Monday, 11 August 2008

Intercontinental blog challenge: the cake that almost wasn’t

It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks, and so I thought it would be fun to select ‘birthday cakes’ as the theme for my next intercontinental blog challenge with Lisa from Unique Little Bits.

It wasn’t until I started reading American blogs and recipe books that I realised how many cakes there are which are unique to the other side of the Pond. I’m sure some of them have close cousins over here, but I was astonished to read about chiffon, yellow, devil, angel, sheet, and hummingbird cakes. A sandwiched layer cake seemed to be the order of the day for a celebration, and I was seduced by the description of a Devil’s Food cake with chocolate custard baked into it in a book I borrowed from the university library called The Little Red Barn Baking Book. I was all ready to come up with some lame excuse as to why I was borrowing a recipe book along with my reading on early modern Europe, but it was the only one which got any reaction out of the librarian at all, so I thought I’d allow it to get me some kudos (maybe I’ll be let off a fine some time in the future).

There seems to some confusion over the name ‘devil’s food’. I read one description which referred to other devilled foods like our devilled eggs - as in spicy, but another (and more plausible to me at least) explanation is that it’s just devilishly tempting. Mine had an extra component than a usual chocolate cake because of the chocolate custard but the batter tasted amazing. You may think that the devilishness of the batter is why my cake is Munchkin sized? Well, not quite. The truth is that my cake just wouldn’t cook through and this was a tiny side one I’d made for me to taste while the rest went off gaming with The Scientist. You may remember an earlier near-disaster I had with a Delia carrot cake not baking? Well this was an exact re-run, and I think it may be no coincidence that I was using the same tin. The cake went back into the oven several times until we really had to go to bed, and then it completely fell apart in an uncooked mockery of a tasty cake. Grrrr. In the morning I crammed the mess into one of my more trusted cake tins and stuck it back in the oven for another blast before we headed off to the university. Alas, it still wasn’t really cooked when we examined it later in the day, and it ended up being carved up into brownies and frosted like that. It was really a case of ‘shut your eyes and dive in with a spoon’ as it was still really tasty – but a complete mess. I was so relieved I’d made the munchkin one too, which I duly iced with chocolate cream cheese frosting and enjoyed on my own. It was divine – though that is perhaps not the right word to use for a devil’s food cake – very moist and chocolatey, but not too dark or bitter. I have since decided to outlaw my devilish cake tin, but look forward to trying the cake again in my smaller tin. I also had a ton of icing left over, so I added an egg to it, whisked it up, and baked it on a biscuit crumb base like a cheesecake. I took it to the Ecos at the weekend, and got a text last night to say that it was lovely. At least there was one intact winner from the devil’s challenge!

I was very amused to see in Lisa’s write-up of her cake that she also had a disintegration problem – the pressure to represent their country must have got to our cakes! At least they both tasted good despite their aesthetic problems.

Devil's Food cake (from The Little Red Barn Baking Book)

280g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
110g unsalted butter
195g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
225 ml whole milk [I used semi-skimmed]

1 egg
110ml whole milk
130g caster sugar
110g good quality plain chocolate (min 70 % cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces

For the custard: lightly whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the milk and sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into a small pan and stir over a medium heat with a wooden spoon until it thickens (up to 15 mins) and just coats the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate chunks and stir gently until melted. [Marvel at the pretty swirly pattern it makes on the way, if you're me]. Continue stirring over the heat until the custard thickens slightly. Remove from heat and leave to cool

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Butter and flour a 23 cm round 5cm deep cake tin. Chill in the fridge.

Sift flour, bicarn of soda and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence adn eggs, one by one, beating after each one. Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the milk, Mix gently until just combined. Fold in chocolate custard.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake 20-25 mins or until the cake springs back slightly when gently pressed in the centre. Leave to cool in the pan for 10-15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting. Slice into three layers. Sandwich layers together with icing and cover top and sides with icing as well. Leave to set for one hour before serving.

Chocolate cream cheese icing [note that the recipe recommends chocolate buttercream but I didn't have any cream, and The Scientist picked this one instead. The recipe is based one from the same book and we thought it was very fine with the cake, but it's not the combination the author had in mind. Disclaimer over!]
225g cream cheese [I used low fat]
225g unsalted butter
200-300g icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla essence
cocoa, to taste, or to reach desired colour [I started with about 1 tbp]

Beat cream cheese and butter together thoroughly, using an electric mixture. Add the sugar in thirds, mixing well after each addition. Test for sweetness. Add vanilla essence. Chill for 1 hour before using. Makes enough for one large cake.


Holler said...

That looks like one lovely cake!

LisaRene said...

How frustrating when a recipe doesn't work out as expected (clearly I know as well). The only thing that strikes me as odd is that the recipe required you fold the custard into the cake batter. Typically you would spread the custard in between each layer of the cooked, cooled cake and then ice the whole thing. Very curious!

Sounds like the result was almost a "bread pudding" in texture.

Very inventive way you used the excess icing, I never would have thought of that! I can be a bit of a glutton at times and most likely would have devoured the icing straight from the bowl :) Possibly, to keep it a little healthy, I might have dipped cut up fruit into the chocolate cream cheese icing, yum!

I saw that Cupcake Hero's ingredient for this month is "jalapeno", are you going to invent a cupcake for this blogging event? I'm looking forward to the roundup already!

I won't be posting as often for the next month or so. Wilson left on a business trip last Friday and won't return until the 20th. Then we are going to be spending two weeks at our vacation home and then Wilson has more traveling on his schedule. When he is gone I don't cook! I'll wait until his schedule settles down a bit then pick our next theme.

Johanna said...

the custard method sounds strange - I always thought devil's food cake was quite eggy and very light and fluffy but custard doesn't seem light and fluffy to me - although I guess it adds some egg and milk! But it looks delicious - I love chocolate cream cheese frosting - always tastes weird to me because a little tart but in a very good way!

Lysy said...

It is unusual isn't it - that's partly what attracted me. It did actually stay very moist (too moist!) which was probably from the extra custard, but if it worked it would be a truly excellent cake.

I hadn't planned to do a jalapeno cupcake as I'm trying to hold off baking unless we have guests - but I'm quite tempted now! And I have to admit that I did sneak a little bit of the leftover icing, but there was so much I would have been enormously sick if I'd had it all! I agree with you on the cream cheese, Johanna - it didn't seem that appealing, but it tasted really nice anyway!

It sounds as though you and Wilson are extremely busy for the next few weeks, Lisa! Just let me know whenever you fancy another challenge.