Rose Adds Some Spice to This Chocolate Cake
If you read our posts about baking Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Polish Princess and her Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon, then this entry will tickle your taste buds as well. We love Rose as much as you do and we have found that baking one of her recipes and writing about the process step-by-step really resonated with you, so we are at it again with her blessing. She asked us to create her Chocolate Pavarotti with Wicked Good Ganache. (Also check out our run-through with her Red Velvet Rose).
This chocolate cake is from her newest book, The Baking Bible. It is a very modest looking cake, but don’t let the simplicity fool you. There are some elegant and intriguing textures and flavors at work here.
The first thing we noticed was that this was a dark chocolate cake, but that it incorporates melted white chocolate in the batter. Curious. Rose explains that as she had has such great success adding white chocolate to white and yellow cakes that it was high time she test this with a dark chocolate cake. The melted white chocolate brings a very soft, velvety quality to the cake. In fact, it was so tender that it was very hard for us to get a nice looking slice of it. No matter, we are absolutely more and most interested in cakes that taste great – and this one does.
The first technique that might create an issue is the melting of the white chocolate. The amount of dairy in white chocolate means that it has a shorter shelf life than dark chocolates and we have certainly had the experience here in the Test Kitchen of white chocolate not melting smoothly. Heed Rose’s advice and use a high quality chocolate that contains cocoa butter. There should not be any other fats listed on the label. No cottonseed oil or palm oil, for instance. We had great luck with both Valrhona Ivoire and El Rey Icoa. And then we would add to that to make sure that you are buying from a reputable source with high turnover and that the chocolate is fresh.
Rose’s technique of blooming the cocoa in water is one that we love. We use the word “blooming” very deliberately because the process really brings out the flavors of the cocoa. Make sure that you do use a Dutch-processed cocoa and not natural.
The combination of fats in the cake intrigued us as it includes the cocoa butter in the white chocolate, butter and oil as well. The cocoa butter is accentuating the chocolate flavors and providing the velvety mouthfeel Rose was after by virtue of being a component of the white chocolate. The butter is there for flavor and structure and the oil adds a bit more fat while also allowing a softness, since it is a fat that is liquid at room temperature. Make sure your oil is flavorless and very fresh. (Even flavorless oils can take on off-flavors if it isn’t fresh).
Our cake baked up just as Rose described. It had a bit of a spring to it when done and indeed the sides had shrunk a bit. It looked a bit lonely and pathetic at this point. The recipe is only providing you with one layer – and it is not a very deep layer at that. At this point we were wondering if this cake would end up having the “wow” factor that we have come to expect from a RLB (Rose Levy Beranbaum) cake.
While the cake was baking we moved onto the ganache. (You could make the ganache first so that it has time to firm up to spreading consistency). We had high hopes for the ganache. RLB described it as “the darkest and shiniest ganache ever” and we were going to hold her to that promise. The ingredient list looked good: the corn syrup would provide shine and a slight chew; the combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate meant that this would be a deep, dark sophisticated glaze with rich cacao flavor. The range of cayenne was a sign to us to proceed cautiously.
The ganache came together very easily. We used a 99% Sharffen Berger and a 60% Ghirardelli and also opted for the smallest amount of cayenne. Straining the ganache might seem like an extraneous step, but don’t skip it. It will go a long way to creating the silken texture that Rose intended.
We frosted the cake after it had completely cooled and the frosting had firmed to a perfect silky, smooth, spreadable consistency. This part of the prep was all about waiting for the ganache to reach that perfect texture. We just had enough ganache to frost the cake. We would have liked about ¼ cup more if not ½ cup more. You will have to use your skills to get the cake coated.
Upon sampling we were stunned at the texture of the cake. So incredibly soft and velvety that it practically dissolves on the tongue. Truly quite different from any other cake we have made – or tasted! As I said before it did make for a frustrating photo shoot, but its effect on our palates was what we concentrated on. In retrospect we thought the ganache was too spicy. Now, this might have been a combination of the chocolates we used. We simply reached for what we had in the Test Kitchen that day. If I made the ganache again – or rather I should say when we make the ganache again – I will try a Valrhona chocolate subbed in for the Ghirardelli, which I think will improve the texture. And I will try a mere 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne.
All told, we liked the cake part a lot. Its texture is ethereal. I liked the texture of the ganache but think it might be improved by using different chocolates from what we tried the first time. And the level of spice was a bit high for me. I wanted heat and warmth, but I also wanted the chocolate to come to the fore a little more. The benefit of making a recipe as written the first time is that now I know how I might tweak it during subsequent trials. And of course this is all personal palate preference. Maybe start with a small amount of cayenne and then taste the ganache before frosting your cake. Then you could add more if you like.
