Yesterday I made myself a chocolate layer cake for no reason at all.
I hardly ever make a cake for myself; I wait until a special occasion, then make a cake for someone else. Which is ridiculous, if you think about it. Do I not deserve a delicious cake? Even when it's not my birthday? So yesterday, when I was drooling over a photo of a chocolate layer cake in one of my favorite cookbooks, waxing poetic about how badly I wanted a slice, Husband said, "You know, you do know how to bake. Why don't you make yourself one?"
Well, duh. It was a revelation. The cold winter sky opened; angels began to sing. And I started chopping chocolate.
Donna Hay's layered chocolate fudge cake is nothing if not rich, and nothing if not rustic. The luscious photograph that accompanies the recipe shows a four-layer cake spread with frosting between the layers and on top -- but not around the cake's chocolatey sides. They are left unfrosted, naked, for all the salivating eaters to see. Beguiling, really.
The cake itself is deeply flavored with chocolate, with a texture that veers into genoise/sponge-cake territory. It achieves its modest lift from vigorously beaten eggs and a modest amount of flour. The recipe does not call for salt, though as I think of it the recipe calls for "butter" -- not "unsalted butter" -- and I'm thinking it might be possible that Australians would use salted butter in the cake. (My edition of the cookbook was published in Australia.) My knee-jerk reaction is always to use unsalted butter in baked goods, so I might have missed the salt boat here (though I certainly made up for it with a sprinkling of fleur de sel atop the finished cake). But no matter, the cake was marvelous and maybe next time -- just for comparison's sake, you know -- I'll go the salted butter route.
As far as the fudge filling goes, I used it as an opportunity to cobble together 12 oz. of random bits and pieces of chocolate left over from previous baking adventures -- orphaned chunks of chocolate that were just hanging out in the pantry, waiting for their chance to play a starring dessert role. It was quite satisfying, chucking butter and cream together with semi-sweet Nestle chips and a hunk of semi-sweet Valrhona and several squares of bittersweet Ghirardelli and a few rectangles of Hershey's dark chocolate to make the filling. It was a scene, man.
And even though I had made the cake for myself, I did end up sharing it with family. Sister's 142nd birthday is this week, and we went out last night to celebrate. I will be baking a proper chocolate-hazelnut cake for her birthday tomorrow. But last night, after her birthday dinner, it seemed silly not to use this rustic layer cake as a sort of precursor to her formal birthday. Which is how Younger Nephew ended up sitting in my kitchen, covered in frosting, fork in hand, stating that the chocolate -- like everything else sweet in my kitchen -- was "HIS" and his alone.
Not exactly what I envisioned when I set out greedily and piggishly to make a cake for myself. But as with everything else in life, chocolate cake is always sweeter when you can share it with someone you love. Even if that person doesn't really want to share.
LAYERED CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE
Adapted from Flavours, by Donna Hay
For the cake:
2 1/2 oz. unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. cocoa powder
1 c. all-purpose flour
For the fudge filling:
12 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 c. heavy cream
5 oz. unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
Optional but totally delicious topping:
A hearty pinch of fleur de sel
First, make the fudge filling. Place the chocolate, heavy cream, butter and salt in a medium heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and allow everything to melt, stirring occasionally to combine the ingredients. Remove from the heat and refrigerate until cool.
While the filling is cooling, make the cakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
Melt the 2 1/2 oz. butter and vanilla in a small saucepan over low heat, then set aside to cool slightly.
Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8 minutes, or until the mixture is light and creamy and tripled in bulk.
Sift the cocoa powder and the flour twice, then sift it into the egg mixture.
Add the butter mixture to the batter and fold gently with a spatula until the batter just comes together. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes, until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans. Cool in the pans. Cut each cake horizontally into 2 layers.
When the filling is cool and somewhat stiff, remove it from the refrigerator and transfer into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the filling until it is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times.
To assemble the cake, place one layer of the cake on a serving plate and spread with the filling. Repeat with the remaining cake layers and the remaining fudge filling. If using, sprinkle the top of the cake with fleur de sel.
A little taste of what's come before:
One year ago: cheddar-Pecorino biscotti
Two years ago: Ma Chris salad