It’s my birthday and I’ll bake rum-soaked chocolate cake if I want to

I’ve just finished icing a double-layer rum-soaked chocolate cake with a double batch of chocolate cream cheese icing. It looks a treat (and I recommend icing as a pre-breakfast pick-me-up) but reality has suddenly hit. It’s not the fact that I’m another year older, or that there is a smudge of icing on my pyjamas, but that I have to transport this precious cargo out of the house, down 50 stairs made slippery with overnight rain, into the garage (opening the door with one hand, shielding the cake from the howling wind with the other) and into the car. Then there’s the short but perilous route to the Small Girl’s nursery (two sets of traffic lights, one set of roadworks, one long street of speed humps) and the slightly longer but no less fraught trip to work (back down the street of speed humps, through the roadworks, up the hill, through the lights, through another set of roadworks, through the tricky intersection, up the hill, down the hill, merging into the motorway traffic, more lights, the steep hill, negotiating the carpark). I used to think it was hard carting cake on the Tube, but this is a whole new ballgame. Oh well. If push comes to shove en route then my workmates will have to make do. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

Chocolate Birthday Cake
I’m a bit fussy about chocolate cake, preferring it to be dark, flourless and sticky. But sometimes you need a crowd-pleaser, something that your hungry colleagues can tuck into and leave sticky smears of icing all over their keyboards. (Sometimes you also need a cake you can make late at night, when you realise you don’t have enough ground almonds or chocolate to make the sort of cake you had in mind.)
This recipe is written in shorthand on the back of an envelope in my recipe book – I can’t remember where it came from, so if it’s yours, many thanks. This icing – adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook – is what I used to use in my brief foray into cupcake selling. It’s just right for this dark, moist cake.

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 baking soda
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp salt
100g butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter, milk and eggs and beat furiously with a wooden spoon until well mixed (you can also do this in the processor or in a mixer). Divide between the two tins (I actually do this with a measuring cup to be precise) and gently place in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a skewer plunged into them comes out clean.
Let them cool for 10 minutes, then gently turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
When the cakes have cooled, stab holes in them with a toothpick and drizzle with brandy or rum. (This isn’t essential, but it feels festive.) Wrap carefully in clingfilm and store in a cool place (not the fridge) until you’re ready to ice them. The flavour of this cake improves the day after you make it.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
150g very soft butter
80g sifted cocoa
400g sifted icing sugar
300g cold cream cheese

Beat the butter, cocoa and icing sugar together until well mixed (use an electric beater or a freestanding mixer. Add the cream cheese and beat for about five minutes, until light and fluffy. This makes a lot – but better too much than too little, don’t you think?
Slather over the cake – use it to sandwich the two halves together – and have fun swirling it around.

I found a box in the shed and managed to insert plated cake into it before we got in the car. Cake and I have arrived at our destination safely, although I did nearly plough into a bus while watching that it didn’t slide off the front seat. Phew!

Sweet sweet Friday: Chocolate Roulade

Want to know how to make a Swiss roll? Push him off an alp (boom boom)!
Want to make a delectable chocolate roulade? Then you should try this recipe, which was the special occasion pudding of choice when I was a child. This is my sister’s recipe, which was written out and stuck to a page of my mother’s spiral-bound recipe notebook. It was a long time before I felt grown-up enough to tackle it on my own, but it’s actually ridiculously easy. What is not so easy is photographing it late at night after a glass of wine or two. Warning, extremely dodgy chocolate roulade shot approaching…

Marion’s Chocolate Roulade
This is my entry for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. You can’t tell from this terrible photo, but it’s light, chocolatey and rolls like a dream around some rum-soaked raspberries and cream.

6 large eggs, separated
155g caster sugar
50g cocoa. sifted

300ml cream
brandy or rum

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a sponge roll tin. (I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I just lined about half of a roasting dish. Worked perfectly!)
Beat the egg yolks until beginning to thicken, gradually add caster sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Mix in cocoa.
Whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold into the chocolate mixture (stir in a large spoonful first to lighten it, then fold in the rest with large, gentle strokes). Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20-20 minutes, until springy.
Cool slightly, then turn out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and roll up.
To serve, unroll, remove the paper and spread with whipped cream etc. Re-roll gently. Dust some icing sugar over the top and serve.

Fit for a king in waiting

One of the first things I learned to make by heart was ‘Caroline’s Chocolate Slab’ from Mary Berry’s Fast Cakes. From memory, it involved butter, cocoa and crushed up wine biscuits (what we colonials call plain, sweet biscuits), topped with a rich chocolate icing. If the breathless news reports are to be believed, this is the sort of thing guests at Buckingham Palace will be nibbling on on Friday morning. But guests at our royal wedding party will be offered a silver tray of this, a slightly more posh (posher? poshly?) version.

