April 24, 2011

(Heavenly) Chocolate Cake

For those of you celebrating...Happy Easter, and Christos Anesti!  This little cake looks to be sporting some Sunday finery just for the occasion.  Although this might actually fall into the better-for-you-delicious, as opposed to the good-for-you-delicious category, I've worked hard to trim out some of the saturated fat while adding back in a nice dose of heart-healthy goodness, without (of course) sacrificing any of the flavor or texture that one expects in a rich, chocolatey dessert.  I adapted this from a pound cake recipe, but trimmed out a whole stick of butter (by swapping in some olive oil and yogurt).  The result is really more like Devil's Food--moist, dark and tender, but without all the guilt, hence the name.  These are perfect for a Sunday get-together, Mother's Day, or just because.  As a card-carrying member of Chocoholics Anon, I can vouch for the flavor punch that this recipe delivers.

Walnuts and chocolate...well, they just go together.  The walnuts here are cooling after being toasted in the oven (March of the Penguins came to mind when I was taking these pictures).  I always try to set the timer in small increments of minutes when I'm toasting nuts now, as I've burned far too many batches of (expensive) nuts while getting distracted with other things (see the Blueberry Tangerine Muffin recipe for the Something is Burning screenplay).  I LOVE toasted walnuts with anything chocolate, but you could, of course, leave out the walnuts or substitute in any other favorite nut.  A gentle toasting deepens the flavor and provides a nice texture foil to the chocolate cake.  I think it is just a happy accident that they are incredibly healthy.  Although my kiddos don't like nuts, by chopping them very finely or grinding well-cooled toasted nuts with a couple tablespoons of flour, I've been able to slip them into all sorts of recipes, unbeknownst, which provides me with a slightly twisted sense of satisfaction (being a parent has done all kinds of weird things to my inner control freak) while at the same time providing them with a nutrition boost to their treats.

What the bambinos don't have any issues with is the star of this show, bittersweet chocolate.  If you don't think you like dark chocolate, this recipe might surprise you.  I find that baking with dark chocolate rounds out any sharp edges, not that I have any issues with the stuff straight out of the wrapper, bag, container, extruder (remember? the aforementioned card?)  This recipe has both cocao and dark chocolate, so it's good for you and your heart in many ways.  Add to all that goodness some whole wheat flour, heart-healthy fat in the form of olive oil and/or walnut oil, and walnuts and you end up with a decadent yet not-too-naughty dessert.  You can find walnut oil in some regular grocery stores, definitely at Whole Foods, and online.  I think it adds a nice compliment to the nuts in this recipe.

I've had equal success with baking these in small pans and in a large Bundt pan, but they do take some gentle coaxing out of the pans once they've cooled for 15 minutes.  Be patient...no sense having to perform cake reconstructive surgery if you don't have to!  I got a little lax in my 2/3 rule here, and ended up trimming the bottoms off prior to serving since they went up and over the top just a bit.  I've made this recipe in both large and regular sized cupcake pans with equal success.  You could sprinkle the nuts on top if making cupcakes or smaller loaves.  This is not, however, a recipe that will crown too terribly much; that's why I like the inverted presentation.  I love adding espresso powder to all my chocolate recipes.  You won't taste the coffee flavor (in this recipe), but it certainly works some awesome mojo (witty pun intended) when combined with chocolate.  It can be found in almost every grocery store coffee aisle if you don't already have some in the cupboard.

This is a rich dessert that doesn't really need too much else to dress it up, athough I think the decoration and/or garnish possibilities are endless.  That is why I really love this recipe.  It can be personalized in so many different ways...nuts, dried fruit, coconut, a drizzle of frosting.  It's perfect, however you make it your own ...kind of the LBD of desserts, or LBS (little black...suit?) for you guys out there.

Although, can you ever go wrong with a small dollop of freshly whipped cream on a plate next to anything?  If that pushes it out of the better-for-you-delicious category for you, then just find someone special to share it with, two-footed or otherwise....

Chance volunteered to be part of the Quality Control group that seemed to materialize out of nowhere while the cake was baking (no worries, the spatula was out of commission by this point).  I think you too might find some curious visitors to your kitchen, once the aroma of warm chocolate, toasted nuts, sugar and just a little butter start wafting out of your oven, asking "What is that heavenly smell"?  And when they taste it?  Harps and angels (it's that good)...harps and angels.

 (Heavenly) Chocolate Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Chocolate Pound Cake

1 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened Dutch-process cocao powder
1 3/4 cup (6 ounces) whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup (3 1/8 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup olive or walnut oil
1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly grease a large tube or Bundt pan, two loaf pans, or small individual cake pans (as I did).

Sift all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter until light and fluffy.  Mix in the oil and yogurt until well blended.  Continue beating and slowly add in the sugar.  Beat the mixture on high speed for three minutes.  Lower the speed and add the vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl and paddle.  Dissolve the espresso powder in the warm water and combine with the buttermilk.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixure while beating slowly, then add 1/2 of the coffee mixture, 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the last 1/2 of the coffee mixture, finishing with the flour mixture.  Remember to occassionally scrape down the sides of the bowl and beater so everything is well incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips and 1/2 of the walnuts, reserving the other half for the bottom of the pans (or you can stir in all of the nuts).
Sprinkle 1/2 of the walnuts into the bottom of the pan, then fill 2/3 with batter.  If you have batter left over, you can make cupcakes as well.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes if using one of the larger pans, or approximately 20 minutes if using individual cake pans or cupcakes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then gently nudge the cake out of the pans by running a knife along the edge and inverting onto a plate.  The small cakes come out fairly easily with a little coaxing and gentle twisting with your hands.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Garnish and serve.

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