Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Your New Favorite Chocolate Cake


If the grocery store isn't your favorite place, it should be. We're sleuthing for the best back-of-the-box recipes and each week we'll share our latest find.

Today: The perfect chocolate cake recipe has been sitting in your pantry all along, patiently waiting for you to discover it.

Today feels like the right time to confess that I’ve never been able to bake a good chocolate cake.

I’m a pretty persistent person -- some would say bordering on a perfectionist -- and I’m a very confident baker. Despite all that, chocolate cake has stymied me for years. Mine are either too moist, taste only vaguely of cocoa, or fall apart when I try to frost them.

I want a serious chocolate cake. I want a sturdy crumb, like a 1-2-3-4 cake, but with an intense wallop of chocolate. I want you to be able to close your eyes and think, "Dark and rich." I want it to be tender yet still firm enough to slice and frost. I want it to be just moderately sweet so that it can pair well with Swiss meringue or caramel glaze or coffee buttercream. Oh, and I want to be able to make it in one bowl without needing any fancy, expensive chocolate.

I had gone on a lot of chocolate cake recipe first dates, so to speak, and had yet to enter a serious, move-in-with-me relationship with one -- until I met the perfect chocolate cake from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I think it’s the one! And it was right in front of me all these years.

This dead-simple recipe yields a fantastically rich chocolate cake. It highlights the subtle alchemy of baking, taking a handful of very basic ingredients and turning them into something worthy of celebration. You don’t need any chocolate other than cocoa. There’s no buttermilk, no hot coffee, and no sour cream. Can I get a hallelujah? I've dialed down the liquid slightly from the original recipe to make the cake a little more sturdy, which helps when constructing (and eating) the layers.

More: These Genius brownies also rely only on cocoa powder for their chocolate flavor.

You don’t need the frosting -- the cake is very good plain. But when offered frosting, I usually say yes. Just to be polite. If you’re looking to dress it up differently, I’d suggest a topping of crème fraîche, boiled icing with cacao nibs, or dulce de leche frosting.

Perfect Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Hershey's

Makes one 8-inch double layer cake

For the cake:

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water

For the frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dan Lepard's Black Forest chocolate cake

Getting a rich chocolate flavour in a soft cake is a touch complex, as it requires tricks to keep the flavour intense while maintaining a delicate texture. I used to half-joke that my favourite was a ready-made packet cake mix with melted chocolate stirred through before baking. Packet mixes use modified starches such as tapioca to form a gel, making the cake moist, and will forgo butter in favour of oil to keep it soft when chilled.

Now, when you try to take your favourite butter cake recipe and add expensive dark chocolate, it can often turn out horribly dry and heavy. The reason for this lies in the type of chocolate you use. If a chocolate contains 70% cocoa, it effectively contains 70% starch. So although dark chocolate appears to be fat – of the most delicious kind – it's only actually about 30% fat and the rest is starch. So adding that expensive chocolate is like adding extra flour, and bitterness, to your recipe. This is fine, just so long as you reduce the flour, and increase the sugar to balance the flavour.

Black Forest chocolate cake

Here is my version of a chocolate packet mix formula, intense with chocolate, and with a texture that stays quite soft and moist in the refrigerator. If you like a slightly lighter flavour you can use half milk and half dark chocolate instead.

For the chocolate mixture
200ml milk
25g plain flour
200g 70% dark chocolate
75ml sunflower oil

For the cake
250g caster sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
6 medium eggs
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

To finish
Kirsch or brandy
Cherry cake filling (see below)
Sweetened whipped cream
Grated chocolate
Dan step 1: Line the base of two ungreased deep round cake tins with discs of nonstick paper.

1 Line the base of two ungreased deep round sandwich cake tins with discs of nonstick paper.
Dan step 2: Put the milk in a pan with the flour and whisk well, bringing to the boil. Add chocolate

2 Put the milk in a saucepan with the flour and whisk well while bringing to the boil. Add the chocolate, broken into pieces, and the oil, then stir occasionally as the chocolate melts and the mixture takes on an oily, split appearance.
Dan step 3: Spoon the mix into a mixing bowl, add sugar & vanilla then beat until smooth and glossy.

