Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me. -Audrey Hepburn
I know what you’re thinking. Valentine’s Day was two weeks ago; why in the world am I posting this now? First of all, that’s just the way things work around here; it (sadly) takes time for things to move from the kitchen to the blog, especially when I’m writing and getting ready for a trip to Europe (Finland, here I come! In less than 48 hours!). Secondly, chocolate cake is timeless. Holiday or no holiday, we need no excuse to indulge in chocolate cake. Granted, the Sachertorte, which Austrian chef Franz Sacher first made by accident in 1832, is not just your everyday cake. With both an apricot glaze and an even happier, shinier chocolate glaze, it takes time and effort. But all the good things in life do.
It was the Greek’s idea to make this cake for Valentine’s Day. We had decided to stay in and make our own feast, rather than fight the crowds, not to mention the overly organized couples who made reservations well in advance. Considering we had the main course and side dishes to attend to–steak, beets with pistachio butter and an arugula salad–I saw the cake as an almost insurmountable challenge. And, honestly, it was the most time consuming portion of the preparation for the meal….Let’s just say that, if you go the Sachertorte route, by the time the thing is assembled and glazed, you’ll really have “sung for your supper.”
But what a cake! What a thing to “sing” for! I don’t usually go crazy for layer cakes–it seems dangerous to have to cut a cake in half, or to have to stack one layer on top of another (such potential for disaster, after all)–but, for some reason, this one really did it for me. I’ve always been one of those people who enjoys the combination of fruit and chocolate and the tangy apricot glaze added a nice touch–a zing, if you will–to the barely there sweetness of the cake. I had had a moment of blasphemy when I suggested to the Greek that we go with raspberry glaze instead of apricot. He gave me the usual look of “we will not mess with classic dishes/flavor combinations” (I got the same look when I suggested sun-dried tomatoes in Spanakopita. Mark my words, I will try this one day) and so, for the sake of being classic and channeling the accidental pastry glory of nineteenth-century Vienna, we went with apricot. No regrets were had.
This is the thing I like best about chocolate cake. Or, really, about dessert in general. Usually (as in 98 times out of a 100), if you make some kind of sweet and you give it to people, they will like it. More importantly, they will most likely all be in agreement about its fine qualities, although they all will maybe focus on something different–chewiness, moistness, airiness of the frosting. The general impression, however, will be the same. And this is why I’d like to bake my dissertation rather than to write it. There would be less room for disagreement. Imagine a world in which there were a Sachertorte for each and every committee member; I assure you that, if more dissertations had a dessert component, everybody would be a lot happier, both writer/baker and reader/potential eater. And a dollop of whipped cream to offset the shimmering chocolate would remove the need for words. The smiles would be enough.
Yields 12-16 gooey slices
For the cake:
4 1/2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon gently into cup and level top)
1 1/4 cups apricot preserves
6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or round chocolate chips)
– Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400°F.
– Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment.
– Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.
– In a microwave at medium power, melt the chocolate and butter together.
– Remove from the microwave oven, and let stand, stirring often, until cool.
– Mix the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate butter mixture with a whisk (N.B. you could use a handmixer or a standing mixer, but we went the old-fashioned route).
– Continue whisking until light in color and texture—about 2-3 minutes.
– Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Then, whisk in the vanilla.
– In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and granulated sugar until they form soft, shiny peaks. Do not overbeat.
-Stir about one fourth of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, leaving a few streaks of white.
-Whisk the flour and add half to the chocolate mixture, folding it in witha rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining flour.
– Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
– Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (The cake will dome in the center.)
– Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and reinvert on another rack to turn right side up. Cool completely.
– To assemble, using a long serrated knife, trim the top of the cake to make it level.
– Cut the cake horizontally into two equal layers. Place one cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard round or onto a large dish.
-At this stage, you should make the apricot glaze.
– Bring the preserves and rum to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often.
– Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture clings to the spoon and is very sticky. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Use while warm.
– Brush the top of the cake layer with the apricot glaze.
– Place the second cake layer on top and brush again. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining glaze. Transfer the cake to the rack and set on a covered surface (the Sunday edition of The New York Times worked nicely, although the suggested jellyroll pan would have worked best. Alas.).
-Let the cake sit, soaking up the apricot glaze, while you make the chocolate glaze (it must also be freshly made and warm).
– In a heavy-bottomed small saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and chocolate to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
– Attach a candy thermometer to the pan.
– Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234°F., about 5 minutes.
– Remove from the heat and stir to cool and thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Use immediately.
-Pour all of the warm chocolate glaze on top of the cake.
-Gently smooth the glaze over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides, being sure that the glaze completely coats the cake (patch any bare spots with the spatula and the icing that has dripped. Sadly, you will lose more than a little chocolate glaze).
– Cool until the glaze is barely set, then transfer the cake to a serving plate.
-Refrigerate until the glaze is completely set, about an hour.
– Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving (or if you’re feeling impatient, don’t. It tastes good no matter what, although the texture is like a chocolate biscuit and you want it to soften a little).
– To serve, slice with a sharp knife dipped into hot water.
– Eat with a large dollop of whipped cream, preferably, if Valentine’s Day, dyed a pinkish red with beet juice.