Chocolate Cake: 150 Recipes from Simple to Sublime by Michele Urvater


405 pages; Color Photography


Broadway Books, 2001


Reviewed by Dini Venkataraman for Good Cooking
November, 2001


Chocolate Cake

What could be more entrancing, more indulgent, more perfectly satisfying than a slice of chocolate cake? Chocoholics and dessert lovers alike should try Michele Urvater's new book, Chocolate Cake filled with 150 recipes of unlimited imagination. This well-trained author does not limit herself to any traditional bounds, but explores chocolate fantasies in every form. From the Italian tiramisu to the traditional layered sponge cake, Urvater surveys the numerous cultural definitions of what "chocolate cake" can be. Proving that it can be as differentiated as the color spectrum, this book's recipes are creative and successful, and suited for bakers and non-bakers alike. 

Perhaps one of Chocolate Cake's most worthy traits is the inventive nature of each section. Her recipes include ingredients as unlikely as chili pepper and black tea and cakes that include dozens of mix and match frosting options. While the section on garnishes works easy tricks into beautiful decoration, the recipes are a bit limited. With only a few options to choose from, fortunately one can rely on her more extensive section on plating the cakes. From her sugarcoated edible flowered plates to caramel drippings, the resulting tips would wow any cast of diners.

Not only are the recipes impressive, but the methods and execution also prove worthy. With a degree from the French Culinary Institute and experience as a pastry chef, Urvater's skills are revealed and explained to her readers. In her discussion of ingredients, Urvater probes the many kinds of chocolates, nuts, creams and sugars as an explanation of why particular ingredients are requested. Likewise, her instructions for careful measurement and a discussion at the beginning of each chapter make the recipes foolproof for the attentive reader.

Finally, the book's simple three star system allows bakers of any skill level to enjoy the book. While I was not daring enough to try a three-starred recipe, the one star chocolate tiramisu was absolutely delicious and the two star Sacher Torte, while more complex in its preparation, still turned out perfectly. Overall, the book deems itself a perfect addition to any shelf, particularly in time for the holidays. After all who could resist Berry White Chocolate Cheesecake or a Boozy Mud Cake?

There are many stories and myths about the origins of this famous cake. The version I know was told to me by Jurgen David, one of my pastry teachers at the French Culinary Institute. He is Austrian and worked for a few years at the Sacher Hotel, making countless numbers of Sacher tortes, and he swears this is the only authentic recipe for Sacher torte.
Sometime in the 1830s, Emperor Franz Josef, of the Austro-Hungarian empire, asked his pastry chef, Eduard Sacher, to create a less filling cake than the whipped cream-filled ones then in vogue. At the time, Mr. Sacher was working at Demel's pastry shop in Vienna, where he created for the emperor the jam filled cake we know today as Sacher torte. However, after he left Demel's pastry shop and established his own establishment-the Sacher Hotel-he continued to bake his cake. This is how a dispute arose between Demel's and the Sacher Hotel about which was the authentic cake. Eventually the dispute was settled and laws were put into place about which ingredients are allowed in an authentic Sacher torte and how it must be prepared. Today, only Demel's and the Sacher Hotel in Vienna are allowed, by law, to inscribe the name Sacher on their cakes. The only change I have made is to substitute unsweetened chocolate (which Europeans do not use) for the bittersweet chocolate so that the glaze is less cloying.

Good Cooking likes chocolate desserts like everyone else.  Many of the cakes in this book have appealing names, top shelf ingredients and a good professional procedure.

Sacher Torte


Makes one 9-inch, 2-layer cake 
Serves 12

Cake:

7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
Scant 1/s cup (2 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 large eggs, separated 
3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Pinch of salt
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces) superfine sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (3.5 ounces) cake flour

Filling:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 cup (12-ounce jar) apricot preserves

Sacher Glaze

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
(8.75 ounces) granulated sugar 7 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

Storage: 

Keep at room temperature, under a cake dome or an inverted large mixing bowl. Refrigerate only after a couple of days, but bring the cake back to room temperature before serving.

Note:

If you are so inclined, write the name Sacher on top of the cake with piping chocolate (page 345). Or cover the top with crystallized flowers.
To make the cake:

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Butter a 9 X 2.5-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a parchment or greased waxed paper circle. 
2. With an electric mixer on low speed (or with a stationary mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat the butter for 1 minute, or until light. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat for 2 minutes longer. 
3. Add the egg yolks two at a time, beating for 10 seconds between additions, or until absorbed by the butter. Scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl and beat for 1 minute longer, or until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and mix until combined.
4. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. With the machine running, add the superfine sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. With a rubber spatula, fold 1/2 the egg whites into the batter. Transfer the flour to a strainer and sift it over the batter as you fold it in along with the remaining beaten egg whites.
5. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, and set the pan on a larger baking sheet (to catch the drips). Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out dry.
6. Cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack. Run a knife around the cake to loosen it from the sides, then unlock the springform and lift the cake out of the ring.

To make the fillling:

1. Turn the cooled cake upside down onto a cardboard round cut slightly smaller than the diameter of the cake. Remove the metal base and peel off the paper. With a serrated knife, split the cake horizontally in two and set aside the top layer.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of the rum. 
3. Puree the apricot preserves in a blender with 1 tablespoon of water and strain out the chunks by passing the puree through a small sieve. Transfer the preserves to a small saucepan and bring them to a boil over low heat, stirring. Boil for 2 minutes, or until thickened, then remove from the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of rum.
4. With a pastry brush, soak the cake layer on the cardboard with 1/3 the sugar syrup (be generous or the cake will be dry). Spread 1/3 of the warm apricot preserves over the syrup and top it with the second cake layer. Brush the second layer with the remaining sugar syrup and brush the top and sides with the remaining apricot preserves. Set the cake on a cooling rack or an icing grid set over waxed paper to catch the drips.

To Glaze:

1. Bring the sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until a candy thermometer registers 220F. Add the chocolate, stir, and cook until a candy thermometer registers 230F (the "thread" stage). Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir until smooth.
2. Pour the hot glaze back and forth over the top and sides of the cake. Be generous as you pour so that the sides get covered, because the glaze can't be moved once it is on the cake. If there are any unglazed patches on the sides of the cake, use a small offset spatula to patch the nude spots with more glaze. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before transferring it to a plate or platter.