Cocoa Battle, Dark v. Rich: Midnight Truffle Cake

Recently a friend of ours gave me some Zöe's Chocolates cocoa powder to try -- and to be honest, I never would have bought it for myself, because it's considerably more expensive than my regular cocoa (King Arthur Flour's double Dutch mix of Dutched cocoa and black cocoa, which is $13 a pound). I decided the best way to see if Zöe's cocoa was worth the money was to try it head-to-head against the cocoa I normally use, and I searched through my cookbooks to look for a recipe that puts the flavor of cocoa front and center. I found the perfect one in Marcel Desaulniers' Death by Chocolate Cakes -- his "Midnight Truffle Cake" includes a cocoa powder chocolate cake and a garnish of truffles rolled in cocoa powder.

The "truffles of the night" were easy. You simply make ganache (with semisweet chocolate, heavy cream, and a little bit of granulated sugar); refrigerate or freeze the ganache until firm; scoop out the ganache and roll it into smooth balls; and then roll the truffles in cocoa powder.

To make the chocolate sponge cake, you beat sugar and eggs until thickened, and then keep the mixer running while you slowly add oil, boiling water, and the dry ingredients (first the flour, baking soda, and baking powder; and after those are incorporated, the cocoa powder). You pour the batter in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan and bake.

The sour cream frosting is a mixture of butter, melted unsweetened chocolate, sour cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar (the recipe also calls for two tablespoons of gin, which I skipped). 
To assemble the cake, you trim the chocolate cake and cut it in half lengthwise to get two long rectangles of cake. You put the frosting in a pastry bag with a star tip and pipe frosting on one cake layer; stack on the other layer; pipe on more frosting; and stick on the truffles as garnish. You chill the cake before serving.

The cake in the photo above is the one made with King Arthur double Dutch cocoa. The cake itself had a noticeably darker color than the other cake; it was practically black. But the color of the truffles coated in the King Arthur cocoa was lighter than than the truffles rolled in Zöe's coca powder, which were dark reddish-brown in color.

I served the two cakes side-by-side to some dinner guests. While everyone liked both cakes, there was a general consensus that the one with Zöe's cocoa powder was slightly better. I agree. The chocolate flavor -- in both the cake and the truffles -- from the Zöe's cocoa powder was more nuanced, mellower, and warmer. The King Arthur cocoa cake had a more intense chocolate flavor, but it was not as complex or rich. And for the truffles, the King Arthur cocoa was a bit harsh to consume raw. 

Now I'm not saying there was anything wrong with the cake made with the King Arthur cocoa -- and surely no one would have uttered the slightest complaint if I had served it alone. But I have to admit that there was defintiely a noticeable difference in the two versions of the cake, and everyone agreed that the advantage went to Zöe's cocoa powder. It's still a little rich for my blood, but I'm going to make the most out of the limited supply I have!

Recipe: "Midnight Truffle Cake" from Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulniers.