I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.
(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)
I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!! If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece. But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using. The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey. (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any. And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!
For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose. I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag. Boo!! I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.
If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above. I’m going to give “my” recipe below. If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think. I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook. In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe. The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.
Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)
7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power. I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power. Set aside to cool.
While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer). It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential. (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.) Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color. Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks. (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)
Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks. Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains. The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie. If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking. Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth. (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.) If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds. When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go. Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream. Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm. I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.
I understand what it’s like to have your birthday fall close to a holiday and feel a little bummed out when people are too busy to get together, or out of town, or whatever. So when my friend Sarah, whose birthday was Dec. 19, invited me out to meet them for drinks that night, I wanted to do something to make it a little bit special. They were having a holiday/birthday party the following night for her and her husband Steve (whose birthday falls on Christmas- I guess I shouldn’t complain!), but I wanted to do something that was “just for her” rather than lumped in with everything else. I told Steve I would bring a cake; the only problem was that we had had a HUGE snowstorm and the prospect of going out to the store for supplies was not an option with the time-frame I had. I keep my pantry fairly well stocked with baking supplies, but every recipe I looked at seemed to have one ingredient I lacked, until I came upon a recipe for a “pudding cake”. I’m sure you’ve had one of these at some point: it’s a cake with a thick, brownie-like batter topped with a liquid “sauce”; as the cake bakes, the batter rises to the top, leaving a chocolate sauce on the bottom to be spooned over the cake. (They’re often made in individual ramekins and turned out on a plate to serve, so that the sauce tops the cake, but that would have been trickier to transport.) The cake isn’t the prettiest thing, but eaten with a scoop of ice cream it’s pretty tasty.
Homely Hot Fudge Pudding Cake (adapted from Birthday Cakes: Recipes & Memories from Celebrated Bakers)
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, cooled (feel free to use decaf if serving to kids!)
1/3 cup cocoa powder (see note)
1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
6 tbs butter (= 1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/3 cup milk
1 tbs vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
Note: The original recipe called for Dutch process cocoa (such as Droste), but all I had was regular, so I made adjustments. If you happen to have Dutch process cocoa on hand, by all means use it- just omit the baking soda altogether and up the baking powder in the batter to 2 tsp.
Adjust your oven rack to the lower third of your oven and preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease an 8″ square or round glass or ceramic baking dish (it should be at least 3-4″ deep; see photos).
For the topping: mix together the cocoa, baking powder and two kinds of sugar in a bowl; mix well to eliminate lumps in the brown sugar. Set aside.
For the batter: Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on low power for a couple minutes. As it starts to melt, take it out and stir it periodically until the mixture is fully melted. (Alternately, you can melt it on the stove by placing the bowl in a pan of simmering water, but I find the microwave much easier as long as you take care not to let it get too hot.) Stir in the cocoa powder, whisking out any lumps, and set aside to cool.
Combine the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder; set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla and egg. I do this in my stand mixer but a regular whisk or hand-held mixer works fine. Next, add the cooled chocolate/butter mixture. Stir to incorporate, then slowly add the flour mixture and mix until everything looks smooth. Put this batter in your baking dish, smoothing it so that the surface is fairly even. Sprinkle the cocoa/sugar mixture evenly over the top, then gently pour the coffee on top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake starts pulling away from the edges of the pan; do not overbake. Serve warm, with vanilla or coffee-flavored ice cream.