Tag Archives: chocolate cake

Buttermilk chocolate cake

Buttermilk chocolate cake

If I’m craving a cake, chances are I’m craving chocolate cake. Were someone, well Fran probably, to ask me what kind of birthday cake I want, I’ll say chocolate. Yes, I like chocolate. I like cake. I like chocolate cake.

But strangely, despite decades of baking and consuming chocolate cakes, I’ve never found a go-to recipe. A recipe so easy, reliable and rewarding that I don’t even have to think about it. Discussing this with my mum the other day, she asked if she’d ever given me an old Katie Stewart recipe called Quick-mix chocolate cake. Not that I recalled.

I like Stewart’s recipes. She died in 2013, and was somewhat out of fashion. But if you’ve ever seen or owned one of her recipe books, chances are it’ll be well-thumbed. She was one of those British writers food writers of a certain age, along with Prue Leith and Delia Smith1, born in or just before the Second World War, who produced practical, no-nonsense recipes.

Sometimes I like my recipes with a little more context and colourful images, but often I just want to reach for the recipe, forgo any preamble, grab the ingredients from store cupboard and fridge and get on with it. Stewart wrote for The Times from 1966, a year before my parents married and four years before I was born. She continued to do so until 1978, and my mum assiduously collected the cuttings in a yellow ring binder and used them a lot during my childhood. She still has it, still uses it. So yes, I had to try this recipe. Stewart was a big part of my upbringing and food education.

What is buttermilk?
Buttermilk is readily available from supermarkets these days – or at least the cultured version, as opposed to the liquid left from churning cream to make butter. This is what I first learned was buttermilk, when making butter while living at Newton Livery then Old Man Mountain farms in New Zealand in the early-mid 1990s. This is called “traditional buttermilk” and is unlikely to be available to you unless you’re churning cream.

If you really can’t find cultured buttermilk, I suspect (though I’ve yet to try. Watch this space*) you could make this using yogurt. A little Googling suggests a ratio of three parts yogurt thinned with one part milk. As you’re using alkaline baking soda as a raising agent, it needs an acid to react with, to produce the carbon dioxide that gives lift. Both cultured buttermilk and yogurt are acids, though they’re fermented with different bacteria giving rise to their different qualities2.

Here’s the recipe. I’ve converted it to new money and reduced the sugar.

225g plain flour
55g cocoa powder
5g bicarbonate of soda
2g fine salt
250g caster sugar
112g butter, softened
140g buttermilk
2 large eggs (about 120g beaten egg)

1. Grease and line two 18 or 20cm. (Smaller will be taller, larger will be flatter.)
2. Preheat the oven to 180C.
3. Sift the flour, cooca and bicarb into a bowl.
4. Beat together the sugar and softened butter.
5. Add the buttermilk and beaten egg.
6. Add the sieved powder and stir in.
7. Beat to combine thoroughly, for about a minute.
8. Divide between the tins.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm to the touch.
10. Cool in tins for 10 mins then turn out and cool on racks.
11. “Sandwich the layers with buttercream or chocolate frosting.”

Slices of buttermilk chocolate cake

I had some chocolate frosting in the freezer. I can’t remember what recipe I’d used to make it. I also had some cream cheese frosting left over from the Raver’s birthday. Both needed using up. I mixed them and added a dash more cocoa. Twas delicious, and probably fairly unrepeatable. I love those using-up-leftovers accidents. Any good frosting or buttercream will do.

I’m not entirely sure this will become my go-to chocolate cake recipe. As Stewart said in the cutting, it’s a “light-textured cake”, and sometimes I want rich and fudgy, sometimes I just want the ground nuts goodness of a Sachertorte or torta caprese. But I will be using this again, as it is indeed easy and reliable. Good old Stewart.

 

 

 

Notes
1. Obviously not everything. The earlier stuff by Smith, notably The Complete Cookery Course (c1980) is essential. How to Cheat at Cooking (2008) not so much.
2. Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus for buttermilk, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus and others for yogurt.

* I tried it. 105g yogurt mixed with 35g milk. It worked fine. Can’t quite put my finger on how different it was.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Baking, Cakes, Recipes

Kladdkaka – gooey Swedish chocolate cake

Kladdkaka sliced

So this isn’t very Christmassy, but I’ve wanted to try making a kladdkaka for a while. I really must get a Swedish or Scandinavian baking book as I’m enjoying everthing I try making from recipes from that part of the world.

Kladdkaka is a kind of gooey chocolate cake. It’s unleavened – no baking powder, no soda, no yeast, so it’s not intended to be light and airy. Instead, the aim seems to be to basically leave the inside somewhat unbaked, so it’s moist to the point of runny, so it’s not unrelated to things like chocolate fondant and brownie.

In English, it can be called mud cake, but from what I can tell from online dictionaries, kladd means either draft, or rough, or daub, something a bit messy and unfinished, or goo, gunk. A Swedish-speaking friend meanwhile (he’s Finnish but is one of those annoying types who speaks multiple languages perfectly) says that “If something is ‘kladdigt’ it’s sticky, gooey, doughy, maybe even messy.” Thanks. Tom.

