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.

Continue reading “Chocolate & Red Wine Cake”