Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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Although I named my blog after one of my favorite things, I realized I don’t devote much time to writing about it. That’s really a shame, because I adore wine. Especially red wine. This oversight is something I plan to correct, starting today. Two stories, and a recipe.

Story #1. A couple months ago, I adopted an orange tabby kitten and named him Gatsby. He’s about six months old. He loves toes, laser pointers, toilet paper, catnip, the bathtub (really, bathrooms in general)…

…and apparently wine.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a couple bottles of wine while grocery shopping and put them in the wine rack. I went into the kitchen to unload the rest of my groceries, and turned around to find Gatsby practically in the wine rack, investigating my new bottle of Tempranillo.

A few days later, I pulled that very same bottle out of the wine rack for dinner. When I opened it, I kid you not, Gatsby came running across the room. He smelled the bottle and my glass with every bit as much enthusiasm as he does with milk, the only difference being that this time he didn’t get a taste.

It’s a good thing this guy doesn’t have thumbs.

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Go home, Gatsby. You’re drunk.

(And no, he isn’t drunk here… he’s just tuckered out from his 6-month birthday. The picture is blurry for effect. See how I did that?)

Story #2. Cooking with both red and white wine is common, but you don’t see wine in baking as much as you might think. A couple years ago, a friend asked me for red wine cupcakes for his birthday. I dug around and found several recipes, but they all involved cherries, which he can’t stand. I finally found a non-offensive recipe, and the resulting cupcakes were good… but tasted nothing like wine.

Thanks to Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, my friend is now entitled to a do-over. Now, let’s see if he’s reading my blog so he knows to ask. :)

I made this cake for my colleague’s birthday, and it was an instant hint, with several requests for the recipe. It’s rich without being overpowering, and I love the depth the cinnamon provides. The original recipe calls for marscapone cheese in the frosting, which I’m sure is fantastic, but I wanted to work with ingredients already in my kitchen and adapted with the always-classic cream cheese frosting. The original is also 3 layers, but I don’t have 3 cake pans the same size.

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You can use any red wine you want; the best advice, of course, is to pick something you like to drink. One of my favorites for pairing with chocolate is a local Virginia wine, Potomac Point Cabernet Franc (also a favorite for beef stew).

Two final tips. One, don’t let the look or texture of the batter pre-flour/cocoa freak you out. It’s not appetizing, but trust me: it will work itself out. Second, don’t drink the rest of the wine in the bottle until you’re sure you have enough powdered sugar to make the frosting, or you’ll find yourself on the couch waiting to sober up so you can drive to the store.

Not that I speak from experience…

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Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 3/4 cups (345 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups (380 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (135 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups red wine of your choice (I like Cabernet Franc)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (115 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon table salt

For frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pans or spray with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, at medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. (At this stage, the batter texture will likely remind you of the base of a cookie dough. Keep going.) If your mixer has a splash guard, put it on now. Carefully add the red wine and vanilla. (Don’t freak out that the batter looks like a disaster. It will all work out.)

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until three-quarters combined, then fold the rest with a rubber spatula. Divide batter between pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top bounces back when lightly touched and cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cook on racks until cool.

In a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt. Beat in powdered sugar. With a large serrated knife, trim the domes of the tops of each cake. Place the first layer on a cake stand or plate, cut side up. Spread with a thick layer of frosting. Place the second layer cut-side down on top of the frosted base. Frost the top and, if desired, the sides. Chill cake in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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