135g butter
55g cocoa powder
110g plain flour
320g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease and line a round tin, ideally 18cm or 20cm (7 or 8 inch).
3. Melt the butter then remove from the heat.
4. Sieve the cocoa and plain flour into mixing bowl.
5. Beat together the eggs and vanilla.
6. Pour the butter and egg mix into the flour, and beat together with the sugar until the mixture is combined.
7. Pour the mixture into the tin then bake for around 20-30 minutes. This is the important bit and will vary depending on the character of your oven. You want it to start pulling away from the edges of the tin, but not be baked dry in the middle.
8. Cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then turn out.
9. Dust with icing sugar.

Kladkakka dusted

You can eat it warm, with ice cream or whipped cream. I had mine with custard, though I doubt Swedes do this; we just had some fresh custard in the fridge that needed me to nobly step in to finish it. It’s also very nice cooled completely, to a more truffle-like texture, and eaten with a cuppa.

7 Comments

Filed under Baking, Cakes, Recipes

Torta Caprese

I see a lot of sachertorte in Roman pasticceria, but the other day I spotted a torta Caprese in the window of a place that seems to just be called Pasticceria Trastevere. It’s a pasticceria. In Trastevere. Not very imaginative. (Specifically, it’s on Via Natale del Grande 50, opposite the wonderful Cinema America building. Currently Occupato).

It’s not a cake I’ve encountered before, oddly considering I love chocolate cakes. And love cakes made with ground nuts. (And considering even a certain middle-class UK supermarket even does a brand version, I discover now.) My friend Rachel described it – and frankly it sounded much like a sachertorte, but without the apricot jam and chocolate glaze. That is a rich, flourless chocolate cake made with ground almonds.

Now that was something I had to try. And make. Without ever having eaten it before.

Pasticceria Trastevere

Some considerations

I scoured the internet for recipes, mostly in Italian. There seemed to be a some variation, notably in the question of what sort of almonds to use. Some used pre-ground almonds (or farina di mandorle – almond flour), some used blanched almonds that you then ground, others used skin-on almonds that you blanched and peeled yourself (a labour intensive job) before grinding, and others used skin-on almonds, ground as is.

Almonds

I liked the idea of the latter, not just as it’s less labour intensive, but because the skins add depth of flavour. (Much like I prefer my peanut butter wholenut, not skinned. Even though peanuts aren’t nuts, of course.)

Almonds, ground

The other key factor with a cake like this is the egg whites. The most important thing is to get the egg whites whisked to soft peaks, then be very gentle when you add the egg white to the nut/choc/fat/sugar/tuorli (egg yolks. Such a nice word. Sounds a bit like “twirly”). Seriously: be gentle when you fold in the egg whites, as this is only your way of lightening the cake, as there are no raising agents and it’s full of fairly dense ground nuts. Sure it’s going to be a fairly heavy cake, that’s the nature of nut-based, flourless cakes, but you don’t want it totally dense and biscuit-like.

Adding the egg whites

I have seen a few recipes with some baking powder, but it shouldn’t really be necessary for a cake with whisked egg whites. Plus, if you’re hoping to make a gluten-free cake, adding baking powder can be problematic. Why? Because baking powder often contains some starch, which absorbs moisture during storage. This can be from potatoes, or corn/maize, but it can also be from wheat. The stuff I’ve got in my cupboard, is clearly labelled: “Ingredients: Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Wheatflour (contains Gluten)”.

The other variable is how the other ingredients are combined. Obviously. This is interesting as frankly, I’m not sure it would make much difference if you did any of the following – as long as things are well mixed and you were gentle with the whites.

So, the recipes I read involved these various approaches

1 melting together the butter, chocolate and sugar, then adding the ground nuts, then beating in the egg yolks, and folding in the egg whites.
2 melting just the chocolate. Creaming together the sugar and butter, then adding the egg yolks, then the nuts, and melted chocolate, then the whisked egg whites. (This is how it’s described on English Wikipedia, but not in the majority of the Italian recipes I’ve looked at.)
3 melting together the chocolate and butter, beating together the sugar and yolks, then adding the ground nuts, then the liquid chocolate and butter, then folding in the whites.
4 Reversing the addition of liquid choc/butter and ground nuts. Theconcern here is that if the melted liquid is still hot, it could cook and scramble the egg yolk, unless you’ve cooled it somewhat first. So I’ve plumped for 3.

Some observations

The torta Caprese in Pasticceria Trastevere had slightly sloping edges – ie, it’s not baked in straight-sided cake tins. I was planning to use a 20cm straight-sided cake tin for this, to make a deeper cake, but my wife had left it at work. Which turned out to be helpful in the end, as I looked around for other tins and found one (not mine I believe, but belonging to our landlady) that seemed more appropriate, despite being somewhat shallow. I suppose it’s more like what we’d call a flan or pie tin in the UK, though it’s not got fluted sides.

