Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sometimes Ugly is Beautiful: The best cake recipe ever!

Gooey Chocolate Cake!

Now if you want a bit of decadence and don’t plan on worrying about calories for the next week or so, this is the absolute BEST cake you will ever have! You are NOT a chocoholic if you have not tasted this fudgy goodness.

This recipe has been in our family for about two hundred years. It is, simply put, an old-world style, fudge-soaked cake.

You CANNOT use skim milk, margarine, artificial sweeteners, or any other low-fat, low-calorie substitutes. This is NOT the cake for your dieting club meeting. This is the cake you make when your man leaves you, your dog runs away, your cat vomits on your favorite shoes, and your favorite sweater shrinks in the wash. This is the ultimate feel good dessert.

Please forgive the length of this recipe, but it’s old and technique is everything, thus the lengthy explanations and tips. It’s not hard, but you need to understand what’s going on to get it right. Just trust me, okay?

This cake is also the ugliest damn cake you will ever lay eyes on. Plus, if you mess up, you have just made fudge! How can you go wrong?

You know you want it.

Gooey Chocolate Cake:

You will need:

3 c Granulated Sugar

1/8 tsp (A pinch) of FRESH Baking Soda

2 squares of Baker’s Brand Unsweetened baking chocolate chopped roughly.

(Probably in the store near the Baking Soda and sprinkles.)

1 c Whole milk

(Do NOT even think about using skim or 2% or any other watered-down varieties.)

1 Stick (1/2 c) of Butter at room temperature

(Again, REAL, salted butter. No substitutes. If you’re impatient, try sticking it, wrapped, in the microwave for 10 seconds. No more, no less.)

½ c – 1 c Chopped Pecans

(These are getting candied in the fudge, so I always go with 1 cup, even though I don’t really like plain pecans.)

2, 9” Yellow Cakes.

We always use Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker boxed cakes, but you can use whatever your favorite yellow cake recipe is. The best are the ones that use vegetable oil instead of butter.

4-5 Clear glasses full of water. This is to test the doneness of the fudge. You’re looking for the softball stage. (See Wait? “Softball?” below.)

The Steps:

1. Make your cakes. I don’t care how. You need two 9” round yellow cakes. You will be making a 4-layer cake, so once your cakes are cool, cut the top off the ugly one (there’s always an ugly one) so your cake will lay flat. This round will become the bottom two layers. Save the piece you cut off so you can cover it in a bit of fudge and give it to your spouse/kids/neighbor who are hovering around you like vultures. My grandfather would always try and distract my grandmother when she made this so she’d overcook the fudge making it too thick to use for the cake, but still delicious. She would have to start over and he would get a batch of fudge to himself. My husband does the same. You have been warned. Now slice both cakes in half horizontally using a long, sharp knife to get your four layers. Put them aside.

2. The Fudge

a. Fill the sink about 1/3 of the way with cold water. You will need this to stop the cooking when the fudge is at the perfect consistency. Your pot is going to go in this, so don’t fill the sink so much that you get water in your fudge. Maybe test this ahead of time?

b. Start with a thick bottomed or enameled cast iron, medium sized pot.

i. The fudge is going to boil up like crazy, so you want something that can handle it (trust me on this, okay?). You can use a thin, cheap pot, but you’ll be stirring like mad to keep it from burning. Save yourself the hassle. For about $10-$20 there are stones you can buy that fit over your element to help distribute the heat. They’re a lifesaver if you don’t want to invest in nice cookware.

c. Put in your sugar, baking soda, baking chocolate, milk, butter, and pecans.

d. Turn on the heat.

i. You’ll note that I don’t say Medium or Medium high. This isn’t about temperature. This is about concentration. My Great-Great Grandma didn’t have “Medium High”. You’ll want to start around Medium low and slowly work your way up as needed. You are looking to melt the butter and chocolate and get the mixture to a boil, very slowly. Did I mention that you’d be stirring this thing for at least 20 minutes? If it’s humid outside, you could be looking at over an hour. Wear comfy shoes.

e. STIR CONSTANTLY! A whisk or a spatula works best. You want to keep the bottom moving.

i. Seriously, DO NOT walk away. DO NOT answer the phone. DO NOT go to the bathroom. DO NOT stop stirring. DO NOT listen to your husband. As soon as you do, you risk the mixture becoming… well… fudge, but not the fudge you want for the cake. But wait Nicky the Great! you say. I heard stirring fudge makes it grainy. Yes, yes it does. Cake, remember? Not fudge. You want those sugar crystals. You've gotten this far, why do you doubt me now?

ii. IF YOU OVERCOOK THE FUDGE, then grease a 9” Pyrex heavily with butter, line with parchment paper if you like, and pour the mixture in. Let it cool and give it to your husband so he leaves you alone this time. This is the best recipe ever.

