Chocolate Birthday Cake (and a reading list)

I am not sure about you but I am a big believer in celebration cake. You are probably unsurprised by this fact. Nothing brings me more joy than making people happy with cake, or thanking them with cake and so I am always on the look-out for excellent cake recipes. I mean, in truth, I am always on the lookout for excellent cake recipes but it is so much more satisfying to then be able to share said cake, to give it away and make someone happy. (Sometimes you just want to make cake for yourself, but that is an entirely different kind of cake – at least for me, anyway. But then again, I don’t really like to eat cake all that often. Yes, I am aware that this is weird.)

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It was Andrés’ birthday last month. I was totally undecided what to make for his cake. When he came home from Spain in September he had talked about a traditional cake that appeared to be vanilla and filled with pastry cream but I had no idea about it and have never made it. My attempts to google the cake fell flat (probably because the sites were all in Spanish, my understanding of what it was was fairly obscure, and my Spanish is limited to basic greetings and numbers at the moment so I just couldn’t figure it out.) Fortunately, he got distracted from that cake by the prospect of an oreo-themed cake (thank goodness for buzzfeed lists!) and so I set about making him this cake.

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I’d been wanting to make this cake anyway because IT IS AWESOME. It is dark dark chocolate cake that is dense and intense (see what I did there?). It is quite unlike my family’s traditional chocolate cake (which, for the record, is still fantastic but lighter, less intense and less solidly chocolate in flavour) but I like the dark headiness of this cake. It makes you feel slightly giddy and simultaneously incredibly satisfied. Like someone you met in a smoky bar and then kissed, after slightly too many whiskies, in a slightly dodgy alleyway.

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This cake is gorgeous to eat without frosting but if you so choose (and like me, are more about the cake than the frosting), it can be a vehicle for your frosting of choice. I’ve made it with various combinations of peanut butter, salted caramel, vanilla, raspberry and so on. Basically all the flavours that work with very dark chocolate (orange is another good choice) will work here. For Andrés’ birthday I filled it with salted caramel and vanilla frosting. This past weekend I made it as a thank-you for my thesis proofreader. I made half the original recipe, and cooked it in one of my smaller bundt tins. I then covered it in salted caramel frosting.

This really is very good cake. You should make it now. The recipe below is half of that in the original and makes enough for a small bundt (this will happily feed 8 people easily – the bundt picture above). If you’re looking to make a large, 20cm three layer, layer cake, then you should double this amount. I’m afraid I haven’t included frosting in the notes here, simply because I feel you should make an executive decision regarding flavours. I usually use a 4:1 icing sugar to butter ratio (500g icing sugar to 125g butter) with a tablespoon or so of milk to help get the creaming process going and add in flavours and additions as I need.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Adapted (very slightly) from Tea with Bea

60g dark cocoa powder

125ml (1/2 cup) boiling water

60ml (1/4 cup) milk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

65g unsalted butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

80g golden caster sugar

60ml (1/4 cup) sunflower oil

2 eggs

140g white spelt flour

3/4 tsp bicarb of soda

cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170C. If using a bundt tin, grease liberally with butter and dust with some cocoa powder. Shake out any excess cocoa powder and set the tin aside. If you’re making a regular cake, line the base with parchment paper. Line the sides with parchment paper too, making sure the parchment is higher than the sides of the tin.

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Put the cocoa powder in a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add in the oil in a steady stream. Then beat in the eggs.

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Mix the flour with the bicarb in another bowl. Fold in the flour in three batches, alternating with the chocolate mixture. Begin and end with the flour.

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Pour the mixture into your cake tin of choice and bake for approximately 45 minutes.

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The cake will be risen and dense when done. A skewer inserted will come out clean. Once the cake is done, allow it to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out of the tin and cooling it completely on a wire rack.

Once this is totally cool, ice with the frosting of your choice… (For the 20cm three layer cake, you will need a fair amount of frosting! If you want to do a crumb layer you’ll need approximately 750g icing sugar.)

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Reading List
I am currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I began reading this ages and ages ago (whilst everyone else was reading it and when I was lost in my thesis and the idea of reading for pleasure was a pipe dream). I couldn’t get into it back then but I’ve taken it up again after my mother said she’d read it and it was wonderful. I love love love The Secret History – it is one of my favourite books ever.

This short list of ‘How to tell you are in a Jane Austen novel’ made me laugh a lot. So much of truth.

And I intend to make this applesauce so I can make this cake from Molly over at Orangette.

I now have a craving for toasted cheese sandwiches because Felicity Cloake over at The Guardian made a ‘non-scientific perfect grilled cheese’. Like any of us ever need to be reminded of the epicness that is a toasted cheese.

I want to learn to bake more with spirits like gin and so this sloe gin, plum and almond cake is on my to-do list.