Components 2

Also, the version I saw in Pasticceria Trastevere had flaked almonds on the top. Though this top was clearly the bottom, which was then inverted for serving. This seemed like a lovely idea, though I didn’t really use enough almonds, so I also decorated the finished cake with some icing sugar, which seems to be the norm.

Use good dark chocolate, at leat 65% cocoa solids. I used Venchi Cuor di Cacao 75%. Serious stuff.

Serious chocolate, chopped

One final note. Some of the recipes also call for some Strega (“witch”), a digestivo liquer traditionally made with herbs, but these days is probably mostly just made with E-numbers (as most of the “traditional” liquers seem to be). Not many of the recipes I’ve looked at, and indeed none of the Italian ones, include it. So I’m not bothering.

The recipe

4 eggs, separated
250g almonds, shelled but skin on
200g butter
200g dark chocolate
170g caster sugar
A good handful of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven 180C.

1 Grease and line the base of a 22cm round tin.
2 Generously sprinkle flaked almonds in the base of the tin.
3 Grind the whole almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor. (If you’ve not got a food processor you could, for example, use half ground almonds and half whole almonds that you’ve chopped… fairly comprehensively.)
4 Melt together the chocolate and the butter in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water.
5 Beat together the sugar and egg yolks. It’s quite a thick mix, but beat until creamy.
6 Beat the ground almonds into the sugar and egg yolks.
7 Add the melted chocolate and butter to the eggy-almond mix and beat.
8 Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. That is, when you lift up the whisk, and a peak is formed, it sags over slowly.
9 If the main mixture feels particularly stiff, you can beat in one tablespoon of the beaten egg whites. Gently fold in the egg whites.
10 Gently pour into the prepared tin.
11 Bake for around 45 minutes, until firm to the touch. This time will vary according to the character of your oven. With a fan oven, you might want to lower the temp to 160C.
12 Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
13 Turn out and serve inverted. Decorate with sieved icing sugar if you like.

Enjoy.

Addendum, 27 Feb 2013.
I want to try this again, but with an extra egg. Not sure I’ll have time for a while though, as I’ve started volunteering on the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and it’s pretty full-on, hours-wise. After separating four eggs for this recipe the other day, yesterday I seperated 120 for 6kg of pasta… My home baking will be a bit of a back burner for a few months, so the blog might be a bit quiet.

11 Comments

Filed under Cakes, Recipes

Chocolate cake with dark double-malt beer

Chocolate cake made with "birra scura doppio malto" (dark, double-malted beer)

One of my favourite breweries here in Italy is Mastri Birrai Umbri. They currently do three beers, one of which is Cotta 74, a doppio malto scura – a dark double-malt beer. A “birra doppio malto” is an Italian legal classification, explained here, but this specific beer is made with a well-roasted malt as is not unlike a porter or stout. It’s got a warm, deep flavour, with a slight burnt caramel taste and hints of chocolate. So, thought I, why not try and use it in a chocolate cake recipe?

Mastri Birrai Umbri’s beers, developed by master brewer Michele Sensidoni,  also all use a unique ingredient, something distinctly Umbrian. In the case of Cotta 74, that ingredient is lentils, which are a traditional crop in Umbria. I believe they give the beer a slight nuttiness and earthiness. Also good for a chocolate cake, thunk I.

Anyway, available here is a recipe for a chocolate cake made with Guinness. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe. I never had good results from her cake recipes, I found them unpredicable and unreliable. And nor do I like Guinness (it’s tastes too much like iron and mud, it’s too creamy). But the recipe proved a good foundation for a cake made with Cotta 74.

Of course this is a versatile recipe, so use whatever stout or porter you have to hand. Though I would recommend something good quality from a small brewery. Large scale industrial beer is never as nice.

(Note – I do liquids in grams. It’s more accurate, and perfectly easy if you’re using bowls and electronic scales. If you’re unconvinced, just use the liquid measures in ml.)

250g scura doppio malto, stout or porter
250g unsalted butter
100g cocoa
340g caster sugar
140g mascarpone
20g yogurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
270g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking power

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line a 23cm tin. (Springform is easier but not essential.)

In a pan, melt the butter in the beer.
Pour into a large mixing bowl.
Beat the cocoa and sugar into the beer/butter mix.
Allow this mixture to cool slightly.

Beat together the mascarpone, yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence.
When the main mix is cool enough, beat in the mascarpone mixture. (If it’s too hot, you’ll scramble the egg content.)

Sieve together the flour and raising agents.
Add this to the mixture and beat well.

Pour the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 1 around, until it’s well risen and no longer too wobbly.

Leave to cool completely in the tin, on a wire rack.

Make a topping with
100g mascarpone
150g icing sugar

Sieve the icing sugar into the mascarpone and mix.
If it’s too sloppy, add more sieved icing sugar.

Enjoy!

3 Comments

Filed under Baking, Food misc, Italy