Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Chocolate Cake

Posted February 09, 2009
Find more about cake , chocolate , valentines day , dalai mama
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The fancy powdered sugar design is shockingly simple-and it makes a great compensatory gesture with respect to the absence of frosting.

I know it's very nineteenth-century of me to let a child consume raw batter, and the risk implied herein does not necessarily represent the opinions or advice of this website or its parent company. (How's that for ad hoc legalese?)

If I had it to do over, I would probably not bother trying to capture a photograph of my own pale hand squeezing a bag full of brown batter.

See? The stencil is just a doily with a heart cut out of the middle. I think it would have been easier if I'd let the cake cool, since then the doily would not have curled up in the steam. Live and learn.

Only *after* we removed the doily did it occur to us that we wanted to sprinkle pink sugar over just the heart part, which was as simple as astrophysics. Live and learn. Again.

The Cupcake Whisperer.

That picture makes it look like I'm so proud of the cupcakes I made, but really I just licked batter and sprinkled sprinkles. Compulsive confessional honesty seems to run in the family.

It's not a health or fanciness thing, since I spent both of my pregnancies assiduously following the prenatal diet called "Can of Pringles"--but I'm just not a huge fan of sweets. Which is not to say that there aren't exceptions: gummy Coke bottles, for instance, or anything nice and salty, such as caramel popcorn or gingerbread or chocolate-covered pretzels or Dulce de Leche ice cream. I also really love pudding and anything baked by my mum, and, okay, lots of other sweets. I do like sweets. But I'm the person you want to share a piece of cake with because--and you have to promise not to judge me--I don't like frosting. Which makes this my ideal cake: rich and chocolaty and delicious, but blissfully plain. The fact that it's made from cocoa (Hey melted chocolate, don't let the door hit you on the way out!), and quickly, and without dirtying a million dishes all only adds to its charm.

And you know what? I made this for the very first time just yesterday! And then I made it again today, because I wanted to share it with you for Valentine's Day. Or that's the story I'm telling myself. The thing is, I had gotten one of those little silicone mini-heart cupcake pans on sale at Michael's and so I was looking for a quick and easy chocolate cake batter to fill it with: Ben had a couple of friends over to make Valentines, and I was hoping to surprise them with a fun treat. We have a tried-and-true recipe that we love--it's called Brazilian Chocolate Cake, it's from the Greens cookbook, and we've been making it for years--decades even (yikes). But I wanted something super-easy and quick, and this recipe, from Cook's Illustrated The Best Recipe Cookbook, was just the ticket. In parentheses, after "Master Recipe for Chocolate Layer Cake," it says "Velvet Devil's Food Layer Cake," which is a perfect description of its dense-yet-tender texture, and then something about a "Coffee Buttercream Frosting," which we will all politely ignore. Instead sprinkle it with a bit of powdered sugar and, if you like, serve it with whipped cream.

Chocolate Cake
active time: 15 minutes; total time: 1 hour

Adapted from "Master Recipe for Chocolate Layer Cake" from Cook's Illustrated The Best Recipe Cookbook. I really think that pouring boiling water over the cocoa is the key to the cake's lush texture and fantastic flavor.

1/2 cup regular cocoa powder, such as Hershey's
2 teaspoons instant espresso or instant coffee
1 cup boiling water (if you used a cup of very hot coffee instead, you could skip the instant, right?)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened (I use salted)
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large room-temperature eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 350, and butter and flour your pans. The recipe calls for two 8-inch cake pans, but I used one cake pan and one 12-well mini-muffin pan. The recipe also says something about lining the pans with parchment paper, but I used that unholy Pam baking spray with the flour in it, and everything slid right out! I think that heavy buttering and flouring would work just fine, sans parchment.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa, instant coffee, and boiling water and leave the mixture to cool to room temperature, then stir in the vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until it's "smooth and shiny," the recipe says, around 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the mixture is "fluffy and almost white," the recipe says, around 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating a full minute after each addition.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed immediately by 1/3 of the cocoa mixture and mix until the ingredients are incorporated. Repeat the process twice more. When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides with a rubber spatula, then return the mixer to low speed and beat until the batter is lovely and satiny, about 15 seconds longer.

If you're using two cake pans, go ahead and dived the batter between them, spread it evenly with the spatula, and pop them in the middle of the oven to cook for 23 to 27 minutes, until they feel just springy when you press them in the center, and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs but nothing that still looks runny. If you're using a mini-cupcake pan, scoop half the batter into a Ziploc bag, twist the bag to force the batter into a corner, and snip about a half inch off the corner with a pair of scissors. Squeeze the batter from the bag into the wells, filling each about 3/4 of the way. Fill the cake pan with the remaining batter (including any left in the bag), and pop the pans into the oven to bake (if you're using a silicone pan, stick it on a cookie sheet first). I baked my mini cupcakes for 13 minutes: they looked not quite done, but firmed up as they cooled and settled.

After you remove your various cakes from the oven, cool them in their pans on a rack for ten minutes, then flip them over and out. Leave them as they are, or sprinkle them with a bit of powdered sugar that you shake gently through a sieve. To make the stencil for the big cake, I simply cut a heart from the center of a doily and pressed the doily to the surface of the cake (I kept the cake inverted: the bottom seemed flatter and smoother) before sprinkling it generously and evenly with powdered sugar ("Not too bad!" Birdy said, when I removed the stencil, thus deflating me entirely). You could, of course, just use a regular piece of paper with a heart cut out, or use the heart itself, so that the whole cake is white save for a brown heart where your stencil was. We also added a tiny sprinkling of pink sugar for romantic effect.

Be mine. XOXO.

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Chocolate Cake

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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