Today: Why we should all be eating squishier cake and leaving the dense quickbreads and the light chiffon cakes for another day.
If you were to cut yourself a slice of the deep chocolate, shatter-topped, brownie-like cake pictured above, how big would you make your piece? Most of us would be fairly conservative, if not in an act of modesty than in one of prudence -- no one likes to be caught halfway in the middle of a sea of too-rich cake without a life preserver.
But what you don't know about this cake is that as dense and rich and indulgent as it looks -- as much as it could pass for a nearly-flourless chocolate cake -- it is none of those things.
I'd like to make a case for why this mochi cake -- more squishy than gooey, more subtle than sweet -- is better. And it starts with the fact that, with its surprising spring and spryness, it is inhalable.
See, on the chart of Words Often Used to Describe Cake, "squishy" -- the most apt description for mochi cake -- is overlooked ("soggy" appears twice because it is particularly offensive). We talk about light cake -- the angel food "cake" you'll eat and eat and feel nothing at all, making you question your humanness. We talk about dense cake -- the loaf that sinks straight to the bottom of your stomach and lives there for some time, during which you'll want to nap.
What we don't talk about is squishy cake -- the kind that gives a little when you press a finger in it and then bounces back, recovering from your violation. Squishy cakes are light enough to snack on and chewy enough to distinguish themselves from air. You can eat a lot of it (yes, with your hands) and, more importantly, you'll want to. In 2015, I'm going to make more squishy cakes. I'm going to describe cakes as squishy and people are going to nod in understanding and ask to share. I'll probably say no.
It's glutinous rice flour -- ground from the same grain used to make sticky rice -- that makes this cake chewy, gummy, and a little bit gelatinous (in the greatest possible sense). If you've ever had Japanese mochi or Filipino palitaw, you'll understand this cake's playful stretchiness and light stickiness. For an even more intense textural experience, leave out the tablespoon of baking soda that gives the rice flour a major boost and you'll come away with something even more closely resembling a giant sheet of mochi.
If the texture of the cake isn't what you were expecting from the photos, neither is the taste. The chocolate flavor tips more towards mild than dramatic, reminiscent of chocolate Teddy Grahams, which, after the chocolate chip grahams, were always the best in the variety box. If you're unsatisfied with that subtlety, bake with flavored sugars. I made this cake for the first time using Mexican chocolate-flavored sugar because I was out of plain, and it added dimension to the cake.
A note on mochi: I love mochi. I love mochi so much, I named my cat Mochi. But not all people like its smushy texture and delicate flavor. I do not understand these people, but they do, indeed, exist. There are even some people who love me very much and who respect my love for mochi but who do not love mochi themselves. This is okay. I will be at peace with this. If you know you do not like mochi, I fear you will not like this cake. It's worth a shot, but do not say I didn't warn you.
Makes one 9- by 13-inch cake; serves 12 to 16
cups (9 1/4 ounces) glutinous rice flour, like Mochiko brand
2 cups (16 ounces) white sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
24 ounces evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
Photos by James Ransom