Editor’s note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
March of 2020 — that’s the last time we had friends over for dinner. Since then I’ve been cooking for only two people, my husband and me. So, I’ve reduced a lot of recipes and sought out smaller ones when I could find them. This petite chocolate cake is a good example. It makes a 6-inch, one-layer cake that yields four servings, six if I cut it into small slices. With a dense texture that plays well against a velvety whipped ganache topping, it’s quite good and a perfect size for us. We get a lovely dessert for two or three meals, and we don’t have to deal with leftovers.
The cake comes together quickly and is easy to prepare. Just be sure not to overmix the batter once you combine the dry and wet ingredients and to remove the cake from the oven the minute it’s done. At high altitudes, just a little extra baking time can make a cake’s texture dry and unappealing.
Don’t want to whip the ganache? No problem, just give it five to 10 minutes to thicken after making it then spread it over the top of the cake and refrigerate it until the ganache firms up. Though you won’t be able to pipe it, it will be just as delicious.
Four-Serving Chocolate Cake
Adjusted for elevations of 7,800 feet and above; Make in a 6-inch shiny metal cake pan with 2-inch sides
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- ¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
- ½ cup superfine granulate sugar
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup sour cream or buttermilk
Whipped chocolate ganache
- 4 (four) ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- ½ (one half) cup heavy whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the pan with a baking spray that contains flour, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper and grease the paper. Set the pan aside.
- Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda espresso powder and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl until well combined. In a smaller bowl, whisk the oil, sugar, egg, vanilla and sour cream/buttermilk to fully blend and then add the mixture to the dry ingredients. Gently whisk or stir (try to avoid making air bubbles) only until a smooth batter forms. Don’t overmix or the cake could be tough.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level it. Bake until the top is set, the sides just begin to pull away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 26-30 minutes. Overbaking will result in dry cake, so watch carefully. Move the cake to a rack and cool completely in the pan. It can be frozen, wrapped airtight, at this point.
- While the cake cools, make the ganache because it must cool before you use it. Put the finely chopped chocolate in a 2-cup measure or bowl. Pour the heavy cream in a microwave-proof container and heat in a microwave oven at medium temperature until very hot, just short of boiling. Remove it from the oven, pour it over the chocolate, submerging all of it in the liquid, and set it aside for 3-4 minutes so the chocolate starts melting. Gently stir (don’t make air bubbles) until all the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Set the ganache aside to thicken and cool completely, at least 2 ½ hours. Fit your electric mixer with a whisk attachment if you have one and whip at medium-high speed for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture lightens in color and holds peaks when you lift the whisk/beater.
- If your cake is domed, gently shave the top with a sharp knife until it’s even and then turn it over, so the bottom is now the top, which is the most level and smooth surface to frost. Pipe the whipped ganache decoratively the entire top of the cake. Give the cake several hours or, if possible, a day for the flavors to blend before serving. Store it in the ‘fridge, well covered, for 3 days. Serve it at room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one published on the Sally’s Baking Addiction website. Vera Dawson, Ph.D., is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in the Rockies since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.