I’ve learned not to get too attached to the idea of Spring here in Colorado. The weather will deceive you into thinking that she’s on her way, only to spurn you with an arctic cold shoulder leaving you frozen for weeks. There are many years when we skip Spring altogether and go from winter to summer in a day’s time. Yo-yo weather, I call it. And what an up and down week we’ve had!
Much to the delight of the kids, school was cancelled three out of 5 days last week because of the snow. Two came from a forecasted storm and one was a surprise when a different storm which was supposed to bring only a dusting of snow ended up dropping 5 to 6 inches on us. C’est la vie. At least we can rely on chocolate cake to get us through these winter months.
When it’s snowing, what I love to do most is to bake. Something about watching the snow fall outside my kitchen windows beckons me to put on the kettle and switch on the oven. It really doesn’t matter what I make, as long as it’s sweet and fills the house with enticing aromas of vanilla or sugar and spices.
I had a few blood oranges left over from last week’s cocktail (see my previous post) and you know how much I love candied oranges. I thought they would be the perfect way to garnish my favourite chocolate cake. This gâteau au chocolat is made from a very old recipe that was passed down to my grandmother from her mother. She was an expert on the necessities of life and used to say, “There are two things every woman needs: A very good pair of shoes and a killer chocolate cake recipe.”
I have modernized it just a bit without changing its essence. Butter in place of oleo, fresh milk in place of sour. It’s perfectly adapted for baking at high altitude and is incredibly moist, rich and spongy. I make a very simple cocoa frosting with pantry staples to go on top. From there it can be garnished or jazzed up with anything you like. I especially love to top it with fruit. Raspberries in the summer, figs in autumn, winter citrus or simply a dusting of powdered sugar. Last week, I arranged the candied oranges on top and, inspired by the snow fall, sprinkled over some confectioner’s sugar. It’s so nice to have an impromptu holiday with the kids spent baking a decadent afternoon treat, even if it means that Spring is still too far off in the distance to see. This cake, with a cup of coffee for me and tea for the kids, was the perfect treat to get us through another winter storm.
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Chocolate Cake with Candied Oranges (high altitude recipe)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup flour
1/4 cup all-natural, unsweetened cocoa
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp baking soda
Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 C). Butter an 8-inch/20-cm round cake pan. Trace the bottom of the pan on a piece of parchment paper and cut out the circle. Butter the pan and press the parchment into the bottom. Butter the parchment and dust the inside of the pan with a little cocoa powder. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, with an electric hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Set aside.
Stir together the milk and the vinegar.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt together into another bowl.
Beat half the flour into the butter and egg mixture, followed by half the milk. Add the remaining flour and remaining milk, mixing well after each addition.
Place the baking soda in a glass measuring cup and pour in the hot water. Stir until dissolved. Slowly beat the water into the batter until smooth, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. The batter will be very thin.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring any air bubbles to the surface. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from the pan and frosting. Garnish the cake with candied oranges and a dusting of powdered sugar.
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup all natural cocoa
1 1/2 cup icing sugar (plus more for garnish)
4 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Whisk the cocoa into the melted butter. Add the icing sugar and the milk and whisk until smooth (if too dry add a few more drops of milk). Whisk in the vanilla, and use immediately. Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator.
Blanching the oranges twice removes the bitterness and tenderizes the rind so that it can be eaten peel and all.
1 blood orange
1/2 cup sugar (plus more for dredging)
1/2 cup water
Wash the orange well. Slice into 1/4-inch slices.
Place the slices in a small sauce pan and cover with cool water. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Drain the oranges in a colander and rinse with cool water. Place back in the pan and cover, again, with water. Simmer for 10 minutes, drain and rinse.
Rinse out the pan and place back on the heat. Add the sugar and half a cup of water. Bring to a simmer. Carefully place the oranges in the boiling sugar. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, turning the oranges occasionally, until most of the liquid has boiled out and the syrup is thick and sticky.
With a fork, transfer the orange slices to a cooling rack to drain.
Place a small amount of sugar in a small bowl. When the oranges are cool enough to touch but still sticky, dip them in the sugar, coating both sides. Place back on the rack to dry completely.
When the cake is ready to serve, cut the orange slices in half and arrange on top of the cake.