The french have rather an interesting phrase that may just serve to sum up the way I’m feeling this morning. Gueule de bois, the french term for a ‘hangover’, literally translates as ‘wooden mouth’. Two pots of Earl Grey, a can of Diet Coke and a litre of water and I’m still not feeling normal. I think today is going to be a quiet day spent in the kitchen and on the couch – luckily I have very little do to.
Rewind 18 hours or so, and I was sitting at a large table in Donde in Honor Oak Park with friends, celebrating my friend Dan‘s birthday. We drank wine and sangria and feasted on plates of manchego with quince, cured meats, olives, grilled seafood, chorizo stews and some stunning morcilla that was so good I actually considered walking over this morning and ordering some more to help me through my current booze-soaked malaise. We then headed back to Dan’s house for birthday cake and more wine. Perhaps a little too much wine, hence my state today.
I have a tradition for making towering layer cakes for Dan’s birthday and yesterday was no exception. The Chocolate Behemoth, as it has come to be known is a four-layer chocolate cake, sandwiched with a rich chocolate buttercream and covered in a dark chocolate ganache. It is a migrane-inducing chocoholic’s dream containing over half a kilogram of chocolate. The sponge itself, although rich, is not too sweet, which prevents the cake from becoming too sickly. Surprise ingredients such as dates, chilli and coffee give a warmth and richness without relying on too much sugar, and the use of cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate also tones down the sweetness. We drunkenly got through far more slices than is acceptable and I have a suspicion that the leftovers will be scarfed for breakfast today.
The Chocolate Behemoth
For the chocolate sponge:
- 220g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
- 200ml coffee, made with a shot of espresso and topped up with boiling water
- 100ml full-fat milk
- 125g plain flour
- 60g cocoa powder
- ¼ tsp chilli powder
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 115g caster sugar
- 50g dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the chocolate buttercream:
- 225g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken up
- 750g icing sugar
- 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 90ml full-fat milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Small pinch salt
For the chocolate ganache:
- 350g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped finely
- 285ml whipping cream
- 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Grease and line a round 8-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Heat the milk in a pan until it reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and stir in the coffee. Put the dates in a large bowl and pour over the milk and coffee mixture. Leave to soak for around 20 minutes. Once soft, puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, chilli powder, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well incorporated. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together. Add the vanilla extract and beat well.
With the mixer on a low speed, add the dry ingredients a little at a time, beating until just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix. Gently fold in the date puree until combined. Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50-60 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin and later on a cooling rack.
To make the buttercream, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over boiling water. As soon as all of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the icing sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until combined. Beat for a further couple of minutes until the mixture becomes fluffy. With the mixer on low, gradually add the cooled chocolate. Beat on a medium speed until a thick and even chocolate buttercream is formed.
Using a serrated knife, slice the cooled cake into four layers. Reserve the bottom layer to use as the top layer of the cake – the flat bottom will ensure a flat top on the cake. Scoop some of the buttercream on to a layer of the cake and spread evenly using a palette knife. Set the next layer on top and repeat the process until you have added the top layer. Crumb coat the sides of the cake using a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for at least two hours – the ganache will be easier to spread on a cold cake.
To make the ganache, put a saucepan of water on to boil and reduce to a simmer – this will be used for a double boiler later, so ensure it is the right size to set a glass bowl on. Put the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl and set aside. In a separate saucepan, heat the cream, butter and vanilla until it just reaches boiling point – do not let the mixture boil. Put the bowl of chocolate over the pan of simmering water and immediately pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Whisk together, using a balloon whisk, until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick and shiny. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and set on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Pour the ganache, in one go, over the top of the cake and allow to flow down the sides. The ganache will grip the cold buttercream and cover the sides of the cake. You can gently use a palette knife to smooth any rough edges or cover any sparse areas. Return the cake to the fridge for at least half an hour to set the ganache.
Once the ganache is set, you can pipe decorations on to the cake using melted chocolate or add your own decorations. Serve the cake at room temperature.
Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats
This recipe produces a mountain of chocolate buttercream – far more than you would ever need to use for the cake even if you are quite generous with your icing, as I am. You can either polish it off with a spoon before shame leads you to throw the entire lot in the bin, or you can use it for something else. Below is a recipe for some chocolate chip cupcakes that would benefit very well from a swirl of leftover chocolate buttercream. You may have to go on the word of my colleagues as to their taste, as I cannot bear eating any more chocolate after last night!
Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
- 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 150g soft light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 115g self-raising flour
- 35g cocoa powder
- 100g chocolate chips
- Chocolate buttercream (see above)
Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases. This recipe made nine cupcakes, but if you use smaller cases, you may get 12 from the mixture.
In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, beating until smooth. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together. Fold in the flour, cocoa and chocolate chips, beating until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
Divide the mixture between the cupcake cakes and bake for around 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin and later on a baking rack.
Finish with a swirl of chocolate buttercream.