Chocolate & Red Wine Cake

Months ago Diana Henry’s From The Oven To The Table was chosen as the Saveur Cookbook Club pick of the month. I promptly put it on hold at the library, and it finally came right before the library closed for Covid-19. So now I’ve been on stay-at-home orders with it for several weeks. You’d think I’d have made every recipe by now! (Come on, have you met me?) I can proudly say I did actually made two recipes though, the other being the Roast Salmon & String Beans with Cornichons & Mustard Crumbs on page 17. Today’s recipe review is a weekend dinner gourmet chocolate cake that makes for fantastic weeknight dessert leftovers.

This cake sounds straightforward. Unsalted butter, dark chocolate, dark brown sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea slat, red wine, and orange zest. Then I read the instructions. What makes this cake difficult is melting the chocolate for the batter and glaze. That’s two separate instances of melting chocolate, as if one time wasn’t stressful enough. Melting chocolate without burning it is one of the most difficult baking tactics to master, I think. It takes patience, a steady simmer, a good saucepan, and constant stirring. The melting of chocolate (which then needs to quickly go into the batter before solidifying), means the key to making this recipe “easy” is mise en place. I suggest preheating your oven while you measure and chop the chocolate, grease your pan, sift the flour, whisk together the dry ingredients, pour the wine, and zest the orange. Why? Because after you successfully melt that chocolate, there’s no time to waste measuring dry ingredients!

OK, not exactly throw-it-in-the-oven, but nevertheless an easy cake that can be served for afternoon tea as well as for dessert.

Diana Henry, From The Oven to the Table

Henry is right. This is an easy cake, despite the chocolate melting. But really, the melting process isn’t all that hard. Her instructions on improvising a double boiler are easy to follow and yield perfectly melted chocolate. All you need is a large skillet and small saucepan. The ingredients are standard baking cabinet fare, you definitely have a bottle of red wine somewhere, and I’d argue you don’t really need a springform pan. Just use your regular baking pans – a 9 or 8-inch pan works, round or square. The baking process took me roughly three hours, start to finish. Which means it is possible to make this cake in the afternoon for an impressive dessert. (Just make sure to leave enough time for the glaze to cool and set before your dinner guests arrive. Garnish with orange swizzles.) But I highly recommend making this cake the day before and letting it sit overnight in the fridge. The flavors meld together beautifully, and it tastes even better the next day.

The cake itself is rich like a flourless chocolate torte. It tastes exactly like chocolate dipped oranges – and smells exactly like them too. Henry’s recipe suggests using the zest of one orange so to not overpower the wine flavor. I would suggest choosing a small orange, or maybe not quite zesting the whole orange, as I could not detect any wine flavor in my attempt. (Although, that could be the poor quality of my wine!) Serve the cake in small slices with vanilla ice cream to balance out the chocolate intensity. Pair with coffee, more red wine, red dessert wine. Or chug a glass of cold milk.

Get your copy of From The Oven To The Table and turn to page 212.

I suggest you preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while we prepare our mise en place.

Step 1: Grab the closest thing you have to a 9-inch springform pan (that’s the kind with the hinge and separate bottom). If you don’t have parchment paper, just grease and flour the pan. (Tip: “Flour” with cocoa powder so you don’t have white marks on your finished cake.) The recipe calls for butter, but I used Crisco. If using parchment paper, trace a circle with the bottom of the pan, cut it out, dab some grease on the bottom of the pan, and stick the parchment paper in place. I also ran my finger around the edge of my parchment paper with Crisco, making a seal.

Step 2: Grab your digital scale and measure out 5.5 oz of dark chocolate. The recipe suggests using 70%, but use what you like. I did a blend of 90% (very dark) and 56% (semi-sweet) because that’s what I had on hand. Don’t have a digital scale? Go by the weight of the package. If using true baking chocolate, it should indicate the weight per square also!

Step 3: Chop your chocolate into small chunks and put it in your heatproof bowl. I used a small stainless steel saucepan. Chopping up the chocolate into smaller pieces will help them melt faster. Alternatively, if you have a fancy double boiler, use that! Set that aside for now.

Step 4: The instructions say to “sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt…” I took this to mean I should pre-sift my flour. Sifting your flour ahead of mixing loosens the flour creating a lighter cake. As this is a torte, it is dense by nature, so you don’t need extra flour. Normally I do a lazy sift which means I stir my flour in its canister before measuring, but for this cake I measured out the 1 and 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour, then ran it all through the sifter. Then I re-measured out 1 and 3/4 cups of flour, and put that in my stand mixer bowl. You’ll find you have extra flour – this is what you want! Just put it back in your flour bag/canister for next time.

