We are at battle, cake and I. Although I’ve tried a variety of cake recipes over the years, I can’t say that most of them have turned out the way I’ve wanted them to. I’m not talking about carrot cake, pound cake or other types of cakes that require a bowl, a pan, and a few simple ingredients. I’m talking about layer cakes, filled with delights such as cherries, custard, or cream. I’m talking about cakes decorated with edible flowers, marzipan, swirls of rich, buttery icing. Cakes that are feast for the eyes and make your knees buckle with the rapture in each heavenly bite.
I have always wanted to make one of those cakes.
My attempts have been less than satisfactory. Something always goes amiss; the cakes comes out lopsided, I run out of icing, the layers puff out so much while they’re baking that they look like hats. The cakes themselves usually taste okay, they just look nothing most people would want to eat. I’ve mastered pies and tarts, can make the most delicate crepes, but the beautiful layer cake eludes me.
I am convinced that there is a perfect-cake-making gene. Either you have it or you don’t. My friend Elissa at 17 & Baking is a prime example. This girl makes the most wonderful cakes and she’s only seventeen! Every time I read one of Elissa’s blog posts I want to run to the kitchen and reproduce her creations. They’re that divine. The fact that her writing is also exquisite shows what a talented soul she is.
I’m not one to back away from a challenge, though. I’ve been reading up on the science of baking and I’m in the middle of Michael Ruhlman’s new book Ratio. My reading brings to light a lot of things I hadn’t really considered before; for example, how the amount of protein in the flour you use can drastically affect how your cakes turn out. Michael’s book is all about the basics ratios used in cooking as well as in baking. Once you know one ratio, it’s like knowing a thousand recipes. It can also help you spot a recipe that just won’t work–which often seems to be my problem. See! It’s not me. It’s the recipe!
I’m going to keep working on the perfect layer cake. In the meantime, Donna Hay’s Easy Chocolate Cake is going to stay front and center of my repertoire. I love Donna’s books. Her recipes are always simple, producing beautiful results, and the pictures are exactly the type of photography I aspire to–clean and minimalist, with the food taking center stage.
Donna Hay’s Easy Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Off the Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry
8 ounces (250g) butter
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup sour cream
8 ounces (250g) milk or dark chocolate, chopped
5 ounces (150 g) milk or dark chocolate
1/3 cup cream
edible flowers for garnish, if desired
1) Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Grease a 9-inch round cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the eggs and beat well.
2) Sift the flour, baking powder, and cocoa over the butter mixture. Add the sour cream and 8 ounces chocolate. Mix until just combined.
3) Pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake for about 1 hour or until set. Cool in the pan.
4) To make the chocolate glaze, combine the 5 ounces of chocolate and cream in a saucepan over and cook over low heat, stirring until smooth. Allow the glaze to cool for 5-10 minutes before spreading on the cake.