One day, a Sears catalog came into our lives. My dad was working with Americans and somebody gave it to him. He brought it home and handed it to me and my sister. It was as thick as a phone book and it quickly became one of our favorite possessions. We didn’t know what Sears was or even what catalog shopping was. But those glossy pages showed us that there was a whole other world out there, one where kids had full-sized pinball machines in their bedrooms or spent the night in colorful tents in their back yards or played with dolls and remote controlled cars that we had never seen before. It was a world we fantasized about, my sister and I. We made a game of flipping through the pages and imagining what we would buy if we could and how it would change our lives.
There was one page that I always paused on for just a few seconds longer. It was the page that featured an Easy-Bake Oven. I couldn’t believe that there was an oven that a kid could get and use to bake desserts. It seemed impossible. Out of all the toys and games in that catalog, the Easy-Bake Oven was the one I longed for the most (though the pinball machine was a very close second). I never expressed this wish out loud, since this was a toy that only girls were supposed to like, but secretly I dreamed of having one and making little chocolate cakes just like the ones the smiling girls in the photograph were holding in their hands. Of course, I never got an Easy-Bake Oven and it wasn’t until many years later, when I moved to the U.S. as an adult that I learned the truth about them. That they used a light bulb to heat their interiors and that what you could bake in them was never really that great (though the newest versions no longer use light bulbs but are regular mini ovens).
I now make my own chocolate cakes, like this one, which can only be made in a real oven, not at Easy-Bake one. It is a luscious chocolate cake with layers of chocolate ganache, covered in a beautiful shiny glaze of even more chocolate. It’s the ultimate chocolate lover’s cake. Moist, intense, addictive. And yet, not hard to make. The cake part is made in a single bowl, without even the need for a mixer. And the filling and glaze are made in the microwave in minutes. It should be called the Easy-Bake Chocolate Cake.
Chocolate Fudge Cake – Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (3/8 ounce) cornstarch
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
6 ounces heavy cream
3 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur (such as Frangelico, Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Framboise, or any other flavor that goes well with chocolate)
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 ounces heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour (or grease, then line with parchment, then grease again) two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans or two 9″ x 2″ round cake pans . Note: If you are using 8″ pans, they must be at least 2″ tall.
Make the cake: Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla, and beat with a spatula until smooth. Gradually add the water, mixing with a spatula (or whisk once the mixture loosens up) until smooth. Try not to overmix it. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake the cakes for 35 to 38 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans to cool completely on a rack.
Make the filling: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for one minute until the cream is hot, and the chocolate is soft. If necessary, heat again in 15 second increments. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary. Add the liqueur and stir to mix well. Set aside until it cools and thickens (if you use it immediately, your cake layers will slip and slide). You can hasten the cooling by putting the bowl in the fridge but remember to check it often and to give it a good stir before you use it on the cake.
Using a sharp, long, serrated knife, divide the cooled cakes in half horizontally, to make four layers. Place one layer on a serving plate, and spread with a third of the filling. Repeat with the next two layers. Top with the final cake layer.
Make the glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for one minute until the cream is hot, and the chocolate is soft. If necessary, heat again in 15 second increments. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary. Pour over the cake immediately and spread the glaze over the top of the cake with an offset spatula, letting it drip over the edges and down the sides. Once it’s done dripping, you may smooth the sides with the spatula, if desired. If you want to add some decorations on the top (like I did with the malted milk balls in the photos above), add them now, before the glaze fully sets. Allow the cake to rest, covered with a cake cover (or a big turned-over bowl) till the chocolate is set; overnight is good, though several hours are sufficient.