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A Classic Chocolate Cake


Motherhood for the past fourteen months has been more than what the word busy can describe. I came back to my blog after what feels like ages and scrolled through my draft posts. I knew that if I could sit down for one post today, it had to be chocolate cake never gets old and hugs you like warm sunshine on a winter day something that I've been craving throughout this week.

So, chocolate for dessert. I'm predictable like that. Some will even say boring, possibly even run-of-the-mill. For me, it comes down to chocolate in the end — a meal, a date, a coffee, all feel better when there's chocolate to linger on my lips and in my recollections.


As I watch my little one grow up, many bits of my childhood flash past my eyes. Having children is partly about seeing our older selves in them, at least in some ways. In those early childhood remembrances, I've vivid pictures of my father bringing home chocolates for me and my sisters. Chocolates from brands like Cadbury, Amul, Campco, Nestle and more were common in the stash my father would get. Although my mother baked occasionally, she never baked with chocolate nor that I can remember.

Chocolate was something that was always bought in my home, never cooked. But it became my truest love over time maturing like love itself, from the sweet Cadbury treats to cacao the primary ingredient to make real chocolate which isn't sweet at all. My husband still doesn't get it how I enjoy a bar of 70%+ chocolate or a dash of chilli on my hot chocolate. I make a version close to what the Mayas and Aztecs called cacahuatl although some sources say the Aztecs drank it cold. In fact, the Mayas and Aztecs prepared cacao in myriad ways with various flavorings, spices and additions like ground seed of silk-cotton tree, maize, chili, vanilla and more that Sophie and Michael D. Coe call as "cacao-extenders" in The True History of Chocolate, an extensive and excellent book on cacao's journey. Chili definitely adds that wonderful "afterburn" and thinking of chocolate as chocolate alone is truly unimaginative.


Like the bitter taste of cacao, chocolate has a bitter past, a global history that stretches from chocolate's native home in Mesoamerica to Europe's claimed savoir faire over chocolate making, sitting over a bed of invasion and conquest of the Aztec empire by the Spanish conquistadors, European colonization and plantation slavery. The import of cane sugar and spices from the Global South, where cacao primarily grows, further turned chocolate into the sweet confectionary in continental Europe, the face of chocolate that most people associate with today. Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest by Robert Burleigh is another enlightening piece of work on how the European nobility indulged in cacao import until production was shifted from Mesoamerica to Africa and Asia in the 1700s. Like most colonial plantations, cacao plantation thrived on a slave market.


Centuries later, there isn't still enough acknowledgement to the fact that what passes as European chocolate, is actually grown and raised in Africa and South-Central America, and only processed in Europe. World's major chocolate manufacturers actually rely on exploitative labour, a large part of which involves child labour. From the 2022 Cocoa Barometer, "Child labour continues to be a challenge in West African cocoa production, where children are involved in age-inappropriate and hazardous labour. Gender inequality raises barriers for women, both as rightsholders and as agents for change." To combat child labor in cocoa growing communities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, chocolate and cocoa industry companies including ADM, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods, Mars Incorporated, and Nestlé signed an agreement, developed in partnership with Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel, the Harkin Engel Protocol, also called the Cacao Protocol. But the prescribed deadline has failed time and again.


Going back to my childhood memories, I remember Dairy Milk chocolate bars and the Bournvita chocolate drink as raging favourites in the 80s-90s, both created by Cadbury (now Mondelez), perhaps the only reigning brand in India then. Like their other colonies, British introduced cacao to India also to satisfy their chocolate cravings. It happened in 1798 when eight plantations were established in Courtallam, Tamil Nadu with the Criollo type cocoa from Central America. However, it was only in the 1960s that Cadbury helped turn cacao growing into a serious agricultural activity in Kerala. But the Criollo variety didn't thrive very well in the area, and was replaced by the Amazonian Forastero variety from West Africa and Malaysia. Despite this, the homegrown bean to bar movement has unfurled only in the last two decades after a market crash in the 1980s left cacao farmers in South India struggling with reduction in demand for their beans and a consequent withdrawal from buyers. And that is when the multi-state farmer co-operative, Campco, rescued the situation.


Today, India is home to at least half a dozen homegrown brands who produce chocolates sustainably and use locally grown cacao. Changing face of the Indian chocolate, an article by Anubhuti Krishna, throws light on the Indian chocolate movement, Indian cacao production, sustainability of Indian chocolate and the indigenous and natural flavours and variants.


Food is never about just food, is it? The purpose of adding this brief history of chocolate is to bring you closer to the primary ingredient of the recipe I am sharing today. For what's a chocolate cake without chocolate? I have eaten many varieties of chocolate so far in my life, appreciating this gift from the Global South and often wondering if enough is said and known of chocolate being a commodity from the colonized world similar to many other foods with a bitter past. I am an advocate of food being the vehicle of cultural exchange, of food originating in one part of the world and loved and adapted in another, of food being a medium to connect. Having said that, I also value food's context, its story of how it came to be, why and under what circumstances, which are often dire, ugly and exploitative. Once I know this background, I appreciate my plate full of food even more — in this case, a big slice of a good chocolate cake and never take it for granted.


