Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Chocolate Rum Cake


I started a pot of water to cook some pasta. Somewhere, I don't know when, I lost interest and forgot about it until I heard the stove top hiss with the sweat of the hot pot. I let it boil.

Baking is a loving, yet precarious act for me. I am not terribly good at it, but I am more than willing to try. Loaf cakes and quick breads are allies and stand-bys. Cookies a wary friend. But full-on frosted glory cakes -- those were another creature I hadn't really stared in the face.

But it's the holidays when people who don't really shop do so. When people who aren't so giving, suddenly feel obligated to give change, donations, and brightly wrapped gifts to those in their lives. Suddenly we're all a bit more cheerful (in theory). So then is my token toward humanity's goodness -- baking. 

It's the time of year when non-cooks take on that painstaking and sometimes painful venture of baking something for someone. If they're crafty or just don't care, maybe the ready-made cookie dough on a festive paper plate. If you're trying to impress your cadre of blogger friends, something dainty and delicious. Or if you're like me, you resort to your pastry goddess friends' talents and pick up something from a professional.

But if there were ever an occasion to try, to give that bit of extra effort, perhaps this is it. The weather is usually shit. The places where you need to run your errands (your usual excuses to not bake) are crowded. You might as well stay in and bake. So bring together two of the best things known to mankind, chocolate and booze, for the ultimate act of love. 

When you offer those in your life something as epically made-from-scratch as this, it's the human equivalent of the cat leaving a dead bird on your doorstep, baking that is. Like the cat you present it, smugly, calmly. "Here," your eyes say. "I made this for you." 


Chocolate Rum Cake Because It's the Holidays

4 ounces melted dark chocolate like Pralus Djakarta (found at stores that actually give a shit about chocolate) * 2 cups and 2 tablespoons all purpose flour (sea level folks won't need the 2 spoonfuls) * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda * 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg * 2 sticks soft unsalted butter * 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar * 1 teaspoon vanilla OR bourbon * 4 eggs * 1 1/2 cups buttermilk * Buttercream (see below) * toasted coconut

Preheat the oven - real or imaginary - to 375 degrees.

Take a medium bowl from the cupboard in your head or from the kitchen and stir together the dry ingredients (all the way to the nutmeg).

In large bowl (or a stand mixer bowl) cream the butter and sugar together until it's pretty fluffy. Scrape the sides of a bowl with one of those indispensible rubber spatulas. Beat in the vanilla and eggs (one at a time into the bowl) until blended. Slowly drizzle in the buttermilk. Then add the dry mixture to the butter using a low speed. Add the chocolate and scape down the sides again and mix until it's evenly, smoothly, gorgeously glossy and dark.

Divide the batter between to 9-inch cake pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Like other cakes, you know it's done when the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let it cool completely. Now is a good time to fall asleep, if need be.

Use a knife to trim the cake into a uniform thickness. I can't vouch for technique other than a long, sharp blade (like a bread or meat carving knife), an inclination for OCD or even a leveler if you're that way. No matter, because the frosting is what will save you. Frost the top of one cake with the buttercream and top it with the other layer. Frost the top of that, then down the sides in a sloppy, non-chalant way. It will still look good. Using your hands, press the toasted coconut onto the frosted sides (get it? it's like glue) until the sides are covered and nothing but the luscious top shows.

Serves 12 polite people; 8 greedy ones; or 1 restless soul.

Rum Buttercream

1 stick soft unsalted butter * 4 cups sifted powdered sugar * 1/3 cup earth brown cocoa (I'll plea to not use alkalized so that some flavor comes through; I used Pralus cocoa powder to echo the melted chocolate in the cake) * 1/2 cup dark rum 

Beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sugar and beat until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the rest of the sugar, cocoa and rum until it's smooth and spreadable. If you're the plan-in-advance-type, this will keep covered in the fridge for a day or two.

Recipes adapted from Susan G. Purdy's Pie in the Sky baking book.