Monday, May 9, 2011
Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Chocolate Cake: The Ace of Cakes
It was perfect.
Well, perfect, except for the alien baby head that was poking out of the top.
And the tiny, truly miniscule, sliver of egg shell that some how got lost in the deep chocolate batter when I wasn’t looking because I was too busy being… perfect.
But those were really inconsequential matters. The chocolate cake – Molly Wizenberg’s “Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake" that was, incidentally also her wedding cake – was a thing of gorgeous, alien-headed beauty. The edges were slightly crackly and soufflé-like, just like Molly had said they should be, and the center only displayed a whisper of jiggliness. I knew just by looking at it that it would set up… perfectly.
Because that’s how I do things. Perfectly.
I’d taken extra care with this cake – a mother’s day present for my mom whose affinity for chocolate is even greater than mine. I’d weighed my Ghiradelli 60% cacoa chips so they came out to exactly 7 ounces. I’d spent the extra effort to find European-style butter, which has a higher percentage of butterfat and creamier consistency than regular butter. And I’d vigilantly whisked in each of my five eggs, one at a time – just as Molly had instructed.
I’m an excellent whisker.
So, being that the cake was all perfect and what not, I was nervous about the process of extracting it from the 8-inch round pan. Molly had provided notes on how to do it – popping the delicate cake unto a flat, foil-lined plate before positioning the serving plate on the bottom so it could be flipped over, right-side up – but I was terrified of mutilating it in the process.
There were alien babies at stake here.
“You do it,” I’d told my mother who seemed nonplussed by the instructions.
“I know exactly what to do,” she’d said, taking charge with the plates and foil like a seasoned cake-flipping pro.
An “Ace of Cakes,” one might say.
I was so proud.
But then I saw it. The cake that she had flipped onto the foil-lined plate wasn’t lined up with the serving plate she was transferring it to. I started to yell, “Stop!” but by the time the word had formed in my mouth, quivering and anxious and ready to pounce on her with all the bravado and intensity of a dire warning, it was too late.
She’d already flipped it over.
And a huge chunk of the cake that was supposed to win hearts and minds was falling off the edge of the glass dish.
“You missed the plate!” I shrieked in horror, unable to contain my panic that my cake – my perfect egg-shell-containing, alien-head-baby cake – was about to be irrevocably ruined.
“Get me a giant spatula!” She commanded, thinking she could just shift the cake over into the center of the plate.
I shook my head in defiance.
I couldn’t stand idly by and watch the destruction.
Moving fast, I cut in, plopping the cake back onto the foil-lined plate, before transferring it back onto the serving platter.
It landed perfectly in the center.
Relief hit first, then anger. An acrid anger that rose up from stomach and into my chest as I stared at the dislodged portion of my perfect mother’s day present for my, clearly, not-so-perfect mother.
She was not the “Ace of Cakes.”
She was the “Disgrace of Cakes!”
I snatched up the dessert and stalked into the other room – terrified to leave it in the path of this woman who had missed the plate. She couldn’t be trusted.
My eyes began to narrow, assuming the position of my winning evil eye that makes hearts tremble and minds turn into wobbly bits of putty. Oh would she be sorry for missing that plate. The eye was going to get her.
Yet, as I stood there, glaring at the cake and gearing up for a storm of adolescent-like rage the likes of which my parents' house hadn't seen since 1999, I realized I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be angry at her – the woman who had given birth to me and has put up with my neuroses for the past 27 years. It was Mother’s Day.
I had to forgive her.
Just like she’d forgiven me when I’d broken her crystal Swarovski swan when I was running around the house as a child. Just like she’d forgiven me when I’d hit a pole approximately a month after getting my driver’s license. Just like she’d forgiven me when I’d eaten half of her precious box of special mint Abdallah’s that her mother had shipped to her from South Dakota.
I tucked the evil eye away and went back into the kitchen, willing myself to move on.
When I sliced up the cake later that night (careful to avoid the shattered, disgraced portion), I didn’t hesitate to top each sliver with a generous dollop of the whipped cream she’d made. The smooth peaks oozed down the sides of the glossy mousse-like cake, hiding all sins, eggshells and alien babies within.
It was perfect.
And all hearts and minds were won.
Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie, or, Kate's Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake
From Orangette, who adapted the recipe from Je veux du chocolat!, by Trish Deseine
7 ounces (200 grams) best-quality dark chocolate
7 ounces (200 grams) unsalted European-style butter (the high-butterfat kind, such as Lurpak or Beurre d’Isigny), cut into ½-inch cubes
1 1/3 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.
Finely chop the chocolate (a serrated bread knife does an outstanding job of this) and melt it gently with the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring regularly to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition, and then add the flour. The batter should be smooth, dark, and utterly gorgeous.
Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.) Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.
Serve in wedges at room temperature with a loose dollop of ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream.