Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ruth Reichl's Last Minute Chocolate Cake

1. The Indus Valley Civilization as we all know was the original model for urban planning and development besides being purveyors of arts and crafts and being intelligent in the sciences. I doubt anyone with a secondary education missed learning about the their elaborate urban sanitation systems and their bath houses while their contemporaries in Egypt and Mesopotamia were building huge monuments, palaces or temples . The civilization disappeared around 1700 BC. Wiki.

2. Angkor the Khmer capital of present day Cambodia was the largest pre-industrial city in the world. In addition to the ornate Buddhist temples the city was known for its waterways, dikes and holding ponds. Around 1431 city declined in prosperity and made itself vulnerable to invasion. What happened at Angkor Wat

3. In a much smaller scale, contrast it to present day farmers abandoning their farms and moving to the cities in search of jobs and better opportunities. I have intimate knowledge of this phenomenon, from a farming way of life to practically no farmers in one generation and in most cases lands subdivided and sold off making it impossible to return to the old way of life.

What precipitated all of these events - the lack of precipitation literally and lack of that precious resource called Water.

Historians believe that the Indus valley civilization which was built around rich agricultural lands with copious waters from the rivers around it finally collapsed because of failed monsoons. Angkor became weakened by 30 years of drought leading to social, political and civil unrest and exposing itself to invasion.

Why do most farmers abandon their farmland? you guessed it, lack of water aggravated by failure of monsoon and bad land usage. The wells and rivers that were once full now run dry every year. Farmers at least in my ancestral village are at the mercy of the state up north for water. It is a joyful occasion when the water is finally released. Mistrust among states (one who is in control of water and the other at their mercy), clashes, protests in the states and violence against people of the other state are expressions of frustration arising out of the need to share this precious resource. This further escalates the moves to the cities.

This situation is by no means unique to one corner of the world. Here in the US desert lands of California, Arizona were populated with expectation of excess water from the mighty Colorado river flowing down south as it carves marvelous canyons along the way. Today the treaties written long ago are being rewritten to accommodate this diminishing resource with an ever increasing need.

Will this demand for water change our civilization?

This century truly will be about water than that other precious liquid. Petroleum is no longer the liquid gold. Wars in this century unfortunately will be fought over water. Well of course you knew that already.

--- to be continued.

Nupur and Sandeepa have a lot to do with this cake, they after all introduced me to Ruth Reichl and her wonderful books. I have devoured 2 of them.

Seriously that is it for the ingredients just coffee missing

This recipe is from her Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir about her life as a food critic for the New York Times. A delightful read interspersed with some delightful recipes.

double boiler setup
combine coffee, chocolate and butter, let it melt
let cool and mix the chocolate together to smooth along with orange juice,sugar,egg and vanilla extract with a spatula

Baking seriously does not fit my cooking style. I am a free spirit in my kitchen, recipes and especially measurements are not to be taken seriously. This is fine for cooking but does not bode well for a bake, an airy light cake in my hands will turn into a dense moist mound. Not a failure really when sugar, butter and flour come together it takes a lot of effort to make it truly inedible. But ...

add the flour, salt and soda and mix them together, pour into loaf pan (dusting on the outside of loaf pan-not required)

I had promised to bake a cake for DD during her spring break, a week of warm weather was an easy excuse for turning on the oven, so on the last minute this last minute chocolate just made itself. Ingredients that can be counted with the fingers on your hand and none that I needed a dictionary or a speciality store for. One of the easiest and very satisfying cakes that I have made so far. Things like double boiler did not faze me which is a success in itself.

baked and ready to be sliced

I made one substitution, used orange juice for Grand Marnier. Orange liquor or concentrated orange juices are recommended as substitutes. I did not have both but had fresh oranges. The almonds are not part of the original recipe. The contrast of white on brown was too hard to resist, chocolate and nuts are made for each other. We cut the cake as soon as it came out of the oven, with no patience for it to cool and it crumbled a bit. Wait for it to cool and you will get perfect slices.

