Chocolate Cake

by Yule Heibel on October 5, 2004

I think I’ve mentioned The Chocolate Cake a couple of times recently. This is the recipe, adapted from the Devil’s Food Cake recipe in Iva Bennett and Martha Simon’s 1973 edition of The Prudent Diet:

Assemble a collection of three smallish bowls and one larger one for mixing.

Take 1/2 cup of cocoa powder — nothing with sugar mixed in, but real cocoa, like Van Houten’s, or Fry’s, or even Hershey’s, not Nestl´┐Ż’s — and mix it well with 1/2 cup of hot water in one of the small bowls. Set aside.

Combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon baking soda, a pinch of salt, and a splash of real vanilla extract in another little bowl. Set aside.

Sift together 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder in another of the smaller bowls. Set aside.

In the larger mixing bowl, beat 2 eggs until thick; gradually add 1/2 cup white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar, beating well. Slowly beat in 1/2 cup oil (canola, eg., or a lighter olive oil).

Add some of the flour mixture to the egg mixture, continue with some of the buttermilk mixture, and so on, alternating until finished. Keep beating the mixture after every addition — batter should be smooth. Now add the cocoa mixture (use a rubber scraper to get everything out) and continue to beat until smooth.

Depending on your oven, you should have set the temperature to 350 Fahrenheit so that it’s ready when you are. (Newer ovens take very little time to preheat.) Spray something like Pam into two nine-inch round cake pans and pour the mixture, evenly divided, into the two pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake tests done.

Turn out onto cooling racks and let cool.

At this point, we deviate from the American Heart Association’s 1973 endorsement of The Prudent Diet: we assemble the cake differently.

In a small bowl, mix several tablespoons of seeded raspberry jam with some clear liquor (eg. vodka) until the jam has a smooth, easily spreadable consistency. Alternately, if you want a faux Schwarzw´┐Żlderkirschtorten-flavour, try cherry compote mixed with Kirschwasser, although the raspberry mix is just fine. Place one layer of your cake on a stand and spread the jam mixture on it. You want to have a decent amount of jam mixture on the cake, but it shouldn’t ooze out all over the place. Measure is everything. Put the other layer on top.

Next, make a real chocolate frosting: take one bar of dark chocolate — because it’s readily available and relatively inexpensive, I recommend Lindt’s “Excellence 70% cocoa extra fine dark chocolate” (comes in 100 gram bars) — and place it, together with slightly less than an equal amount of unsalted butter, into a small saucepan. The more butter, the “wetter” the final frosting; less butter, and the frosting dries to a hard, “tap-able” finish. Wing it, try out different variations, but do not use more than one part butter to one part chocolate. Use less. Err in favour of more chocolate and far less butter. You can always add more butter if your chocolate mixture is too dry or grainy, but you can’t take the butter out once it has melted.

Just heat this combination slowly in the saucepan until everything is melted and looks about right. Use a frosting knife to spread the mixture on top and on the sides of the cake. Let dry — if you didn’t overdo the butter, it should dry to an almost hard finish.

The result is a pleasingly full mouth-feel chocolate cake that doesn’t have the cloying sweetness one sometimes gets with “death by chocolate” desserts. The cake itself really doesn’t have very much sugar, nor is the jam too sweet (and you can use a “real fruit” substitute, without added sugar). Nor is the dark chocolate frosting at all sweet — it’s just wonderfully challenging to the palate.

The butter, of course, is something else….

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