Three layers of dense, dark, cocoa-rich chocolate cake. Interlaced with layers of silky, creamy dark chocolate ganache. The entire thing smothered in more ganache, lovingly applied and smoothed with a palette knife in an attempt to achieve a flawless, mirror-smooth finish. Like a chocolate ice rink. Topped with fresh, glistening strawberries pointing upwards like a delicious crimson mountain range, their peaks slicked with glossy apricot glaze to make them shimmer. Finished with bright green mint leaves for a hint of spring, and a dusting of snowy icing sugar. The concentrated aroma of cocoa, a product of the intense chocolate content, wafting in glorious seductive waves around this magnificent creation.
I made this for my mum, because she is awesome.
Perhaps I should have bought her a nauseating card from Clintons with some soppy rhyme on, proclaiming her to be the ‘world’s best mum’. Maybe a matching keyring, or one of those disgusting little grey soft-toy bears clutching a blue heart (which, now that you think about it, is really creepy. Why is the heart blue? Is the bear secretly implying that although he loves you, he is going to asphyxiate you at the first opportunity, pluck out your wasted, oxygen-starved organ and thrust it out for the world to see?)
Maybe I could have treated her to a ‘spa day’, but to be honest I can’t imagine anything she’d enjoy less. Enforced relaxation is definitely not my mum’s cup of tea. I could have made her breakfast in bed, but she’d have looked at me like I was mad and worried about the crumbs. Besides, I wouldn’t have woken up in time. Maybe I could have bought her some more of the expensive Crabtree & Evelyn stuff that she likes, but to be honest I can never bring myself to pay their extortionate prices, because I used to work there when I was sixteen and get 50% discount, so paying full price as a pleb hurts me somehow.
I could have bought one of those hugely expensive bouquets of flowers from M&S, but I know deep down mum would be thinking about what a waste of money it is, so buy expensive flowers when they still die like cheap ones. Thrift is practically her middle name. She’s got a glut of chocolate left over from Christmas (which always makes an appearance after dinner, no matter how full she proclaims she is, and how little of my lovingly handmade desserts she fails to eat because of said fullness), and I don’t really want to buy her jewellery because it’s not easy to pick something that’s exactly to someone’s taste.
So, naturally, I decided to tell my mum that I love her in the best way I know. With food.
There are many reasons why my mum is great. Not least that she puts up with me living at home, getting in the way and leaving my stuff everywhere. She doesn’t go too mad when I leave used (only for non-noxious substances like bread) freezer bags in the drawer in the name of recycling, which results in her using one for her toothbrush and it emerging covered in damp bread crumbs, all nestled into the gaps between the bristles and looking pretty vile. She allows my weird cooking experiments to sit in various places in the house (Christmas pudding still up in the loft, ‘maturing’, sourdough starter stashed in the airing cupboard, sloe gin ripening in the living room) and no longer really bats an eyelid when I announce we’re having something like octopus or pig’s cheeks for dinner.
Generally, she’s pretty good at putting up with me. My first memory of severely disappointing her was, I think, from primary school. For some utterly inane reason completely oblivious to me now, I’d decided that the multicoloured screwdrivers we had in the science lab at school were so pretty that I just had to take them home with me (Mrs Messenger, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. Honestly. But they were so shiny...) Some of my friends also helped themselves to various supplies, and there must have been a phone call home because I remember my mum in tears at the outlandish antics of her normally so well-behaved daughter, clearly believing this was the starting point of a rapid, inevitable and deeply tragic descent into a life of petty larceny.
Well, it wasn’t, fortunately. But it was by no means the last incident involving me in trouble. A few years later, I found my email access blocked at school and I was hauled before several teachers and told I was a “liability”. The cause of all this outrage? I had sent - without really thinking about the implications and assuming that all the rubbish the IT department came out with about our emails being scanned and recorded was nonsense to scare us into meek and boring submission - an email to my then ‘boyfriend’ (in quotation marks because I was at this point fourteen and we all know that the silly hormonal whims of fourteen year olds cannot be legitimated by this term) describing my P.E. teacher as a “red-faced lesbian”.
To this day, what I find absolutely hilarious about this episode is that the school knew straight away which teacher I was referring to.
Anyway, my mum was summoned before the headmistress to be given an account of my shocking behaviour. I cycled home that day in trepidation, terrified at the reaction awaiting me, terrified at another crying incident like the one with the screwdrivers.
Instead my mum opened the front door, looked at me, and burst out laughing.
This is why she is awesome.
Naturally, I turn to her for advice on all the important decisions in life. Do these sunglasses make me look too much like an insect? Should I spend nearly £200 on a single pair of shoes? She was an invaluable help at seeing me through my first (and, consequently, most gut-wrenchingly terrible) break up a few years ago. Yes, obviously it was helpful that she put up with the constant weeping, wailing and proclamations that my life was over and that I’d never love again.
