I’ll be doing a separate post soon about my thoughts on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, but for now, let’s get cooking! Or baking. Whichever you prefer.
The first mention of chocolate cake happens during visiting day, which doesn’t occur in the movie, but basically it’s a time for the family members to officially say goodbye to each other and wish each other well in their new lives. For Tris, this is a startling moment because her mother reveals that she came from Dauntless and chose Abnegation as her faction:
“She walks away, and I am too stunned to follow her. At the end of the hallway she turns and says, ‘Have a piece of cake for me, all right? The chocolate. It’s delicious.’ She smiles a strange, twisted smile, and adds, ‘I love you, you know.’ -from Chapter 15
The cake, in some odd way, becomes a symbol of the Dauntless, in the same way plain food stands in for Abnegation. I’m not sure exactly what the chocolate cake is supposed to express, but nevertheless as the series progresses it becomes more and more clear that this is Dauntless’s ‘thing,’ just like eating things out of cans is the what the Factionless do. (I actually think something spicy would be more symbolic. Dauntless are risk takers, but they’re not really all that indulgent. If anyone has thoughts on why their food is chocolate cake, I’d love to read them in the comments!)
But on to the cake!
This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe—it’s cakey and suitably chocolate-y, but you can have a piece of it and not feel totally sweeted out or that it’s just too rich. It’s somewhere in between light and dense and has a mid-size crumb. It’s awesome, in other words.
Recipe from Julie Richardson’s book Vintage Cakes
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ¾ cup full-fat sour cream
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup canola or other light flavored oil
- 3 egg yolks at room temp (eggs are easier to separate cold—I like to separate and then leave them on the counter with the butter. You can save the whites for a Swiss meringue butter cream)
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- your choice of frosting—I like raspberry or fruit flavored butter cream with chocolate, but this cake would go well from everything from a chocolate ganache or nutella to any sort of frosting you can come up with
This recipe makes 3 cake rounds or one sheet cake. If you’re using rounds, grease and line the bottoms with parchment. If using a sheet cake, grease.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Put the unsweetened chocolate in a bowl with the cocoa powder. Pour the boiling water on top and let sit for one minute. Stir together until combined and smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and set aside.
Sift together your dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
Cream your butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on medium speed). Scrape down the sides of the bowl before drizzling in the oil on low speed. Turn speed up to medium high and beat until fluffy, three minutes.
Blend in the egg/egg yolks one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the first is fully incorporated.
On a low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then alternate with the chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop mixing before the last of the flour is incorporated and finish by hand to ensure you don’t lose all the air.
Spread batter into your prepared pan(s). Smooth the tops and tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake bounces back when the center is touched (about 22-25 minutes for the rounds, about 30-45 minutes for the sheet cake—I haven’t prepared this cake in a sheet pan, but that’s my estimate).
Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before flipping the rounds out or keep the sheet cake on the wire rack until cooled (I hate turning sheet cakes out. I like serving them out of the pan).
Spread with your desired topping (even just a sprinkle of cocoa or powdered sugar) and serve.
What food makes you feel Dauntless? Let me know in the comments.