It was my brother’s birthday last week. My mother is in New York on her annual vacation from us, so we decided to have a quiet dinner out on Sunday evening. Just me, my bro A, his girlfriend B, and C.
I know what you’re thinking. It was fine when it was just C, but A, B, and C? No, I’m not making it up.
So, back to the birthday dinner and my awesome brother who celebrated it. He and I are quite close, as far as siblings of opposite gender with five years between them go. In the beginning, I (and he) admit, it may have been for lack of choice. You see, it’s just the two of us. But after much hair-pulling and face-smacking and blood-drawing (ok, that was only once, and he bit me!), we realized that in a family of four, neither of us would get anywhere with only 25% of the vote. Together, with a 50% share, we had more power. We could watch each other’s back and, even as the junior generation, lobby enough to sometimes change the unwavering tides of parental decree.
It may have seemed strange at times – my Barbies and his Transformers*** co-existing in the same city built of Styrofoam (he used the Styrofoam from old toy boxes). Obviously these games were pretty much silent because Barbie and the Autobots did not have much to say to each other...although they did eat the same birdseed/hamster food.
From these incongruent beginnings though, we discovered strong and fundamental similarities that bound us: the love of books and reading; intense discussions about everything from government, to God, to utopia, to, um, gas; a passion for food and eating; valour in the face of grossness; fondness for things weird and unexplained; an obsession with the way we smell; a predisposition to be unskinny; the conviction that sleep is indeed an important “activity”. And a love for chocolate cake.
As I mentioned here, my brother is one of my favourite people to cook/bake for. His appetite, coupled with his eloquence, make him the perfect envoy of food-related compliments. His favourite baked-by-me chocolate cake, so far, is this one from Chocolate & Zucchini. I have to say it’s my favourite as well – I love this pretty much flourless approach to chocolate cake. This cake by Nigella, though quite different, quickly won our palates.
Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
(from How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson )
- 225 grams soft unsalted butter
- 375 grams dark muscovado sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100 grams dark chocolate (the best you can get), melted
- 200 grams plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 250 ml boiling water
- Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until color lightens (it’ll go from dark to light brown). Add eggs and vanilla, beating in until incorporated.
- Fold in the melted (and slightly cooled) chocolate. Blend well until just combined but do not overbeat.
- Gently add the flour (to which you’ve added the baking soda), alternately, spoon by spoon, with the boiling water, until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.
- Pour into a 23x13x7 cm loaf tin that has been greased and lined. The lining is important because this is a very damp cake. I used a slightly smaller loaf tin and got two cupcakes extra :)
- Place filled loaf tin on a baking tray into a 190C oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170C and bake for 15-20 minutes more. An inserted cake tester won’t come out completely clean as the cake will still be a tad “squidgy” inside.
- Place the loaf tin on a rack and wait until it gets completely cool before turning out.
As the name suggests, this cake was moist and dense with a very tight crumb. It also had a surprisingly intense chocolate flavour. That being said, the cake was incredibly soft and light. Puzzling but delicious. On the whole, a cake better eaten than explained.
I used the darkest muscovado sugar I had. As I only have experience with our local muscovado (which is different from our local brown sugar), I have no idea if it’s any different from the muscovado Nigella uses across the pond. Ours is more like powder than crystals, deeply brown, with an earthy molasses-like taste. Is it the same for you? I now realize that in different editions of her book it actually says dark brown sugar. So which should actually be used I wonder? In any case, it worked brilliantly on this cake so I’ll continue to use our local muscovado when I make this in the future.
The loaf pan I used was a bit smaller than what was indicated in the recipe so I got the two extra cupcakes out of it. Not a bad thing that ;)
On a personal note, this must be the softest cake I have ever made. And that is saying something as I am sadly heavy-handed with cake batter (no matter how much I envision myself to have elegance and finesse). Really, I was so amazed at how soft the tight-knit crumb was that I kept poking it gently with my finger, as one would a new feather pillow. No matter what, for now, I will be in Nigella’s debt for that.
And to my brother: I wish you all the happiness you deserve...which is to say an awfully indecent amount! And more chocolate cake of course :)
***Although my brother never developed any sympathies for Barbie, I did kinda fall in love with the Transformers. Yes, I watched the movie. And I’m not ashamed to admit I cried the first time Optimus spoke.