Last weekend we were preparing a festive Saturday dinner, just for the two of us, and Luke the wonder dog, who is forever hopeful. Weather-wise, it was finally warm enough to sit outside at the little bistro table on the back porch. It was breezy, with plenty of bluebird comings and goings to keep our conversation lively. We had a modest bottle of grocery store red wine and a few fluttering candles. There were grilled beef filets, asparagus, and a baked potato to split. I tore open a bag of greens and made a lively, tangy vinaigrette. But I had almost completely forgotten about dessert. Which would have been very sad. Luckily, a quick dive into the internets saved the night.
I hate recipe writers who promise that you can make their clever dishes with ingredients that you have on hand. As if we all live with well-stocked, gourmet-level larders at every moment. They’ll presume that you will have fresh shrimp, or expensive whole vanilla beans, or a bag of semolina flour in the pantry. And unlike Dorie Greenspan, I do not have a basement, nor a freezer in the basement, full of high fat content butter. I actually had all of these cake ingredients, but I do bake a chocolate biscotti recipe every few weeks, so I have a ready stash of unsweetened cocoa powder. Go out and get a tin of cocoa powder to have for chocolate cake emergencies. One day you will thank me.
There is always a reason to bake a cake – like a nicer-than-usual Saturday night dinner, when it feels like spring has finally sprung, and you’d like to celebrate, just a little bit. COVID was hard for all of us, and it’s still not over, so we aren’t splurging with a dinner out, but something on the back porch, with dessert, for the novelty, seems fitting. This cake was quick and simple, and just enough for the two of us, unlike the lemon cheesecake that I baked for Easter, which served 12. We are still enjoying slim slices of this cake, here on Thursday.
This is a recipe for a simple single-layer chocolate cake, that doesn’t even need butter or eggs. It is amazing. You can gussie it up with ganache, like we did, or dust it with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar, or a scoop of ice cream, or a handful of strawberries. I added a tablespoon of espresso coffee just to make the chocolate taste more dense, but you don’t have to. It’s your blank slate. Go forth and enjoy.
As always, our clever friends at Food52 bailed me out.
Margaret Fox’s Amazon Chocolate Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, or vegetable)
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
Heat the oven to 350° F.
Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar.
Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk until smooth, or pour through strainer in to a bowl and break up lumps, pressing them through.
Mix again, and pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.
My favorite part was dropping the pan onto the counter to let the air bubbles out. That was fun.
This is my standard ganache that I use on flourless chocolate cakes and Boston Cream Pies:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
(chocolate chips in a pinch)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon or whatever you have in your desk drawer for emergencies
Melt the chocolate and butter together, slowly, in a saucepan, stirring until smooth. Add the generous dollop of bourbon and stir some more. Now pour the glaze over the cake. You will have a beautiful, shiny, super-rich, super-deelish chocolate cake, fit for a beautiful Saturday night.
The fireflies have emerged, so we are well on our way to summer and more back porch fine dining. Like Luke, I am ever hopeful.
“Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.”
— Audrey Hepburn