Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chinese 5-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake

I first came across this recipe in Elinor Klivan's cookbook Chocolate Cakes and really liked the sound of it. Chocolate and 5-spice seem like a great combination for many purposes, and I'm sure I will try other opportunities to combine them, in cookies for example. But also in a smooth chocolate tart, or even by adding a bit of dark chocolate to a spiced savory sauce. I love how finding one unique recipe can start ideas flowing for lots of different types of dishes and experiments in the future.

I happen to love chiffon cakes anyway - to me they are a quintessential cake: light and spongey texture, but rich and flavorful. They are almost infinitely adaptable to different flavors from citrus or coffee to chocolate or nuts. They don't need to be frosted, but have a high, attractive shape perfect for parties and buffets. A simple glaze brings out even more taste punch and gives them a professional, finish look with very little effort.

I loved the concept of putting an exotic spice blend in a fluffy chocolate cake. The original recipe called for finely chopped chocolate to be mixed into the batter, but I didn't like the idea of pieces interfering with the texture, so instead I melted the chocolate and mixed it into the batter to give it more chocolately richness. You can try it either way. The 5-spice definitely lends a different taste profile to the cake, that might be unpleasant if you weren't expecting it, but if you know what it is, I think it's really delightful. And of course, anything covered in ganache is going to be good. The original also called for a sprinkling of spice across the glaze, which would be attractive, but I was unsure how much extra spice flavor I wanted, so I skipped it. Garnishing with a couple of cinnamon sticks or chocolate curls would be a nice touch for a more sophisticated presentation.

For the cake
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola or corn oil or other mild vegetable oil
7 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 ounces milk chocolate, melted

For the chocolate glaze
1/3 cup heavy (double) cream
1 teaspoon corn syrup
6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, 1 cup of the sugar, the five spice powder, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Use a large spoon to make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

Add the oil, egg yolks, water, and vanilla to the well and combine the liquid ingredients, then gradually begin to draw in the flour ingredients. Switch to an electric mixer on medium speed and beat the mixture until smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the melted chocolate just until smooth.

In a large bowl using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed until the whites are foamy and the cream of tartar dissolves. Increase the speed to medium and beat the egg whites until they look shiny and smooth and the beaters leave lines in the whites. When you stop the mixer and lift the beaters, the beaten whites should cling to them. Increase the speed to high and slowly beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the whites form firm, glossy peaks, about 1 minute.

Use a rubber spatula to fold about 1/3 of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top.

Bake at 325 until the top of the cake feels firm when lightly touched and any small cracks on the top look dry, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Invert the pan and let cool.

Make the chocolate glaze by heating the cream over low heat just until the cream is hot. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in chocolate until melted and smooth. Stir in corn syrup and vanilla. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, bottom (flat) side up.

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