Simon, at 17, has a certain sobriety in his eating habits that, genetically, I have yet to trace. He eats almost no vegetables, refuses soups and sauces with chunks of anything in them, he dissects meat and casseroles to remove even a hint of fat or anything remotely foreign with a minutia that would make a forensic scientist proud. And he can turn down dessert with an insouciance that never ceases to astonish me. When he does have a request, it is something simple, coming from his familiar list of likes : a delicate coffee cake, the streusel topping studded only with chocolate chips and walnuts, cranberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, or a light, not too chocolatey, not too gooey chocolate cake.
I have recipes for richer, denser cakes, but what makes this cake so special is that it is feather light, moist yet very delicate and, as light as it is, it has an intense chocolate flavor. It is so good it has made grown Frenchmen weep. And it is Simon’s favorite.
A VERY SPECIAL CHOCOLATE CAKE
What I love most about this recipe is that it is so easy and quick to put together. The fat is vegetable oil, so no waiting for butter to come to room temperature and as I always have the rest of the ingredients in the house, I can put it together on the spur of the moment. When I want something simple to have on hand for breakfast, I make it in a 9-inch X 2-inch-deep pan, bake it for about 30 minutes, and serve it plain. When I want to make something richer or have an elegant dessert, I bake it in two 7-inch pans for closer to 15 - 20 minutes and sandwich the two layers together with the quick chocolate buttercream and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.
6 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups/175 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (just under 3/4 cup/150 grams sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup (150 ml) warm milk
2/3 cup (150 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Oil and line with parchment paper either 1 X 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pan or 2 X 7-inch (18 cm) round cake pans.
Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. In a separate mixing bowl or a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the warm milk, the oil, eggs and vanilla.
Now it is simply a question of pouring the wet ingredients into the dry and blending well either with a whisk, a wooden spoon or a hand mixer, though I prefer usng a whisk here. The best method for doing this so you don’t end up with stuff splattered all over your countertop and so you end up with lump-free batter, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour about a quarter or a third of the liquid ingredients into the well, and with small, brisk circular movements, whisk with just enough of the dry until you have a thick, smooth, lump-free batter in the center. Add some more of the liquid, pull in a bit more of the dry, and briskly whisk again until, aha! your batter is smooth. Continue until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into your (now) lump-free batter, add any remaining liquid ingredients and give it a go. Pour this batter into your pans and bake until the center of your cake or layers is just firm to the touch, completely cooked through. The cake should start to pull away from the sides of the pan just after it is removed from the oven.
Remove to racks, let cool for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto racks, peel off the parchment paper, flip back upright and let cool completely.
CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FILLING
6 ounces (175 grams) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons (25 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons very hot water
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar together. Add the cocoa powder and the hot water and beat, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well blended and fluffy.
Put one layer of your cake on a cake plate and, using a spatula, spread thickly with the filling. Place the other layer on top of the filling and sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar. Using the spatula eat any remaining frosting left in the bowl. And that’s it! Now enjoy!