Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mocha crunch cake - a totally over-the-top birthday cake

Sunday was the first birthday event of the local Clandestine Cake Club. If you don't know what it is, see here - basically, you book onto an event, make a cake to fit the theme, then turn up at the venue (which is kept a secret until a few days before), eat lots of cake, chat with cakey people and get to take cake home. What is not to like?

So, as I said, it was our first birthday event. I have been going since the second meeting ever so I missed the first and although I haven't been every time, I'm a fairly established regular attendee, this being my fifth event.

The theme was, of course, Happy Birthday and I wanted to make a decadent, over the top cake for a special occasion that would be suitable for a grown up birthday. In our house, that means chocolate cake, by and large. I found the original recipe for chocolate crunch cake in a booklet from a Good Food magazine but I wanted to do more to it so I have combined with details from a coffee crunch cake on the Good Food website and added my own details.

I wasn't totally convinced that this would work, particularly as the cake batter was quite runny so it is a bit of  leap of faith, but the meringue stayed on top and baked nicely. I have tweaked the amount of water going into the cake batter as the cake took a lot longer to cook than it should have done. If you find the mixture a bit stiff, loosen the batter with a drop of water.

Just feet from cake club venue.
This is probably best made on the day you want to eat it. I couldn't because logistics didn't allow for it - I was at Body Pump until an hour before. So I made the cakes, stored them in plastic containers overnight, then filled with the cream just before I left for the event, which was held a few feet from Bradley Wiggins's other golden postbox. The cream softened the meringue very quickly, so if you want to keep the crunchy effect of the crisp meringue, I would recommend filling it with cream at the very last minute. And then you have every excuse for finishing it off on the day you make it.

Mocha Crunch Cake
Cuts into about 12-16 pieces


For the cake batter
50g good quality cocoa powder
175ml hot water
100g butter, softened
280g caster sugar, preferably golden
2 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda

For the meringue topping
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar, again preferably golden
Coffee flavouring (see below)

For the cake filling
284ml double cream
2-3 tbsp icing sugar
Coffee flavouring (see below)

Also required
100g dark chocolate drops

1, Start by making the coffee flavouring. I make a small cup of double strength espresso from our coffee machine and allow to cool. If you can't make fresh coffee, use as much instant coffee as you dare and dissolve in 100ml hot water. You may need a little more than this but the stronger you make it, the less you will need. Also before you start, place the cocoa powder in a jug or bowl, pour over the hot water and whisk until you have a fairly uniform lump free liquid. Place on one side to cool while you get the cake ready.

2. Grease and line the bases of 2 20cm (8in in old money) sandwich tins with baking parchment and grease the linings. I find the best way to do this is to use cake release spray but you can use softened butter if you like.

3. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and whisk for 2-3 mins, preferably with an electric hand or stand mixer. There is a lot of sugar in this mix, so it won't go all pale and fluffy like it normally does but do not panic. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition and this time, it will go all pale, light and fluffy. Pour the cooled cocoa mixture on top, and then sift in the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Fold everything together gently until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins. Smooth the tops if necessary. Place the tins on the side whilst you prepare the meringue topping.

4. Preheat the oven to 160C/Fan 150C/Gas 3. You will need to reuse your mixer to make the meringue unless you are very strong or like me, possess two mixers! If you have to clean it first, clean the beaters very well to remove all traces of fat or the eggs will not whisk. Make sure you have a clean bowl too and when you separate your eggs that not a trace of yolk has got into it. (I find it easier to separate the eggs into a small bowl first before adding to the mixing bowl. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks - when you lift the beaters out, the eggs should make a peak that stays formed very easily. Add half of the sugar to the bowl and whisk again until the mixture becomes glossy. Gently fold in the rest of the sugar and 1-2 tsp of your coffee flavouring.

5. When combined, spoon half of the meringue on top of the cake mixture. Leave a 2cm gap around the edge of the tin as the meringue will spread as it cooks. The tins are now ready to go into the preheated oven.

6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the meringue is crisp and the cake cooked. Use a long skewer at an angle to test the cake under the middle of the meringue. If the cake needs longer cooking, check how the meringue looks - if it is looking like it will burn, turn the oven down to about 140C and keep in there until the cake is finally done.

Cakes cooling after baking

7. Remove the tins from the oven and leave the cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes. Then, really carefully remove the cakes from the tins - this is where loose bottomed tins come into their own! Peel off the paper and leave to cool completely, meringue topping uppermost.

8. When it's time to eat the cake, make the cream filling. You'll need your mixer beaters again - cold if possible (I put clean ones in the fridge to chill) as this makes better whipped cream. Whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks. Sift in the icing sugar and add 1-2 tbsp of coffee flavouring, folding both gently into the cream. Add more coffee or sugar to taste, folding gently as before. You can do this an hour or so ahead if you want and store in the fridge.

9. Right, cake building time. Decide which cake has the best looking topping and reserve that for the top. Place the other cake carefully on a plate and spread thickly with the coffee flavoured cream. Scatter about half the chocolate drops on top of the cream.

Cream on top of bottom layer, with chocolate chips

10. Make some coffee drizzle icing. Place 2-3 tbsp icing sugar in a bowl and add about 1-2 tsp coffee flavouring then mix together. You need an icing that is runny enough to drizzle but thick enough for it to set quite quickly and not dribble over the sides.  You may need to add more icing sugar - mine was too runny but I didn't have time to thicken it further! Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake, then scatter the remaining chocolate drops over the top so they stick to the icing. A final dusting of some icing sugar is completely optional - I didn't bother as I was out of the door within a minute with the cake in a box.

You may like to try other combinations with the chocolate - I can think of using orange juice and an orange liqueur to make a chocolate orange cake or peppermint essence to make mint choc cake. How about some chopped hazelnuts folded gently into the meringue with some frangelico in the cream? Or even some squashed berries in the cream! The possibilities are endless.

Thanks to Susan and Linzi for organising today's event.
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