Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Setting the Mood (Chocolate Raspberry Trifles)

Now that January is drawing to its close, the last big holiday of the winter approaches: Valentine's Day. I think a singular day of romance is rather silly, as if people need a reminder once a year to be good to their partners. There's also much to be made of the rampant commercialization of the practice and for those who happen to be single, it's simply annoying. It will most definitely always have one saving grace, though, and that's as an excuse for chocolate.

Best excuse, ever.
In college, I celebrated V-day with my single lady friends. We would nibble brownies, sip cosmos, and lament our romantic misfortune. This firmly established that life contains at least two great truths: misery loves company and chocolate is always a welcome companion indeed. The challenge for couples is traditionally in securing a dinner reservation for the evening, to which my answer is emphatic encouragement that readers stay home and cook for their special someones, instead. Dinner is more romantic in private.

Cake + Martini glasses = at least 23% more romantic
When it comes to catering more amorous encounters, there's a delicate balancing act: you want to feature luscious, voluptuous flavors and textures to tease and delight the palate, yet heavy food will kill the mood. The challenge is in combining ingredients that ooze with decadence while remaining light on the palate, leaving one stimulated and refreshed rather than weighed down. It also helps to have things that can prepared quickly, lest the cooking overshadow other spontaneity.

The whole mixing and baking stage is a little less spontaneous. I recommend planning ahead.
This little dessert manages to be the total package: sinful, sexy, sweet, and simple. A quick cake you can prepare days ahead becomes the crumbling foundation for silky flows of chocolate cream, redolent of hazelnuts and studded with the slightly musky, sweet-tart taste of ripe raspberries. By blending the nutella with mascarpone, its texture becomes lighter and more manageable and the subtle dilution of the flavors allows it to stand proud without overpowering the other ingredients. With martini glasses providing elegant portion control, you can handily serve dessert for a couple or a crowd.

Perfect portion
Chocolate raspberry trifles

Dutch-process cocoa powder, as opposed to "natural" cocoa powder, is washed with alkali to reduce its acidity and deepen its color. This results in a somewhat lighter, more "pure" chocolate flavor and intense ebony hue for the finished cake, but Dutch cocoa also seems rather hard to find in our area. If you've only got natural cocoa, omit the baking powder and double the baking soda - the additional acid in the natural cocoa changes the leavening formula.

For the cake:
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
1 c dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 c buttermilk
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 1/2 c cake flour
3/4 c Dutch cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

For the chocolate hazelnut cream:

4 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz chocolate hazelnut spread (nutella, nocciolatta, etc.)

2 oz fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.

Add both sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs and beat well, then mix in the buttermilk and vanilla.

Rich and chocolatey
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together into the wet ingredients.

Blend lightly but do not overmix. Scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then unmold from the pan and cool completely.

To prepare the chocolate hazelnut cream, simply whisk the mascarpone and chocolate hazelnut spread together in a medium bowl until smooth.

There will be extra cake. Is that a bad thing?
Slice the cake into roughly 1-inch cubes, tossing a handful each into two martini glasses. Top with heaping spoonfuls of the chocolate cream and sprinkle with fresh raspberries.

Double trouble
Just for two, there will be a lot of cake left over, but it keeps well wrapped tightly at room temperature, and extra chocolate cake is one of life's more welcome problems.



K said...

This looks killer. I've made an easy raspberry trifle with raspberries, raspberry jam, brownies, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream, but I'll have to try the cake and hazelnut cream!

James Pereira said...

Thanks! I like it as something of a deconstructed trifle like this because it makes things even easier. I was recently lamenting that a trifle dish takes up half a cabinet but only sees use once or twice a year... I think it's nice to have martini glasses do double-duty, instead.

Robin Sommo said...

I can't wait to read your next installment! R