f. Keep stirring and slowly increasing the heat until your mixture comes together (it stops looking like melted chocolate chip ice cream) and starts to boil. Boiling is okay, just be ready to pull the pot off and stick it in the water when the fudge reaches the softball stage. (Really. See Wait? “Softball?”) It will begin to really smell like chocolate. That’s the best indication that you are close. Start testing, keep stirring, and be patient. The amount of boil will vary. Sometimes it’s a little simmer; sometimes it’s a rolling, frothy mess. You’re trying to drive out moisture, which is an imperfect science. There’s a reason you need 4-5 glasses of water to test with. TEST OFTEN. As much as stir once, test, stir, test, stir, test. YOU CAN GET FALSE POSITIVES if you let your test drops air cool too long. Try to be quick about testing. You want to test the mixture while it's as hot as it is in the pot.

g. When you have reached the softball stage, remove the mixture from the heat and put the pot in the water to stop the cooking. Keep stirring, and let the mixture cool enough to stop the cooking but not so much it sets up; just a couple minutes. It will stop frothing and smooth out.

h. IF YOUR MIXTURE IS STILL TOO RUNNY, just put it back on the heat. Calm down. You can overcook it into delicious fudge, but not undercook it. Reheating is allowed. Just bring it back to a boil and keep testing.

3. Assemble your cake

a. Take a couple tablespoons of the fudge and pour it over the bit you saved from earlier and give it to your spouse/kids/neighbor to get them the hell away from your cake.

b. On a cake pan with a lip (This is messy) place your first layer.

c. Use a fork to perforate (really beat up) the center of the cake to about 1” from the side. You want the fudge to soak in and beating up the cake a bit helps. Don’t pulverize the poor thing, but feel free to take out some minor aggression. The fudge will hold it all together once it sets.

d. Pour on the fudge! Keep in mind you have 3 more layers to do. Budget accordingly. Try to keep the fudge away from the edge, but get as close as you can. The top layer will frost the sides.

e. Keep building up your cake, beating up the layers as you go, including the top. For the top layer, let the fudge drizzle over the sides.

f. Let it set up. This can take 10 minutes or over an hour depending on humidity.

Ugly as sin, isn’t it?

Serve it hot, cold, fresh, stale, with coffee, with tea, with milk, alone, or whatever. It is the most awesome cake. Enjoy!

Things to keep in mind:

Messing up just makes fudge. Don’t be scared of this recipe.

You can always bring the mixture back up to a boil if it is too runny, but there is no fix it if you overcook it (aside from making a pan of fudge). Pulling it off the heat too early is better than too late.

If it’s more humid the day after your make the cake than the day you made it, you might wake up to a bit of a puddle as the fudge has absorbed the extra moisture. It’s still fine. Just scoop that up and put it back on top. This is why you need a cake pan with a lip. Keeping it in the fridge next to the new box of Baking Soda you brought specifically for this recipe will help.

Again, overcooking the fudge is not the end of the world. If you’re worried, you might actually want to just make a batch of fudge to get a better idea of how long to cook it for the cake. For the cake, you want the state right before it becomes true fudge.

Wait? “Softball?”

It’s okay. Breathe. You can do this.

From the Candy Wiki article found at

“The final texture of candy depends on the sugar concentration. As the syrup is heated, it boils, water evaporates, the sugar concentration increases, and the boiling point rises. A given temperature corresponds to a particular sugar concentration. In general, higher temperatures and greater sugar concentrations result in hard, brittle candies, and lower temperatures result in softer candies.”

Fudge is achieved at the softball stage, or roughly 234-240 °F. You cannot go by just temperature alone though, because the physical concentration of the sugar needs to be around 85% and that is dependent on how much moisture is in the mix and the air. This is why a candy thermometer is useless to you right now. Sorry. Get over it. To make things worse, you want the consistency right BEFORE it becomes fudge but after it has stopped being syrup.

What is of use to you is your nose. The fudge begins to come together when those hydrocarbons start breaking off and flying though the air. When the mixture begins to SMELL like fudge, it’s starting to BECOME fudge. And that is just the most awesome thing ever.

This is where the water comes in. As you’re stirring your fudge, suddenly you will SMELL that fudgy goodness. At that point, start testing the mixture by using a small spoon to drop tiny drops of fudge into the water glasses. At first, the mixture will come apart and dissipate in the water. When the drops hold together in tiny little balls (which are soft, hence the term: softball) and sink to the bottom, then your fudge is ready! That’s it!

Feel better? It’s not that hard and imagine the impressed noises people will make when you tell them you know how to bring fudge to the softball stage like a pro. (You can skip the whole “just smell it” part of the explanation.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a question you want answered, a correction or a comment?