One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Super Simple Chocolate Cake and German Chocolate Cake Variation

I injured myself recently. It's a humbling experience, to be reminded of just how much we take our bodies for granted. Recipes that take a lot of time in the kitchen are going to be beyond my abilities for quite a while it seems - but I do have a knock-out which I've been meaning to share since December. The end of dreary February and the imminent arrival of spring seem like the perfect reasons to celebrate with some cake, don't you think?

German Chocolate Cake is typically a very rich concoction consisting of a fudgy chocolate cake layered and covered with a chocolate icing (ganache), caramel, coconut and nuts. It's delicious in theory but most versions I've had have been too sweet and too rich to eat more than a few bites. Not that I ever let that stop me, to the detriment of my stomach! I've come up with a lighter version that won't put you in a food coma but still tastes great - a friend once called this cake "chocolate heaven".

The backbone of this dessert is a spectacularly easy plain chocolate cake - the so-called "Wacky Cake" from The Homesick Texan. I urge you to read Lisa's delightful story of how the name came about. Despite not containing any dairy or eggs and very little fat, it rises beautifully thanks to the reaction between the baking soda and the vinegar and is delicious. The best part is that it takes less than ten minutes to mix up and throw in the oven. You can jazz it up with all sorts of icing. To turn it into German Chocolate Cake, I split it in two and layer with dulce de leche, chopped pecans and coconut before frosting the whole thing with a rich chocolate ganache and topping with more coconut and pecans. If you can't find dulce de leche (which is caramelized sweetened milk), make some with a can of sweetened condensed milk. Instructions are here.

Super Simple "Wacky" Chocolate Cake
If your baking soda is stale the recipe will not work. Check for staleness by drizzling some vinegar onto a spoonful of soda and seeing if it fizzes. No fizz - no cake! The original recipe specifies a baking time of 30 minutes or less but I've made ones that have taken up to 40 minutes. Keep a stash of toothpicks and start checking around the 25 minute mark. The cake will be done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

1 1/2 cups (180 g) flour
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp (30 g) cocoa
1 tbsp white vinegar
5 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 cup (240 ml) cold water

1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). 

2. Mix together the first five ingredients in a bowl, then sift this mixture into the cake pan.

3. Make two wells in the flour mixture. Pour the oil in one well and the vinegar in the other. Add the water and mix well. Don't worry if the batter looks a bit too liquid.

4. Bake for 25 - 40 min, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool completely before serving. (If making the German Chocolate Cake, make the ganache right after the cake comes out of the oven.)

German Chocolate Cake
Make the ganache after the cake comes out of the oven and place it in a cool area. By the time the cake cools, the ganache will have hardened to a spreadable consistency. Place it in the fridge for a bit if it is still too fluid. The only tricky part is cutting the cake in two but don't worry if you break it - the ganache will cover any imperfections! The dulce de leche, coconut and pecan amounts are approximations, be as generous with the filling as you like. 

1 chocolate cake
4 oz (110g) semisweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45g) butter
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 cup (or more) dulce de leche
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup shredded coconut, preferably unsweetened

1. Make the ganache: Chop the butter and chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces and put into a bowl. Bring the cream just to a boil and pour it over the butter and chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool until the ganache has a spreadable consistency. 

2. With the aid of a spatula, transfer the cake from the cake pan onto a big plate or a serving dish.

3. Using a sharp knife, score a horizontal line at intervals around the perimeter, about halfway up the cake. 

4. You have two options to cut the cake into two horizontal layers: Either slide a big serrated knife through the line you have scored, or use a piece of thread. I find the second method easier. To do it, wrap each end of a long piece of thread around the index and middle fingers of each hand. Pull the thread taut, fit it into the line you have scored, and slowly split the cake by pulling the thread through the middle using a gentle sawing motion. 

5. Spread a generous amount of dulce de leche on the top of the bottom layer and on the bottom of the top layer. Sprinkle the top of the bottom layer with coconut and pecans, then put the top layer back on.

6. Cover the sides and top of the cake with ganache. Spoon any leftover ganache into your mouth.

7. Sprinkle the top of the cake with more coconut or pecans (or both), leaving a 3/4 inch border around the edge.