See as of yesterday, (as you’ve probably surmised from all the posts about snacking and frozen yogurt and whatnot) I still hadn’t fully shaken off my cooking “rut”, otherwise known as my food funk, the stalemate with my kitchen, or my completely culinarily uninspired period of time…
So I drew a line in the proverbial sand and vowed, inspiration be damned, to cook something…anything (ideally somewhat elaborate and perhaps even a bit challenging) for Valentine’s Day. Really pulling out of the funk, dusting off the cookbooks and making something fantastic for Bryan and the girlies, seemed like the ultimate expression of love, no?
I decided first on the dessert -- it was Valentine’s Day after all. Specifically, inspired by Ruth Riechls’ ultimate expression of love through insane baking in her excellent memoir, "Comfort Me With Apples", I decided to make “Big Chocolate Cake”… with Audrey of course. And truthfully the cake killed two birds with one stone, allowing me to cross “make a chocolate cake from scratch” of my “list”, where it’s been sitting stagnate for a year and a half. A win/win all around.
From the name alone, I knew this project might be a bit of a bear, and I had a whole dinner to make too (more on that later), so we started working on the cake early in the day. Which turned out to be a good thing, as we were working slowly (+ sneaking in plenty of Olympics viewing, breaking for Bryan’s famous quesadillas + taking in a tivo’d Project Runway)… Let's just say Audrey placed the final raspberry on the cake at approximately 5:00 pm, right before I started dinner.
Friends, let me warn you, this cake isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s nothing especially “healthy” about this bad boy – case in point, it contains three sticks of butter and six eggs in the batter alone, but I view great desserts the same way I do eating meat lately -- we eat it less of it and make the best we can possibly afford. To that end, we used great chocolate and all organic ingredients.
I can honestly say it was a masterpiece.
Ruth Reichl’s Big Chocolate Cake adapted from "Comfort Me With Apples"
A couple of notes…this recipe makes a big cake and we were only feeding four, so rather than tinker with the amounts, I used ½ the batter for a single layer round cake and used the rest for cupcakes. Since my round cake pan was a little deeper than the sheet pans that the cooking times are intended for, I had to cook it closer to 45-50 minutes and I turned the heat down to 325 for the last 15 minutes.
For Cake Layers:
- 1 ½ cups boiling water
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup whipped cream cheese
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Make Cake Layers:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pans and line bottoms of each with wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together the boiling water and the cocoa in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Beat together the butter and sugars in the large bowl of a standing electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (the batter may look curdled).
Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops. Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean and layers begin to pull away from the sides of pans, 25 to 35 minutes. Invert cakes on racks, remove wax paper, and cool completely.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until melted. Cool to room temperature.
Beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
Add remaining ingredients and beat until well combined.
Put one cake layer, rounded side up, on a cake plate and spread with 11/4 cups frosting. Top with another cake layer, rounded side up, and spread top and sides with remaining frosting.