Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chocolate overload!

It seemed such a simple task. Volunteers were requested to bake some cakes for our second annual charity cake event which was in aid of a very worthy cause. I didn’t think the slight incapacitation of my right arm would prevent me from doing my bit. I wondered if I should bake one of the many, many recipes that I seem to have amassed of a cakey nature or should I go for an old favourite that I’ve baked numerous times for many occasions. And my tried and trusted old very best chocolate cake recipe seemed a good bet as you can never really have too much chocolate, can you? Even though I don’t recall making it for a year or so, I went through a phase many years ago making one of these at least twice a week so what could go wrong? I made a giant version of this in a large glass bowl to celebrate the millennium. I doubled the recipe and baked it in the large Pyrex bowl and covered in the fudge icing and inserted chocolate Matchmakers to represent the supporting struts on the real Millennium Dome. It went down very well. I’ve also made a third of this recipe in tiny cake tins on several occasions so I could serve a more individual cake. On this occasion I had a cunning plan. I’d double the quantities and make a large two tiered cake, and a small heart shaped one for me and another smaller cake heavily decorated with Easter eggs.

And feeling strangely ambitious, I offered to make some chocolate truffles also as I believed they’d be very portable to take into the office.

Fortunately I have this chocolate cake recipe on my BlackBerry so I could grab all the ingredients from Waitrose on the way home. I haven’t baked a cake for so long and can’t recall the age of some of the dry ingredients. Much better to take no chances! I buy enough for double this recipe but luckily also though I’d get extra eggs – “just in case!”

The very best Chocolate cake

- slightly adapted from a Mary Berry recipe

50g cocoa
6tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
120ml milk
175g self raising flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
100g soft margarine
275g caster sugar

  • Preheat oven to 180oc and position shelf in the middle.
  • Line 2 x 20cm/8” greased tins with lightly buttered circles of greaseproof paper.
  • Add cocoa powder to a food processor, start the processor and spoon in the boiling water.
  • Blend for 1-2 minutes scraping down the side of the bowl when necessary.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and process until you have a thick-ish batter.
  • Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes.
  • After this time, check that cake is well risen, fairly firm in the centre and showing signs of shrinking from the tins. If so remove from oven and leave to rest in cake tins for a further 5 minutes.
  • Remove cakes from the tins and stand on a wire rack to cool.

Chocolate fudge icing

- Origination of recipe, lost in the mists of time

50g butter
45ml (3tbsp) milk
icing sugar
30ml (2tbsp) cocoa powder

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan with the milk.
  • Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the melted butter and milk.
  • Beat well until smooth and glossy.
  • Cool unctuous chocolate fudge icing until luke-warm and then use.

I started baking my cakes way later than I’d intended. I wasted valuable time doing a few other tasks notwithstanding mounting a huge hunt for my cake tins. I knew exactly where they were, I thought but they weren’t there. So then I had to torturously retrieve all my old baking tins that I’d squirreled away in a very inaccessible place to discover that they weren’t there either. And as all that effort didn’t unearth the cake tins, I thought I’d concede defeat. It was only when I’d given up and decided to think of an alternative to the more usual cake tins that they mysteriously materialised in the most unlikely of locations. Isn’t that always the way?

So I whipped up my large cake mixture almost filling my food processor to the brim. The only thing I needed to add to my ingredients was some extra caster sugar. The new packet contained only 500g but I knew I had plenty of caster sugar to top up the extra 50g I needed.

I’ve never been a huge fan of licking the bowl clean of cake mixture but I do love watching the cakes rise. So I watched the cake rise pleasingly through the oven door window. Actually I watched them rise a little too enthusiastically, though that was entirely my own fault as although I’d doubled the cake mixture I hadn’t really doubled the capacity of the cake tins so I topped them up rather too generously. Through the window I could see my little Mount Vesuviuses bubbling away but I figured that was okay as I could trim any excess later. When the 30 minutes were up I retrieved my rather abundantly risen cakes for cooling. And as you would, I pulled off some of the excess and popped it into my mouth. Hmmm very chocolaty yet also curiously salty! And I was a little surprised as I hadn’t added the merest grain of salt to this recipe. I tried a little more, maybe I was mistaken, no that was salt and now I wanted water – a lot of it. What was going on? How could I have got salt in the cakes? I went through carefully everything I had done and then remembered the extra caster sugar; it was caster sugar wasn’t it? I retrieved the jar I had taken the 50g from and for the first time I dipped my figure it to test it and of course it was extremely fine salt. Salt which I cannot fathom how it turned up in one of my sugar and flour jars. It’s all very odd! But that’s the reality, salt it most definitely was and all three cakes were thoroughly ruined. It was exceedingly late; I had no edible cakes or the tiniest chocolate truffle. Things were not looking good!

The only thing for it was to start again with the chocolate cake. This time I’d have to make just one quantity of the mixture, ensure I used caster sugar and not salt and eke out the remaining ingredients. Luckily I bought extra eggs. All thoughts of scrambled eggs for breakfast would have to go out of the window. And that’s what I did. I didn’t bother with the two sandwich tins and instead went back to the way I always made this cake, all in one deep loose bottomed cake tin and then split it when cool.

With a cake cooling that I believed was edible I started on the luscious chocolate fudge icing to crown the cake. Not being a fan of whipped cream I would always opt for more chocolate to enhance the already very chocolaty cake and this chocolate fudge icing is always I good standby. I like getting it to ooze seductively down the side of the cake and finish off with some grated chocolate.

