Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Armagnac Cake


I have to admit that I was more than a little bit dubious when I first read the recipe for this week's TWD pick, Chocolate Armagnac Cake. I loved the fun story behind the cake, of course -- Dorie was fired from her first real professional kitchen job for swapping out the whisky and raisins in the restaurant's wildly popular chocolate cake with armagnac and prunes, which Dorie calls "the world's most misunderstood fruit." Well, I'm not proud of it, but I will stand up and be counted among the world's prune misunderstanders. It seems like any fruit that is most commonly mentioned in the context of ". . . it comes in a blue bottle, and if that doesn't work, try some prunes" is just begging to be misunderstood.

So I wasn't really fired up about the prunes, but given the great story behind this cake, I wanted to stay as close to Dorie's subversive version as I could. Therefore, I reluctantly settled on prunes pretty early in the process. Unfortunately, I could not get Armagnac; in fact, my liquor store guy had never even heard of it, which is sort of like the hardware store guy not knowing what needle nose pliers are. In spite of this, I will continue to patronize this store for all of my bizarre cooking liquor needs, because the proprietor is friendly, eager to sell me the airline-sized bottles rather than going for the up-sell, and willing to not recognize me no matter how many times I go in there, which helps alleviate my Catholic guilt over being in the packy in the first place. With Armagnac being a no go, I settled on an orange-infused cognac:



which I figured could also be used to make a killer margarita sometime.

So I procured the key ingredients for this cake, but I was really worried that the prunes in particular were going to distract from the chocolatey goodness of the cake. I tend to get easily distracted when something/someone has a really distinctive characteristic that you wouldn't expect that thing/person to have. For example, I have an old school friend who bears an uncanny resemblance to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was a really cool guy (still is, I'm sure) -- fun, interesting, witty -- but whenever I found myself in a conversation with him, he would be talking away and I would just stand there thinking "you look exactly like Flea." Which would cause me to miss most of what he said. So I was worried that the prunes would be to this chocolate cake what T's resemblance to Flea was to T.

The new chocolate and peanut butter?



And, of course, nothing is ever easy around here, so I had a couple of speed bumps on the path to making the cake. I made a shrimp dish for dinner the night I made the cake -- the same shrimp dish that I dropped earlier in the week -- and this time I did not drop it, but I did burn really inconvenient parts of my hand when I grabbed the skillet handle (which had been in the 400 degree oven) with my bare hand after setting it down on the counter. That made things like holding a knife or stirring anything rather painful. Then I realized that our long lighter was out of fluid, so I couldn't set the prunes on fire. So I made a grocery list and asked David to run to the store for me. I love that this man doesn't even bat an eyelash anymore when I tell him I need a few more things in order to make my cake, and hand him a list that reads:

lighter
eggs
neosporin

In fact, he will usually be proactive and say "okay, are you sure that's it? You're all set on vanilla? Gauze?"

Time to make the cake! Not many dry ingredients in this one - just 2/3 cup of ground pecans, 1/4 cup of flour and a little salt. But Dorie wastes no time getting the ol' adrenaline pumping, because once that stuff is all mixed together, it's time for the pyrotechnics! The prunes get cooked in a little water to soften them up, and then add the liquor to the pan and ignite. I was nervous -- for years I operated under a no-flambé rule in my kitchen. While my hubs is very supportive of my passion for cooking, I think he has witnessed one too many "incidents" over the years to be able to feel really good about the idea of me taking a match to highly flammable substances around high heat sources. But I ended up setting some brandy on fire in conjunction with coq a vin a few months ago, and while it did produce spectacular flames that scared the hell out of me, no harm was done, so the flambé moratorium was lifted.

This time, I experienced an odd combination of disappointment and relief when my prunes burned in a decidedly non-spectacular manner:



It clearly did what it was supposed to do -- it burned a low, blue, contained flame in the pan for several minutes. It was kind of like watching Britney when she's on the wagon -- I'm GLAD she's on the wagon; that's where she needs to be; I hope she stays there forever. But admit it -- it's not as interesting to watch.

After firing up your prunes, you proceed to dirty up more bowls than you even knew you had in your kitchen. There's the bowl for melting the chocolate and butter. The bowl (or two) for separating your eggs. The bowl for whisking together the egg yolks and sugar. The bowl for whisking together some egg whites. It is kind of hard not to think "Holy bowls! This better be one darn good cake!" (Don't worry -- it is.)

