From Zero to Cake
Impulse baking and the peace it brings.
Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many Farm to Avitabile newsletters! As I rush to send out this Thanksgiving Eve installment, I hope this easy chocolate cake and accompanying bake-along playlist can provide a respite as we navigate this less-than-ideal holiday situation.
What I’m listening to: Ólafur Arnalds, Some Kind of Peace
Ólafur Arnalds’ Some Kind of Peace evokes a feeling of introspection with the inevitability of something beautiful. It reminds me of the deep sense of calm that I feel during the best baking projects. Cresting moments of musical elation (in an otherwise serene context) mirror the moments when a cake releases effortlessly from the pan, when a flick of the wrist yields an elegant swoop of frosting, or when that first bite makes a loved one glow with remarkable joy.
Comparing Arnalds’ album to baking also helps me to discover what I need during this time when the road ahead proves undeniably challenging. One of those needs is an unshaking bedrock of peace from which moments of joy can blossom. When joy is a rare commodity, those fleeting moments are necessary. Even if relying upon them isn’t a sustainable diet. As I listen, cook, and live, I’m continuing to search for something deeper, and something that can brace a storm at its scariest moments. I’m searching for some kind of peace.
What I’m cooking: One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
What better way to celebrate the first Farm to Avitabile newsletter than with a cake? I’ve been known to impulse bake, meaning my brain says, “I want cake” usually around 10pm, and I then proceed to make a cake. However making cake often presents the conundrum of needing room temperature butter, eggs, milk etc, and at 10pm I simply do not have time for such things. Also at 10pm, I’m not interested in the havoc that “hurricane dishes” will wreak upon my kitchen from an elaborate baking project.
**Cue One-Bowl Chocolate Cake**
This cake is made with entirely shelf-stable ingredients that require no advance tempering. The ingredients are simply dumped into one bowl, mixed together with one whisk, and thrown into one pan to make a cake that can be enjoyed by one person . . . or more than one person, but late night cake is typically a solo affair for me. It’s also vegan and brings you from zero to cake in less than an hour, making it one of the more accessible baked goods in my repertoire. If you’re feeling adventurous (and want to potentially use another bowl), you can top it with dark chocolate coconut milk ganache that is also vegan, shelf stable, and exceedingly fun to lick off the spoon.
Time to Bake
For the Cake
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (150g)
½ cup cocoa powder (60g), plus more for prepping the pan*
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup hot strong black coffee or boiling water mixed with 1 tbsp instant espresso powder
*Using a higher quality cocoa powder will of course lend a more pronounced flavor, but I would be lying to you if I said I’ve never gone to the corner store and picked up Hershey’s to make this cake. A note on Dutch process vs natural cocoa: Dutch process cocoa is alkalized to neutralize the natural acidity of cocoa, and will result in a fudgier cake with less rise. Natural cocoa is not-alkalized and will create an airier cake with more rise. Here’s a fabulous article from Cook’s Illustrated that further explains the difference and suggests a few brands to choose from.
For the Ganache (See note at bottom of recipe)
1 standard size can full-fat coconut milk (about 13.5 oz)
12 oz chopped dark chocolate (about 60%)**
½ cup cocoa powder (60g)
** I would also be lying to you if I said that I haven’t used chocolate chips I got at the corner store while buying the aforementioned Hershey’s cocoa powder. If you have bars, use them because they taste better and the lack of stabilizers gives you a smoother melting consistency.
Prepare the Cake
Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a 9 inch cake pan by coating with non-stick cooking spray, laying a parchment paper cutout fitted to the bottom of the pan, and dusting the entire pan with the additional cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Whisk together until ingredients are evenly distributed and no clumps remain, about 1 minute.
Whisk in oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Then whisk in hot coffee until homogeneous.
Transfer batter to prepared pan and spread evenly.
Bake until the cake is set and springs back when touched. Alternatively, you can use a cake tester which should come out clean once inserted and removed. Bake time is approximately 35 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a board and then transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cake is baking, prepare the ganache
Combine coconut milk and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium low heat, whisking often to create a smooth mixture.
While bringing coconut milk mixture up to a simmer, place chopped chocolate into a large bowl. Once simmer is achieved, add coconut milk/cocoa mixture to the chocolate and whisk slowly until smooth. Depending on your dish washing prowess, you can use the same bowl and whisk you used to make the cake.
Leave the hot ganache out at room temperature for 5 minutes, cover it, and then transfer it to the fridge for quicker cooling. Be careful the ganache doesn’t firm up too much to ensure it’s spreadable when you are ready to frost your cake. If it gets too cold, leave out at room temperature until spreadable. Your cake should be completely cool before frosting.
Frost cake, create swooshy patterns for the instagram photo of your dreams, find peace, experience joy.
A Ganache Note: Depending on your frosting preferences, you may notice that this recipe makes a hearty amount of ganache. That’s because I refuse to call for a fraction of a can of coconut milk. About half the yielded ganache works well with this cake, and here are some things you can do with the excess.
Save it! Since there are no animal fats, it will last in the fridge for a while.
Use it for cupcakes
Use it in a chocolate tart.
Eat it with a spoon while nobody’s home and you’re watching embarrassing TV in your comfy pants.
Give in to the siren’s call of ganache and unapologetically put all frosting on the cake, because frosting is delicious.