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All the truffle-brownie-this and molten-center-that chocolate cakes? I'll pass. They are just too rich, too (dare I say it?) chocolaty. I prefer my chocolate cake a bit less intense.
This quick chocolate cake is more my speed. It's dense without being heavy and chocolaty, without being too sweet or rich.
It's also easy to make. Just bring water to a boil and mix it with some natural cocoa powder. Once the cocoa mixture cools, combine it with the remaining ingredients and stir together with a whisk. The batter doesn't even require an electric mixer! (Of course, you can use one if you'd like.)
Why boiling water? (I wondered that too.) This recipe was originally wheat-based and included the boiling water step. When I made the cake with cool tap water, it tasted fine but the texture became unpleasantly dense.
Since I couldn't figure out how boiling water affected the cake, I popped Food Lab man Kenji an e-mail. He didn't have an answer but invited two bakers and chocolate-lovers, Stella Parks (aka bravetart) and Chocoholic columnist Yvonne Ruperti, to ponder the question with me.
Stella wisely reminded me that hot water has the ability to release tannins. And Yvonne shared a piece on cocoa powder by Shirley O. Corriher that includes this:
Many recipes using cocoa contain hot water or a hot liquid. More intense chocolate flavor can be obtained from cocoa by pouring a small amount of boiling liquid over the cocoa powder. This melts the cocoa butter and aids in dispersing cocoa particles.
In my non-scientific comparison of the cake made with boiling water and without, I noticed a texture difference, but not really a taste difference. Could it be that the tannins released by the boiling water are enough to affect the leaveners in the cake, giving it a little boost?
I'll keep looking into this. Right now all I know is that boiling water makes this cake better. If you have any baking intel on the matter, please share!