Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dear Abby Cake

This is Matt's traditional birthday cake. I will never, ever get to make him any other kind of cake for his birthday. Fortunately, the Dear Abby Cake is both delicious and beautiful.

The recipe was originally published in Dear Abby's advice column. I have added a lot of my own annotations.

  1. Grease and flour the bottoms (not the sides) of two 9" round cake pans OR two 8" round cake pans and two custard cups. (I add waxed paper in the bottom of the pans after greasing and flouring. If you have Magicake Strips, use them to help prevent doming. Avoid non-stick pans because the cake will dome more and cook too quickly because of the dark coating.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Add to double boiler:
    1. 3 one-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate (Scharffen Berger, Callebaut or Ghirardelli are good; avoid Hershey's or Baker's; I accidentally used bittersweet once - it made a very moist cake, but it wasn't quite as good or chocolate-y)
    2. 1 cup water
    3. 1/2 cup butter
  4. Heat until chocolate and butter melt. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Sift into large bowl (really, do sift it - it makes mixing in the wet ingredients much easier):
    1. 2 cups cake flour
    2. 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    3. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. Beat in medium bowl:
    1. 2 eggs
    2. 1 cup sour cream
  7. Beat in with eggs and sour cream:
    1. 2 cups sugar
    2. 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  8. Slowly add chocolate mixture to egg mixture, beating constantly.
  9. Mix half of chocolate-egg mixture into flour at a time. (This feels strange, because usually you would mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Nonetheless, it is correct.) Mix until just blended. (I think this is probably to minimize doming.)
  10. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Cake in non-stick pans will cook faster than this.)
  11. Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes and turn out onto cooling rack.
  12. If cakes have domed significantly, wait until they have cooled completely, then use a bread knife to gently saw off the domes. Reserve the domes for the cook.
  1. Prepare frosting once cake is completely cool.
  2. This frosting will come out differently every time you make it, as it is extremely susceptible to environmental conditions, cooking technique and the phase of the moon.
  3. This recipe makes exactly the right amount of frosting.
  4. Combine in double boiler:
    1. 3 egg whites (if you are using dried egg whites, before putting over heat, mix all dry ingredients, then add water and beat until whites are dissolved)
    2. 1 cup sugar
    3. 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    4. dash salt
    5. 3 1/2 teaspoons cold water
  5. Cook over simmering water, beating continuously for at least 10 minutes or until firm peaks develop. (I have found that firm peaks tends to be a bit overcooked, so I stop just shy of that stage. More like soft peaks - as in the picture below - but not floppy.)

  6. Remove frosting from heat and stir in:
    1. 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  7. Frost cake immediately. (You don't have to work in a great rush, but don't dilly dally too much, as the frosting will start to set up. Don't worry if it's not beautiful - any imperfections will be camouflaged by the chocolate glaze.)

Note that if you are going to use waxed paper strips to keep your plate clean, they should not be inserted nearly so far under the cake as these were. When I pulled them out, they pulled cake with them and I had quite a job to shove the cake back in place. Thank goodness for the chocolate glaze.

Chocolate Glaze
  1. Heat carefully in saucepan or double boiler, making sure no water gets in.
    1. 1 tablespoon butter
    2. 1 one-ounce square unsweetened chocolate
  2. Melt and whisk together.
  3. Drizzle glaze by spoonfuls onto frosted cake. Allow to dribble artistically down the sides.
  4. Whelve the cake (isn't that a fantastic word?). We don't have a cake keeper, so we have to get creative with large bowls.

We typically increase this recipe and make a three-layer cake because Matt does not want his friends to go hungry. Use larger bowls and increase all ingredients by one and a half except the following:
  • increase baking soda to 1 3/4 teaspoons
  • increase cream of tartar to 1 teaspoon
  • do not increase chocolate glaze

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