheat pastry flour”. We didn’t actually notice at first it was whole wheat and then thought, eh, it will be fine. I mean, the whole point of pastry flour is for making cakes and croissants and all sorts of delicate light creations–surely this was created with that in mind. I mean, when you are making pastry you’ve already made a conscious decision to not be eating healthily right?
Well, the cake performed OK until the final test–i.e. when we all sat down together and had a bite. There was sort of an awkward moment as we all three looked at each other wondering if we were all on the same page. If you wonder how this tasted, I will suggest frosting a big slice of pumpernickel bread with chocolate icing and you’ll get the general idea. We had made vanilla bean ice cream though so all was not lost. (Yes, that is where those old vanilla beans that keep popping up in my posts came from. You will be relieved to know they are gone).
The second go at this cake did not start out promisingly. First you mix 3/4 a cup of unsweetened cocoa into boiling water. This is supposed to release the flavor. OK, so far so good.
The recipe also calls for brown sugar. I realized, after I started, that the brown sugar was rock-hard. Nevermind, I know that you can supposedly soften it up by microwaving it with some bread. Well, I don’t know if this technique actually doesn’t work or if my brown sugar was way too dry, but I spent well beyond the 30 seconds it is supposed to take trying to soften it. I finally started to just use my hands to break apart the little bits of sugar that had softened. I figured, I only needed about 1/4 cup anyway. Wrong. 2 cups. I had only managed to eke out 1/2 cup of usable brown sugar (I had well over 2 cups that I couldn’t use). I thought–OK, I’ll use another recipe. Nope. The others all called for only 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. That cocoa powder was not cheap so I wasn’t wasting it.
Then I thought, doesn’t the Joy Of Cooking have substitutions? Yes, but it told me to use a cup of white sugar to replace a cup of brown sugar. I knew that wasn’t right. I had made chocolate chip cookies in the Czech Republic without brown sugar, and no, it does not work. Then I thought, maybe the Cake Bible itself has the answer. And yes! Add 1/4c of molasses to one cup of white sugar to get the equivalent of a cup of brown sugar. (FYI, 1/3 cup for dark brown sugar). I wasn’t sure how this was going to work–first I had the reconstituted brown sugar that I had labored to make usable again, and then this concoction. Well, it was too late now.
I proceeded. This is not a cake to mix by hand with a wooden spoon. In fact I wondered why I even used a hand mixer. You really have to beat the batter to “develop the structure”–probably why cake flour is specified–otherwise it would be a hockey puck!
Despite making various massive messes (hence my comment about sifting cake flour, above), and leaving bits of cake batter all over the kitchen, I finally got the cakes ready to go.
They rose very nicely (though I swear they sort of shrunk once they came out).
The book says that the cake is rich enough so that no frosting is needed, and I grabbed onto that sentence like a lifeline. (When Mike asked if I was making frosting, I think I repeated that to him all too quickly). I cut a little snowflake out of parchment paper and used that to sprinkle powdered sugar into a pattern on top. It doesn’t need frosting, it’s true, if it’s possible for a cake not to need frosting. But to my mind it’s debatable that there’s any cake out there that isn’t improved by frosting.
But anyway–how did it turn out? It was really good! The substitutions worked, well, I can’t say perfectly not knowing what it would have tasted like otherwise, but it was really delicious. This was my first time using cake flour and it really does make for a very moist and tender cake. And the chocolate flavor was rich and satisfying.
The bonus was that this recipe made two cakes, so the second one is in the fridge for next week’s party for the other birthday boy in the house!