Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chocolate Orange Sponge Cake

Darkness and Light

A lonely person in the middle of a forest. 
Henning Mankell in The return of the Dancing Master 

I stare into my own eyes, at my own face, skin sallow under the glare of lights much too harsh. Age runs her silver fingers through my hair, mocking my every attempt at feigning less years than I actually own. My eyes slide across the stage behind me; men and women scurry about like rats forever chasing after some elusive deed in the simple act of looking busy, following the same old unwritten script they must follow every morning of the year. Poor souls. Those lights with their neon violence bounce off of every surface making the outside pewter gray even drearier yet somehow luminous in its natural softness; the stillness outside more infused with life and light than the living brightness inside.
Early morning haircut, settled into the deep faux-leather chair waiting for someone to come and yank, pull, tug; neck bent back in an unnatural position until the ache is too much to bear, water hot, cold, tepid awakening me from my trance. I leave feeling lighter, a sparkle of elation even as the skies above are drained of their own brilliant light. Where is the darkness that follows me about like a faithful dog at my heels or a secret admirer, always two steps behind?

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. 
No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness 
has always got there first, and is waiting for it. 
Terry Pratchett 

I fell asleep in darkness and woke in darkness. The skies pale, a brooding mist hangs from the discolored clouds, and blends with my mood; anger, self-doubt, haunting sadness. This darkness comes and goes without heed to the time of day, with no care as to the cast of the sky. The color black or shades of gray in brushstrokes across my soul. Days monotonous, skies the same monochrome as my spirit. I drag my body from my bed, stumble bleary-eyed, weary into the kitchen to begin my day. Coffee, rolls, jelly cold and sharp. The radio shouting wars and political battles broken only by the aggressive onslaught of music or fervently grinning announcers. I focus on the pages of a paperback and concentrate on the words, the story. Husband pokes me in the ribs, dog bounces around my feet, urging me to pay attention, making me smile. Yes, I can do this. Again. One more day.

A tale of darkness dwelling deep inside, a story of ghosts illuminated, transparent, intangible, as persistent as the devil. Unromantic darkness wrapped around me like clothing, or like a shard of glass buried under my skin. Light when it materializes comes from somewhere else. A sudden thought, a kind word, the face of a friend. My spirit, that eternal eddy of darkness, has a talent to suck the light, drain the skies of even the most minor hint of vibrancy. If I allow it. Sometimes it is easier, less energy, less effort to simply fall backwards into the abyss. We each of us allow ourselves to be lured by the simple luxury of waves of sadness or worry lapping softly, rhythmically against our ankles and miring us in the muck of our lives. Until a sliver of light pierces the surface.

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars. 
Charles Austin Beard 

And I bake. The darkness of chocolate, a shower of cocoa like earth sliding through a sieve. Egg whites whipped and beaten, thick, thicker, opaque phantoms unwilling to blend easily, putting up a fight, continually bobbing to the surface, imposing themselves. And the light. Bright like a Florida winter sky, radiating a clear, chilly warmth. Oranges. In this season of darkness, we crave the dense, the heavy, the rich. Yet break the spell with something light, moist, ethereal. A sponge cake. The heavenly darkness of chocolate to soothe the soul brightened with the essence of orange to lift the spirit.

Chocolate Orange Sponge Cake

1 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
Scant ½ tsp salt and a small pinch for the egg whites
6 large eggs, separated
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup cold water *
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice *
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract (I use Nielsen-Massey) or 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
Couple of drops lemon juice for the whites, optional

* For a slightly stronger orange flavor, use ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice in all, and no water.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Have ready an ungreased 10-inch tube pan with removable tube.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a small bowl; stir or whisk to blend. Set aside.

Measure out the orange juice and the water. Replace the water with more orange juice for a more pronounced orange flavor.

Separate the eggs. Place the whites in a mixing bowl (plastic is preferable to glass); add a few grains of salt and a drop or two lemon juice to help stabilize the whites. Place the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl.

Beat the yolks with an electric beater on high speed until thick and pale. Add the sugar and continue beating until very thick and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and orange extracts.