After mixing together the chocolate/butter mixture with the egg yolk/sugar mixture, the prune/booze mixture, and the ground nut/flour mixture (which had all been in different bowls up until this point), you add in some egg whites that you've been whipping up in another bowl until they hold "firm, glossy peaks." I went through my usual egg white whipping thought progression: "that looks glossy but not firm. Is that firm? It is not holding a peak. Wait, yes it is. But it's not glossy. Did I just blow right past glossy? %^@$!."

Folding in the egg whites:



Ready to bake:



The glaze is a combination of bittersweet chocolate, butter and confectioner's sugar. Mine seemed more like a frosting than a glaze (I followed the recipe exactly), and the consistency was more "spreadable" than "pourable." But I thought it was perfect -- I would not change a thing.

Wow. What can I say about this cake? It is amazing. I have enjoyed almost all of the Dorie recipes I've made since I've been in TWD, but every once in a while we make one that leaves me in a complete state of disbelief that I produced something so wonderful in my own kitchen. The French Pear Tart. The Tall & Creamy Cheesecake. And now this cake. If I ordered this in a restaurant, I'd have to drop out of the conversation when this cake arrived, because I would be able to speak of nothing other than the awesomeness of the cake, which would annoy my dinner companions (especially since I would not be inclined to share). My first instinct is to want to compare this to the the Devil's Food White Out Cake that we made a couple of weeks ago because they are both chocolate cakes. That is not really a fair comparison, though -- while they both have chocolate in them, they are completely different cakes. The Devil's Food cake is a traditional party cake with a crumbly texture. This armagnac cake is an extremely dense, rich, decadent, fudgy cake. It is really most reminiscent of a flourless chocolate cake.

I worried about the prunes for nothing. While I knew they were there, they just added a nice textural element and some subtle flavor interest to the cake. I could not taste the alcohol at all, which for me is a good thing -- I've come to realize that I generally do not enjoy a strong alcohol flavor in my desserts. I think the various flavors all came together beautifully to produce a truly fabulous, special dessert. Dorie was obviously far too good for the restaurant that canned her, and this cake proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.



The wonderful Lyb of And Then I Do the Dishes chose this cake. Lyb, you certainly picked a cake worthy of your blog name! But believe me, this cake is worth every bowl you'll have to wash, and then some. If you are looking for a really amazing dessert for the chocolate lover in your life, look no further. Thank you for this awesome pick, Lyb!

56 comments:

Megan said...

It certainly does look like a flourless chocolate cake - and I'm glad to hear the prunes aren't as noticeable as I thought they would be.

Of course, I left them out, so who am I to say?

pinkstripes said...

Ooh...I hope your hand is healing okay. I still have a scar from a pan handle burn many many months ago. It's kind of cool looking because you can see the faint outline of the handle.

I'm glad you liked the cake and that the prunes didn't distract you from the chocolate like your friend and Flea.

Melissa said...

That's funny - I too have an old school friend who looks just like Flea. It's quite odd.

Glad you liked this cake so much!!

Elyse said...

I hope your hand is feeling better! Burns are the worst...true battle scars. I'm super impressed that the prunes blended into the chocolatey flavor of the cake...no "Flea"-like distractions here. The cake looks fabulous, and you've certainly made me eager to try prunes in baking!

mike said...

Ouch. Hope you're healing! It looks fantastic - I loved the combination of "fruit" and chocolate. I'll have to try the GM next time - I used Cognac. Hm... looks like you enjoyed making it - very nicely done!

Steph said...

I can't believe I missed all the fun of making this cake! Egg whites can be tricky.. I think they should have pictures in the books for what they're supposed to look like. I hope the hand's healing well!

Marthe said...

So I sort of forgot to make the glaze before taking the cake to work... Does this mean I can make it again just because of the lack of icing??? ;)

Your cake looks gorgeous, I love how frosty your glazing.

Matt's Kitchen said...

Burns are not only painful but are more than a little bit scary in how quickly and easily they can happen. I hope yours heals soon.

Every time I make a purchase at the liquor store I'm wondering what the cashier is thinking. "Didn't this guy just come in the other week for Cointreau and awhile before that for Pernod?" I almost feel compelled to say something like it's really not for drinking but I realize he's probably hearing these things from people on a daily basis which somehow makes it all worse...

I know someone who looks just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A totally sweet young mom, but I'm always expecting that stake to be whipped out.

And as for prunes. My grandma claimed they "made you regular" which I always thought sounded so nice until I learned what that meant. I never looked at them the same way again.

Cakelaw said...

Your cake turned out perfectly - I love the glossy, chocolatey pre-baking shot. I was equally relieved when the flames were low, blue and non-spectacular. I hope your hand is healing nicely - ouch!

Debinhawaii said...

Once again way too many bowls and steps to get me anywhere near making this cake but I am impressed with yours. Glad the prunes made something so delicious!

