Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cooking School: Chocolate Cake

Today we had our chocolate class. We started with a taste test of chocolates. 56% is baking percentage and, unless otherwise specified, this is the percentage called for in all chocolate-using recipes. If you want to use a higher percentage, you'll have to increase the butter (or other fat) and sugar in the recipe to keep the texture. Otherwise, you'll end up with a more fudge-like and dense cake or cookie. This may not be a problem if you're making brownies. We tasted the 56% chocolate, 72%, 90% and unsweetened. We also tasted a milk chocolate and a vanilla bean infused white chocolate. I can't recall all the chocolate brands that we tasted. French and Italian chocolates, like Valrhona, are a darker roast and have a very deep flavor. Belgian and Swiss chocolates, like Callebaut, are generally milder. Scharffen Berger, an American chocolatier, has more rustic chocolate that is noticeably less smooth than chocolates made by, say, Valrhona.
But this post isn't about chocolates. It's about chocolate cake.
We made one, two layer chocolate cake today. It was a basic buttermilk chocolate cake, quite similar to one I made earlier this year. We split the batter between two 8-inch round cake pans. As the cakes baked, we made a chocolate ganache. One batch of ganache was used to glaze a chocolate cake that we ate in class. Once the rest of the ganache was cool, we poured it into the bowl of a stand mixer and whipped it until it was fluffy and light colored. Once the cakes were cool, we spread frosting on and stacked them up. Talk about chocolatey. The cake is nice a moist with a great, tender crumb. The frosting is not very sweet, but very rich. The whipped ganache chocolate frosting will set up nicely on the cake. Do not refrigerate the cake once it's frosted, or you'll have a hard time cutting another slice!

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Put chocolate in large bowl. Bring cream to a boil, then pour it over chocolate. Whisk chocolate and cream until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Basic Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Grease and line two 8 inch baking pans with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix together cocoa powder and boiling water. Whisk in brown sugar, buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat for one minute. Add the eggs and mix until fully incorporated.
Starting with the flour, alternate adding the flour mixture and the cocoa mixture in three additions until batter is fully combined.

Evenly distribute batter into two 8" round cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cake will pull away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out (so the bottom faces up) and peel off parchment paper. Leave to cool completely.

To Assemble: Whip room temperature ganache until it is light colored and fluffy looking. Spread it on top of one cake layer. Place second layer on top of frosted layer. Spread frosting on sides, then on top, of the cake.
Store at room temperature.
Serves 12.