Things have been tough lately. But, at a certain point, I'd like to think that I'm still full of it. Life, I mean, and my grab bag of outrageous is still slung over my shoulder. It's lovely, this bag, and I imagine myself reaching in every now and again, casting little bits of absurd and incredible, scattershot, Johnny Apple Seed style.
I got to thinking about this in earliest January, on a short day trip. We'd stopped off in a quaint little town dear to my heart, in search of a certain spectacular Restaurant. It was closed, as it happened, so we settled instead for a rainbow. A whole rainbow. In January. A sight I'd always filed under the same basic header as unicorns, mermaids and flattering stirrup pants. And while I guess I was never taught as much outright, I left grade school certain the only full arcs I'd ever encounter would involve crayons and Leprechauns with pasted-on pots of gold. To see one in real life? Highly unlikely. And yet, there it was, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees of unlikely. So ever since, I've been sort of taking notes, noticing those funny little wrinkles in Life where reality and Serendipity rub shoulders. And darned if they don't keep cropping up.
I remember to laugh.
I remember to eat chocolate.
I remember to enjoy the occasional snow days.
I remember to meet my friends for lunch.
I even remember to fold the towels.
Correlation, causation, you decide.
Chocolate, of course, doesn't depend on snow days, nor does it guarantee good results. Although, if it's this chocolate, it at least guarantees good spirits, and that is at least half way there. This homely slab may be a hard sell. I realize this. It's dull, drab, brown. It has all the curb appeal of an old sock. An old sock that guaranteed won't last forty-eight hours.
This particular old sock is the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from my beloved, dog-eared, batter-splattered How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It's a real curiosity of a cake. It contains almost twice as much sugar as flour (!), and yet has a mellow, understated sweet. How is that even possible?, every crumb positively pulses with chocolate, and yet there are only four ounces of the stuff. The batter is unlike any I've made, thin, sloshy, the weight of light cream. This would be because it includes a cup and change of water. Water. Who adds water to cake? (All the smart people, actually. Jess does it. Joy does it. David Lebovitz does it, too. The finished loaf sinks miserably, minutes after leaving the oven, more pothole than pageant winner.
But man, what a pothole.
Despite (or due to) its odd ratios and ingredients, this bakes up into one wickedly addictive loaf. Partial credit goes to that pile of dark brown sugar, one of chocolate's best, least recognized sidekicks. Brown sugar ups chocolate's game every time, expanding its range, amplifying its tone, transforming its soprano off-the-shelf sweet deep into baritone territory. I don't know how that works. Only that it does.
And dude, the molasses makes chocolate man up, somehow.
The soft sugar also girds against dry, that dreaded fate of so many loaf cakes. The cup-plus of boiling water? Catapults this cake into a world where ... dry? What dry? Indeed, it's the texture of this thing that astounds. Damp and airy and rich and light, it behaves unlike any other cake I've eaten. It is heavy, literally, heavy in the hand, with a weight that is real, and palpable. But it isn't dense, or fudgey, or squidgy, or even particularly rich. It's heavy, but not heavy. you know?
Custardy. It is custardy. Chocolate custard, convinced to play cake.
Two last things. Saturday, after a lunch of apples and peanut butter, I acted on impulse and added a schmear. No butter, no sugar, no frosting pretensions, just salted creamy, straight from the jar. HOLY COW! It was either my worst or best idea, ever. Check back in March, see how many slabs I've pounded. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)
Also, I call it Brownie Bread. You bake it in a loaf pan, after all. Plus, I first baked it years ago, after sampling something so named in a shop in San Francisco, and wanting to make it again at home. This bread isn't really like that bread; it's infinitely better, and what stuck around. Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake is accurate enough, but doesn't sound half as reasonable. You, of course, can call it what you choose. But for my money, I rather like being able to offer up a snack of tea and "bread". I suggest you just go with it.
adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson
my loaf pans are slightly oversized, with an 8-cup capacity, which is ideal for this loaf. If yours are smaller (6- or 7- cup capacity; measure by filling with water, to the very top), you may wish to divert some of the batter into a custard cup, muffin pan, etc., to prevent spill-over.
1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces good, bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil to catch drips. Butter or spray a 9x5" loaf tin, and line the width with a strip of parchment, overhanging the long sides by a few inches on each side (handles, for easy removal later). Measure vanilla, salt and coffee granules into a small bowl, and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar. Scrape down sides, add one egg, beat well, then add the other, scraping and mixing again, to combine. Add vanilla mixture, and mix to combine. Scrape sides, and fold in melted, slightly cooled chocolate, just to combine. Add flour and baking soda, and mix, just to combine. Add boiling water carefully, slowly, scraping sides a few times, until incorporated. The batter will be very, very loose, thinner than pancake batter, closer to light cream. This is right. Place lined tin on the lined baking sheet, pour batter into tin, and carefully place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn heat down to 325° F, and continue to cook another 15-25 minutes. It is done when the center is no longer shiny, loose and wobbly, but instead matte, just set, and smelling wonderful. A knife in the center will not return the standard dry crumb, but neither do you want a long streak of batter—very damp crumbs are ideal.
Remove tin to a rack, and leave to cool completely, or at least one hour. The center will cave. This also is right. Remove from tin, either by inverting, or gently removing with parchment "handles". Peel away parchment, slice into thick tiles, and apply peanut butter only at your own risk.
Brownie bread keeps brilliantly for 4-5 days.