At a recent stay with my boyfriend’s family, his Grandma began talking over dinner about wanting to bake a chocolate cake. Not such a revelation, you’d think, but as the conversation progressed, of course egged-on by the food-obsessed me, it became apparent that she had a particular type of cake in mind. She was trying to describe a texture which wasn’t tasteless and full of air, and I quickly understood what she meant.
All too often now the supermarket shelves are filled with over-inflated and sickly sweet cakes which look a bit too perfect and taste of little but sugar. Smothered in inches of toothache-inducing icing and cemented with enough buttercream to make you bilious, these manufactured creations just don’t appeal to me. Victoria sponges are practically luminous they’re so unnaturally yellow and so-called chocolate cakes look almost anemic. The ‘sponges’ are just that, with more holes than a colander.
I recently baked a cake for my other half’s sister when she graduated. As usual, when making something not quite everyday, I consulted my piles of cook books, my six year collection of Good Food magazines and the trusty BBC Food website. I still couldn’t find a recipe I was happy with. Fussy, me? Never! The modern recipes either use too many eggs, too much sugar or are just too damned complicated. I’m more than willing to take on a challenging cooking session, but for a decent chocolate cake, surely simple is best.
So I did what I should have done in the first place: I rang my Mum. When growing up, I spent hours in the kitchen with Mum as she baked cakes, scones and apple pies whilst singing along to The Eagles, Elton John or Bob Dylan (Mum, not me…). One phone call to the North and I had the exact recipe I was looking for: straight to the point, no messing, yet made with love and full of flavour.
Mum’s Chocolate Cake
Beat 8oz butter with 8oz of caster sugar until pale in colour and fluffy in texture. Sift in 6oz self-raising flour, 2oz of cocoa powder and 1tsp baking powder. Give the mixture a quick beating, then crack in 4 eggs and beat again until the mixture comes together. Stir in 2tbsp milk for good measure. Divide between 2 greased and floured cake tins, approx. 20cm in diameter, then place into a pre-heated oven on 180°C for around 20-25 minutes. You’ll know the cake is ready by the smell but for good measure, check that a skewer comes out clean when poked into the middle.
The end result should be two well risen but not unrealistically inflated cakes, dark brown in colour and soft to the touch, but not too springy like a piece of foam. This chocolate cake should taste of chocolate, just sweet enough but with the bitter and rich flavour of the cocoa as the dominating flavour.
How you decorate your cake is a personal preference – when we were kids, for birthdays my Mum would make triple-layered dark brown chocolate cakes, sandwiched with whipped double cream and fruit salad, topped with a modest but adequate covering of chocolate icing. The stuff of dreams.
Following the conversation which Grandma had started during our stay, I decided to contribute to my keep by making something deliciously chocolaty and not at all like the airy-fairy shop cakes. I made chocolate brownies.
Start by melting 200g decent dark chocolate in a pan. Add 7oz butter and 7oz soft light brown sugar. Stir until the ingredients have melted and you have a glossy consistency not dissimilar to the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Remove the pan from the heat before the chocolate starts to resemble mud more than river.
I tend to find creating things in the kitchen quite therapeutic, especially when there is a method which requires a bit of stress-relieving violent action. Chopping 50g dark chocolate and a generous handful of walnuts into pieces usually does the trick.
Stir the pieces into the chocolate mixture, then pour into a tray measuring approx. 20cm x 30cm, which has been greased and lined with greaseproof paper. Place into a pre-heated oven on 180°C for around 30-35 minutes.
Leave to cool before attempting to tackle the brownies, as they will need to firm-up before they can be handled, and even then it’s a messy job! But for a gooey chocolate hit, it’s well worth it. Especially when served in a bowl with a generous dollop of chilled cotted cream. Mmmm!