Comfort me with dear friends and… chocolate cake

I have been spending a lot of time with Ruth Reichl lately. Well, truth be told, a lot of time with her memoirs. I got my hands on Garlic and Sapphires, published in 2005, and that lead to her latest book, Save Me The Plums, 2019. I read Comfort Me With Apples, 2001, and Tender At The Bone, 1998, a few years ago. Ruth was the New York Times restaurant food critic and then the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. She is a big name in the food world. I didn’t know that until I picked up one of her books. I just love food and memoirs so they were perfect reading for me. She was recently in my neck of the woods, but I didn’t know about it until the day after her appearance at Fearrington. By then Ruth had moved on to Nashville, Tennessee and Ann Patchett‘s book store, Parnassus Books. This is what Ann, another amazing writer, has to say about Save Me The Plums:

“This is the rare case of an amazing writer living an amazing life.”

That about sums it up.

The Ex-Ex and I were invited to dinner at the new home of very dear friends on Saturday night. They recently retired from our school, sold the home they had been living in for 30+ years, and moved into a smaller, lovely home. Two other couples also came to dinner. These are friends who have known me for almost 40 years. Through the birth of babies (and the death of one- most assuredly the lowest point in our lives), vacations at the beach together, potlucks, anniversaries, church-league softball and volleyball games, birthday parties, grandbabies, illnesses and deaths of parents and siblings, even the deaths of those who were part of our circle. Happy times and sad. I feel as if they are my family in the truest sense of the word. It was a lovely spring evening, so we sat on their deck, eating drinking, and sharing memories.

We ate well! Marinated grilled pork chops (just try to get the marinade recipe out of TD… he couldn’t even really remember other than a packet of something), a beautiful salad, and a cauliflower-bacon-cheese casserole. I brought dessert. Thanks to Ruth, I had been dreaming about chocolate cake. I found two of her cake recipes and couldn’t make up my mind which one to make… so I made both. I spent most of Saturday afternoon measuring and mixing. Paradise. Even the dish-washing wasn’t bad. Licking the bowl makes up for that.

Really delicious. Think double chocolate cake and chocolate cream cheese icing. It was a hit with my friends. We all ate a piece and then everyone took home an extra slice. Thank you, Ruth.

I cut the recipe in half since having that much chocolate cake around would be dangerous for me!

Big Chocolate Cake

Serves 20-25. Adapted from Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl. This recipe makes a lot of cake and so would be perfect for a big party, but it also takes very well to freezing, even with the frosting on: after a couple of days I carved up our remaining cake and wrapped individual slices carefully in plastic wrap to freeze. Either warmed in the microwave or simply left out to come up to room temperature, the defrosted cake seemed (to us, at least) to have lost nothing in the way of taste and texture, even, amazingly, after a few months. If you are having a really big party, you can, Reichl says, double or triple the recipe as long as you adjust the baking timefor whatever size pans you are using.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs

For the frosting:

  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup whipped cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 13x9x2inch baking pans; line bottoms with waxed or parchment paper and butterthe paper. Flour the pans (you can “flour” pans for chocolate cake with cocoa powder, if you like) and tap out excess.
  2. Whisk together boiling water and cocoa until smooth. Then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Sift together the flour,baking soda, and salt.
  3. If possible in a standing mixer, beat togetherthe butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add one egg at a time,beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in the flourmixture in 3 batches and the cocoa mixture in 2, alternatingflour-cocoa-flour-cocoa-flour. The batter may look curdled.
  4. Pour half of the batter into each pan and smoothtops. Bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean andthe cake begins to pull away from the pan, 25-35 minutes. Turn thecakes onto racks to cool completely.
  5. Make frosting: melt the chopped chocolate in adouble boiler or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Cool toroom temperature. Beat together the butter and cream cheese until lightand fluffy (I could not find whipped cream cheese in the store, so Ijust whipped it at home until it looked a little lighter and fluffierbefore adding the butter). Add the cooled chocolate and the remainingingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
  6. Assemble cake only when the cake layers have cooled completely.

The second chocolate cake was actually my favorite. It has an orange-mocha taste going for it. It looks more like a brownie than cake, but who cares, right?

Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, likes to serve this cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on each slice.


SERVINGS: 6 – 8
INGREDIENTS
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces fine-quality unsweetened chocolate
  • 3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brewed strong black coffee
  • 2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the top of a double boiler or in a heavy pan over low heat, combine the chocolate, butter and coffee. Stir constantly until the butter is nearly melted, then remove from the heat and continue stirring until it has completely melted. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. Add the Grand Marnier, sugar, egg and vanilla extract and mix well until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

After looking at Ruth’s website I realized that I have not read all of her books yet. There is Delicious! A Novel (2014), For You Mom, Finally (2010), and My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (2015). It’s always good to have a reading to-do list!

Bon appétit, mes amis! Here’s to great friends, good food, and to the glorious memories we share. I love you all.

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