According to popular culture, I should have an insatiable desire for chocolate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like chocolate, but I do not go out of my way to procure it. On the other hand, H loves chocolate. In fact, he loves it so much that he keeps multiple bars of dark chocolate in our house at all times. You know, just in case…
A couple of years ago, in my pre-baby, pre-marriage, still-trying-to-impress-this-guy world, I decided to bake H a cake for his birthday. His request — a “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” cake. I scoured my growing collection of cookbooks and after a couple of days found one that looked like it might work. You dust the pan with chocolate…you use cocoa powder in the batter…you stir in additional chocolate pieces…and you finish it with chocolate ganache. This is one serious chocolate cake. Not surprisingly, he loved it and now I bake this cake once a year to celebrate the completion of another fabulous year in the life of H.
Now, I am not a baker. So when I do bake, I have to have a recipe and of course, all appropriate measuring devices. I turn into a total nervous nelly, checking my recipe 5 times before adding my perfectly measured ingredients. Of course, this is rarely an issue as I am usually in the comfort of my own kitchen with my 2 sets of measuring spoons and more cups than really necessary…oh and my trusty scale. However, this year, we planned a trip out of town for the weekend, and I trusted that our destination would have what I needed.
Silly me!! Measuring cups yes, but measuring spoons no. Now, I have made this cake about a dozen times, but again, I am not a carefree baker. I might be laid back about the chocolate, but never about baking soda and salt. Those two simple ingredients strike fear in my would-be baker confidence. I searched high and low in the kitchen for a set of measuring spoons, but alas I was completely empty handed. I faced the reality that I would have to tell H his dreams of Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate birthday cake were destroyed.
I hear you seasoned bakers out there…just use a regular spoon. I know, I should have thought of that sooner. When I finally did think to use a regular spoon, it did not quell my anxiety, but it did present a fun challenge. Would the cake turn out ok if I just guess at how much a 1/4 teaspoon is? Would it be too salty? What if I added too much vanilla?
In one of my jobs, I was told by my manager to just “fake it till you make it.” So I did just that, I baked the cake like that was exactly the way it was supposed to happen, and in the end the cake was great. H proclaimed it one of the best! He asked what I had done differently, and all I could say was that I added a little something extra…some much needed confidence in my baking.
So for the nitty gritty on the cake…I used a Maryann Pan for this recipe and I must say it is one of my favorite pieces of cooking equipment. I just turn the cake out and fill in the middle well with whatever…ganache, lemon curd, whipped cream, etc…and people think I am amazing. I LOVE this pan! Of course often the reality is that I am hiding the spot I forgot to grease right in the middle of the pan. When something does not release right just slather on a little more ganache. Really who complains about extra ganache.
The recipe calls for semi-sweet morsels in the cake, but H wanted chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake, so I have always swapped in chopped pieces of a bittersweet chocolate bar. The same for the ganache, which I have already doubled in the recipe below. I kept finding that I needed just a little bit more. Also, if you have some leftover cake, it gets very dense in the fridge and is best served with a tall glass of ice cold milk.
Chocolate Mary Ann Cake with Fresh Berries
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen
3/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (of course you can adjust the type of chocolate to your liking)
For the ganache:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 pints fresh berries (strawberries-sliced, raspberries, currents, blackberries, etc.)
Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a Mary Ann cake pan and dust with cocoa powder.
To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 3/4 cup cocoa, the sugar and boiling water. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs and vanilla. Pour into the cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in the flour mixture in two additions. Pour the batter through a fine-mesh sieve into the prepared pan and stir in the chocolate chips.
Bake until the cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Tap the pan gently on a work surface, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.
To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then slowly whisk until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes before using.
Pour the ganache into the well of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly. Sprinkle the berries into the middle well. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes to set the ganache. Add more berries as needed. Serves 12 to 16.