3 Spoon the mixture into a large mixing bowl, add sugar and vanilla then beat until smooth and glossy.
Dan step 4: Beat in the eggs, two at a time, add the flour and baking powder & stir well til smooth

4 Beat in the eggs, two at a time, then add the flour and baking powder and stir well until smooth.
Dan Step 5: pour choccy into baking tin.

5 Divide the mixture between the tins and bake at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes until a skewer poked in comes out clean. While the cakes are warm in the tin, wrap them well (I use clingfilm) then leave until cold.
Dan step 6: Take the cakes out of tins. Spoon 2-3 tbsp of kirsch on top. Put cherry mix on top

6 To assemble, take the cakes out of the tins and spoon 2-3 tbsp of kirsch over the top of each if you like. Spread half the cherry mixture over each of the cakes, blob and swirl sweetened whipped cream over one, top with the other cake and spoon more cream over the top. Grate chocolate over to finish.

Cooked fresh cherries combined with cherry jam makes this filling bright and fruit-filled. It keeps well in the fridge for a few days, and doubles as a simple sauce for ice-cream.

400g fresh ripe cherries
Juice of ½ a lemon
100ml cold water
150g cherry jam
2 tsp cornflour

1 Pit and halve the cherries then place in a saucepan with the lemon juice and water. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid has almost vanished and the cherries are tender.

2 Mix the jam with the cornflour, stir in with the cherries and bring to the boil again. Let the filling cool before using.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to make pressed chocolate cake

To decorate, dust with icing sugar and cocoa powder, then add crystallised violets and sugar stars. Photograph: Claire Thomson
With three children, the birthday cakes come thick and fast. So far, we've had ballerinas protruding from the tops of panettone, a farmyard with pigs and chocolate fences, a liquorice ladybird, a Smartie-pebbledashed house and a banana and toffee bear. It's my daughter's seventh birthday soon. Like most kids, she loves chocolate (less commonly, she hates icing), and I know she's hoping for something beautiful with flowers. My take on this River Café recipe for a pressed chocolate cake is perfect.

I've reduced the sugar and rather than pressing the cake with a same-sized plate, I like to use a smaller plate so the outskirts of the cake remain high, giving it a lovely raised lip to dust with icing sugar. To decorate, dust the centre with cocoa powder, then add crystallised violets and white sugar stars. Simple, stark and very pretty indeed.

Pressed chocolate cake

(Serves 10)
400g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
300g unsalted butter
10 eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
4 tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra to decorate
Icing sugar
Crystallised violets and white sugar stars

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Butter and line with greaseproof paper a 30 x 7.5cm (12 x 3in) high-sided spring-loaded cake tin, pressing the paper right into the tin.
Melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water – don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl.
Remove the bowl when the chocolate and butter have melted, and allow to cool a little.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cocoa powder, then add to the chocolate.
In a separate clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture, one third at a time.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 25 minutes. The cake will souffle, set slightly and cracks will appear on the surface at the edges. The cake should retain a wobble at the centre. Take it out and place two side plates on top of each other in the centre of the cake to press. Leave to cool for half an hour.
Release the cake from the spring-loaded tin and, with the plates still on, dust the edges of the cake with icing sugar.

Remove the plates and decorate with cocoa powder, crystallised violets and sugar stars.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

How to make chocolate, chilli and chestnut cake – recipe

Chilli chocolate chestnut cake
Chilli and chocolate have become a well-loved combination. Thoroughly pureed chestnuts add a subtle sweet flavour and a grainy texture, similar to ground almonds.
(Serves 10)
4 medium eggs
140g caster sugar
250g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder, to taste
250g cooked chestnuts
275ml milk
2-3 drops almond essence
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the caster sugar.
Roughly chop the chocolate and put it into a small saucepan with the butter. Gently melt the chocolate and butter together. Stir in the chilli powder and mix well to avoid any lumps. Leave to cool a little, then stir into the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.
Peel the chestnuts if they still have their outer skins on. Roughly chop and put them into a small saucepan with the milk. Bring to the boil, stir in the almond essence and leave to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a food processor. Process until smooth and add to the chocolate mixture, mixing well to prevent any pale streaks in the cake.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for up to 45 minutes – it may still be a bit wobbly. Leave to cool before taking the cake out of the tin and slicing to serve.
• Extracted from the Vegetarian Year by Jane Hughes (Modern Books, £20). To order a copy for £16, go to or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to make raspberry, coconut and lemon syrup cake – recipe

