Sunday, June 7, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake

The internet is a funny place. We can write whatever we want.

Eating too much chocolate turns your hair dark, carbohydrates are bad for you and Liam Neeson is a total bad-ass. Believe that or not, but there is only one thing about that sentence that is true (and it's not the carbohydrates or the chocolate).

Most of the stuff I read on the internet is food or travel-related. I like to read blogs and look at pictures of beautiful landscapes and interesting dishes. When it comes to scientific facts, I rely on what's in my brain, published journals and text books. That's the real stuff.

Something I find really funny about the food space in the internet world are the reactions from baked-goods gone bad! It's always the recipe's fault. The recipe didn't work! Even though I used half the butter and one-third of the sugar called for... It's still the recipe's fault! It just didn't work and what a waste of ingredients!

Changing proportions makes a whole new recipe - that's the cool (completely nerdy) thing about baking. To change a recipe means you should be prepared to take a calculated risk. I make this sound like gambling, but it's just food. It's really not a big deal (it's totally a big deal!).

I have an example. This is a true story...

"Not to be trapped in the house over the holiday weekend with a full batch of intensely chocolate cookies, I cut this recipe down by one quarter. The only other change I made was to reduce the amount of sugar"... it was reduced by three-quarters. That would be like adding 1/4 cup of sugar to your brownies instead of 1 cup of sugar. That would not make a brownie, it would make a dry cardboard-tasting brown slab. That would be hugely disappointing.

"These didn't flatten much during baking, which caused me to over baked them slightly (they weren't gooey in the center)." That's what happens when using a fraction of the sugar. Sugar binds water, helps things spread and keeps cookies moist in the middle.

"I blame myself for the uninteresting texture, which was soft and cake-like." It was cake-like because it was dry and it was dry because there wasn't enough sugar. 

Sugar is functional. Sugar is calories. We have to make compromises. The compromise should be to eat less of a good thing rather than make a crappy thing and eat none of it because it isn't good. That would just be ridiculous. Sugar is not just for flavour and for making things sweet. It has a very specific function that allows cake to be cake and brownies to be brownies and cookies to be cookies. Let's be smart about it.

This cake is a great example of sugar's incredible properties. Today's totally tender Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake is as delicious as it is long-winded. And although the title is exhausting, the recipe is not! This is another one-bowl situation and sugar helps it to be just that. 

This recipe produces an incredibly moist and tender cake with minimal effort. No creaming necessary. All the dry ingredients, including sugar, go into one big mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer then use that bowl. This means the flour (142g) and sugar (150g) plus baking powder, baking soda and salt go in together. Note that the ratio of sugar is just slightly higher than flour - that is critical to produce a fine tender crumb. Sugar competes with flour for moisture so that the gluten doesn't have a chance to build and toughen the cake. 

Soft butter goes in and mixes with the dry ingredients evenly, coating every particle. This is another step to protect flour proteins from contacting moisture. Once we get a nice fine breadcrumb-like texture, the remaining ingredients go in - that's all the liquid stuff including sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Time to mix until we have a silky smooth batter.

The extra sugar and cinnamon is for an awesome doughnut-like crust and a swirl through the cake. The chocolate is for any reason you can think of. I don't need to think of one.

Do not put sugar to shame. Do not make it feel unwelcome. Do not undermine its job description. It is a dedicated and important team player. Let this cake be all that it can be. Give it the respect it deserves because it deserves a lot. Believe me.

In the meantime, I'll consider working on some low-sugar recipes that are not compromised by a lack of the white stuff. Maybe that will save a few recipes from shame and save me from a few grey hairs. Or maybe I should just chill out and eat cake. 


Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cake
Makes about 9 servings

1 cup (142g) all purpose flour
¾ cup (150g) plus ¼ cup (50g) sugar, divided
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup (75g) soft unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup (150ml) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (100g) dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and soft butter. Mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes, until mixture resembles fine crumbs. In a separate bowl whisk together sour cream, vanilla and eggs until well blended. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed for about 1 minute or until ingredients are well incorporated.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it out evenly. Combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle half the cinnamon sugar over the batter evenly. Sprinkle two-thirds of the dark chocolate chips over the cinnamon sugar. Using a large spoon, drop the remaining batter in dollops over top. Gently spread the batter over the chocolate chips to cover them. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips over the top of the batter.

Bake at 28-32 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool for 30 minutes. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
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  1. It made me happy to read your defense of sugar, especially the paragraph about compromises. And this recipe looks delish! BTW - Is this a typo? " Mix on low speed for 30 minutes, until mixture resembles crumbs." Should it be 30 seconds? or 3 minutes?

    1. Ah yes! It should be 2-3 minutes. Thanks for catching that!

  2. I'm not a blogger, but those kinds of comments on recipes make me crazy, too. If you don't follow the recipe, it is not the recipe's fault!


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