Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Gateau

My mum asked me to make a chocolate-based pudding to serve alongside the traditional boozy-fruity-pyrotechnic Christmas fare. I spent a good while researching recipes and just couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I set about dreaming something up. This is very much a work in progress, so I’m predominantly blogging it so that I’ve got notes for when I embark on the second attempt. I was concerned it might be horribly rich but actually it was light and delicious. If I weren’t in polite company (well, my family, so relatively polite) I could’ve put away a heart-stopping quantity of it…

I used a 10″ tin. I might try a 9″ next time, which would obviously make it slightly taller.

Layer 1: chocolate sponge base
I made a 1 egg version of the sponge from the chocolate and raspberry cake I did in October (which also gave me eight bonus cupcakes as I wanted a very slim cake base):
25g dark chocolate
115ml hot brewed coffee
150g caster sugar (reduced from original to avoid sickliness)
100g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
1 large egg
55ml sunflower oil
110ml buttermilk / plain yoghurt
Spot vanilla extract

Method as in the other recipe. When the sponge is cooled, remove the baking paper, wash the tin then line its sides with acetate and drop the sponge back in.

Layer 2: chocolate mousse
170g dark chocolate
80ml whole milk
1 large egg yolk
4 large egg whites
2 tbsp caster sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (in a large bowl) then leave it on the counter to cool a little. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over the chocolate, then blend using a small whisk. Add the egg yolk and gently work into the chocolate. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then increase the speed and add the sugar gradually. Continue whisking to stiff peaks. Add a third of the egg whites to the chocolate and beat to lighten. Carefully but thoroughly fold in the rest of the whites, then pour the mousse mixture into the tin on top of the sponge and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Layers 3 and 5: hazelnut meringue
40g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped in a blender
2 large egg whites
120g caster sugar

Preheat to 140C. Draw around the tin onto two sheets of baking paper, which will then line two baking sheets. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking the whole time, until you get a firm glossy meringue. Gently fold in the hazelnuts. Spread the meringue mixture onto the baking sheets as flat as you can, to about 1cm from the edge of the circles you drew on the baking paper. Bake for about 90 minutes (you want crispy meringue) then switch off the oven and leave the meringues inside overnight to cool completely and dry out. Place one meringue on top of the chocolate mousse and keep the other aside.

Layer 4: Chantilly cream (ish)
300ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
(Chantilly cream usually contains sugar too, hence the “ish”. I didn’t want this too sweet.)

Whisk the cream to soft peaks, then add the vanilla and continue whisking to firm peaks. Spread on top of the first meringue, reserving a big spoonful. Place the second meringue on the top, then top with the reserved cream and make the surface as flat as possible. Place in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes to allow the top surface to become firm enough to stay put when you spread the ganache.

Layer 6: chocolate ganache
105g dark chocolate, finely chopped
150ml double cream
1tbsp Golden Syrup
35g unsalted butter

Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle. When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted. Take the gateau out of the freezer and spread the ganache over the top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. [Note to self: try a more fluid ganache next time so it doesn’t set so firm?]

I finished this one with some salted caramel I happened to have left over, which I attempted to fashion into a snowflake-type motif with some gold edible glitter. Annoyingly, the ganache was too firm to recover from the skewer I dragged over it – I should’ve done this before refrigerating.

Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau

Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau

Cat’s Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

My beautiful, vivacious, generous, intelligent, loyal and all-round awesome friend Cat turns 30 today.  She is the most marvellous maker of mischief, queen of comedy and has the capacity to create magic out of absolutely nothing.  There was never a more worthy recipient of a genuinely extravagant birthday cake… I found this recipe for a chocolate and raspberry cake online, so I converted it into UK measurements for a two-tier cake:

Ingredient 8” cake (+ 4 cupcakes) 6” cake (+ 3 cupcakes)
Dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids) 85g 55g
Hot brewed coffee 350ml 230ml
Caster sugar 600g 400g
Plain flour 312g 205g
Cocoa powder (unsweetened) 125g 85g
Baking powder ¾ tsp ½ tsp
Bicarbonate of soda 2 tsp 1½ tsp
Salt ½ tsp ¼ tsp
Large eggs 3 2
Sunflower oil 175ml 115ml
Buttermilk 355ml 235ml
Vanilla extract ¾ tsp ½ tsp

Preheat to 150C.  Butter and base-line your tins.  (I often take the bone-idle route and settle for just base-lining, but you really should butter these tins, even if they’re non-stick.) Measure out and sieve all the dry ingredients into one bowl.  Finely chop the chocolate, then pour the hot coffee over, let it sit, then stir to make sure the chocolate is evenly melted. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs for about 3 minutes until slightly thickened.  While the beater is running on slow speed, add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until combined, then add the oil in the same way.

