Sunday, November 16, 2014

Devil's Food Chocolate Cake

I have a recipe for chocolate cake that I go back to again and again, yet I reaaallllllly have 26 recipes for chocolate cake.

It's amazing how many chocolate cake recipes are out there... some with butter and some with oil; with brown sugar or white sugar; milk or buttermilk; coffee or water....

Do we need that many? Yes. Isn't one enough? No. 
You can never have enough recipes for good chocolate cake. I love all my 26 equally.

Devil's Food Cake is named for it's reddish brown-coloured crumb. Achieving this colour depends a lot on the type of cocoa powder you use and ultimately the pH, or acidity, of the batter.

A true Devil's Food chocolate cake will have baking soda as part of the leavening system. It will also use water as some portion of the liquid ingredients along with buttermilk or sour cream to provide some acidity. 

Classic chocolate cakes use milk which is relatively neutral and produces a gentle, soft chocolate flavour. Milk proteins also interact and bind with the colour-producing polyphenols in cocoa powder, which can alter their flavour and appearance.

Water is neutral too, but... it's just water. Just as well as it is clear, it does not get in the way of the cocoa's colour. Also, taking the extra step of combining cocoa with boiling water before adding it to the batter helps to wake it up and bring forth its intensity by hydrating it. 

On a scale of ACID to ALKALINE, light brown/tan sits on the acid side, reddish-brown is slightly alkaline and dark brown/black is far on the alkaline end.

Baking soda is utterly alkaline, meaning that it has a very high pH. Alkaline compounds react with colourful cocoa polyphenols to make them appear darker. If the batter only has baking soda, you can be pretty sure you will have a very dark brown cake - especially if that cake is made with water. However, all baking powder, which contains acid and alkaline compounds, will produce a lighter crumb. A mix of baking soda and baking powder helps to create just the right colour in this recipe.

A chocolate cake made with heaps of baking soda would taste horrible if there were no acid ingredients to neutralize it. Residual sodium bicarbonate leaves a soapy bitter taste in cakes. A strategic amount of sour cream adds enough acidity to react sufficiently with baking soda to prevent making soap cake, yet still deliver a devilish colour.

Because this recipe uses baking soda and baking powder as well as sour cream, you can use either natural cocoa powder or a lightly Dutch-processed type. In other words, this recipe doesn't rely solely on the acidity of natural cocoa in order to react with baking soda. However, please do not use some sort of "Black" or ultra Dutched cocoa because they are excessively alkalized with a pH over 8 (that means it is very soapyesque).

There's a time and a place for oil-based cakes. Devil's food is not one of them. I've never met the Devil, but I sure as heck don't think he worries about saturated fat.

This recipe starts off like most butter cakes with creaming butter and sugar, and then beating in the eggs. The kicker is combining cocoa powder with boiling water. This forms part of our wet ingredients and goes in alternately with the dry ingredients and sour cream.

I went for a simple, perfect dark chocolate ganache to finish 'er off in all its glossy glory. I let it cool and pour it all over with no direction.

That's all folks.

Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake
Makes 8-10 servings

½ cup (50g) natural or lightly Dutched cocoa powder
½ cup (118ml) boiling water
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (250g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (215g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (118ml) sour cream

For the ganache:
2/3 cup (150ml) 35% whipping cream
1/8 tsp salt
170g (6oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round baking pans. 

Pour  boiling water over cocoa powder in a small bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and add to creamed mixture alternately with cooled cocoa mixture and sour cream.

Divide batter evenly between prepared baking pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto the racks to cool completely.

To make the ganach, bring cream to a gentle boil with salt in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes before stirring until smooth and glossy. Let cool to room temperature before pouring over cake layers.
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