What this blog is, really, is a series of love letters about the people in my life, and sometimes to vegetables. There’s even one love poem, about speculoos. It’s never truer than with cakes, and a round cake on here is almost always a food-based emotional outpouring, because I’ll only make a big, proper dessert, big enough that it could almost be a weapon, for someone I really care about*.
This one was for the work wife.
It’s weird, the intensity of the relationships you form at work, with people you see more than your housemates and family. The ones that are right there when things go wrong, and bring snacks to remedy it, and the ones that make you cry with hysterical laughter. Continue reading →
One of my most vivid memories from childhood is, unsurprisingly, centred around food. When we were young, my mother seemed to have frequent dinner parties with five of her friends, an affair that saw her slightly on edge the days preceding the “big night”, busy with writing lists, checking and double checking ingredients while she planned an enormous array of dishes.
When the guests arrived, us kids were sent upstairs, far away from the delights that covered the dining room table and often sideboards and kitchen worktops too. I’ve since been around during these parties and heard what a group of six ladies talk about over dinner, and, um, not all of it is suitable for children’s ears.
So we hid away upstairs until the party relocated from the dining room and it was safe to emerge from our bedrooms like insects from the woodwork. We crept down the stairs and sneaked into the room to devour the leftovers. Some items were safe bets: you always knew there’d be garlic bread, and inevitably some of whatever dessert my mother whipped up, which was usually too much for six ladies to devour but the perfect amount for six ladies and three children who had stayed up a little too late.
But there was one thing that was never, ever, still on the table at the end of the night. One thing that if you wanted to get hold of it, you had to either ask very nicely, or sneak one out of the kitchen in the chaos of dinner party preparations (mum, if you’re reading, I 100% never did this. Maybe). My mother’s chocolate cups were like gold dust.
They’re one of many dishes she’s passed on to me – along with a nervous need to feed whoever is visiting – and although there’s an element of “don’t fix what’s not broken”, I couldn’t resist trying to make them even better. Everyone likes chocolate orange, right?
And if that wasn’t enough, it’s really, really funny to watch people try to take off a case that isn’t there.
Notes For the first chocolate layer, use a pastry brush as this will help you to get the chocolate into the creases in the case. For the second layer, use the back of a teaspoon instead as this will give you a smoother finish and reduce the chance of dragging white chocolate that has melted slightly with the heat of the melted milk chocolate.
100g white chocolate, broken into cubes
120g milk chocolate, broken into cubes
220g dark chocolate, broken into cubes
180ml double cream
7 heaped tablespoons orange curd
1) Set out 50 miniature baking cases, double layering them so there are 25 cases to use.
2) Melt the white chocolate and paint the inside of the cases with it using a pastry brush. Allow to set completely.
3) Melt the milk chocolate, and then paint this on top of the white chocolate, using the back of a teaspoon to smooth it up the sides. Allow to cool completely. When cool, gently remove the paper cases.
4) Over low heat in a small saucepan, warm the cream and dark chocolate until half the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and stir until the rest of the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture is dark and shiny.
5) Allow the mixture to cool, until it is just firm enough to hold its shape when drizzled. Stir in the orange curd using a spatula and transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.
6) Pipe the ganache mixture into the chocolate cases. Store in an airtight container in a cool area for up to 3 days.
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.
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.
Chocolate cake 200g margarine
400g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
400g self-raising flour
5 medium eggs
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.