From the age of 14, I worked as a Saturday girl in a local bakery, and I can still picture the sequence that we laid out the cakes on the shelves. The gingerbread men and ladies sat on a tray next to the giant cookies. The eccles cakes and belgian buns kept each other company on the shelf below, and the fondant frogs took pride of place in the window, alongside the iced buns. I still remember the day I discovered how good a warm cheese scone tasted, sandwiched with freshly sliced tomato, and if I was feeling decadent, an extra sprinkling of grated cheese in the middle. These cakes, at home and at work, were so familiar to me, and characterised my childhood and teenage years.
Then I moved to Bristol for university, and a whole new world of cake opened up to me, as I met people from all over England and Ireland, who brought with them their favourite recipes from home. Together, we would bake cakes for birthdays and desserts, taking on that all important role of celebrating with cake that our Mother's had faithfully done throughout our childhoods. I remember the first time I tasted this chocolate cake on one such birthday. Our group of friends had gathered at the flat where five of our friends lived. I never envied their flat over my own, as they were the frequent victims of burglaries. This particular group of girls all seemed to be exceptional bakers. I kid you not, every single one of them new how to whip up some seriously beautiful and delicious cakes. Anyhow, on this particular birthday, I sunk my teeth into the most beautifully moist and rich chocolate cake that I had ever tasted. The icing was so shiny, I could almost see my reflection. It was so very different to my Mother's chocolate cake, and yet so very good.
So here it is, the very rich chocolate cake recipe that took me all of half a second to fall in love with, but will never replace my Mum's signature chocolate cake that will always remind me of home.
ingredients (makes enough mixture for one 9" round cake, or two 8" round cakes)
185g unsalted butter at room temperature
375g caster sugar
215g self raising flour
250g dark chocolate (doesn't need to be 70% cocoa solids)
ingredients for the icing
150g dark chocolate
90g unsalted butter
160g condensed milk
method to make the cake
1) Preheat the oven to 160C / gas mark 2-3. Grease and line your tin(s)
2)Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over simmering water, or in a microwave.
3) Sieve the flour and cocoa into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer.
4) Add the sugar and eggs to the bowl with the flour and cocoa.
5) Once the chocolate and butter have melted, add these to the mixing bowl, then beat until everything has combined.
6) Gradually add the water, stirring after each addition.
7) Pour the mixture into your prepared tin(s) and bake in the preheated oven for 60 - 80 minutes. I have found that the baking time really varies between ovens. In my electric fan oven, it takes 60 - 65 minutes for the cake to bake when I use a 9" round tin. In my old electric oven (not fan assisted) it took 1.5 hours. If your oven tends to bake things fairly quickly, check after 50 minutes, and adjust the end time accordingly. To check if the cake is baked, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is fully baked.
NB: If you are using two 8" tins, the cakes will take less time to bake - check after 30 minutes.
8) Leave the cake in the tin on a cooling rack for 10 or so minutes to cool slightly before removing the tin. If you remove it too soon after baking, the cake will crack.
method for the icing
1) Place all of the ingredients in a medium sized saucepan and heat over a gentle heat until everything has melted. If it looks like the butter is slightly separating from the icing, add a little bit of milk and stir. If the icing doesn't look like it's a spreadable consistency, add a bit more milk.
2) Once the cake has cooled*, slather the icing on. For the cake featured in the photos, I whipped the remaining icing to add air molecules, which thickened the icing to a consistency where I could pipe it. If I had tried to pipe the icing without whipping, it would have just slipped right off the cake.
*It's worth waiting until the cake has cooled before making the icing. The icing will set a little if you make it and then leave it a while before spreading on the cake, which makes it much harder to apply smoothly to the surface of the cake.