Monday, 11 February 2013

Another chocolate cake

My husband has been away filming in Canada for the last week and I have surprised myself by not having a nervous breakdown and not having to go and live at my mum's house.

I really am surprised about this, I am usually absolutely terrible at being by myself, which is strange for someone who is mostly so antisocial and so unfriendly. I always think I will be much better, much more at peace if I were alone. But then that time comes around and I find myself adrift, mad, starey-eyed, jumping at small noises, unable to feed myself or get anything done. Give me one hour alone and I will give you the world. Give me all day and I will fall to drink and despair.

Anyway I have started thinking in the last few days that in fact being a single parent might be alright. People go on and on about how hard it is - but why? You can do whatever the fuck you like with your kids, you don't have to think about anyone except you and your children. You can go about looking an absolute fright. There is hardly any laundry, you can watch whatever you like on tv - or sit about painting your nails all night. People absolutely kill themselves to help you out and ring you up going "How ARE you?" and then you can have a 45 min conversation with them because no-one has had to pause a telly programme while you yak away.

Not that I haven't missed my husband. The house is dead without his machine-gun laughter, internal tussles, professional feuds, industrial gossip and home improvement schemes; it is too quiet without him clattering down the stairs in that particular way, ("DDDRRR DDDDR DDRR... DUD-DUD-DUD-DUD-DUD-DDDDDDUNT"), and too massive without him appearing suddenly round corners and through doors, shoulders first - an unstoppable wall of ancient sweater and curly hair and chatter.

No, it's not that. It's just that I just thought that on top of missing my husband's presence, the very fact of being alone would be terrible, but it hasn't been.

But, obviously, I'm being stupid. Being single is exhausting, let alone being a single parent. And I forget all the boring shit that my husband shields me from: tax returns, insurance, bills, car administration, other men, paid employment. If I had to do THAT all by myself, what with my weak veins and fear of paperwork and I would die writing and screaming in 48 hours.

This is without even mentioning that Kitty has been in both good health and in an uncommonly co-operative mood for the last week. She even stopped insisting - the day Giles left for Canada - that she be carried the four flights upstairs to bed. I won't go as far as to say that it was "as if she knew" that I just couldn't do it, because Kitty's empathy is still pretty nascent, but I'm certainly grateful for it.

There is no reason for me to make this chocolate cake, I'm simply curious about it - it was the cake that I was going to make for Kitty's birthday but then changed my mind. And I have time on my hands today as it is bloody snowing again, so we are confined indoors.

James Martin, whose recipe this is, is for me the culinary equivalent of Kim Kardashian or Emeli Sande: I don't really understand who they are or why I keep hearing about them, but I have accepted their place on the planet with resigned weariness.

This cake is actually very similar the birthday cake I made, but it was much easier. The critical difference is that this gives you a flat, tray-bakey cake, rather than the echt high birthday cake shape you're really after.

A Chocolate Cake by James Martin

For the cake
200g plain chocolate. Mr Martin recommended I use one with low cocoa solids, but I didn't have any, so I just used Waitrose plain cooking chocolate, which was 75% solids. On reflection, although the cake is good as it is, it would have been better to have used the plain Waitrose Belgian chocolate that Mr Martin specified. So do that.
***NB I have subsequently made this cake with milk cooking chocolate and it has been absolutely delicious, so you can do it with confidence***

200g butter
200g light brown sugar
200g self-raising flour
100 ml sour cream
100ml hot water
2 eggs, beaten
5 tbsp cocoa powder

 For the icing
100g plain chocolate
170g can condensed milk - I could only find a 390g tin, so measured 170g out on some scales.
100 g butter

Preheat your oven to 160C normal oven and 140C fan oven
Grease and line a 22cm square cake tin

1 Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar in a pan with the hot water. Put it on the smallest burner at the lowest heat and just wait for it to melt. It might take 20 mins. Be patient.

2 Sift together the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl

3 Once the chocolate mixture has melted, set it aside for a few minutes to let it briefly cool and then whisk in the soured cream and then the eggs.

4 Now add the flour mixture to the chocolate in large spoonfuls, mixing to combine after each one. When it has all been incorporated, pour the mixture into your tin and bake for 55 mins.

***If you would like to achieve a nice, square flat surface for decoration then take the cake out of the tin when it is cool enough to handle (and not fall apart, which is what hot cakes and biscuits like to do most) and cool it properly upside down on a cooling rack. If you just turn a cake upside down that has been cooled the right way up, it will balance unattractively on its domed top.***

5 For the ganache icing, put all the ingredients into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of water. The bottom of the bowl must not touch the water. Now put the pan on your lowest burner set at the lowest heat.

