This is certainly one of the most flavoursome chocolate cakes I have come across – and I tend to experiment with quite a few. It is neither overly sweet nor bland. Not only does simply looking at it get your taste buds working overtime, but it is one of those rare cakes that is just perfect. Perhaps a strange way to describe one of my all-time favourites but using over-the-top adjectives would not do this cake any justice. It doesn’t need big words to describe it – just make it and you’ll see what I mean.
The cake recipe itself is simple enough to throw together in minutes, but having a look at the list of ingredients you will see that it is by no means plain. Absolutely nothing fancy or fiddly here. The instant coffee adds a darkness to each bite that is not overwhelming at all and balances out the chocolate and sugar. To me it makes all the difference to this being not just another run-of-the-mill chocolate cake. The buttermilk and bicarb work perfectly together to create balance while the vegetable oil means that the texture of the cake post baking remains moist for days. The fact that the end masterpiece has 6 layers is neither here nor there, but I suppose it makes it a little bit more fancy than a standard 3 layer cake, but what it does do is give more opportunity to spread the mousse and salted caramel layers throughout every mouthful. I’ll stick with the 6 layers, as it also makes a beautifully tall cake which always makes a grand impression, but I need to invest in a cake cutter – one of those contraptions that allows you to cut each layer into perfectly smooth equal parts. My tower is a little rough around the edges but once you begin tucking in, you forget about looking for straight lines.
And so we get to the Salted Caramel – now here’s where the fun begins; or frustration if you haven’t worked with sugar before. Try it a few times if you need to. It takes practice to make sure that the sugar granules have dissolved completely before turning up the heat. A tip I’ve garnered from some in the know – as you must not stir the sugar syrup – is to use a food brush dipped in a little water and rub that around the edges of the pan to remove any sugar crystal build-up. Once fully dissolved, you turn up the heat and watch as the transparent liquid turns a beautiful amber shade. See Salted or Sweet Caramel Sauce for the ingredients and details on how to go about making this sauce.
Ganache is glorious on any given day and it is extremely versatile as it can be poured, smeared, whipped into a mousse or served set hard (think of truffles). It is definitely one “dish” I think all home bakers would want to master. And this particular combination of ingredients isn’t your standard straight forward ganache! I love the fact it can be made using milk, white or dark chocolate depending on your guests and can be used in so many different ways. This recipe calls for a single pot of ganache to be made, but then you divide it into two bowls. One is then whipped into a voluptuous mousse while the other has butter added to it which gives the smooth texture and beautiful glaze.
1 cup boiling water
75 g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1 cup cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
pinch of salt
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
2 cups firmly packed soft brown sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
Salted caramel: see recipe here
1½ cups thick cream
¼ cup light soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
600 g dark chocolate, very finely chopped (yes, that did say 600 g!)
40 g unsalted butter, cubed
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (not fan-forced). Grease and line the bases and sides of three 20cm cake tins with non-stick baking paper (I only line the bases).
- To make the cakes, pour the just boiled water over the chopped chocolate in a medium size saucepan and leave to melt for a couple of minutes. Move the saucepan onto the stove over a low-medium heat and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until melted and smooth. Then stir in the coffee, cocoa, buttermilk and a pinch of salt.
- Sift the flour, bicarb and baking powder together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla extract together until thick and light. Whisk in the flour mixture, followed by the chocolate mixture. The batter will be quite thin. Divide this between the prepared tins and bake for about 40 minutes (my oven does it in 35, so check before full-time). The cakes should be well risen and springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes. Then turn them gently out onto wire racks to cool further.
- Make the salted caramel, see recipe here.
- To make the ganache: Bring 1¼ cups of the cream to the boil in a large pan with the sugar and golden syrup. As soon as the mixture boils remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla and chocolate, stirring quickly to melt the chocolate. Immediately scrape about half the mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the butter to the remaining mixture in the pan and stir gently until it has melted. Set aside to cool and firm up at room temperature.
- To make the chocolate mousse: Use an electric whisk to beat the remaining ganache in the mixing bowl. After about a minute, gradually trickle in the remaining ¼ cup cream. Keep whisking for 3 – 5 minutes until the mousse becomes paler and thick.
- Halve the three cakes horizontally as evenly as you can and place one half on a serving plate/stand.
TIP: It is a good idea to cut 4 x strips of baking paper and place each under the edge of the cake to protect the plate from the icing – each piece gets pulled out once the icing has set and your plate is still clean!
- Spread a thin layer of the salted caramel and a thicker layer of the mousse onto the base and then cover with the next cake layer. Repeat until the final cake is placed on the top. Don’t put caramel or mousse on this layer. Make sure that the sides of the cake are straight and in line and pour or spread the entire cake with the shiny ganache. Start by piling it on top and using a palette knife to spread it over the edges and down the sides. Work quickly. You decide if you want a smooth finish or swirls.
- Leave the cake to sit for an hour or so before serving as the ganache will set beautifully. You can refrigerate the cake, but the ganache may lose it’s shine.