Monday, April 25, 2011

Brazilian Chocolate Cake

The Brazilian Chocolate Cake from the Greens cookbook: we've been making it for so long that the page is like some sort of archaeological artifact from our history--each stain and bloop of batter and penciled-in note evidence of some or other birthday or celebration from the past twenty years. We've been making it for so long that we don't remember when we started slicing the cake open and spooning jam inside, or when we started using what is technically the filling as a kind of spooned-on glaze or when we stopped wondering why it was named that. We've made it a brazillion times. And so we were surprised when we made it just now and someone made a lewd joke about Brazilian, in the waxing sense. "Then why is it called that?" he asked, and I really had no idea.

But I do know that this is our go-to adult-birthday cake (God, there I go again, like I'm incapable of anything but amorphously crass innuendo) and it is, to my mind, perfect: tender and chocolaty, moist and a gorgeous deep red-brown when you cut into it, but not obscenely rich. There's a little back note of coffee here (use decaf if you're worried about your kids), a little sweetness and tang from the jam, a luxurious coat of buttery glaze, although I, of course, also like the cake in its very plain and unadulterated form, with just a sifting of powdered sugar over the top, but that's just me, I know. Michael makes this cake as often as I do, if not more often, and it's not hard, but you really have to follow the directions, and you really have to not over-bake it. That said, though, one of the things I love is that the ingredients list is so modest: it's not pounds and pounds of chocolate and butter or anything, and yet the resulting cake is so lovely and complex. If you're Brazilian, then you can explain to me how that's a classic Brazilian thing. I hope you will, because I'm all ears.

Brazilian Chocolate Cake
Makes 1 cake, serving 8-12
Active time: 45 minutes; total time 1 ½ hours

Adapted from Greens. The jam is ours, as is the glazing of the top.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (this is about ½ cup of chips)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot strong coffee
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (I actually use unsalted for this, since I'm already buying it for the glaze and want to use it up)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup very flavorful raspberry or cherry jam (or some other kind you like)
Chocolate glaze (below)
Whipped cream and berries or jam for serving

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a bundt pan or a tube pan (I spray mine with that horrible icky Pam baking spray that I am secretly devoted to.) Make sure your pan is one piece, since the batter is thin and will flow through the seams of a two-piece pan.

In the top of a double boiler over low heat, melt the chocolate with 2 tablespoons of the coffee, stirring constantly until it is melted and smooth. Remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Sift the flour, then measure two cups. Even though I don't usually sift anything, I do in this case. But then you're supposed to resift it with the soda and salt, but I just whisk those in. Set the flour mixture aside.

Cream the butter, then add the sugar gradually and beat until the mixture is very light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well, then stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla. (I do this with my stand mixer on "stir.") Stir in the flour, alternating it with the rest of the coffee (this looks like flour, coffee, flour, coffee, flour). The batter will slop around and be kind of messy; don't overmix it, but try to mix it just the right amount (said Goldilocks the baker).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake it until it is just pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick comes out clean or almost clean, around 45 minutes. It's the kind of cake that often has a damp, sticky top--even when it's done--so don't stick the toothpick into that part or you'll end up thinking it's not done when really it is. Cool the cake 5 minutes in the pan, then finish cooling it completely on a rack.

Cut the cake in half using a sharp, serrated knife, then spoon the jam onto the bottom layer. Drizzle about half or a third of the glaze over the jam, then sandwich the top layer over it and drizzle the rest of the glaze over the cake decoratively, letting it run down the side in ways that are more attractive than gross. Serve with whipped cream and, if you like, a few fresh raspberries or a spoonful of jam.