But what was most helpful was when she promised to buy me an Urban Decay eyeliner if I could go a whole day without crying. It worked an absolute charm, kick-starting me on the road to recovery and heart mending. I still have it. It’s gold.
Then another eyeliner was promised if I lasted a week. Admittedly, that one took a lot longer to achieve, but I managed. It was blue, but unfortunately I had it confiscated at airport security on a trip to Barcelona. Should probably have realised that liquid eyeliner counts as a liquid, and therefore can’t go in your hand luggage. Sad times.
There are other crises that my mother has seen me through. Like the time when I burned my hand so badly on chillies that I lay in bed desperately clutching a fridge-cold bottle of cider (I'm sure she was relieved to find out that I was simply in agonising pain, rather than the kind of teenager who sleeps embracing her liquor), moaning piteously and crying because it was so damn painful. It really was, though. It felt like someone had forced me to take a pan out of the oven without wearing oven gloves, and they were just making me hold onto it. She sat there with me, waiting for NHS Direct to phone back and confirm that no, I wasn't likely to go into anaphylactic shock, and enduring my self-indulgent whimperings. Eventually I fell asleep; no such luck for Mum, who had to wait for the nurse to call back and allay her(/my) fears.
There was a similar incident with a wasp sting on my leg that turned my left thigh into something resembling a huge, pink, quivering, gelatinous ham. It was approximately 70% larger than its normal size, throbbing and warm and mottled with alarming white spots. I'm pretty sure I sent her a gruesome photo to prove that I wasn't just making a fuss.
Or the time I woke her up in the middle of the night having such a bad pre-Finals panic attack that I was completely and seriously convinced that I had gone into cardiac arrest and was going to die, vomit and explode simultaneously. Of course, none of these things happened and if they had she would have been unlikely to prevent them, but the moral support helped immensely. Though I still feel bad for waking her up.
I like to think I inherited my cake-baking skills from my mum, who has made us the most incredible birthday cakes every year until recently, when I think she deemed us too old (or maybe me being at university kind of put a spanner in the works). Each year, we’d get a birthday caked designed and decorated around whatever phase we were going through at the time. When I was seven, I was absolutely fascinated by ancient Egypt. The pharaohs, the pyramids, the tombs, the sarcophagi, the Nile. I even taught myself how to read hieroglyphics, which I now realise was probably why I didn’t have many friends in primary school. Mum made me a pyramid cake, white with little blue hieroglyphics drawn all down the sides. When I was obsessed with tamagotchis (oh come on, who wasn’t? OK, maybe I took it a bit too far. Especially because I had ten. All strung up on this one keyring that must have weighed an absolute ton to carry around. Real life motherhood can surely be no harder), I had a tamagotchi cake, meticulously researched with the screen an exact replica of a real-life one. Fortunately it was less noisy and demanding – the only thing this bad boy demanded was to be eaten. The cakes carried on over the years – Disney must have had a special place in my heart, as I had two Disney cakes consecutively. Yes, I was sixteen and seventeen. One was a magic carpet with little plastic Aladdin figurines.
I also attribute to her my academic success. Every year when it came to that grim time, exam season, she’d take me to WH Smith and we’d load up a basket brimming with coloured and flamboyant stationery – the kind of thing you’ll probably never need or use but really, really want anyway for the sheer frivolity of it. Colour coded. Heart-shaped. Fancy highlighters. It made revision so much more bearable, almost a joy.
Actually, it might be the fact that I’m capable of seeing revision as a ‘joy’ that is the reason for my academic success. But I’m sure the stationery helped.
She also maintained that when one is doing exams, one needs ‘nice things’ to help them through it. So the desk was loaded with fancy stationery, while the fridge and larder were loaded with treats. From M&S, naturally. There were yum yums – those amazing long doughnut twists, which I used to love because I’d nibble off the flaky, crystallised sugar before eating the squidgy, sweet dough underneath. There was madeira cake, dense and sweet and crumbly. Crumpets, which I still consider one of the ultimate comfort foods. Probably a load of other vastly unhealthy and processed stuff which I now wouldn’t consider food at all, let alone comfort food: Frazzles, those bacon-flavoured yet simultaneously vegetarian crisps; plasticky white bread; doughnuts.
The treats, unlike the homemade birthday cakes, did continue well into my university career. The brownies sent the week before my finals probably prevented some kind of mental meltdown in the middle of Exam Schools. The enormous bouquet of flowers I like to think sat in my room and absorbed all the negative energy from my quaking anxious form. Yes, I realise that actually that is not scientifically possible and the only thing plants do absorb from the air is carbon dioxide, but I’m sure they assimilated a significant amount of pain and woe along with my bitter, suffering exhalations, trapping it in their pretty pink petals and thus preventing numerous crises.
This cake is quite a thing of beauty.