Looks a bit like custard

Looks a bit like custard

Pour in the chocolate/coffee mix…

Slightly darker custard

Slightly darker custard

Finally, sift in the dry ingredients and mix (carefully, so as not to let too much fly out of the bowl) until properly combined.  You will have a VERY liquidy cake mixture, which will make you question whether it could possibly create a cake.  Have faith, my friends.

Drip.  Drip.  Drip.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The original recipe is for three 9″ pans but my trio measure 8″ so I made some Brucie Bonus cupcakes with the extra batter (very useful for Quality Control purposes).

Three 8" cakes + Brucie Bonus cupcakes

Three 8″ cakes + Brucie Bonus cupcakes

Bake on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  Interestingly, the 6″ cakes took the same time to bake.

Pile 'em up (and fire the lighting designer)

Pile ’em up (and fire the lighting designer)

Next comes the raspberry goodness, for which you need:
300g fresh raspberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
(I made twice this, and now have an absurd quantity in my freezer.)

Blitz your raspberries then sieve the seeds out.  As for how to clean the sieve afterwards, I have no tips.  I yelled at mine, but it didn’t help. Pour the blitzed berries in a saucepan and sprinkle the sugar and cornflour over.  Heat gently until it thickens, stirring all the time.  It’ll take a good 10 minutes, I reckon.  I reduced the sugar from the original recipe so this tastes relatively sharp (depending on your raspberries) but the rich, chocolatey cake can absolutely take it.

Look at that colour

Look at that colour

Pour into a bowl and let it cool completely before sandwiching the cakes together with it.  Be a bit more generous than I was; I could barely taste the raspberry (this may or may not have been influenced by the quantity of red wine I had already consumed).

Raspberry tanginess

Raspberry tanginess

Serious cake

Serious cake

Ganache time.  The addition of Golden Syrup adds another dimension to this, which I really enjoyed.  I did, however, remove the sugar from the original recipe.  This quantity does a nice, thin-ish layer on the two cakes.  You don’t really want it too much thicker, I don’t think.

210g dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids)
300ml double cream
2 tbsp Golden Syrup
75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Finely chop the chocolate and throw in a heat-proof bowl.  Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil.  Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle.  Be patient.  For a long time, it’ll look like it won’t emulsify but it will.  Do not be tempted to speed up your stirring.  When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted.  You’ll have a beautifully glossy ganache.

The phases of ganache-making

The phases of ganache-making

I refrigerated mine (stirring every 5 minutes) until it reached spreading consistency.

Glossy

Glossy

Into the final phase… decoration.  YES.  For the 6″ cake, I cheated and bought some high quality dark chocolate pencils and stuck 75 round the side.  At 10cm, they only just fit the height of the cake..

Cheating

Cheating

Looks good though, right?

Looks good though, right?

For the bottom tier, I tried my hand at tempering chocolate without a digital thermometer.  Then I put “digital thermometer” on my list for Santa. The theory is that you take 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) and melt 130g of it in a bain-marie, keeping it over the pan until it reaches 48C.  Then take the bowl off the heat, and add the remaining 70g of chocolate, stirring gently and continuously until it cools to 32C.  If you do this successfully, the chocolate will set more quickly than usual and will be more robust (i.e. won’t melt as easily) as normal chocolate.

I did just fine with my mercury jam thermometer until the cooling down bit, when the minimum measured temperature of 40C was something of a hindrance.  So I guessed.  As luck would have it, the result was alright, but it took an age to set so was definitely not tempered properly.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that my kitchen is a little… petite, so this next project had to take place at my dining table, with the help of some foam-board I had left over from a crafty project…

I cut and taped an acetate cocoa butter transfer to make a 70cm long strip, 12cm wide, which I laid out cocoa-side up.  I spread the chocolate (a little too thinly) over with an angled palette knife and waiting IMPATIENTLY for the FLIPPING thing to set, wishing that it were a cooler October evening than it was.

Uncharted territory

Uncharted territory

Set, you fickle bugger.  SET.

Set, you fickle bugger. SET.

