Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Queen of Cakes Does it Again

When Rose Levy Beranbaum's classic cookbook The Cake Bible came out in the late 1980's, I immediately became a huge fan. I have always marvelled at the amount of work and effort that went into that book. I didn't make all the cakes in The Cake Bible, but I made most of them, and continue to use it today. I've since gotten to know Rose (we even went on a press trip to Switzerland together at some point) and I've learned to love her quirky personality and dedication to the art of dessert. Rose goes to great lengths to find the best techniques for making whatever it is she's making, whether it's a cake, tart or bread. She is, quite simply, a perfectionist. And now she's written another cake book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, and, from what I can see, it is also destined to be a classic.

I randomly chose a cake to bake from it--the Black Chocolate Party Cake. It's a simple cake, very easy to make. Nothing special, I thought. Boy, was I wrong about that. One taste, and I knew that this cake was nothing short of extraordinary. The finest crumb, lightest texture, and an intense chocolate flavor. Pure genius. That's Rose--she never disappoints. Order this book now (it will officially be out in September).

Black Chocolate Party Cake
Makes 12-14 servings

2/3 cup walnut halves
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (sifted into the cup and leveled off)
1 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

Cocoa Syrup:
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons walnut liqueur or Kahlua (optional)

Make the cake:
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 10-cup metal fluted tube pan with baking spray with flour.
2. Spread the walnuts evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes to enhance the flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Turn the walnuts onto a clean dish towel and roll and rub them around to loosen the skins. Discard the skins and cool completely. In a food processor, pulse them until they are medium fine. If they start to become a little pasty, add 1/2 cup of the flour.
3. In a medium bowl, stir, then whisk the sour cream, cocoa, eggs, and vanilla until the consistency of slightly lumpy muffin batter.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the ground walnuts, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and half the cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer off between additions, add the remaining cocoa mixture in two parts, starting on medium-low speed and gradually raising the speed to medium. Beat on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula or spoon, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset metal spatula.
5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted between the tube and the side comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly. Make the cocoa syrup shortly before the cake is finished baking.

Make the Cocoa Syrup:
6. In a small saucepan, whisk together the cocoa and sugar. Add a small amount of the boiling water and whisk until all of the mixture is moistened. Whisk in the remaining boiling water. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over low heat, stirring often. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk in the vanilla and liqueur, and use while still hot to brush on the cake. If necessary, add water to equal 2/3 cup of syrup.

Brush and unmold the cake:
7. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, place the pan on a wire rack, poke the cake all over with a wooden skewer, and brush it with about one-third of the syrup. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Drape plastic wrap over the cake in the pan, overhanging the pan by a few inches. Place a 9-inch cardboard cake round or plate on top of the plastic wrap and invert the cake. Remove the pan and flatten the plastic wrap overhang onto the work surface. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining syrup. Bring up the sides of the plastic wrap to apply any little puddles of syrup to the cake. Cool completely. When ready to serve, invert the cake onto another cardboard round or plate lined with plastic wrap. Gently remove the plastic wrap sticking to the cake, being careful not to tear or break off any of the fragile edges of the cake, and reinvert the cake onto a serving plate.

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