06 September 2008

Ain't that pretty?

I come from a family where food has always been highly cherished.

That is, all food except cakes.

There were, of course, the occasional trays of apple or plum cake, maybe some almond-topped one. But only on birthdays or other occasions, never a cake just because it was weekend or for the sheer joy of it.

Did I mention I love cakes? In any version?

I love how they come together from humble ingredients, forming something extraordinary. Every time I am fascinated by the alchemy of caramelizing sugar, of rising yeast dough, of the endless variations of crunchy, spongy, crisp, flaky dough that basically is nothing more than flavoured wet flour. And I love to have some slice of cake with my tea, either in the afternoon or right the very first thing in the morning.

My childood was meager years in that regard, alas.

There were, of course, memorable exceptions. Other people's birthdays. My last years at school, where our chemistry course had such an unassailable standing that we were allowed to have our own coffee and tea infrastructure in the classroom - and naturally, we had homemade cakes or cookies to go with.

During all that time, I can only recall one place worth mentioning when talking about cakes - the Aunt Emma Cafe in the 'next bigger town'. Their cheesecake, together with a small pot of hot chocolate, was a staple of my youth. I always asked if they had some cheesecake left over from the day before, because by then the slightly rubbery texture and the slighty bland tast would have matured to something better - more silky then chewy, more white cheese with vanilla than plain sticky sweetness.

But one thing always annoyed me. As much as I liked taste and texture of cheesecakes, I found them utterly uninspiring when it came to looks. Do not misunderstand me - I am deeply convinced that form has to follow function, especially with food. Presentation, in my eyes, is secondary to taste and simplicity of preparation. But it IS secondary, which means still quite important.

And cheesecake looks so boring, I can't even get myself to romanticise it as a 'reminder of simpler, better, times'.

So for a long time, cheesecake was something I had as a single slice when eating out, or brought as a gift by friends. But then, my wife asked me to make a marbled chocolate cheesecake, after a recipe she had stumbled upon somewhere.

The original recipe was not really worth anything - the cake turned out too oily and tasted pretty much of nothing - but two ideas stuck.

One of them was the simple thing of chocolate cheesecake. Never had that before, neiter eaten nor heard of nor seen. What a shame that thought never crossed my mind on its own.

And the second was using a rectangular baking form instead of the usual round ones. Once again, nothing really profound, but the effect couldn't have been more impressive.

Because the cake sinks in, as all cheescakes do, and the individual slices get an 'M' shape. As the form isn't too wide, you may want to have more than one slice in each helping. Combine those two facts with the amazing property of slices that they will have the exact same pattern on both sides of the cut, and you get -

Butterfly cake.

Ain't that pretty?

It's almost painfully simple to make, basically failsafe, keeps for a few days (theoretically, at least^^), reconciled me with cheesecakes in general and best of all - the wife loves it.

Butterfly Cheesecake

100g really dark chocolate (60% to 80%)
150g sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (about 1 tablespoon, alternatively one teaspoon of vanilla essence)
3 Eggs
125g butter, softened
100g all-purpose flour
400g cream-cheese
2 teaspoons of baking powder

Melt the chocolate.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar, the vanilla sugar and the salt until white and fluffy.

If you want to speed up the process a little, you might want to stir in the eggs with the sugar and leave it at that for a while. Usually this is when I take a moment to clean up the mess I have made so far.

During that time the sugar can already start to dissolve, which is the most important part of this step. Whisking air into the mix afterwards is only a matter of moments.

I use about half a teaspoon of salt instead of the usual pinch, but that might be a little hardcore for everyone else. Though, no complains so far with my version. Trust your own judgement.

Add the flour, mix briefly. Add the soft butter, work in as well.

Make sure the butter is soft enough, otherwise little lumps of butter will form in the rather liquid mix and stay for good.

Add the cream-cheese, starting with a few spoonfuls at a time. Mix until smooth, then add the rest.

As with the butter before, either you soften the creamcheese separately or make sure you don't dump in the whole at once. I don't want to clean an extra bowl, so I add the cheese in steps.

Add the baking powder and mix thoroughly.

Line a rectangular baking tin with non-stick paper (see first image above). Fill with approximately two third of the dough.

The chocolate should have cooled down a little by then, add the chocolate to the remaining mix and blend until fully incorporated.

Scoop the chocolate mix on top of the plain one.
With a fork (or a knife, or a screwdriver, or whatever you deem appropriate for that kind of job) stir up the two layers so you will get nicely marbled slices.

Put into the cold oven, heat up to about 150°C, bake for about an hour or until a stick inserted to the centre comes out (mostly) clean.
Baking time depends very much on the shape of the tin you are using and may vary wildly. Fortunately, this cake is not too sensitive to overcooking, now will it be bad if the centre is still very moist.

Leave to cool on a rack.

Remember to cut two slices for each helping, and build butterflies!


Mel said...

mmmmmmmmm looks soooo yummy. Damn i miss your cooking!

Reuben Morningchilde said...

Thanks honey, we miss you being around!

Anonymous said...

oh and you should wrap it airtight so it stays jiucy IF you manage not to eat the whole thing in one helping

the wife