LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW!
Winter has arrived in a blustery, wet haze, stomping in like an uninvited guest leaving filthy black shoeprints all over the new white carpet without even a bouquet of flowers to ease her unexpected intrusion. The chill winds of the holiday season whipped in unannounced when my back was turned, when I had least expected it. Arriving home from a weekend in London, I caught a glimpse of white as the plane banked in towards the airport and my heart jumped with the excitement that snow still elicits in this forever-at-heart-Florida girl. Dragging my suitcase out through the sliding double doors into the parking lot and towards the waiting shuttle bus, I breathed in the crisp air, the iciness biting at my cheeks and the thrill of a long, bright, white winter fluttered through my body hand in hand with festive holiday joy.
Yet the gorgeous days came and went, just a good joke, and then the winter rain set in.
Marty tiptoes as elegantly as possible through the swathes of matted wet leaves outside in the square, lifting one dainty paw up and over, then the next, one chilly, now-damp extremity at a time as he tries to stay dry before spending the rest of his long, gray day curled up in front of his warm radiator as if he had been stretched out in front of a blazing fire, flames licking the tips of his ears. JP and I stare dismally out of the windows each and every dreary Saturday and then the following Sunday wondering if today we should finally take that stroll through town in order to breath in a little fresh air. But the metallic edge of the sky, the spatter of raindrops against the glass pushes us both back to our respective corners of the sofa and, as we snuggle down under comforters, curl up with our books, we promise ourselves and each other that tomorrow, or at least next weekend, we will leave the apartment and venture outside.
One blustery day leads into the next and as the rest of France is blanketed under an elegant stole of white, as images of Parisians standing amid flurries of flakes scroll across our television screens, we listen to the rain pound on the roof, watch it slide sadly down the glass panes, and the urge to warm up the kitchen with baking washes over me. The only feathery white powder I have the chance to feel against my skin is flour. Soft, fragrant flour blended with cocoa and sugar, eggs and cream, filling the house with the sweet scent of celebration. Thoughts of cinnamon and chocolate, nutmeg and orange fill my head as I skip into the kitchen and start pulling bowls and pans from the cupboard, as I sift through the drawers in search of teaspoons and tablespoons, measuring cups and zester. And as traffic in the City of Lights comes to a standstill in the frosty night, as grumbling tourists try and make light of closed roads and closed airports, as a warm glow emanates from a bustling workshop somewhere north of Lapland, I blend and stir, whip and fold. I toss in a little Christmas spirit in the form of mixed holiday spices: cinnamon and nutmeg, star anise, ginger and cloves, a dash of lemon and orange zest, the gift of a northern angel, and it smells as if I am living in a white-icing edged, candy cane and gumdrop-trimmed gingerbread house.
And just as I thought that the holidays would be a quiet, low-key affair, we have decided to invite company over for lunch this Sunday. I bustle around the house arranging and rearranging our never-ending stacks of papers and books, shifting piles of folders and magazines, swiping across this surface and that with a damp cloth to give the place at least an aura of cleanliness. I pull out the ladder so I can reach the top panes of glass in our floor-to-ceiling French windows and decide that it may be just about time that I mopped the kitchen floor. As I have written in a previous post, I am desperately abysmal when it comes to cooking for company. I am totally and completely lost, my blood runs cold as I wonder what I could possibly cook without ruining, my head spins and I break out into a cold sweat as I imagine the scene, knowing that I tend to badly organize, cook too many things all at once and at the last minute and panic, grow faint as language that would embarrass a sailor slips uncontrollably from between my lips. Our last dinner party – only one extra couple, mind you – went as smoothly as silk thanks to pre-planning and organization, and I am hoping that JP will take me calmly under his wing and together we will plan and organize this one on Saturday. But one thing is for sure, this Decadent Chocolate Spice Cake is what I will be proudly serving for dessert.
I carefully, lovingly created this cake last weekend as the rain poured down around us. I hovered around the oven, basking in its warmth and the deep, rich, earthy scent of exotic spices, peering through the oven door like a worried mama; the cake must be cooked thoroughly yet pulled from the oven at just the right moment so not an edge is burned, not one mouthful dry. Once the cake was cooled and lifted out of the pan, I gently peeled back the parchment paper and placed the cake onto the white serving platter, as white as the snow that just refuses to drift down from the skies. I climbed up on a kitchen chair and held the pastry bag filled with orange-infused chocolate ganache aloft then drizzled it this way and that, channeling my inner Jackson Pollack in order to create the perfect visual effect. A perfunctory cleaning of the disaster that was now my kitchen (chocolate ganache drizzled not only on the cake but spit and spattered up and down the table, on my clothing and on the floor, much to Marty’s delight), I slowly cut wedges of this moist, thick, decadent confection and placed each lovingly on a pristine white plate, placing a fork alongside each dark slice. I carried the plates proudly into son’s bedroom and offered up my prize to each young man. Hesitant looks, hesitant words, two plates were accepted, one (guess who) refused. When I later returned to the Bat Cave to reclaim the plates, I was greeted with crooked smiles and questions “what was the strange flavor?” Needless to say, the Christmas spirit seemed to evade them, as they did not like the dash of spices I had added. The rest of the cake went to the office the following day where quick work was made of it and loved by all. One person succeeded in eating two thick wedges and exclaimed that it was fabulous and that the spices added something mysterious, a je ne sais quoi, a wonderful depth and festive taste to an overall perfect dessert.
