There are times when a quick, no-fuss-no-muss chocolate cake is just the ticket. My version, what I like to call a Chocolate “Pan” Cake, is frosted and served right from the pan. You can’t get much
simpler than that (unless you use a mix, and that’s obviously to be avoided at all costs). This cake is also quite versatile—you can either swirl the frosting on top with a spatula, for a down-home, simple
look, or dress it up by piping on the frosting and topping it with some flashy-looking almond nougatine. The cake itself is a moist one; sour cream and butter make it so, and brown sugar gives it a
complex, musky sweetness. I like to top it with a classic chocolate Swiss buttercream, which has a silky mouthfeel that is a perfect match for this moist, chocolaty cake. A chopped Cacao Nib and
Almond Nougatine adds a touch of bitterness and some contrasting crunch. If you find Swiss buttercream to be too complex, top it with the frosting of your choice--peanut butter frosting is delish—and simplify things by substituting cookie crumbs or toasted nuts for the nougatine.
Chocolate “Pan” Cake with Silky Chocolate Frosting
Makes one 9-inch square cake, serving 9
Sour Cream Fudge Cake:
1 1/2 cups (170 g) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces (57 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I like to use Scharffen Berger, though it’s a bit pricey!)
1/2 cup (1 stick/113 g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
¾ cup (163 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (121 g) sour cream
1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water, divided
½ cup (100 gr) granulated sugar
2 1/2 large (75 gr) egg whites
1 cup (2 sticks/227 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cacao Nib and Almond Nougatine:
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
½ cup cacao nibs
½ cup toasted slivered almonds (toast for 7 minutes at 350°F)
Make the cake:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan. Dust the pan with flour and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
3. Put the chocolate in a medium stainless steel bowl and place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from over the pot and set the chocolate aside to cool until tepid.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugars and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 3 minutes. At medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract until blended. Add the chocolate in two additions, mixing until blended. At low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream in two additions and mixing just until blended. Add the hot water, one-third at a time, mixing until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using a rubber spatula, mix the batter a few times to ensure that it is evenly blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan, set on a wire rack.
Make the nougatine:
6. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment paper. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and place over medium heat. Swirl the mixture just until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil the mixture until it turns a deep golden brown, about 7 minutes, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals.
7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cacao nibs and almonds and cook for another minute. Pour the mixture into the center of the pan and place the pan on a wire rack. Let cool completely.
8. Slide a metal spatula under the nougatine to remove it from the pan and transfer it to a cutting surface. Chop the nougatine finely using a chef’s knife (a food processor will not give you as good a result, so avoid using it here). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.
Make the buttercream:
9. In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the water over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth. Let cool.
10. Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
11. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, egg whites, and remaining 1 ½ tablespoons water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
12. Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
13. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute. Mix the cooled melted chocolate into the finished buttercream at low speed. Stir the buttercream by hand with a rubber spatula until completely blended.
Frost the cake:
14. Frost the top of the cake with the buttercream (you can either pipe it on or swirl it with a small spatula, as you prefer). Serve the cake from the pan, cutting it into squares and sprinkling each piece with some Cacao Nib and Almond Nougatine.