about bliss

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

layers o' choco-bliss

When I was a MA student at my current University, I spent many dreamy afternoons in one of the local coffee shops, reading endless novels, drinking bottomless cafe au laits, and chatting philosophically with friends. Today I decided to return to my old haunt, though it’s not quite the same since it’s in a different building, and is in many ways completely transformed. When I walked through the outdoor seating area, complete with a fireplace, clouds of clove cigarette smoke and the scent of patchouli drifted around me, singalling boho status. The mellow indie rock playing over the sound system was also a contrast to the more mainstream musics played at the Starbucks down the street (not that I don’t enjoy Starbucks coffee and music, though everything there seems commercial and some days I want to escape that ubiquity). I planted myself on a plush sofa and delved into Edith Wharton’s *The Custom of the Coutry,* an amazing novel. I have so many ideas to develop, including a comparison to Theodore Dreiser’s *The Financier,* (that is if the books pair well, which I’ll only know once I actually read the Dreiser tome). Anyway, the coffeeshop ambience, complete with TA’s discussing ethics and philosophy with bookish undergrads, and thin hippie boy baristas was quite a pleasant change of scenery.

So I keep promising to tell the story of the chocolate cake, teasing you with bits of story and then leaving blogland for days, so today I will actually share the history of the cake...

I’d been baking the Moosewood Six-Minute Chocolate Cake for years, with a few slight modifications with frosting. About a year ago I began baking in earnest, and starting thinking that I could really have some fun with this cake since the cake part is SO simple. In January, my friends and I gathered for a belated holiday celebration, and I made what would become THE chocolate cake: two six inch layers with a generous filling of cinnamon buttercream and enrobed in a dark chocolate ganache. My friends and I loved the combination of flavors, and my friend H- declared the cake to be better than sex, to much collective giggling and joking when her husband P- wandered back into the dining room. Since then, the cake has made several other high profile appearances: in cupcake version (with the cinnamon buttercream only) for my friends’ M- and B- wedding, for my friend S-’s parents (a thank you for a trip to NYC), and for my friend J-’s graduation party. Whereas the name Heather bestowed on the cake is funny, I’ve decided to rename it Chocolate Bliss Cake, because it seems to evoke just such an emotion in most who partake in its seductive chocolate layers.

Now, a few secrets about this cake. Although it’s so incredibly simple that anyone could follow the recipe and meet with relative success, I do improvise a bit. I use a few heaping teaspoons full of espresso powder along with the cold water (though I used real espresso last week and WOW, the cake was even more dense and intense...one word of warning: consuming the cake late at night, in large quantities, can make falling asleep difficult. I once unintentionally lengthened a poker game by serving an espresso laden Kahlua chocolate cheesecake to unsuspecting friends. I wish I could claim that was part of my gaming strategy). I use Valrhona cocoa powder (once I made a three layer cake, using a different cocoa for each layer, which was fun...Hershey’s, Ghiradelli, and Valrhona). My favorite vanilla is La Vencedora, which can be ordered from chocosphere.com, an amazing resource for you chocoholics. For the buttercream, I use Vietnamese Cassia as my cinnamon of choice (bold, smooth, with a hint of heat), and instead of milk I use whipping cream. For the ganache, I use Organic Valley heavy whipping cream--so yummy and fatty--along with a high quality dark chocolate, Valrhona 70% if I have it, or else the Lindt 70%, both of which I like because they use real vanilla and not vanillin (an evil artificial vanilla flavored chemical residue from the paper making industry--egads!). And I add a hint of cinnamon to the ganache too.

Now, I’ve been thinking that to make this a true Mexican chocolate cake I also need to add chilis in one form or another...I need to do a bit of research to figure out the best way to do so. I had Mexican (actually, Aztecan) hot chocolate in Chicago this summer at Vosges, this amazing haute chocolate boutique...the blend of rich, smooth, and slightly spicy was simply passionate. I understood all of the legends about Motezuma and his predilection for drinking just such a concoction as a nightcap... And so we’re back to bliss and my story’s come full circle, and though I could write about my choco-passion for hours, I’ll save some choco-talk for other entries.

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