Chocolate Glaze

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (about ½ cup chips, in case you already forgot)
3 tablespoons water or strong coffee (I use water for the glaze)
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate together with the water or coffee, stirring until smooth. Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla, then stir in the butter, one piece at a time, until it is all smooth and incorporated. The glaze will be thin at first, but will thicken as it cools. This part is a little tricky, honestly. When Michael makes it, he cools the glaze by stirring the pot over a bowl of ice, and it thickens too much and he ends up spackling it onto the cake, which is really not good treatment of the bundt. I just kind of stir it while it cools, doing some other stuff nearby for a while and waiting patiently for the moment when it seems about as thick as cake batter, and therefore perfect for attractive drizzling. It will set up somewhat afterwards, but softly. (What light from yonder window breaks?)

These are most of the ingredients, except for the coffee and vanilla.

But here's the coffee! It looks like a product placement situation for Allegro, but that's just what I happened to have.

And here's a little more information about the chocolate. It's not that much, right? But it's perfect.
The making of the batter.

The batter poured into a bundt pan that was Michael's mother's and is more or less a family heirloom.
Birdy licking a spatula, in 2007. Seriously. That's when I first photographed this cake. But the rest of the pictures are from now.
The baked cake--see how it looks a little sticky still on top? That's just fine.
Cake sold "as is." Seriously--I can't resist showing you the part where I don't seem to have mixed the batter very well.
The cake is halved and ready for fun.
This is raspberry jam from a recipe I was just developing for FamilyFun! Handy. But you can *buy* some. I know. I'm flexible.
Then a bit of the glaze goes over it. Doesn't that look so good?
Reunited with its top, and glazed. What I meant to show you, but forgot, is that I put strips of waxed paper under the cake so that I could then pull them out after I glazed it, thereby sparing my fancy platter cookie-tin lid from being covered in messy glaze drippings. A giant butter-cookie tin is the way I transport cakes: the cake on the lid, the tin over it like a dome. It's not very snazzy, but it works.
Getting lit. Also, the cake with its candles. Ha ha.
The beautiful birthday girl, aka (for long-time readers) "Ava's mom." I gave her a hanky that I'd cornily embroidered with the words "bless you." Useful, no? No?
Because she loves me, she said, not, "This cake again?" but "Oh, I always love this cake!"

Mr. Dimples likes this cake too.


  1. I have all of these ingredients on hand! That's dangerous, especially considering the kitchen table full of Easter candy.

  2. beautiful cake, beautiful birthday girl. xo

  3. This looks great. I like the raspberry jam addition.

    Yesterday I made your buttermilk birthday cake to try and lure my children away from suspiciously-colored easter candy. It didn't work, but my husband and I had a sugar-buzz equal to the kids from all the cake *we* ate.

  4. Ooh -- we have an "adult birthday" coming up -- I'm definitely going to try this!

  5. Catherine:
    So this is a completely unrelated comment/request:
    Where did you get the info about the "family-friendly" Alpine huts, etc. from your last year's vacation?? I don't know if I missed any references in your posts from your trip and all the comments - but we just realized that we have enough frequent-flyer miles ( by buying everything for ten years on the same credit card) to fly the four of us to Europe. So now I am frantically fantasizing about French food and alpine scenery... Would you be willing to pass along any info about the hut system or the names of the places you went??

  6. Teafortwo4:48 PM

    I wish I could eat that cake right now. After May 5th. Boot camp diet. Bleh. No beer either. Happy Monday!

  7. Oh dear... I AM Brazilian as you may, or may not, remember, so I will HAVE to research this one. How old is the Greens cookbook? (I'll try to check online later) Although I don't know why I ask. Maybe if it's very recent, I won't have been living there (I've been here since 96) and won't know the reference.

    I don't see anything overly "typically Brazilian" in this cake -- EXCEPT perhaps for the frosting -- and I was frequent a cake baker in Brazil from ages 10 to 24 when I came to the U.S.

    I've even posted a recipe in my blog to a cake that I think is pretty typically Brazilian, BUT I later learned that here these cakes with boiling water are called "crazy cakes" here, so I don't think they're typical of there after all. Here's that recipe (with photos).

