It was my (uh um) 40th birthday yesterday. 2 reasons I'm writing about that; cake and photography. For all those of you who have been offended by my amateurish photography to date; take heart. My girls got me a tripod and a book on food photography for my birthday. So hang on in there while I read up and all should improve!
Cake; well, my husband was totally at a loss as to what to do about cake. While he can cook, he really doesn't bake, so making one wasn't an option. Also, knowing my active membership in the "nasty ingredient police", he was nervous to buy one. A birthday cake filled with trans fat and artificial flavors is not my idea of a celebration.
So, no cake. I planned on making my own actually, call me nuts, but I'd have been happy to if I'd had a moment. Instead, I spent the afternoon with my kids at the merry go round and in the Disney store. When they're happy, I'm happy!
Anyway, I'll admit I have been thinking of cake rather a lot recently, and I have a chocolate and zucchini recipe for sticky chocolate cake, that I've been meaning to try for months.
Clotilde's recipes are amazing and always a little different. Check out her blog if you haven't before.
Anyway, lets talk more about the key to the stickiness; prunes, or to give them their "post rehab" name, dried plums! For those US readers, please read on. Give prunes another try. They are not only good for "getting things moving", if you know what I mean. They have an amazing depth of flavor which goes perfectly with chocolate, and when you use them you can invariably cut down the fat and sugar in the baked product. Quite honestly I love them on their own. They do not need to be dressed up, but dressed up they are, in the following recipe.
Many years ago, Delia Smith, (the UK's answer to Julia Child), introduced me to the pairing of chocolate and prunes, with her Chocolate Prune Brownies. Her "How to cook: Book 2" has a whole section on the pairing. The recipe became my "go to" brownie recipe of my 20's. Shortly after starting a new job here in NYC, I brought in a batch for a birthday celebration in work. I was so proud of my delicious brownies and they went down a storm in the office.
Then, I was asked what was my secret? Prunes, I innocently replied, unaware of the stigma attached to the prune in the US. Well, suffice to say, I went home with the rest of the brownies. My boss was most perturbed, as he had had 3 by this point; how to impress a new boss! They were all under the impression you should only eat prunes if your Doctor had recommended them! I can assure you, nobody's afternoon was ruined by too many prunes.
I have been amused in recent years here, to see the prune producers, changing their marketing strategy to "dried plums", in an effort to fool the US market into eating them again.
Anyway, my daughters were both at preschool this morning, so I ignored the housework and errands needing attention and made cakes. I suppose they're really muffins but they really are quite light and cake-like. Plus, since it's my birthday season, I just have to call them cakes!
As usual, I couldn't stick to the recipe; Clotilde recommends steeping the prunes in your favorite brandy; I used cranberry juice for my kids sake. I substituted half of the flour for whole wheat pastry and added molasses instead of maple syrup. I also used dark brown sugar instead of light, all in the hope of achieving a dark and delicious looking cake.
The cakes are totally delicious as they are, but I plan to build on this recipe in future. They would be amazing with chocolate ganache on top, and/or (nod to Delia) chocolate dipped prunes on top.
I also think they could accommodate more cocoa powder to good effect. When I try any of these ideas, I will add on to this post to share the love!
Mini Sticky Chocolate Cakes
Yields 12 muffins/ mini cakes
8 oz/ 230g prunes (dried plums), pitted
1/3 cup/ 80 ml cranberry juice (substitute brandy, pomegranate juice, black tea)
1/2 cup/ 120ml buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 egg lightly beaten
6 tablespoons/ 75 g dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons/ molasses (substitute maple syrup or treacle)
1/2 cup/ 60g all purpose flour
1/2 cup/ 60g whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted after measuring)
4 oz/ 115g bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped from a bar.
- Place half of the prunes in the soaking liquid of choice and warm slightly. Leave to cool and soak. (Honestly, overnight would be best, but I didn't have the time)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/ 180°C
- Grease the muffin pan
- Place the remaining half of prunes and the buttermilk in the food processor and process until smooth
- Transfer the prunes and buttermilk to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the eggs, then the sugar, then the molasses.
- Cut the soaked prunes in half with scissors and set aside. Discard the remaining liquid.
- In another mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined. No not overstir.
- Finally fold in the chocolate chips
- Using an ice cream scoop, fill the muffin tins to about 2/3 full. Then squish a few prune halves in on the top of the batter.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 15-18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean
p.s. I have just kicked these up a notch by smearing the tops with melted chocolate and a dollop of sour cream. Then I plopped another half prune on the top. Amazing.
Here's what they looked like