Archive | January, 2013

Chocolate-Coconut Sheet Cake

21 Jan

When I walked into the library on Friday, I spotted the February issue of Martha Stewart Living on the magazine shelf, and decided to actively procrastinate for a few minutes. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I stumbled upon the Valentine’s Day, all-chocolate dessert spread. Imagine a page covered in silky chocolate, entitled “Truly Madly Deeply,” staring at you as you prepare to buckle down and write an English self-assessment- now that’s a real distraction. But I couldn’t resist the temptation to peruse the recipes, and this chocolate-coconut sheet cake immediately caught my attention. I’m sure you can guess how I ended up spending my Friday night. 😉

Chocolate and coconut are two of my favorite ingredients, and together, well the photo speaks for itself. This is the moistest, most deeply chocolatey cake I have ever made. Buttermilk and brewed coffee are key, and premium Dutch-process cocoa powder accounts for the cake’s rich, almost midnight black color. Taste-wise, every bite is straight out of dessert heaven. Each forkful contains three layers: wisps of tender coconut shavings on top, the fudgey, almost gooey center, and the phenomenal, aromatic cake. I probably sound a bit strange as I passionately describe this baked good as though it has a life of its own, but it’s the weekend before mid-terms, and what’s a girl with a sweet tooth to do? 

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

For the cake:
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*, plus more for dish 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
1 1/2 tsp baking soda 
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk**
3/4 cup warm, strong brewed coffee
3 tblsp safflower oil (I used olive oil)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

For the topping:
1 stick plus 2 tblsp unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar 
6 tblsp unsweetened cocoa powder 
3 cups finely shredded, dried, unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup warm, strong brewed coffee 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; line the bottom and two long sides with parchment, leaving an overhang. Butter parchment, and dust with cocoa powder. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; whisk to combine. Gather flour mixture into a mound, and create a well in center. Pour eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla into well, and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Pour batter into dish, and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Even if the center looks a bit fudgey, it will continue cooking once you remove it from the oven. It is key not to overcook it. 
2. To make the topping, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Sift confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and coconut in a large bowl; combine with a spoon. Stir coffee and vanilla into melted butter, and pour over coconut mixture. Stir to combine, and immediately spread evenly over warm cake. Let the cake cool completely on wire rack.

*I recommend using Dutch-process cocoa powder, if you wish to achieve a darker color and richer chocolate flavor. However, natural cocoa works fine as well. Here is a link to a photo that demonstrates the contrast between a cake made with Dutch-process versus natural cocoa. David Lebovitz also has a wonderfully detailed post that explains the differences between the two kinds. 
**If you do not have buttermilk on hand, not to worry! You can make your own simply by measuring out 3/4 cup of milk and adding the juice from half a lemon to it. Let the milk sit for a few minutes until it curdles on the top, and you are ready to go. 


Easy Chocolate Pecan Torte

4 Jan

Recipe courtesy of Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts 

1 cup raw pecans 
2 tblsp all-purpose flour 
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (66 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped 
8 tblsp unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into chunks 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
Generous 1/8 tsp salt 
4 cold large eggs 

Serves 10-12

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with butter. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake them for 7-10 minutes, stirring them once or twice, until they are toasted and fragrant. Scrape the nuts onto a plate and let them cool completely. Increase the oven temperature to 375. Once the nuts have cooled, pulse the pecans and the flour in the food processor until finely ground. 
2. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl, over a pot of simmering water, and stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth. 
3. Transfer the chocolate into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat in the butter, granulated sugar, and salt until the butter is completely melted and the mixture thickens and lightens slightly in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two, or until the batter is fluffy and lightened in color. Stir in the pecan mixture. 
4. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted about 1.5 inches from the side of the pan comes out clean. The center will still be gooey. 
5. Set the pan on a rack to cool. Slide a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake and allow the thin crust on top to sink (slightly) as the cake cools. Let cool completely and remove from the pan. Garnish with powdered sugar or whipped cream, if desired. The torte can be kept covered at room temperature for at least 3 days, or frozen, well-wrapped for 3 months.

I am well aware that this luxurious chocolate-pecan torte recipe comes to you at the beginning of “clean eating” month. In January, many of us embark upon kale juice cleanses and grueling gym workouts in an effort to start the new year on the right foot. But this is a baking blog after all, and I could not wait to share this decadent, sinfully easy dessert. 

You only need seven ingredients to throw this torte together. You could substitute hazelnuts or walnuts for pecans and omit the flour for a gluten-free version. The exterior surface crackles just barely after baking, contrasting well with the moist, but not sticky interior. My problem with so many chocolate tortes is their uniformity of flavor and denseness. This cake hit all the right notes: chocolatey but with depth of flavor from the pecans, and sturdy but not dry. It is definitely a crowd pleaser; my family members enthusiastically declared it one of the best baked goods I have ever made. Major score! 

I recommend preparing the cake a day prior to serving it as the extra time enhances its richness. I enjoyed my piece plain, a chocolate purist, but vanilla bean ice cream or freshly whipped cream would complement it beautifully.