Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just a Sliver

Now really, people, how many baked goods can you honestly think of that can't be improved upon by adding chocolate? Let's do this.

If the jaunty name alone doesn't get you fitting your stand mixer with the whip attachment right this second, then surely the mere concept of something called Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake will get you on board. A heavenly, tender angel food cake taken to the next level with miniscule shards of unsweetened chocolate is sheer brilliance, I tell you. Although, to be totally honest, I didn't get the use of unsweetened chocolate at first. Why not bitterweet?, I mused aloud, as nearly all my musings are lately, often with unnecessary animated hand gestures, because I spend all my days with a tiny person clinging to my jeans. At first, I was doubtful of this unsweetened chocolate thing. Reeeeaaalll doubtful.

You should know that few things are etched in my memory like the time I was knee-high to a cricket and excitedly came across a huge bar of chocolate in a kitchen cabinet. I very quietly broke off a gigantic chunk of it before putting the rest back neatly in its place and creeping to the privacy of my bedroom to devour my find, only to discover that it tasted a whole lot like shoe polish or something equally as acrid and horrible. Coughing and choking and pawing the offending matter off my tongue with a Barbie dress, I thought surely it was a setup to deter young children like myself from stealing unauthorized chocolate. And that's how I met unsweetened chocolate. So I was skeptical of this recipe. Would it be sort of awful or really awful or just plain weird? But I pressed on. I am quite the warrior these days, you know.

As it turns out, Rose Levy Berenbaum, she of all things genius in the baking world, was right. Again. Naturally. After tasting this cake, I slapped myself for ever doubting her. The unsweetened chocolate makes complete and total sense here. By nature, an angel food cake is a sweet, sweet thing, since it pretty much is just sugar, egg whites, air and a bit of cake flour. And an absolute thing of beauty. On a side note, I could make angel food cakes all day long and never tire of the etheral quality of the whole thing. The billowing meringue and gentle folding of the soft, weightless batter over itself in a quiet's totally hypnotic.

So what was I saying? Oh, yes. Rose Levy Berenbaum is super smart again and angel food cakes are super sweet. And because of the high sugar content of an angel food cake, any sweetened chocolate, even a bittersweet one, would push the whole thing into cloyingly sweet territory. The bitter and sweet balance here is what makes this cake so incredibly craveworthy. And the addition of chocolate to the batter gives just the right amount of oomph to a cake that can so often be overlooked because it's so light and neutral in flavor.

It's the perfect dessert for this bridge time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You'll find yourself passing it on your way through the kitchen and devouring half of it yourself in no time flat, via the "oh, I'll just have a sliver" method. And don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. I can't be the only one that keeps a crumb-covered knife in my cake dome.

But if you can manage to share this cake with others, it would be an awesome end to a fancier dinner party with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder. And with the beautiful way the finely grated chocolate is woven throughout the batter and how well this cake keeps, I could see making this recipe several times over and giving the cakes away as holiday gifts, wrapped in cellophane with a kicky little ribbon. But perhaps warn the recipient to keep the cake away from small children who might steal away to their bedrooms and eat the whole dang thing.

Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Use a good quality unsweetened chocolate here--lesser quality unsweetened baking chocolates are horribly waxy and fake-tasting. If you don't have superfine sugar, just take regular granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor or clean coffee grinder (my preference). A box grater is the best tool for grating the chocolate and not getting it all over your kitchen. This cake doesn't hold up well to sauces, but a nice dollop of unsweetened whipped cream is a perfect compliment.

Makes 1 10-inch cake, serving 8-12

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided
3/4 cup cake flour, lightly spooned and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 16 large egg whites)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ounces fine-quality unsweetened or 99% cacao chocolate, finely grated and chilled

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch angel food cake pan. Also have an empty wine bottle or similar vessel at the ready for inverting the cake during the cooling process--you want the pan to be high above the countertop so air can circulate all around it as it cools.

In a small bowl, whisk together half the sugar, the flour, and salt until evenly combined. Sift the remaining sugar onto a piece of foil or parchment to make it easy to pour it into the batter.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Stop the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Beat at medium-high speed until the egg whites reach the soft peak stage. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the other half of the sugar and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour mixture over the egg whites, about 1/4 cup at a time, gently folding in the dry ingredients after each addition, a few flour streaks may remain and that's okay. Sprinkle in the grated chocolate and gently fold it in, until the batter is evenly speckled with chocolate (don't forget to get all the way to the bottom of the bowl when folding--there is a lot of batter here!).

Spread a thin layer of the batter all along the sides of the pan, up to about half an inch from the top, so that the sides of the cake will be smooth. Scrape the rest of the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a wooden cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs (a metal tester will come out clean). The surface will have several deep cracks. Invert the cake onto the bottle and let it cool completely. Loosen the sides and center of the cake with a thin spatula. Unmold the cake and let rest until the top of the cake is no longer tacky, about one hour. Store the cake at room temperature in a cake dome or airtight container for up to three days, or up to ten days in the refrigerator.

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