Wednesday, 9 January 2013

that chocolate cake

that chocolate cake for a's twenty-twelve
this last year i rediscovered my love for baking. it is something i grew up doing in mama’s kitchen. i have many happy childhood memories of measuring ingredients in cups, cracking eggs into mixing bowls and holding the beater to cream butter and sugar, whip cream and transform egg whites into stiff peaks for meringues. it was mama who taught me how to make my own buttermilk to add to scones and how to sift flour without making a mess. the action of tapping the sifter against the base of the palm never ceases to make me feel like i am seven and standing over a mixing bowl in mama’s kitchen.

after i moved to london i became much more interested in savoury cooking. somehow soups, casseroles, roasts and pakistani saalun and pulao’s became a more captivating audience. looking back i am surprised at how much baking, jam and condiment making i did in twenty twelve. i suppose part of it is because o has a sweet tooth and will happily scoff cakes and cookies. there is something magical about baking. it has to do with how simple ingredients like butter, sugar, flour and eggs combine to give pleasure. much of last years baking has been of birthday cakes. this is partly because of the baker’s curse as coined by ‘desserts for breakfast’ and the fact that i am married into what i call a big family (o has three siblings). that is four birthdays to start with and added to the mix are certain friends who have come to be included in the fold of family. of course i bake these cakes willingly because i know what it feels like to have someone bake a cake for you. my mama used to make my birthday cake and there is nothing more delightful than that thought that someone took the time to pick a recipe and make it for you. my cousins from uncle sam’s land would feel the need to emphasis the ‘made from scratch’ nature.

that chocolate cake

at the risk of sounding partial, out of the five birthday cakes i baked last year that chocolate cake was the crowning glory. o’s malteser cake cuts a close second followed by a kahlua spiked devil’s food cake for d and n’s beatty’s cake. before the recipe though i have to tell you about a. a and i met in islamabad in twenty o four. we had recently returned from our undergraduate education and had all the angst of twenty something coupled with returning to the nest after a taste of freedom. looking back our story is one of carefree days, of an islamabad that now seems like a figment of our imagination. it is at best a fictional place and at worst a reminder of what we have lost and what perhaps can never be regained. we worked hard and played harder. i recall weekends that were a blur of parties and brunches, endless cafietieres of coffee and cups of strongly brewed tea and early evening rendezvous’ at espresso lounge in beverly centre in an atmosphere clouded with smoke. a represents the courage it takes to be true and honest to oneself in a society that is unforgiving and intolerant of the most basic of differences. more than anything else a has been there for me through thick and thin.

picking a recipe for this kind of a friend was not easy. i went through my visual note-taking on pinterest, then trawled through martha stewart and barefoot contessa and endless blogs from smitten kitchen to joy the baker. it should not come as a surprise that the right recipe was found on one of my favourite blogs ‘poires au chocolat’. i picked that chocolate cake more for emma’s preface than for the recipe itself. it is easy to relate to her thoughts. i turned thirty in twenty-twelve and was very lucky to have celebrated it with my parents and siblings. mama’s cake for the year was a response to pakistan’s current situation. scant electricity and gas supplies have been wreaking havoc with the electric oven and cooker so she made a pannacotta inspired dessert, the bottom of which was layered with ladyfingers soaked in home made orange liqueur and finished with a chocolate piped gemini for baba and i. it was the perfect way to celebrate what had proved to be challenging year with the big realisation that change gets easier to manage as one grows. a too has had quite a year and deserved a cake that celebrated all that was good. a rim of silver balls brought in the silver lining, because of course every cloud has a silver lining.

if you are looking for the perfect celebration cake, that chocolate cake is it. the few changes to the recipe are more from necessity than a need to adapt. i had run out of my nielsen-massey vanilla extract and sadly waitrose was not carrying it so i used almond extract instead. this worked perfectly to balance the chocolate. the original recipe called for 99% unsweetened dark chocolate which i was unable to find in the post-christmas rush. i used a 70% dark chocolate which worked well. i can see how a darker icing would compliment the cake but the boys loved it (and i think much preferred the slightly sweeter version). the recipe below is reproduced entirely from emma’s except the almond extract. if you follow her meticulous set of instructions there is no reason why you should not end with a cake almost as perfect and her own.

{that chocolate cake}
for the icing
two hundred and seventy five ml double cream
two hundred and fifty grams granulated sugar
one hundred and thirty grams 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
one hundred grams unsalted butter, cubed
one teaspoon almond extract
for the cake
four hundred and fifty grams granulated sugar
two hundred grams plain flour
eighty five grams unsweetened cocoa powder
one and a half teaspoon baking powder
one and a half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
one teaspoon sea salt
two large eggs, beaten
two hundred and seventy-five ml milk
one hundred and thirty-five ml canola oil
two hundred and seventy-five ml boiling water
start with the icing. combine the cream and sugar in a large saucepan. put over a medium heat and bring to the boil. once it starts to properly bubble, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 6 minutes. it foams up a lot. take off the heat and leave to cool for one minute then add the butter and chopped chocolate. stir until smooth then transfer to another bowl and stir in the almond extract. leave to cool, stirring occasionally.

preheat the oven to one hundred and eighty degrees celsius. butter, line and flour two eight inch cake tins (not ones with removable bases, the batter is too liquid). place the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer with the beater attached. stir on the lowest setting until a uniform brown colour. add the beaten eggs, milk and canola oil then turn the mixer up to medium and beat for 2 minutes. boil the kettle while it beats then turn off and pour in the water. mix it on low until smooth - it is very soupy. divide between the two tins - roughly six hundred and fifty grams of batter in each. carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer can be removed from the centre cleanly.  leave to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes in the tins then turn out and remove the paper.

by the time the cakes are totally cool, the icing should be thick enough to ice - it should hold its own weight. place one of the cakes onto a serving plate lined with paper strips. spoon some of the icing into the middle and spread it out. add the top layer then spoon about half the rest of the icing onto the top. drag down and over the sides and smooth over. add the rest as you need it, working fairly quickly. use a palette knife dipped in a jug of hot water then dried with a towel to get a shiny finish. watch out as you move it - the layers can slide a little until it sets up. add any decorations, final flourishes and candles then slice and enjoy.

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