The *ONLY* Recipe You'll Need & can be gluten-free –
I’ve made A LOT of cakes over the years. I’ve made cakes for my friends & family for birthdays and dinners. I’ve made cakes for bake-off competitions at work. And recently, I’ve been making cakes at home whilst under lockdown, so I’d say that all in all, I must be approaching the 100 cakes mark. Madness, I tell you.
In my opinion, chocolate cakes are one of the hardest cakes to get right. Purely because there is no one-fit-for-all. Some people prefer their chocolate cakes gooey, rich and decadent & served with cream. Others prefer their chocolate cakes to be light & moist. After many years of trial and error, I’ve finally found the recipe that gets the best of both worlds. This chocolate cake is unlike all other cakes that I have tried before. It’s light and airy and mouse-like in (batter) texture yet moist, rich and full of flavour. It is DELICIOUS. I was so pleased that I’d managed to tweak a recipe that had the height, bake and texture that I’d come to dream about.
There are a couple of ingredients that I have used here that may not be in the everyday pantry (sorry!). Buttermilk brings a pleasant tang to cakes while adding very little fat. I find that the acidic ingredient not only cuts through the sugar but also helps to tenderize the gluten — giving the cake a softer texture & more body. The ground almonds used here add moisture to the cake. If you want a gluten-free cake, you can substitute the flour entirely with ground almonds (so 300g) and if you have a nut allergy, you can substitute the ground almonds with flour (again, 300g). If you have a nut allergy and are coeliac … I’m sorry!
Over the years of baking, I’ve also learnt a few lessons that help to make my cakes the absolute best you’ll ever make. Just a couple of tweaks and tips to help get that perfect bake. So here they are:
The Lessons I’ve Learnt from Baking
- Cream for longer. The trick to creating light and airy cakes is to incorporate as much air as possible into the butter. The first step is to beat the softened butter until it is pale and almost-white; I set my stand mixer to beat this for at least 10 minutes. The second step is to beat the sugar and butter together for a further five minutes so that the sugar granules are well incorporated and the air is added back in.
- Don’t panic if the mixture appears to have curdled. Simply add in a couple of tablespoons of your flour into the mix and it should combine the mix again. And even if it doesn’t, don’t worry. The mix will come together once you’ve added in the entire dry mix.
- Don’t overmix. When the wet ingredients are being mixed you can be lax about the mixing time. However, the worst thing you can do is to continue with your beater once the dry ingredients go in. This essentially undoes all the hard work you’ve done in adding air to the batter. Once the batter is ready for dry ingredients, take your bowl off the stand-mixer (if you are using one) and gently fold in the dry ingredients with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until you cannot see the white flour anymore. Don’t be tempted to continue folding ‘just to be sure’.
- Exact measurements are vital. There is a reason why they say that cooking is an art and baking is a science. When you bake, a chemical reaction occurs and if the ingredients aren’t exact in measurement, the bake will most likely go wrong. So don’t guestimate. Invest in a set of digital scales (it will do almost all the jobs you need — including measuring out ml). I know of people who’ve taken out the sugar from their bakes to make it more ‘healthy’ but not realising that they were taking away from the dry ingredients without substitution. Thus, the ratio of dry to wet goes awry, and you’re going to end up with a bake that cannot hold it’s structure.
- Oven temperature is important. Much like point 4, oven temperature also plays a part in ‘the chemical reaction’ of a bake. Too hot, and you risk burning the top with an underbaked middle, and too low and you’ll be sitting around for ages for the bake to complete. Most cakes bake between Gas Mark 3-5, so make sure you set your oven at the right temperature and let it pre-heat before your batter goes in.
- Cooking time is everything. The final part of the baking process is how long the cake is in the oven for. This varies from recipe to recipe as no two cakes bake for the same amount of time. For this particular recipe, the recommended baking time is 30-35 minutes. But I find that 30 minutes is bang on the money.
For the Cake
- 175g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
- 275g dark muscovado sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 100g 70% dark chocolate, broken into chunks
- 100ml boiled water
- 150ml buttermilk
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 200g self-raising white flour *
- 100g ground almonds **
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the Coffee Buttercream
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g icing sugar
- 25ml warm water
- 2 tbsp instant coffee granules
- 10g 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 10g cocoa powder (optional)
& OPTIONAL TOPPINGS
- Raspberries, a handful
- Chocolate shavings (from leftover dark chocolate)
FOR THE CAKE
- Before you get started, preheat your oven to 180℃ (gas mark 4, or 350F).
- Boil some water in a kettle and pour this over your dark chocolate chunks. Stir gently until all the chocolate is melted and set aside to cool down. (Firstly, yes, you read this right. This is not a bain-marie. I do literally mean pour the hot water into the chocolate to melt it! Secondly, it is essential that this cools down before you add it to your batter, otherwise you risk scrambling your eggs — and no one wants that mess!).
- Sift together all your dry ingredients to break up any lumps and set aside for later.
- Cream the butter for 10 minutes until it is light in colour, double in volume and fluffy in texture. Then add the sugar and let it mix until fully combined, either in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Ideally, the mix should be rippling on the side of the bowl as the mixer passes over.
- Carefully add one egg at a time until completely incorporated. You may see the mix separate at this point, but don’t worry, just add a couple of tablespoons of your dry mix to bring it back together again.
- Then, pour in the remainder of your wet ingredients, including the cooled down chocolatey water, buttermilk & vanilla extract.
- Finally, add the dry mix and fold into the batter until just combined – try not to over mix here.
- Spoon the mixture out onto two 8-inch cake trays and bake for 30-35 minutes. It should be just so, that the cake peels away from the sides of the tin by itself. Leave it alone for a minute or two and then turn them out onto a cooling rack to cool down and firm up.
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM
- Cream the butter for 10 minutes until it is light in colour, double in volume and fluffy in texture.
- Add in the icing sugar and set the stand mixer on a slow rotation and let it mix until the icing is extremely pale in colour and the sugar is well incorporated.
- Due to the ratio of the butter to icing sugar, this buttercream will be on the thick side; that’s where the coffee comes in. You won’t need to boil the water again here; just use the boiled water from earlier and add the coffee granules and dark chocolate. Mix well so that the chocolate and coffee granules have melted.
- Slowly add this to your icing mix, and then add the cocoa powder to enhance the chocolate flavour (optional).
- To decorate; I used the remaining chocolate as shavings on top & some raspberries to add some tanginess (highly recommend).
- If you want to avoid the coffee, you can add some milk to loosen the icing instead.
- The measurements of the buttercream are exact to this particular size of cakes; it is enough to thinly sandwich the layers as well as decorate on top. You can use these measurements for all other 8-inch sandwich cakes and you’ll never have any leftover in the bowl!
* if you want gluten-free, simply use 300g of ground almonds instead
** if you have a nut allergy, simply use 300g of self-raising flour instead