December 1, 2009

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

No, I'm not kidding.

The existence of this cake has been a long-running joke in Alex's family. No one remembers the exact details (some people think it was a chocolate cookie instead), but the general memory is that his grandmother, Omi, once tried to recreate this recipe for a family gathering. Apparently the cake is a very popular dessert at Gertrudes in Baltimore; however, the version that Omi made was far from edible. Whenever someone tells the story of Omi's Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake, they shudder just a little bit, as if remembering the awful taste of sauerkraut and chocolate.

Then we lost Omi in early November, which just broke our hearts. Almost as if by fate, the Washington Post printed the cake recipe a few days later, and we knew it had to be a part of our Thanksgiving. Alex's cousin, Megan is a fabulously talented baker and she took on the task of baking the cake for everyone.

Of course, we all had to try some. And it's good...really good! The cake is rich, dense and moist, with a slight tang from the sauerkraut. It's chopped very finely, so you don't have big chunks of it in the cake, but you know it's there. If you like chocolate, and are a little bit adventerous in your eating, you have to make this cake.

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake
adapted from Gertrudes in Baltimore, printed by The Washington Post

10 2/3 TBS (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup water
2/3 cup homemade or store-bought sauerkraut, rinsed, drained and finely chopped

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Use a little butter to grease two 8-inch cake pans; then flour them, shaking out any excess flour. If desired, place 8-inch circles of parchment paper or wax paper in the bottom of each pan.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, and the vanilla extract.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and baking soda on a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper.

Reduce the speed to low; add the flour mixture alternately with the water, beating until smooth.
Use a spatula to fold in the drained, chopped sauerkraut until well incorporated. Divide the thick batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans, leveling the surfaces.

Place both pans on the middle rack and bake for about 30 minutes or until the cakes spring back lightly when touched. Serve warm or at room temperature.