- Food & Drink
This week it was my friend Naomi’s birthday. Naomi, along with Gemma, founded the Band of Bakers, a baking club that I erratically attend, normally with something terrible and childish squashed in a Tupperware tub. Like the tower of popcorn, M&Ms and pretzels that I glued together with butter and marshmallows. Or the homemade Twinkies that went stale overnight and seeped vanilla filling everywhere. Terrible, shocking things that must make people wonder how on earth I keep my job as a recipe writer.
So, for Naomi’s birthday tea party I decided I’d make a nice cake. A proper cake that would dazzle and wow. I’d plan ahead, take my time and it would be A Great Thing.
I wanted to use the bergamot curd I’d made last week, and thought that a tower of whisked chocolate sponges, whipped cream and curd, all topped off with homemade chocolate truffles would be exactly the cake I needed to bolster my sagging reputation.
I started well: I made the chocolate truffles on Thursday night and stored them in the fridge with greaseproof paper folded around them. I drew up a time plan for Saturday morning: get up early; make the pastry and the sponges; go to dance class; come back and assemble the cake; trot round to Naomi’s house; eat the cake.
I did not get up early on Saturday morning. Instead, I woke up every hour throughout the night to check I hadn’t sleep through my alarm, and then slept through it.
Sleepy-eyed and dressed in disheveled pyjamas, I rooted around the kitchen but couldn’t find my 20cm cake tin. I climbed up into the attic and it wasn’t there either. Dusty, sweaty and panicked, I remembered taking the cake tin home to my parent’s months, maybe years, ago. It was 70 miles away.
I ended up baking the cake in a 15cm cake tin and an 18cm sandwich tin. The pastry I made late, and slung it hot into the freezer to cool down while I tried to cut the cakes into an even stack of layers. When it comes to cutting cakes, I have all the accuracy and finesse of a drunken elephant armed with a chainsaw. Shavings of chocolate sponge drifted across the kitchen floor as I trimmed and trimmed and then trimmed some more.
Eventually, when I had a whisper of cake left, I got it right. I then over whipped the cream so it was stiff and rough. NO MATTER.
The cake climbed up, layer by layer, till it was a wonky tower of chocolate, curd and cream. I nestled it in an over-sized box and gingerly carried it to Naomi’s, where it stayed hidden in the kitchen till I judged everyone had drunk enough wine to be impressed. Success in Britain is so often down to making sure your audience is the right level of drunk.
I drew heavily on Felicity Cloake’s recipe for the perfect Black Forest Gateau for this cake. The crisp pastry base and whisked sponge are exactly what you need to support the waves of cream and curd. Do not bake it in a range of cakes tins unless you enjoy making your life difficult. Do use lime, orange or lemon curd if you don’t have bergamot.
Chocolate, Bergamot & Cream Layer Cake
For the dark chocolate truffles:
70g dark chocolate
70ml double cream
20g unsalted butter
Cocoa powder, for rolling
For the chocolate pastry layer:
60g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
5g cocoa powder
25g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter
2 tsp light rum or water
For the chocolate sponge:
Butter, for greasing
7 medium eggs
140g caster sugar
70g cocoa powder
For the bergamot syrup:
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 bergamot
30g caster sugar
For the filling:
500ml double cream, whipped till softly peaking
400g jar of bergamot curd (lime, lemon or orange would also work)
1 Make the chocolate truffles: chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Warm the cream and butter together till the butter has melted, then pour over the chocolate. Stir till the chocolate melts. Chill for around 4 hours to firm up. Scoop little rounds out of the chocolate truffle mix and shape into balls. Roll in cocoa powder and store in a tub, separated by sheets of greaseproof paper till needed. They will keep in the fridge for 3 days.
2 Make the pastry layer by sifting the flour, cocoa and sugar together with a pinch of salt. Rub in the butter to make fine crumbs, then stir in the rum or water to bring it together to make pastry. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3 Preheat your oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Dust your work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to make a round that will fit a 20cm cake tin. Lay the pastry in the tin, prick it all over with a fork and bake for 15-20 minutes till dry and crisp. Cool for a few minutes in the tin, then carefully lift out and cool on a wire rack.
4 Wash the tin, then grease it and line the base with baking paper.
5 Make the sponge by separating the eggs. Whisk the yolks and caster sugar together in a large bowl till thick and pale. Sift in the cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. Fold into the egg yolks with a flexible spatula.
6 In a very clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites till they are stiff and form peaks. Add a spoonful to the yolks and fold in with the spatula to loosen them up. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold them in, turning the mix over and over, till combined. Don’t be too brutal or you will knock the air out.
7 Scoop the cake mix into the tin. Bake for 30-40 minutes till set. Let it cool in the tin – it will sag in the middle, but don’t worry: you’re going to hide this with cream and bergamot curd later on.
8 Make the bergamot syrup by combining the bergamot juice, zest and the sugar in a small pan and heating till the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
9 When the cake is cold, turn it out of the tin and peel off the paper. Use a serrated knife to slice it into 3 equal layers. Lay them out on a wire rack and brush the cut sides of the sponge with the bergamot syrup. If you can, leave for 1 hour so the syrup can soak in.
10 When you’re ready to assemble the cake, dab a little bergamot curd on a 20cm cake board and lay the pastry on top. Spread 1/3 of the bergamot curd over the pastry. Pipe 1/4 of the cream over the curd (or you can spoon it over and use a palette knife. You’ll probably need 400ml cream of you’re spooning it over. Piping always seems to need more). Top with the layer of the sponge that has the sunken top as part of it – lay it sunken side down facing the pastry, syrup soaked cut side up.
11 Spread another 1/3 of the curd over the sponge and pip another 1/4 of the cream. Lay another slice of sponge on, syrup side up. Repeat and top with the final sponge layer – ideally this will be the section that was at the bottom of the cake tin and has a flat, smooth side. Lay it syrup side down, smooth side up. Spread the last of the cream over the top of the cake. Arrange the truffles on top. Eat within 24 hours, keeping it chilled till you’re ready to serve.