Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chocolate Cake Woes

This is a long one, but if you look at it as three for the price of one, maybe it won't seem so bad...

In pursuit of the perfect chocolate cake, I have made three chocolate cakes during the last two weekends. It began a little over a week and a half ago, when Wendy, David’s mom, was in town. We were going to have our usual Friday night supper together, and I decided to make a cake (big surprise). The choice was chocolate, a genre I have for the most part avoided, as you can see if you look through the archives here. But, Wendy apparently likes chocolate cake, and that was reason enough for me to take it on. I settled on two choices, and emailed Karen for input. She went for the fancier sounding one: Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake. Fancy sounding, but it didn’t look too difficult to make. Just another better basic cake… nevertheless, as I was making it, I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous, this whole chocolate cake thing just strikes me as extra-tricky. Well, I was right to be suspicious…

I broke the cake.

Yup, that’s right, there it is, a lovely 9 inch round cake, with a crack down the middle, and another one through the half.

Well, I have learned not to despair about these things. Nothing a little frosting cannot fix, so I proceeded, trying to be a bit more gentle with the other cake (one theory is that I caused this break, sort of, by resting the cooling cake in a non-standard way, tilted on a plate, since I only have one cake cooling rack; maybe the bending contributed to the cracking). Alas, this theory was disproven as I tried moving the other layer, which was resting flat on the one aforementioned rack, and it started to break as well. Dry. This is what this means to me, dry cake.

Now I was worried.

But, I did have about a gallon of this spectacular sounding and quite complicated to make chocolate malt buttercream frosting.

The end results looked great, according to Ray. I actually thought it only looked okay, but it’s possible I’m a bit hard on myself here.

Karen and Wendy raved about the cake. I thought it was dry. I did think the frosting was really pretty good, better than average even. But the cake, I was just not that impressed. Later, Ray confessed that he thought it was dry, too. On Saturday, though, he had some more and had a change of heart. Reflecting on the prior night’s experience, he hypothesized that maybe he had over-eaten at supper, and so the cake had not seemed that great. In the sober light of day (literally and figuratively), he was thinking it was actually quite good.

Me, I continued to be plagued by misgivings and general chocolate cake doubt. I just couldn’t quite let go and by Sunday was ready to try again. This time I went for the other cake I had been considering on Friday, Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake. This one was also easy, extra easy; the usual suspects, in terms of ingredients, plus sour cream. Make it in a loaf pan and then – and I think this is pretty cool – slice it in three (horizontally) and you get a three layer loaf cake thingy. The filling is raspberry jam (Wendy was still here, and she had indicated that the chocolate raspberry jam combination was something she liked, so this re-affirmed my choice of this cake) and then the frosting on the outside is just a chocolate and sour cream mix.

This cake was spectacular (in my humble opinion…), just plain delicious. Moist, tasty, good flavor combination, etc. The problem here is presentation. Round peg square hole sort of thing. Square peg round hole? Here I am, making all these cakes, and all I have to put them on are two lousy serving plates. Okay, now I’m being melodramatic, and really, if you count my lovely Christmas plates from Stephanie and Peter and Tristan and Karen, then I have more than just two nice plates to serve on. But, if you look through the pictures here, I pretty much have two big round plates, and what with all these cakes, I am beginning to feel a bit greedy for more variety and depth in terms of serving/display options.

So, lovely rectangular loaf cake, and no good plate to put it on. It neither fits properly, nor does it look all that nice, on this round plate I had to put it on. I thought it tasted great though, and that’s something anyway, right? Nevertheless, I still wasn’t quite done with the broader chocolate cake problem.

Lurking in the back of my mind, last weekend and throughout the week, was my old standby chocolate cake. This is a cake I’ve had in my repertoire since I was a teenager, I think. If I am remembering correctly, I began making this cake when I worked at the Crocker House. It was a dessert menu item, and I spent at least one summer, if not more, making desserts there – lemon cream sherbet, peach ice cream, carrot cake, cheese cake, some of you will certainly remember these. …

I’ve made this chocolate cake over the years, and always felt okay about it (you know, in the cake self-esteem department). As I struggled with these other chocolate cakes (I guess I was only really struggling with the first one, since the second one was actually really tasty, there were just presentation problems), I kept coming back to this one, thinking I needed to make it, just to see how it held up, in reality… The main thing that kept blocking me was the frosting, not knowing what type of frosting to use, or even really having a stock frosting recipe/type to accompany it. So, I agonized and agonized and kept not making it, paralyzed as I was by the indecision of how to frost it.

Sunday afternoon rolled around, and I decided it was just time and, to hell with my husband, I was just going to frost the thing with cream cheese frosting. The problem here is that Ray claims not to like cream cheese frosting, and that is the frosting that I have pretty much always used with this cake.

The denouement: both cake and frosting easy to make, looks pretty good (round cake on a round plate), tastes just fine and, after all that, Ray said he liked it, and even made some nice remarks about the frosting cake combination. Go figure.


Spgonahan said...

The trouble with cream cheese frosting is that it can be too cream - cheesy. One way to mitigate is to diminish the frosting quantity, as you did with the 3rd in the series, the Crocker House standard chocolate cake. The geometry of the situation is instructive. Since you didn't frost the sides, this cake has the same compliment of frosting per unit area throughout! Some goops who like to eat gobs of concentrated frosting will be dissappointed, but not me. I liked it this way, and I really like the chocolate drizzle that went on top of the frosting. Morover the white frosting and the dark cake contrasted nicely, so the whole cake looked good.

s.j.simon said...

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this