It’s been a while since I posted a recipe for chocolate cake. Now I can tell you that I have another one for you coming soon, apart from this one of course. I don’t know about you but there are times when only chocolate will do and for me there’s no better way than a good homemade sweet. I have said before and will say it again that I am one of those few who still resists adding salt to chocolate. True: salt enhances the taste of everything. However I believe that if you use good quality strong dark chocolate you don’t need anything else. I also find it drying. And contrary to what many in the industry say, I don’t find chocolate without salt to be flat in taste. Also, I have found adding coffee to be totally unnecessary. These sound like fads to me. And if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
I am working at home, cappuccino in one hand and typing with the other. I am aware that there are two slices of cake – chocolate and yogurt respectively – waiting for me in the fridge, perhaps wondering why I did not eat them yet. I think I will in a moment, but this brings me neatly to today’s recipe. The other day some of my friends asked me what I usually bake for my birthday. (It would be nice to get a cake from someone else but somehow if you’re a baker, people expect you to bake your own cake. In Maltese I say “Tajba din!” Loosely translated as “good one!”) This year the only thing I knew was that there was to be chocolate involved, as always, but I couldn’t make up my mind.
Then I found the perfect recipe. I must admit that I tend to get on people’s nerves with my overuse of that word. “Perfect” recipes are often hard to come by. The ones I come up with are not perfect most of the time, even with loads of testing. They may taste great and look great but it takes years of practice to get something “perfect”. The ones in some recipe books tend to be lovely, but not all of them get the “Perfect” prize from me. However, the most unassuming one got that kind of praise in the past couple of weeks. The winner, you might ask? It might be.
You can find this chocolate cake recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy. It’s her (wait for it) ‘I just don’t give a damn’ Chocolate Cake. Now who wouldn’t want to bake something like that? And the name works…because the recipe works…because you measure the ingredients in one bowl all at one go, mix and you’re done. Fantastic. Here’s how I did it, with a slight variation on the quantities.
- A few drops of vegetable oil (to grease the cake pans)
- 140g crème fraiche
- 130g unsalted butter, softened
- 230g soft light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 180g plain flour
- pinch of salt*
- 40g cocoa powder
- 10g baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180 ºC/Gas mark 4 and oil two 20 cm round cake tins. (You don’t need to use the loose-bottomed ones.) Line the bottom with round parchment paper.
Place all the ingredients into one big bowl and mix till everything is combined. (Add just a little pinch of salt. You could avoid it but I think here it does make a difference to the flavour.*) As I always insist (at the cost of boring you to death, I know) it is really important not to overmix the cake batter. You want fluffy, not rock solid here.
Divide the mixture into the two cake tins and place on the same top shelf in the oven, especially if you have an electric one.
Bake for around 30 mins, until the sides of the cakes come away from the tins. Leave the cakes to cool almost completely in the tins; remove and peel off the parchment paper from the bottom. Let them continue to cool on a cookie rack.
Now you can calmly prepare the frosting.
- 80g dark chocolate
- 130g soft unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
- 250g icing sugar
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. When it is completely melted remove it from the heat and let it cool.
In another bowl whisk the butter, vanilla extract and icing sugar till they are light and airy. Add the cooled melted chocolate and fold it gently into the butter mixture.
The cakes should be completely cold by now so spread one of them with some frosting. Place the other one on top and cover with the rest of that gorgeous chocolate gooeyness.
Decorate as you wish. I had loads of pink hearts and sprinkles to do that with. I may be a tomboy, but I am a girl at heart!
Enjoy and Happy Birthday to you!
(Adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy, HarperCollins, 2011.)
These are the cakes I made for my birthday. I’m enjoying every minute! The plain one with the icing sugar is the Yogurt Pot Cake from Nigellissima (for which I used my spanking new savarin mould), and the chocolate one with the frosting is Lorraine Pascale’s I Just Don’t Give a Damn Cake (I love that name – sorry but I really do!) from Baking Made Easy. Both are lovely. I wish you were all here with me. I have plenty of cake to go around! Alla prossima!
I couldn’t quite choose what to write about today. However, just now a friend of mine tweeted about chocolate cake and birthdays. Don’t you just love Twitter? I do. It’s nice to be a child: you go to some friends’ birthday parties, and sometimes you get to invite them to yours. And the grown-ups do all the work for you. Smashing. I always say that children have the best social lives. The highlight of a birthday party is of course the cake, even though one might argue that it’s actually the presents! So let’s say that they are equally important. And let’s also say that every excuse is a good excuse for chocolate cake. I tried this recipe quite a while ago; I definitely didn’t wait for my birthday to bake it.
In my view, Nigella’s book Feast is one of the books to go for if you want something special for a party. As with many of her books, it’s like an encyclopaedia, and there’s a whole section on chocolate and chocolate cakes. The cakes here can also be quite rich, but is that really a bad thing? Let’s face it, you won’t make it or eat it that often, and what’s a birthday celebration without a smooth chocolate-melt-in-the-mouth cake?
You need sour cream for this. I had a tub of the stuff just sitting in the fridge doing nothing. Classic: you buy one ingredient for a particular recipe, then you almost always end up with extra which ultimately goes bad. What a waste. So I flipped frantically through the books till I came across Nigella’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Don’t be fooled by the length of the method. It’s really easy to make. This is totally her recipe.
Some notes before you start: Firstly, this is a sandwich cake, so you need two sandwich tins (with or without a removable bases – mine aren’t). Secondly, I had a lot of leftover icing, a lot more than I really needed. Instead of scaling the amount down I chose to make some quick and easy cupcakes (which I will include very soon) and spooned whatever remained over them. In my experience you will have enough to top another cake if you like. Also Nigella suggests that all your ingredients should be at room temperature.
For the cake you will need:
- 200g plain flour
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 40g cocoa powder
- 175g soft unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 150ml sour cream
For the American-style icing (or frosting) you need:
- 75g unsalted butter
- 175g dark chocolate, broken into small cubes
- 300g icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup
- 125ml sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Line and grease well two sandwich tins.
- In a large bowl mix the the flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and beat in the butter till you have a soft and creamy mixture. In another bowl whisk the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla extract and eggs together (you can do this by hand), and beat this with the other mixture in the large bowl.
- Divide the cake batter into your two tins and bake for about 50 minutes. Every oven is different so start checking your cakes after around 30 minutes with a skewer or knife. When completely baked, remove the cakes from the oven and put them on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes in their tins. When they are cool enough for you to handle turn them out completely and onto the rack again. Any cracks will be covered by the icing later.
- Now for the icing. Melt the chocolate together with the butter in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. (This way is better than melting in the microwave because it is much easier to control and there’s a lesser chance of burning.) When completely melted remove it from over the water and leave to cool. In the meantime, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
- Add the golden syrup into your melted chocolate mixture which has now cooled. Then add the sour cream, vanilla and the sieved icing sugar. Whisk the lot. Depending on how you want the icing consistency to be, you can now add around a tablespoon of boiling water (for a thinner icing) or some more icing sugar (for a thicker cream). Your icing should be easily spreadable onto the cake so you don’t want it too runny.
- Place a piece of baking paper to cover the base of a plate or cake stand (for any access icing that will surely drip) and start assembling your cake: first one cake, then a layer of icing in the middle, then the other cake on top and finally cover with some more icing.
You can either leave the icing as is, or top with some decorations, especially if it’s for a birthday party. Be as creative as you want. I topped mine with colourful decorative sprinkles. I have to remind myself to buy some white sugar daisies next time.