A recent unexpected visit from a dear friend of mine and the lovely time had we together as she waited to catch her plane reminded me of the cosy home and conversations that I bring to the few people who do drop by at this cooking misfit’s home. I realised that some comfort food would add so much to the cosy chit chat in the midst of the wearying and difficult times we are in. Although any sort of main course is usually a disaster, my desserts and cakes have been usually well received. And that’s when I decided, I would invest in an electric oven, and hone my baking skills.

Well, Easter was approaching and I was thinking what could I add to the stupendous layout my parents would prepare for Easter. And that’s when I saw this as an opportunity to start on the baking: The awesome chocloate cake recipe on La Tartine Gourmande

I have been following the blog La Tartine Gourmande for a few years now, primarily because of her awesome food photography. I know I can never be as good, but it’s always good to remain inspired. Chocolate cake is a favourite, and when I saw this, I decided this would be my contribution to my parents Easter spread, even though it had ambitious, exotic ingredients like pecan nuts and millet.

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So, off I went to the local Nature’s Basket to collect all the ingredients. Though it’s a gluten free recipe, there’s no one in the family who’s allergic to wheat. But, I went ahead with this because I was excited at seeing a chocolate cake and excited at trying out a recipe of someone who I’d been following for so long. The pecan nuts and the baking chocolates at Natures Basket are quite expensive, which means I make a mental note to stick to simpler and cheaper ingredients for any further baking forays. The recipe asks for dark chocolate (70% cocoa), and I remembered getting some Lindt dark chocolates for the family many Christmases ago. The orange flavoured dark chocolate was marked down by 50%  and I heaped them on. It was only when I distributed them among the aunts and uncles and cousins that I too took a bite, and realised how extremely bitter they were for the typical Indian palette. So, I took the middle road this time and opted for 55% cocoa. There was pure vanilla extract available, but with the pecans and the chocolates taking me over budget, I decided that the (very expensive) vanilla extract would be a present for my parents on my next trip home. This time, I’d have to make do with vanilla essence. I couldn’t find any blonde cane sugar (although, there was plenty of cane sugar around) or muscovado sugar and decided that this cake was going to be made with regular sugar and realised the that percentage of “exotic” in this recipe was rapidly declining with all these substitutions. I wound up the shopping with some millet (whole) and a few chocolates for my parents.

 

Raw materials

Easter was resplendent with the Chicken biriyani that Dad made and the phone calls from dear ones across the globe. Since cake baking and other random food experimentation  is not uncommon at home, I get all the remaining ingredients at home. So, the large eggs, unsalted butter, baking powder, cream, vanilla essence and of course regular sugar were all at home, with all the baking tools I could ever need. Milky Mist is something my mother has discovered in the local supermarket. I’ll have to see if there’s an equivalent when I get back to Mumbai.

Now, I’d left all the ingredients out at room temperature for about an hour. But, the chocolate was still a little stiff. So, I had to first microwave the chocolate separately on HIGH for about 2 minutes (I stopped and checked after a minute) and then added the butter to this and microwaved for another 30 seconds. I added the vanilla essence to this and kept it aside.

Now comes the part that made this cake almost a disaster. Whole millet is slightly bigger than mustard seeds and a little smaller than coriander seeds. And the little grinder, try as it might, couldn’t make a fine powder of the millet. The grinding was coarse, at best, which probably means that some of the bigger particles actually remained undercooked. Then came the pecan nuts, which ground easily, but the grinding caused the mixture to extrude oil and the powdered pecan formed ungainly clumps. The baking flour was replaced in half by the millet and in half by the pecan nuts, not a bad idea when there’s a necessity, but I’m sticking to flour the next time around.

Cake batter

 

The rest was standard operating procedure, though, I still wonder I if beat the eggs to the correct consistency. I beat the yellows, till they slightly turned a lighter yellow; and the whites till it resembled whipped cream. I folded in everything and mixed the batter with my hands. The batter smelled and tasted nice, but I could feel the coarseness of the millet flour and dreaded that the cake wouldn’t be all that I had expected. We pre-heated the oven, probably a bit too long and set the bake time to 30 minutes. I had expected the lovely baking smell to come wafting into the living room, and to take a peek then. This being summer, we had the AC on and the door to the living room closed, and no warning wafting smells. At 25 minutes, we rushed to the kitchen, wrinkling our noses at the overdone smell and checked the cake. It was slightly dry and I think it did not rise at all. My heart sank and I told the dear friend of my disaster. She’s a food aficionado and consoled me that millet flour is very heavy and needs a lot of baking powder for it to rise. Another reason why I’m sticking to baking flour.

For the ganache

 

We let the cake cool for a day and I prepared the chocolate ganache, which gave me an opportunity to look it up on Wikipedia and completely demystify this very exotic sounding word. This was by far my favourite part. The measurements for this was way too much for the cake I made. We can probably stick to 100 gms of dark chocolate and proportionately reduce the cream as well. I didn’t powder the sugar, as it would melt while heating the cream. I had left the chocolate outside overnight, so the though it looks stiff in the picture, it quickly mixed when the hot cream was poured over it. The ganache tasted overwhelmingly of the chocolate. Maybe I could try for 70% cocoa for the ganache to reduce the sweetness and bring in a slightly different flavour.

 

Final outcome

The top of the cake was decorated with the warm chocolate ganache and kept in the fridge to set the pretty pattern. After lunch, we served the cake with butterscotch ice cream in order to offset the dryness of the cake. It wasn’t a bad combination. Later on, I started stealing slices directly from the fridge, though the recipe says the cake should be eaten at room temperature. The cold cake was actually delicious. I had a lot ganache left over. So, I cut slices, slapped on the ganache and transformed what I truly thought was a disaster, into probably my first original exotic cake recipe. Thank you, La Tartine Gourmande!

NB: Picture of Lindt chocolate is sourced from the Internet

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