Friends who gift cookbooks are friends to keep around. Today's recipe comes from a vintage cookbook given to me by a dear colleague who lives on Cape Cod and frequently finds such treasures at local rummage sales. She knows how much I love baking, and that I'm from Maryland, so she brought me an old, weathered book last year called Maryland's Way. The pages are yellowed and torn in places. It was written in 1963 to raise funds for the Hammond-Harwood Museum House in Annapolis. With recipes from a range of contributors, it beautifully illustrates the state of cuisine at the time in Maryland "society."
Frugality reigned at the time of publication, and it's clear that the homemakers of Maryland were seeking impressive ways to host dinners and teas and potlucks using simple pantry ingredients. To me, the cookbook is a true lesson in the power of kitchen alchemy: That flour, butter, eggs, and sugar alone can yield hundreds of different (and showstopping!) desserts never ceases to amaze me. I'm surprised by how many the recipes stand the test of time.
Today's recipe is as timely as ever. I skimmed the ingredients thinking "okay, nothing special here, we'll have a simple chocolate cake," before baking. And then the batter puffed up in the oven into a spectacular confection worthy of a Parisian bakery window. The top is shatteringly delicate, with a thin crackling sheen not unlike the top of a very good brownie. Beneath is a moist, fudge-like cake that's lighter than a chocolate torte but denser than a classic chocolate layer cake and studded with bits of chopped black walnuts.
I frosted the cake, as instructed by the cookbook, with a paper-thin layer of a chocolate frosting (I laced mine with espresso powder, but boiling coffee achieves the same sophisticated flavor). To be honest, the next time I make this cake, I'll serve it plain with a dollop of very lightened sweetened whipped cream or a drizzle of heavy cream. The cake is so spectacular that it demands little in the way of icing. And when I say "the next time I make this cake," I'm referring to the first of hundreds of times I know I'll bake it, as it deserves a permanent place in every family's dessert traditions.
For the cake
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup chopped black walnuts (or regular walnuts)
For the frosting
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons hot brewed coffee (use hot water or warm milk if you don't want coffee flavor)