Recipes always instruct you that the water must be "barely simmering". I say it need not simmer AT ALL. It just needs to be hot. Just think about how easily chocolate and butter melts in your hand, let alone in hot water. This sort of thing splits in the blink of an eye, so it's worth just letting it melt really slowly while you read some bit of the Sunday papers that you missed first time round.

6 Leave the ganache to cool for 20 mins and then spread over the top of the cake. I found that there was about 50% too much ganache in the end, so you could reduce the quantities if you wanted. Bear in mind that ganache doesn't look very nice even when cooked correctly - it goes sort of gluey and looks a bit split at the best of times, so don't worry if yours doesn't look luscious

7 Decorate at will. I love the look of these millions of tiny sugar balls all over the top - like a cake you'd get in a very old-fashioned bakery.

Now eat the whole thing all by yourself. After all, there's no-one to see.


  1. I was on my own for a few days last week too, and I found it curiously painless. I dreaded it, and built it up into THE WORST THING EVER, and of course, it was easy enough. No meltdowns, few tantrums, and I even thought that I could add another child to my two without any problems at all. Piece of rather delicious looking chocolate cake.

  2. I love your description of Giles - I think absence makes the heart grow fonder!

  3. That James Martin line made me laugh! I feel them same about all 3 of them. I like being in the house alone so I can watch 3 trashy tv programmes at the same time. Including one about child birth or huge people.

  4. Your description of James Martin/Kim Kardashian/Emilie Sande made me snort with laughter at my desk (am reading your blog surreptitiously at work). I know EXACTLY what you mean. Brilliant.

  5. James Martin's predilection for chunky man jewellery always rather made me question his judgment and therefore his recipes. But this cake looks really good - sour cream in cakes (and in fact most things) somehow just seems to make them SO much better. Will definitely give this a try. And I love the retro sugar balls decoration.

    Alexa Chung goes on the Kardashian, Sandi, Martin list for me. Although I know that is deeply unfashionable to admit in public.

  6. Love the blog... love your frightening honesty..
    Love the idea of this cake... NO FLOUR!!! Yippee! (wheat sensitivity). But then I found the line "...Now add the flour mixture...." Bugger bugger bugger. Did you mean the cocoa in lieu of flour, or did flour fall off the ingredients list?
    I won't attempt it until I know!

    1. Oh dear! I left the flour off the ingredients list like an amateur. Thank you very much for pointing this out.

  7. I love being on my own. I have a recipe for chocolate cake that uses buttermilk, but I often substitute sour cream or plain yogurt. It makes a wonderfully moist cake. It is usually cooked in a sheet cake tin, so it's not very high,but it's a great cake for lots of people, parties, buffets and it is delicious. The icing recipe that goes with it involves heating icing sugar, cocoa and butter (and nuts if liked) and involve pouring it all over the cake while warm so it sinks in. If used with this icing the whole cake is really, really sweet so I usually do a sour cream one instead.

    This cake looks great for a smaller group, say a party of one or even two, thanks.

  8. Best chocolate cake recipe EVER is the Konditor and Cook curly whirly cake -

    really easy too - I managed to make it when I was really, really hungover so you'll be fine. (Jo - sorry, still anon)

  9. Looks like a great cake although I would have to say for a ganache I like to use just choc & butter & cream. But you know what works really well is just sour cream & choc melted. Easy & so silky!

  10. sorry - its jo - I realised my post sounded really rude! I wasn't trying to insinuate that you are hopeless at cooking, just how easy it was. I'm not the world's best baker, and my cakes have a habit of sinking in the middle. Sorry - talk about Foot in mouth. And I sound REALLY arrogant.... that really, really wasn't the intention.

    1. don't worry! I really didn't take it that way. xxx

  11. Too much ganache? Can't be. Split cake and put some in the middle and up the sides too if necessary. Ganache is good

  12. This looks lovely. I read the recent Felicity Cloake Guardian column on chocolate cake where she bashed up some choccie biscuits and used them to top the cake- looked surprisingly lush.

    Totally with you on the whole free time thing- would kill for it half the time and the rest of the time compulsively don't want to be along. What strange creatures we are.

  13. Oh crap. I really wish I leant to read recipes properly. Just as I put this in the oven, I realised it saId to melt the choc, butter and sugar WITH the water not OVER the water. Shit. Oh well.... guess we'll see what it turns out like. I'm thinking brick consistency.

  14. wow, that looks delicious. tomorrow will be my sister's birthday and she really love cakes and i was searching for a new recipe and here i found it. thank you very much. your post helps me to make my sister happy.

  15. I made this for the school classical concert tea and cake table (DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE I BECOME) and it turned out brilliantly. Thank you!