Prune & Chocolate Cake
Yesterday I baked a birthday cake for my friend.
Normally, this would be a very straightforward endeavor, with the birthday boy choosing his cake and me baking it. But my friend is no normal boy.
To give you an idea of what I mean, when I asked which cake he wanted, he responded with (and I quote): “…I love the toasted nutty flavor of things like espresso, caramel, brown butter, chocolate, crème fraiche, etc.; and I gravitate to cakes with textural variety (crunchy & smooth; soft & crackling) and a certain amount of density (rather than fluffiness).”
Which, upon reading, caused me to fret.
I thought maybe I could do a throwback like peanut butter chocolate cake?
His answer: “Yeah, peanut butter is good, though I tend to like it best “stretched and loosened” by other fats so that it doesn’t stick to the roof of the mouth. Oh dear: I’ve allowed myself to enter into the ridiculous world of culinary persnickitude!”
After looking up persnickitude, I continued my worrying until I stumbled, amid a flurry of insane googling (“dense chocolate brown butter cake”; “caramel crunch espresso cake”; etc.), upon this post by Kristin at Chocolate & Tea in which I read the words: “I want to write sonnets about this cake. I want to compose a piece of classical music to the dining experience. I want to make love to this cake.”
My first thought was I should really be friends with this girl followed by this is the cake!
For those of you who still associate prunes with their medicinal purposes, rest assured that they are barely perceptible in this cake. Puréed before being mixed into the batter, they lend moisture, texture and a subtle sweetness.
The cake itself was really easy to put together. The only non-traditional part was the boiling of the prunes in tea or water and then puréeing them to a thick mush. I think the cake’s original name – Chocolate Prune Cake – is a misnomer. The cake itself has only 4 teaspoons of cocoa, resulting in a mild and not overly sweet flavor; not exactly a chocoholic’s delight.
But that, my friends, is where the frosting comes in.
This frosting, which is really a buttery ganache, has ONE POUND of chocolate in it. ONE POUND. Half a kilo. Need I say more?
Yes, I do, I really do. I have to tell you, for your own sake, that this frosting/ganache/pound of chocolate and butter and cream is extraordinarily delicious. Kicked up with a teaspoon of ground espresso beans, it doesn’t harden completely, but, once cool, remains the perfect fudge-like, pinky finger-dipping consistency. I know this because the recipe made a little bit of extra frosting, which, when I brought it to the table along with the cake, the guests proceeded to eat with their fingers.
(As you can see, I prefer it on chocolate chip cookies.)
As for decoration, I topped the cake with prunes dipped in the still-warm chocolate frosting. They set up perfectly, like a little crown. After the candles were blown out, I served each slice with a big dollop of sour cream sweetened with sugar and port. The reason there is no photographic evidence of that is simple: we ate it all.
Alas, and in no way reflective of its yumminess, we couldn’t finish the gigantic cake. The guests all asked for pieces to take home and we jealously obliged. Despite giving away 4 hefty slices, and the fact that we all had seconds, there’s still plenty of leftover for Francesco’s breakfast and my dessert.
All in all, this cake was the perfect end to a great meal in honor of a great friend. I’ll post about the rest of it later, but for now I leave you with thoughts of a moist, chocolate heaven worthy of sonnets, symphonies and plenty of love.
PRUNE & CHOCOLATE CAKE
I highly recommend trying this cake, despite the bad rep of the first ingredient. You’ll love it, I promise. Especially when drenched in A POUND of chocolate. I’m definitely going to use this frosting recipe for lots of things in the future. Like topping chocolate chip cookies and pinky fingers. Recipe from Kristin (who lives in Montréal, another reason why I must be her friend) of Chocolate & Tea, an awesome baking-centric blog; originally from Nick Malgieri’s book Chocolate.
12 ounces (350 grams) pitted prunes
3 cups weak tea (or water)
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (170 grams / 1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
In a large saucepan, cover the prunes with the weak tea or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the prunes become tender, about 30 minutes. If necessary, add more water to keep the prunes covered with liquid. Cool the prunes in the liquid, then drain them, measure 2 cups of the stewed prunes (it should be just about that amount anyways) and purée in a food processor or with a soup blender. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter and flour two cake pans. (I used 2 9″ pans, but you could use 2 8″, 10″ or a single, larger pan.)
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir well. In a separate bowl, combine the prune purée with the milk.
In a large bowl, use electric beaters or a standing mixter to beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in a third of the dry ingredients, then mix in half of the prune puree. Scrape the bowl. Beat in another third of the dry ingredients, the rest of the prune puree, and the remaining dry ingredients.
Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for 30 to 40 minutes (or more or less depending on your pan size), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges clean. Cool the cake layers in the pans for 10 minutes before placing them onto cooling racks.
Can be made a few days in advance and frozen. Allow to defrost fully at room temperature before frosting.
CHOCOLATE BUTTER FROSTING GANACHE OF LOVE
1 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons (115 grams / 1 stick) butter
1/3 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
16 ounces (450 grams) semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the cream, butter, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Be careful, as it will start to boil over really quickly. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the espresso powder and vanilla, and continue whisking until smooth.
Scrape the frosting into a bowl and let it sit at room temperature until it is of spreading consistency. Do not leave in the refrigerator or it will set very hard (if this happens, chop up hardened frosting into 8 to 10 pieces and stir in a bowl over warm water until it reaches a spreadable consistency). It should take about 30 minutes. I recommend frosting the inside while it’s still just barely too soupy, then letting it set before placing the second cake on top. Can be made few days in advance and stored at room temperature.
1 1/2 cups sour cream
sugar to taste (about 1/3 cup)
port (or other sweet, thick liquor) to taste (about 3 cap-fulls)
In a large bowl, beat the sour cream with the sugar and port for about 5-10 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use (up to one day).