My Grandma was of the old fashioned bulldog breed that made everything – she would have ground her own flour if she could. Her kitchen was the size of a shoebox and she was built like a battleship but she managed to produce plates of cakes, biscuits, bread and puddings without a hitch. And all this on an ancient old range stove and an electric hob, and a working surface that was just an old tray on top of the fridge.
Naturally, everything she produced tasted superb, better than any ‘bought muck’ we had ever been given at friends’ houses. And it engendered in me a love of baking, which she was happy to indulge, bossing me about in the tiny kitchen as I learned her craft.
The queues down the street at my birthday parties were a testament to the quality of Grandma’s cooking. She always got busy baking in the week before the big day, and her cakes, biscuits and home-made jellies were more of a gift to me then any of the wrapped up delights that my party guests would bring.
But Grandma was a pragmatist and saw no virtue in work for work’s sake, especially with a large Yorkshire family to feed. Her greatest pride and joy was her Kenwood Chef (other mixers were, and are, available!) which she had bought, at eye-popping expense, way back in the mid 1970s. It took up half the available counter space and you could hear it churning away even if you were stood at the top of the garden.
She used it as often as possible, for bread, pastry, meringues and, of course, cakes.
Her favourite was an ‘all-in-one fruit cake’, a heavy, wholesome dark cake whose recipe did the rounds of the Mother’s Union, written out on the back of Christmas cards and hymn sheets. This was too heavy and serious for us Grandkids, with nowhere near enough sugar. Our favourite was a chocolate cake that she could whip up – literally – so quickly it was like magic. It would be churning away in the Kenwood by the time we had our coats and shoes off. She would prepare the rest of the meal while it was in the oven and decorate it while the kettle boiled for tea.She would serve it on a Saturday after a tea of salad with homemade bread and butter, tinned salmon and pickled cucumber, and usually the inside was still a tiny bit warm and squidgy. Let me let you in on a secret, I still can’t hear the football results on a Saturday evening without my mouth watering!
I have adapted the recipe only slightly. I find a hand-held whisk is just as good as a freestanding one, much less noisy, and easier to clean. And while Grandma decorated the cake with cooking chocolate melted in a Pyrex bowl over a milk pan of boiling water, and threw and hundreds and thousands on top, I make it into more of an occasion with a creamy chocolate ganache. This takes a little longer, but you can still have the whole thing turned round and ready serve in an hour. A ten second blast for each slice in the microwave, a dollop of good-quality vanilla ice cream, and you have a hot chocolate gateau. And it tastes bewitching. Grandma used to treat us to her extra special home made ice cream, and it was like a thousand icy angels dancing on your taste buds, but that’s for another time.
I like to think that Grandma is smiling down at me with approval, and I’ve made sure that her delicious recipe will continue to be savoured by yet another generation by teaching my three daughters this scrumptious secret, just in the way that Grandma taught me. (Although I daren’t be as bossy as she was!)
And yes, I inherited the Kenwood. It is still too heavy, too noisy and takes up too much counter space, but it is still going strong, just like my love for chocolate cake on a Saturday evening.
Hey presto! Chocolate cake
For the cake:
3/4 cup or 200g (7oz) caster sugar
3/4 cup or 200g (7oz) softened butter (it has to be very soft, straight from the fridge will be a disaster)
4 medium eggs, beaten
3/4 cup or 200g (7oz) self-raising flour. Swap 3 tablespoons (45ml) of the flour for 3 tablespoons (45ml) of good quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking powder
Approx 2 tablespoons (30ml) full-fat milk
Half a teaspoon vanilla extract
For the ganache
1 cup or 284ml (10 fl oz) double cream
2 tablespoons (30ml) caster sugar
3/4 cup or 200g (7oz) good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
To make the cake:
Preheat your oven to 190C (375F, gas mark 5).
Butter two 8in (20cm) round sandwich tins and line with baking paper.
In a large cool bowl whisk together all the ingredients with an electric mixer. The batter should be thick and smooth with no blobs of butter. If it is a little stiff then add a few more drops of milk.
Divide between the two tins and smooth the surface. Bake for around 20 minutes until nicely risen and a skewer comes away clean from the middle of the cakes. Then turn onto a rack to cool.
Whilst they are cooling you can get on with the filling and topping.
To make the ganache:
Put the cream and sugar in a pan and heat gently, stirring constantly so it does not burn and stick to the bottom. As soon as the bubbles start, take it off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until it melts into a wonderful runny, glossy paste.
Use half to sandwich the two layers together. Don’t skimp – this is a lot of ganache, and it will give the cake more height. Then slowly pour the rest on top and watch as it dribbles deliciously down the sides. If it is too runny you will need to use a palette knife to persuade it back up onto the top of the cake again before it starts to set. If you are decorating with sprinkles or glitter then wait a few minutes to let it set slightly, or they will end up sliding down the side of the cake too.
Chill for half an hour in the fridge, or serve straight away with spoons.
The cake keeps well in the fridge for three or four days with a covering of cling-film to stop it drying out, although mine never makes it through to the following morning…