The Darker Charms of Cocoa…

Rich, dark, and handsome – can a more perfect chocolate cake be described? 😉 While I tend to go for the less-complicated types (assembly-wise), a chocolate layer cake is the definition of baked perfection. With a velvety texture and creamy frosting, this cake can definitely turn heads. Prior to this making this version, I thought I had found my “one and only” recipe for chocolate cake – this one proved otherwise. Equally rich and twice as dark, I had found a new treasure. My go-to will probably always be my first love, but this Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting has won a special place in my recipe chronicles.
Now you’re probably dying to know my all-time favorite recipe, but that will have to wait for a later post (it’s too special for a simple shout-out). This is a RICH cake – the velvety texture comes from a cup of sour cream (making it necessary to finding a creative use for the rest of the 16 oz carton I had to buy – referred to in my previous post) and Dutch Process cocoa. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder was all I had used in baking for years, yet this recipe compelled me to do my research. Natural cocoa is untreated, ground cocoa powder – its bitter taste provides a depth of flavor that is ideal for brownies and cookies. Dutch Process, on the other hand, has a far more subtle taste as it has been treated with an alkali (often a potassium solution) to offset its acidity; this neutralization also imparts a darker hue on the powder, making it an ideal cocoa for darker cakes. Many people prefer the taste of Dutch Process, believing natural cocoa imparts a tangible acerbity on cakes. It is safe to substitute natural cocoa for Dutch Process, but not the other way around.*
This recipe had been on my radar for some time now – the original calls for a Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting with a Chocolate Ganache topping. While that looks fantastic, I was more interested in the cake itself. Additionally, while I baked all three layers, I only used two in the final assembly considering there would only be 8 guests total (the unused cake layer I topped with frosting and stored in the fridge for later). As you can tell from my post not long ago, vanilla bean has become a new obsession of mine. While I admire the convenience and affordability of extract, nothing beats the intensity and beautiful aesthetic of vanilla seeds. I adapted the cream cheese frosting from the original recipe to make this vanilla frosting. I added some lemon juice to counterbalance the sweetness of the cake. You can find out how to make this decadent dessert by clicking HERE
For this work, I wanted to reflect on the contrasts of this cake – the rich quality of the chocolate paired with the subtle beauty of fresh vanilla bean. After several considerations, my friend Audrey Wright (violinist) recommended the Strauss Violin Sonata. I had never heard the work, but was immediately convinced after finding the (below) recording with Sarah Chang. Strauss was only 24 when he composed the piece! The sonata places formidable demands on the performers, both technically and musically, revealing a devotion to the grander textures of orchestral writing (as revealed in his tone poem from that same year – Don Juan).** The sweeping phrases infused with moments of lyrical clarity pair beautifully with this cake. Additionally, the passionate quality of this work finds credence in Strauss’s recent acquaintance with his future bride. What better way to complement the charm of this recipe? It was a pleasure to become acquainted with this piece, and I can only hope you will feel the same. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*”Cocoa Powder FAQ: Dutch-process & natural cocoa powder.”
**”Richard Strauss.”

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