    The only other thing I can think off is the (old, early 20th century) connection of Brazil and coffee. And... last, but not least, why, oh why the only thing people know about my country are related to waxing, or hair treatments (Brazilian keratin blow dry -- which straightens people's hair), maybe a bit of soccer and maybe super models (Giselle Bundchem et alii?). SIGH. I almost opened my phd dissertation asking something like that. whatever.

    The cake looks delicious, though!

    P.S. we don't have raspberries or cherries in Brazil, so that feeling is as un-Brazilian as it gets. :(

  8. Jennifer LB5:59 PM

    Why why why???!! ....did you wait till TODAY to post this awesome recipe (instead of last Friday) so that I could have made it for my father in law, instead of my grandmother's sour cream chocolate chip cake that was TOO dense and TOO sweet for anyone to eat more than a few bites of. I still love you. Lots. Just frustrated with the only failure in yesterday's awesome Easter brunch.

  9. Wow! That looks fantastic. This may be my request for my 40th birthday cake!

  10. Oh man, all I need is more chocolate in this house. I'm pregnant and trying oh-so-hard to watch my weight but this cake looks so good!
    I was about to look up your lime cream corn pasta dish from Dalai Mama since summer corn is available now.
    Thanks for sharing all these great tried and true recipes with us. And also your backwards cap photos.

  11. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Yes, I want to flat out cry when I see that gorgeous knowing smile of big boy Ben's! Catherine! Where does the time gooooo?! I don't "know" you. Yet I so very much feel I *know* you. All 4 of you. Man, too fast that Father Time. So you can imagine my sentimentality about my own children that I actually know. Heehee. Hi Ava's mom! History. Cool. (Yes, it's me, stalkery stalkerish very madly in love with Catherine's writing 2kidslife, also known as Liz!) Hugs.

  12. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Cath--your photos are looking good. Professional. I have fond memories of this cake, but not like the nostalgia I have for your salade nicoise with edible flowers.

  13. Margaret M5:40 PM

    Cath, it's me, Margaret. I didn't mean to make my comment anonymously, but I don't know how to work this thing!
    love, m.

  14. Yum! Another delicious chocolate cake. The chocolate cake you posted a while back with the heart in powdered sugar is already one of our family favorites. Can't wait to try this one.

    We have a new game at our house and I think it might be like the Carcassone games from the way you have described them in the past. It is called Forbidden Island by Gamewright and it SO much fun. I bought it for my son for for Easter and we have played it many times since. Everyone at our house loves it. Now I am even more excited to get one of the Carcassone games.

  15. I made this last night for my son's birthday dinner tonight. Will let you know how it turns out, but it looks great! My glaze didn't thicken as much as I thought it would, but I didn't mind licking the pot out a bit.

    P.S. We got him Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers for a present! He'd be having no kind of birthday at all were it not for you, Catherine.

  16. Why can't I find cake flour anywhere? I have never seen King Arthur cake flour!

  17. emacfarland: I'm not sure who carries King Arthur cake flour, but in your grocery store, look for it in a box rather than the typical flour bag, which means that sometimes it's in a slightly different place.

  18. dude. it's 11:01 and I'm seriously considering making this right. now.

  19. Your cake looks deliciously rich and chocolaty. I have a sweet treat linky party and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.

  20. When you look at how it's done, the difference between the usual chocolate cake and the Brazilian one is just slight. But when you grab a bite, you'll notice how the addition of coffee made an impact to the taste of the cake!

  21. Anonymous9:19 PM

    I'm Brazilian too, and I totally agree with Lilian (I had to look the cake up when you mentioned someone googling Brazilian...). Do you want typical Brazilian sweets? Just use sweetened condensed milk on anything. It will taste great, I assure you.

  22. Anonymous4:21 PM

    Thank you for putting up this recipe! I used to make it with my two young nieces when they visited each was "our cake"...and one of the few recipes I used from the Greens cookbook. Yes, the page was floured and dripped on! When we moved I downsized the cookbook collection and didn't remember to pull out the page. Thought it was lost! Niece is coming for dinner tomorrow...will be a lovely surprise (so thanks very much) bon appetite!