Due to the concurrent birthdays of a houseguest and a group member of mine from the master´s program, a big batch of chocolate cake was made and turned into one whole cake and 20 cupcakes- as I said, a big batch.
I brought the cupcakes in for my classmate (my tastes here really have reverted to an American 5 year old´s) which we ate after an all-morning-long class where our professor described years of working with transvestites on HIV prevention, the transvestite population in Argentina being a very marginalized and vulnerable one, with a short life span. My classmate was turning 46, and as we were about to eat the cupcakes, another classmate turned to her and said, "Miralo del lado positivo, si fueras travesti ya estarías muerta" (Look on the bright side, if you were a transvestite, you´d already be dead.)
And they tell me Americans have a dry sense of humor.
Cynical humor is probably the more positive way of handling the difficult situations that come up in a country that has watched itself experience such a swift economic downfall over the past 10 years. I´ve been out doing interviews the last couple of weeks in La Matanza, which is probably the poorest and most dangerous county in the province of Buenos Aires (the city Buenos Aires is the capital of the province of Buenos Aires). I went to visit a classmate of mine who works in the Department of Mother-Infant Health of the municipality. While we chatted, another doctor left to deliver letters asking permission to interview families of all babies who had died in the region recently. An hour or so later another colleague came looking for him. My classmate answered, "Ahora no esta, se fue para entregar invitaciones a la fiestita" (He´s not here right now, he left to deliver invitations to the party) then turned to me and said, very matter of factly, "Uno se rie para no llorar..." (We laugh so that we won´t cry...)
But she loves her work. She´s 48 and looks a good 10 years younger. That kind of intense work seems to either energize people or drain them. I guess I´m still trying to figure out which camp I´m in. There are days when I come home from a day of seeing and hearing so many difficult and depressing situations and I just want to crawl under the covers. Then I get up and have coffee and raisin toast and think about the complexity of the mess and I frankly find it endlessly interesting (to the occasional detriment of the person who lives with me and did not, in fact, choose to go into a field involving trauma).
Back to the cake, because what else is there, no? My sister said to me today that she thinks chocolate cake with flour is stupid. I generally agree, the flour just feels like a distraction, and I think we had so many gross box/grocery store/dry birthday cakes that it´s also my first reaction. But this is different. It´s fluffy. It´s moist (sorry I know, not the best word but sometimes it just has to happen). And the chocolate flavor is really good, both due to the amount of chocolate and cocoa powder and due to the coffee and alcohol that deepen the chocolaty-ness. I also made a cream cheese-coffee liquor frosting and a mocha ganache to decorate with-- I had originally wanted to fill them with the ganache but, well, it got late, and I got tired and did something very stupid that meant that a lot of the whipped cream got lost down the drain (heavy cream doesn´t strain well through cloth-- imagine that...) but I do frankly think my non-fully realized idea would have been pretty amazing...kind of like a chocolate-based tiramisu (for the amount of Italian immigrants here it´s surprisingly hard to find mascarpone cheese, thus the cream cheese). Anyway. I would tell my sister to make this but I know she won´t (she has convinced herself over the years that when she bakes by herself things go terribly wrong, but I think the most egregious example of this was when she dropped a cake out of care-bear mold on the kitchen floor right after making it. Which actually had a lot more to do with balance than cake-making.)
Chocolate Birthday Cake
3 oz. (90 g.) semisweet chocolate
1 ½ c. (360 ml.) hot brewed coffee
3 c. sugar
2 ½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
1 ¼ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
¾ c. (180 ml.) canola oil
1 ½ c. (360 ml.) buttermilk (or milk mixed with 1½ Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice and left to thicken for 10 min.)
¾ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. coffee liquor (coffee-flavored cognac, or anything else you might have around)
Preheat oven to 300ºF. For cupcakes, line the wells of your pans with fluted paper liners, or grease and dust them with flour or cocoa. For larger cakes, grease pans and line bottoms with rounds of wax paper. Grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another (very) large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until thickened slightly and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed, bracing yourself against puffs of cocoa-and-flour dust, until just combined well.
