Monday, October 2, 2017

Moist Chocolate Plum Cake with Honey Chocolate Sauce

Since it seems like Summer decided to stick around a little later than usual, I keep baking with what it has to offer.

Of all the fruits, plums in their fresh form don't really do much for me. They're usually a bit bland and it's terrible when they're dry and mealy. That sour skin seriously makes my eyes bulge. But, (call me "Grandma") I love prunes! And for more reasons than regularity.

Dried plums have a rich, deep, complex sweetness similar to dried dates. They taste almost caramel-like and raisiny. It's a completely different flavour experience.

So in baking this cake with fresh plums fanned around the surface, they actually dry out slowly and turn into these jammy sweet raisin-like gems.

Pairing plums with chocolate is a wonderfully mellow experience as they both complement each other so well. Chocolate naturally has notes of cooked dark fruits like plums and raisins, and these flavours come about during the drying and roasting process of cocoa beans. These particularly delicious flavour reactions are called Maillard Browning.

The best part of this whole chocolate cake deal is not the chocolate (what!?), not the plums, not even that incredible honey chocolate sauce... but it's the fact that it takes 1 bowl and 10 minutes to prepare!

That is it. This has Thursday night dinner date written all over it. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell everyone they can come for dinner even on a weekday because you will be prepared. Even if all you have is cake for dinner, that would be good enough for me!

Let's talk fat:
I am not the biggest advocate of oil-based cakes. No matter what, I can taste the oil. Even the cleanest freshest oil leaves a bit of an aftertaste. Nothing can compare to butter, which carries and enhances chocolate flavours far better than veg oil can.

BUT, oil lends a sense of moistness that butter simply can not because oil is liquid at room temperature and butter is solid. In other words, butter has a higher melting point and so butter cakes will never feel quite as soft as oil-based cakes. You can refrigerate your cake if you use oil and it won't become hard, but cakes made with butter are best when slightly warm so that the butterfat can melt within the crumb and lend a softer texture. 

To balance the function of oil with the flavour of butter, I use a combination. This is my compromise for this recipe: 3 tbsp oil + 2 tbsp melted butter. For the cleanest flavour, use pure sunflower oil or I like avocado oil.

Let's talk cocoa powder:
For this cake I use Dutch Process cocoa which lends a deep dark colour and an intense roasted chocolate taste similar to coffee. Normally I would prefer natural cocoa for a more complex, fruity chocolate flavour but the buttermilk in this recipe provides a tanginess that will complement the roasty cocoa notes.

Since there is buttermilk, we use a touch of baking soda to react with it but supplement the rest of our rising needs with baking powder. Too much baking soda in chocolate cake recipes with Dutched cocoa can create a soapy, smokey taste that I find unpleasant.

Now let's make a one bowl chocolate cake!
Grab a mixing bowl and a whisk because that is all you will need.

Measure all of the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt into that bowl. Add oil, melted butter, 1 egg and buttermilk and whisk until it is combined. It will be a bit thick at this point. Gradually add hot water while whisking until it is smooth and glossy. DONE.

Scrape this batter into an 8-inch baking pan and arrange thin slices of fresh plums around the top. Pop it in the oven and bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

How does this recipe work?
It's the method of combining the sugar with the flour first that allows this easy method to produce such great results. As you whisk in the liquid components, gluten will form as the wheat proteins hydrate and connect. However, sugar also loves and attracts moisture so by blending it evenly into the flour it will compete for the water and less moisture will be available to the wheat proteins. This hinders gluten development. This method also performs well with chocolate cakes where cocoa takes on some of the role of flour by absorbing moisture and providing structure without the "tough" consequences.

Hot water added in at the end does a couple of things. First it dissolves the sugar so that it forms a syrup throughout the batter and this leads to a very moist cake that holds the water in rather than evaporating out during baking. The term for this moisture binding is called "hygroscopic". It also accelerates the starch gelatinization process which is what sets the structure of the cake, and the wheat starch will take up the water more easily when it is warm. Ingredients also emulsify better at warmer temperatures leading to a smoother texture.

If you're full to the brim with Science now, maybe it's time to make this cake.
Don't forget about the sauce. It's easy too.
Make the sauce!


Moist Chocolate Plum Cake with Honey Chocolate Sauce
makes 8-10 servings

1 cups (142g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
½ cup (42g) cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp (42g) unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large egg
½ cup (120ml) buttermilk
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup (60ml) just boiled water
4-5 plums, sliced into thin wedges

For the sauce:
4 tbsp (24g) cocoa powder
4 tbsp (50g) granulated sugar
½ tsp corn starch
2/3 cup (150ml) 10% cream
1 tbsp (14g) unsalted butter
1 tbsp (15ml) honey
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch round baking pan or springform pan and line the base with a a round of parchment paper.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment), combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend evenly.

Add melted butter, oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth and thick. Gradually whisk in hot water until the batter is smooth and glossy.

Scrape batter into your prepared pan and arrange plums on the surface in a circular pattern. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes on wire rack before turning out.

To make the chocolate sauce, combine cocoa, sugar and corn starch in a saucepan. Whisk to blend evenly and then gradually pour in cream while whisking until combined. Place over medium-low heat and add butter. Whisk until melted and let it come to a boil. Add honey and salt and continue to bubble gently while whisking for 3 minutes. Pour out into a glass bowl and let stand for 10 minutes until thickened before pouring over the cake.
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