Chocolate Cake

One of the first things I ever learnt how to bake was this chocolate cake.  The recipe could be found in an A4 examination book, uncovered and well worn, in the third to last drawer of the kitchen. This book formed part of a good homely recipe book collection of a home cook (my mum).

You may be lucky enough to have inherited one of these lovely books, but if not I am sure you know the kind.  It is generally filled with typed out recipes for things like Babotie and maybe milk tart; it will include the odd recipe from Aunty So-and-So which she will have handwritten, neatly, in cursive, onto that beautiful thin blue lined writing paper we used to mail actual letters on;  and it will undoubtedly include the odd “Your Family” or “Kook en Geniet” recipe indelicately cut from a magazine and pasted onto the pages (scrapbooking had to start somewhere I guess).  If you are even luckier, you may, within those pages that still smell faintly of spills of vanilla essence, find a real gem of a recipe like this chocolate cake.
Don’t you think I should make my mother gift that book to me when I turn 40?  How I love owning things that are a lot older than me! (Did you hear that mum?)
I have tried other Chocolate Cake recipes over the years, but I always come back to this one.  It is moist and soft, really not too rich, and with a good cappuccino, it simply can’t be beaten.  I have added the chocolate ganache icing to the original recipe, but if making ganache scares you, feel free to ice the entire cake with the butter icing, although you would be cheating yourself of the delight of its rich chocolaty coating.
My friend Photogirl, believes that you should never eat children’s birthday cake as you never know how much spitgerm filled breath has landed on it.  With that thought in mind, shudder, I made this Chocolate cake for the grownups at Handsome’s birthday “tea”.
What you need
4 eggs
1 cup of flour, sifted
4 Tbsps. cocoa, sifted
2 tsps. baking powder
1 cup of sugar
Pinch salt
½ cup of oil
½ cup boiling water
1 tsp. vanilla essence
Butter Icing Filling
200 g butter
200 g icing sugar, sifted
¼ cup cocoa powder, sifted
Ganache Icing
1 x 250 ml tub fresh cream
250 g dark chocolate
  1. Separate the egg whites and the egg yolks.
  2. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl, beat till stiff and set aside.
  3. Place the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl together with the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, water and vanilla essence.
  4. Beat well with an electric beater until well blended, about 3-4 minutes.
  5. By hand, gently fold the egg whites one third at a time into this mixture.
  6. Pour into two prepared tins (see note below) and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 – 30 minutes until done.
  7. Cool.
  8. To prepare the butter icing, beat the butter until creamy and pale.
  9. Beat in the icing sugar and cocoa powder till well blended.
  10. To prepare the ganache; bring the cream to the boil.
  11. Break the chocolate into cubes and place in a heat resistant bowl.
  12. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Do not stir but leave to stand for two minutes.
  13. Whisk the chocolate and the cream together until well blended.
  14. Leave the ganache at room temperature and whisk it every ten minutes or so until it thickens.
  15. Stand guard over it towards the end as you don’t want it to get too hard as it will be hard to work with.
  16. While the ganache is setting, sandwich together the two halves of chocolate cake.
  17. Trim the cake if necessary to get it even and level.
  18. When the ganache is set, use a spatula to gently smear the ganache all around the outside of the cake.
Right, so here are some pointers if you are new to cake baking or a stranger to success in it:
Firstly, when a recipe says prepare your tins they generally mean “grease” it so it won’t stick.  I use non-stick spray, it hasn’t failed me yet.  When I know I want to do a lovely presentation cake like this one, I line the bottom of my cake tins with baking paper.  The baking paper helps give you a really smooth bottom, which becomes your top for a beautiful bakery looking cake.
When I make this cake in its show off form I double this recipe.  I still bake it in two tins (allowing an extra fifteen minutes baking time) but then I slice each of the halves into two so that my cake becomes a four layer masterpiece.  So, if you use the recipe as is, your cake will not look as tall and by that I mean as grand, but I promise you it will still taste as good.
Which brings me to secondly; I almost always trim my cakes.  I like my cakes to be even on top and around the perimeter despite the fact that my oven sometimes disagrees with that.  When I trim horizontal layers I find something in my cupboard that is the exact height I am looking for like a ramekin for instance.  Then, I rest my serrated knife on the ramekin and use it as my “level” to even out my cake; can you tell I am a builder’s daughter?
Third and this is especially if you are making multiple layered cakes, it goes without saying that if your layers are level and if you use the same amount of icing between each layer, you will have even layers.  Remember this when dolloping on the icing sugar.  I always invert my layers so that I can use the most perfectly flat and even surface for the top.
Fourth, baking is precise.  Make sure you measure all ingredients accurately.  If it says sift, sift.  If it says cream, cream.  An electric mixer, I use a trusty Kitchen Aid, really really makes a difference.
Fifth, never place a cake into an oven that is not at the correct temperature, and never open the oven door before at least ¾ of the cooking time has passed.  Be gentle with the tins, don’t bang them on the counter unless instructed to do so by the recipe, you will bang all the air out of the mixture, and cakes need air to rise and be light.
And finally, I personally am not the best cake decorator.  We all have our strengths and I am perfectly comfortable with knowing that this isn’t one of mine.  Practice on getting smooth and even icing, but don’t sweat the fancy pants icing techniques of master bakers.  For this cake I made the baby bunting out of stock card and pasted them onto a ribbon.  I tied the ribbon onto two skewers for the cake topper and finished the bottom off with a ribbon.  Plenty festive enough for me.
Wow!  Quite the mouthful today, pun intended!  Check back tomorrow, I am going to share some pics from Handsome’s birthday tea.

2 Comments on Chocolate Cake

  1. helen
    January 31, 2013 at 10:46 pm (7 years ago)

    so beautifully written, sam. i’m ready to go off and bake *right now*

    chan’s friend from years ago,

    • Sam Taylor
      February 1, 2013 at 8:05 am (7 years ago)

      Thank you Helen, I am sure you can relate to all the South African stuff on this blog even after so many years away. Thanks for stopping by xx Sam


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