Geography and Chocolate
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There’s been a conversation on the forum about geographic perception. Or lack of perception.
Black Bear wrote on Sat, 08 October 2011 10:28
Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas–those are all “great plains states.”
I had a friend (who had grown up in Seattle) once inform me that those states were Eastern states. I just about died laughing. Honey, do you know where the Mississippi is? Do you know how many hours you have to drive from those states to get anywhere near the Eastern United States?
Everyone knows this iconic New Yorker cover, don’t they? Or are my own East Coast roots showing? http://bigthink.com/ideas/21121
The New Yorker shop [sic*] sells prints of it and if it cost about one-fifth of what it does cost I’d buy a copy.** http://www.newyorkerstore.com/steinberg-collection/new-yorker-cover-3291976/invt/124544/
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Meanwhile . . . I promised a friend about three weeks ago a red velvet cake recipe.*** I knew I had a red velvet cake recipe, but I also knew that I hadn’t made it in a while because if I’m going to deal with all those calories I want them really, really worthwhile. Here’s my biased take on the red velvet cake question: there isn’t enough chocolate because some deranged person has decreed it’s more about the colour.† I got rid of a lot of my cookbooks when we moved out of the old house—aside from the bookshelf space problem, menopause zero-metabolism was already creeping up on me—so even after trolling through the cookbook shelves of three houses†† there are at least two other red velvet recipes I can’t seem to find. But here’s one that I know I’ve made, both because I kind of remember it and because the annotations are clearly in my handwriting. And the pages kind of stick together. This is a good sign. I may have to make this one again some time.
Note that the original called for one tablespoon of cocoa powder and a two ounce bottle of red food colouring. Ewww.
½ c soft butter
1 ½ c golden sugar: the raw, low-refined kind that isn’t the pure white of standard granulated. It doesn’t have as much flavour as brown, but more than white, and it’s mellower than dark brown (and more interesting than light brown. Say I).
2 large eggs
1 tsp REAL vanilla
2 c flour, or maybe a little more
¼ c unsweetened non-Dutch-process ‘natural’ cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 c buttermilk, or 1 c milk minus 1T, plus 1T vinegar to sour it. I’ve been told many times this is cheating, but it’s a lot easier than finding buttermilk and then figuring out something to do with the rest of it. Theoretically, I think, if you’re using vinegar, it should be skim or low-fat milk—‘butter’ milk is a misnomer—but I always used to use whole/full fat because that’s what I drank, and it worked fine.††† Most of that soured-milk stuff works semi-interchangeably in baking—I always thought—you get a slightly different taste and texture if it’s sour cream or yogurt, say, but if your ingredients, especially your chocolate, are good quality it’ll all be silky—or velvety—and damnably excellent.
Standard cake deal: cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Sift dry and add alternately with sour milk. Beat hard, but don’t hang about either: as soon as the vinegar hits the baking soda your batter starts expanding. Turn into 2 8” or 9” round pans with removable bottoms which have first been buttered and floured with great enthusiasm and thoroughness. (A greased and floured cut-out of parchment paper works just as well if you don’t have push-out-bottom pans.) 350°F about half an hour: the layers should rise in the middle, and the edges start to pull away from the pan walls. Let cool at least ten or fifteen minutes before you try and get them out of the pans. I tend to think soured-milk cakes are more fragile than others, but that may just be my karma.
Frost when cool. I recommend vanilla buttercream, myself, but as you like.
I still haven’t given you my favourite chocolate cake recipe, have I? Or have I? The Red Devil AKA McKinley’s Famous Exploding Chocolate Cake? Which is another of these sour milk + baking soda + chocolate = red. My Red Devil cake, despite its distressing incendiary habits, is the reason I pretty much don’t make any other chocolate cake any more. I don’t dare have cake very often‡ and I only really pine and yearn for that one.
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* I grew up in the hard-copy only era, certainly, but I also grew up at a time or anyway on the fringes of a society that believed The New Yorker was cool^. I am still having a hard time getting my head around the on line presence of a New Yorker shop. It’s like finding out that Hillary Clinton moonlights selling pencils on a street corner. I even follow the NYer on Twitter. It’s just not the same, reading the cartoons off a computer screen.^^
^ Although I don’t think I’ve actually read the thing since Janet Malcolm on Sylvia Plath, which seems to have been 1993. How time flies. Eeep. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/janet_malcolm/search?contributorName=janet%20malcolm
^^ Which is not to say that some comics were not totally made to be read off computer screens. http://xkcd.com/730/
** Maybe this is the modern on line version of cool.
*** I believe she needed it by last week.
† Also, chocolate has changed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_velvet_cake I’ve been trying to remember, but I seem to be unduly tired yet again today,^ my progress through the erratically charted geography^^ of chocolate. http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/02/cocoa-powder-faq-dutch-process-v/ I stopped using Dutch process when I stopped drinking cocoa, but that was a long time ago; I may have cluelessly used Dutch process in the pre-annotation version of this recipe, which would help explain why I thought it was boring. (It still needed more chocolate.)
^ Go away, you Mutant Virus, and take the ME with you! You have seriously outstayed your welcome!, as Holofernes might have said to Judith if he’d had the chance.
^^ I perceive a theme. Also, speaking of themes, anyone who doesn’t follow me on Twitter may need to know this: http://www.chocolateweek.co.uk/
†† I never said there weren’t drawbacks. . . .
††† I’d use low-fat now because the rest of the carton would be easier to give away, because that’s what everyone I know now uses. And yes, I assume I could still escape major punishment for ingesting the amount of (cooked) milk that was in a few pieces of cake, despite the ‘no dairy’ billboards lining my alimentary canal. I’d be worrying more about getting the waistband of my jeans closed.
‡ See: getting waistband of jeans closed
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