When I was first contacted about cooking a Julia Child recipe and posting about it for PBS’s #CookForJulia celebration of Julia Child in honor of what would have been her upcoming 100th birthday, I was extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, it was PBS and that is exciting! And honoring Julia Child is certainly a cause I can get behind. But, the honest truth is that I own exactly one “Julia Child” book (in quotes because it was written by Dorrie Greenspan and none of the recipes are hers, rather it was the companion book to her Baking with Julia show) and previous to this recipe I had made exactly one Julia Child recipe. I have never even seen a single episode of any of her shows.
So I wondered, is it hypocritical of me to sing Julia Child’s praises when I myself have not really experienced Julia Child?
I’ve decided that the answer is no, any more than it is hypocritical of me to acknowledge the significance of other pioneers who have gone before in various disciplines. Julia Child was a pioneer, on more than one level. She was a pioneer as a woman cooking authority on TV in an age when most women cooks were home cooks. She was a pioneer in bringing cooking to TV, period. She was also a pioneer for publicly embracing enthusiasm and self-education over perfection, having once famously remarked, after messing up the flipping of a potato pancake and causing it to land on the counter instead of the pan : “You see when I flipped it I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have.” After picking the cake up, pressing it back together, and placing it in the pan, she uttered what would be become a famous piece of reassurance for every novice cook or baker everywhere “But you can always pick it up, and if you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?” [see Snopes article for quote] As a side note, this story morphed into an exaggerated account of her dropping a turkey on the floor and then proceeding to cook with it(!) which never actually happened. I think the gradual exaggeration of what happened over time makes perfect sense, however. All self-taught home cooks, including yours truly, have messed up various things in the kitchen, and Julia Child gave us permission to ignore the mistake, fix it as best we are able, and continue cooking. That’s huge.
That bravery is what inspired me to choose this recipe for this post. I have been staring at Lora Brody’s Boca Negra in Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers for several years now. On paper it is a quite simple recipe cooked in a water bath (hence the steam in the photo above). However, the recipe includes some seemingly tricky instructions for getting the extremely moist, hot cake out of the pan. In my past experience, this is the part that is never as simple as it sounds, never works as well as claimed, and ends with me completely frazzled. But in honor of Julia Child and the countless moments of bravery she has inspired in home cooks everywhere over the years, I decided I was going to go for it.
The method worked absolutely brilliantly! Unlike most flourless or nearly flourless cakes, this one is meant to be served warm (although it is delicious room temperature as well). Which means getting it out of a round cake pan without breaking or cracking the cake–and then getting it immediately inverted to then slice and serve. You remove the pan from the water bath and dry it off. You then cover the top of the pan with a large piece of plastic wrap–at this point the excess plastic wrap will cling to the sides of the warm pan. Invert the pan onto a large plate (not the plate you will serve it on) and (this part was easier with 2 people) peel the plastic wrap from the sides of the pan, so that the plastic wrap is no longer attached in any way to the pan. Lift the pan off of the cake, leaving the cake behind on the plate. Remove the parchment paper which will be stuck to the bottom of the cake. Place the ultimate serving plate or platter on top of the cake and invert again. Peel the plastic wrap off of the cake. Voilá!
I mentioned that the cake is meant to be served warm. Learn from my mistake and serve the white chocolate cream on the side! As you can see in the photo above, the cream is dripping over the side. Amusingly (and frustratingly), this particular slice was the only one where the cream even stayed on the cake. I did manage to catch one hilarious shot (see below) of the cream sliding right off the cake! We really did not care, it was delicious. Some things I would do differently next time: forget about good pictures, this cake should be served in tiny (much smaller than shown) slices. It is rich!! Also, the white chocolate cream is deliciously but almost overpoweringly boozy and sweet. The second day I served this I folded the cream into lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream, and we all agreed we preferred it that way.
Boca Negra Cake
Closely adapted from Baking with Julia
For the white chocolate cream sauce:
- 12 oz good quality white chocolate (I used Guittard), coarsely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup bourbon (or more to taste)(I was forced to sub vanilla vodka)
Prepare the white chocolate cream at least 1 day in advance.
Put the white chocolate into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until it is finely chopped. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and process until completely smooth. Add the bourbon, taste, and add up to a tablespoon more if you want.
Pour the prepared cream into a container with a tight-fitting lid and chill overnight. The cream can be kept covered in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to a month.
For the cake:
- 12 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Scharffen Berger 71%)
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon (I was forced to use vanilla vodka)
- 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, at room temperature
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 T AP flour
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350.
Lightly spray the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with baking spray. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper; butter the paper and sides of the pan. Put the cake pan in a shallow roasting pan and set aside until needed.
Put the chopped chocolate in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar and the bourbon and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a full boil. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the chocolate and process until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
Piece by piece, add the butter into the chocolate mixture with the processor running. Make certain that each piece of butter is melted before you add another. Add the eggs, one at a time, while the processor continues to run. Add the flour and then let the processor run for an additional 15 seconds.
Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan, running your spatula over the top to smooth it. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about 1 inch up the side of the cake pan. Bake the cake for exactly 30 minutes, at which point the top will have a thin, dry crust.
Cover the top of the pan with a large piece of plastic wrap–at this point the excess plastic wrap will cling to the sides of the warm pan. Invert the plate onto a large plate (not the plate you will serve it on) and (this part was easier with 2 people) peel the plastic wrap from the sides of the pan, so that the plastic wrap is no longer attached in any way to the pan. Before it can reattach, lift the pan off of the cake, leaving the cake behind on the plate. Remove the parchment paper which will be stuck to the bottom of the cake. Place the ultimate serving plate or platter on top of the cake and invert again. Peel the plastic wrap off of the cake.
Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with the chilled white chocolate cream (folded into whipped cream as described above, if desired).
Once cooled, the cake can be covered with plastic and kept at room temperature for 1 day or refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving. I used my cake keeper to store it without any plastic wrap. For longer storage, wrap the cake airtight and freeze it; it will keep up to a month. Thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.