We agreed, ‘No Gifts’ this year. I still traipsed through the shops looking for something small to commemorate the occasion. Nine years, is nine years I thought, it has weight and merit. Could I find something that wouldn’t bust the budget? Something that was relevant, maybe offbeat, charming? No chance, and of course, I left it too late to do the necessary pavement pounding to find a gift for a person you know too well. Sometimes mystery is good in that regard; there is an ambivalence that makes choosing gifts easier. But being acutely aware of what they will absolutely not appreciate hampers ideas a fair bit.
I can bake though. And I can make a cake that I know will definitely tickle his taste buds. I know that he loves pistachios and that he likes dousing every single bake in cream. I could work with that, this once. Chocolate would marry perfectly with pistachios. They would contrast each other in every way; colour, flavour and texture, yet the differences would be the very thing that amalgamates it to a perfect whole. Like our nine years together. It’s a study of contrasts.
I’m yappy, he chooses his words carefully. He likes house music and eighties tunes are a nostalgia trip. I’m a rock girl at heart but been moving onto crafted, folk type music. He wears different shades of blue and I put on all colours under the sun. He’s blonde, and brightly blue eyed in the morning, I’m dark – skin, eyes, hair as well as mood until ten am. Calm and pragmatic opposing/balancing my sense of dramatics. He loves custard and I just don’t get that.
We did agree on this cake. This Chocolate Sponge Cake by Marlene Matar was first brought to our collective attention on the forum by the Hostess with the Mostess (with a mean nose for a good recipe), Sam. Thanh introduced her blog with it baked in a beautiful shaped tin, Meenakshi of Masala Art followed suit with added almonds, Jodie made it with dark sugars and it has appeared in gothic Nordicware tins, square tins, muffin tins, loaf tins and long slabs online with rum custards, berries, creme fraiche and glazes. In other words, this majestic cake is your willing servant, it does as it’s bid.
With a close, densely held crumb, you would be forgiven for thinking it would feel as heavy as it looks. Yoghurt is the magic ingredient that keeps the cake softly yielding to the pressure of a fork. With a heart pounding amount of cocoa powder only, it ensure lightness, and an intense chocolate flavour, with it’s slight bitter notes coming through and a velvety feel in the mouth. Best part is that it keeps supremely well, maturing in flavour. Mhairi, my baker pal extraordinaire, suggested a good dousing of orange syrup on the hot un-moulded cakes and it was an inspired addition, bringing out the flavour of both, bean and nut. Pistachios have an amazing delicate, perfumed flavour and are very sweet nuts. The icing makes no concession on that account, but when eaten with such a deep, rich cake, the sweetness is perfectly balanced. Also, the slight rubbliness in the icing offers textural differences that are entirely desirable. In short, I simply adore this cake in it’s entirety.
The Scotsman did douse it in cream, but this time I didn’t find that offensive to my sense of culinary balance. The kids licked their bowls or would have if I didn’t scowl hard at them. We all had multiple slices while watching Lilo and Stitch. I love the concept of the movie. A fitting cake, for the day and the movie. Love in the midst of differences.
Serves 10 generously
For the cake
1 cup of plain, all-purpose flour
2/3 cup good quality cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
170g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1/3 cup caster sugar (I used one cup only as the buttercream is quite sweet)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 + 1/2 large eggs or 2 large + one small egg as I did
2/3 cup natural runny yoghurt at room temperature
Juice of one orange
100g icing sugar
For the frosting
75 gm of pistachios
250g icing sugar
180 g butter, softened
Pre heat oven to 165 deg C
Measure the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt into a mixing bowl and whisk well to combine.
Beat the butter and sugar until light, pale and fluffy, doubling in volume. If using vanilla extract, add it now.
Add the eggs one a time, with a tablespoon of the dry ingredients, beating well to incorporate before adding the next egg.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients as well as the yoghurt and beat just until the batter is smooth and thick.
Butter and flour two 6 inch cake tins well. Divide the batter equally between the two and smooth with a palette knife.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes are risen, starts pulling away from the sides of the tin, springs up when the top is lightly pressed and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave for a couple of minutes to cool and invert onto cooling racks.
While the cake is baking, get on with the syrup. Mix the icing sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and place on a low heat. Cook gently until the sugar is dissolved and set aside.
When the cakes are inverted, poke all over with a skewer and spoon over the syrup over both hot cakes, it will soak in immediately. Leave to cool completely.
To make the frosting, put the icing sugar and the pistachios into a food processor and process until it is as fine as you can get it.
Whisk the butter until smooth and lighter in colour. Add the nutty sugar and whisk well for 5 minutes until lightened and fluffy. If you feel the buttercream is too thick, loosen with a tablespoon or two of milk.
When the cake is completely cool, sandwich the layers with a third of the icing. Use the remaining icing to cover to the cake in a design of your choice.
This cake will keep for a week, stored in an airtight tin somewhere cool.
- Do use the best cocoa you can afford. It’s a lot that’s used here and so the quality makes the difference. I promise you, it’s worth it! I used Dean & Deluca’s Bendcorp Dutch Process Cocoa which is reserved only for special bakes like these. Green & Blacks too, produce a good bake and is much less of a pinch on the purse.
- This recipe has been halved from the original. If you have a 12 cup capacity (the full recipe makes around 10 cups of batter) mammoth bundt cake tin, double up the recipe for it. Ensure, that the tin is buttered and floured really well, or spray with PAM.
- If you want to bake this quantity of cake as a plain bundt, then use a 7 cup capacity bundt tin as this batter is about 5 cups.
- The original also contains coffee, just enough to bring out the chocolateyness further. Should you want to do this, dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder in 10ml of hot water and add at the stage you add the vanilla, before adding the eggs. Double up for 10 cup batter.
- Another way to go, would be to replace half of the caster sugar with a dark brown sugar of your choice. The cake will have a treacle edge if you use dark muscovado and will taste sweeter over time. Light brown soft sugar will have a toffeeish tone to it and won’t be as sweet.
- Add the zest of an orange and half the juice if you want an orange infused version. In that case, leave out the coffee!
- You could serve the plain cake with rum flavoured custard and berries to take it into dessert territory.