Thursday, August 06, 2009

Grad School Chocolate: Down and Dirty Sacher Torte

This is the life of a graduate student: I sit in front of this computer trying to catch the juice from a farm-fresh peach topped with mascarpone and honey before any combination thereof drops onto the expensive camera that I've neglected for at least six months, which I've connected to this computer now so that I can finally upload those backlogged photos, load it up anew, and use some of those new photos on this blog. I have no doubt that this objectively appears to be a pretty sweet deal to the guy who's been climbing around on my roof all day re-laying neglected bricks on my crumbling chimney. But it is subjectively quite arduous for me. I have mentioned that I'm working on my MFA thesis. Long, long days of procrastination. Less time perfecting the production of this blog. But a fellow grad student breezed through town last weekend and helped me whip up one of my favorite desserts in under an hour: Sacher torte. I pulled a recipe from the February 2002 issue of Bon Appetit out of a pile, but the original recipe calls for several hours of baking, assembly, and general patient waiting. Here's the grad student version:

Buy a "Pound Plus" bar from Trader Joe's.
General Note: I move into my final year of graduate school a big fan of the local Trader Joe's. Twice in one week, I have ended my morning run (a new, productive development) at Trader Joe's where I bought supplies for lunch (today: a box of quinoa, a guacamole kit, and some tofu: in a recipe vaguely inspired by 101 Cookbooks, I cooked the quinoa with some ginger and some of the jalapeno from the kit, then topped it with cubed avocado and tofu and some soy sauce and sesame oil). But I digress. Even before I was a fan of Trader Joe's, I was a fan of Trader Joe's private label chocolate--I've liked the stuff since I saw it at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. (I'm not sure who makes it, but they do a good job.) Allow me to stand on a soapy chocolate box for a moment: talk of chocolate has become very elevated in the past 24 months, but I find it helpful to think that there are three large categories of chocolate: bad, good, and really damn good--when you have the time to spend thinking about the nuances of the flavor profiles and the money to pay for it get the really damn good stuff, otherwise eat good chocolate and enjoy it. Trader Joe's sells you over a pound of good chocolate for about four bucks.

When you get home, preheat the oven to 350. Melt about two thirds of the Trader Joe's bar in a double boiler (it helps if you're doing this on a hot day and the chocolate is already soft by the time you get home)--once it's melted remove it from the heat. Then prepare two nine-inch-diameter cake pans (or the closest thing to it) by buttering them, cutting out two rounds of baking paper to insert inside each pan, and buttering over the paper (I suppose you could skip this step if you don't have the paper--just butter the pans really well). Then separate 8 eggs, leaving both the yolks and the whites in large mixing bowls. Whisk the yolks together with a stick of butter melted in the microwave (cooled slightly, if possible) and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add a large pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat them with the appropriate electric device, then gradually add 3/4 cup of sugar and keep beating until the whites are stiff but not dried out. Quickly whip up a cake batter by alternately folding portions (about 1/4 of the total in each portion) of the egg white mixture and sifted portions (again about 1/4 each time) of 1 cup of sifted flour into the chocolate, until everything is combined. Dump the batter into the pans, dividing it as evenly as possible, then throw the pans in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Make sure you have some good jam on hand, for later.

Now, throw together a glaze by mixing about 2/3 of the remaining Trader Joe's chocolate, 1 and 1/2 cups whipping cream, 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar, and about 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of light corn syrup in a pot and bringing the mixture to a boil; then reduce the heat to a simmer and keep it going for five minutes. Whisk an egg in a bowl, pour in a bit of the chocolate mixture, whisking continuously, then add the contents of the bowl back to the pot; keep the glaze-in-progress over low heat, whisking, until it thickens but doesn't boil. Remove from heat. Add a cavalier dash of vanilla extract, whisk. Don't worry about cooling the glaze.

Twenty minutes should have gone by by now, so pull the cakes out of the oven. Since you're not going to cool them, they might be puffy and/or lumpy, but you're going to assemble a layer cake that looks a bit like a hamburger--ah, well. Invert the first cake (so that the flat, bottom, side is facing up) onto a cake plate or a regular plate. Smear a lot of jam on top. Wriggle the second cake out of its pan so that you can place it, flat/bottom-side-down on top of the other cake. Pour the glaze over the top with as much grace as you have the energy for--it's okay if you have a glaze puddle on the plate, but spoon or sponge some off if it starts to overflow.

The Sacher torte was absolutely delicious--only a few more hours of staring blankly at the computer before I can serve up the leftovers. I'm going to run downstairs right now to take pictures of what remains of the cake. I'll include one at the top of this post. And I'll even upload a selection from those months-old neglected photos to the new Chocolate in Context Facebook page.



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