baking a cake

The thing about comparisons is they aren’t really fair. Whether you’re talking about people or books or the way friends respond on Twitter, by holding two things next to each other, you can easily stack the deck against something perfectly good with something you deem so much better. And it can be hard sometimes to see how much preference and taste plays into what we see as good or beautiful or even, delicious, when holding X against Y.

Like, take these two cakes. They’re both chocolate, they’re both from this last weekend, they’re both adequate desserts and cures for a sweet tooth. But if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop yourself from thinking of them as a pair, especially since I made them one day after another, and then deeming one so much better than the other.

cake the first

Cake #1: Healthy! Easy! Fast!

On Saturday afternoon, in my brother’s sunny kitchen, I spent maybe 20 minutes creating a riff on this vegan version, a basic but versatile recipe that can be made in dozens of variations, pulled together in practically less time than it takes for me to drive to work in the mornings.

This cake is not rich. It has the distinct texture of whole wheat pastry flour. It wouldn’t hold your attention at a dinner party. But: this everyday cake is so terrifically easy, made out of ingredients you probably already have on hand, and yields a not-too-sweet brownie-like cake ideal for sticking in daily lunches or munching on when you happen to be in the kitchen. It’s vegan, it could easily be gluten-free and, of course, it’s chocolate.

chocolate cake the first, 2

Cake #2: Dark! Rich! Expensive!

It’s been said that recipes are only as good as the sum of their ingredients, and if so, this second cake’s combination of top-quality dark chocolate, unsalted European-style butter, sugar, eggs and a tablespoon of flour (which could be substituted with cocoa powder or gluten-free flour for those with gluten sensitivities) could explain what makes it pure decadence, albeit expensive.

cake #2

I’ve been wanting to make it for a while, both because of Orangette (from where it originates) and because of A Homemade Life, not to mention reading about it on so many other food blogs. Molly used it for her wedding cake, as did Faith at The Kitchn. And in the spirit of comparisons, where that first cake was Everyday, this cake is Celebration. It’s rich and smooth and like pure velvet on your tongue, wonderful with a little homemade whipped cream dolloped on the side. I made my choice between the two cakes Monday, when we celebrated my coworker Alicia’s birthday, and I think you could guess this was the one holding her candle.

winning hearts and minds cake

So. Like relationships and 9-5 jobs and the weather in opposite ends of the country, these two chocolate cakes each have pluses and minuses, things that make them different and things that make them endearing or frustrating, depending on who you ask. We can compare them, or we can embrace them and their common strengths: they’re both chocolate, they’re both relatively simple and, most importantly, they’re both quite nice to eat—and I have been, all week long.




Cake #1: Easy & Fast Vegan Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Vegweb.com and that six-minute cake from last year

Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup organic sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon mild-tasting vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because that’s what we had on hand)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 8 x 8 pan (just don’t use butter if you want to keep the cake vegan).

Mix or sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Measure in the water, oil & vanilla, and stir with a fork until no lumps remain. Add vinegar and stir with fork completely; then immediately pour into the prepared 8 x 8 pan.

Bake for 35 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean.



Cake #2: Molly Wizenberg’s “Winning Hearts & Minds Cake”
Adapted from Orangette

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces (200 grams) best-quality dark chocolate (I used 72%)
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) unsalted European-style butter (the high-butterfat kind, such as Lurpak or Beurre d’Isigny, is best; all I could find was Kerrygold), cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 1/3 cup (250 grams) organic cane sugar
  • 5 large free-range eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon white whole wheat flour

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Finely chop the chocolate and melt it gently with the butter in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds to combine (or use a double boiler). Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition. Add the flour, and stir thoroughly. The batter should be smooth, deep and dark.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes (more like 35 for me), or until the center of the cake looks set and barely jiggles at all, and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

Serve in wedges at room temperature with a loose dollop of ever-so-slightly sweetened homemade whipped cream*.

*For an easy homemade whipped cream: mix one cup of heavy cream with one Tablespoon organic powdered sugar and one teaspoon vanilla (sometimes I add a little almond extract, too) in a bowl set inside a bowl filled with ice. Keep mixing until soft peaks form.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Kim

    Well, gee, Shanna. Here I go thinking you’re writing a lovely blog post about cake, when you say something like “Like relationships and 9-5 jobs and the weather in opposite ends of the country, these two chocolate cakes each have pluses and minuses, things that make them different and things that make them endearing or frustrating, depending on who you ask.”

    You really do write about food to write about everything else, and seriously, it’s all beautiful. I know I say that a lot, but I am constantly blown away.

