Most writers, in my experience, will do anything to avoid writing, even though we are usually fit for no other job. So, with numerous deadlines looming, what was I doing on Saturday night? Making chocolate cake, of course!
One of the things I'm always in search of during my rounds of stress-baking is a nice, easy, cocoa-based cake recipe, preferably one that's not too rich and calls for mostly pantry-based ingredients so I can make it late at night without going to the store. I rarely have chocolate, even baking chocolate, on hand. Why? Because I eat it before I can bake with it. Even unsweetened chocolate will get whisked up with hot milk, sugar, and cornstarch to make a kind of choco-pudding sludge if the chocolate demons (or the deadlines) really get cracking. Unsweetened cocoa powder, however, lasts longer, if only because not even I can eat it by the spoonful.
For a long time, Laurie Colwin's Cocoa Buttermilk Cake was my standard, even if the texture was rather coarse and the flavor marked with a certain unresolved acidity. But now baby's got a brand new bag, dense, moist, springy and full of chocolate flavor. I cut the original recipe in half to make just 1 layer. As always, the better your cocoa, the better the cake. I used Ghirardelli.
10pm Easy Cocoa Cake
1 scant cup flour (1 cup minus 1 tbsp, approx.)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp EACH baking soda and baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup hot coffee
Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate cup or bowl, beat egg, milk, oil, and vanilla. Pour into flour mix and stir vigorously until smooth. Pour in coffee and beat quickly until smooth. Pour into greased round or square cake tin and bake 30-35 minutes, until top springs back and tester comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes in pan, then turn out on a rack.
I've heard you can also dissolve the cocoa into the coffee at the last stage, in lieu of adding it to the flour mixture. This sounds kind of intriguing, so next time you're stress-baking, try it out.