Eventually, it was sufficiently set for me to wrap it around the cake.  In light of the fact that I knew I hadn’t tempered the chocolate properly, I decided it needed a little technical assistance to set properly so put it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, I carefully peeled off the acetate (not quite carefully enough, you might notice).

We didn't need that little chunk.

We didn’t need that little chunk.

A quick trip across London and some holding of breath, and the genuinely extravagant birthday cake was assembled, beribboned…

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

… and set on fire.

Happy birthday, Cat. x

Happy birthday, Cat. x

Decorating a 30th birthday cake with lace and glitter

To be honest, I don’t think it really matters how you decorate a homemade cake; people tend to be over the moon not to be eating a Colin the Caterpillar cake from Tesco’s, so anything in addition to the homemade flavour is merely a bonus.  That said, it’s rather nice to make an effort for a birthday, especially a ‘big’ birthday.  Our fabulous Australian colleague Lauren turned 30 last month, so I wanted to decorate her cake in suitably stylish manner but was a little short of faff time because I put it together on a school night, so I took my previously blogged-about lace decorating a little step further.

This is a three-layer Devil’s Food Cake with chocolate buttercream.

Drape and dust...

Drape and dust…

Carefully remove lace...

Carefully remove lace…

Print, cut out and lay over the cake...

Print, cut out and lay stencil over the cake…

Dust with edible glitter...

Dust with edible glitter…

Lift off the stencil, then remove the baking paper skirt round the plate...

Lift off the stencil, then remove the baking paper skirt round the plate…

...and TA-DAA!  A classy 30th birthday cake for a classy girl.

…and TA-DAA! A classy 30th birthday cake for a classy girl.

Devil’s Food Cake with Lace Cocoa Dusting

As with the Rainbow Cake, this is the third time I’ve made this sponge, and I think I’ve found the perfect icing to go with it: a simple chocolate buttercream.  Nothing fancy-pants here.

Whilst pootling around Tesco’s with a carefully scrawled list in my little paw, I went to reach for my usual large eggs-from-happy-chickens and my eye was drawn to an egg box proclaiming, “BETTER FOR BAKING” so I thought, “Ooh, well, it’d be wrong not to give them a shot”.

 

The duck eggs were bigger than hen’s eggs, obviously, and I thoroughly enjoyed cooking with them.  They were pleasingly fresh and plump, and they made the butter/sugar mix wonderfully creamy when added.  The shells are kind of weird and plastic-y.  This recipe has always been a lovely one but I believe the duck eggs made it even better, and I shall be doing some research and using them again in the future.

I  decided to ignore the recipe’s instruction to bake in two tins and divide into four layers, on the grounds that the previous two attempts have domed massively, which is frustrating and wasteful, as it means you have to slice a chunk off.  Instead, I baked in three tins for a shorter time, which resulted in beautifully even, moist (I hate that word) sponges.  Hurrah.

I whizzed up a batch of Hummingbird Bakery chocolate frosting – actually, more accurately, I whizzed up a double batch, because I’m sure that’s what I’ve done before for a three-layer cake.  I’ve thought about it extensively and I still don’t know how this happened, but I had almost a litre left when I had iced the cake.  Muh?

Anyway, now came the fun bit.  After putting the cake in the fridge briefly to make the frosting seal itself a little, I decided to try something I’d seen on Pinterest: using lace to create a pattern on the top of the cake.  The photograph I had seen used icing sugar on chocolate but for the first attempt at this particular technique, I wanted to do it in such a way that I could easily cover my tracks if I screwed it up, so I went for cocoa instead.  My sieve isn’t quite fine enough, so I actually sieved the cocoa in it about a dozen times before doing it over the lace, because I really wanted a fine dust with no chunks.  Then I simply gently laid the lace across the cake, sieved the cocoa as evenly as possible over the top, then carefully lifted the lace away.  My kitchen was covered in cocoa, but the result was very pleasing:

This is SUCH a simple and effective way to decorate a cake and I would whole-heartedly recommend it.  The only thing I would advise is that you do it as close to serving time as possible, because the cocoa darkened when the fluid content in the icing got to it.  It still looked awesome, but it was just better when it was the powdery finish.

I took the cake on a jolly weekend away with 25 members of Coro (a fabulous chamber choir), with whom I sing in London.  They’re a wonderful bunch of singers, and foodies to boot, so I was overjoyed when they demolished the cake and made all the right yummy noises.  Even more so when one of them insisted upon licking the plate before the Fairy liquid hit it.