Transfer the batter to the cake pans, muffin tins, or whatever mixture of shapes you have decided upon. Bake until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean, 20-30 min. for cupcakes and 45 min.-1 hour for cakes.
Cream cheese frosting: Beat 7 oz. (200 g.) cream cheese until creamy. Beat in 3/4 c. powdered sugar, a tiny pinch of salt, and a swig of coffee liquor. Add more sugar and liquor to taste. This will make enough to lightly frost the cupcakes, though if you like a fair amount of frosting I´d double it.
Mocha ganache: Heat heavy cream until it´s about to boil, take it off the heat and add 2 Tbsp. ground coffee per cup of cream. Leave it to infuse 20 min., then strain out the grounds (do not use a cloth coffee strainer). Continue with chocolate ganache instructions here. Can be used to fill cupcakes or in between cake layers, or as frosting.
La torta de chocolate standard para nosotros los gringos, pero como es casera, mas rica. Esta receta te rinde muchisimo- 36 cupcakes, 3 capas de torta, o una combinacion.
Torta de Chocolate de Cumpleaños
3 oz (90 g.) de chocolate semi-dulce (de aprox. 50% solidos de cacao)
1 ½ tazas (360 ml.) de cafe fuerte, caliente
3 tazas de azúcar
2 ½ tazas de harina de trigo (tipo 000)
1 ½ tazas de cacao en polvo (sin azúcar)
2 cucharitas de bicarbonato de soda
¾ cucharita de polvo de hornear
1 ¼ cucharita de sal
¾ taza (180 ml.) de aceite de girasol
1 ½ taza (360 ml.) de suero (o leche mezclada con 1½ cucharada vinagre o jugo de limon que has dejado cuajar durante 10 min.)
¾ cucharita de extracto de vainilla natural
una cucharada de licor de cafe (cafe al cognac)
Precalienta el horno a 150º C. Para cupcakes, pon los papelitos en los huequitos del molde de cupcakes. Para tortas, amantecar los moldes y colocar papel de hornear en los fondos.
Pica el chocolate y echalo en un bol mediano con el cafe caliente. Revuelve la mezcla cada tanto hasta que el chocolate este completamente derretido y la mezcla este uniforme.
Tamiza sobre un bol el azúcar, la harina, el cacao en polvo, el bicarbonato de soda, el polvo de hornear, y la sal (si no tenes con que tamizar, mezcla bien los ingredientes, teniendo cuidado que no queden grumos) En un bol muy grande, bate los huevos hasta que se espesen un poco, aprox. 5 min. Echales el aceite, el suero, la vainilla y el chocolate derretido, batiendo hasta que esten bien mezclados. Echa la mezcla de azúcar (cuidado con todo el polvo) y bate solamente hasta que este bien mezclado todo.
Echa la masa a los moldes, a los papelitos para cupcakes, o como quieras. Se puede hornear en tandas tambien si solamente tenes un molde por ejempo, la masa aguanta un poquito tiempo de espera (hasta 1 hora.)
Esta lista cuando un cuchillo metido al centro salga limpio, 20-25 min. para cupcakes, 45 min.-1 hora para tortas.
Cubierta de queso crema: Bate 7 oz. (200 g.) de queso crema con 3/4 taza de azúcar impalpable, una pizquita de sal, y un chorrito de licor de cafe. Echa mas azúcar y licor a tu gusto. Hará suficiente para cubrir ligeramente los cupcakes, aunque si te gusta con mucha cubierta deberás doblar la cantidad de la receta.
Ganache de moka: Calienta crema de leche casí hasta que hierva, quitala del fuego y echa 2 cucharadas de cafe molido por taza de crema. Dejala durante 20 min., después pasala por un colador (no uses un colador de cafe, no pasará, usa uno de malla). Sigue con las indicaciones para el ganache de chocolate aquí. Puedes usarlo para rellenar los cupcakes o entre las capas de la torta, o para la cubierta.