Audrey said...

Subversive Dorie must have started something, though, because I was Googling around for something to do with my leftover prunes (did I say THAT out loud?) and there were tons of recipes for prunes with armagnac! Who knew what we were missing? I wasn't as in love with this as you are, but I did enjoy it and I was impressed by how easy it was. I think I blanked out though on how many dishs it used....must be because of the alcohol. And my packy has a smirky college student behind the counter, which makes that vibe oh so much worse. I just hold my elderly head up high... I'm sorry about your hand! I do that a lot, and it's not fun. Feel better soon!

Teanna said...

I'm so glad that you loved it!!! You need to take this one on the road! Success!

And I totally love your shopping list. That sounds EXACTLY like my shopping lists! And my boyfriend will ask the same thing. He's set up a first aid kit in the kitchen just for me.

Glad you got to try that shrimp dish as well!!!

Amanda said...

First off,I LOVE reading your posts. They are so entertaining LOL I agree that this cake was wonderful!

natalia said...

Ciao ! I totally agree with you this cake was amazingly good !! I should have offered a dinner party in his honour !

Jessica said...

I think it was a great call to chop up your prunes and I really wish I'd done the same thing. I'm sorry about the burn during gametime. I've done the same thing before (I'm pretty sure that we all have) and it hurts! Your cake looks fantastic!

Lady Baker said...

mmm! seeing your photos makes me sorry I had to skip this week!!

Great recovery from the "great shrimp incident of 09"

Jules Someone said...

This is lovely! And it was dish intensive. But worth it!

Peggy said...

Wasn't this just the best cake ever? We loved it. I was hesitant about the prunes, but not any longer. Sorry about your burned hand. I'm getting worried about you baking now. :)

Maria said...

I am glad you liked this one, and I am glad you didn't drop it:) I hope your hand is ok!

Anne said...

That looks and sounds perfect Cathy! I hope your burns get better soon, by the way. Your husband sure sounds a good one, running your errands without complaint. And to think he didn't even get to try that beautiful cake!

Jennifer said...

I always look forward to your posts. Why? Because they always tell a great story and I am always entertained. I think you should write a book!

Lovely job on the cake!!!!

spike. said...

So nice when you start with prunes and end up with an amazing chocolate cake. The miracle that is Dorie Greenspan!

Heather said...

mmmm. that cake looks like it could solve all of life's problems! and i love your shopping list. i do that to nick all the time. "oh, i just need a few things for these cupcakes. can you get chocoalte chips and cream cheese? oh! and A1 and some canned tomato soup?" he never says a thing...

Karen said...

You've really outdone yourself with the similes and metaphors this time. I never use text jargon, but I really did LOL!

Pamela said...

The prunes had me nervous, as I am also one who misunderstands them. But now I have a whole sack of them in the pantry and I know I will put them to good use when I make this cake again! I thought of you during the egg white phase and of course, during the flame session with the fruit! Glad we both emerged unscathed!

SiHaN said...

i do agree that it was one of the best picks ever for twd! *yum*

Karen said...

I used Gran Marnier as well! It tasted good in there. I love how detailed your post is and your funny side stories! Keep it up! :)

kim said...

Yikes, I hope your hand is feeling better! Glad you liked this cake, I thought it was delicious too :)

Jennifer said...

Great post! Combining Flea, prunes, Britney, and first aid all in to one post is genius.

And I agree, I totally loved this cake. It's right up there with World Peace Cookies for awesomeness!

LyB said...

Yay! I'm so glad you liked it! And, I have that same "yikes" moment about dishes regularly. Hence my blog name. :) Loved this post, your cake looks fabulous. Thanks so much for baking along with me this week!

chocolatechic said...

This was just so great!

Your post was hilarious.

Katherine Aucoin said...

You are too funny! Being Catholic and living smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt baby, I love that they know me in the liquor store. I need to be known in more than one liquor store. ;-)

The cake sounds so wonderful and looks more decadant thatn I have words to express! I mean that in a good way too.

There are quite a few things like like to cook using Grand Mariner.

Mary Ann said...

I am still trying to get my burns to heal! I wish I would've made this cake. It looks so dark and decadent. Great job!

vibi said...

I've never had so much fun reading on the net, as when I come here... to read your posts. You should have your own column in the papers... that you're so good and inspiring!

The cake looks wonderful, I'm glad you enjoyed it and that the prunes don't seem so frightning anymore! LOL

Bravo, Cathy!

Flourchild said...

Sorry about your hand. Your cake looks so good. The way you describe it makes me want to make it! Thanks for your prayers and concern for my husbands family. His mom did pull through the surgery well.

