Slice of heaven

Ruby’s fail­safe cel­e­bra­tion cake

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Ruby Tan­doh

Co­coa pow­der is more po­tent and bit­ter than pro­cessed choco­late, and has the depth of flavour to hold its own in a recipe

As good as it is to bake with choco­late – chopped, grated, melted, in slabs, chipped, or shaved into wafer-thin curls – ev­ery chunk of the stuff that I put into a cake bat­ter or brownie mix is one less chunk for me just to snaf­fle at the kitchen counter. It can feel waste­ful – and ex­pen­sive – to slip good-qual­ity dark choco­late into your bak­ing, where it’s muted by all of the sugar and but­ter, its sub­tleties lost en­tirely. I pre­fer to bake with co­coa pow­der: more po­tent and bit­ter than pro­cessed choco­late, and with the depth of flavour to en­able it to hold its own against the other in­gre­di­ents in a recipe. Be­cause it’s a pow­der, too, it’s far eas­ier to in­cor­po­rate with­out af­fect­ing the tex­ture or mouth­feel of the bake.

Black trea­cle co­coa brown­ies with clot­ted cream

Black trea­cle adds a bit­ter­sweet depth to th­ese brown­ies – they’re per­haps the rich­est and most choco­latey I’ve ever had. Spoon­fuls of clot­ted cream for serv­ing help to bal­ance this sweet­ness, sit­ting bright against the dark clout of the co­coa and trea­cle. Bake th­ese un­til they’re barely set for an al­most melt­ing, squidgy mid­dle.

Serves 9

150g un­salted but­ter 3 tbsp black trea­cle 275g caster sugar 90g plain flour 75g co­coa pow­der ¼ tsp salt 2 large eggs 150g clot­ted cream, to serve

1 Pre­heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and line a 15x22cm rec­tan­gu­lar tin with bak­ing parch­ment. Any sim­i­lar sized tin will do – a 20cm round cake tin will be more or less equiv­a­lent in vol­ume, while a 20x20cm square tin will give you a slightly shal­lower brownie (be sure to de­crease the bak­ing time ac­cord­ingly).

2 Melt the but­ter over a low heat, then whisk in the trea­cle and sugar. Stir the flour, co­coa pow­der and salt to­gether in a sep­a­rate bowl, break­ing up any rogue clumps as you go. Whisk the eggs, one at a time, into the melted but­ter mix­ture, then lightly beat in the dry in­gre­di­ents, just un­til the bat­ter is smooth. Don’t worry if the mix­ture’s slightly grainy.

3 Spoon the brownie bat­ter into the pre­pared tin and lightly smooth the sur­face. Place in the oven to bake for 25-35 min­utes. Ex­actly how long it takes to cook will vary ac­cord­ing to the size and shape of your tin, but the most im­por­tant thing is not to over-bake the brownie. For a per­fectly dense, fudgy tex­ture, cook un­til the brownie mix no longer jig­gles in the cen­tre when you gen­tly shake the tin. The sur­face should be dried and even, and a knife in­serted into the cen­tre should come out with just a lit­tle sticky bat­ter on it – don’t wait un­til the knife emerges to­tally clean, or you’ll have cooked it for too long.

4 Leave the brownie to cool com­pletely in its tin be­fore serv­ing in nine gen­er­ous chunks, with scoops of thick clot­ted cream along­side.

Easy co­coa birth­day cake

Choco­late cake is all or noth­ing: if it’s not hy­per­bol­i­cally rich and choco­latey, it’s not worth mak­ing. It’s tempt­ing, then, to throw ev­ery­thing you have into it – melted choco­late, choco­late chips or chunks, swirls of salted caramel or a cap­ful of booze – to make it the best that it can be. But though I’m all for a com­mit­ment to ex­trav­a­gance, for me the best choco­late cakes are all the bet­ter for be­ing pared back. Rather than weigh­ing down the cake with ex­tras here, I’ve just made a sim­ple co­coa pow­der bat­ter com­ple­mented by light brown sugar, vanilla, cof­fee and salt. The sugar adds a tof­fee edge to the sweet­ness, vanilla and cof­fee bol­ster the choco­late flavour, while the salt brings the whole thing into fo­cus. No ex­pen­sive choco­late, no fuss or fid­dly de­tail – just a per­fect choco­late cake.

You could swap the co­coa buttercream for a richer choco­late ganache, made with dark choco­late melted into an equal weight of scald­ing dou­ble cream, but I think that the heav­i­ness of ganache smoth­ers the mild co­coa kick of the cake. A com­pro­mise, if you want some­thing a lit­tle more grown up, would be to ice the cake as de­tailed be­low, chill it well then glaze with a thin coat of ganache af­ter­wards.

Serves 6-8

275g salted but­ter, very soft 275g soft light brown sugar 2 ½ tsp vanilla ex­tract 4 large eggs 225g plain flour 75g co­coa pow­der 3 tsp bak­ing pow­der 150ml weak black cof­fee

For the buttercream

225g salted but­ter, soft­ened 50g co­coa pow­der 2 tsp vanilla ex­tract 325g ic­ing sugar 2 tsp in­stant cof­fee dis­solved in 2 tsp wa­ter

Pre­heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease two 20cm round cake tins (loose-bot­tomed or spring­form are best) and line their bases with cir­cles of bak­ing parch­ment.

2 Beat the but­ter with the soft light brown sugar in a large mix­ing bowl for sev­eral min­utes, cream­ing the mix un­til it is per­fectly smooth and light. Stir in the vanilla ex­tract. Add the eggs one at a time, beat­ing well be­tween each ad­di­tion to min­imise clump­ing and cur­dling. Stir the flour, co­coa pow­der and bak­ing pow­der to­gether, then add this mix­ture to the wet in­gre­di­ents, mix­ing just un­til smooth. Add the dis­solved cof­fee and fold it in to cre­ate a soft, vel­vety cake bat­ter.

3 Divide the bat­ter be­tween the two pre­pared tins and bake for 30-35 min­utes, un­til well-risen and springy to the touch. A small knife in­serted into the cen­tre of each cake should emerge with no more than a cou­ple of crumbs stuck to it. Leave the cakes to cool com­pletely in their tins be­fore un­mould­ing.

4 For the buttercream, beat the but­ter un­til smooth, then stir in the co­coa pow­der and vanilla ex­tract. Sift in the ic­ing sugar a third at a time, mix­ing well as you go. The buttercream should be lux­u­ri­antly thick, but still soft enough to spread on the cakes with­out rip­ping them. Add a dash of milk or cof­fee to slacken the mix­ture, if nec­es­sary.

5 Smooth a thick layer of co­coa buttercream over one of the cooled cake lay­ers, then sand­wich with the sec­ond layer and ice the top. Spread the re­main­ing co­coa buttercream gen­er­ously around the sides of the cake.

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