This is my Christmas present to you, dear readers. I’ve finally posted my very favorite chocolate cake … nay, dessert … actually, it really is my single favorite food. I make it on occasions now, otherwise there is no amount of time I could spend in the gym to compensate. Besides, I like to keep special things sacred and this is not an everyday cake. This is an experience, a transformation, a treasure unlike any confection you’ve had before. Think I exaggerate? You’ll get it with the first bite. I’ve made it plain many times, but had a packet of lavender from a local farmer and decided to add it to the mix. The combination may have taken this to a new level of heaven, but if you’re without organic, edible lavender buds, it will be quite alright without. Another variation I love is to replace fresh brewed coffee for the hot water in the recipe. Divine. Don’t ignore the suggestion to wrap it up and wait a day before eating. Really, it’s a million times better than just out of the oven. Plan ahead and create plenty of out-of-kitchen distractions until it’s ready.
Nigella Lawson introduces this recipe in How To Be A Domestic Goddess this way: “This is the plainest of plain loaf cakes – but that doesn’t convey the damp, heady aromatic denseness of it. To understand that, you just have to cook it. And as you’ll see, that isn’t hard at all … simply sliced, with a cup of tea or coffee, it’s pretty damn dreamy: as damp and sticky as gingerbread and quite as aromatic… The centre of the cake will sink a little as the cake cools, but this is the way of the loaf… It’s meant to look like that. Then feed them a slice, and see if you hear another peep out of them.”
It’s not a pretty cake. Don’t you dare put frosting on it. But it’s for the purists, the pleasure seekers, the pound cake enthusiasts, and the best chocolate hunters. Definitely for Christmas and perhaps it will show up again on my New Year’s Day plate.
I love this cake and I love sharing it with you. I even had a slice for breakfast this to mark such a glorious morning of joy with Aurelia. Christmas with her is more than my heart can hold and it grows bigger on days like this. The cake, I’ll admit, helps.
Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake with Lavender
Adapted slightly from How To Be A Domestic Goddess
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbs lavender buds
1 tsp vanilla extract
3.75 ounces best bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
Heat the oven to 375°F, put in a baking sheet in case of sticky drips later, and butter and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with a sling of parchment. Then butter the parchment and dust with flour. The lining is important as this is a very damp cake.
Chop the chocolate in small pieces and put in a glass bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until melted and completely smooth.
Sift the flour and baking soda together into a small bowl and set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and lavender together for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl down half way through. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating in well. Next, fold in the melted and now slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to over-beat. You want the ingredients combined: You don’t want a light, airy mass.
Then gently add the flour mixture, alternately with the boiling water, until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Pour into the lined loaf pan, and bake for 30 minutes. (Note: Don’t let this batter come closer than 1 inch from the rim of the cake pan or it risks overflowing. Pour any excess into a smaller cake or muffin pan.) Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean. Place the loaf pan on a rack, and leave to get completely cold before turning it out.
Now here’s the crucial part: once the cake is completely cool, double wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. At least. It improves with a bit of time, so leave it until the next day if you can resist. When ready to serve, just take it out of the fridge, unwrap, slice, and eat plain. I promise there is no better way.