Thursday, January 18, 2007

Under commission to research and write about "making the perfect chocolate cake", I've been living, dreaming and perspiring chocolate cake for the last fortnight. After hours poring over recipes and making a shortlist, at the weekend I managed to make my two finalists for the title of Perfect Chocolate Cake.
Finalist no1 (above) was a recipe belonging to a friend of the family, using a combination of yoghurt and sunflower oil. Having made Nigella's sour cream chocolate cake last year, I was hoping this new recipe would produce a slightly lighter, less intense cake. I swapped the yoghurt for half-fat creme fraiche (which I had leftover from chilli, in any case). After two trips to the shop (forgot the cocoa the first time), I blended everything in the food processor, and put it in the oven. An hour and a half? I was dubious, and checked after thirty minutes. The cake was black on top. Much cursing and oven-fanning later, the middle was cooked, and the edges were blackened. I took a knife to it on the wire rack, and sawed off the black.

It came out okay. In fact, a lot better than okay. The texture was heavy and moist, and the chocolate flavour was excellent. Two things could improve it: one, being spiked and drizzled with a thin coffee syrup as it came out of the oven (like my fabulous lemon cake), and two, being smeared with a milk chocolate ganache. The dark chocolate ganache I chose (an addict to the core, me) was a little bitter.

Finalist no2 fared better. I decided to do a traditional cocoa-flavoured sponge. I inspected recipes by Delia, Mary Berry and Sophie Grigson. Then I decided to make up my own. Basing it on the wonderful lemon cake that always turns out fluffy, I whizzed cocoa, flour, eggs, marg and milk in a food processor and threw it into the oven. It took me 10 minutes. 30 minutes later, the cake was cooked and cooling. I warmed 4floz of cream in a saucepan and melted 4oz of Galaxy chocolate in it. Then I put this into the fridge, and waited impatiently to assemble. Instead of waiting for the ganache to cool properly, I poured it over the cake until it was dripping onto the plate.

Despite the drippy ganache, the result was heavenly. I'd only made one half, since we'd already eaten enough chocolate cake to feed a large family, and nextdoor had received groaning platefuls. Next time I need a chocolate cake, this is the one I'll be making. Medium fat, light and fluffy, relatively easy on the waistline. Perfect!


8oz self-raising flour
3tbsp cocoa
2tsp baking powder
8oz margarine
8oz caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
10tbsp milk

Sieve the first three ingredients into a bowl (or processor bowl), then add the margarine, caster sugar, beaten eggs, and milk, and beat until combined. Tip into two well-greased 8” round baking tins, and bake at 160 degrees C for about 50 minutes. Test with a skewer – when it comes out of the cake clean, the cake is done. Cool on a wire rack, and finish with icing of your choice.