The other night a few of us got to talking about the aromas that have been especially memorable from different times and places of our lives. I couldn’t help but recall the ethanol that filled the air space when I lived in South Bend. Aunt Louise thought she remembered in particular the scent of chocolate swirling through the air when we went to my cousin’s wedding in Chicago.
Yes, chocolate! in the Loop!, I told her she was dead-on with that aroma-memory, one that triggered my recollection of chocolate Chicago mornings: stepping off the packed train at Washington and Wells with the wind slapping me around and a long day at the office ahead, only to be greeted by the pervasive scent of deep, dark chocolate from Blommer’s chocolate company over on Kinzie. Blommer’s happens to be the largest cocoa processor and supplier of ingredient chocolate in North America, so this wasn’t small-batch chocolate whiff, this was massive-scale, pervasive chocolate.
Given those chocolate-covered mornings, I don’t blame myself for the chocolate fix I then scrounged after all day long. Then at the mere mention of the chocolate-Loop scent the other day, I can’t blame myself for thinking nonstop about dark chocolate scent and flavor.
Thankfully it is my birthday week over here, and the birthday girl gets to pick whatever cake she wants. I usually want chocolate cake, but right now I after something more intense. There’s not a lot of time or mind-space to be spent in the kitchen right now on much that isn’t Lebanese cookbook-worthy, so this year my cake, which of course I am baking for myself, also has to be super simple.
At Tante Marie’s, we made a dark chocolate torte that had just a spoonful of flour in it, and the rest was tremendous-quality chocolate, rich butter, sugar, and eggs. Brownie-esque but most definitely a cake. That thing is just gorgeous, with batter that is so lush in chocolate that its scent takes me directly and happily to my chocolate Loop mornings. I loved that cake so much that I baked it for my dessert course for my culinary school final exam (that went well, except I didn’t take time to toast the walnuts I used to decorate the cake. Points were slashed).
The challenge for that wasn’t as much the cake as it was glazing it perfectly with a glossy chocolate-butter glaze. I loved doing that, but right now, right this week, glaze isn’t happening. Powdered sugar is happening, that best-buddy for dressing up just about any cake when there is no place in your life for icing.
But also, for flourish because here we are at Valentine’s Day too this next week, and a Valentine-type of birthday calls for something pink and rosy: whipped cream, swirled through with raspberry and a drop of rose water. Dollop that on the dark chocolate cake, and pow!, a new and ever so glorious chocolate aroma (and taste) memory is born.
Dark Chocolate Cake with Raspberry-Rose Swirl Cream
This is not a typical cake texture—it is fudgy, extremely moist, and brownie-like around the edges. It pulls together swiftly and ahead of time, and pleases pretty much everyone who ever comes to your table. Makes 8 wedges.
7 oz. best quality dark chocolate (60 to 70%; I use Green & Black’s), chopped
7 oz. unsalted butter (Plugra is ideal), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/3 cups sugar
5 eggs (large)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon rose water
Handful of raspberries
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment; also butter the parchment. Heat the oven, with a rack placed in the center, to 375 F.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (make your own by setting a bowl over a saucepan, without the bowl touching a few inches of water beneath in the pan). As the chocolate melts, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly with a whisk.
When the butter and chocolate are all melted, add the sugar and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time and whisking well to incorporate each egg before adding the next one. The batter will look grainy but shiny until the last egg goes in, and then the batter will be smooth and silky.
Whisk in a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of flour, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, inhaling the chocolate scent as you go. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is crackly and the center no longer looks shiny. The clean-toothpick test doesn’t work here because the center of the cake remains fudgy. Cool the cake for about 10 minutes. Flip the cake out onto a plate, then flip it onto another plate so the crackly top is facing up. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.
While the cake bakes, place the raspberries in a bowl with a tablespoon of sugar, and mash up some of the berries with a fork. Whip the cream (measure with an angled cup! It’s so much easier!) with a tablespoon of powdered sugar and the rose water. Swirl the raspberries into the cream.
I like to cut the cake into wedges at the table, with a bowl of the swirled cream right next to it. Anticipation is a great way to whet an appetite. A few extra raspberries on the side make a nice touch too.