So while others dream of a White Christmas, while visions of snow-dusted sugarplums dance in their heads, we sit inside in the warmth, snuggled up together, listening to the rain and watching the darkness come much too early every afternoon. We cook, bake, eat and watch old films and are overcome with that wonderful holiday spirit that wraps its arms around us no matter the weather and no matter what is happening outside in the world, outside of our own existence. So slice another piece of cake, pour another glass of wine and turn up the volume of the stereo or the television just a little bit more and maybe this year we will even exchange gifts.
I am sending this cake and recipe to Ria of Ria’s Collection who is hosting this month’s Monthly Mingle for Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? with the perfect, brilliant theme Chocolate Extravaganza!
Which leads me to my Hotel Chocolat Giftaway! We have chosen one lucky winner of a Christmas Selection of Hotel Chocolat Luxury Chocolates. Each comment left and each tweet about the giftaway was given a number and then Clem (who had no idea what he was choosing a number for) picked a number, which led to the winner:
KatieZ, auther of the blog Thyme for Cooking, the blog….And Life in France
Congratulations, Katie! I will be in touch with you and enjoy your fabulous chocolates! Merry Christmas, it just got a whole lot sweeter!
CHOCOLATE SPICE CAKE
To flavor as you please…
1 cup boiling water *
3 oz (90 g) unsweetened chocolate
8 Tbs (115 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups (400 g) sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup sour cream (I used creamy 0% fat fromage frais/quark)
2 cups less 2 Tbs( g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed Christmas Spice **
* What I love about cakes that add water is that all or part of the water can be replaced with other liquids to change the flavor of the cake; you can replace part of the water with strong coffee, orange juice or even the juice from jarred fruit such as cherries or blueberries. Just taste before using more than half a cup of flavored liquid. And make sure if you choose to replace some of the water with another liquid it goes well with whatever spice you decide to add. Or leave out the spice completely. And a dash of Amaretto or rum never hurt anyone...
** I used a mixed Christmas Spice from Germany called Pflaumenmus Gewürz (Plum Jam Spices), a gift from Meeta. Feel free to use up to one teaspoon of ground cinnamon or a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove. Not more than one teaspoon combined. You could also add the zest of half or one whole orange. This cake is delicious even without added spices.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour a 10-inch (25-cm) tube pan. I lined mine with oven-proof parchment paper as I was afraid that the batter would leak out the bottom of the pan.
Chop the chocolate, cube the butter and place them both together in a large heat-safe (Pyrex) mixing bowl. Bring one cup of water* to the boil then pour over the chocolate and the butter, allowing it to stand and stirring until completely melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla and the sugar, then whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, until well blended.
Stir the baking soda into the sour cream. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and ground spices together. First whisk the sour cream into the chocolate batter, then the flour, whisking until smooth and homogenous.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks hold. Fold about a third of the whipped whites into the chocolate batter until most of the white has disappeared, then fold in the rest of the whites in one or two additions. Try not to overwork the batter as you will beat out the air incorporated with the egg whites, but don’t be afraid to really fold and make sure no white lumps of any size remain or your finished cake, gorgeously dark, will have white spots in it.
Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes (depending on your pan and your oven), until the cake is set and a tester stuck down into the cake comes out clean. When I touched and gently pressed the surface of my cake at 40 and then 45 minutes I felt liquid or unset batter under the surface. After another couple of minutes, I touched and gently pressed the surface again and felt some resistance and knew that it was time to stick a tester (I use a long metal brochette spear) in. Done! Watch the cake carefully at the end as you neither want this cake underdone nor overdone and dry.
Remove the cake from the oven and onto a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely before loosening the cake from the sides of the pan (and the inner tube) with a sharp knife and carefully lifting it out of the pan. If you have lined the pan with parchment, you can grip the edges of the paper and lift it off of the tube. Then place a rack on the top of the cake, flip it over, peel off the parchment from the bottom of the cake, place your serving platter onto the upturned bottom of the cake then flip upright.
Prepare the Chocolate Ganache :
Chop ¾ cup (100 g) dark chocolate *** and place in a medium-sized pyrex bowl.
Bring ½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream to a boil. Pour it over the chopped chocolate and allow to sit, stirring, until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is perfectly smooth.
Allow to sit at room temperature until it the desired consistency: to drizzle over the cake, it should retain its pouring consistency yet be just thick enough that it doesn’t all run off of the cake and puddle around the cake on the plate.
*** I usually use Lindt dessert 70% or Lindt Excellence 70%. I have also made ganache with one of the Lindt Excellence dark chocolates flavored with either orange, grilled almonds or mint. This Christmas Spice Cake is especially delicious topped with Chocolate Ganache with the hint of Orange.
And the Cake speaks for itself: