Nigella Lawson: Valentine's Chocolate Indulgence

Nigella Lawson i i

Nigella Lawson James Merrell hide caption

itoggle caption James Merrell
Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

James Merrell

What's Valentine's Day without chocolate — or better yet, rich, moist chocolate cake? Nigella Lawson discusses with Steve Inskeep the keys to the perfect chocolate cake and the secrets to chocolate's allure.

The food writer and television host says she has "managed to put away quite a few chocolate cakes and bars of chocolate in my time." But Lawson says she's not an "indiscriminate lover of all things chocolate."

"I don't think one should go to the giddy heights of chocolate snobbery," she says. The most expensive chocolate isn't necessary, but "you've got to use, I think, a good-enough bar."

So Lawson suggests looking for brands containing a minimum of 70 percent cocoa solids.

The perfect chocolate cakes should be damp, rather than dry and should have "a hint of pudding about them," she says.

So, what makes cooking with chocolate so special for Valentine's Day?

"It is not a necessity — it's an indulgence," Lawson says.

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

 

1 cup soft unsalted butter

1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces best bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

9- by 5-inch loaf pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, put in a baking sheet in case of sticky drips later, and grease and line the loaf pan. The lining is important as this is a very damp cake: use parchment or one of those loaf-pan-shaped paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric hand-held mixer, then add the eggs and vanilla, beating in well. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: You don't want a light, airy mass. Then gently add the flour, to which you've added the baking soda, alternately spoon by spoon, with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Pour into the lined loaf pan, and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won't come out completely clean.

Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. (I often leave it for a day or so: like gingerbread, it improves.) Don't worry if it sinks in the middle: indeed, it will do so because it's such a dense and damp cake.

Makes 8 – 10 slices.

Excerpted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. Copyright (c) 2001 Nigella Lawson. Photographs by Petrina Tinslay. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.

Chocolate Raspberry Heart Cake

Nigella Lawson's chocolate raspberry heart cake. i i

Nigella Lawson's chocolate raspberry heart cake. James Merrell hide caption

itoggle caption James Merrell
Nigella Lawson's chocolate raspberry heart cake.

Nigella Lawson's chocolate raspberry heart cake.

James Merrell

 

FOR THE CAKE

2/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup superfine sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons best unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

FOR THE FILLING

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

1 cup raspberries

FOR THE GANACHE ICING

2/3 cup heavy cream

5 1/2 oz. dark chocolate, minimum 70 percent cocoa solids

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 cup raspberries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and line two shallowish 9-inch heart-shaped pans with cut-out hearts of parchment paper.

Pour the milk into a small pan with the butter and heat until warm and the butter has melted. Or you can just stick a glass measuring cup in the microwave. When hot, add the vanilla.

Whisk the eggs and sugar till thick, light and frothy, really frothy; I use the flat paddle of my KitchenAid mixer for this, but you could equally well use a hand-held electric whisk. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cocoa and baking soda. Buy the best cocoa you can find, as this is what determines the rich and glorious taste of the cake.

Still beating the eggs and sugar, or going back to beat the eggs and sugar, pour in the hot buttery, vanilla'd milk and when incorporated, slowly fold in the flour-baking soda-cocoa mixture, wither with the flat paddle on slow or with a rubber spatula by hand. You will need a final scrape-down and fold with a rubber spatula in any event.

Divide this mixture between the two pans and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool in their pans for about 10 minutes before turning the cakes out, and then turning them over so that they are sitting on the wire rack, out of their pans, the right way up. (This is because they are such tender cakes that the wire racks will leave indentations.) Now, I know the cakes look very thin and flat at this point, but I promise you the finished cake has the requisite depth once it's filled and iced.

Leave the cakes until cool before icing. You can make them a day in advance, but they are sticky so you must wrap them in parchment paper before wrapping in foil.

To fill the heart, whip the cream until thick but not stiff. Add the raspberries and crush with a fork, though not too finely. The cream should turn wonderfully pink, in a rose-and-white mottled fashion. Sandwich the hearts with this raspberry cream.

To ice, put the cream, the chocolate cut up in small pieces, and syrup in a pan over low to medium heat and when the chocolate seems to have all but melted into the warm cream, take off the heat and start whisking — just with a little hand whisk — until you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Pour, and then spread, preferably with a palette knife, over the top of the cake to the edges of the heart (not worrying too much about drips).

Take out your raspberries and, about 1/2 inch or slightly less from the edges of the heart, stud the chocolate topping with the raspberries (hole side down) or however, indeed, you like.

You can see from the picture that all is not lost, or not quite, if you are heavy-handed and sadly lacking in the decorative arts. I had thought of pretending that my children had iced the cake here as a cover for my clumsiness and ineptitude, but then decided it was better to come clean.

Excerpted from Feast by Nigella Lawson. Copyright (c) 2004 Nigella Lawson. Photographs by James Merrell. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.

Books Featured In This Story

How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking

by Nigella Lawson

Hardcover, 374 pages | purchase

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How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Subtitle
Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking
Author
Nigella Lawson

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Feast

Food To Celebrate Life

by Nigella Lawson and James Merrell

Hardcover, 472 pages | purchase

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Title
Feast
Subtitle
Food To Celebrate Life
Author
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