Here is my secret: I am having an affair with the United States Postal Service.
At least, that’s what it feels like. It’s very exciting. Every day around 2:30 p.m., I get a little jumpy, just waiting. Listening – for my dog, announcing the mail’s arrival – and pondering what might come through our front door that day. I feel a little guilty, knowing how much some people hate getting mail. I adore mail. Some days it’s just a box of contacts, or an oversized offer to Help China Become Christian, complete with one chopstick, to remind me that China is Different!. (Whose bright idea was it to just send one?)
But sometimes – the best times – there’s food in the mail. I delurk as soon as the door slams closed to snatch the box, and wonder if the way I wait counts as stalking.
Last week it was a bag of apples, picked from an orchard on Cape Cod, swaddled in mailing products, and storked to my door before the leaves had had a chance to dry out. There’s a tatin in their future. I can smell it.
A couple days ago, something thrilling: whole grain cake flour, from a friend who knows I’m in the middle of a baking thing. She didn’t even know about Saturday’s failed muffins, or how much they disappointed me. (They puffed up, and up, and up, and into each other, and over the sides of the pan and onto the floor of the oven, then sunk into sad little mounds that refused to come out of the pans in one piece.) I’d just about written off my baking streak, until that flour came.
The thing is, I’m normally not all that excited about putting “whole wheat” and “cake” in the same sentence. Whole wheat cakes are tricky. They’re not like whole wheat cookies or muffins, which, in my opinion, do quite a decent job masquerading as their more traditional relatives. I mean, what all-purpose flour devotee would really turn down a whole wheat chocolate chip cookie, if it was oozing with still-melty Scharffen Berger? The disguise works. It’s quite possible to bake a really delicious cookie that has at least minor nutritional advantages.
Cakes, though. Cakes are different. Who jumps at a piece of healthy cake? I’ve had success enriching cakes – health-i-fying them, if you will – with whole wheat pastry flour, and to a certain extent, with white whole wheat flour, but I’d never had good luck using all whole wheat. Replace more than half of the flour in a featherweight lemon cake with basic whole wheat flour, and you’ve got one very lucky dog.
(By the by, cake flour is used for cakes because it is one of the “lightest” flours. It has less protein than all-purpose flour and bread flour, which means the final baked product isn’t as tough – but I bet you knew all that already.)
Anyway. I certainly hadn’t ever seen cake flour made with the wheat’s entire kernel – bran, germ, everything. (And did I mention it’s from Washington?)
Bluebird‘s cake flour didn’t look any different from others I’ve used – light and fluffy, just no swan on the package. I got to thinking about what sort of cake I wanted to dig into, and that big Trader Joe’s chocolate bar marched up onto the counter, blathering on about how I should make a cake I’d normally think of as heavy, since I had the advantage of a flour much lighter than the all-purpose stuff I normally use. So in went the chocolate, and the raspberries I froze last Friday. (So much for saving them for winter.)
If I hadn’t made it myself, I wouldn’t have known this was anything but an easy stand-by, the kind of chocolate cake you whip up when company’s coming, and you want everyone to lick their plates, but you don’t have the energy for, say, tarte Tatin. I certainly wouldn’t have suspected all those B vitamins, either, but I guess sometimes you do get to have your cake and eat it, too.
And oh, yes, I’ve been eating it, even though there’s “whole wheat” in the name. Even my second piece of cake was worth sitting down for, so yesterday afternoon, I pulled up a chair.
(I can see the mailbox from here.)
Here’s a cake with a muffin’s serendipity – as in Oh, look! Another raspberry! – but the rich satisfaction of chocolate cake. Serve with whipped cream or deep chocolate ice cream.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: One 9” square cake
Butter and flour, for the pan
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 3” section vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups whole grain cake flour, or regular cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 cups frozen raspberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9” square pan and set aside.
Place the butter in a small saucepan. Using a small, sharp knife, scrape the vanilla bean’s seeds into the butter. Add the bean itself, and melt the butter over low heat, stirring. Remove the vanilla beans, add the chocolate, remove from heat, and stir until smooth. Set aside.
Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder together in a small bowl and set side.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, buttermilk, and eggs together until will blended. Add the butter/chocolate mixture, and stir until blended. Using a soft spatula, fold the flour/cocoa mixture in, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in about 3/4 of the raspberries, then spread the batter in an even layer into the prepared pan.
Scatter the remaining raspberries on top, and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the cake tests clean with a toothpick, or is puffed and only just beginning to crack. (Do not overbake.) Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then serve warm.