This week, I decided to bake a cake. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I am not a big dessert lover, but this is a special occasion because next week, The Husband and I are getting married! It probably looks funny that I just said that, but he has been my husband all along.
We have been a couple for nearly a decade, although we’ve known each other for even longer. We met way back in the early 1990’s when both of us were fresh out of college. We bonded over our shared love of books. He wanted to be a writer; I had dreams of working in museums and restoring art. Fast forward 20 years and we’ve been through thick and thin; richer and poorer. Through my weird and terrifying illnesses, he’s been by my side. Through his very stressful job that took him all over the country every week for years, I’ve held down the fort. We’ve been through the fire so often our molecules have fused and we are made stronger for it. He knows me better than I know myself and so, when I told him I’d cater our small backyard wedding, he offered to pay for a therapist!
I’m a little harried right now, as you might imagine. Every day I think of new things that I have forgotten to take care of, but at least for this moment, I have one thing accomplished–I have found The Cake.
During the holidays, in the quiet moments before we decided to throw a wedding in less than thirty days, I spent some time cozily wrapped in blankets, drinking tea and reading Molly Wizenberg’s (creator of the blog Orangette) A Homemade Life.
What I loved about this book is that it is essentially a love story built around food and family and I am a sucker for a good love story. The way Molly knits a recipe into the fabric of her stories is nothing short of amazing. It made me laugh and cry and then it made me want to eat–radishes with butter and salt, bread and chocolate, Dutch Baby pancakes. I finished it in a week and loved it so much that I feel I can’t part with it. I’m going to have to buy it because I just got an email from the library politely asking for its return. At the very end of the book, at the culmination of her own love story, she writes about this cake, that she aptly names “The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake”. She baked this cake for her wedding and promised it would be easy, could be made ahead of time and even frozen. She mentioned the cakes weren’t “beauty queens” but spoke of their ability to inspire obsessive behaviors and cleaned plates; in short, it sounded like exactly the kind of cake that I was searching for.
So far I think I’ve done a fairly decent job of choosing a menu that I can execute, without executing the people I love. But I was worried about the cake, because I’m not a baker and I don’t think I can handle anything right now that isn’t absolutely foolproof. At this moment, I need a cake that even a kid can make.
Since there are no photographs in this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I read the instructions multiple times, not fully believing that 5 ingredients: bittersweet chocolate, sugar, eggs, butter and a minuscule amount of flour, could become cake. I worried that the 1990s would call and want its lava cake back. Mostly I worried, because that’s just what comes naturally when you do something crazy and unrecommended, like catering your own wedding dinner.
My fears and worries were unfounded. The cake puffed around the edges and cracked on top like a brownie just as Molly explained. As it cooled on the counter, it settled into itself and solidified, forming a slight bowl shape–perfect for putting something in…like berries! By the time I cut into it, the center had set and it didn’t ooze like lava cake. Its slightly wonky appearance is part of its charm.
This cake, like our relationship, is as perfect as it should be. Sweet like sugar, rich as chocolate and forged with just enough heat to melt our hearts and win our minds.
Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
Lightly adapted from A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg
This cake may not have been born a beauty queen, but she cleans up well. Dressed up with a mound of raspberries and dusted with powdered sugar, it becomes downright fancy. The texture is silky and dense and the flavor is intensely chocolatey. There are no extra ingredients, like vanilla extract or coffee to distract from the fact that this is a decadently Chocolate Cake. My favorite part of the cake are the edges. They tend to flop over a little, which makes them easy to pilfer and shove into my mouth before anyone notices! Since this is such a simple recipe with so few ingredients, I made sure to use the best ingredients I had. I used the good butter; a block of Plugrá I’d been saving for just such an occasion. I also used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet baking chips.
- 7 ounces high quality unsalted butter like Plugrá or Kerrygold, cubed
- 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely, or use baking chips as noted above
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- Fresh berries, confectioner’s sugar or whipped cream
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8 inch round cake pan. Butter the sides and bottom of the cake pan, then place the piece of parchment in the bottom of the pan and butter the parchment paper.
- Place the cubes of butter and the chocolate in a large microwavable bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, stir and repeat in 30 second intervals until the chocolate and butter are melted. Alternatively, if you don’t have a microwave, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and stir until the chocolate and butter are melted.
- Add the sugar and stir until the sugar melts into the batter. Allow the batter to cool for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are well mixed before adding the next egg. The mixture should look glossy. Add the tablespoon of flour and mix well.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and set the pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes and check the cake. The middle of the cake will be quite jiggly at that point. Continue baking, checking on it every 2 minutes until the center of the cake barely jiggles. Remove the cake and allow it to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes.
To unmold the cake, I followed Molly’s exact instructions. Place a sheet of foil on top of the cake. Take a dinner plate and place it on top of the foil and quickly flip the pan over. The cake will be upside down. Remove the pan and peel the parchment from the bottom of the cake. Then place the serving plate, or in this case, a cake stand on top of the cake. Placing your index fingers between the plates to avoid squishing the cake, flip them over. The cake is now right side up on the serving plate or cake stand. Remove the foil.
Allow the cake to cool completely, then fill the depression on the top of the cake with berries if you prefer. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream. This cake tastes best at room temperature.