Red Wine Chocolate Cake
Everybody has guilty pleasures.
For my mom it’s a hot croissant, one with crispy edges that flake all over her lap. Maybe you have a friend like my floormate J-, who herds people out of the room on Tuesdays when Gossip Girl airs. Is it terrible to admit I sometimes sneak downstairs and swipe a spoonful of leftover hot fudge? I don’t even reheat it or drizzle it over ice cream. Instead I eat it cold and truffle-y, straight from the fridge.
Recently, though, I’ve been obsessed with wedding blogs.
I especially love the photography. Close ups of the bride’s shoes, a brilliant pop under the white hem of the dress. The color palettes, more flowers than I can name, the blown out look of Christmas light strings as the dancing begins. Every wedding is a fairy tale.
I’d never been to a wedding I could remember. So when my boyfriend I- invited me to his cousin’s wedding at the end of August, how could I resist?
We arrived at the barn where the wedding was set. Because we were early, and because we were staying at the venue, I got to see first-hand the absolute mania that takes place before “I do.”
The flower girl cried because she didn’t like her hair, makeup running down her face. One aunt couldn’t find her beige pumps, and another broke the lens of her glasses. A bridesmaid made a frantic last minute run for basil. Wedding photography never shows the groomsmen all distraught, mixing more pink lemonade, or the wind that keeps knocking vases over.
Despite everything, this wedding was beautiful. The couple looked happy, so truly in love, that misplaced napkins and creased dress pants didn’t matter. The ceremony was short and sweet, everyone clapped, and we felt connected standing there in the sun.
I haven’t seen the photographs yet, but here are some things I don’t think they’ll capture… The bride’s unplanned thank you speech, which brought people to tears, or the square of star-flecked sky visible through the barn’s window. The way I felt dancing with I- to the first song, the hum of crickets outside.
When we got home I noticed a new entry on my favorite wedding blog. I scrolled through the photos and couldn’t help but smile. Not a hair out of place, every bouquet perfectly arranged, even the cupcakes looked done up. I still loved reading the post, but it didn’t compare to the raw imperfection of a real live wedding.
I’m starting to think the same is true for food.
Food bloggers have the luxury of writing and photographing their own posts. I can pick the five prettiest cookies to stack for the opening image, and you’d never know that the rest of the batch came out like shapeless amoebas. If I burnt the first pan of caramel, I don’t have to say so. You can’t imagine the splatter of egg whites or the smudges of chocolate that end up all over the counter when I’m done cooking. There is no baker messier than I.
Enter this Red Wine Chocolate Cake. I almost didn’t share the recipe. Not because it didn’t taste incredible (it did) and not because it wasn’t liked (not a crumb survived.) No, I almost didn’t post out of vanity. The photos aren’t very good.
This loaf is tight crumbed and soft as a lamb’s ear. The color is so dark and rich, I expect flowers to bloom from it. The wine gives the chocolate a flavor that impressed everyone, something deep and complex and mystifying. And it tastes even better Day 2.
But none of that comes through in the photos. (In my humble opinion, they’re kind of flat and ho hum. They don’t make me want to open a bottle of wine.)
My excuses are that the light was poor, I was too lazy to reshoot, and that this everyday chocolate cake is plain to begin with. But let me tell you what the photographs don’t show.
My disappointment when I smelled our buttermilk, and my recklessness when I decided to use merlot in the batter instead. My friend D-’s surprise as he tried to pin down the mystery ingredient. The thick, unashamed second slices my neighbors cut for themselves.
My mom’s sneaky footsteps down the hall in the middle of the night, the click of Tupperware being opened and shut again, and quiet chewing as she returned to her room.
Guilty pleasure for sure.
The original recipe called for buttermilk. Our buttermilk went bad and we didn’t have regular milk, so I couldn’t sour it myself with lemon juice. I was about to use coffee as the liquid instead when I saw the bottle of Merlot.
Buttermilk is acidic. So is Merlot. I’m not an expert, but isn’t red wine supposed to pair with chocolate? I don’t know… maybe? Why not? I poured out the merlot and decided to use that instead. The final cake doesn’t taste exactly like wine, though there are hints. So delicious.
I didn’t use a quality red wine in this cake, but I did use the same excellent cocoa powder from the Red Velvet Cheesecake. It’s a red-tinged Dutch-process cocoa, which results in a taller and prettier loaf. If you can only find Natural-process cocoa, leave out the baking powder and use 1/2 tsp baking soda.
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 5/8 ounces) Dutch cocoa powder (see above for a natural cocoa adjustment)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 9×5″ loaf pan.
Beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugars and cream until lightened and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg until well combined, then mix in the wine, yogurt, and vanilla. The batter might look curdled, but don’t worry. Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a spoon until there are no streaks of flour left, scraping down the sides of the bowl and being careful not to over mix.
Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn it out.
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