Monday, February 2, 2009

Tiger Cake And The Little Chef

The Little Chef is back in town for the weekend, much to our mutual great delight. In many ways, my 7-year-old nephew Mac and I are kindred spirits, sharing a similar focus and enthusiasm for whatever projects we throw ourselves into. As much as I love cooking for my friends and family, Mac takes great pride in his position as my "Little Chef". One of the first things he asked me upon arriving at my apartment was, "Louise, what are we going to make while I'm here?" There was no question in his mind that we'd be spending some quality time in the kitchen together, and he launched into a whole recital of chocolate treats that he was eager to create with me. But when I told him that I had a special recipe called Tiger Cake that I'd been saving to make with him, he quickly abandoned his previous ideas about cupcakes or peanut butter truffles, totally hopping on board with my plan.

Mac, a.k.a. the Little Chef, and I have had a blast in the kitchen together ever since he was three years old when he insisted on helping me make his chocolate birthday cake. I still crack up when I imagine that tiny boy standing on a chair next to me at the kitchen counter with a little flour sack towel tied around his waist as an apron, so eager to help. He always wanted to measure the dry ingredients by himself, especially when cocoa powder was involved, even though he would usually end up wearing a lot of that cocoa himself as he determinedly scooped it out of the box! 

This weekend I realized that my Little Chef is now tall enough to help me without the aid of standing on a chair. (Gulp.) He buttered the Bundt pan quite vigorously and we laughed hard when we both ended up with flour all over our shirts as he attempted to 'gently' coat the buttered pan with flour!


"Why is it called Tiger Cake?" my Little Chef asked, as he helped me measure and sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, being a little more careful with this step. I explained that we were going to divide our cake batter and add chocolate to only half of it. The way we layered the two batters in the pan was going to create a "tiger stripe" effect.

Tiger Cake comes from a recipe from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. For all of you chocoholics out there, I can't recommend this book highly enough. This is my chocolate bible, a marvelous tome devoted to my favorite legal substance. Her recipes range from ones with subtle hints of cocoa to those that are intensely chocolatey, and her understanding of chocolate is comprehensive. The Tiger Cake recipe is basically a chocolate marble pound cake, though it calls for flavorful olive oil instead of the traditional butter used in a pound cake. I love the complexity that the olive oil adds to the cake, and the secret ingredient is a generous half-teaspoon of freshly ground white pepper, which adds a subtle smoky note to the proceedings. Don't be put off by this addition, for it contributes something marvelous to this cake which appeals as much to a 7-year-old as it does to adults with slightly more sophisticated palates.

The Little Chef and I created a voluminous batter in the KitchenAid mixer, and he was careful to keep his hands away from the whirling whisk attachment. 


Mac divided the batter and carefully mixed cocoa into half of it. 


Now the real fun could begin as we began layering the two batters, taking turns as I poured a bit of vanilla batter into the Bundt pan while he was in charge of spooning blobs of the chocolate batter on top.

We watched most of "Kung Fu Panda" as we waited for our cake to bake, and though Mac was engrossed in the movie, he was occasionally distracted by the toasty aromas that wafted in from the kitchen. "Is it ready yet? Isn't it almost ready by now?" he kept asking. When the timer finally rang and we opened the oven door to behold our Tiger Cake, I don't know which of us was more excited about our creation!

We were both thoroughly tickled to see how spectacularly the cake had risen far above the pan, the vanilla and chocolate batters swirling together to form this beautiful marbled effect. It was a major challenge to let the cake cool as we were impatient to dive into it, but once we cut into it we were thrilled to see the gorgeous "tiger stripes" inside. Rich but not overly sweet, with a moist firm crumb and lots of intensity and nuance going on, it was mouthwateringly delicious!

At the end of the night as I was tucking him into bed, he asked me, "Louise, can we talk about our day a little bit? What was your favorite part of the day?" (I'm not kidding. This is his usual question whenever I tuck him in, and even if he is trying to avoid the moment when the lights are turned out signaling that it is officially time for him to go to sleep, I can't think of a more charming stalling technique!) As I talked about how happy I was to have him visiting me, his sleepy response was, "I think my favorite part of the day was being your Little Chef and making the Tiger Cake with you. Can we have some more of it for breakfast tomorrow?" How could I refuse a request like that?

adapted from a recipe in Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

Use the best natural cocoa powder you can find and a flavorful fruity olive oil to make this cake. This cake tastes even better the day after it's baked. As the Little Chef and I have discovered, it makes an excellent breakfast, especially when lightly toasted and served with a cold glass of milk!

1/2 cup natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
A generous 1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
5 cold large eggs
1 cup cold milk

Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Butter and flour a 10- to 12-cup Bundt or tube pan.

In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, the 1/2 cup sugar and the water together till well mixed. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt thoroughly. Sift together into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar, oil, vanilla and white pepper together until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the mixture turns thick and pale, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add one-third of the flour mixture, beating on low speed just until blended. Scrape down the sides, add half the milk, and beat just until it is blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour, scraping down the sides after each addition.

Pour 3 cups of the batter into another mixing bowl and stir in the cocoa mixture. Pour one-third of the plain batter into the prepared Bundt pan, and spoon on one-third of the chocolate batter. Repeat with the remaining batters. Don't worry about trying to marble the batters, as that will happen naturally during the baking process.

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake from the sides. Invert the pan onto the rack, then invert again so that the cake is right side. Let cool completely. Serves 12.

A very happy and satisfied Little Chef devouring his tiger cake with a big glass of milk!

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