Chocolate cake

How to make a chocolate cake without chocolate

This week’s recipe is for a chocolate cake that isn’t a terribly traditional chocolate cake. But that’s its charm. It uses only one egg, no butter and, more magically, absolutely no chocolate. Instead, he uses cocoa powder and boiling water: boiling water releases a deeper, rounder flavor from the cocoa, which is enhanced by vanilla, a bit of strong coffee and a pinch of salt. The flavor of the cake is a bit like that of a pack of brownies – which is not to tone it down, but to signal its melting blackness. Feel free to swap the sugar for whatever you have: powdered sugar, granulated sugar, even dark brown, or a mix of whatever is in your cupboards. Flour can be replaced with plain flour with two more teaspoons of baking powder, and cocoa powder can be reduced to 50 g.

Unsurprisingly, given the 485ml of milk, oil and boil combined, the batter is extremely runny. Don’t be fazed by this, it will bake into a wonderful, tender, springy sponge. But, because of the thinness of the batter, you cannot make this cake with a loose-bottomed cake pan, as the batter will slip and coat the bottom of your oven. Instead, you either need a cake pan with a fixed base or a cake pan with a suction between its base and sides. Alternatively, use two 8-inch sandwich pans, divide the mixture between the two, and reduce the baking time to 25 minutes.

This cake is delicious naked: almost black in color, moist and fragrant. But an ice cream cake is an inherently enjoyable thing – and there are loads of options for decorations. Prepare a simple buttercream with two parts icing sugar and one part butter. Flavor it with orange zest or rum, or stir in peanut butter, Nutella or a very strong glass of coffee. If you don’t have icing sugar, you can try ‘Depression-era buttercream’, which I discovered thanks to Mary-Ann Boermans, food historian and former Great British contestant Bake Off. It uses almost equal parts butter, caster sugar and milk, and thickens with plain flour: awfully clever.

If you’re lucky enough to have chocolate and cream, steam the cream and pour over an equal weight of chocolate chunks, stirring to make a simple ganache. If you’re out of dairy, try jam. Sachertorte shows us that apricot jam and dark chocolate are a great combination, although I’m quite fond of pineapple jam as a sandwich layer. In truth, I can’t think of a jam you could have that wouldn’t compliment the chocolate flavors (other than maybe onion jam; I’d give that a dud).

Chocolate cake without chocolate

Makes: 1 eight-inch cake

Duration: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

200g self-rising flour

300g light brown sugar

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

1 egg

85g cocoa powder

85ml vegetable oil

200ml boiling water

200ml) milk

½ teaspoon of vanilla paste

25ml strong coffee

½ teaspoon of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and line an 8-inch deep fixed-base cake with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk gently until smooth. Pour the batter into the mold.
  3. Bake for 50 minutes, until the cake has puffed up, the top is taut, and when gently pressed with a finger, it springs back up.
  4. While still hot, gently run a knife around the edge of the cake, then let cool completely before unmolding.

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