  2. Jane

    Shannalee, I’m so relieved you ended up picking the yummy, ultra-chocolatey, super-fattening cake as the one you love the most. I was afraid there for a couple of seconds that it might be the healthier cake that was going to win in this comparison. Whew! What a relief.
    Anyway, I can tell that you know (pardon the food pun) which side your bread is buttered on! That cake looks sinfully divine and divinely sinful. Luscious!

  3. Tim

    Welp, I am all for comparisons. I will take cake number 2 and Celebrations Everyday.

    What I was really curious about, was the whipped cream. How did it turn out? What did it look like? What was the consistency like? Hmmmm?

  4. Maddie

    No way! I read the “Winning Hearts and Minds” chapter of Molly’s book last night as a bedtime story…and subsequently decided that I needed to make the cake, and soon. Your words sealed the deal, so thanks for the push toward my oven!

    And regarding the first confection, it sounds like a perfect everyday cake, and my vegan brother would love it! I’d love to make something for him when I visit next week. Great ideas here, both of ‘em.

  5. George Erdosh

    Having some 8 or 10 chocolate cakes and tortes in my repertoire each which I make from time to time, I often have hard time choosing. However, the old and tried and true Dark Chocolate Cake from the Hershey Company’s collection frequently wins because it is so easy and so good. Not super-rich but still excellent. Often, the simplest recipes are the best (to my taste).
    George (Author of What Recipes Don’t Tell You)

  6. molly

    I happen to believe everyone needs 4 or 5 good chocolate cakes up their sleeve. Even Laurie Colwin included 3, if memory serves, and I always thought she was holding back. I need to get on Molly’s cake. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Jenn Sutherland

    I LOVE this cake…I’ve been making a very similar version of it for every celebration, and it’s always welcomed and devoured. I almost love the leftovers even more, warmed in the oven just a little. So decadent.

  8. kristen

    I have to try this cake! I actually just finished reading her book a few weeks ago and loved it!! So my question is where did you find the butter, I also live in the city and I doubt Jewel has it????

  9. Shannalee

    Sarah, You are way nice. Thank you for that sweet comment!

    Kickpleat, It really is! I have to find another celebration to make it for soon!

    Kim, I am the one blown away, my friend, by how freaking nice you are to me. Thank you, seriously.

    Jacqui, Hard to turn any chocolate cake down, that is for sure!

    Jane, Ha! I hate that it’s true, but I do like a richer cake. To be fair though, I finished off that first one, no problem!

    Tim, Aside from how FOREVER LONG it took for me to beat the cream, I was pretty pleased with it. I may or may not have added more almond extract later on, put it in a bowl and added fruit, which I ate entirely by myself and loved it.

    Maddie, Oh, it’s such a nice book, isn’t it? I remember having that same reaction when I got to this cake, but it took me so long to make it happen. Learn from my mistake! Make this!

    Anne, Girl after my own heart.

    Jessica, Trust me, I understand!

    George, I have made the Hershey’s cake and loved it! Now that I’m trying to cut out refined foods (particularly white sugar, white flour), I’ve been experimenting with new cakes, though, and an almost-flourless one was just the ticket.

    Molly, Oh I love Laurie Colwin, and I love what you said. Happy to make it my mission to have four or five good ones. Yes indeed.

    Jenn, I’ve heard the cake really improves with a few days, and sounds like that must be true! I’ll have to remember that next time!

    Angela, Ha! Right? Oh I hope you do! I’d love to hear what you think!

  10. Shannalee

    Kristen – I got it at Trader Joe’s, but really all they had was the Irish butter, which I believe is *slightly* higher butterfat but not majorly. I’ve seen the good kind at Whole Foods, though, so I’d go there!

  11. Alicia

    As the coworker who’s birthday it was, I can vouge that this second cake tied for the best cake I’ve ever had. The taste of real chocolate instead of cocoa powder was the determining factor. Amaziiiiing. Thanks so much again Shanna!!!

  12. Gemma

    I have been meaning to make cake number two forever – well, ever since reading about Molly using it as her wedding cake. Her book reminded me but then I forgot again. Must remedy that soon…

  13. Benjamin McGregor

    May I submit the perfect medium between these two (amazing sounding) cake recipes?
    I take no credit, since it’s Nigella, but ta-da!

    http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/CHOCOLATE-OLIVE-OIL-CAKE-5551

    It’s dairy and gluten-free, and could perhaps even be made vegan by using egg substitute (I like flax seeds, but I”m not sure they could carry this cake..) Even so, dairy is much more problematic than eggs for many, so I love recipes where butter isn’t required. Because I run out of butter constantly. But most importantly, this cake is so indecently delicious. This recipe is so convenient.

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