We just had a birthday in our family, and, as tradition dictates, the person having the birthday gets to choose the type of cake or dessert. Together we scoured a few cookbooks looking for something that involved chocolate. After all, what’s a birthday without chocolate? And in A Passion for Chocolate, by Maurice and Jean-Jacques Bernachon, we came across probably the only Grand Cake that we would be able to do, especially with the supplies we have on hand, Le Quatre-Quarts Au Chocolate, or Chocolate Pound Cake.
As it happens, both of us have a real weakness for pound cake, good pound cake — not the stuff that’s frozen at the store — and we have made enough to know that one of the things that is an absolute must is separating the eggs and folding in of the whipped egg whites. Without this step, you’ll end up with a marginal cake, such as the previous pound cake we made. So, when we perused the recipe, we noted that it, indeed, called for whipped egg whites folded in, and it had all the ingredients measured in grams. The latter is important because pound cakes can go from moist to dry with just a little too much flour and dry pound cake is not good pound cake.
Do not let the length of these instructions scare you off making this cake. You can do it! And it will be one of the best pound cakes you’ve ever had!
Serves 8 to 10 (but we’ll probably eat it all over the next few days)
- 284 grams unsalted butter (1 1/4 cups)
- 200 grams cake flour (2 cups sifted)
- 50 grams unsweetened cocoa (1/2 cup lightly spooned)
- 7 grams baking powder (1 1/2 tsp)
- 4 extra-large eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
- 250 grams sugar (1 1/4 cups)
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
For the infusion (optional)
- 2 Tbs Kahlua or coffee liqueur
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 1/3 cup water
We didn’t have extra-large eggs, since the eggs we get from the free-range ranch are unclassified as to size, so we selected the largest out of the dozen. For the cocoa, we really wanted to use Vahrona brand, but ours is still in transit from a recent order. We made do with Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa.
Mise en Place. We hadn’t made this cake before and we know how finicky pound cakes are, so we went through the trouble of measuring out all the ingredients before hand. It seems like a bother, but it is worth it when it comes to mixing time. We’ll step through it with you.
Prepare a loaf pan. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, and butter again. Then, dust the entire thing in flour. You don’t want your cake to stick.
Weigh out ingredients. Weigh out the butter into a small bowl. In a separate bowl, weigh out the flour. Tare the scale, add the cocoa, tare again, and repeat with the baking powder.
Weigh out the sugar. In an easy-to-pour bowl or measuring cup, weigh out the sugar, then remove 2 tablespoons and place in a separate small bowl. These two tablespoons are for whipping the egg whites.
Separate eggs. Do this while the eggs are cold, then allow them to come to room temperature.
Now we are ready to begin in earnest.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Melt butter and cool. Melt the butter in a microwave using 1-minute intervals between stirring. When the butter is completely melted, remove and let cool.
Whisk the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Using a whisk, mix together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder completely. Then whisk again. It only takes a minute, so do it right. Set aside.
Whisk egg yolks and sugar. In a 3-quart mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, and, while still whisking, gradually add the sugar. Keep whisking as the mixture thickens. Once the sugar is incorporated, whisk a bit more.
Fold in butter. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the melted butter into the egg mixture. It will take a bit of folding to get all the butter incorporated, but it will become incorporated. Give it time.
Add flour mixture. Sift half of the flour-cocoa mixture onto the egg-sugar-butter mixture, then fold it in completely. Again, it’ll take some folding, but it will become incorporated. Already looking good, right? Now sift in the remaining flour-cocoa mixture, and fold in.
Whip egg whites. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the eggs whites with a pinch of salt until they are frothy. Add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form. With the mixer still running, sprinkle in the reserved 2 tablespoons sugar, and whip until firm but not dry peaks form.
Fold in egg whites. Here’s the trickiest part. In three separate additions, fold in the egg whites. Each time you add some of the egg whites, you’ll lighten the batter, allowing even more egg whites to become incorporated without collapsing. This is important if you want a light (for pound cake) cake and will move your pound cake from good to great! So suck it up and do it — it’s not that difficult.
Scrape batter into pan. Using the spatula, scrape the batter into your prepared loaf pan, leaving behind a small amount of batter for the birthday person.
Bake. Bake 25 minutes, then cover the top with a small tent of aluminum foil to prevent the top from burning. Continue baking another 25-35 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool. Remove to a cooling rack and cool 10 minutes. Remove cake from loaf pan and remove parchment paper.
Make Kahlua infusion (optional). Bring 1/3 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a full boil. Remove from heat, cover, and cool. Add 2 tablespoons of Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur and stir.
Infuse cake. Using a skewer, poke holes in the top of the cake. Spoon one-half of the infusion liquid over the top, so that it soaks in. Wait 10 minutes, then brush the sides and bottom with the remaining infusion liquid. Allow the cake to cool and settle for at least 2 hours.
Serve and enjoy. Slice off cake with a sharp serrated knife. Either eat plain, or have a side of ice cream. Mmm.
This is a really good pound cake: the crumb is fine and delicate, the center moist, and the edges are crispy — a bit like chocolate shortbread. The infusion adds just a slight coffee flavor, and some more moistness, making the texture nearly perfect inside. It is also one of the most chocolate-tasting pound cakes we’ve had, but, even so, we give it four stars. Why? We know it could be better. We’ll be making this again once we get our Vahrona cocoa, which should push it right into the stratosphere of pound cakes. When we do, we may move the rating up to five.