Every now and then I wonder who tried things first and the circumstances they did it in. What made so-and-so think it would be a good idea to mix together flour, eggs, sugar and butter, put it in the oven and hey presto, ‘Look at this, it’s sweet and fluffy and looks like the sponge I use to wash myself!’
Who came up with that? Whoever it was must have known the various properties of each ingredient – that flour can be used as a raising agent, especially if mixed with baking powder, thus becoming self-raising flour; eggs also form light and well-risen textures, meanwhile enriching the flavour and binding together the other ingredients; and butter and sugar create a moist and tender crumb. Obviously, we only know that now because someone invented it in the first place. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during those first days of experimenting – some hairy Vikings tasting their concoctions and spitting them out in disgust, ‘What is this garbage?! This has the texture of boots! Remember to fold the flour next time!’
Speaking of cake – here’s a recipe.
This chocolate cake is dreamy. It was the standard birthday cake throughout my childhood, and, like all the best recipes, it comes from a children’s cook book. The sponge is made with whisked egg-whites and is therefore light and moussey. Left to rest for a day, the soft texture merges with the creamy icing. And the icing… oh boy, it’s like the centre of a chocolate truffle softened into a glaze. Put away your buttercream, there’s no need for that sweet confectionary when this guy’s around. It’s dense and rich, not to be eaten by the light-hearted.
This icing is a challenge, however. As it’s an unstable emulsion the chocolate can easily seize which means the chocolate curdles and hardens into solid grains due to the incorporation of moisture (…and that’s all the science I know). Also, once you add the butter the mixture separates so I always pour in a drop or two of milk to emulsify, then quickly cover it with cling film and chill it until cool. From there, give it a quick stir to loosen and it becomes spreadable.
This recipe doesn’t make enough icing to cover the whole cake and have enough to lick off the spoon too. It’s worthwhile doubling just for the snack benefit.
Reminder: Always take the butter out the fridge at least an hour before baking. I usually forget and have to twiddle my thumbs while I leave the butter in small pieces over the warm oven.
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from the Usborne First Cookbooks 1983
175g plain chocolate
175g soft butter
175g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
90g ground almonds
90g plain flour
Chocolate Fudge Icing
90g caster sugar
125g plain chocolate
75ml evaporated milk
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4
- Grease and line two 20cm/8in sandwich tins with oil and baking parchment.
- Break up the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and stand it over a pan of simmering water. Ensure the water doesn’t boil or the bottom of the bowl touches the water. Stir occasionally as it melts. Leave to cool slightly.
- Cream the butter and sugar together for about 5 minutes until pale and fluffy. The longer you beat the mixture the lighter the cake will be!
- Lightly beat the yolks together and add a tablespoon to the creamed mixture and beat well. Gradually add the rest of the yolks, a tablespoon at a time.
- Stir in the ground almonds and melted chocolate.
- Put the egg whites into a clean, grease-free bowl. Whisk with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Start slowly and increase speed, every now and then stopping the power and lifting out the beaters to check the consistency – if you hold your beaters upside down the egg whites should fall back on themselves.
- Add a tablespoon of egg white to the chocolate mixture and stir together to loosen.
- Sift the plain flour into a separate bowl.
- Using a metal spoon fold in a tablespoon of flour, then a tablespoon of egg white, continuing until all is used. Fold gently to prevent knocking out air and don’t over mix.
- Spread the mixture into the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes as it will probably be done (depending on the ferocity of your oven).
- As the cake bakes, make the icing. Break up the chocolate and cut the butter into chunks. Add the evaporated milk and sugar to a pan and bring to the boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and leave for 5 minutes, allowing it to froth without stirring.
- Turn off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to mix and melt. Once incorporated and thick add the butter and stir to melt.
- If thick and greasy add a splash of milk to reach your desired consistency.
- Pour into a bowl and closely cover the icing with cling film – push the cling film against the surface of the icing and bunch around the edge. Without the cling film a crust will form. Put in the fridge to chill and thicken.
- Once the cakes are cooked – springy to the touch and coming away from the sides of the tin – leave to cool slightly then run a knife around the edge of the tin before inverting onto a cooling rack. Peel off the baking parchment.
- When the cakes and icing are cool spread the icing on top of both sandwiches and layer one on top of the other.