It's also the kind of thing I would NEVER normally make, being approximately 90% saturated fat. I'm also not much of a chocoholic, generally preferring fruit-based confections over the cocoa kind (not, I should point out, out of any delusion that they're healthier, just because I am a fiend for fruit of all shapes and guises). But I was reading last month's delicious magazine, and Mum pointed to the photo of this cake and said it looked amazing. I retained this information and decided to proffer the whole thing, in all its chocolatey, calorific glory, to her on Mothers Day.
Is there an apostrophe in Mothers Day? If so, where does it go? Is it the day of every single mother individually, their uniqueness maintained, so Mother's Day? Or is it the day for all mothers, Mothers' Day? I feel it could be either. This is exactly the same dilemma I had with goats'/goat's cheese. Oh how these things haunt my poor tormented soul.
Anyway, ramblings of my inner grammarian aside, this cake is very nearly epic. I won't claim it's really epic, because every time I hear that word colloquially massacred I can hear the rumblings of Homer turning in his grave. But it's quite a feat of engineering, though not that difficult to make at all.
Three chocolate sponges - fairly straightforward but using buttermilk as a component, which is interesting - interspersed and covered in chocolate ganache. I've never made ganache before and probably never will again, because my arteries started to quiver in horror as I stirred together the block of butter, two-and-a-half bars of chocolate and pot of double cream in a bowl. Oh, wait. There was golden syrup in there too.
OK, I say all that about how unhealthy it was and how I'd never touch it. But someone had to lick the bowl clean and there was no one else in the house, so...
Anyway, once the ganache has cooled and set, you can smother it - literally SMOTHER; if the cake was a human it would be blue and shrivelled - all over the sponges, which is great fun.
The cake in the magazine was decorated with edible flowers, but I thought strawberries would look just gorgeous against the chocolatey backdrop. Plus the cake isn't actually that sweet - all the chocolate is at least 70% cocoa solids and the ganache barely has any sugar in - so I figured their sweet tartness would be the perfect foil. It was, and I'm glad I put them on, as I think the cake would need some sort of berry with it to complement the total decadence that is three layers of dark chocolate sponge doused in dark chocolate ganache. I glazed the strawberries with a little melted apricot jam to keep them glossy, shiny and inviting (Moroccan strawberries need all the help they can get, to be honest). The mint leaves were the finishing touch, to give it a bit of colour contrast.
As I'm sure you can guess from the photos and my continual descriptions of chocolate smothering, this cake is divine. It is, as I said, not too sweet, which is a good thing I think as it allows the cocoa flavour to really shine. It's a great contrast in textures between the silky, melt-in-your-mouth ganache and the sturdier moist sponge. It also looks utterly, utterly fabulous, particularly with the strawberry decoration.
Be warned that it is very rich, very delicious, very chocolatey, and will serve a lot of people. I'd also recommend keeping it in the fridge between devourings. I think it should probably freeze quite well though, so fear not. Really, there's no excuse not to make this. It's spectacular and tastes every bit as good as it looks.
There is no better way of spreading love, I truly believe, than via the medium of calories. If that is true, then I must love my Mum an awful lot. Almost as much as she loved this cake, I hope.
Triple-layer chocolate ganache cake with strawberries (serves 10-12)
(Recipe by Edd Kimber, taken from delicious magazine April 2012 issue)
For the cakes:
- 110g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
- 110g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 280ml boiling water
- 3 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
- 140ml buttermilk
- 280g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 340g light brown soft sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten
For the ganache:
- 225g unsalted butter
- 285g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 2 tbsp golden syrup
- 240ml double cream
- 2 punnets strawberries
- 4 tsp apricot jam
- Mint leaves
- Icing sugar, for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C. Grease and line three loose-based 20cm cake tins. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (don't let the water touch the bowl), then set aside to cool slightly. In a medium bowl or measuring jug, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa until smooth. Whisk in the buttermilk then set aside.
Using an electric mixer or hand whisk, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes, though I left my KitchenAid happily beating away for ten). Add the eggs a little at a time, beating until fully combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Turn the mixer speed to slow and pour in the cooled melted chocolate. Once fully combined, alternately add a little of the flour and buttermilk mixtures, starting and finishing with the flour. Divide between the three prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Before making the icing, get the cream out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.
For the ganache, melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, as before. Once melted, stir to combine and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, and when it is the same temperature as the double cream, slowly stir the cream into the cooled chocolate (they must be the same temperature, roughly, or the mixture may seize and turn lumpy). Leave for 10-15 minutes until it has thickened enough to spread on the cake.
Place the first sponge on the plate you want to serve the cake on, and spread with just under a third of the ganache. Place the second sponge on top, then repeat. Smother the rest of the ganache over the cake, smoothing it with a palette knife.
Cut the leafy end off the strawberries so they'll stand upright. Arrange on top of the cake in the ganache, then leave the ganache to set fully (I left mine overnight, but a couple of hours should do the trick). When set, melt the apricot jam in a small ramekin in the microwave, then brush over the strawberries to glaze. Decorate with mint leaves and dust with icing sugar.
Serve to someone (or lots of people, preferably - this is one massive cake) you love, and make them smile.