I don’t think it would come as any surprise to anyone that I used to harbour a big crush for Nigella Lawson. It’s by watching her shows that I first became enamoured with the joy of cooking, rather than seeing it as a chore. Nigella was usually on close to the start of my family dinner time, and my parents didn’t mind as I would hastily put together a plate and shuffle over to the television – eating my dinner sporadically as I jotted down recipes in a notebook. I loved her zest and passion for cooking and food – something I hadn’t seen a whole lot of before I started watching her. My mother had always cooked for necessity rather than enjoyment.
I invested in a couple of books, and when I heard that she was attending Sydney to sign copies of her book Kitchen, I could feel the heart palpitations. I still remember joining the looooong line snaking around the ground floor of David Jones, clutching my new hardback with slightly clammy hands. It took me over an hour wait, but when I finally caught a glimpse of her, I was absolutely struck down by how radiant she was in person – the woman glows. I couldn’t do a thing except give her a semblance of a love-struck crooked smile while she beamed at me and scrawled across my book.
How To Be A Domestic Goddess is still one of my absolute favourite books and was one of the first cookbooks I ever acquired, but it was in Kitchen that I found this recipe for Devil’s Food Cake – the cake that Night Owl was requesting for her birthday. I’ve made plenty of brownies before in my life, but not too many chocolate cakes other than the Unicorn Beetroot Cake. I’ve avoided most chocolate cake recipes as I’ve sometimes found them too dry or not chocolatey enough – using just cocoa for the batter and relying on the chocolate frosting to give it punch.
This cake dispelled all of those doubts. Rich, moist, dense, and luxurious. And so delightfully easy! I will warn you not to substitute the dark muscovado sugar for brown sugar – dark muscovado has a much deeper, more treacle-tasting molasses flavour than the maple-syrupy taste of brown sugar, and with everyone being a home gourmet these days, you will be surprised at the range supermarkets stock these days. I recommend Billington’s muscovado – purely because it’s about $2 for a 500g box, while CSR sells their dark muscovado for $4 for a 250g bag. Daylight robbery.
I know the recipe for the frosting looks a bit off, but it works – trust me. It takes time and it will never solidify completely, and once it’s spread it won’t ever completely dry, but will sit there gleaming and lush. Take care to not throw in all of the icing ingredients at once (I did that once), as it doesn’t work and messes around with the crystallisation/science aspect of it. I like to start on the icing first so as to give it sufficient time to cool, and depending on your room’s ambient temperature, it will take about an hour or two.
You will need:
50g best-quality cocoa powder;
100g dark muscovado sugar;
250ml boiling water;
125g soft unsalted butter, plus some for greasing;
150g caster sugar;
225g plain flour;
1/2 teaspoon baking powder;
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda;
2 teaspoons vanilla extract;
For the frosting, you will need:
30g dark muscovado sugar;
175g soft unsalted butter, cubed;
300g best-quality chocolate, chopped (I like to use a mixture of milk and dark).
For the frosting, put the water, muscovado sugar and butter in a pan over low heat to melt. When the mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the chocolate, swirling the pan so that the chocolate is hit with heat. Leave for a minute to melt before whisking it til it’s smooth and glossy.
Leave for about an hour, whisking now and again. In the meantime, work on your cakes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius and grease and line three 20cm circle tins as best as you can. At the very least line the bottoms and make sure to grease the sides well. You can just use two tins if you like, but I enjoy the visual of three layers.
Put the cocoa and 100g dark muscovado sugar into a bowl with a bit of space and pour in the boiling water. Whisk to mix and then set aside.
In a mixing bowl with a handheld electric mixer or in the bowl of a standing electric mixer, cream the butter and caster sugar together, beating well until pale and fluffy.
Stir the flour, baking powder and bicarb together in another bowl, and set aside.
To the creamed butter and sugar, dribble in the vanilla extract and beat well. While mixing, add an egg, quickly followed by a scoopful of flour mixture, then the second egg.
Keep mixing and incorporate the rest of the dried ingredients for the cake, then finally mix and fold in the liquid cocoa mixture, pouring in slowly and mixing while you’re pouring, scraping its bowl well with a spatula. It will be quite a runny mix, but this is what makes it so wonderful.
Divide this fabulous mixture between the prepared tins and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remember if some are on the top level and some in the middle, the top ones will also cook faster. Take the tins out and leave them on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, before turning the cakes out to cool. I like to put a layer of baking paper down before I flip the cakes, so no cake gets stuck to the wire rack.
Now to the fun of assembling! I have a turntable which makes life a lot easier, but if you don’t have one it’s not the end o the world. Taking a layer, remove the baking paper and place on your plate, before dolloping on 1/4 of the lush frosting, spreading it out over the top. Repeat with the second layer, another 1/4 of the frosting, and top with the final third layer.
With the other 1/2 of the frosting, smooth over the top and around the sides with a long, thin flat spatula or a butter knife. You can go for a smooth look, or not so smooth look should you prefer. Not that it really matters, because it’s going to get devoured so quickly anyway no one will think of it.