Ruth Reichl's "Last-Minute Chocolate Cake"

I love to read.  Mystery books are a favorite.  I prefer classic whodunits or "cozy" mysteries, as some call it.  In general, I shy away from anything too serious because real life is dramatic enough as it is.  I enjoy mystery books with a food theme and I figure I'm not alone because there are actually a ton of them! 
 
Lately though, I've been reading a slew of food-related memoirs and biographies.  As I was walking down the cookbook aisles at the library one day, I thought to myself: "why don't libraries put all the foodie books/chef memoirs and the like in one place near the cookbooks?"  Well, what do you know, but the library had already thought of that and I discovered a collection of those exact books.
Ruth Reichl's Last-Minute Chocolate Cake, made simply, with unsweetened chocolate and flavored with Grand Marnier
I'm almost done with that library's collection and among my favorites were the books written by Ruth Reichl, probably best known as former New York Times food critic and editor-in-chief of Gourmet.   Her writing is so natural, the stories so entertaining, that you zip through the pages, sopping up the food memories and stories she shares along the way.  When it comes to describing food and meals, her words capture the taste and sensation of each bite so that I find myself practically inhaling the experience...

As an added bonus, I got a chocolate cake recipe out of it too!  This is Ruth Reichl's "Last-Minute Chocolate Cake" - a title bound to capture my attention and a recipe I found within her book, Garlic and Sapphires.  Chocolate cake and what promises to be a fast and easy one, at that?  I was sold, and I made it a little over a week ago.
I am a big fan of everyday, no-frosting, cakes like this one.  Below a crackly top, this cake has a moist tenderness to it and good chocolate flavor thanks to unsweetened chocolate and coffee.   A couple tablespoons of orange liqueur in the form of Grand Marnier (which you could omit if need be but I really like it here) adds interest and gives it an almost addicting, come-back-for-more, quality.  As an after dinner dessert, I like it slightly warm, with vanilla ice cream on the side.  Whipped cream, a dollop of crème fraîche, and even a bit of Greek yogurt also make good accompaniments to this simple chocolate cake.

If you want to, you could certainly dress or change up this loaf cake.  I'm thinking you can use another type of liqueur or swap it for an extract, add some chocolate chips or citrus zest into the batter, or maybe sprinkle some almond slices over the top.  I think the combination here is pretty good just the way it is though.

Putting this cake batter together is a lot like making brownies - a matter of melting and stirring. 

Melt 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate together with 3/4 cup of coffee and 6 tablespoons of butter in a double boiler.  The smell of unsweetened chocolate melting with butter is intoxicating.
I find that unsweetened chocolate is a little reluctant to melt and I can never get it absolutely smooth.  After the mixture cools down a bit, add the sugar, Grand Marnier, an egg, and vanilla extract.  Lastly, stir in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt).  The batter will look lumpy.  I always get a little nervous when that happens but all's well.
Scrape the batter into a prepared loaf pan and bake in a 300 degree oven.  The cake is done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  The recipe says 30-40 minutes and if that sounds short to you given the oven temperature, it did to me too!  My loaf took closer to 50 minutes or so to be done.


Recipe:

Ruth Reichl's Last-Minute Chocolate Cake
From Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

- Makes one 9" x 5" (or 8 1/2" x 4 1/2") loaf -

4 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup brewed strong black coffee
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Spray a standard size loaf pan with baking spray (or grease and flour the pan).

Place chocolate, butter, and coffee together into a heatproof bowl set on top of a pan of just simmering water.  Stir constantly until chocolate and butter are melted.  Remove the bowl from the heat and let mixture cool for about 15 minutes.  Add sugar, Grand Marnier, egg, and vanilla.  Stir well to combine.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together and add the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture.  Stir until combined.  The batter will look a bit lumpy.  Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing out the top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, approximately 40 to 50 minutes (the original recipe says 30 to 40 minutes but mine took roughly 50 minutes so check for doneness).   Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 30 minutes before turning out.  Serve at room temperature or, better yet, warm, with vanilla ice cream.




22 comments:

  1. I've heard Reichl's book is awesome and I've been wanting to read it! Maybe that'll be my next iBooks purchase! And this cake sounds amazing. Rich and delicious.

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    1. I really enjoyed all her books (there are a few)...some very interesting family stories about her early years, her mom, and then about the disguises she'd take on while dining out as the NYT restaurant critic. You might want to check them out at your library. : ) Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. This is a cake that really appeals to me as well. I adore chocolate anyway - and easy to make and serve? Absolutely! Thanks - going on my list :)

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    1. Yes, great to share with your family after dinner.

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  3. I absolutely love cooking memoirs!! I'll have to look at this one. The cake looks delicious!

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    1. I've read quite a few good ones lately - I particularly like the memoirs that involve food experiences from foreign countries.

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  4. This is one gorgeous looking dessert. hm...and a dollop of crème fraîche, fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream sound fantastic with this cake!

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    1. Yes, it's a very nice, simple cake...very good with the accompaniments as after dinner dessert.

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  5. This looks great! I love having recipes on hand that are easy to throw together at the last minute! I will have to read some of Ruth's books, they sound so interesting!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Catey Lou! I am totally with you. I love when I find a simple recipe where I have the ingredients on hand or it's just no-fuss like this cake that doesn't need frosting or anything. Ruth Reichl's writing is really natural and free-flowing. I really enjoyed those books.

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  6. Loaf recipes always take longer than they say (or so it seems)! Yay for books and food!

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    1. I'd agree with you and I say yay for books and chocolate cake! ; )

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  7. This looks fantastic and ever so rich and moist! I will keep a look out for some of her books, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Natalie. It's not overly rich since there's no frosting involved but I think using unsweetened chocolate gives me a nice depth of flavor.

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  8. Yum! looks like the consistency of my fave chocolate muffins :)

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    1. Speaking of chocolate muffins, I just made a batch yesterday...need lots of chocolate therapy right now with everything going on in the world!

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  9. monica, you just helped me add another book to my library requests. thank you!
    I'm with you; i love everyday cakes, although they can be dangerous around here, as i take that name literally (are they called "every meal" cakes, maybe?) this one looks superb; i too, am drawn in by the "last-minuteness" of it.

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    1. Hi Shannon! When I wrote this post, I had no idea it was National Library Week this week; thank you for educating us. I do know that I love the library and go regularly (I'm amazed so many people don't take advantage of their library...I would be broke or would never read if I had to buy every one of my books!).

      I breezed through all of Ruth Reichl's book...I hope you like them. And what's not to love about everyday cakes, particularly when there's chocolate and ice cream involved. It keeps me calm!

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  10. Your last minute chocolate cake doesn't look like its made in a rush :)

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    1. It might not be quick as far as needing to wait (bake time) but it's certainly easy to put together when you want a simple chocolate dessert. : )

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  11. Thanks for the recommendation for the Reichl's book! I need to read more books in English and sounds like this book is worth looking for. :)

    My goodness, the chocolate cake looks so moist! I'm in chocolate heaven right now with two of your chocolate recipes. I love chocolate....

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    1. Nami, I love chocolate too...way too much! : )

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