I brought the cake to an adult dinner party where it was very well received. I was in the minority in regards to the cayenne. Most thought the amount was spot on. This refined cake has an elegant simplicity to it in looks and the texture is sublime; I do think it would work best in a sophisticated adult setting.
Excerpted from THE BAKING BIBLE© 2014 by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
oven temperature 350°F/175°C
baking time 30 to 40 minutes
(In Rose’s words:) This cake is dedicated to Luciano Pavarotti, the only tenor I know of who was capable of reaching the E above high C to create a sound not of this earth. I’ve added white chocolate to both yellow and white cakes with the excellent results of higher rise and moister, melt-in-the-mouth texture, and it dawned on me that a dark chocolate cake might also benefit from this addition. For the frosting, I created ark. It is enriched with a mixture of unsweetened chocolate and corn syrup. The texture is incredibly smooth and the flavor is absolutely extraordinary. Keep a batch of the enrichment in your fridge to add to any basic ganache. It will keep for months. The touch of cayenne pepper doesn’t alter the flavor, but instead heightens the taste sensation and gives the ganache a long finish. If you’re a spice lover, go for the higher amount of cayenne. This is the cake I made for my Music and Art fiftieth high school reunion in New York. I overheard fellow classmates saying, “It sings in the mouth,” which was just what I had intended.
special equipment One 9 by 2 inch round cake pan, encircled with a cake strip, bottom coated with shortening, topped with a parchment round, then coated with baking spray with flour
plan ahead Make the ganache at least 4 hours ahead.
Preheat the Oven Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack in the lower
third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
Melt the White Chocolate In a small microwavable bowl, stirring with a silicone spatula
every 15 seconds (or in the top of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water,
stirring often—do not let the bottom of the container touch the water), heat the white
chocolate until almost completely melted. Remove the chocolate from the heat source
and stir until fully melted. Let the chocolate cool until it is no longer warm to the touch
but is still fluid.
Mix the Cocoa and Water In a medium bowl, whisk the cocoa and the 1/2 cup/118 ml
of boiling water until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation and cool to
room temperature, about 30 minutes. To speed cooling, place in the refrigerator. Bring the
mixture to room temperature before proceeding.
Mix the Remaining Liquid Ingredients In another small bowl, whisk the eggs, the
3 tablespoons/44 ml of water, and the vanilla just until lightly combined.
Make the Batter In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour,
sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter, oil, and cocoa
mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to
medium and beat for 11/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on
medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and
strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate
and beat at medium speed for about 10 seconds until evenly incorporated. Scrape down
the sides of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and
smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula.
Bake the Cake Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted near the center
comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake
should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven. It will
have a few cracks in the top.
Cool and Unmold the Cake Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly
against the pan, and invert it onto a wire rack that has been lightly coated with nonstick
cooking spray. Immediately reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cool completely.
Wicked Good Ganache
Make the Wicked Good Ganache Have ready a fine-mesh strainer suspended over a
medium glass bowl.
In a small microwavable bowl (or in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often), heat
the corn syrup just to a boil. Immediately remove it from the heat source and stir in the
unsweetened chocolate until smoothly incorporated.
In a food processor, process the bittersweet chocolate until very fine.
In a 1 cup microwavable measure with a spout (or in a small saucepan over medium heat,
stirring often), scald the cream (heat it to the boiling point; small bubbles will form around
With the motor of the food processor running, pour the cream through the feed tube in a
steady stream. Process for a few seconds until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl
as needed. Pulse in the corn syrup and chocolate mixture. Pulse in the optional cayenne.
(If you want just a whisper of heat, start with the 1/4 teaspoon.) Be sure to pulse it in to
distribute it evenly before tasting.
Press the ganache through the strainer and let it sit for 1 hour. Cover it with plastic wrap
and let it cool for 3 to 4 hours, until the mixture reaches a soft frosting consistency (70° to
75°F/21° to 24°C).
The ganache keeps in an airtight container for 3 days at cool room temperature, 2 weeks
refrigerated, or 6 months frozen. To restore to frosting consistency, defrost, if frozen, and
reheat in a microwave with 3 second bursts, or in a double boiler set over hot, not simmering,
water (do not let the bottom of the container touch the water), stirring gently to
ensure that it does not overheat or incorporate any air.
Compose the Cake When the cake is completely cool, set it on a serving plate. Frost the
top and sides with swirls of the ganache.
Store Airtight: room temperature, 3 days; refrigerated, 10 days; frozen, 2 months.