My sisters and I took to baking western-style cakes soon after we got to America in 1975. There was so much butter, flour, and sugar that we could not resist beating up a batter to create cakes of all sizes and flavors. We used an old electric mixer that my dad picked up from a garage sale. We read recipes from French and American cookbooks, as well as magazines such as Good Housekeeping, which we’d get from the library.
We didn’t usually frost our cakes as that was time consuming. Plus, we saved making butter cream frostings and piping out fanciful decorations for my mom’s annual Christmas Yule Logs (Buche de Noel). We mostly ate our cakes straight, with some seasonal fruit on the side. Asians like the combination of fruit and cake. Witness the popular strawberry and cream layer cake.
I bake cakes whenever I want to re-taste my youth or cheer up. (I needed some cheering up this week, as you may have noticed.) My cakes may be a simple sponge cake (banh bong lan) that I whip up, or a quick chocolate cake like this one, a riff on a recipe I clipped from a 1995 Gourmet article by Laurie Colwin, one of the most soulful food writers.
I’ve been baking this particular cake ever since then. That’s 15 years, my friends. It’s one of my stealth recipes because it’s a no-brainer. With just some flour, buttermilk, cocoa, butter and sugar, you can stir together the batter in minutes. No sifting of anything.
Preheat the oven – that takes 15 minutes – and by the time the oven is ready, just slide the cake pan into the oven. Thirty minutes later, you’ve got chocolate cake in the house. There are smiles all around.
The result is light, somewhat like a cake brownie. With defatted cocoa and low-fat buttermilk, the cake is a low-guilt pleasure. Store leftover cake in an airtight container and eat it over the course of a week.
15 Minute Chocolate Cake
Use a good unsweetened cocoa. I keep a kilo of extra brut (extra dark) cocoa around to make this cake on a whim. Substitute canola oil for the butter when you’re in a major rush. Enjoy alone, with fresh berries, or crème fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream, depending on your mood.
Makes 1 (10-inch) cake to serve 8
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 3/4 ounces (1 3/4 cup) bleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional ingredients: (choose one or none)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350F. Oil a 9-inch, high-sided round cake pan and line it with parchment paper. Flour the pan, tap out the excess flour.
2. Stir together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the cinnamon, ginger, or chocolate chips, if using.
3. Whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla. Stir into the dry ingredients until all is moistened and mixed well.
4. Pour into the prepared cake pan, spreading the thick batter out to the edge. Bang the pan on your counter to even things out.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake has risen and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding.
For more cake recipes: See the recipe index!
Update on 5/4/10: Mary (see her comment below) made the cake yesterday for her daughter's birthday. Mary's 3-year-old son assisted as he promised, and per Mary, the 15-minute cake turned into the 45-minute cake. But look how happy this little guy is!