This is my favourite cake. Not too sweet, moist and fluffy with that soul-satisfying flavour of chocolate. I have perfected it over the years baking it on every occasion I could! Here are some notes to bring about variations to the standard recipe:


NOTES

  • There are two versions I make, one is the usual egg and oil based without any butter and the other is vegan with no eggs or milk. Both can be made to be gluten free as well. I use Anita's All Purpose gluten-free flour for the no-gluten version.

  • I add a frosting for celebrations otherwise I enjoy this cake just as it is with a cup of coffee. So good! For frosting, classic butter cream, chocolate ganache, peanut butter, and seasonal strawberries, raspberries and oranges or simply dusting powdered white sugar, are all great options.

  • If you like nuts, almonds and walnuts go really well with this cake. Use less than 1/4 cup of almond or walnut flour along with 1 and 3/4 cups of the usual flour for the batter in this case. Sprinkle some flaked almonds or crushed walnuts on top after pouring the batter into the cake tin.

  • Using oil is critical in this cake. Butter doesn't do what oil does for a chocolate cake although butter is great for a lot of other fluffy cakes.

  • I make the with-egg version of this cake with butter milk which is just adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a 250 ml milk, mixing and letting it stand for a few minutes before using. The butter milk really helps with the fluffy texture of the cake and gives that beautiful moistness that we desire in a good cake. You can also use orange juice instead of vinegar or use 1 tbsp each of both. The orange juice adds a delicious flavour and smell to the cake. Try adding orange slices on top of the batter after pouring into the tin for some extra goodness!

  • Hot water plays a major role in keeping the batter of this cake runny which is crucial to how the cake rises and stays fluffy. I add coffee to hot water to enhance the richness of the chocolate flavour. You can skip the coffee if you want.

 

Recipe



Not vegan

Ingredients

A classic chocolate cake slathered with melted chocolate and decorated with beautiful red strawberries!


Dry Ingredients:

1 and 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Golden fine grain sugar (or any fine grain white sugar) + 1/4 cup brown sugar (if you prefer your cake to be more chocolaty than sweet) or 1 cup Golden or white fine grain sugar (if you like it sweet or if you're not going to add any frosting to the cake)

or

2 cups granulated white sugar (if you like your cake a bit sweeter)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp instant coffee (optional)

A small pinch of salt - about 1 tsp


Wet Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 cup milk + 1 tbsp lime juice or white vinegar

1/2 cup neutral oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup hot water


(Optional) For the frosting:

1/2 cup peanut butter (or any other nut butter of your choice)

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

2 cups fresh strawberries washed and few pieces cut up

Method
  1. Preheat your oven to 390 F (200 C).

  2. Grease a baking cake tin and sprinkle cocoa powder all over the bottom by sieving the cocoa powder.

  3. Add lime juice or vinegar to the milk, mix and let it stand for at least 10 minutes.

  4. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, and then add the sugar and mix well with a wire whisk. Next, sieve the cocoa powder and then add it to the flour and sugar mixture. Mix. Add a small pinch of salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix again.

  5. Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix everything well with a spatula.

  6. Add the instant coffee to the hot water, mix well and then pour the mixture into the cake batter.

  7. Give a good mix to the runny batter and then pour it into the prepared cake tin.

  8. Shake and tap the tin before placing in the oven to help release any air bubbles and then bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

  9. After taking out the cake from the oven, let it cool completely.

  10. Once the cake is completely cooled, take it out of the tin.

Optional steps (for frosting)

  1. While the cake is baking, in a oven safe dish, add the peanut butter and the chocolate chips and melt both together. You can also use a double boiler for this.

  2. Mix the melted ingredients and let the chocolate icing cool to room temperature.

  3. Once the cake is out of the tin and completely cooled, use a knife to slowly cut off the uneven portion of at the top of the cake. Keep the chocolate cake pieces in a plate and crush them slightly to use with the icing.

  4. Flip the cake so that the cut portion sits at the bottom and the bottom portion of the cake is on top. This ensures an even layer at the top of the cake to help in creating an even coating of melted chocolate.

  5. Now, using a frosting spatula or a pallete knife, layer the melted chocolate on top of the cake and on the sides. Add some of the cake crumbles, place the strawberries, and sprinkle the remaining cake crumbles on top.

  6. Place the frosted cake in the fridge for at least an hour to help everything set well.


Vegan Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

A no-egg no-dairy chocolate loaf that can also be made in a circular cake tin.


Dry Ingredients:

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt


Wet Ingredients:

1/3 cup oil

1/4 cup liquid coffee (1 tsp instant coffee mixed with 1/4 cup water - skip the coffee if you want)

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp vinegar

1 cup water

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

  2. Grease a baking cake tin and sprinkle cocoa powder all over the bottom by sieving the cocoa powder.

  3. In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.

  4. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients.

  5. Gently pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients mix and fold the mixture to assimilate.

  6. Pour the batter into a prepared tin.

  7. Bake for 50-55 minutes or till a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

  8. After taking out the cake from the oven, let it cool completely.


Bake with a whole lot of love, and I can guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Chocolate has got you covered! You won't regret making this cake on any of those special occasions when something baked at home is all that matters!


If you bake this cake, please drop in your comments or tag me on Instagram and share your chocolate love with me! I'll be so glad to hear from you!







 


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