“If I knew you were coming, I would have baked a cake!” It’s a warm, welcoming phrase and with Anne Gillespie Lewis’s Fast and Fancy Cake, you can still give surprise guests a slice of cake and a cardamom-laced latte. There’s no shame in using a cake mix (if you are a purist, you can make your mix, but please don’t feel obligated). There are also excellent gluten-free mixes now on the market. We used King Arthur Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix and a standard cake mix when baking for this post.
Prior to the invention of baking powder in 1856, baking a cake was a time-consuming and bicep-building proposition. The baker had to beat air into the batter to create any texture beyond fruitcake-level density. The other option was to use yeast, which made advance planning absolutely necessary. You are freed from those concerns, so make the cardamom-laced latte and start baking.
Using a cake mix made the process so easy it allowed time to create some variations. The base recipe (below) calls for you to make a raspberry filling, which you sandwich between the two cake layers. You then make a ganache, cover the cake, and decorate with raspberries and toasted almond slices. The result is a company-worthy cake with minimal stress.
The semisweet chocolate for baking will give you a creamy ganache with a rich, mild flavor. If you want to make the flavors a bit more complex, use 2 ounces of Terroir (tare-wHAr) Chocolate’s Pure Scandi Chocolate and 2 ounces of the semi-sweet baking chocolate. Terroir Chocolate is made by Kristin and Josh Mohagen in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. They carefully select and roast the cacao beans themselves to bring out the best flavors.
A floral touch for the adventurous
An equally fast and fancy cake with floral flavors is to use the 2-ounce Lavender Latte Chocolate bar also by Terroir Chocolate and a 2-ounce semisweet chocolate bar together for the ganache. Substitute blueberries for the raspberries for the filling. The result is intriguing and a bit sophisticated. This would be best for guests who already have a taste for lavender. It’s a flavor that has been popular in Europe for centuries and is gaining ground in the United States.
Kristin Mohagen tells how they decided to make a bar that has a flavor that will be very new to many customers:
“I love the flavor of lavender tea and have experienced some fabulous lavender coffee drinks. Lavender gelato was one of my favorite experiences of all time! So, it was natural for me to see what we could do with a lavender chocolate. We loved how the flavors of fresh ground coffee (ground until silky smooth!) bounced off of the lavender. In my mind, I can see the lavender fields when I make this bar!”
Lavender, coffee, and chocolate are remarkable when combined. However, experience has taught me to never spring floral flavors on unsuspecting friends or family. If your guests already like blueberry truffles or lavender lattes at the coffee shop, let them know what you have in store for them and they will appreciate your adventurousness.
And one more idea…
Another easy variation on the fast and fancy cake is to take ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of Hafi’s Queen’s Blend Preserves and heat the preserves in either the microwave or in a sauce pan until it is a liquid. Drizzle over the cooled, frosted cake. You can also serve the liquified Queen’s Blend at the table and let people spoon it over their individual slices.
Now, with cake, coffee is required. Cardamom and coffee are a combination that is appreciated around the world. Its warming qualities add a touch of hygge, just right for the blustery end of winter that we will experience the next few weeks.
(Please see the end of this post for .pdf versions of the recipes.)
Fast and Fancy Chocolate Cake
Use a package cake mix to save time. The raspberry filling and velvety ganache make it fit for a special occasion.
Chocolate cake mix, enough to make a two-layer cake
½ pint fresh raspberries
3 T. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 T water
1 and ½ T. cornstarch
4-oz. bar of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
½ c. heavy whipping cream
(If you want to cover the sides of the cake, double the amount of chocolate and whipping cream)
¼ c. or more lightly toasted sliced almonds
Follow directions to make the batter for the cake and divide between two greased and floured 8- or 9-inch round cake tins. Bake according to directions and set aside to cool completely.
For the raspberry filling
Half a pint (a little more than one cup) fresh raspberries
Sort and rinse raspberries. Drain thoroughly. Place the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat. Press down on the berries to break them up. In a small bowl whisk the water and cornstarch together. Add to the berries. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Cool completely. If it is too runny, add a bit more cornstarch.
For the almonds, toast for a few minutes in a 250 degree oven in a single layer, stirring a couple of times, until the almonds begin the take on a golden color. Cool before using.
For the ganache
Break or cut the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat. When the sides start to bubble and the cream is hot but not boiling, pour it over the chocolate pieces. Wait a couple of minutes before stirring. If it is too thick to spread readily, add a little milk or cream. Let cool.
Assemble the cake by spreading the raspberry filling over one layer and spreading the ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the almonds around the top of the cake.
Note: this is based on a four-serving espresso machine, but can be adapted to larger coffee makers. Serves two large lattes or four small one. Use a coffee grinder to grind the cardamom
Ground espresso coffee or other dark grinds
1/3 tsp. ground cardamom
Half and half or a combination of half and half with two-percent milk, to taste.
Sugar to taste
Put the cardamom and the ground coffee in the espresso maker’s container and process. Meanwhile warm the half and half until it is nearly boiling. Pour coffee into four small or two large cups, add sugar and top with warm half and half. Use a frother to create the foam on top.