Thursday, October 16, 2014

Recipe: Sour Cream Chocolate Icing

A close-in photograph of the very top of a cupcake covered in chocolate icing. The icing has been piled in a swirl with a narrow star-ended tip so it comes to a point on top, like a Golden Bud.

Nigella Lawson's HOW TO BE A DOMESTIC GODDESS is my favourite cookbook1. I've been baking from it for years upon years, but I still stumbled across the occasional recipe I've overlooked. Generally, these secretive recipes are tucked away between illustrated pages, devoid of tempting photographs and equipped with only the barest of descriptions.

Such was the case with Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake, a gem I overlooked until last December. Armed with a three-pound tub of Daisy sour cream2 and a desire to try something new, I whipped up a two-layer cake and stuck it in my freezer for my Christmas dessert buffet.

I ended up with so much other baking that the cake languished in the freezer3 until February, at which point I pulled it out on a whim, whipped up the complementary icing, and dug in.

Wow. The cake itself is good--moist and delicately crumbed--but the icing elevates it to another level. It reminds me very much of soft, delectable cream cheese icing, if cream cheese icing were bursting with chocolate and just a shade tarter than it actually is.

I could eat this stuff straight from the bowl without a shred of shame. It's that good.

Alas, I generally bow to convention and slather the stuff on cake. It's infinitely spreadable, and it holds a loose shape if you want to pipe it out for extra effect.

The recipe below is enough to generously ice twelve cupcakes or one two-layer cake (the recipe for which also follows). It's great with a few crumbled pecans pressed into it, if you're a nut person.

Icing Ingredients:

  • 170 grams (6 ounces) dark chocolate wafers
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • splash of hot water (optional)

Icing Directions:

Melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl over a pot of hot water.

Let the chocolate cool slightly, then stir in the sour cream, vanilla, and syrup. Beat the mixture until everything is fully incorporated.

Add the sifted icing sugar a third and a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. The icing should be thick, but still spreadable. If it looks a little too stiff, add a splash of hot water.

Slather it on a cake, or stick it in a piping bag and squeeze it out in fancy shapes. It'll hold a loose shape, as pictured above, but doesn't keep crisp edges straight out of the bowl and I imagine you'd have to time things carefully if you wanted to chill it first.

You can use it with pretty well any cake, I'm sure, but if you'd like to go with the original....

The corner of a cupcake pan in which sits a number of uniced chocolate cupcakes.

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsps softened butter
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps full-fat sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pecan pieces (optional)

Cake Directions:

Preheat your oven to 175ºC/350ºF.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the softened butter and beat it all together with an electric mixer.

In a separate bowl or a large measuring cup, combine the sour cream, eggs, cocoa, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the bowl a little at a time, beat thoroughly after each addition.

If you're after a layer cake, divide the batter evenly between two greased 8"-round pans. Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, or until they begin to shrink back from the edges of the pans. Remove them from the oven and let them cool in the pans for about ten minutes before you turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.

If you're after cupcakes, prepare a twelve-cup muffin tin with paper liners and pour roughly 1/3 cup batter into each of them. Bake the cupcakes for roughly 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into a random cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the tin for about ten minutes before you remove them to wire racks to cool completely.

To ice the layer cake: place one layer top-side down on your desired serving plate. Slather a goodly amount of the icing on the cake, then place the other layer bottom-side down atop it. Spread a thin crumb layer over the whole thing, then spread the remaining icing evenly over the cake. If you'd like, press pecan pieces along the bottom edge of the cake, with a few sprinkled right in the centre on top.

To ice the cupcakes, slather or pipe a generous amount onto each one and sprinkle with pecan pieces, if desired. Easy peasy.

  1. Actually it's tied for first place with BROWN SUGAR by Joyce White, but "it's my favourite cookbook" scans better.
  2. By far the world's best sour cream: thick, tart, and presumably full-fat. (The tub is rather cagey about things like nutritional information.) I get my mother to bring me some whenever she goes to the United States.
  3. An interesting thing about cakes: you probably don't want to stick your average cake in the fridge, particularly if it's fine-crumbled, but freezing often improves the texture. Cakes thaw quickly, so it's a good idea to keep an uniced cake or an assortment of cupcakes in your freezer against future need.

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