Posh Chocolate Slab
This recipe is a version of something from an old Annabel Langbein book. I had a spot of bother when getting a chocolate cake out of a tin a few months back and the resulting broken pieces have been waiting in the freezer to be turned into crumbs for this express purpose. You could just as easily use a chocolate sponge (or indeed, any sort of sponge) from the supermarket. If you use a plain one, then up the cocoa in the recipe by a couple of tablespoons.

250g plain sweet biscuits
2 cups chocolate cake or sponge crumbs
2Tbsp cocoa
125g butter
2Tbsp caster sugar
2Tbsp golden syrup
1/4 cup condensed milk
250g dark chocolate
2Tbsp dark rum or brandy
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup cranberries

125g dark chocolate
1/4 cup cream
Line a brownie tin or sponge roll tin with clingfilm, allowing for plenty of overhang. Reduce the biscuits to gravel in a food processor (or use a rolling pin and brute strength). Add the cocoa and blitz again.
Put the butter, sugar golden syrup, condensed milk and chocolate in a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter and chocolate have melted. Stir well, then add half the cocoa biscuit crumbs. Mix, then tip in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Tip into the prepared tin and smooth the top.
Melt the second measure of chocolate with the cream, stir until smooth and pour over the top. Let set, then cut into small, elegant squares with a sharp knife.

(I apologise for the dreadful photo, but there comes a time in every blogger’s life where they think, argh, I have spent long enough fussing over this photo and I’ve already smudged the edge and I need to get dressed and make breakfast and get the Small Girl up and put the washing on and get to work… Trust me, it looks a lot prettier in real life!)

A tale of two cities

Nearly five years ago this month we moved from a grimy, grim part of norf London to lovely, leafy Hampstead. We went from having double bus lanes out one window and train lines out the other to a sheltered courtyard across the road from Hampstead Heath.

Our old neighbours were either crackheads or victims of crime, our new ones were ridiculously rich and all quite mad. There was the property developer and his former makeup artist wife, who used to tell us stories about hanging out with Robbie Williams; the mysterious gem expert, who used to roll home roaring drunk (and dripping with diamonds); and the completely crackers psychologist who was suing everyone else in the building for doing things like taking her recycling bin or painting their windowsills a different shade of magnolia. She knew we weren’t sue-able but used to delight in telling us that our tiny flat “used to be the gardener’s shed”.

Anyway, at the time I made hundreds of these cookies, often for the children of the property developer and makeup artist. They were the most normal of the bunch – I’d love to know how they turned out.

Hampstead Cookies
The fantastic thing about these cookies – apart from the fact that they can be made in what a lettings agent would call a “bijou kitchen” – is that you can vary them according to suit your pantry. And in the market, these are some of the best low carb cookies to buy in the shelves. The ones pictured here have salted peanuts and dark chocolate, but in Hampstead I used to make them with dark chocolate, Brazil nuts and apricots. Whatever you do, please don’t use chocolate chips. They’re made from such horrible, tasteless chocolate that they’re an insult to baking.

125g softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
around 1 1/2 cups dried fruit, nuts and chocolate (ie, 1/2 a cup of each)

Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease an oven tray.
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Stir in the flour, then add the nuts, fruit and chocolate. Mix well. Take tablespoon-sized heaps of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the tray – allow at least an inch between each one for spreading. Press down gently with a fork, then bake for 15-17 minutes. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight tin.

Sweet sweet Friday: We Should Cocoa – Lime Twitter Bars

Did you know the white stuff doesn’t count if you are giving chocolate up for Lent? It’s true. I read it on the internet. Anyway, I needed to make something for the March We Should Cocoa challenge and I wasn’t going to be so irresponsible as to make something and not taste it. That would be an even greater sin!

In the spirit of killing two birds and all that, today’s post is also announcing that The Kitchenmaid has gotten out of the scullery long enough to get on Twitter. I don’t think I’ve nailed recipes in 140 characters or less yet, but it’s going to be fun to try.

Lime Twitter Bars
Even if you don’t like white chocolate – and I’m not usually a big fan – this is heavenly. It keeps well in the fridge (if you have good willpower).

125g butter
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 packet plain sweet biscuits
120g white chocolate, smashed into bits
1 cup desiccated coconut
grated rind of 3 limes

130g white chocolate
2Tbsp butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
juice of three limes (about 2-3Tbsp)

Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, reduce the biscuits to crumbs, either in a food processor or put them in a strong plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin, pestle or wine bottle. This is good for relieving tension, but make sure the plastic bag is up to the task or you’ll find yourself retrieving biscuit crumbs from all over the kitchen, which is quite stressful.
Tip the crumbs, white chocolate bits, coconut and grated zest into the butter mixture and stir until well combined. Press this into a lined slice tin (27x18cm) and set aside.
For the icing, melt the white chocolate and butter together VERY gently. Sift in the icing sugar and lime juice and beat to form a smooth, shiny paste. Spread this over the crumb base and sprinkle on a little extra zest if you feel like it. Refrigerate until set (about 30 minutes), then cut into bars. Store it in the fridge. Don’t forget to tweet me what you think of it!