Our bocce team is no longer in last place. I think we’re second to last– but still, let’s celebrate the small victories. Chocolate seems to help. We definitely play a little better. I noticed this when I made Katherine Hepburn’s brownies a few weeks back–so last week, I decided to test Amanda Hesser’s recipe for her mom’s Chocolate Dump-it Cake (found in Cooking for Mr. Latte), a birthday staple in the Hesser household. I was intrigued because you make the cake all in one saucepan and I hadn’t tried sour cream frosting before. Hesser claims, “For the icing, you melt Nestlé’s semisweet-chocolate chips and swirl them together with sour cream. It sounds as if it’s straight from the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but it tastes as if it’s straight from Payard. Everyone loves it.” She wasn’t kidding–the icing was remarkable. It’s substantial (unlike occasionally whimpy buttercream), smooth, and has a creamy chocolate depth.
A few changes I made to the recipe below: For the frosting, I used Guittard chips only because they happened to be $2 cheaper than Nestle (hmmm…), and I also decided to make it into a layer cake instead of using a tube pan. In the future, I’d make a bit more frosting so I could frost the sides as well. The cake: it’s not one of those cakes that you really need the frosting to mask it or dress it up. But I just like the way a layer cake looks when it’s frosted completely. In addition, when you begin the recipe, take the sour cream out of the fridge. It must be room temperature to begin making the frosting–this takes some time. My bocce teammates mentioned adding chocolate chips into the batter of the cake next time around. I’m a bit of a cake purist, and believe a lovely chocolate/chocolate cake shouldn’t be messed with. But, I concur, this certainly couldn’t be bad. My notes and tips are in italics below.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and place a baking sheet on the lowest rack, to catch any drips when the cake bakes. Put the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, at least 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan. (If you prefer, you can grease it, line it with parchment and then grease and flour it. This is not necessary, but parchment does make getting the cake out easier.)
3. When the chocolate in the pan has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs. In several additions and without over-mixing, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice, to blend. “Dump” the batter into the tube pan and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
4. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack. (This can be tricky, so if someone is around, enlist them to help. Place a ring of wax paper on top of the cake so you have something to grab onto when turning it out.) Let cool completely. My tip: If doing as a layer cake, just use common sense: split the batter into two 9″ cake rounds.
5. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, then let cool to room temperature. It is very important that the chocolate and sour cream be the same temperature, otherwise the icing will be lumpy or grainy. (Test it by stirring a little of the sour cream and chocolate together in a bowl; if it mixes smoothly, it’s ready.) Stir in the sour cream, 1/ 4 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Taste some! It’s good. My tip: Hesser’s right–don’t rush the cooling of the chocolate chips and let the sour cream come up to room temperature. This is very important. If your frosting is a little lumpy, beat on.
6. When the cake is cool, you may frost it as is or cut it in half so that you have two layers (when I do this, I use 2 cups chocolate chips and 2 cups sour cream). My mother uses any leftover icing to make flowers on top. She dabs small rosettes, or buttons, on top, then uses toasted almond slices as the petals, pushing them in around the base of the rosette.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.