[Recipe: Dark Chocolate Cake with Poached Mandarins]
Ever harbor secret fantasies of spending entire days in the kitchen? Of waving aside the piles on your desk, the writing projects in the hopper? Of ignoring the cell and e-mail, because who can type and, at the same time, give proper heed to the hollandaise?
Ok, so maybe it’s just me who wants to drop everything else altogether in favor of making food — although I’m guessing there are those among you who would be perfectly happy to make that their livelihood. Tired, but happy.
Until I get up the guts to make the jump, I wait for the holidays. It’s the one time of year that best lends itself to hours of toiling stove-side, for an at once solemn and festive purpose. Today that purpose was cake, for our Thanksgiving meal. We shrug at pie, that traditional Thanksgiving day dessert, can take it or leave it. But it’s practically written in stone that there must be a sliver of something to end the meal with.
Baking a cake is one of those activities that it’s easy to give yourself over to, heart and soul — whether it’s a fussy confection, layered, filled and frosted, or something altogether simpler, like this chocolate cake. Because even the making of simpler cakes should feel special given the preponderance of supermarket bakery fluff.
I’ve offered the straight-up version of this classic before, which is adapted from Trish Deseine’s Je Veux du Chocolat!, to great fanfare. This year, I played with it a bit for Not Quite Nigella’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge, and the result captures some of my favorite tastes of the season: chocolate, citrus and cinnamon. No worries, though: the chocolate is in no way outdone. It, that tiny slice of chocolaty richness on your plate, is still the willing star.
Dark Chocolate Cake with Poached Mandarins
This cake is better made the day before. The poached mandarins, which are adapted from Gourmet, can be made a day or few ahead, as well. Reserving and then reducing the poaching liquid to drizzle over the cake gives it a clean finish that doesn’t detract a bit from the chocolate.
For the cake:
8 oz good quality dark chocolate
8 oz unsalted butter
1 heaping cup sugar
Zest of one orange
1 tsp cinnamon
5 large eggs
1 rounded tbsp flour
For the mandarins:
4 tight-skinned mandarins or tangerines
1 ½ C sugar
3 C water
¼ C dry white wine or fine white grape juice, such as First Blush Chardonnay
¼ C fresh lemon juice
To bake the cake:
Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and cover the paper and pan sides with cooking spray or butter. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter slowly on the stovetop. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved, and remove from heat. Add the orange zest and cinnamon. When the mixture has cooled a bit, add the eggs one at a time, stirring between each addition. Add the flour, stirring to combine. Pour the batter into the pan.
Bake for 25 minutes. Cake may not appear set, but will continue to set as it cools. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
To poach the mandarins:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice unpeeled mandarins crosswise about ¼-inch thick, discarding seeds. Place tangerines in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish, overlapping if necessary. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, then simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in wine or grape juice and lemon juice and return to a simmer. Pour over fruit.
Lay a sheet of parchment paper on top of fruit to keep it submerged, then place in the oven until tender but not falling apart, 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Discard parchment and cool fruit to warm or room temperature. Reserve the poaching liquid.
Just before serving, reduce poaching liquid in a medium saucepan until it’s of syrupy consistency. Drizzle it over the cake. Serve cake with mandarin slices.