Add the dry ingredients to the yolk/sugar mixture in three additions, alternating with the cold water in two additions, beating after each addition until blended, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Beat the whites on high speed (start on low speed for 30 seconds, then work up to medium then high speed) until very dense and stiff peaks hold.

Delicately fold the whites into the cake batter: begin by folding in about a third of the whites in order to lighten the heavy batter so as not to “break” the whites (knock out the air). Then fold in another third, then the final third. Make sure there are no pockets or lumps of whites left yet try not to overmix the batter.

Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake in the preheated oven for 55 - 60 minutes until set. Press very lightly on the surface of the cake; if the indentations remain and if the cake “hisses” when pressed – as if the batter is still a mousse and not yet set - then allow the cake to bake for an extra few minutes.

Cool inverted. Once the cake is cool, run a long-bladed knife or cake spatula around the sides and around the center tube to loosen. Lift the tube and cake out from the outer pan. Run a knife carefully underneath the cake to loosen from the bottom of the cake pan all around. Very carefully turn over, lift out the center tube, then upright onto a serving platter.

Serve dusted simply with powdered sugar or drizzle with a chocolate ganache. To intensify the orange flavor, use an orange scented chocolate (such as Lindt Excellence Orange Intense) to make the ganache.


ilva said...

I do know that "Unromantic darkness", love that phrase. Soon things will change, I know that. My mother always told me 'After rain comes sunshine'. sooner or later.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A very poetic post! I only love romantic darkness, but not grim darkness...

Anyhow, I'd love to have a slice of that gorgeous chocolate cake! So soul-uplifting and satisfying.



Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I envy you the ability to bake your way out of the dark places. For me, baking just makes it worse! But I do have a sort of "fridge dump" cooking (or cooking with abandon) that seems to cure whatever ails me.

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

Chocolate does indeed sooth the soul. I could use a slice at the moment...

Jeanne said...

Chocolate makes everything better... especially with the added notes of citrus. Sending you hugs, Saucy xx

Lisa said...

For me, baking lets in the light to my darkness. I can't think of anything more therapeutic. Beautifully written - hauntingly beautiful!

Your dripping ganache photos are the best. This cake brings back memories of these foil covered chocolate oranges in the monster holiday baskets my father would bring home from work - but better - much better :)


'unromantic darkness', 'age runs her silver fingers through my hair' - you paint the picture perfectly Jamie, and as one who has just celebrated a birthday, i'm closer to leaving this life than entering it - the writing hits home. winters are dark and gloomy, birthdays, milestone markers, seeing others achieve and feeling stuck - all lend themselves to the darkness. but i know, i absolutely know that there is light and we must continue to drag ourselves towards it. beautiful cake my friend - bake away!! xo

Baking Soda said...

Unromantic darkness, so that's what it is? Never one to feel the winter but it's getting to me, chasing the silver fingers from my hair didn't help much. Cooking soup helps, sometimes (curry shrimp soup is cooling as we speak). Was thinking ginger cookies next but chocolate and orange would have more fans in this house!

Kiran @ said...

That sponge cake is so light and airy! I hope you are doing great, my friend :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Silver fingers thru hair ... now that carries a picture as crisp as your photos of the cake ... and what a cake. Unromantic darkness ... not sure, some darkness does strike me as romantic. Baking is therapy, always.
Wishing lightness, truly this is beautiful poetry ... and cake. said...

My kids have just discovered the combination of chocolate and orange. I'm going to have to save this recipe to make for them. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

ah darkness how i relish it as that is where peace and stillness reside. beautifully written post and if it light you seek i hope it comes soon for you and if not then i hope you find solance in this season of concentrating power within.

Junglefrog said...

This is such a beautiful post Jamie. Written as only you can write... And then again; chocolate does make everything just a little bit better. This cake sure looks up for the task!

Terra said...

Chocolate does make everything better for sure! Your cake looks so beautiful, I want to dig right in!!! Yum, Hugs, Terra

Jill @ MadAboutMacarons said...

Jamie, you certainly know how to lift the spirits when things are dark and gloomy. Really enjoyed reading you.

Ivy said...

Love the combination of any citrus fruit with chocolate.


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