It was Calum’s birthday (or as he liked to remind me, his ‘special day’). Presents, cards, birthday activities were incidental; my focus was, of course, his cake.
Last year I made a large Victoria sponge with white fondant icing, bursting with jam and cream, and neatly decorated with Smarties. We polished off a couple of slices each before Calum went away for the weekend, forgot to put the cake in the fridge, returned home to sour cream and mouldy cake. To compensate the calamity of throwing away three-quarters of a cake, I baked three miniature Victoria sponges covered in icing, and three tiny chocolate cakes sandwiched with ganache, all made in a muffin tin, and iced with a C, an A, an L, a U, (surprisingly) an M (and then an exclamation mark).
This year it was back to the drawing board. Cooking for a guy who only requests chocolate cake or Victoria sponge (with white icing) (yes, I’m dating a five year old) means the baker in me is regularly screaming into a pillow with frustration and I try not to tempt myself by looking at incredible cakes on Pinterest. That said, 8 times out of 10 Calum likes the new things I make but I don’t think it’s fair to present him with an Earl Grey, lavender and chocolate cake on his birthday.
So, with a limit of two options I wracked my brain with how to spice it up – purely for my own self-indulgence.
During the summer last year, I was on a rocky road spree. Without meaning to it was the Summer of Rocky Road, a haven of chocolatey finger-prints and cocoa powder dust. Each batch was filled with something new – shortbread, caramel digestives and M n’ M’s; cookies, orange biscotti, chocolate covered raisins, and all bursting with marshmallows. I was always lusting after a new flavour combination, and new crunch or new chew, to take this rocky road to the heights of its rocky road potential. It was a happy time: every few days, I had a new batch chilling in the fridge nestled under its thick blanket of cocoa powder.
Thus, when it came to July birthdays (of which there are a lot), rocky road was a definite candidate – minus the candles. Candles, instead, went into six mini chocolate cakes, dinky and pert, glossy with ganache, and to reassure my crippling baking addiction and joy of making my life more complicated, stuffed enthusiastically with salted caramel (which I ashamedly didn’t make from scratch). I saw an image when I was younger of a chocolate cake secretly hollowed out and filled with something saucy, which both excited and terrified me, giving me nightmares of it bursting at the seams. And the mess, god the mess would go everywhere – says the person who doesn’t wear an apron and has nonetheless been wearing the same cocoa stained skirt for three days.
The topic of stains leads me nicely onto our birthday night out. Inevitably the birthday activity involved food. I booked seats at Randall & Aubin, the newly opened seafood restaurant in Manchester’s Deansgate, roughly a month in advance, so determined was I that we would eat there. Calum is a seafood fanatic; if I send him a text assuring him our dinner will include prawns his response always includes at least three exclamation marks. Dressed up in my favourite white – yes, white – dress, I allowed myself to relax at a restaurant, something I’ve found difficult since working at one. I would say we flirted and blushed over mussels and other aphrodisiacs but that would be lying.
Instead, without abandon, we gleefully gobbled chunks of deep-fried squid with chilli and caper salsa, slurped mussels out their shells, and I then used the only spoon to drink the creamy garlic broth out of our sharing dish. We attacked platters of lobster and prawns in garlic butter, mopped up the juices with crisp chips, and I feasted on a drippy tomato, blue cheese and basil salad which I couldn’t resist because of ‘blue cheese and basil’. The most surprising thing of all about our monstrous eating performances was that I didn’t actually spill anything down my front, I just casually wiped away a crumb with a prawn-stained hand resulting in a trip to the bathroom to wash away the orange stains before crouching under the hand drier like a limbo dancer.
So, here you have two recipes for the price of one to sedate the chocoholics in your life. Especially if it’s their birthdays.
- 150 ml cream
- 200 g dark chocolate broken into pieces
- 125 g milk chocolate broken into pieces
- 100 g unsalted butter chopped
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Digestive caramel 'Nibbles'
- Giant marshmallows
- Honeycomb or Crunchie chocolate bar
- Chocolate-covered raisins
- Glacé cherries
- Dried fruit
- Nuts – pistachios, almonds, peanuts
- Cocoa powder for dusting
- Grease the baking dish with a bit of butter and line with greaseproof paper.
- Gently warm the cream, chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Ensure the bottom the bowl doesn’t touch the water – you don’t want to the cream to overheat! Allow the chocolate and butter to almost melt, take off the heat and stir together until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
- Crush/break your biscuits into small chunks. Add some of your fillings to the bowl of chocolate goo and stir gently as to not crumble your biscuits. Add more if necessary.
- Put the tin in the fridge until set – a couple of hours should do it. Dredge in a thick layer of cocoa powder through a sieve when ready to eat and chop into chunks.
Chocolate cakes with chocolate ganache and salted caramel
- 25 g cocoa powder
- 4 tbsp boiling water
- 150 g sugar
- 50 g softened unsalted butter
- 90 g self-raising flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp milk
- 100 g dark chocolate
- 100 ml full-fat cream
Salted caramel filling
- 200 g Carnation caramel (life is short, buy your caramel!)
- 2 g salt
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F. Grease a cupcake or muffin tray with butter.
- Mix together the cocoa powder and hot water until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Add the rest of the cake ingredients. mix well and divide among the cupcake moulds.
- Bake for 12 minutes. Check and bake for an extra 2 minutes or so if necessary.
- While the cakes bake, warm the cream for the ganache in a pan until steaming. Break up the chocolate in a bowl and pour over the warm cream. Cover with a strip of cling film and leave the chocolate to melt.
- Pour the caramel into a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the salt.
- Leave the cakes to sit for about five minutes in the tins before removing and cooling on a rack. Stir together the warm cream and chocolate until smooth.
- Trim off the well-risen peak of cake to allow a smooth flat layer of ganache. Hollow out the centres with a knife (eat the leftovers) and fill with a teaspoon of salted caramel. Spread a tablespoon of ganache across the tops.