And then all I had to do was make the chocolate truffles. I'd joked yesterday that the last time I'd made truffles for a charity thing at work I had some sort of chocolate overload and hadn't been able to face the tiniest trufflette but I thought this time I might be okay. The last few times I've used a Nigel Slater recipe for gooey chocolate truffles but I didn't have the necessary quantities on my BlackBerry so opted instead for double measures of Chantal Coady of Rococo fame version instead.

Chocolate Truffles

Makes 40-50

300g real dark chocolate
284ml whipping cream
75g unsalted butter
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust

To make the ganache: always use the best chocolate you can. Chop it into chunks or break it into squares. In a food processor, continue to chop the chocolate until it is a fine powder. It may actually just start to melt, but that’s fine. If you have any big lumps, it might spoil your ganache. Leave it in the mixer.

Scald the cream in a pan – allow it to boil and rise up (be careful it doesn’t boil over). Pour about a tablespoon on to the chocolate and start the motor. Keep adding the cream, bit by bit, so it gets mixed thoroughly. This should ensure that you achieve the perfect emulsion (the process is a bit like making mayonnaise).

When all the cream has been mixed in, leave the mixture to cool on a bowl or tray for about 15 minutes in the fridge, then beat in the butter and return to the fridge. When it has set to the consistency of butter icing, it is ready to be piped or spooned into truffle-sized pieces.

If piping, put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe blobs of mixture about the size of a large cherry (10-12g) on a tray covered with greaseproof paper or cling film. Leave to cool for at least 2 hours, preferably 24.

To finish, you can dip the truffles in tempered chocolate using a dipping fork or your fingers, then drop into a large baking tray deeply filled with cocoa powder, roll briefly and leave to set. Shake off excess (don’t worried most of the cocoa powder can be reused).

What I hadn't really absorbed is how noisy chomping 600g of fine dark chocolate to dust and then with the motor still running on the food processor adding the scalded cream. And it was pretty late by now (or early!) and I was worried I'd wake someone up with all that grinding. But I have to say despite the noise this recipe made the most fabulous silky smooth chocolate ganache ever. My only challenge was guessing how to best incorporate the required butter as the recipe was a little hazy at this point. Should I melt it? Probably not wise as it would totally change the texture. Should I cut the butter is tiny cubes and try and best each cube in with my one good arm? I now know I totally cannot whisk anything with my left arm. The third option would have been to soften the butter and then it would have been easier to blend and not change the consistency. And that's what I should have done - oh the benefit of hindsight and sleep! The ganache made, all I had to do was have it set sufficiently to allow me to make walnut or large cherry sized blobs which would be then elegantly rolled in cocoa powder. But that's where my cunning plan faltered slightly as the mixture doesn’t seem to be too keen on cooling for me and I haven’t got 24 hours to leave it to set.

In the end I have to do the best I can and take the rather squishy free form truffles and roll them in cocoa power and pop them onto a square of cellophane. Then scrunch up the cellopane and tie together with a little Chanel ribbon. I don't know why Chanel, I just had plenty of it and thought it would give a designer air to my truffles. One thing I am now supremely aware of is that the dawning sun can be surprisingly aggressive and if you choose to leave your blobs of chocolate on greaseproof paper on your dining table in the full view of the bay window to set, you better be sure there's no sun planned! I went to sleep (in the dark) and of course they were beginning to set nicely and then got up to realise that "morning had broken" indeed just "like the first morning" and if I wanted to avoid a veritable river of molten chocolate I'd better work fast! I'm not sure if these truffles were my best work and as I couldn't bring myself to taste one having absorbed my bodyweight in chocolate just making them, I'll have to assume that fact that they disappeared fairly quickly at work meant that they were at least popular albeit rather treacherously gooey!

My finished cake and dozens of bags of truffles got to the office in one piece. Phew! Though many of the truffles had merged in their little bags, so instead of three perfectly round chic truffles I had one chocolaty truffley mass. There were many other cake-type creations, all of them salt free! We made a nice little pot of money for our charity so all the effort was all worthwhile in the end!

And the end of a long day where all I could smell was essence of chocolate and what I really needed was to be utterly devoid of all chocolate based goodies for a while. Maybe lie down in a dark place with entirely cocoa bean-free cucumber slices over my eyes and think of non-chocolate based things.

But instead of going home, I headed over to the special one-night chocolate event for Easter at Harvey Nix. Normally this would seem like utter bliss but after last night and today, I was struggling to appreciate all things chocolaty! There were magnets impregnated with cinnamon and ginger (no I'm not entirely sure why), a chocolate fountain, discs of unctuous Valrhona, truffles, lots of truffles, truffles that were more set than mine and cubes of every possible chocolate to try. The best I could do was get some Easter goodies for my impending trip to Cambridge, so a chocolate bunny for D, lime and pepper chocolate for MC and big bag of Cadbury mini eggs for T. It was a tasty event but I was just rather chocolated out!

So no more chocolate for me - well at least until Easter Sunday anyway! And possibly no salt again - ever!

1 comment:

Paul Rome said...

I tried the recipe for the chocolate cake last night (well - my wife did) and it was delicious.

We love chocolate and its great to read about chocolate online. Time for a cup also of hot chocolate before bed :)

Rome Paul