Friday, March 27, 2009

Chocolate Cake Smackdown

This morning, to celebrate my husband's return, I made a chocolate cake. To be precise, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's chocolate Domingo cake, which is supposedly the sine qua non of chocolate butter cakes. For me, not so much.

Granted, I didn't weigh my ingredients. Roni told me I should do this, but I don't have a kitchen scale so I didn't. Then, even worse than making a Beranbaum cake without a scale, I let my 4-1/2-year old twins participate in the baking, which was admittedly nerve-wracking. I mean, who hasn't heard how careful you have to be with Levy Beranbaum's cakes? Truly, I was not gracious about it, but after most of the flour got in the mixing bowl I calmed down and figured, how bad could it be? Besides, I'd bought sour cream to make this cake, organic sour cream. I had to go for it.

My plan B if I lost faith or will or whatever was to make the one bowl chocolate cupcakes from Martha Stewart as a two layer cake. This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe because it's so easy and reliable. The last time I made that cake, after a near disaster in the measuring (I put in way too much baking soda and had to scoop it out), the cake came out just about perfect. I knew in my gut I should go with the simple cake, but the sour cream, it was taunting me, daring me, nagging me to try the Domingo cake. So I did.

Of course, in the end I should have turned my back on the sour cream and saved it for a Passover bowl of sour cream bananas and sugar (my favorite childhood kosher-for-Passover meal). The chocolate Domingo cake was dry and weird with large inexplicable holes and an unappealing crumb. I figured I'd overbaked it from the moment I took it out of the oven. (Beranbaum insists that the sides of the cake must not pull away from the sides of the pan while the cake is in the oven; mine did even though I opted for a short baking time.) Before I even made the cake I guessed this could be a recipe that would want some tinkering, or at least practice, but now I don't know if I have the heart. I've become a much better cook since I've become less obsessive in my cooking and baking. Perfecting the Domingo cake could set me back years in my hard earned relaxed cooking style, and while I could tell the cake's flavor had some real potential if only it had any moisture to it, I just don't know if I have the heart to try it again, what with the foolproof Martha number in my back pocket.

I may try a straight butter cake from the Bible and see how I do. If I do, I'll bake alone. If it only comes out so-so, I'll just have to see what's on deck from the Martha cake files. It'll be a butter cake smackdown, and I'm sure even if one fails, the competition won't disappoint.


roni said...

Oh, Robin...I know that feeling. The first time I baked a Beranbaum cake (sounds so scientific, like Schrodinger's cat), I ended up with a cake with a weird, hole-y texture. It looked more like a cellulose sponge than a buttery genoise. I resisted buying a kitchen scale just so I could bake her cakes, but in the end the cost of the scale never matched the cost of all the ingredients in the failed cakes. (Organic sour cream!)

Robin Aronson said...

Oh. It's good to know I'm not alone. The one thing that's making seriously consider the scale is the birthday cake Melissa made me one year. It was a pure white confection (with rosewater buttercream) and possibly the best cake I've ever had. Granted, Melissa's baking is on a whole other level than mine (save for Choc. Chip Cookies), but I feel just perhaps the scale could be worth it. You got one, right?

roni said...

Yep, I gave in and got a Salter digital scale and made that genoise. But I never ventured beyond that or the chocolate oblivion torte (which is okay, but I don't know why people lose their minds over it). I have been more successful with the tarts featured in The Pie and Pastry Bible, particularly the Cranberry-Walnut Crostata, which my family demands every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Good luck with the scale and please post if you try the chocolate cake again.

Robin Aronson said...

I'm going to get the scale, and I'm going to keep you posted!