Tag Archives: chocolate cake

Dymystifying Mona

26 Mar
We have ways of making you talk, Mona.

We have ways of making you talk, Mona.

Thanks to Niko from Damn Cute Bunnies (I love that) for sending in her particular Mona Lisa, Double Chocolate Layer Cake.  Apparently, some have claimed it to be the Best Cake in the Hinternet.  Not that she’s mystified necessarily, but she wants to know if this will turn out to be a good cake–if it is balanced and all the ratios are correct and all the other Cakey Scientific things.

Well, I am quite a fan of Cake, so I thought I would Go the Distance and check out this Storied Gateau.  I won’t print the recipe here, mainly because the link is up there.  See it?  I clicked on the link Niko sent and printed the recipe off, the better to Look at it.  And we’re off.  First, I’m gonna split up the ingredients this way (the ingredients in parentheses don’t really count for this part, since their measurements are so small):

  1. Liquids=1 1/2 cups coffee + 1 1/2 cups buttermilk + (3/4 tsp vanilla) + 3 egg whites
  2. Dry=3 cups sugar (sometimes sugar is considered a liquid, but not in the mixing method this cake prescribes) + 1 1/2 cups unsweetened, not Dutch process cocoa powder + chocolate liquor from the 3 oz. of chocolate + 2 1/2 cups flour + (2 tsp baking soda) + (3/4 tsp baking powder) + (1 1/4 tsp. salt)
  3. Fat=3/4 cups vegetable oil + 3 egg yolks + cocoa butter in the 3 oz. of chocolate
  4. Chocolate (dry + fat)= 3 oz. semisweet

My first thought when I looked at the leavening was, “Whoa, 2 teaspoons of baking soda?!”  Friends, in a “normal” cake, it takes 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to leaven 1 cup of flour.  Baking soda is Powerful.  Since I don’t see 8 cups of flour, and even when I add in the 1 1/2 cups of cocoa powder I only get 4 cups, there has to be another reason for that much soda.  There is.  Baking soda is a base–it’s probably one of the most basic ingredients in your kitchen, unless you have some lye ly(e)ing around.  It has a pH of about 9 (7 is neutral, if you are far away from your chemistry class in space and/or time and/or care).  And look at all those acidic ingredients:  coffee, chocolate, buttermilk and non-Dutch processed (non-alkalyzed) cocoa powder!  Heavens.  So, the extra 1 teaspoon of soda is basically in there to neutralize the acidity of all of those ingredients, bringing everything nicely more-or-less in balance again.  Then, the baking powder does its leavening thing, but not by much–there’s only 3/4 teaspoon, and baking powder is generally used 1 tsp to 1 cup of flour.  In this cake, the soda is definitely doing most of the leavening work.  By the way, slightly acidic batters will set more quickly, so trying to substitute Dutch process cocoa (neutral pH) for the regular (acidic) will only result in a cake pan of hot pudding and despair.  Unless you want to eat your cake with a spoon.  Which probably wouldn’t suck, unless you wanted to actually slice it.

Now, I’m going to split them up between tougheners/driers and tenderizers/moisteners.  Watch this:

  • Tougheners/Driers=2 1/2 cups flour + 1 1/2 cups cocoa powder + 3 egg whites + chocolate liquor in the 3 oz. of chocolate
  • Tenderizers/Moisteners=1 1/2 cups coffee + 3 cups sugar + 3 egg yolks + 3/4 cups vegetable oil + 1 1/2 cups buttermilk + cocoa butter in the 3 oz. of chocolate

If you take a look at the two types of ingredients, you’ll see that there are waaay more tenderizers than there are tougheners.  So, right away you know that this is going to be an ooey, gooey cake.  Since it is decidedly heavier on the tenderizers, it is not technically “in balance.”  Think of traditional pound cake as truly balanced:  one pound each of flour, sugar, eggs and butter.  Most of us haven’t really had a traditional pound cake.  Neither have I, but Shirley tells me that they aren’t very sweet and are kind of dry with a very tight crumb.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want even a pretender to the throne of the Best Cake in the Hinternet to fit that description.  I’m all for moist and sweet when it comes to chocolate cake.

So, after I split up the ingredients and Looked at them, I broke down the mixing method.  I Distilled it.  Here it is:

Step Zero:  Combine hot coffee and chocolate.  Stir until smooth. Roger that.

  1. Whisk dry ingredients, including sugar together. This sounds like the start of the two-stage method.  Let’s see what comes next.
  2. Whip eggs until pale and light. This is kind of like the egg foam method.  What is going on?
  3. Slowly add all the wet ingredients, including the coffee mixture, to the eggs.  Beat well to combine. Huh.  My first thought was, “Why am I taking the trouble to whip the three eggs when I’m just going to be deflating them by pouring in almost 4 cups of liquid?” Maybe the answer is “because they told me to,” but that is an answer that will just keep us in the Dark.
  4. Beat in the dry ingredients, including the sugar. Wow, that’s 7-ish cups of stuff to beat in.
  5. Bake at 300F for an hour or so until done. Low oven=gentle heat.  Maybe because this cake is baked in 10″ pans the heat is lower so the outside doesn’t get hard and crusty/burny before the insides have had a chance to set.

So, what they want you to do is whip the eggs, slowly add in all the liquid and then add in the dry ingredients.  Pretty much it’s just three steps.  Honestly, the only reason I can think of that they’d do it this way is to distribute the emulsifiers (lecithin) in the egg evenly.  Since they want us to add liquid next, perhaps even distribution of the lecithin helps to maintain an emulsion when you add in all that liquid.  It’s a thought, but I don’t really know the answer.

