Belgian Chocolate Cake
I have recently discovered the joys–and dangers–of leftover ganache. You should make this cake just for that factor alone, though the cake is a dense, bittersweet indulgence in itself. But the ganache–that’s really where it’s at.
When I was in Panama two years ago, Juliette made the most amazing hot chocolate from dried cacao beans, sugar, salt, and milk. We were staying with her in Cano Quebrado, a small 50-person village that is a two-hour hike from the road. The milk was warmed over her little bunsen burner, and we sat on her porch drinking it, looking out into the black night. It was the closest my brain can conjure to a pure chocolate experience.
This cake might be the next closest. The cake itself gets its chocolate from cocoa powder–I used Dagoba–so there’s a nice balance of molasses-y brown sugar and rich, chocolate tartness. But the ganache is just bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. Just the stuff you want. It’s a denser version of the hot chocolate I can’t get out of my head.
Chocolate is a known booster of seratonin levels. Chocolate is sensuous. Chocolate is ceremonial and celebratory. Chocolate, I’ve found out, does not fix everything. I ate this cake and still felt sad and wintery afterward. But there’s something about indulging in chocolate that feels like a living in the moment; an embrace of reliable pleasure and comfort. Food is fuel and pleasure and culture, and there are so many ideas surrounding every food decision–health, guilt, desire, class. What signifies relinquishment to the pleasureful side of things more than chocolate cake? So, my motto for this winter: Let me eat cake.
Belgian Chocolate Birthday Cake
from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003
*Note: Hazelnuts weren’t available when I shopped for this, so I just left them out. I’m including them in the recipe below because I imagine they’re fabulous. But I can’t say I missed them in the finished product.
4 oz. hazelnuts
13 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter (1 2/3 sticks), softened, plus a bit for pan
2/3 c. Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pan
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. boiling water
1 3/4 c. packed dark-brown sugar
4 large eggs , at room temperature
1 1/3 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
2 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Ganache Glaze (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×3″ springform pan. Dust with cocoa, tap out any excess.
(If using nuts: Spread nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and toasted, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel; rub to loosen skins. In the bowl of a food processor, grind nuts with granulated sugar until fine but not pasty. Transfer to a large bowl.)
In the large bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt (to the nuts if using).
In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk together cocoa and boiling water until smooth. (Mixture will thicken as it cools.)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended.
Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cocoa mixture. Mixing on low, add half the flour mixture to butter mixture until well blended; pour in cocoa mixture, and add remaining flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
Place half the ganache (recipe below) in a bowl set in an ice bath; whip with a balloon whisk until pale and spreadable, removing bowl from ice bath and returning it as needed.
Spread the whipped ganache smoothly on top and sides of cake; chill the cake in the refrigerator.
1 lb bittersweet chocolate, finely choped
2 1/2 c. cream
Place chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl. Bring cream in a small saucepan to a boil over medium-high heat; pour over chopped chocolate. Let stand 10 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir chocolate and cream until well combined. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until cooled and just thickened, 30 to 60 minutes.