Thursday, February 25, 2010

chocolate cake, part one

The first time I got an envelope with the words AARP on it, I checked to see who it was addressed to. It certainly couldn't be me! I never thought I was old enough to receive AARP magazine, let alone read it!

And then the request came.... The food editor from the magazine called and asked if I'd share the chocolate cake recipe that my Mom and I made together on my TV show way back when I shot in the wine country.

"Sure!" I said thinking nothing of it. I love the cake, I love to write, why not?

Little did I know however, they'd need a photo of my Mom and I together. That may sound easy to you but I live in California and my mother lives in Massachusetts. "Of course!" I said in my usual way, thinking nothing of the ping pong ball I was becoming as I bounce back and forth from the West to the East Coast.

As I flew from San Francisco to Massachusetts, I took out my laptop and started to write. AARP wanted a little intro to the story about where the cake recipe came from, what it meant to me and why I loved it so much. Until that moment, I don't think I'd ever thought about all the memories that were centered around that cake.

The next morning, my Mom and I were up bright and early for the photo shoot. We chose our outfits and had our make-up done. And for the next couple hours, we sat with smiles on our faces, cups of coffee in hand, and a slice of chocolate cake between us (two forks, of course). The photographer shot photo after photo. After a while, I could see my mother's smile was less cheery. She leaned close and said, "I didn't know your job was so hard!"

Here's the story I wrote. It went something like this...

When I was a kid and it was my birthday, my mother always asked me what kind of cake I wanted for dessert? You see, she wasn’t just any mom, she was a professional cook at a private school and also tested recipes for cookbook author and good friend of Julia Child, Charlotte Turgeon. You can imagine the possibilities of what she could and would make for me were endless. When she asked, I always answered that question the same way, “Your chocolate cake!” Don’t get me wrong, I liked her Boston Cream Pie, the hot milk sponge cake she made and filled with homemade jam and her spicy applesauce cake, but it was that good old chocolate cake with a hint of coffee that I loved the most.

This was my mother’s favorite too, as well as everyone else’s in my family. She’d gotten the recipe from a family friend many years before but couldn’t recall the exact recipe anymore, she’d changed it so many times. She replaced 1 cup of the boiling water with leftover hot coffee because she loved the combination of chocolate and coffee together. She also used less vanilla and sugar to bring out more of the savory qualities of the chocolate. She upped the salt a touch and used unsalted butter to compensate. I think that’s how some of the greatest recipes are born.

When I first started baking, I insisted I wanted to make the cake all by myself. I was probably about 8 years old. I remember telling my mother that I could measure everything out myself. As I was scooping the last little bit of the baking soda out of the box, I yelled to my Mom, “You’d better put baking soda on the grocery list!” She said, “That’s funny, I thought I just bought a new box.” As I poured the last bit of batter into the pan, I licked the spatula. It tasted kind of bitter but I thought, after it bakes, it will be yummy.

We turned the oven light on to watch it bake. It rose really quickly and then in an instant, it fell! “How much baking soda did you use?” my mother asked. “Just what it said, 2 cups!” As we scraped the last bit of the cake out of the pan and into the trash, my Mom broke off a crumb and tasted it. “It still tastes good honey,” she said not wanting to hurt my feeling.

Needless to say, for the next couple years, I made the cake with my mother’s guidance.

Stay tuned for part two of this story. It gets better!


1 cup boiling water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup leftover hot coffee

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 ounces excellent quality unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the boiling water, chopped chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over medium high heat. Stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an oven to 350F. Butter and flour 2 deep 8-inch cake pans, tapping out the excess flour from the pan. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs in a bowl until foamy, 15 seconds. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to mix until creamy, 15 seconds. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and mix together. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Add the dry mixture to the chocolate mixture and mix until almost incorporated. Add the coffee and mix until well combined but do not over-mix. Pour into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, 25 to 30 minutes.

In the meantime for the frosting, place the butter, cream or milk, confectioner’s sugar, melted chocolate and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Cool completely. Using one-half of the frosting spread it onto one of the cakes. Top with the other cake and frost the top.

To serve, cut into wedges.

Serves 8 to 10


TexasFamilyofFour said...

Love the story! Having young girls who love to cook, this makes me think of all those times they've made mistakes and we've eaten to oopsies and bragged abouthow good it was. In fact, my youngest is making spice cookies as we speak. Some of her questions: Which blender do I use? Is sugar considered a dry ingredient? Do I really need to put salt in a cookie? And, the best question yet: If I don't roll them sugar, won't they be healthy? Too cute!

Thanks for sharing, cannot wait to try your recipe.

Stella said...

I cannot wait to try this recipe!!!! Love the story too!


Joanne Weir said...

I have had so many comments on this post! Just wait for part 2!!!!

Dennis said...

Hi . . . . unfortunately, we do get the AARP magazine and were delighted to see the story! I'm now wondering when you will share the recipe for Boston Cream Pie??? My first attempt for a birthday celebration ended up looking like a pancake!! Cheryl and Denny

seasontotaste said...

I made Jean's Chocolate Cake on Saturday and it is amazing! Perfect perfect! Have been eating a huge slice each night with a glass of milk and completely passing out from the sugar rush. Last piece tonight...

Anonymous said...

Dear Joanne,
I made it, I ate it, and it was great. And my kids loved it too. I think it's now my favorite chocolate cake -- perfect crumb, not too much frosting -- just perfect in my opinion!
Thanks for sharing that one.
Eve in San Francisco

Anonymous said...

The recipe reminded me of one my mom used to make - cake with coffee in the batter - but we haven't been able to locate her recipe. I tried this, thinking of her. Due to inadequate pan prep and perhaps a little underbaking, the cake didn't come out of the pan until scraped out. I dumped it all in a plastic bowl, put a sign on it that said "Cake," and left it in the office kitchen. It was gobbled up to rave reviews, even without the icing. I had crumpled the recipe and tossed in the trash, so had to do an Internet search to recover this recipe. Will try again and hope for layers this time around.

Laurel said...

I love this cake! I am glad i finally made it. Its is perfect. Can you please post more of your mom's cakes... hot milk sponge please?