I understand what it’s like to have your birthday fall close to a holiday and feel a little bummed out when people are too busy to get together, or out of town, or whatever. So when my friend Sarah, whose birthday was Dec. 19, invited me out to meet them for drinks that night, I wanted to do something to make it a little bit special. They were having a holiday/birthday party the following night for her and her husband Steve (whose birthday falls on Christmas- I guess I shouldn’t complain!), but I wanted to do something that was “just for her” rather than lumped in with everything else. I told Steve I would bring a cake; the only problem was that we had had a HUGE snowstorm and the prospect of going out to the store for supplies was not an option with the time-frame I had. I keep my pantry fairly well stocked with baking supplies, but every recipe I looked at seemed to have one ingredient I lacked, until I came upon a recipe for a “pudding cake”. I’m sure you’ve had one of these at some point: it’s a cake with a thick, brownie-like batter topped with a liquid “sauce”; as the cake bakes, the batter rises to the top, leaving a chocolate sauce on the bottom to be spooned over the cake. (They’re often made in individual ramekins and turned out on a plate to serve, so that the sauce tops the cake, but that would have been trickier to transport.) The cake isn’t the prettiest thing, but eaten with a scoop of ice cream it’s pretty tasty.
Homely Hot Fudge Pudding Cake (adapted from Birthday Cakes: Recipes & Memories from Celebrated Bakers)
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, cooled (feel free to use decaf if serving to kids!)
1/3 cup cocoa powder (see note)
1/3 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
6 tbs butter (= 1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/3 cup milk
1 tbs vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
Note: The original recipe called for Dutch process cocoa (such as Droste), but all I had was regular, so I made adjustments. If you happen to have Dutch process cocoa on hand, by all means use it- just omit the baking soda altogether and up the baking powder in the batter to 2 tsp.
Adjust your oven rack to the lower third of your oven and preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease an 8″ square or round glass or ceramic baking dish (it should be at least 3-4″ deep; see photos).
For the topping: mix together the cocoa, baking powder and two kinds of sugar in a bowl; mix well to eliminate lumps in the brown sugar. Set aside.
For the batter: Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on low power for a couple minutes. As it starts to melt, take it out and stir it periodically until the mixture is fully melted. (Alternately, you can melt it on the stove by placing the bowl in a pan of simmering water, but I find the microwave much easier as long as you take care not to let it get too hot.) Stir in the cocoa powder, whisking out any lumps, and set aside to cool.
Combine the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder; set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla and egg. I do this in my stand mixer but a regular whisk or hand-held mixer works fine. Next, add the cooled chocolate/butter mixture. Stir to incorporate, then slowly add the flour mixture and mix until everything looks smooth. Put this batter in your baking dish, smoothing it so that the surface is fairly even. Sprinkle the cocoa/sugar mixture evenly over the top, then gently pour the coffee on top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake starts pulling away from the edges of the pan; do not overbake. Serve warm, with vanilla or coffee-flavored ice cream.