The Blonde Duck said...

It does look mighty tasty!

farah said...

Ouch i hope your hand is ok. Your cake looks great, definitely worth the pain and effort!

Gabe's Girl said...

You have such a talent for story telling! You had me rolling. My hubby can relate to your liquor store incident. Our guy NEVER remembers him. He goes there like once a week. I, too, have picked up a hot handle from a pan that had been in the oven. I did this in front of my Mother In Law and shouted all kinds of colorful words! Amazingly enough, she still thinks I am swell! Great post. I loved it.

Di said...

Sounds like you have an awesome husband if that sort of shopping list doesn't faze him at all. =) My first experience with flaming fruit was another Dorie recipe--she seems to do it a lot.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Sorry you burned yourself Cathy, Ouch!! But I did love the gauze part from your hubby. You two have a great sense of humor. Well you sold me on this cake girl, it looks and sounds amazing!

The Food Librarian said...

Glad you like it after you burned off your hand this week! That is a great shopping list though! :)

Natashya said...

Who knew that flaming prunes were so tasty? This was one of my all time faves too. Such a nice man you have to fill your orders without question!

Linda said...

You're a trooper, getting this cake made with burning your hand and all! Indeed, the prunes were a nice unexpected surprise.

Bridgett said...

Aww, sorry about your hand. Was it worth the burn after the cake was done? Battle scars are always worth a piece of chocolate cake in my opinion and this one looks fabulous!! Very impressive.

Katrina said...

Looks absolutely delicious! So fudgy. The more of these cakes I see, the more I'm a little bummed I didn't make it this week. I went on TWD rewind and made Snickery Squares that were made last March.
Good job. Glad you liked it after all you went through to get it!

AmyRuth said...

Cathy, you make me laugh (out loud)! Please, please, please tell me you are backing up these posts on something else besides your trusty ? computer. A book is in the making, I'm sure. What an exciting life, and the family doesn't even know it.
The cake/torte looks delicious and I know if your hubs liked choc he would love this. Anyway, kudos to him for nursing you back to health in your kitchen boo boos and being your official "grocery store runner."
Thanks for the giggles and glad you loved the cake too!

applecrumbles said...

Looks fantastic. You made it sound so good as well.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

Holy bowls, is right! But, like you, found it was all worth it! I'm impressed that your husband runs out to get any last-minute items required. very cool.

Barbara Bakes said...

Another really fun post to read! I've only recently began to like the prune as a snack. Your cake looks heavenly!

TeaLady said...

Cake looks absolutely delicious. Great job.

My had is just healing from doing the exact same thing. Good help is soooo hard to find.....

Kayte said...

Well, it took me long enough to get over here this week...been a tad distracted with chlorine and all...loved the post...you are such fun. The grocery list was a hoot...Mark would look at that list and maybe be able to find the eggs. The other two things he would have to call home about, maybe a couple of times! LOL on Brittany, and you are so right...definitely not as much fun. Your cake looks amazing....very fudgy like you described. I can just picture you hovered over your cake, not sharing, and moaning in ectasy...Dorie should read your post...best advertisement for buying this book that I can think of! Now...back to the chlorine...divisionals this weekend, and while Matt isn't swimming in them (his times are too fast...hoooray!), our club is hosting, so we all need to work...great exercise chasing down about 100 little swimmers under the age of 10 and writing on their hands with sharpie pens Event, Swim, Heat, Lane....so they don't forget. Ever trying writing on a wet wiggling hand all that for four or five swims, a hand with a writing surface about as big as a package of stamps? LOL. Have a great weekend over there! LEMON next week...yahooo!

Donna-FFW said...

This looks incredibly delicious. I love it. I enjoyed all your photos, makes it look feasible!

Girl Japan said...

You did a fabulous job... I love the challenges and seeing everyone's results!!! The cake looks very dense and incredible.

n.o.e said...

LOVE the flaming picture! And all the rest of the process shots. We had twin cakes this week, and boy did I have the same experiences with the egg whites and the dishes!!

And I'm going to go out on a limb and offer some advice: don't make that shrimp dish again. You could go for "third time's a charm" but you might get "three strikes you're out!"

There are some great recipes in the coming weeks for your ever-patient husband: the yogurt cake and the blueberry coffeecake are really nice, and we liked the custards.
Nancy

Jess said...

Ahhh...the packy run. One of my favorite New England-isms. I'm definitely trying this sometime soon - yours looks incredible.

jesse said...

Wooow, I love your step-by-step pictures... you've done such a fantastic job! And I really enjoyed your style of writing. It's so soothing and interesting and FUN! So happy to have stumbled upon your blog... =)

 
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