Friday, May 13, 2011

A Tall Tale: Mile-High Chocolate Cake

Yep, my cake turned out looking just like this!

As Keri will tell you, I am a reluctant baker; baking doesn't suit my personality in the slightest.  I like to innovate, switch out ingredients, and I rarely - if ever - follow a recipe in chronological order, which is disastrous when it comes to baking.  By comparison, Keri is one of the world's most accomplished bakers and is reknowned for her brownies, caramel sauce, pound cake...the list goes on.

To challenge myself, I opted to provide the dessert for our Kentucky Derby Dinner and followed a recipe from the January 2008 issue of the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine.  Keri had saved this particular issue which featured Southern food, and its wrinkled, spattered pages reveal just how much use it has gotten over the years.  Leafing through, I settled on a luxurious chocolate cake called a "Mile-High Cake".  I liked the sound of this one.

Scanning the list of ingredients, I noted that the recipe called for 'cake flour'.  Not being a baker, this was the first time that I'd come across this ingredient, so I jumped online to research a little deeper.  Cake flour has a higher protein content than standard all-purpose flour and is much more finely milled.  It has the airiness akin to cornstarch.    First stop then, Reading Terminal Market, to grab supplies. 

Whilst I was at the Market, I was lucky enough to secure an interview with Elizabeth, the owner of Flying Monkey Patisserie, who shed some light on the dos and don'ts of baking.  Her cupcakes are DIVINE...if you haven't tried them already. 

Photo credit: Mike Persico
 According to Elizabeth, a key rule to remember when baking is to take both the eggs and butter out of the fridge a good 10-15 minutes before you need them.  In order for the eggs and butter to emulsify properly with the flour and other dried ingredients, it's imperative that they are at room temperature when added. 

Elizabeth also explained the differences between cake flour and all purpose flour.  The choice of flour vastly influences the texture of the final cake.  If you want a light and airy cake, then use cake flour; for a denser, more substantial cake, you need all-purpose flour.
I went in search of cake flour and I have to confess this is the first time that I couldn't find an ingredient in the Market. I stumped the lady working in Jonathan Best, but she promised to add cake flour to her next order of dried goods!  I did manage to secure a box of cake flour elsewhere...

This recipe is pretty complicated, but worth the investment.  The cake uses sour cream and many ounces of rich dark cooking chocolate to give the cake its moistness.  The cake lived up to its name.  Once complete it comprised four storeys of layers, a mixture of chocolate icing and chocolate sponge.  Now I know why it is called a "Mile-High" Chocolate Cake.  An identical recipe is published on Mile-High Cake  Thanks.  That's saved me a lot of typing.

One word of advice...

Do check your pantry before embarking on a recipe involving baking.  Another character flaw of mine is that I don't always read ahead when following recipes.  Hence I found myself in a pickle...

The bain marie is on the stove, the chocolate has melted perfectly.  All I need to do is add 1 cup of granulated sugar and we're off.  The problem is I don't use sugar.  I keep packets of sugar for guests, but because  I don't bake, I don't tend to keep a box in the house.  My neighbor is out at work, can't borrow from her, so what to do?  (Meanwhile my chocolate is over-heating on the stovetop.)  In desperation, I turn to my packets of guest sugar and at great speed start tearing up half teaspoon sachets.  I think that one sachet = half a teaspoon; I'm guessing I tore up at least 50 or so sachets to get my cup of sugar...Mission accomplished, lesson learned.  Repeat after me:  "I will set up my mise in place, I will set up my mise en place, I will set up my mise en place....."

My mile high mountain of sugar packets....

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