So I just got finished with a luncheon event with Deb Perelman. Yes, that Deb Perelman. I say “with” because for a few ticks of the clock, I want to imply that I was her opening act.
I wasn’t. Maybe someday, but today I just bought tickets like everyone else, lunched on three lovely offerings from her cookbook, and realized she would probably be the most fun ever to hang out with. This last bit is great news, because I have been invited to attend a meet and greet this evening with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame. So we’re clear about which Deb Perelman we’re talking about, I wrote that out. Currently the thing which weighs heaviest on my mind is if I should wear the same thing as I did (thus upping the chances that she recognizes me) or if I should go for something different (thus making it seem like I have many outfits.) Needless to say, complete sentences aren’t coming easily to me at the moment. Forgiveness requested in advance, and in return, I’ll tell you all about Deb in my next post. I took so many notes too, between the eating and the happy tears.
Today, we will discuss chocolate cake and the Dahlia Bakery cookbook, because it’s fantastic. It’s one of the only cookbooks I received for Christmas that I didn’t ask for; rather, it was a surprise find from Mr. Table, who likes to research extensively to find things I’ll like. This one stood out to him, evidently, and so I was introduced to the most popular bakery in Seattle.
I’ve read through and made enough from this book enough to give you a pretty solid review, I think. Why? Because it’s a pretty solid book; a fantastic mix of attention to detail but without the obsessive pursuit of perfection, which appeals to me. I’m all for perfection, but I think that one person’s “perfect” cupcake may look very different from someone else’s; there’s just not one way to be spot-on. The Dahlia Bakery seems to strive for a rustic perfection, filled with hearty, soulful baked goods and savory items.
The savory items in particular caught my eye: the word “bakery” in a cookbook makes me think more of yeast donuts and pastries than it does breakfast sandwiches, and that’s not always a fair assessment. This book is filled with savory offerings, each one of them looking more satisfying than the next. If you gave me a choice of sweet versus savory for breakfast, I’d choose the latter almost without exception; my days are busy, and sweet doesn’t always cut it for getting through the day. Savory also reminds me of brunch food, and there’s quite a few things in this book which would get you through a brunch any time of year.
My other favorite thing about this book? The pie and tart section. It’s inspired, and there are just as many fresh takes on classics (the famous triple coconut cream pie) as there are original selections (chocolate caramel pecan tart, which doesn’t sound inventive, but you should see it). And get this; there’s an entire section entitled “English Muffin Love” which seems to have been written just for me and anyone else who knows in their heart that they could eat english muffins day and night.
Overall, it seems like they’re very “rustic with a twist” in their products. There’s a vaguely Italian sensibility to it (and indeed, Italian ingredients make frequent appearances, popping up in amaretti cookies and mascarpone cream) without it being an “Italian” bakery cookbook at all. I would say it’s old-school baking, but not in the way that it’s boring or that it’s all been done before. For example, there’s several beautiful variations on brioche dough, and each version is used for a different type of recipe.
I think all cookbooks should have certain things in them which make them, at least for me, very practical to have in a library. This book meets my cookbook checklist criteria, and then some, with things like:
- A robust resource section if you’re wondering where to find the chocolate they use, or any specialty ingredients. And if you can get ingredients at your local grocery, they’ll tell you that too, rather than making you seek out a specific brand.
- An equally helpful “how to” section. I know many of us by now know how to chop chocolate for melting, and how best to fold egg whites into something, but not everyone knows this, and those things can be so frustrating for someone who’s never done it before. I like sections like that also because I have bad habits, and reading about how someone else does it at times serves to break me of my own mistakes.
- Singular recipes that you can mix and match. I adore this in a cookbook, and it always makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. Having a book in your library with tons of recipes for basics you can build on and play with spawn creativity, in my opinion. They make you think about how you can make something your own, and give you the tools to do it with so you’re not going in without a net. This one has everything from the honey chocolate glaze you see on this cake, to recipes for vanilla bean mascarpone and maple-molasses pecans. And I bet you just thought of 10 things you could add those to.
If I had to list a con or weak spot, I’d say it was the ice cream section. Or rather, I’d say it was the ice cream section until I really understood the book. At first, having come down from my Jeni’s Splendid and Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream cookbook high, I was slightly disappointed to see just a few ice creams listed in this book. Then it dawned on me; the ice creams seem to be completely perfect as a way to showcase their sweet items. The ice creams in this book aren’t crazily flavored, but that’s okay, because I’m guessing they would pair perfectly with every last cookie, cake and pie in the rest of the book. So it’s the con that’s not a con, unless you’re looking for a huge ice cream section. If you are, I would steer you to either of the books I mentioned above.
