I just read Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone in two evenings-- I couldn't put it down. She writes in such a way to leave you hanging on every word, and perfectly illustrates the tastes and textures of food the way she discovered and tasted it at the time. I wish I had read the book ten years ago-- I'm a late bloomer. The book includes recipes, most of which you will see here in months to come. Reichl reminded me to slow down, not to take the time to make something unless I can give the ingredients the respect they deserve. This being a 3-day weekend has enabled me the luxury of time to find and execute such a recipe. Thank you, Colleen and Melissa (for the Barnes & Noble gift certificate)-and thank you, Ms. Reichl.
Old Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake (from Cook's Illustrated)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 cup hot water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch round by 2 inch high cake pans with softened butter; dust pans with flour and knock off excess.
Combine chocolate, cocoa powder and hot water in medium (heatproof) bowl and set over saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water. Stir with spatula until chocolate is melted- about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.
Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and egg yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with spatula. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing 10 seconds after each addition. Add about 1/3 of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated). Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Divide batter between prepared cake pans; smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.
Bake cakes until toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes (mine took closer to 40 minutes). Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 1 hour.
16 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (do not substitute choc. chips)8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (cold)
Melt chocolate in heatproof bowl over saucepan containing 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to medium; add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and salt and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate, butter mixture and cream to bowl of standing mixer and stir to combine.
Place mixer bowl over ice bath and stir constantly with spatula until frosting is thick and just beginning to harden against sides of bowl- a little less than 5 minutes. Place bowl on standing mixer with paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. stir with rubber spatula until completely smooth.
Place one cake layer on serving platter.
Spread 1 1/2 cups frosting evenly across top of cake with spatula.
Place second cake layer on top, then spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Serve!!! Refrigerate leftover cake, but before you serve, remove from fridge and let it warm up a bit.
This was, as Cook's Illustrated promised, the true taste of the chocolate layer cake you might remember from your childhood- rich chocolate taste and fluffy, luxuriously chocolate frosting. My mother in law Marilyn helped me by reading the instructions aloud and repeatedly (thank you!) as I was elbow-deep in ingredients trying to concentrate and things would never have gone as smoothly without her. This isn't an easy task, cake from scratch is not easy (as Marilyn reminded me). She would know, she is a lifelong baker. I learned more from an afternoon baking with her than I ever would reading a cookbook. I took my time and tried my best to learn the reasons behind each instruction in the recipe, remembering Reichl's care and respect for her own recipes and ingredients.
We added one ingredient that wasn't in the recipe, making this cake more than just a sinful indulgence. Our careful measuring, repeated attempts at the perfect ice bath for the frosting and patience as baking the cake batter took longer than expected were all as much a part of the recipe as the chocolate was today- all adding up to our secret ingedient, love...and the eggs.