Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Oh my gosh. That Whiskey-Soaked Chocolate Bundt Cake in today's New York Times sounds like Best.Cake. Ever.

Actually, it sounds a lot like the chocolate whiskey cake that my parents would always bring home from our summertime visits to Saratoga Springs. Ostensibly, we went to Saratoga for the horses. My parents loved going to the track--to gamble a little, sure, but mostly for the whole ambiance of it--the personalities of the jockeys and trainers, the semi-mob guys and their flashy wives/girlfriends/mistresses, the beautiful horses, breakfasts of steak and eggs and Hand melons at the Clubhouse during morning workouts. Spending Sunday afternoons at Aqueduct or Belmont, or a whole week at Saratoga in August, seemed perfectly normal to me as a kid, even as my mom exhorted us not to tell our grandma what we were doing.

One of the reasons I liked Saratoga so much, I suspect, was going to really good restaurants every night. Like Nantucket and the Hamptons, Saratoga's had a longtime rep as a playground for wealthy New Yorkers (originally due its natural spring waters and reputation as a spa), and so there were fancier places there than you might expect. But Mrs. London's remained a favorite, a bustling cafe and bakery with smashing croissants, the best chewy sunflower-seed bread (dubbed "Max's Loaf") and above all, the whiskey cake, a dense, rich chocolatey cake with A LOT of whiskey in there. We always brought one home with us to Jersey, serving it in small after-dinner slices to make it last.

It's been decades since I've had one. If they even still make it-- they don't, alas, have it on their mail-order list. But this sounds like it might be close, or, if not, really good in its own right. As soon as I have an excuse--or a host/hostess to please--I'm making this. I think, although I'm not sure, that the Mrs. London's cake might have had whiskey-soaked raisins in it, so I've added those in. This recipe is adapted from Melissa Clark's recent NYT article, based on an original recipe from dessert queen & cookbook author Maida Heatter in her 1980 "Book of Great Chocolate Desserts."

Whiskey Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan
1 cup bourbon, rye or other whiskey, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup golden raisins
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder (such as Medaglia d'Oro)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda

Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional).

1. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, pour whiskey over raisins and set aside. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

2. Put espresso and cocoa powders and salt in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Dump in whiskey and raisins. Let cool.

3. Using an electric mixer, cream 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda, and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

4. On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).

5. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. Let cool before serving. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if you like.

The Mrs. London cake was made in a round, sealed with a dense chocolate glaze and a dab of gold leaf.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked in Mrs Londons for years in the 1980's I stil dream of the chocolate whiskey cake, the chocolate mousse cake, the hazelnut meringue....
The staff was allowed to take home the day old goods- I never got tired of eating those cakes, and I have the arteries to prove it.

Happy memories