Very often, my chocolate cakes turn out to be dense, dry and crumbly as compared to other kinds of cakes. Perhaps it is the nature of cocoa that accounts for the sturdy structure and an absence of moisture, or it could be how well recipes work out. For me, I believe it is a combination of both factors.
To yield tender chocolate cakes, most recipes ask for a whooping amount of sugar. Having baked for some two and a half years, I am habitually cutting down on sugar on most recipes, as the Asian palate is not accustomed to the level of sweetness that the Americans are used to. This works well most of the time, without compensating much on the texture and moistness. However, it is not advisable to do so for chocolate bakes, since sugar helps to balance the bitterness and intensity of cocoa. Cut down on too much sugar and you will find your chocolate cakes or brownies to be on the bitter and dry side.
Sugar is not the sole tenderizer where baking is concerned. Other ingredients like butter, chemical leaveners, sour cream and yoghurt also help contribute to a tender-crumbed cake. On the other hand, flours and eggs are tougheners. Out of the four basic ingredients - flour, sugar, eggs, butter, we have two tenderizers (weakens structure) versus two tougheners (build structure).
In a basic pound cake recipe using only the four basic ingredients, there is equal parts of flour, sugar, eggs and butter in weight. The total weight of tenderizers (butter and sugar) is equal to that of the total weight of the tougheners (flour and eggs). Tweak the proportions appropriately and you will get a tender cake. Of course, the mathematics becomes complex when more ingredients come into the picture or when the amount of egg yolks and whites differ.
From experience, I like chocolate cake recipes that use a decent amount of liquid (sourcream, whipping cream, yoghurt, milk, buttermilk). When leavened with the help of beaten egg whites, the resulting texture is much lighter.
Earlier this week, I tried out a chocolate cake recipe and it turned out dissatisfactory being dry and dense, despite the fact that the cake batter was leavened with egg whites. Refusing to let my cake go to waste, I reluctantly followed the instructions and completed it as a Apricot Sacher Cake. The dense cake was sliced into three layers and each layer was brushed with warmed apricot jam. Finally, the three layers were assembled and glazed with chocolate ganache. It sure made a lot of difference with the thin apricot jam layers and the chocolate ganache, adding much depth and flavour to an otherwise dull and boring chocolate cake.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
Taste and texture: Intense, rich, smooth.
Yield: Enough to coat a 8 x 2 inch tall chocolate cake
Equipment and materials:
1) Heatproof bowl
4) Measuring jug
5) Wire rack
6) Baking paper
120ml heavy cream (whipping cream)
120g semisweet (55% cocoa) dark chocolate, finely chopped (use the best quality you can afford)
Making the Chocolate Ganache - Place 120g finely chopped bittersweet dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Place heavy cream in a saucer and heat it until it is almost coming to a boil on medium heat. Turn off the flame and remove the saucer. Pour the cream over the finely chopped dark chocolate and allow chocolate to sit for a while in the heated cream. Stir gently to allow chocolate to melt and blend in with the cream. Do not over-stir or the mixture may become grainy. The smooth cream and dark chocolate mixture is known as a dark chocolate ganache. The chocolate should melt completely if this is properly done (if chocolate is finely chopped)
If dark chocolate is not completely melted - Place the heatproof bowl over a saucepan filled with water. The bowl should fit snugly onto the saucepan and the bottom of the bowl should not be in contact with the water in the saucepan. Bring the water in the saucepan to a low simmer on low heat. This is known as a double-boiler. Stir the chocolate cream mixture gently to obtain a smooth ganache. Do not over-stir or the mixture may become grainy.
Coating a cake with ganache:
Place cake on a wire rack over a large sheet of baking paper. Allow chocolate gananche to cool to a pouring consistency. Pour the ganache onto the centre of the cake and use a spatula to help spread the ganache evenly outwards. The ganache should coat the top and sides of the cake completely. Allow ganache to set. It may take several hours.
1) If the chocolate do not melt completely and there is a need to use a double-boiler, there is a risk that the resulting ganache may be grainy if the heat is not well controlled.
2) Scale recipe up or down to glaze smaller/larger cakes.
3) The purpose of the baking paper below is to prevent a mess. If any part is uncoated, simply scoop and reuse some of the ganache that has dripped onto the baking paper.
4) When cake glazed with ganache is chilled, the ganache will become dull. Use a hair-dryer/blower to blow the surface of the ganache to return the shine.