Thursday, November 3, 2011

Marble Cake

Years ago when I lived in Shanghai, my parents and I would go to the Westin hotel for lunch. There weren't a lot of dimsum restaurants back then and a twenty minute taxi ride wasn’t too bad. Besides, this place was pretty decent, there was good service, velvet curtains that hung from the tall windows, soft piano music played in the background, and the manager came by our table to exchange pleasantries. Of course, what kept us going back were the juicy shrimp dumplings, steamed BBQ pork buns, and spare ribs with black bean sauce that the chef consistently pumped out every time.

After lunch, we walked down to the bakery on the second floor and pondered over thick crusty loafs of rye, sourdough breads, and baguettes, some dressed in sesame seeds or in a flurry of sunflower and poppy seeds, or just baring it all naked. On the other side of the room were homemade chocolates, heaping boxes of truffles for Valentine's day, chocolate bunnies wrapped in pink, yellow, and baby blue foil for Easter, plus little packets of orangettes, chocolate-covered mint patties and chocolate-covered almonds perfect for gifts.

There was also a table teeming with quickbreads, though they might as well have been called cakes, given the generous ratio of butter to flour. There was coconut bread, banana bread, pound cake, carefully arranged on display and each wrapped in cellophane, adorned with a gold label, tied with blue ribbons curled at the end like ringlets. We usually took home the marble cake, a heavy, nine-inch loaf with a gorgeous golden colour, an irregular crack running down the middle, and the mysterious curves of vanilla and chocolate that hypnotized me on the ride home.

I don't remember how it tasted, but I do recall my mom cutting me a piece for breakfast. Really, that's all I had. I hated milk back then, yogurt was out of the question, I didn't even eat fruit unless it was peeled for me (I'm a wee bit spoiled). The nutritional content of my morning meals were the least of my mom's concerns back then-- time was far more important. School mornings were a mad dash, she had to rouse me awake at six am, make sure I didn't 'accidentally' crawl back under the warm covers when I was supposed to get dressed, then she had to put breakfast on the table and usher me to the bus stop lest I miss it and shamelessly cab it to school, wasting $17 (a hefty sum in China).

The recipe is pretty simple: A basic white cake mix is prepared, chocolate added to some reserved batter, and then silky scoops of vanilla and chocolate batter are dumped into the loaf pan like a checkerboard. The best part is the twisting and twirling of the two flavors; a moment to pretend to be a famous artist, using a knife to swirl the batters all around the pan…Et viola! An edible impressionist cake masterpiece!

My mom likes loves LURRRRVES marble cake. She's been urging me to make this cake whenever she spots me rolling up my sleeves and take out the flour the pantry. So being the awesome (albeit sometimes spoiled) daughter that I am, I baked this cake not once, but twice in a week. Once for her birthday celebration with her friends and a second time for her real birthday. You would make this cake everyday if you could. The cake is velvelty smooth, buttery and rich, yet not too heavy that it fills you with regret, in fact, just one slice is enough to satisfy the sweet tooth that never seems to go away.

Marble Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

The only thing I changed in the recipe was the amount of sugar, I dialed it down just a tad and rest assured, you won’t miss it here. Be careful not to over bake the cake, it can dry out pretty easily, so when you’re close to the end of the baking time, keep checking the doneness of the cake. To watch out how to create the 'checkerboard', click on the recipe link above to find a video that will guide you through the steps.

Makes one 9-inch loaf cake 

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 + ¾ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour. Set aside 1/3 of the batter.

3. In a bowl, mix cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the cocoa mixture to the reserved cake batter; stir until well combined.

4. Spoon batters into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate to simulate a checkerboard. To create marbling, run a table knife through the batters in a swirling motion.

5. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn out cake from pan and cool completely on the rack. Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Recipe here!

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