Reflections on an Epic Journey, Part 2: Chocolate Orbit Cake with Coffee Whipped Cream

Now is when I share with you all my sage words of wisdom, because, you know, at the old age of twenty-two, I have so many. Really though, I do think I learned a thing or two about traveling during my stint in Central America. Take or leave my insights. My sister, for one, will probably leave them as she gets ready to jet off to Spain in the fall. And, believe it or not, I won’t be too offended, as long as she remembers to bring me back a souvenir. I’ve already requested a cookbook.

View of Punta Paitilla from Casco Antiguo (Old Town). Panama City, Panama. 

So, on traveling (and traveling alone):

1. If your purpose is to learn about another culture, meet locals, and/or practice a language, I would strongly encourage you to think about going to one place and staying there for an extended amount of time to volunteer or take classes. If you’re traveling for only several weeks, this means you’ll be in the same place for the majority of your trip. If you’re traveling for longer, you can integrate this type of experience into a more traditional backpacking trip. This traveling strategy is also beneficial for people, like me, who appreciate some structure.

2. If you decide you want to backpack in the traditional sense of the word, take your time. That is, plan to cover a little ground in a lot of time. This will give you the ability to adjust your travel plans as you go. That means, for example, if you meet a group of people you really like, you can change your route to travel with them. Also, remember, transportation always takes longer than expected. Plan accordingly.

3. Be prepared to be more outgoing than you have ever been in your entire life. The only way you’ll meet people and find others to travel with is by introducing yourself and striking up a conversation. No matter how outgoing you are though, there will be times when you’ll be alone. Don’t let that stop you from doing things. Those fish tacos can’t be missed just because you’re afraid to walk into a restaurant and request a table for one.

Bocas del Toro, Panama. 

In fact, the last day of my travels, I meandered over to the Choco Museo Café and ate an incredibly light, intensely chocolaty slab of cake. Alone. Mind you, this was after getting a pedicure. Clearly, it was a day of indulgences. In my defense, that was my first pedicure ever and I had been walked around in a pair of cotton Mary Jane’s whose left strap was being held on with a safety pin for three weeks. Both the pedicure and the chocolate cake were most definitely needed.

Sunset. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. 

That cake was my inspiration for this cake here. While it certainly is intensely chocolaty, it is far from light. It has the texture of fudge that has been left out in the sun all day at a picnic. That is, dense and moist with a slight chewiness. The chocolate flavor is so rich, I opted to serve mine with a dollop of whipped cream. Knowing I wanted a whipped cream that drew on my travels too, I set my mind on making it coffee flavored. (Remember my last post? This cake was the final touch to my Guatemala inspired dinner.) I had plenty of time to wander the streets of Antigua that night and concoct a strategy for preparing my whipped cream. I thought about adding a shot of Espresso. Too liquidy. I thought about running the cream through my coffee machine. Too messy. I finally decided on the French press method described below. Miraculously, it worked, and the coffee whipped cream, along with the cake, was a resounding success.

Chocolate Orbit Cake

from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Lebovitz initially called this dessert Chocolate Idiot Cake since, according to his blog, any idiot could make it…and only an idiot could screw it up.” I nearly fell into this idiot category. Apparently, despite three layers of aluminum foil, I did not wrap it tight enough as water managed to leak through my springform pan and into my cake. I, however, avoided true classification as an idiot by salvaging my cake. If you, like me, find yourself with a water filled springform pan, here’s what to do: Drain as much of the water as possible. The instant you begin to see the cake slide within the pan, stop draining. Return the cake to the oven leaving it uncovered. Check on it every ten minutes. If the edges look like they are done cooking but the center is still soft, cover with foil once again. As the cake becomes firmer, try to drain more water. Be patient. The cake will likely have to cook for substantially longer than the time given in the original recipe below. (I cooked mine for over an hour and forty-five minutes.) Eventually, the water will have cooked off and your cake will look, and taste, as if nothing went awry.

Makes 1 9-inch cake

1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

12 ounces (340 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (220 g) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan or round cake pan. If using a springform pan, wrap a large sheet of aluminum foil around the outside of the pan, making sure it’s absolutely watertight. If using a cake pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Set the springform or cake pan in a large roasting pan.

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the butter and chocolate. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from theheat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until completely incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared springform or cake pan and cover the pan tightly with foil. Pour very warm water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the outside of the cake pan. Bake until the cake appears to be set and your finger comes away clean when you gently touch the center (it will still feel quite soft), about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the water bath and let cool completely.

To unmold, run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. If you’ve used a springform pan, simply release the sides. If you’ve used a regular cake pan, invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, then re-invert onto a serving platter. The cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Coffee Whipped Cream

This whipped cream would be lovely in a trifle or dolloped on top of pecan pie, hot chocolate, and any assortment of ice cream flavors. If you’re a whipped cream lover, like me, you may want to double this recipe. And if you’re crazy, and don’t like coffee, this cake can also be served with plain whipped cream, crème anglaise, or caramel ice cream, to name just a few options.

If you don’t have a French press, never fear! After simmering the cream and letting it sit for several minutes, add the ground coffee directly to the sauce pan. Stir and cover for 3-4 minutes. Remove the lid and, using cheesecloth, strain the coffee into an air tight container. Proceed with the directions below accordingly.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups whipped cream

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons coffee, ground

Heat the heavy cream in a small sauce pan until it just begins to simmer. Meanwhile, place ground coffee in the bottom of a French press.

Remove heavy cream from heat and let sit for 1-3 minutes. Gradually pour the heavy cream into the press and, once all the cream has been added, stir well. Place the plunger over the press to keep in the heat, but do not press it down yet. Let coffee brew for three to four minutes. Press plunger down slowly. Pour heavy cream mixture into an air tight container and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a day.

At least thirty minutes before whipping the cream, place the mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the fridge to chill. Remove from fridge and beat the cream until soft peaks form.

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