This weekend was lovely, weather wise and in general. The temperatures were actually balmy, the sun was shining and everything outside felt hospitable for the first time in months. So much so that David and I (probably preemptively) took the plastic off of the window in our room, allowing us to spend some time on the fire escape and to air out our wintered house. Friday night was spent at home eating pizza, drinking wine, watching Harry Potter and baking two dense chocolate loaves ( I baked, David was my baking cheerleader) until after midnight. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better Friday night!
I hesitate to call this particular embodiment of chocolate a “cake”. To me its more of a cross between a chocolate pound cake and chocolate bread pudding, either way to eat this is to love it. I came across the recipe in British food writer and journalist Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, one of my all time favorite cookbooks. Her recipes range from decently indulgent to incredibly basic, and are broken up into user-friendly chapters (with beautiful pictures) such as chocolate, bread, christmas, etc. Plus, I have real respect for Ms. Lawson herself on a few levels, one being that she is not a professionally trained chef but still cooks and bakes with imagination and confidence in the arena that she does. Also, as you can imagine, the title of the book has received a decent amount of criticism, to which Ms. Lawson has countered “”Some people did take the domestic goddess title literally rather than ironically. It was about the pleasures of feeling like one rather than actually being one”. I for one (speaking as a young, educated,politically minded/forward thinking woman who has a full-time job and deeply enjoys many of the normative domestic traditions ascribed to women historically) can appreciate this.
I don’t necessarily want to say with any sense of finality that this is an age in which all young, western women are able to have their cake and eat it too , but I can say with certainty that the false dichotomy of needing to choose totally between a career path and a domestic path has thankfully been blown clear out of the water. As Nigella says, many of us are able to experience and choose the pleasure of the domestic, be it when the mood hits us, or on a daily basis. The age-old question of “what does an empowered woman look like, talk like, think like and act like” (apart from being impossible to answer if you only factor in the experience of gender, and the myriad ways in which a person experiences gender), is constantly being renegotiated on an individual/national/global stage in our viral, internet based world. And isn’t it interesting the ways in which the individual affects the larger stage of actuality and existence? I vote yes!
I got an arm workout making this bread, it is very literally a labor of love. The most important step in the recipe is incorporating the flour/baking soda and boiling water alternately, spoonful by spoonful, and folding it slowly into the batter. Due to this, it does take a decent amount of time to make the actual recipe, and even after its done baking I recommend letting it sit for a full 24 hours before eating it to let it settle and meld. However it is COMPLETELY worth it. Saturday morning I wrapped one of the loaves and drove it to Brighton for the U Turn fundraiser that night, and I kept the other one safe from David all day until the evening when we served it with ice cream to my parents, for dessert after dinner at our apartment. It was dense and bittersweet, perfectly rich and just a little bit pudding-ey which in my book equals damn near PERFECT. The only thing that would have made it better ( which I’m not sure is even possible to be honest, and this may just be fussy) would have been a pint of Jenni’s Salted Caramel ice cream. But I digress.
Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar ( I used light, but dark is always better)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces best bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
9- by 5-inch loaf pan
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease and line the loaf pan. The lining is important as this is a very damp cake: use parchment or one of those loaf-pan-shaped paper liners.
- Cream the butter and sugar either with a wooden spoon, then add the eggs and vanilla, incorporating completely.
- Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. You want the ingredients combined: You don’t want a light, airy mass. I use a rubber spatula to complete turn the batter, which helps to avoid incorporating air into the mix.
- Then gently add the flour, to which you’ve added the baking soda, alternately spoon by spoon, with the boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.
- Pour into the lined loaf pan, and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit gooey inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean.
- Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. Leave it sitting out for a full 24 hours, and don’t worry if it sinks in the middle, in fact expect it as it’s such a dense and damp cake.
- Serve with ice cream, or (as Nigella suggests) a rum custard. Mmmm.