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 #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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
- 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
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.