So there you have it. I’ll add this (and my other recent purchases) to the cookbook library very soon, and this one is going to be a recommended one. I would say it’s not the best thing for complete beginners (at least I could think of easier ways to start off) but if you’ve managed to get pretty good at the basics of baking, you love savory breakfast offerings, and a good hot sandwich makes you happy no matter what sort of day you’re having, this book is for you.
This cake, I think, is a great example of the sweet half of the cookbook: it’s classic but with a few surprise ingredients (potatoes!), and the honey glaze is incredible on top of it. It’s also the best glaze I’ve ever made for a cake, in that it holds together very well, gives your bundt that professional “I drizzled this like I’ve done it a thousand times before” look without much effort, and it firms up nicely but doesn’t crack when you cut into the cake. Bonus feature: honestly, try it with everything which comes to mind, but I tried it as a filling for some of those hamantaschen we just talked about. Result? Perfection, especially if you love orange and chocolate together.
Adapted from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle by Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance.
Classic Chocolate Bundt + Chocolate Honey Glaze
for the cake:
- 8 ounces russet potatoes
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 5 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
for the glaze:
- 6 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
for the pan preparation:
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- unsalted butter or cooking spray
Make your cake:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder in a small bowl. Generously butter or spray your bundt pan with cooking spray and then dust with the flour/cocoa mixture, tapping out the excess. Place the prepared pan in the refrigerator to set.
What determines butter or cooking spray? The fanciness of your bundt pan. In my experience, the more intricate your pan, the harder it is to get butter into all the cracks and crevices. If your pan is a simple one (like the one i used for this), use butter. For more exciting pans (such as the Heritage Bundt, a favorite of mine), you may want to opt for cooking spray.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Put the saucepan over high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 8-10 minutes (time it from when your water begins to simmer). Remove potatoes from the water and drain well, at least 5 minutes to allow the water to evaporate. Put the potatoes through a ricer in batches. By the end of your ricing, you should have about 1 cup of potatoes (do not pack). Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Combine the chopped chocolate and honey (from the cake ingredients) in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water overtop and let it sit for about 4 minutes. Whisk the ingredients together until everything has melted and your mixture is completely combined and smooth, and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and shortening and beat on high until fluffy and pale, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the sugar and continue to beat on high for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition for about 15 seconds per egg, scraping down the bowl as needed (you’ll need to do this a few times.) Once the eggs have been beaten in, add the vanilla, beat until incorporated, then scrape down the bowl again.
With the mixer on low speed, add the potato and stir until combined. Add the chocolate-honey mixture and continue to stir until everything is fully incorporated, 30-45 seconds, scraping the bowl down about halfway through.
Add the dry ingredients in 2 parts on low speed, alternating them with the sour cream (which can just go in all at once; dry/wet/dry.) Keep mixer on low speed, being careful not to overmix, until your batter is completely combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more, checking for any dry patches.
Remove your prepared bundt pan from the fridge and scrape your very thick batter into it. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles, and slide into your oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes, checking at the 45-minute mark for doneness. You don’t want to over-bake this cake, so be diligent in testing it.
Remove the pan from the oven and lift onto a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes or so before unmolding. When it’s ready, place a 9-inch round cake cardboard or the bottom of a springform pan (me!) over the exposed part of the cake. Think through the flip in terms of hand placement, place hands accordingly, and firmly grip and flip your cake onto the vehicle of choice. Set carefully back onto the wire rack to cool completely before glazing.
Make your glaze:
Nothing to this; place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl or double boiler sitting over top of a saucepan of just simmering water, being careful to not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. met the chocolate, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula. When everything is smooth, remove from the heat.
While your chocolate is melting, warm your cream until it is unchilled (say, just a little hotter than room temperature, and I don’t care if you do it in a microwave) and then add it to the chocolate mixture, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the honey, vanilla, and salt, and allow the glaze to cool for about 30 minutes before pouring over the cake. You can test it before then to see if it’s thick enough, but I needed to wait the full 30 minutes before I was confident it wouldn’t run right off the cake.
I like to put my glaze into a pour-friendly container with a spout, like a Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Place your cake (still on the wire rack) in a place where you can easily turn it a full 360 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper underneath the wire rack, and start pouring carefully, turning the cake as needed to keep things even. Don’t feel like you need to hit it on the first round; do a loop, wait to see where it goes, then do another loop.
Decorate as you see fit with sprinkles, and indeed, sprinkles are spectacular on a solid chocolate-on-chocolate cake.