March 21, 2010

How-to Chocolate cake (gluten-free)

There may still be a chill in the air but spring is definitely here.  A hike yesterday through a park near our home yielded ample opportunity for wildlife spotting.  Not expecting to see anything, we stumbled upon black birds with striking red-tipped wings foraging with their female mates in a nearby wetland, marmots hanging out near a chicken-coop, and quail shouting their spastic alarm calls as we strolled past their hiding places underneath the forest brush.

As you can expect, after our long walk we were pretty hungry and, following a healthy lunch wink wink, I got to work on a double-layer chocolate cake!  I tried a recipe for a decadent-looking gluten-free chocolate cake that I’d been meaning to try for a while.  It took a little more prep time than I’d hoped for at the beginning, but the results were excellent. When I told my boyfriend there was no flour in the cake batter he was absolutely astonished, “just almonds” I said, and of course wished the cake batter recipe had been born of my own ingenuity. Apart from my additions of the chocolate ganache topping, and cream cheese, kiwi and Bing cherry filling, and I’ll keep the credit for these thanks very much, the credit goes to Dinah Alison whose book ‘Totally Flour-free Baking’ I bought while still living in London.

Although not all of the recipes are as easy to recreate as the one for chocolate cake, Dinah’s experiments in creating the lightest batters possible have resulted in a very nice cake, with nearly the same ‘crumb’ texture as a flour-based cake. I personally find regular (non gf) cakes too floury; the cake usually more reliant on the raspberry filling, or the thick topping of icing to deliver the wow factor, instead of what should probably be a superb flavour distributed throughout the cake itself. This cake delivers exactly the latter; a great punch of super chocolaty-ness while at the same time not being too rich.

Dinah has discovered a cake’s “lightness of being” so to speak, or as they call it in Chinese ‘Qin Gong’, but don’t quote me on the spelling.  It’s a bit like the Kung Fu flying scenes in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…only in a cake… is that a little abstract?  Anyway, the secret to achieving lightness, and this will only apply to cake I’m afraid, is using lightweight ingredients such as icing sugar instead of cane or granulated sugar, cocoa instead of melted chocolate (unless you’re going for the dense chocolate brownie effect), and always, always stiffly whisked egg whites.

But there’s more…Dinah Alison goes the extra mile and pre-whisks the egg yolks and then pours this over top of the whisked egg whites, which is then quickly folded all together. What a brilliant idea! And then, after sifting the dry ingredients, not once, but twice, through a large sieve (I used a colander because the mesh of my trusty sieve is too finely woven for the ground almonds to get through it), the dry mixture is dusted over the top of the eggs and folded in with a large spoon, as you would do with any recipe where you want to keep as much air in the batter as possible.

So, now that I’ve let the cat out of the box, I’d better stop talking, and let you source the original recipe for yourself.  But if you keep these techniques in mind and play around with quantities of ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa and the eh hem…6 eggs (separated) that are required…then you might easily come up with an equally brilliant recipe for a double-layered chocolate cake, fit for any occasion.

Also, I must recommend trying the chocolate ganache topping described below. And the cream cheese filling is as easy as a bit of milk blended with cream cheese, or simply use fresh cream cheese if you can find it without adding any milk, mixed with your favourite sweet liquor- Bailey’s is always nice, but don’t use anything too rare or expensive like I made the mistake of using, because you won’t necessarily taste it in between the cake’s already flavourful layers.

In terms of the filling, what matters most is the type of fruit you use and the amount of creaminess in the middle. If you opt for fruit in the middle, then try using fruit that is high in acidity or sweetness such as kiwi, raspberries, dark pitted cherries (fresh or frozen), and mango. For an ‘in-season’ filling I’d recommend using the best local raspberries, preferably from a corner in your own backyard as these should have a much better flavour than often watery store-bought varieties, and try using generous slices of freshly picked, sun-ripened apricots or melon- absolutely the nectar of the gods- all lavishly surrounded by lashings of slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Hmm…well this has me thinking about summer already.  I’d better get out and enjoy the first sights and sounds of spring while there’s still a chance.

Chocolate ganache topping:

80 grams (more or less- this doesn’t have to be too accurate) of your favourite dark chocolate*

3/4 cup whipping cream, brought to the boil, and immediately poured over the chocolate. Stir until it makes a smooth chocolate sauce and pour over the top of the assembled cake, being sure to pour around the outer rim of the cake so that drizzles of chocolate run down the outside**.

* You could even try using half an organic, fair trade chocolate bar like Cocoa Camino Espresso chocolate mixed with half of a 70% Lindt dark chocolate bar for example, to easily achieve a rich, mocha flavour. Or you could try using other types of chocolate too, like milk chocolate, chilli-infused, tea-infused, orange chocolate etc…

** If you’d like to get even more decadent, maybe for a special occasion, then double the ganache recipe. Place the cake on a wire rack with a tray beneath to catch the run-off chocolate, and pour the topping all over the top. Cover the sides completely in chocolate with the help of a spatula. The cake will require refrigeration for a few hours until set.

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