The Very Best Of

Monday, July 14, 2014

   Should we take time away from our busy lives for one more treat? I think yes.


   This isn't 'just' another treat, of course. I am a big believer in finding my 'best of' in many life categories and sticking with whatever that find may be. This reduces mental clutter and the stress of constantly having to choose. Choice is a wonderful luxury in many aspects of life, but in some it can mean one too many unnecessary decisions.

   One of my favorite books of all time is The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost. It isn't a salacious tale of tropical indulgence, as the title may lead you to believe, but rather an adventure tale of the author and the woman he loves, trying to make sense of life on a teeny island in the Pacific. At one point, he describes coming back to the US after quite some time away and being absolutely paralyzed by the huge number of choices simple purchases, like what type of laundry detergent to buy, he is suddenly faced with. On the remote island, variety was extremely limited and he marvels at the relief he had found living in such a way that the day to day infinite consumer choices had been virtually eliminated. He finds himself missing it.


   If I told you that the number of times I've read this book is in the double digits, you would easily make the leap that I find the idea of that kind of simple living hugely appealing. With that in mind, I have a lot of 'best ofs' in my life that eliminate the need to choose. The best mascara. The best material for bed sheets. The best shampoo. The best route to work and my favorite parking space. No need to ever make a decision about those things again. 

   And here I have the best chocolate cake for you: it is impossibly and darkly rich with the fragrance and flavor of chocolate. This cake is totally decadent and at the same time has the lightest possible crumb. There is little else to say about it except that once you bake it, it will go directly into your 'best of' category too, and you won't ever again be faced with the decision of which chocolate cake to bake.


   I make a double decker version of this recipe, towered with tufts of frosting and generously dusted with coconut shavings for the hubby's birthday. He has made me promise never to make him anything other than that cake for all of his birthdays to come. It seems he has his own 'best of' schemes too!

The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 3 dozen cupcakes or 2 10 inch round layer cakes 

For the chocolate cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus additional if making layer cakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt  
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 3 cups sugar 
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water

   Preheat oven to 350. For cupcakes: line your cupcake baking tin with cupcake wrappers. For the layer cake: grease 2 10 inch cake pans with butter and dust with cocoa powder. If you have parchment paper handy, line the bottom with a circle of parchment, grease and powder that as well. 
 Sift cocoa, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in your mixing bowl.  
Measure out your buttermilk, add in the vanilla extract, crack the eggs into it and lightly beat them together with a fork. With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk/egg/vanilla mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix just until barely incorporated.
With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in the melted butter. Mix on low until just incorporated.
With mixer on low, slowly pour in the boiling water. Once incorporated, increase mixer to medium speed and mix until evenly incorporated. Turn mixer off and use a mixing spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and make sure everything is mixed.
For cupcakes: fill cupcake liners a scant 2/3 full (the batter expands quite a bit) and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. For the layer cake: divide batter evenly amongst the cake pans and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
For layer cake: allow cakes to cool for about 20 minutes, then invert the pans and place the cakes on cooling racks until perfectly room temperature.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

    In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until perfectly smooth. Beat in the vanilla and sugar and continue beating until smooth, fluffy and silky. Taste and add more sifted sugar if you want it sweeter. Frost cupcakes with a star tip for extra fancy results.  
   For Steve's birthday cake, frost the first layer cake, sprinkle with a generous amount of sweetened coconut flakes, add the second layer and frost the entire cake. Finish it with plenty of coconut flakes dusted over the top and pressed into the sides.



  

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