Last Friday, we woke up to ice. It was our second ice storm in our four years here, and not half as dramatic as the first. But it was slick enough to merit a 6 a.m. robo-call, announcing that school would begin two hours late.
And slick enough to get a second call, ten minutes later, announcing, actually, school was cancelled.
Our collective first instinct was to hoot and holler, as we've not had so much as a schedule rumple since 2011. Snow's common here. Snow days, not so much.
My second instinct, naturally, was to Make Something of The Day. After all, it was a school day, and it seemed a shame to skip learning entirely. Also, I had planned to scale a small mountain of To Do's by mid-morning. Teachable moment! Here we are! Let's get to work! Master multiplication! Practice skip counting! Osmose gummy bears! Refresh our laundry skills! Rah! Rah! Ra...thud.
(Yes, I really am as fun as all that. I was a rain cloud in a former life. Parade duty. Permanent station.)
To be fair, their second instincts were to play Minecraft all day! In their pajamas! Perhaps breaking for lunch! Perhaps not!
Two for two.
(To be clear, there was also no snow on this snow day. No powder to jump in, or stir into cream, or pack into igloos, or burn off steam. Just ice, a thin slickery glaze, all over everything. And strict orders to stay indoors.
Heal one leg before breaking another, I say!)
So we did what one does in such situations. Fumbled. Angled. Lobbied. Stumbled. Grumbled. Made concessions. Compromises. Came around. Dumped every last Playmobil on the floor, to provide a little order to our plastic, and our morning. Mostly, we (me) got over ourselves (myself), and decided to just go with it, the crazy groove of a windfall day.
You know how this story ends, of course.
They played Minecraft for hours.
Okay, an hour and a half.
And homework was completed. And science experiments, commenced. And Cautionary Tales read, in honor of Edward Gorey's 88th. And Flexahexagons attempted, after watching (and re-watching) the inimitable Vi Hart. We never did (haven't yet) mastered the clever reversible hexagon. We once again found ourselves poking each other out of the way to watch. (Sigh. How I heart Khan Academy. Screen time none of us can get enough of.)
Obsolete words were looked up, to fill a minute, and written up on the blackboard, to see what stuck. Five year olds were later overheard telling their brothers to "Stop that blattering!". (Next up: Bossy.) Animals were arranged according to habitat, grasslands versus dessert versus North American prairies. Then re-arranged, according to whim, seals in the Serrengheti, elephants on the plains. A new food chain was identified, one which begins with alligator-eating hippos, and ends with fish who devour kangaroos.
We remembered to laugh.
We remembered to eat chocolate.
We even remembered to fold towels.
Correlation, causation, you decide.
Chocolate, of course, doesn't depend on snow days, nor does it guarantee good results. Although, if it's this chocolate, it at least guarantees good spirits, and that is at least half way there.
This homely slab may be a hard sell. I realize this. It's dull, drab, brown. It has all the curb appeal of an old sock. An old sock that rarely lasts forty-eight hours, around here.
This particular old sock is the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from my dog-eared, batter-splattered How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It's a real curiosity of a cake. It contains almost twice as much sugar as flour, and yet has a mellow, understated sweet. Every crumb positively pulses with chocolate, and yet there are only four ounces of the stuff. The batter is unlike any I've made, thin, sloshy, the weight of light cream. This would be because it includes a cup and change of water. Water. Who adds water to cake? (All the smart people, actually. Jess does it. Joy does it. David Lebovitz does it, too. After all, it was his gingered triumph that first taught me to love a good water-logged cake.) The finished loaf sinks miserably, minutes after leaving the oven, more pothole than pageant winner.
But man, what a pothole.
Despite (or due to) its odd ratios and ingredients, this bakes up into one wickedly addictive loaf. Partial credit goes to that pile of dark brown sugar, one of chocolate's best, least recognized sidekicks. Brown sugar ups chocolate's game every time, expanding its range, amplifying its tone, transforming its soprano off-the-shelf sweet deep into baritone territory. I don't know how that works. Only that it does. Molasses makes chocolate man up, somehow.
The soft sugar also girds against dry, that dreaded fate of so many loaf cakes. The cup-plus of boiling water? Catapults this cake into a world where ... dry? What dry? Indeed, it's the texture of this thing that astounds. Damp and airy and rich and light, it behaves unlike any other cake I've eaten. It is heavy, literally, heavy in the hand, with a weight that is real, and palpable. But it isn't dense, or fudgey, or squidgy, or even particularly rich. It's heavy, but not heavy. Understand?
Custardy. It is custardy. Chocolate custard, convinced to play cake.
Two last things. Friday, after lunch of apples and peanut butter, we acted on impulse and added a schmear. No butter, no sugar, no frosting pretensions, just salted creamy, straight from the jar. HOLY (as my friend Kate would say) SMOKERS. It was either my worst or best idea, ever. Check back in December, see how many slabs I've pounded. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)
Also, we call it Brownie Bread. You bake it in a loaf pan, after all. Plus, we first baked it years ago, after sampling something so named in a shop, and wanting to make it again at home. This bread isn't really like that bread; it's infinitely better, and what stuck around. Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake is accurate enough, but doesn't sound half as reasonable. You, of course, can call it what you choose. But for my money, I rather like being able to offer up a snack of milk and "bread". I suggest you just go with it.
adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson
edited 5/17/13 to add: my loaf pans are slightly oversized, with an 8-cup capacity, which is ideal for this loaf. If yours are smaller (6- or 7- cup capacity; measure by filling with water, to the very top), you may wish to divert some of the batter into a custard cup, muffin pan, etc., to prevent spill-over.
1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces good, bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil to catch drips. Butter or spray a 9x5" loaf tin, and line the width with a strip of parchment, overhanging the long sides by a few inches on each side (handles, for easy removal later). Measure vanilla, salt and coffee granules into a small bowl, and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar. Scrape down sides, add one egg, beat well, then add the other, scraping and mixing again, to combine. Add vanilla mixture, and mix to combine. Scrape sides, and fold in melted, slightly cooled chocolate, just to combine. Add flour and baking soda, and mix, just to combine. Add boiling water carefully, slowly, scraping sides a few times, until incorporated. The batter will be very, very loose, thinner than pancake batter, closer to light cream. This is right. Place lined tin on the lined baking sheet, pour batter into tin, and carefully place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn heat down to 325° F, and continue to cook another 15-25 minutes. It is done when the center is no longer shiny, loose and wobbly, but instead matte, just set, and smelling wonderful. A knife in the center will not return the standard dry crumb, but neither do you want a long streak of batter—very damp crumbs are ideal.
Remove tin to a rack, and leave to cool completely, or at least one hour. The center will cave. This also is right. Remove from tin, either by inverting, or gently removing with parchment "handles". Peel away parchment, slice into thick tiles, and apply peanut butter only at your own risk.
Brownie bread keeps brilliantly for 4-5 days.