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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, December 05, 2005

Low-fat chocolate birthday cake

So...this should attract a few people! I think it is a birthday cake recipe worth bookmarking. A few weeks after I received my copy of Alice Medrich's Chocolate & the art of low fat desserts my mum asked if I would be able to make something from it for the birthday of one of the girls in her office. The girls are all on a perpetual weight-loss program; they go walking every lunch time and analyse each morsel they put in their mouth for Weight Watchers points. She wanted to offer them a birthday cake, but was a bit stumped about how to do it in a "guilt-free" fashion. If it were my birthday I'd use the opportunity to make and eat the gooiest, stickiest most chocolatey cake you can imagine, but not everyone is me.

Alice Medrich is a well-known American chocolatier, with some truly decadent chocolate publications, but who always refused to countenance the idea of low-fat chocolate recipes. Eventually she started experimenting with some recipes, and being quite a perfectionist, she refined and modified her calorie-laden recipes for years until she created lower fat alternatives that still used natural ingredients. Real butter, real chocolate - just in different quanitites, and with a greater focus on techniques and textures. I first read about her low-fat chocolate cakes on
Shiokadelicious and A Spoonful of Sugar and tried for ages to track down a copy of the book in Australia with no luck. Eventually I found a second-hand copy on Amazon and I was set. It's got some fabulous looking recipes in there, not only for decadent chocolate cakes, but regualar non-chocolate cakes and desserts. The low-fat chocolate souffles I made for a recent IMBB were from this book.

So, the recipe is quite easy to make, but is pretty pedantic to be honest. At one stage I looked around and noticed I had about 4 bowls on the go, plus a stand mixer and a hand beater. The instructions for adding the ingredients at slow speed, then changing to high speed then to low speed, then back to high speed, then back to medium etc. etc. got me muttering under my breath about impossibly bossy recipe writers. I know she's just reflecting the amount of research she has put in to creating the perfectly textured cake; a feat made all the more difficult with the very low levels of fat, but really, I just ignored them after a while and just bunged everything in on the one speed. I don't think the finished result suffered so much, so it's your choice really.

The final result is a very rich and moist cake that tastes extremely chocolatey. It'd be excellent served on its own with icecream or similar. In fact, it is presented as its own separate recipe, "Chocolate Pound Cake" - the first in the book. However, it should be noted that due to the very low levels of fat and eggs, and high levels of sugar the final cake is very fragile. I was assembling the creation early one morning before work, and in my half-asleep state I picked up one of the cake layers to have it break cleanly in half. I had some serious issues attempting to keep the top layer "glued" together, and had to resort to tying a large bow around the cake's perimeter to squeeze everything together. Caused a bit of a mess. So, do take care; low fat cakes are frangible. Use a wide spatula.

The rich chocolate glaze is very effective. No, it's not sweet. With a whole cup of unsweetened cocoa it's definitely a chocolate sauce for adult tastes. I found it tasted very much of uncooked chocolate pudding mixture. I'm not completely sold on its taste alone, but combined with the cake it worked well to create a very rich, bittersweet birthday cake. If making it again I think I'd flavour it with a strong liqueur such as Amaretto or Frangelico. I found it never really thickened enough for me either, despite boiling the mixture for more than the time specified. That may have added to my feeling of it tasting like pudding mix.

The final creation was a real hit, despite some presentation issues with my floating cake layer. The general consensus was "I cannot believe this is low-fat! It's just too good!".
It is an effective recipe, and I recommend it. No, it's not as easy as your regualar, basic 2 bowl cake batter, but the small amount of extra work invovolved will more than pay off as you present something that not only looks and tastes excellent, but is low in calories as well. I bet you suddenly find yourself much more popular than you were before!

The recipe for the pound cake base can be found in this post. The recipe she posted is for a half quantity, which is what you need for this birthday cake. Use 2 round 8 inch pans rather than a loaf tin. Incidentally, I agree with Angela's comments about the amount of sugar, and would probably cut it down a little next time. It would reduce some of the sweetness, and make the cake a bit less fragile.
Nutrition information for the cake plus the glaze:
Calories per serving: 242
Fat: 7.8g
% calories from fat: 27%
Protein: 4.2g
Carbohydrates: 42.9g
Cholesterol: 33.9mg

Read on for the recipe for the rich chocolate glaze:

Rich Chocolate Glaze
Chocolate and the art of low-fat desserts" - Alice Medrich.
Makes 2 1/4 cups.

