Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chocolate-Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Captain's Log

Birthday Edition

My parents gave me a new bundt pan (Nordic Ware, Williams-Sonoma) for Christmas, and it is unbelievably beautiful.
Look at those sparkles!
I keep it inside its original box, tipped upright in the cupboard over our refrigerator. This is what I see every time I open that cabinet:
...which looks delicious and amazing until you flip the box and look at the recipe:

...which is 20 steps, three hours, and 5,000 words. Or thereabouts.

This is the kind of cake that, unequivocally, must be made. But only for a special circumstance. So when late May crept up on me, and my sister's birthday was imminent, I knew what I had to do. The decision wasn't entirely arbitrary: Her gift needed to be stable for cross-country shipping and, more importantly, my sister is very special to me and she loves chocolate cake. I was always more of a white/yellow cake gal, and I didn't get the appeal of chocolate cake because, in my mind, it never really tasted that chocolatey. 

I get it now.

Because this cake has sour cream in it, it's incredibly moist, but also a little bit tangy so the richness and sweetness stays in check. Very smart, Williams-Sonoma Kitchens! (...And bakers everywhere who have been using buttermilk and sour cream to this end for generations.) I also added a smidge extra salt because my sister likes her food salty.

Here's the recipe in a more legible format:
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 7.5 oz chopped semisweet chocolate---I used 8oz 70% dark
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp (ish) kosher salt
  • 20 T unsalted butter, softened (2.5 sticks)
  • 2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar  (I used 2 1/4 cups, and I suspect even just 2 would be fine)
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten. Room temperature.
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream. Room temperature.
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

The instructions also say to make a ganache to pour over it, which would require:
  • 6 oz chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

And here are the instructions, complete with photos:

Preheat the oven to 325° and grease the bundt pan. Ideally one should grease the pan with butter, then sprinkle cocoa powder and shake to coat, dump the excess. I used cooking spray and then dusted with cocoa powder, which... was not a good idea. I didn't have a whole lot of sticking, but, you know, it didn't quite have the same Teflon effect that butter would have had. I suppose one needs to take the crevices of a bundt pretty seriously.

Then I chopped the chocolate
and I put it in a bowl with the 1 cup cocoa and 1 cup boiling water
and then I mixed it well until all the chocolate was melted, and the mixture resembled brownie batter
Edible, but only just
And then I set that glorious, dark mess aside. I put the 2.5 sticks of softened butter into my mixer and fluffed it up a little while I sifted the flour, baking soda, and salt for later use.
Then I added 2 1/4 cups brown sugar to the butter...
Note the sugar granules
And the instructions say to beat the sugar and butter for five whole minutes, scraping the sides down occasionally, until it is soft, light, fluffy, and the sugar is pretty much fully dissolved.
See how much smoother it is?
Then I cracked the eggs into a bowl and beat them lightly...
And added them a little at a time to the butter/sugar mixture until everything was fluffy and even. With this much Stuff in the bowl, I had to pause the mixer often to scrape down the paddle, sides, and bottom. Then I added the vanilla... four teaspoons! Vanilla town USA.

Once the eggs and vanilla were fully incorporated, I added the flour/soda/salt and sour cream. I followed the instructions exactly: alternate the two, starting and ending with flour. So it goes 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the sour cream, 1/3 flour, remaining sour cream, last 1/3 flour. 
The batter got delicious starting with the vanilla, and it only skyrocketed from there.
Okay, home stretch!

Then I added the chocolate paste from earlier, maybe 1/3 at a time, stopping frequently to scrape the sides, etc.
And once the chocolate was fully mixed, I added the chocolate chips, folded by hand.
If you need me, I'll be in my room.
Then it all goes in the bundt pan. The instructions say to level the top of the batter so the outside edges are 1" higher than the inside, presumably because the inside edge will "puff" more than the outside. I found it difficult to get the batter to stay that way, though, at least to the degree required.
And then I baked this beautiful monster for one hour and four minutes at 325° until a toothpick came out mostly clean. (A few crumbs are acceptable.) I let it cool, in the pan, on a cooling rack for 20 minutes or so, then I turned it out on the rack and let it cool for AT LEAST an hour, ideally two hours or more. It's pretty dense and holds on to heat with some determination.
Sorry for the blurs. See how there are a few pieces missing along the top?
That's because I didn't grease the pan properly.
But man is it beautiful all the same.
The instructions say to make a ganache (gently heat heavy cream, pour it over chopped chocolate and butter, mix until it's a lovely shiny mess and drizzle over the cake), but I didn't do this because I knew the cake would be traveling 3,000 miles. I think a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa would suffice, anyway.

I cut out about 1/4 of the cake for... quality control... and the other 3/4 went to my lovely sister. Packaged so the missing 1/4 was not immediately obvious. 

Let me tell you: This cake is worth every second required to create it. The texture was dense, but soft. Moist. Almost fudgy in places. Slight tang from the sour cream kept it from being too sweet or too rich. This is a perfect cake for afternoon coffee or tea. And it's hefty, which is more interesting than anything else. I hope she likes it!


  1. What a loving gift. And does it look good or what! I do hope 3>1 shares with the rest of us! d.o.d.

  2. Holy cow this was AMAZING!!! And I am proud/ashamed (proud) to say that it was devoured so quickly that it actually was almost impossible to tell that it wasn't whole. You could've kept that secret! Still--i have about 3 slices left and I am planning for them carefully. This cake is DENSE and MOIST and perfectly sweet (not overly) and chocolatey. An amazingly thoughtful and generous bday gift. :)