Every day till Christmas, we're bringing you 12 Days of Baking: 12 all-new baking recipes to lift holiday spirits -- from breakfast pastries to dinner rolls, and all the desserts you can handle.
Today: The chocolate cake you'll want on hand all through the holidays.
As we've discussed, the holidays call for cakes to be lying "around" -- for the roaming family members who must be kept happy and quiet between mealtimes; for the neighbors who swoop in unannounced; for you.
You might think a colorful stollen or musky gingerbread would be appropriate as Christmas creeps closer, but let's be real: chocolate is what the people want. And it's definitely what you want.
More specifically, what you want is Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. It's not a layer cake nor some molten lava thing -- it's a chocolate cake that's full of nuance and personality, damp and pudding-like within, with caramelly crisp edges. It isn't quite like anything else.
Lawson explains that, when developing the recipes for How to Be A Domestic Goddess, "I remember very strongly wanting to create what we call a loaf cake -- and what is generally called a pound cake Stateside -- that had a richness and squidginess of texture that this form of cake normally doesn't major in."
Where most loaf cakes are domed, sturdy, and evenly crumbed, this one is slumped and definitively squidgy (from the British, meaning "soft, spongy, and moist", not the American "unpleasantly damp; clammy" -- I think we've lost our way on this one).
So what is it that makes it so squidgy? First of all, a generous amount of dark brown sugar instead of white, which arms the cake with loads of moisture. Lawson adds, "In Britain we make it even treaclier by using dark muscovado sugar." (Treaclier!)
There is also the rather unusual step of starting with creamed soft butter and brown sugar and ending with spoonfuls of boiling water interspersed with leavened flour, leaving a surprisingly runny batter. It is this creaming and partially melting process that makes the final product resemble a cake, a steamed pudding, and a fudgy brownie all at once.
It also causes this cake to collapse in a slightly different way every time you bake it. Embrace it: it's this collapse gives the cake its glorious denseness. If you're concerned by the looks of it (Heidi Swanson nicknamed her spelt-based version Chocolate Ugly Cake), you can distract with crème fraîche, whipped cream, or cold cream cheese, the way Lawson likes it.
But really, just tell any doubters that Nigella Lawson, Domestic Goddess, says it's meant to look like that -- "This is the way of the loaf," she croons -- then feed them a slice, and see if you hear another peep out of them.
Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
Recipe adapted very slightly from How to Be A Domestic Goddess (Hyperion, 2005)
Makes 8-10 slices
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces best bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
9- by 5-inch loaf pan
Photos by James Ransom (except Nigella Lawson by Jay Brooks for the Guardian)