It happens every time. Nothing quiets the din of a great gathering, albeit briefly, like the appearance of chocolate cake. What music does to soothe a savage breast, so too does a chocolate cake with its ability to make the eyes of a crowd mist over. It inspires the familiar questions: how good is it? Is this even better than the last one? Was the chocolate skimped on? Is the chocolate the best, or bulked out with Scotbloc? And the answers are always the same. Very! Yes! No! Absolutely not!
My Mum made a very fine chocolate cake, particularly to celebrate my sister’s birthday – the same one every year. While her family made much joyful hullaballoo at the table, Mum added the finishing touches to the cake – a great affair, chocolate on chocolate on chocolate, with much cream. God, it was good. The very definition of scrumptious, the birthday treat deluxe. No death by chocolate here: this was life-enhancing stuff.
Chocolate has always been rare and expensive, and as partial as I am to a Cadbury’s Picnic (which is the best off-the-peg chocolate bar), you need the best stuff when it comes to cooking. There are many merchants who supply Quo Vadiswith good things, but a chocolate delivery enjoys a place all its own. There is really only one rule: bitter is best and a high percent cocoa fat – at least 70% – is needed for a good result.
There is something of the Scarlet Pimpernel about the recipe below: it is an elegant French recipe – an aristocratic gateau St Victoire that sought passage across the channel and became a chocolate cake. The Can-Can-like qualities of my sister’s childhood birthday cakes are the stuff of Vaudeville-esque dreams, and now, a little older, they have matured into an elegant dish that sits, like my sister, most demurely at table.
370g bitter plain chocolate
3 tbsp dark rum
4-5 tbsp warm milk
9 eggs, separated
200g caster sugar
70g cocoa powder
150ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
For the sauce
1 tbsp ground coffee
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
1 Line a standard 23cm springform cake tin with a cartouche of baking or silicone paper. This is most important as the cake is baked in a bain marie. Heat the oven to 130C/250F/gas mark low. Put a roasting tray in the oven and have a kettle with boiled water standing by.
2 Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate gently. Once liquid and smooth, add in the rum and espresso, then the warm milk. If the chocolate remains stiff, add a little more milk until it surrenders and becomes smooth once more.
3 Add the egg yolks to a bowl one at a time. Add the caster sugar and beat the mixture together until pale and voluminous. Split and scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add the seeds to the beaten egg yolks and sugar. Beat the egg whites separately until peaked and stiff, then mix in.
4 Add one-third of the chocolate along with a third of the egg mixture, mix and repeat until all is incorporated and smooth. Whip the cream lightly and fold in. Finally, sift in the cocoa powder and fold that in too.
5 Decant the batter into the cake tin. Lightly smooth the surface with a palette knife or spatula. Sit the cake in the roasting tray in the oven. With great care, pour hot water from the kettle into the tray, so the tin sits in a moat of water – a classic bain marie. Bake for 45-50 minutes.
6 If in any doubt about doneness, insert a skewer to see if it is cooked through. This cake is best when slightly undercooked, so fear not should a little of the mixture adhere to the skewer.
7 With a cloth in each hand, lift the whole tray from the oven and sit upon a wire rack. Let the cake cool in the bain marie, then remove it. Exercising a little patience, take the paper from the sides and cut away. A bold heart can try and remove the base but I think it best to leave it and warn fellow companions to beware any paper. As you wish.
8 For the sauce, pour the milk into a saucepan. Add the coffee. Warm to a simmer over a gentle heat. Set aside for 30 minutes, or until infused.
9 Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Pour the infused milk on top. Return all to the pan. Stir this over a gentle heat until thickened, as for a good old-fashioned custard.
10 Once done, strain through a sieve into a bowl. Cool. Put in a jug, cover and refrigerate.
- Jeremy Lee is the chef-proprietor of Quo Vadis in Soho, London.
- This article was amended on 5 July 2017 to specify in the method where to add the vanilla seeds and the cream, to clarify that the chocolate mixture is incorporated into the egg mixture by thirds and to specify the cake tin size. source the guardian.