Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Old-fashioned chocolate cake

If you're a kid and it's your birthday, then there's only one cake you want. And because all of us have been kids (or perhaps have never really grown up), chocolate cake brings out our inner seven year old, and we too hoe into it with gusto. Anyone who likes to bake has a go-to recipe for chocolate cake and this is mine. I'm not a parent but the average person (baker or not) with a lot on their plate can appreciate a recipe where all you have to do is pile the ingredients into a food processor and press ON. Especially when the results would indicate it was a lot more work - the most delicate crumb, a perfect balance of tangy and sweet, and a sturdy structure which allows it to be comfortably held by fingers big and small.

It's so good in fact, it befits two choruses of happy birthday - one with candles, one with sparklers. The secret is sour cream, which enriches both icing and cake and cuts the sweetness of the sugar in each. It also makes it beautifully moist, which means the slice you get to take home will be just as delicious the next day.

Old-fashioned chocolate cake
Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson

I like to refrigerate this before serving, just to set the icing and make it easier to eat with your fingers, but it tastes equally good (if somewhat stickier) at room temperature.

For the cake
200g plain flour
200g caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of (baking) soda
40g cocoa
175g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150ml sour cream

For the icing
75g unsalted butter
175g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
300g icing sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
125ml sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Take everything out of the fridge so that all ingredients can come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 180 deg C and line and butter two 20cm sandwich tins with removable bases.

Put all cake ingredients together in bowl of a food processor and process til you have a smooth, thick batter. Divide this, using a rubber spatula to scrape and spread, evenly between the two tins and bake until a thin skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes (but start checking at the 25 minute mark).

Remove the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins to cool completely.

To make the icing, melt chocolate and butter in a good-sized bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. While they're cooling a little, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl. Add the golden syrup and vanilla to the chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and then add to the icing sugar. 

Select the cake with the least risen top, and - if necessary - level further by trimming its dome with a serrated edge knife. You want a flat surface for the other cake to sit on. Don't fuss too much with this - it doesn't have to be perfect. The icing will fill whatever space remains, like mortar to the bricks of the cakes. Spread about a third of the icing on the top of this bottom layer and spread to the edges. Lay the other cake on top, with its dome facing up. Spoon another third of the icing onto the top and swirl to cover in whatever fashion you choose - smooth or textured. Finally, use the remaining icing to coat the sides of the cake.

Refrigerate before serving.


  1. After eating, apply a warm wet flannel to the face. Then worry about the kids' faces.

  2. I've eaten this cake many times and it is a lovely chocolate cake