Monday, October 20, 2008

The Mahogany Experiment: When in doubt, add butter.

Who can resist chocolate cake? Not many folks that I know, and that's why I chose the Mahogany Cake recipe from my antique shop find as my first "Lost Recipe Box" cooking challenge. I was also keeping in mind that even food made from a not so great recipe will usually disappear as long as it is presented in dessert form...

Before starting, I did a little research on the recipe. Searching "Mahogany" yielded some interesting results. There was a recipe similar to the one on the card in the NY Times Heritage Cookbook that claims to have originated in 1870, but I found the exact recipe from the card at YumYum, so if you want to see the recipe without having to decipher the spidery handwriting, click away.As you can see above, the first run of this recipe was not awe inspiring. The flavor wasn't exactly overflowing with the chocolate goodness we crave. The "Mahogany Icing" was your basic grainy cocoa and powdered sugar icing. Flat, unappetizing and definitely not attractive. The cake, while somewhat moist, was still very crumbly, falling apart when I tried to slice it. And the raisins and nuts added absolutely nothing to the complexity of flavor (or the ease of slicing!). It needed some serious help, so I called in my culinary muse, the Java Junkie, for a consult. "It needs a major overhaul, and it looks like, well...a giant hockey puck!" I said. "How do we fix it?" She reviewed the original recipe, analyzed the problems, and came up with a few suggestions to improve both the texture and the taste."First we need to change up some of the ingredients. Add a fourth egg, use superfine sugar, substitute half a cup of tapioca starch for half a cup of the cake flour, and eliminate the nuts and raisins." she suggested. "Next, let's address the way the ingredients are combined...let's change the way the ingredients are incorporated thusly - whip the egg yolks and sugar until they double in volume and you can make "ribbons" with the mixture, then add the softened butter (use butter, not margarine), then the dry ingredients, then the milk/cocoa mixture. Fold the egg whites in by hand, being very gentle - the ribbonning is what makes the cake moist, but the way the egg whites are incorporated is what will make it light, like a genoise". "And no tapping the damned pans on the counter to even the batter!"

Having taken care of the cake part, I addressed the other problem..."We have another issue - that icing has got to go" I said, "what's your go to chocolate icing recipe?" "I've got just the thing!" she exclaimed. "Ina Garten's Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. It's divine."
I incorporated all the changes she suggested and as you can see it's much more appealing visually. The texture also improved; moist, with a nice tight crumb. The icing? Well let's just say Paula Deen's got nothing on the Contessa when it comes to butter! That icing is off the charts. The key (besides the pound and a half of butter) is the addition of espresso, and using the best chocolate you can. I used Callebaut but you could try Valrhona or Scharfenberger. It's worth the extra money.

I think that, after the adjustments, the Mahogany Cake is now a real winner. (Smile office-mates, more cake for you!)

8 comments:

TROLL said...

JJ knows her food science. Maybe she should be a contestant on Top Chef or NFNS.

moi said...

I'm not much for a genoise texture, as I usually find it to be too dry. I aim for something slightly more dense and fudgy in my chocolate cakes. But that butter cream frosting looks divine!

Big Shamu said...

I can see your point, Moi, about the level of moistness of the cake, that's why I think the icing is a great pairing. The icing more than makes up for the somewhat drier texture of the cake. At least you can slice this version. Or just lather the icing on your face as a new moisturizer.

moi said...

Ja, but if I did that, it would stay there exactly 2.5 seconds.

Big Shamu said...

True but if you package and sell it, imagine the profit margin. Contessa Butter Face Cream/Snack.

NYD said...

You are just killing me. I am trying to lose a couple of pounds and here you are describing just about the most sumptuous thing i can think of eating.

I'd even take the hocky puck!

Aunty Belle said...

Whoo-hoo for JJ!!

Funny thang is a neighbor an' Aunty splits an 11 pound +/- block of callebraut every year for makin' and bakin'! (keep it in the freezer)

I have never ever had a disappointment with the Contessa.

Big Shamu said...

That chocolate was so good it gave me a wicked migraine.
NYD I still have some icing if you want me to send it to you?

OK Aunty, I saw a Martha Stewart episode (pre-prison) where she and the Contessa faced off over fried chicken. What's your vote on who makes the better fried chicken? Martha or the Contessa?