May 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
Life looks different at 7,000 feet. Surrounded by trees, one day filtering sun, the very next dusted with snow, we adopt a simpler cabin lifestyle for a few days. It’s a familiar holiday thanks to the proximity of the Sierras to our city life, but one with tinges of exoticism nonetheless, even in the kitchen. At mountain heights, a favorite pot of ragu boils at a lower point, lending an even gentler touch to the hours of simmering. But the alchemy of baking at altitude is unpredictable at best, like my mood on days one through three of thinner air. For both reasons, I always make sure to bake a cake at sea level in advance of the three(ish) hour car journey and bring it ready to slice on arrival (if not en route).
More often than not, I find my mountain cake coming from a bundt mold. Perhaps there is some inherent sturdiness in the Teutonic origins of this ring of cake, with its own peaks and valleys, that begs to be part of a trip through treetops. Or perhaps it’s because bundts are such great vehicles for clearing out the fridge of otherwise doomed-to-sour tubs of yoghurt or cartons of milk. Either way it has come to be a staple holiday pleasure to unearth a hunk of cake from a backpack, slightly squashed but otherwise unscathed by its journey. We unwind tight layers of wrap and enjoy a hearty slice in wooden cabin surrounds, before bedrooms are assigned or hiking boots hung.
We’ve passed through many of these cabins. They vary in size and décor, but all share a smoky, dusky aroma – the stuff of which gentlemen’s perfumiers’ dreams are made. Once the cake is eaten and bed chosen, my next task is to interrogate bookshelves and kitchen cabinets, wondering whose dream this home represents. Most cabins sport a number of bestsellers, edges curled from time on the beach, not deemed worthy of suitcase space once the week away from the grind is over. On this trip, our whimsically decorated abode boasts tasteful shelves of Joan Didion and David Sedaris, with nary an airport purchase to be found. Almost disappointingly tasteful. But the kitchen yields the pleasingly predictable set of plastic margarita glasses and ursine mugs, and the familiar pro-level sauté pans next to a drawer of too-blunt knives.
While I peruse this cabin and set up Henry in his new play area for the week, I’m munching a piece of chocolatey sour cream bundt. I know I can’t be the only person who ends up at the kitchen door, scratching my head over what end for the 7/8ths of the tub of sour cream. I would start a business selling the stuff in tablespoon packets, but then that would deprive us all of many cakes that chiefly exist for the purpose of using up the rest of those tubs. I’m a huge fan of chocolate cake where the flavor comes from cocoa rather than molten chocolate – easier to work with, somehow more intense yet lighter in texture, and bursting with a superfood (surely proof of nature’s divinity if nothing else). The cake edges are perfectly chewy, the interior light and soft. We light the wood fire and cut another slice.
Cocoa Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food
The method for this cake is delightfully simple: no messing with mixers involved. Perfect for a quick bake. Bundts make for excellent party cakes given the size and ease of slicing. I was lazy when making this cake and omitted the icing. I’d be tempted to add a cup of chocolate chips to the batter if I was going this route again, although the plain cake is excellent just as it is. The un-iced cake also keeps well in the freezer: if you do choose to ice it, you’ll need to eat it within a few days.
1 cup/8oz/2 sticks/230g unsalted butter
1/3 cup/1oz/30g cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup/250ml water
2 cups/9oz/250g all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups/350g sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup/125ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4oz/110g bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
1 1/2 tbsp. agave nectar or corn syrup (UK folks can sub golden syrup)
1/2 cup/125ml heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
Thoroughly grease a 12 cup bundt tin (the first time I made this cake it did stick a bit so make sure you really get into all the nooks and crevices of the pan. For bundts I prefer an oil spray as it’s so much easier although I generally grease with butter for better flavor). Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water and melt over a medium-low heat, stirring. Remove from the heat as soon as the mix is melted, and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking soda, using a whisk to combine well. Add half the melted butter mixture and whisk until blended – the mixture will be very thick at this point. Whisk in the remaining butter mixture. Add the eggs one by one, whisking well to combine in between. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla until the whole mix is smooth and has a ribbony-texture.
Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is done, the edges will be pulling away from the pan slightly, and a toothpick inserted in the centre will come out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 mins and then turn out onto a rack to complete cooling. If you are making the glaze, ensure the cake is completely cool before adding this.
The cake will keep well-wrapped in the freezer for 2-3 months, and wrapped at room temperature for 4-5 days.
Combine the chopped chocolate and agave nectar in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan and add the sugar. Over a medium heat, stir until the cream is very hot and the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. If the consistency is very runny, you can let it sit for a minute or two to thicken. Drizzle over the cake.