With guests coming and a big community potluck scheduled for this weekend, I’m thinking about easy to make cakes. A dense, rich cake in a bundt pan with a sticky glaze works well for a larger group. I made the following chocolate red wine cake for the first time for one of the big dinners during our annual vacation with 20+ people in Woods Hole. Use an inexpensive wine, even one that’s been oxidizing a day too long. The wine doesn’t stand out, though there is an ineffable something different to the flavor. The recipe would be equally appealing if you used a cup and a half of Guinness stout, making it a good choice for St. Patrick’s Day, as well.
The recipe calls for natural, unsweetened cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is quite bitter and provides a deep chocolate color and flavor to baked goods. Recipes often call for more butter and leavening to offset the drier, stabilizing affect of cocoa powder. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-processed. You can’t use the two interchangeably.
Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (cacao) beans that have been washed with a potassium solution, to neutralize their acidity. Dutching cocoa powder neutralizes the acidity and makes it darker. Hershey’s Dark Special Cocoa is Dutch-processed.
Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are roasted, and then pulverized into a fine powder. Most American supermarket brands of cocoa powder, such as Hershey’s, are natural cocoa powders. Natural cocoa powder is usually combined with baking soda in recipes, which creates a reddish crumb. Dutch-process cocoa is frequently used in recipes with baking powder. Many classic American recipes, like Devil’s Food or the recipe below, use natural cocoa powder.
As you might expect, the quality of the cocoa powder makes a difference. Ghirardelli is a fine option commonly available at larger supermarkets. Lake Champlain, which packages an organic fair trade product, Valrohna, and Scharffen Berger all make excellent cocoas, but Hershey’s works as well. A pound of higher quality cocoa will range from $10 upwards to $30 per pound. It pays to buy in bulk if you can find and afford it. Adventures in Food in Menands has 3 kg packages of Valrohna cocoa.
Since tins of cocoa are usually densely settled it’s important to spoon out the measured amount and sift or whisk it well to break up the lumps. Another recommendation is to sift the cocoa powder with other dry ingredients, especially if you use a standing mixer – cocoa powder tends to easily blow out when mixing. Some recipes call for combining the cocoa with a small amount of boiling water, then allowed to cool before being added to the cake batter.
The chocolate red wine cake is fantastic glazed with chocolate ganache and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I had no heavy cream in the house so I made a chocolate glaze instead, perfectly satisfying. Even better on day two, but there may not be any left.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1-teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups red wine
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. It does help to dust the pan with flour or cocoa. Add one spoonful of cocoa powder to the greased pan, shake the pan to evenly coat, and then tap out any excess on to waxed paper to conserve.
In a bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer. Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, ending with the flour, until just incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely. You can dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream. Or glaze with one of the chocolate frostings below.
6 ounces chopped 50 to 70% chocolate
6 tablespoons heavy cream
Melt together in a double boiler, over barely simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool slightly. Drizzle or spoon over the top of the cooled cake.
3/4 cup chopped 50 to 70% chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
Melt together in a double boiler, over barely simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool slightly. Drizzle over the top of the cooled cake.