1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups low-fat (1%) milk
1 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
2.5 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Work time: 20 minutes
1: Combine the sugar and cocoa in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Use a wire whisk to stir in jus enough milk to form a smooth paste. Stir in the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the mixtures simmer and begins to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan. Boil gently for 3 minutes (or 2 minutes if making only half the recipe), stirring constantly to prevent burning and create a thick consistency. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
2: Coool 5 minutes. Add 21/2 ounces finely chopped milk chocolate. Stir until completely melted.
3: Pour through a fine strainer. Allow to cool. Cover, placing plastic wrap directly on the surpace to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for several hours or overnight. Frosting will thicken as it cools. May be refrigerated for at least a week.

Note: The boiling time is very important. This glaze makes a thick, smooth covering for a cake or torte but is not stiff enough to frost with swirls and peaks. If you cheat on the boiling time, it will not thicken enough (even after chilling) to coat a cake without dripping mostly off the sides, nor will it have the intensity of flavour it needs to be a great chocolate sauce.

Nutrition Information:
Calories per tablespoon: 66
Fat: 1.2 g
% calories from fat: 14%
Protein: 1.5g
Carbohydrates: 15.2g
Cholesterol: .5mg


  • Niki, that's fantastic!

    I'm like you...why go low-fat that one day of the year?...but it's good to have a go-to recipe when it's called for.

    And hye; if you ever find yourself looking for a US-based cookbook (or non-cookbook, for that matter), please let me know. I'd be beyond happy to get it for you!

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 12/06/2005 05:22:00 am  

  • The word would be 'hey', not 'hye'. I was paying attention to Alex as I typed that...sorry.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 12/06/2005 05:24:00 am  

  • It looks really moist and luscious Niki! I'm happy someone's been cooking from this - I've been looking at mine recently thinking "I should really make something from that". Particularly since I must have chocolate every day and something low fat might be a better daily option than a giant bowl of chocolate honey ice cream!

    And yeah, I also first heard about this book on Shiokadelicous. Funny to think that we're scouring the world for second hand cook books but that's what others tempt us with!

    By Blogger plum, at 12/06/2005 09:50:00 am  

  • Niki, I've been eyeing that recipe in my copy of that cookbook, too. I've made the plain buttermilk poundcake which was superb. I agree the recipe is a bit fiddly, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this recipe, I'll make sure to reduce the amount of sugar when I give it a go.

    By Blogger tanvi, at 12/06/2005 04:24:00 pm  

  • That photo made me want to lick the screen! It screamed chocolatey goodness!!

    By Blogger Kimbie, at 12/07/2005 12:33:00 am  

  • It still looks gorgeous, Niki. This is one that I haven't tried myself, yet, so I'm glad to hear how it turned out. The book is hard to find everywhere, I think, since it has been out of print for a number of years. Mine is second-hand, as well.

    By Blogger Nic, at 12/07/2005 12:45:00 am  

  • Sounds Fantastic though I am a bit of a lazy cook so would love someone to make it for me, though will stick to full fate goodness when baking myself!

    By Blogger Ange, at 12/07/2005 04:50:00 pm  

  • hey ange, i think going full fat is the best way to enjoy life and anything that comes out of the oven! You can't substitute that. :) And to the blog owner, I'm a BIG FAN! And i really hope u're one crazy chocolate lover like i am! cheers.

    By Blogger diva, at 12/08/2005 05:56:00 pm  

  • That cake looks really good...thanks for passing it on :) I'm not really one that gets attracted to things low fat, but have been trying to find a recipe that will turn out a lighter cake than I usually do...so this may be it! :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/09/2005 08:02:00 am  

  • Stephanie - I agree. Why bother? A friend joked that I should make a full-fat cake and just tell them it was low-fat!! ANd thanks so much for the postage offer - I may just have to take you up on it sometime!

    Plum - Isn't it a great book? Usually I'm put off by American baking books, but this one is excellent. Gorgeous photos too.
    Chocolate honey icecream???? Yummmm!

    Tanvi - I looked at the buttermilk cake and deliberated making that just the other night, actually!

    Kimbie - Thanks!

    Nic - Odd that it's so popular and yet it's out of print. Very strange. I think you'll have some great successes baking from this book, I must say. :-)

    Ange & Dive - Totally agree about the full fat! But gotta say that this was pretty damn good too. Of course it'd be even better with some thick double cream.... ;-) And thanks so much for your support for the blog!

    Joey - I think it would fit the bill for a lighter cake. It's not only lighter in fat, but lighter in texture so would work well.

    By Blogger Niki, at 12/09/2005 01:35:00 pm  

  • Do you have this recipe anywhere? The link to it is no longer any good. I realize this was some time ago but thank you for your help.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/17/2010 07:22:00 am  

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