‘In a way, baking stands both as a useful metaphor for the familial warmth of the kitchen we fondly imagine used to exist, and as a way of reclaiming our lost Eden. This is hardly a culinary matter, of course; but cooking, we know, has a way of cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. This is why it matters. The trouble with much modern cooking is not that the food it produces isn’t good, but that the mood it induces in the cook is one of skin-of-the-teeth efficiency, all briskness and little pleasure. Sometimes that’s the best we can manage, but at other times we don’t want to feel like a postmodern, post-feminist, overstretched woman but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our languorous wake.’ – Nigella Lawson
When I first starting baking I didn’t actually own Nigella’s How To Become A Domestic Goddess (affiliate link), but checked it out of the library a crazy amount of times, baking so many things from it’s pages. It finally made it’s way to my cookbook shelf at home, and it’s still a favorite. I’ve always loved the above quote by her; I’ve connected so much with her words: cooking cutting through things, and to things, which have nothing to do with the kitchen. There have been many moments stirring, or kneading, or dicing, that have brought me to my knees. My kitchen floor may be coated in flour, but some days I’m okay finding myself there.
Also this chocolate bread. I’ve baked this hundreds (and hundreds) of times at a little coffeehouse I worked at, but it has been years since I made it at home, just because. I was feeling rather celebratory today, and it seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. I wish I could share some with you; to say thanks, and cheers (see below).
And in other news: I don’t know how it happened, but somehow all you nice readers and friends nominated me for the Saveur Blog Awards, and I actually am a finalist in the Best Baking Blog category. I’m still a bit in shock, feeling stunned and terribly excited at the same time. So first of all, thank you so much. Thank you for coming to this space, and being so kind. I appreciate you all. That of course leads into secondly, which is in order to win the category, I need your votes. So if you wouldn’t mind, you can just click on this huge picture above, and it will take you to Saveur’s webpage, where you can vote. You do have to register to vote, but it just takes a login name and password to complete. Thank you so much!
Chocolate Loaf Cake
From The Vanilla Bean Baking Book (affiliate link) by Sarah Kieffer
I made a version of this cake for years ago at Bordertown Coffee; customers begged for it, but my baking staff always found it so troublesome because the batter tended to leak over the sides and all over the oven floor. After years of fiddling with elaborate parchment paper tents, it dawned on me that a Pullman pan (affiliate link) would solve the problem – its tall sides would prevent the batter from overflowing. It indeed works like a charm.
The famous version of this sunken loaf is in Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess (affiliate link). I’ve tinkered with the recipe here and there, adding a few more ounces of bittersweet chocolate, hot coffee, and salt for some complexity. The flavor of the chocolate is deeper and darker a day or two after the chocolate bread has been made, but a slice of this warm is quite a treat. Do what you have to do.
6 ounces (170g) good bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups (213g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks | 227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (297g) packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh brewed coffee
1/2 cup boiling water
Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9 by 4-inch Pullman pan (affiliate link) and line with a parchment paper sling, by leaving an overhang on both sides (if you do not have a Pullman pan, see below).
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of boiling water, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until just melted and set aside to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and mix on medium until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the chocolate and mix on low until incorporated, being careful not to overbeat. With the mixer on low add the flour, a tablespoon at a time, alternately with the boiling water and coffee (you can mix the water and coffee together for simplicity), mixing until smooth and liquidy.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 30 minutes. Reduce the oven to 325F and bake 15 minutes. The loaf will still be moist inside, so a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the center won’t come out clean. But this is a good thing.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool before taking the bread out of the pan, using the parchment sling, and serving. The bread will sink a little in the middle as it cools.
If you don’t have a pullman pan, you can use a standard 9-inch loaf pan. Be warned, however, that the batter has a tendency to leak over the sides as it’s baking, and a parchment sling is essential for keeping the bread in the pan, as well as removing the bread from the pan. I put a baking sheet under the loaf pan before baking to catch any spills, just in case. Below is how to do the parchment sling if you don’t have a Pullman pan:
PARCHMENT LINING FUN
Line the 9 x 5 loaf pan with two strips of parchment paper that fit the pan (both vertically and horizontally), leaving a large overhang over the sides. If your parchment paper is curled around a tube (like above), let the curls face in, so they will eventually curl over the top. Make sure the paper lays flush in the pan, and use pan spray (or butter) as you need it to keep the paper clinging to the pan.
Cut two additional strips of parchment paper (about 3-4 inches wide and 8-9 inches long) and fold them into small squares. Tuck the squares behind the strip of parchment paper (so the square is touching the pan) on the ends of each pan. This helps to keep the short sides from leaking cake batter.
Pour the batter into the pan. On the left side of the pan, trim the parchment paper overhang down, so only 2 or 3 inches are sticking up. Spray a small amount of pan spray in a line on the outside, near the edge, on this shorter side of parchment.
Wrap the longer side of parchment paper (the right side) over the top, and gently press it onto the shorter piece of parchment (it should stick where the pan spray is). It will form a small canopy over the bread, and protect it from spilling out. Put the bread in the oven.
When the chocolate bread has finished baking, the parchment may have fallen a bit in the oven, but the bread will be just fine. You can ‘unlock’ or unwrap the top of the bread, but keep the bread in the pan and in the parchment until it is cool.
The chocolate bread will slowly sink as it cools. Fill the middle with crème fraîche and berries, or eat it plain. Mmm.