Recipe Source: As in Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires book

Last Minute Chocolate Cake
1. 4 ounces fine quality unsweetened chocolate
2. 3/4 stick (6tbsp) butter
3. 3/4 cup brewed strong coffee (I used 3/4 tbsp Folgers coffee with 3/4 cup water)
4. 2 tbsp Grand Marnier (I used 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice)
5. 3/4 cup sugar
6. 1 egg
7. 1 tsp vanilla extract
8. 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
9. 1/2 tsp baking soda
10. 1/4 tsp salt
11. 2 tbsp slivered almonds

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour a 9" by 5" loaf pan. Mix in the coffee powder with the water and heat it in a pan to boiling.
2. Combine chocolate, butter and coffee in the top of a double boiler (alternately use a heavy bottomed pan) till they are melted. (about 4-5 minutes)
3. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. To this add the egg, orange juice, sugar and vanilla extract and stir well.
5. Sift the flour and add it to the chocolate mixture with the baking soda and salt, mix to incorporate.
6. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, sprinkle the almonds on top and bake for 45 minutes or until the tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Savor with a scoop of ice cream.


  1. The cake looks super good!

  2. Cake looks so rich and nutty Indo..Truly I am drooling here.

    I remember reading about our Indus valley civilization as the first line in History books (sometimes our tamil papers will have this standard question)..Kinda proud that ours was a topper even in those times..

    Garden is coming up, first hellos are from Capsicum and long beans.

  3. Wow cake looks super delicious, soft and yumm..very catchy loaves..

  4. Oh my the cake looks superb, this one has to be bookmarked ASAP!

    How nice that you are enjoying Ruth Reichl's books :)

    Water- waiting to hear more. Just this weekend my mother was saying that they did not get the pre-monsoon rains, that trees are being felled for road-widening and already in mid-April they have record breaking temps (41 C). Sad sad.

  5. Reading Nupur's comment brought back something that troubled me. When I was in Bangalore last year, I saw the roads being extended and really massive trees were felled, but no other trees were planted. This was very disheartening. Why are we "making" the water scarce, inspite of that being the basic necessity for our existence?

    The chocolate cake seems soooo good! Drooling here. I better not make it, as I know for sure I'll eat the whole thing at one go and hide all evidences. On the other hand, It's inviting me to bake.

  6. Garlic and sapphires is such a wonderful book.. I read it a while ago, reminds me now I should pick up another Ruth Reichl book soon! The chocolate cake is so moist and delicious. I am like you, I don't have the patience or the preciseness for baking; this seems like a perfect last minute cake for me. Bookmarked.

  7. Cake looks just too good! Bookmarked the recipe!!

  8. Read Garlic and Sapphires, but didn't try any of her recipes. The choc cake looks very chocolatey!

  9. What a lovely moist loaf1 I love this recipe for its simplicity!

  10. Next in line are AP and Telangana, the head waters are in T but the coastal areas have used all that water for their own development is one of the accusations. So when they are divided into two States, I wonder what will happen!

  11. How true ..well said about the war over water .. I remember last time during summer we are supplied water only for limited hours and you are supposed to do everything in that given time.Time to live with that same situation through out the year is not so far.

    Each of us has to make efforts to save earth is the bottomline.

    Coming to your baking this cake is ao perfect and as I see me in you with regard to non patience for cooling it down, free freak about measurements,I can very well give it a try as urs have turned out extraordinarily superb.

  12. The deep dark colour of your chocolate cake is absolutely ravishing... yum!

  13. Thought provoking post. Thanks. It's true.. and there doesn't seem to be much to do about it. We can conserve our own resources. Do our best and hope it helps.

    Every time I get a broken eyelash I wish for world peace. Could wish for drinking-water-abundance next couple of times. But I must admit that this technique has not worked for me as yet!

  14. The cake looks fabulous, and I am amazed that it requires so few ingredients, remarkable !

  15. I'm a big fan of Ruth Reichl's work.

  16. This one looks easy and it is so good looking!

  17. Looks absolutely delicious!!!

    I have Ruth Reichl on my to read list too.....hope I get around to it soon!

  18. Will wait to read your thoughts about water.

    I am yet to read books by Ruth Reichl, will keep that in mind. Loved the deep brown color of the chocolate cake.

  19. Thank you!Actually tomato seeds are still effective, they are on!

  20. wow!! That looks mouthwatering. I will never say no for chocolate, ;). An award is waiting for u in my blog. plz check out...

  21. a very timely posting again Indo. am still in Bengal and this year we are witnessing one scaring picture of scarcity of water. the scenario is worse in villages where people are not even getting water to take bath and the mercury is rising without any boundary. we need to be aware and adapt good habits.
    the cake is a absolute treat to look at. so moist yet crumbly. bookmarked.


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