Let’s go with the emulsion theory; I rather like it–but if anyone would like to put forth an Alternate Reason, please do so.  Once we have our emulsion of liquidy/fatty items, we’ll beat in the dry ingredients until well combined.  In a weird sort of way, this is like the Muffin Method, but with more mixing of the dry ingredients.  Interesting.  But does that mean we can’t use a different method?  Probably not.

Creaming Method

Step Zero from above

  • cream oil and sugar (it won’t get light and fluffy because the oil isn’t plastic)
  • whisk all dry together
  • whisk all wet together
  • alternate, beginning and ending with dry

Two-Stage Method

Step Zero from above

  • whisk all dry, including sugar, together really, really well.
  • whisk together oil, eggs and chocolate mixture.  Beat into dry for 2 minutes or so.
  • add the buttermilk in 3 additions, mixing for about 20 seconds between each addition

If I have left you confused by all of this blithering, just know that you can apply 3 different mixing methods to the same list of ingredients.  The method you choose depends on the results you’re looking for.  I am hoping that that is a liberating Thing to Know.  I’d go with the creaming method for a sturdier cake (more gluten formation because the flour isn’t coated with the fat at the beginning), the two-stage method for a more tender cake (dry ingredients get coated with the oil at the beginning, limiting gluten production) or the hybrid muffin method that came with the recipe to achieve, and I quote, “…[a] chocolate cake [that] made our staff swoon!”–Epicurious

I’m tired now.  I apologize to those of you whose eyes crossed halfway through.  I apologize to those of you who wanted more complete science.  And to those of you who are beaming right now, you’re welcome.

PS If anyone would like me to break down their own Mona Lisa, keep those cards and letters coming.

A Paean to Chocolate

12 Mar
Chocolate to make the heart burst with joy.

Chocolate to make the heart burst with joy.

Today is The Beloved’s birthday.  So first, The Birthday Poem:

Today is a birthday;
I wonder for whom?
I think it’s for someone right here in this room!
So look aaaalllll around you for somebody who
Is laughing and smiling–my goodness, it’s You!

A college friend, Becky from Maine, taught me that.  She also said “wicked” a lot.  Now, I call my friends and “give them the poem” (not to be confused with giving them the finger) on their birthdays.  Many of them say that it’s not their birthday until they get the poem.  Maybe they’re just being nice, but I like to think it’s true.

Happy Birthday, Beloved Husband–best friend, best man in the world.

Did I tell you guys that, right around the time I decided to go to culinary school, The Beloved decided that he no longer had a sweet tooth?  The Beloved sometimes has a perverse streak.   All of my school projects went to his office, and I have never heard so much whining as I did when I graduated and their pastry source dried up.  Waa.

There is one Pastry Treat that The Beloved still craves, and that’s chocolate.  So, in celebration of The Beloved’s Birthday, I present my Paean to Chocolate, with apologies to Beethoven.

Sung more or less to the tune of Ode to Joy.

Chocolate, chocolate, I adore thee
Theobroma; food of gods.
Cocoa butter, chocolate liquor
Coaxed from a fermented pod.

Forrest Mars made M&Ms candies that
Melt in your mouth not in your hands.
Chocolate in temper needs no coating
Shiny on its own it stands.

Chocolate, chocolate we adore thee
Milk and dark and semi-sweet.
Conching til smooth and adding sugar
Bitter to mellow, it’s quite the feat.

Melting slowly, pleasing the palate,
Now may I have some, pretty please?
Cake or ganache or mousse or candies
It makes me weak in the knees.

Perhaps not my best effort, but at least I am sincere.  If you’d care to add a verse to the paean, I’d love to hear it.

Over the years, The Beloved has gotten a Special Cake on his birthday.  Almost every year, he has chosen something from Marcel Desaulniers.  Why?  Because Marcel is a Chocolate Wizard.  Plus, he is a little bit naughty.  In the forward to one of his books, he likens Hershey’s Kisses to a woman’s nipples.  Go, Marcel.  As I have progressed along the road to automaticity, I have relied less and less on standard, multi-part recipes.  As I said yesterday, special desserts are edible Legos.  I now ask him, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?” and he will answer something along the lines of, “something with chocolate and hazelnut.  Some chewy and some crunchy.”  Then, I put together a layer cake with hazelnut butter with a hazelnut dacquoise layer buried inside all iced with a Nutella buttercream.

I think I may have some pictures of some of the cakes I have made for him over the years.  Let me go check.  Yup–I found a couple.

Milk chocolate cake with marzipan

Milk chocolate cake with marzipan

See the marzipan layer?  I think it's filled with ganache.

See the marzipan layer? I think it's filled with ganache.

Dark chocolate cake with hazelnut butter and chocolate buttercream.  It's "frosted" with poured ganache.

Dark chocolate cake with hazelnut butter and chocolate buttercream. It's "frosted" with poured ganache. Note the inspired inscription.

This cake was gooey, rich and ridiculous.

This cake was gooey, rich and ridiculous.

Some sort of chocolate raspberry extravaganza.  I really should take better notes.

Some sort of chocolate raspberry extravaganza. I really should take better notes.

Tonight, I am taking him to Bonefish Grill.  He is a big Seafood Person, and I am Not, so he rarely gets to enjoy goodness from the sea.  He is very excited, and I hear they have steak there, so I’m pretty excited, too.  Oh, and the cake for this year?  I think it’s going to be a pie with no chocolate in it whatsoever.  Go figure–The Beloved can be quixotic.  I guess I will make it on the weekend, to celebrate what Chris tells me is “Pi Day,”  March 14.  3.14.  Math humor.

%d bloggers like this: