Click on this – my podcast chat with domestic goddess Nigella Lawson recorded in Toronto in late 2015 – and you’ll hear her say that we are “kitchen cousins”: https://www.marionkane.com/podcast/chat-nigella-kitchen-cousin
She’s referring to several important things we have in common: A willingness to freely improvise when cooking; an acceptance of failure in the kitchen as a necessary path to learning, and a penchant for eating her dish of Squid and Orzo Pasta cold for breakfast.
Nigella and I have another important bond: a love of chocolate cakes. In her book “Feast,” published in 2004, there is an entire chapter – beloved my me – called “Chocolate Hall of Fame.” This collection of nine recipes includes her famous Chocolate Guinness Cake – delicious but tends to sink in the middle – Chocolate Gingerbread, also good, and Chocolate Malteser Cake that I haven’t yet made.
But my favourite item in this genre is Nigella’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. I found it in 0ne of my go-to cookbooks: “Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook” – and, I must say, the title says it all.
Nigella calls her sublime, sweet and simple confection “the essence of all that is desirable in chocolate – dark intensity isn’t toyed with nor upstaged by any culinary elaboration. The plainest of plain loaf cakes – damp, heady, aromatic!” And I say: “Unequivocally and adamantly, amen.”
Before I share that recipe, as I surely must, here’s another winner that I baked to rave reviews. It comes from Facebook friend and fellow journalist Jack Kirchhoff who sent me the recipe after he discerned a distinct passion for chocolate cake in my FB posts in the community group “Sittin’ in the Kitchen.”
This chocolate cake (pictured below) is flourless and has nuts as the main ingredient. Called Chocolate Nut Torte, it comes from “The Dessert Lover’s Cookbook” by Marlene Sorosky.
Jack’s partner Sherry Firing is “the baker and the real cook” in their home. He says: “It’s my go-to favourite; whenever Sherry asks me what I kind of cake I want, that’s the one I ask for.”
I baked it and understand why.
Chocolate Nut Torte
Says Jack: “It’s always a wonder to me that this cake is so rich without being too sweet.” He insists the icing (glaze) adds a lot; I made it once without, once with, and the former version was elegantly delish just dusted with icing sugar.
4 squares (4 oz/125 g) semisweet chocolate
1¾ cups pecans or walnuts
2 tbsp plus ½ cup sugar
¼ lb/125 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp Grand Marnier or rum
6 squares (6 oz/175g) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp unsalted butter
20 to 22 pecan or walnut halves, for garnish
Grease 8-inch/2 L round cake pan. Cut circle of parchment or wax paper to fit in bottom and grease paper. Preheat oven to 375F.
Melt chocolate in double boiler over hot water. Cool slightly. Place nuts and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor. Pulse on and off until nuts are ground. Remove to bowl.
Place butter and ½ cup sugar in food processor. Mix until well blended. Pour in melted chocolate and process until smooth. Add eggs and Grand Marnier or rum; mix until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl and add nuts. Pulse on and off once or twice until nuts are incorporated.
Pour chocolate mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake in oven about 25 minutes. The cake will be soft, but will firm up as it cools. Remove from oven; cool 20 minutes on wire rack. Invert cake onto rack. Remove paper; cool completely.
(If desired, unglazed torte may be kept covered at room temperature up to 2 days, or it may be frozen, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil. Defrost wrapped cake at room temperature.)
For Chocolate Glaze, up to 1 day or several hours before serving, preheat oven to 350F. Bake pecans or walnuts on baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until browned. Line a small baking sheet with wax paper. Place cake on rack set over a baking pan. Melt chocolate and butter in small, heavy saucepan, stirring until smooth. Dip half of each nut into glaze and place on paper-lined pan. Refrigerate until set. Set glaze aside until thickened slightly. The glaze should be soft enough to pour, but thick enough to coat the cake. Pour glaze onto middle of cake, tilting the cake so the glaze runs down the sides. Use a knife dipped in hot water to help smooth the sides, if necessary. Do not try to touch up the top once it is frosted or knife marks will show. Decorate top with a border of chocolate-dipped pecan or walnut halves. Glazed torte may be held at room temperature, uncovered, overnight, if desired.
Makes about 8 servings.
Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
Nigella Lawson explains: “I remember very strongly wanting to create what we call a loaf cake – and what is generally called a pound cake Stateside – that had a richness and squidginess of texture that this form of cake normally doesn’t major in.” And she did. Recipe adapted very slightly from “How to be a Domestic Goddess” by Food52. I’ve left the recipe wording in Nigella’s style.
1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz/125 g best bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tbsp boiling water
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease and line 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. (The lining is important as this is a very damp cake.)
Cream butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon or with electric mixer, then add eggs and vanilla, beating in well. Fold in melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want ingredients combined: You don’t want a light, airy mass.
Gently add flour, to which you’ve added the baking soda, alternately spoon by spoon, with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Pour into lined loaf pan; bake for 30 minutes. (Note: Don’t let this batter come closer than 1 inch from the rim of the cake pan or it risks overflowing. Pour any excess into a smaller cake or muffin pan.)
Turn oven down to 325F; bake another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean.
Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. (I often leave it for a day or so: like gingerbread, it improves.) Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle: indeed, it will do so because it’s such a dense and damp cake.
Serve with thickened yogurt, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. Raspberry coulis would also be nice as a second garnish.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.