Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Kaya's Blackberry Chocolate Cake

Making the best of the end of blackberry season!

I discovered this recipe largely by accident, and have been impatiently waiting for a chance to make it for a little over two weeks now. I knew I needed to get it done before October, because blackberries are usually pretty sour and nasty after that point, but when I went shopping for supplies yesterday, it turns out I was probably smart to do it now instead of waiting another week. There were no blackberries at all at the grocery store, and there were only six containers left at the farmer's market.

I might have bought all of them.

Now, once again, this is obviously not a truly historical dish. Kaya definitely would not have had access to chocolate, coffee, wheat flour, a stove, butter, etc. etc., but berries were definitely an important food source for her and her family. Besides being extremely good for you, it certainly helps that they're fun to pick, and it's easy to snack on a couple while you're doing so, and most of them taste pretty darn good when they're dried. There are lots of different varieties of edible - and delicious - berries native to Kaya's neck of the woods, and the one most American Girl/Kaya enthusiasts will be familiar with is huckleberries, as it's the variety featured in her food accessory set which is somewhere in my attic awaiting rediscovery.

I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed this isn't a huckleberry cake because huckleberries are incredibly tasty, but they're not really from around here and as such, they can be pretty difficult to get your hands on. I'm not actually even sure if you can get them out here, although considering how produce is grown today, I wouldn't be shocked if I found out I could mail order them from somewhere out west. That being said, blackberries have been a personal favorite of mine ever since I was a kid. We discovered that there were wild blackberry plants growing along our driveway - it's a long driveway, and we basically live in the woods - and every summer I would wait impatiently for them to ripen. The bushes never really made enough to do much other than snack on them, especially because I had to split them between me, my sister, my brother and our three neighbors, but it was still a really fun treat to see a ripe berry on your way up or down the driveway.

Also please excuse the Piney Point backdrops. Mattel never made Scenes and Settings for Kaya, so we're making do with what we have.

The recipe we're using is by Chasing Delicious and can be found here! His recipes are all incredibly creative, all sound delicious, and his pictures are gorgeous. I wish mine were half as good!

First things first was finding a pan. We don't actually have a fancy bundt pan, although it might be something I will invest in in the future, but we have a round bundt-like cake pan that I figured would do the job nicely. I've said before that I tend to enjoy baking a lot more than cooking, which is true, but when it comes to getting cakes out of pans in one piece, I am far from an expert. As it turns out, I might have gotten a little over enthusiastic with greasing and flouring the pan because I really didn't want this one to rip apart.

This will become relevant later.

Next came gathering the wet and dry ingredients. This part is fairly self explanatory, although I probably should have sprung for a bigger mixing bowl. I like using this one because it has a slight spout, which makes pouring things super easy and stress free.

The recipe tells you to mix these together before adding the coffee or blackberry puree. The last two wet ingredients really make a difference in the texture of the batter. At first, it seemed incredibly thick and almost more like runny cookie dough than cake batter, but after adding the coffee, the texture became much smoother and cake-like.

Pureeing the blackberries was probably overall the most time consuming task, if only because running them through the strainer took forever. It also turned out to be a really good thing that I bought all six containers of berries instead of the more conservative number I was originally considering. While the berries looked fine yesterday, this morning several of them had turned white and fuzzy. In each container, I had to throw away at least four or five of the berries out of the twenty or so in the box, which was incredibly frustrating because they definitely weren't cheap. I guess it really is the end of the season if they've got such a limited shelf life.

I didn't get any pictures of the actual straining because I needed both hands and I didn't want to get blackberry juice all over my camera, but here's what they looked like in the blender:

The puree was definitely tasty. I might have snitched some that was left in the measuring cup after I poured the rest into the batter.

Apparently Kaya did too.
I threw most of the rest of the blackberries into the batter and folded them and the puree in as instructed. The original recipe said that this cake was really a chocolate cake with only a hint of blackberry, but I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I realized how many blackberries were actually going into it. This is especially true considering I'm not actually a fan of fruit in cakes, which is probably making the audience at home wonder "well, then why did you bother making this cake in the first place?"

This recipe makes a lot of cake, which became very apparent as soon as all the ingredients were added and it was almost spilling out of my trusty mixing bowl. I'm actually not really sure what I'm going to do with all of it, and might try to send my uncle and grandma home with some of it when I see them tonight, because there's no way I'm going to finish it by myself and I don't know if my family's going to want to help me dispose of it, either.

The recipe said to leave it in the oven for about forty five or fifty minutes, but I ended up having to do it for almost an hour and ten minutes. The first time I took it out, one side of the cake was really wobbly and almost liquid, so I rotated the pan and let it cook a while longer until the wobbling stopped.

Which meant it was time for the most frustrating part of making a cake: waiting until it's cool enough to safely transfer it to a plate or cooling rack.

 Notice how much it rose up in the pan?

I've never been good about being patient at this point. I always hover around and put my hand over the cake to see how hot it is, and loiter around the kitchen impatiently waiting for it to cool down. I held out for about fifteen minutes this time, because I wanted to make sure the wobbliness from earlier had a chance to set up a little more in the pan before it disintegrated on a plate.

It turns out my patience was rewarded!

The cake did tear a tiny bit, but it was more because the fruit was starting to rip through in places where it was too close to the edges and overall it kept the shape of the pan really nicely. However, remember how I said I'd maybe been a little overzealous in flouring and greasing the pan? It's a little hard to tell in these pictures, but I definitely over floured, and so there's this awkward crusty ring of flour around the bottom. It's not hard to scrape off, but it definitely doesn't look pretty.

So here's the real question: how did it taste? I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed. It's definitely not a bad cake - the chocolatey parts are actually probably one of the best chocolate cakes I've ever eaten! The coffee's really subtle, but definitely adds something to the chocolate flavor, and it's moist and thick and pretty much perfect. The only problem really is that in the chocolate part, there's pretty much no blackberry flavor, which I was sort of expecting from the recipe, but still disappointed by when I tasted it. That being said, I don't know if I added too many blackberries or if the ones I got from the store are simply too big or what, but the bottom of the cake definitely tastes like blackberries, almost to the point where you can't taste the chocolate! The blackberries all sunk to the bottom of the pan, and I'm sorry to say I didn't love the effect. It wasn't inedible, but it was definitely sort of overwhelming, and the seeds aren't really the sort of texture I want in a cake. The berries also sort of disintegrated, so they're kind of unpleasantly gooey. I'm interested to get the opinion of someone who's a bigger fan of fruit in cake, because for me, it's kind of a turn off.

Overall, this was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of recipe satisfaction. I definitely didn't hate making it, even though it took a long time and required a lot of clean up - I had to use several bowls, measuring cups, tools and appliances, which isn't unusual, but was still sort of a pain to clean up, especially the strainer for the blackberry puree. And the cake itself is definitely tasty, but it's not 100% my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong: I'm really glad I made it and I'm already considering having a second piece, but I'm just not sure I'd make it again without knowing I was making it for someone who was genuinely going to love the cake, especially considering how big it is! It's definitely something to share with other people, and I'm hoping the rest of my family won't mind lending a hand to help finish it off!

Looks like Kaya beat me to that second piece!

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