I was reading an article for this column about the preferences of men and women in dessert, thinking of those who are cooking for someone that they would like to be in a closer relationship with. It turns out that men tend to like milkshakes, cookies and cakes, while woman like cupcakes, frozen yogurt and...cake! So baking a cake for someone you are fond of would be a generic good idea, depending on what you pick.
Chocolate is pretty popular, as we all know, and the current over-emphasis on dark chocolate got on my nerves quite awhile ago. Okay, research says that chocolate is better for us than we thought, but the concentration of chocolate itself is a factor: the higher the chocolate count, the better. So there has been a concentrated effort to promote dark-chocolate recipes and drinks, which is all right if you want to change your chocolate habits.
The ever-popular Chocolate Chip Cookies, using semi-sweet chips, is a universal answer to making cookies for a male guest, I'd think. Usually I bake them in a jelly-roll pan and cut them into squares like brownies, and when your recipe includes real unsalted butter, the best chips that you can find and you follow the recipe exactly, you'll get cookies that can make people feel like they have never had chocolate chip cookies like these. Fine--that was the idea!
Now in the cake department, why not make a chocolate cake? Well, why not indeed--but how about a milk chocolate cake? I would be much more likely to make it just because I intend to keep my milk-chocolate preference, and so I located a recipe and adapted it to the way that I recommend for all cakes. Avoid too much beating and you will never again see little tunnels in your cakes and cupcakes.
MILK CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE
1-1/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 pounds milk chocolate, finely chopped
Shaved milk chocolate, for garnish optional
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch-square cake pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour, cocoa and baking powder.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter in the milk over low heat. Transfer to a large bowl and let it cool for 20 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat at medium-high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites until no streaks remain. Quickly fold in the dry ingredients.
Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 25 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack still in the baking pans, and let them cool completely.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream on top. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Let the frosting stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.
Turn the cakes out of the pans and put one layer on a plate. Top with 1 cup of the frosting, spreading it to the edge. Top with the second layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.
You cool the layers inside the pans to keep them as fresh as possible because they will not dry out as much as they would have if you turned them out of the pans while they were still hot.
The frosting here is simply a milk-chocolate ganache, you probably noticed, so it is just a matter of pouring it over the layers when the cakes are completely cooled and allowing the natural process of setting to make your frosting work.
Curls of shaved milk chocolate would make an elegant, simple garnish for this cake, and of course you can grate any milk chocolate from Nestle's to Hershey's for that. However, if I were doing this cake I would buy my milk chocolate in measured bulk form at Sprouts in Tucson; not only do they have world-class chocolate like Callebaut, but the bulk form is cheaper and you are going to chop or shave it anyway.
And someday when you are feeling adventurous, why not buy white chocolate in bulk and do this cake with it? It will be a surprise--and a very pleasurable surprise--for your friends.