Jeweled Chocolate Cake

My book club, fancifully named “The Alta Vista Friends Reading Salon,” recently discussed Ruth Reichl’s memoir Save Me the Plums, about her time as editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. The book appealed to me not only because of the inside stories Ruth reveals about the world of food… but also because of her fascinating experiences working as a writer, editor and publisher, a field in which I spent my own career, although in much less lofty positions.

Her relaxed, straight-forward writing style is a pleasure to read and very entertaining. But this is far from a cook book. Ruth regales us more with the quirky personalities of the people she encountered during her time there than with the 1000s of recipes her team developed.

I can’t resist, though, giving you here my favorite Gourmet recipe from Ruth’s book, exactly as it was printed. How could I ever have hoped to improve on something Goumet had tested in its kitchens so many times?

About the cake

As Ruth tells it, during her first week with the magazine she was asked to sit in on a taste test for a recipe requested by a reader: a jeweled chocolate cake. Her unparalleled knowledge of food prepared Ruth serendipitously for this trial. She had actually baked that particular recipe previously and was able to offer advice on how to improve it (better chocolate and another egg). Staff was immediately impressed with their new editor-in-chief.

I used this recipe this month to make cupcakes for my book club and delivered one to each of my friends, so that they could taste-test it during our COVID-correct Zoom meeting to discuss the Reichl memoir. Ruth says this cake “offers so much for so little effort.” I agree. It is easy to make and it tastes “oh so good”. I invite you to try it for yourself.

Jeweled Chocolate Cake

Makes one single layered cake or 12 standard cupcakes

Make the cake

  • 1/2 cup (60 grams) cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 3 ounces (85 grams) good-quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams, 3 oz) butter
  • 1/3 cup (70 grams) neutral vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) water
  • 1 cup (200 grams, 7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
  2. Butter a deep 9-inch-round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper Butter the paper and dust it with cocoa. I used a silpat tin for the cupcakes with paper liners.
  3. Melt the chocolate with the cocoa, butter, oil, and water over low hear, stirring until smooth. I mixed the cocoa powder with the water first, to dissolve, then added the other ingredients and kept stirring until it became a smooth paste.
  4. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar.
  5. Cool completely, then whisk in eggs, one at a time.
  6. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Stir in the buttermilk.
  8. Pour the batter into the pan (or into the paper cups) and bake on the middle shelf for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cupcakes were done after 40 minutes.
  9. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out, peel the parchment paper, and allow to cool completely.

Make the praline topping

  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup blanched hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (next time, I’ll try this with coconut palm sugar)
  1. Toast the nuts in a 350F oven for 10 minutes.
  2. Combine the water and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until the sugar darkens, swirling until the mixture turns a deep gold. Once it starts to turn (after about 10 minutes), it goes quickly, so watch closely. Remove from the heat and add the nuts.
  3. Pour into a baking sheet that you’ve lined with foil, parchment, or silpat. Allow to cool completely.
  4. Break into pieces, put them into a plastic bag, and smash them with a rolling pin to crush them into lovely chunks you can sprinkle over the frosting.

Make the frosting

Mix 2 tablespoons sugar into a cup of mascarpone. Spread the frosting on the cooled cake and heap the praline pieces on top. Slice the cake or pass the cupcakes and enjoy!

The verdict

The cake is rich and moist. The chocolate flavor is dependent on the quality you use. I used a high-quality bitter chocolate and an average semi-sweet baking chocolate that I had on hand, half and half to make up the specified amount of bittersweet called for in the recipe. Most chefs like Ghirardelli Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Baking Bar, but Callabaut and Baker’s brands are runners up.

The simple, mascarpone icing seems to be a huge favorite of fans of this cake. So easy. The praline topping is easy to make, too, and it crowns the cake with delicious ‘jewels’. Don’t leave it out. I had enough pralines from this recipe to decorate both the cake and the cupcakes, with still a small amount left over.

Happy eating, everyone!

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