My two-year-old is increasingly keen on baking when it’s just us at home and her older sisters are at school – she knows she’ll have the spoon and bowl to scrape out all by herself when the cake goes in the oven.
My local fruit and veg shop had raspberries piled high just at her eye level. She demolished one punnet in her pushchair on the way home; the second was earmarked for a cake. I’ve had a split packet of desiccated coconut sitting in a tub on my shelf at home for more months than I can remember – baking with it seemed a fitting end to this storage annoyance. And the lemon? Simple: lemons make everything better and brighter.
Time for cake!
Time for cake! Photograph: Claire Thomson/Guardian
(Serves 6-8)
160g butter
120g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
80g desiccated coconut, plus extra to decorate
2 tbsp milk
80g raspberries
For the lemon syrup:
½ lemon, juiced
2tbsp caster sugar
Add the raspberries
Add the raspberries. Photograph: Claire Thomson/Guardian
Preheat the oven 180C/350F/gas mark four, and line and grease a 900g loaf tin.
Cream together the butter and sugar in bowl with an electric whisk until pale and creamy – this should take a good five minutes of mixing.
Whisk the eggs and, with the beaters running, add a little at a time to the butter and sugar. When you have added half the egg, add a tablespoon of flour to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the rest of the egg with the beaters running, then sift in the flour and baking powder and beat briefly with a large spoon.
Stir in the coconut and milk. The mixture should be loose enough to drop off the back of a spoon; if not, add a little more milk.
Spoon half the cake mix into the prepared loaf tin. Spread the raspberries evenly over the surface, then add the remaining cake mix.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup. Put the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and boil rapidly over a high heat for two minutes, until the mixture thickens and turns syrupy.
Take the cake out of the oven, spoon over the syrup and sprinkle over the extra coconut.
Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Peachy keen: Mary-Ellen McTague's nectarine recipes

Ah, nectarines, the smooth-skinned sibling of the fuzzy peach. Though rarely quite as sweet or juicy as the peach, the two are often interchangable in cooking. The 1938 edition of Larousse Gastronomique – the culinary equivalent of going to your nan for relationship advice (wisdom tempered with intransigence) – says simply, and dismissively, "Voir pêche", so directing the reader to a million variations on peaches poached in vanilla syrup, served with raspberries and sweetened cream, and often named after some early 20th-century starlet.
Well, nectarines also have a great affinity for that triumvirate, while almonds, aromatic wines and prosecco (think bellini) are also classic pairings. But if you happen to land some perfectly ripe examples, you could do much worse than serve them sliced, dusted with a warming spice such as pepper, nutmeg or clove, and topped with air-dried ham or gooey blue cheese. Fresh, young cheese works well, too – burrata, say, is gorgeous with nectarine.
Nectarines are sold at such varying degrees of ripeness that one purchase rarely resembles another; there are even often variations within the same bag of fruit. To give a few options, today's recipes deal with the fruit at different stages.

Seared scallops with nectarine and burnt butter

You can get away with under-ripe nectarines here, but the riper the fruit, the more intense the puree. The dish looks very simple, but the flavours are rich and interesting. Works with apricots, too. Serves four.
1kg nectarines, halved and stoned
250g unsalted butter, plus extra for frying
8 large diver scallops (or 12 medium)
Sunflower oil, for frying
Lemon juice
Sea salt
Stew the nectarines in a splash of water until soft enough to push through a sieve. Pass through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside.
Heat the butter gently in a pan until it's a deep golden brown and stops foaming. Tip through a fine sieve into another pan, then leave to cool ever so slightly. With a hand blender, slowly blitz the still hot butter into the nectarine puree (much as you would oil into eggs for a mayonnaise). Once all the butter has been emulsified into the puree, check for sweetness – add a tiny bit of honey or caster sugar if it's overly sour – then cover with clingfilm and set aside: keep warm (stand the jug in a pan of hand-hot water) or refrigerate if making ahead of time.
Heat a nonstick frying pan on a very high flame. Roll the scallops in oil, then lay a few at a time flat-side down in the pan. Leave for one to two minutes, depending on size, until nicely caramelised, then flip. Cook for just a few seconds more, then add a small nugget of butter and a good squeeze of lemon – this whole post-flip operation should take all of 30-40 seconds, so the scallops don't overcook. Transfer the scallops to a tray or plate, pour the juices over the top, wipe the pan clean and reheat the pan for the next batch. When all the scallops are cooked, season both sides with salt.
To serve, put a generous tablespoon of warm puree on each plate and place the scallops on top.

