We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cowtown Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing

by Michelle

   I wish I knew how many times I have made this cake over the years. My mother-in-law introduced me to this special cake at a birthday party, and from the get go, I wanted this dessert's number. I knew, understood it in my heart of hearts, that this cake and I had a future. We have had quite the friendship over the years. Not once has this chocolate cake complained or failed me. It always seems to be the toast of the party. And, if you want to talk about icings, well... this ganache is a winner, no contest required to crown it queen of the pageant. 

Cowtown Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing

   I have dressed this versatile cake in different guises, brushing the layers with liqueur, slathering fruit jams beneath the ganache and embelishing the top with decorations. You can have fun, but underneath it all, this cake is just as happy being plain and simple and yet simply delicious.
   The recipe hails from Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York ©1985). In the cook book, Maida writes that this cake was famous at a now defunct coffee shop in Dallas. I made a few changes along the way, and this is my adapted recipe.

Two 9-inch layers:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferaby Dutch-process), I use Valrhona
1/2 tsp sea salt
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick (8 Tbsps) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs graded "large", separated
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
1 tsp powdered instant coffee disolved into 1 Tbsp coffee (or hot water)
1-1/2 tsps vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
oil spray or Bak-Klene

Ganache Icing:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
5-ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
ice cubes

Optional garnish: 
brush layers with liqueur, such as Kahlua or Chambord

white or dark chocolate curls
fresh raspberries

chocolate dipped strawberries

whipped cream

Special equipment:
two 9-inch cake pans

parchment paper
wax paper

aluminum foil

1. Open the oven door and verify that the bottom rack is placed in the lower third of the oven. The top rack should rest in the upper third of the oven with enough room to easily slide in the cake pans below. Set a big cookie sheet on the top rack to act as a "shield" which will help prevent the cakes from over-browning during baking. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans with parchment; set aside.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and powdered coffee or espresso. Resift the ingredients one more time and set them aside.
3. Place the chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over warm water on moderate heat. Let cook until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Turn off the heat and stir with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside to cool.
4. In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until it is soft. Then beeat in the brown sugar.
5. Remove and reserve 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar; beat the remaining granulated sugar into the butter mixture. Add the yolks and beat well. Then add the melted chocolate (which may be slightly warm or cool) and beat until smooth. Stir the vanilla extract and baking soda together in a small bowl, then add to the wet ingredients; stir.
6. On low speed add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk in two additions, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula and beating only until smooth after each addition. Remove the bowl from the mixer and set aside.
7. In a medium bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they hold a soft shape. Reduce the speed to moderate and gradually add the reserved 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Increase the speed again and continue to beat only until the whites hold a point when the beaters are raised (but not until stiff/dry).
8. The chocolate mixture will be quite thick; add about one quarter of the whites and fold the two together, or stir a bit if necessary to incorporate. Then add the remaining beaten whites and fold gently until completely incorporated.

9. Butter or grease the cake pans and parchment paper. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops.
10. Bake for about 35 minutes until the tops of the cakes barely spring back when pressed gently with a fingertip and the cakes just begin to pull away from the sides of the pans.
11. Remove from the oven and let cool on racks for 10 minutes. Cut gently around the sides of the cakes with a small, sharp knife to release. Invert each cake on to a rack, and remove and discard the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.
12. At this point the cakes can be iced, or you can wrap the layers in plastic wrap and then with aluminum foil. The cakes can rest at room temperature for 24 hours, or you can freeze up a month. Remove the foil, and defrost at room temperature for about an hour or two. Do not remove the plastic wrap until the cake is completely defrosted.

For the Icing:
1. To protect your cake plate and keep it free of icing drips, cut 4 or 5 strips of wax paper. You will slide the strips under the first cake layer. When the cake is completely frosted, gently remove the wax paper and discard.
2. Stir the cream and sugar in a 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
Reduce heat and let the mixture simmer for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until it is melted, then add the salt, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.
3. Place the pan in a large bowl of ice and water and scrape the bottom continuously for a few minutes with a rubber spatula until the mixture is cool and slightly thickened. Transfer the mixture to the small bowl of an electric mixer and beat at high speed for a few minutes until the color become slightly lighter and the icing is thick enough to hold its shape.

4. Put a dab of icing on the center of the cake plate and cover with the first cake layer. The icing will act like glue and keep the cake from sliding on the plate. Slip the pieces of wax paper under the cake layer to protect the plate. Brush the cake layer lightly with a liqueur, if desired. Spread a layer of icing about 1/4-inch thick over the cake layer on the plate. Place the other layer on top (I like to have the flat side facing up). Spread the remaining icing thinly on the sides and more thickly on the top. With a small, narrow metal spatula smooth the sides and top. Remove the paper strips by pulling each one out toward a narrow end.
5. Keep the cake at room temperature, or refrigerate for an hour or two to set the icing, especially if you will be transporting it by car to an event. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour (or more) before serving. This cake cuts beautifully... nice edges and no crumbles. I like this cake served with a little whipped cream as garnish, although ice cream is very good, too.

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