Monday, July 12, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever. Seriously.

I can think of very few people who don't like chocolate cake. And certainly, there are tens of thousands of recipes for chocolate cake. Central to the flavor is the kind of chocolate used. Some recipes call for unsweetened cocoa, which is usually sifted together with the other dry ingredients before combined with the wet ones (butter, eggs, milk and often some kind of flavoring). I have always tended to gravitate toward recipes that use squares of chocolate, which are usually melted in a double-boiler (By the way, there is no need to go out and spend good money on a double-boiler. My mother improvised and so do I. All you have to do is use a large saucepan for the water and put a smaller one with the ingredients on top. Voila!)

I have experimented with my fair share of chocolate cakes. But I came across one that I really think takes the cake. I know, I know -- that was bad. But I couldn't --or rather, chose not to-- resist.

One day I became determined to make a chocolate cake, and decided that I wanted something "different." I had no idea what that really meant. But I sat patiently on the floor near the bookcase and pulled out a number of cookbooks. Cookbook by cookbook, page by page, I painstaking went through at least 7 or 8 cookbooks.

One of my mother's oldest cookbooks is Julia Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My mom's copy was published in 1971; it was one of her cooking bibles. I picked up the cookbook last and looked for a recipe for chocolate cake; Julia did not let me down. There, on pages 677 and 678, was her recipe for an "extremely good chocolate cake" as she referred to it.

I read through the recipe and immediately noticed two things that made it different from most other chocolate cake recipes with which I was intimately familiar. First, there was no baking powder or baking soda, which are typical leavening agents. Rather, the recipe called for egg whites beaten into stiff peaks. I was immediately intrigued!!! Not only do beaten egg whites make batters rise; they also make them light and fluffy. Immediately, I could see and taste feather-light chocolate cake. The second thing that struck me about the recipe was the use of pulverized almonds. I was hooked. Chocolate and nuts pair naturally. I could picture almonds mixed into a rich chocolate mixture, lightened by egg whites.

Surely, this recipe was a winner! It absolutely was. I have made it with and without icing. It's so rich that it really does not need the icing, but I'm providing the recipe for the Chocolate-Butter Icing. I like to garnish the iced cake with whole almonds in a design. It adds a nice extra touch.

Make sure that you don't overbake the cake. The center should be slightly underdone.

I have made this recipe at least 4 times and each time, I receive rave reviews. It is rich, moist, flavorful, attractive to look at, and elegant served on nice china. I love it served with tea as it balances the richness of the cake nicely.


Reine Be Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)

A round cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep
4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 Tb rum of coffee
A 3-quart mixing bowl
A wooden spoon or an electric beater
1/4 lb. or 1 stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1Tb granulated sugar
A rubber spatula
1/3 cup pulverized almonds (I use a blender to do this.)
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup sifted cake flour returned to sifter

Butter and flour the cake pan. Melt the chocolate over almost simmering water. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.

Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.

Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir in one-fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.

Turn the batter in to the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Cake is done with it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a need comes out oily.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

Glacage Au Chocolat (Chocolate-Butter Icing)

For an 8-inch cake
A wooden spoon
1 ounce (1 square)semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 Tb rum or coffee
A small saucepan set over not-quite-simmering water
3 Tb unsalted butter
A bowl of cold water
A small, flexible blade-spatula, or a table knife

Stir the chocolate and rum or coffee in the saucepan over the hot water until chocolate has melted into a very smooth cream. Remove saucepan from hot water, and beat the butter into the chocolate, a tablespoon at a time. Then beat over cold water until chocolate mixture is cool and of spreading consistency. At once spread it over your cake with the spatula or knife.

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