Nectarine and almond tart

mary-ellen mctague
Concentrated flavour: Mary-Ellen McTague's nectarine and almond tart. Photograph: Deirdre Rooney for the Guardian
Again, you can get away with under-ripe fruit here, because roasting concentrates the flavour. This can be made with gluten-free flour and/or dairy-free butter, which makes it a winner in my family. Serves six.
750g nectarines
75g butter at room temperature
60g sugar (caster is fine, demerera or soft brown even better)
1 level tsp cinnamon or nutmeg
20g almonds
20g sugar
10g water
For the pastry
75g butter at room temperature
150g flour
10g fresh yeast, or 5g dried
5g sugar
1 large egg
2g salt
1 vanilla pod (or 2 drops extract)
For the pastry, in a large bowl beat the butter into the flour. In a small bowl, beat the yeast and sugar into the egg, then stir into the flour. Add the salt and vanilla, and knead briefly until smooth – it will start off very sticky, then come together all of a sudden. Roll into a ball, transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot to double in volume (one to two hours).
Halve and stone the fruit. Line a baking dish with nonstick baking paper (optional, but it will make life easier later on) and dot all over with butter. Sprinkle sugar on top, then lay in the halved fruit flesh side down.
Bake at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 15 minutes. The nectarines should be softened but not mushy, with the skin lifting away from the flesh, and the butter and sugar nicely caramelised. If the fruit was very under-ripe, it may need a few minutes more, otherwise remove and set aside until cool enough to handle, but still warm; turn down the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Peel the fruit, keeping it as intact as possible, then set aside.
Lightly butter or oil a 20cm tart case, tip in the dough and with oiled or floured hands flatten and press out to fill the tin right to the edges. Arrange the nectarines on top and scatter over the spices, caramelised sugar, butter and juices from the oven dish. Leave to prove for 15 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes. Mix the almonds, sugar and water, scatter over the top of the fruit and bake for a further 20 minutes.
Remove, leave to cool for five to 10 minutes, and serve with vanilla ice-cream, creme fraiche or a raspberry and almond chantilly: whip 200g cream with 20g caster sugar and a drop almond extract, then stir in 50g crushed raspberries.

Nectarine chutney

The traditional way to preserve nectarines and peaches involves dipping them in boiling water to release the skins, spiking with cloves and covering with brandy, à la Monet's Jar Of Peaches. My way may involve more work, but it goes with most cured meat, pâtés and cheese.
1g nutmeg
1g allspice
3 cloves
1g cinnamon
2.5kg nectarines, stoned, skinned and chopped into 1cm-square dice
150g white-wine vinegar
125g caster sugar
Grind the spices, and put in a heavy-based pan with the other ingredients. Cook on a low heat, stirring regularly, until thick and jam-like. Pour into sterilised jars, seal and keep in a cool, dark place or in the fridge. Unopened, it keeps for up to two years, and improves with age.

Nectarine and basil ice lollies

This is lovely way to use up wrinkly and over-ripe nectarines – you know, the ones that have gone so soft, you can squish them between your fingers. Push the stoned fruit through a sieve (this purees the flesh while keeping the skin in the sieve), then blitz smooth. Finely shred a handful of basil (or mint) and add. Stir in whole raspberries (optional) and a splash of water or a slug of prosecco, depending on your target audience, then check for sweetness. Add sugar to taste, and freeze in lolly moulds.