Step 5: Measure out the rest of the dry ingredients. You can sift the cocoa powder if you really want to, but I decided that it wasn’t worth it for a few tablespoons. Now whisk together your dry ingredients until combined, and set aside. (If you whisked it with your stand mixer, transfer to another bowl for now so you can use the mixer bowl for the wet ingredients.)

Step 4: Zest your orange. I used a large navel orange, which in hindsight was probably too much zest. I suggest a small or medium orange, or not quite zesting the whole orange so you don’t overpower the red wine. Set aside.

Step 5: Measure out your red wine. The recipe suggests using a Merlot, or any “full-bodied red wine.” I had an open bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, so that’s what I used. Set aside.

Step 6: Now to melt the chocolate. Take your skillet (or large saucepan) and fill it about halfway with water. I used my 10 inch cast iron skillet as my base. Bring the water to a simmer, but don’t let it get really boiling! You will then hold your small saucepan with the chocolate chunks about an inch above the simmering water. Do not let the bottom of the saucepan touch the water! Hold it there until the chocolate melts, stirring occasionally. You will get perfectly melted chocolate. Your arm will get tired. Set aside to cool. (Don’t worry, it will not re-solidify!)

At this point, all of your ingredients should be prepped and ready to add in as called for! We’ve skipped around, but you’ll thank me later. Now, back to the top of the recipe.

Step 7: Cream your butter and dark brown sugar. Scrape down the sides of your bowl. Next, add in one egg at a time. Again, scrape down the sides of your bowl.

This recipe never once tells you to scrape your bowl, which is my one critique. You need to scrape down the sides of your bowl to make sure everything is being mixed evenly. Seasoned bakers do this automatically, but if you just started baking you might forget!

Step 8: Here, I recommend stepping away from the recipe and adding a dash of vanilla extract. I used 1 teaspoon. Stir it in with the rest of your wet ingredients.

Step 9: Now add dry ingredients to wet. I did this in scoops, letting the dry mostly combine with the wet before adding more. Don’t belabor this, you don’t want to overmix. Four scoops is enough. Remember to scrape down the sides of your bowl one last time to ensure all the dry ingredients were incorporated.

Step 10: Stir in the red wine. I turned my stand mixer on low and slowly poured in the red wine all at once. Then scrape down the sides of the bowl and give it another stir.

Step 11: Add the orange zest. I dumped all of the zest in at once, turning my mixer on low. Again, scrape down the sides of your bowl a few times to make sure the zest is being thoroughly mixed into the batter. If your using a stand mixer, be sure to also scrape down the paddle to get any clumps of zest.

Step 12: Stir in the melted chocolate. Try to get as much out of your saucepan as possible (mini spatulas are great for this). Mix until combined, then do a final scrape down the sides of your bowl and give the batter one final stir.

Step 13: Pour the batter into your prepared pan, stick in the oven on the middle rack, and set the oven timer for 40 minutes.

Your cake is fully done when a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes, then flip it out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the glaze, you’ll need 4.5 oz of dark chocolate – again, I suggest chopping your chocolate into small chunks so it melts easily. The recipe calls for 70% cocoa. I just used the same blend of chocolate I used in the batter, just a bit more semi-sweet chunks.

Step 15: Using the same method as in Step 6, melt your chocolate.

Step 16: Stir in your heavy cream and 2 tbsp of wine into your melted chocolate. I did this one at a time, and I used the same Cabernet Sauvignon; however, the recipe calls for port which is very sweet! (You can throw in some extra sugar to sweeten it up if you feel the glaze is too bitter and don’t have any port on hand.)

Step 17: Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar, and whisk until smooth and shiny. Set aside to cool slightly.

Step 18: Once the glaze has cooled, spread onto your cake. I recommend really letting the glaze cool a bit, I rushed this step and my cake ended up cracking slightly around the edges.

Let your glaze set before serving. It will begin to look more dull as it sets and less glossy. If you’d like to add a topper such as some orange peel garnish, you can put this on before the glaze sets. However, if you are going to put a thin slice of orange either use a dried orange or wait until the glaze has set because the juice will run. I didn’t think of that when I added my piece of orange.

*If you purchase From The Oven to The Table via my storefront linked in this post, I will earn a small commission.

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