March and April are always a bit of a family affair.
In the space of six weeks – and this is the just the family we see often – there are five birthdays, two wedding anniversaries and sometimes Easter. In those few weeks, there was wine, and feasts, and games, and more wine. What this also means is many hours of carrying a heavy suitcase around London, hefting it up and down the steps on the underground and dragging it, wheels rattling, over uneven pavements.
For this particular trip, that heavy, creaky suitcase contained two very special things.
The first was an old palette knife which belonged to my mother’s mother. It’s a sturdy old thing, with little bend in the blade and a wooden handle that’s been slightly splattered with raspberry red paint. If you squint you can just about make out the maker’s logo, flanked by the words “Sheffield steel”. Of course, steel from Sheffield is nothing extraordinary…but it is where my other grandmother grew up, and where I went to university.
The second Very Special Thing was a jar of homemade salted caramel sauce, made to go into the heart of a cake to celebrate the 30th birthday of my biggest brother.
As I knew I was embarking on only my second layer cake ever, I naturally went totally off-piste and went at it without a recipe to guide me. Sadly, the first attempt looked more like a fairly heavy duty weapon than a birthday delight so a re-do was in order…this time, it all went right, and the resulting recipe has a stress-free air of, “Ehh, stick in all in a pan, turn the heat on, and hope for the best.” Sorry you didn’t get this one, bro, but my colleagues assure me it was delicious.
Serves 20 – it’s very rich so you don’t need a big slice!
- The salted caramel can be made up to 3 days in advance, kept in an airtight container in the fridge – it must at least be made the night before the rest of the cake.
- The cake is far easier to assemble if your layers are flat on top – see “How to bake a flat-topped cake” to solve the mystery of how it’s done!
- If you have leftover ganache or salted caramel, they needn’t go to waste! Ganache can be chilled, rolled into balls and powdered with cocoa for easy handmade truffles, and I’d recommend pairing the salted caramel with speculoos pancakes & bacon.
400g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
400g self-raising flour
5 medium eggs
180g dark chocolate
180ml double cream
35g unsalted butter
1tsp vanilla extract
110g unsalted butter
75g golden syrup
75g light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
180ml double cream
4 drops vanilla extract
1tsp sea salt or fleur de sel, plus some for assembly
1) For the salted caramel, heat the butter, syrup and sugars over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until they are melted together. Take it off the heat and lightly whisk in the cream and vanilla extract. Add the salt – the teaspoon is a minimum, add more to your taste. Chill overnight.
2) For the cake, preheat the oven to 160C and line 3 8 inch cake tins. If you only have one or two cake tins, it’s fine to use them in shifts – contrary to most baking advice, this mixture is happy to sit while you wait for the first cakes to bake.
3) In a large bowl, rub together the margarine, sugar, flour and cocoa powder until the mixture reaches the consistency of breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, lightly hand whisk together the eggs, milk, and water.
4) Add the liquids to the dry mixture, and whisk lightly until smooth. Split it between the tins, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
5) When baked, remove the cakes from the tins immediately and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
6) While they cool, make the ganache by heating the chocolate, cream, butter, and vanilla extract in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly until the ingredients have melted together. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until it is able to hold its shape, but not so stiff that it can’t be spread.
7) When everything is suitably chilled, layer it cake-sauce-ganache, using a palette knife to spread the sauce and ganache. After each ganache layer, grind or sprinkle a pinch of your sea salt or fleur de sel over it. When you get to the top layer, use the end of your palette knive to gently create a swirl pattern in the ganache. The cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days.