dense chocolate loaf cake

Remember that time last month where I said I might not be a chocolate person? Well I’m about to walk that statement right back because what the hell was I thinking?! Bah! Obviously chocolate is everything and I’m a foolish blaspheme for implying otherwise.

In retrospect, I was probably just giving chocolate baked goods a little rest while I explored other forms of amazingness like sprinkles and butter. Alternate theories include that I was under a witch’s spell or that I was high on what I thought was sugar but was actually some little-known drug that causes chocolate languor. It’s all speculation! The point is that I’ve learned my lesson about jumping to such irrational conclusions where chocolate is involved.

I made this loaf cake from Nigella Lawson as sort of an afterthought one recent Sunday evening, when I had planned to make a batch of our very favorite brownie – Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies, the name of which does not lie – but realized I was out of Dutch process cocoa after it was too late to pick some up. I had a bar of bittersweet chocolate buried in a crisper, though, and this recipe looked just bizarre enough to try. The bizarro factor here lies with the more than a cup of boiling water that is added to this otherwise run of the mill quick bread batter, which effectively morphs it from the typical fudgy consistency into a gloopy bowl of brown juice. Sound gross? Yeah, it kind of looked that way too. But knowing from experience that pre-baking looks often deceive post-baking deliciousness, I shrugged it off.

The resulting loaves* were scandalously good, with an exterior texture of paper-thin caramelized crisp encasing an interior that Nigella herself describes as “damp, heady, and aromatic.” (Yass Queen!) The crumb is remarkably tender, especially for a cake with a name that begins with “dense.” We were completely charmed by warm slices straight from the pan, but the depth of chocolately flavor only intensifies over night. Serve it with crème fraiche or freshly whipped cream, and above all else bring your self-control with you because this seemingly unassuming loaf will most certainly make a cake monster out of you.

*I used this loaf pan which measures 8-1/2 by 4-1/2 by 2-3/4-inch and still had enough batter to fill a 6-inch round pan. This was no surprise because my loaf pan is a half inch smaller in length and width than what is called for, and the recipe notes the potential for excess. Loaf pan dimensions vary widely so use whatever you have and just make sure to follow the directions closely with regard to how high to fill your pan up.

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake, from Nigella Lawson by way of Food 52 Genius Recipes
Yields 1 standard loaf + extras (see note)

1 cup (225 g) soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 (375 g) packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces (100 g) good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (250 ml) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Line a loaf pan and a secondary vessel with parchment paper, making sure that none of the batter will touch the pan. Keep in mind here that the batter will be very damp and liquidy (shh, it’s a word).

Melt the chocolate gently by heating it for 20 second spurts in the microwave, stirring vigorously in between to even out the heat or by using a double boiler/water bath. Set the melted chocolate aside and allow it to cool. Meanwhile, set a small pot of water on the stove to boil.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer (the original says you can also use a wooden spoon, but I took the easier route), then add in the eggs and vanilla, beating well. Now fold in the melted, cooled chocolate, taking care not to overbeat. You want to combine the ingredients without making the batter too airy or fluffy.

In a small bowl, mix the flour and baking soda and add it to the batter, alternating with the boiling water, a couple of spoonfuls at a time for each. Continue until all of the flour is gone and you’ve added 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of boiling water to the batter. The original states that you will have a “smooth and fairly liquid batter,” but I would definitely categorize mine as more like “alarmingly liquid.”

Add the batter to the pan, taking care that there is at least 1 inch/2.5 cm of space between the crest of the batter and the rim of the loaf pan. Bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 325 F (170 C) and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be squidgy inside, so a cake tester or skewer likely will not come out clean. Place the pan on a rack to cool completely before turning it out. Don’t worry if the middle sinks; it's bound to for being such a dense and damp cake. You won’t notice it all once you’ve sliced it.