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Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

On Friday afternoon, Hugo and I were hanging out at home when talk turned, as it so often has lately, to cake. "CAAAAYKE, mama, ja?" So I said something responsible and mom-like, like, "well, it's dinnertime soon, so there's no cake today. But tomorrow is Saturday! So we can make a cake tomorrow." To which Hugo responded, "Ja! But no baby cake, mama. BIG CAAAAYKE."


Luckily for us, we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party the next day and I'd volunteered to make the birthday cake anyway. Ever since receiving Jane Hornby's cookbook, I'd been itching to make her malted chocolate birthday cake. Finally, I had the chance.

The cake itself was nice and simple to put together; actually, it just the thing to do with a child whose skillset just about encompasses whisking. And the cake baked up perfectly, moist and fragrant. As Hornby promises, it's not too rich but still pleasingly chocolatey. The malt flavor is very subtle, giving the cake and the icing only the faintest toasty flavor. If you didn't know what to taste for, you might not even taste it. But for malt-lovers among us, it's a lovely hint of a thing to taste and gives the whole cake a slight lift out of the dark depths of chocolatiness.

Jane Hornby What to Bake and How to Bake It

But the real reason this cake was a total home run and up on this blog now for posterity is the icing. The gorgeous, silky, dark and lovely icing that I literally licked off every single part of the whisk and then the spatula and then the bowl. (For your information, I do not normally lick anything related to baking, ever. I don't know why, I just don't. It sort of grosses me out. BUT NOT THIS TIME OH NO SIRREE BOB.)

First of all, what I loved about it is that it's not a buttercream. Too buttery, too rich, too slick and oily in my mouth, buttercream is just not my thing. (I recently discovered the beauty of Swiss buttercream, when I wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Germany about fancy cakes, but unless I'm making the kind of cake that's supposed to look better than it tastes, I steer clear of buttercream.) This icing is more of a butter-enriched ganache, but lightened with milk, so it's spreadable and swishable and doesn't land in your belly like a 10-pound bag of bricks.

Plus, it's cinch to make - you make a milk, malt and cocoa paste, then beat in soft butter and confectioner's sugar before beating in melted chocolate. The icing is silky-smooth and a little runny as long as it's still hot, but as it cools, it gets firmer and swoopier. It's lovely.

Also, delicious.

I can see it swirled onto cupcakes and smoothed onto vanilla cake, even possibly used as a sandwich cookie filler. You can play a little with the proportions (less sugar, vanilla or peppermint flavoring instead of malt, more cocoa solids in your chocolate or less) or leave it just as is. I used less sugar than the original and a higher percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate and got a slightly grown-up icing that all the adults at the party swooned over. (Hugo ate his piece happily enough, but was totally distracted by the discovery of blue M&M's on his piece. He ate them with much the same expression on his face as a roomful of scientists witnessing the Mars landing.) At first I thought that the yield of the icing was too much for the panful of cake, but I piled it all on anyway, and I'm glad I did.


In other news, I'm so honored to be giving an hourlong talk at the Apple Store in Berlin this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. I'm going to be talking about how I started my blog and what it was like when I was blogging anonymously at the beginning, how I found my voice and then an audience, how the blog grew over the years, and how I've stayed inspired. There will also be an audience Q&A. Click here to register (filter for "events" and you'll see mine). Hope to see you there!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from What to Bake and How to Bake It
Makes one 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33cm) cake
Notes: The recipe below reflects a few changes I made to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the cake and the icing slightly and I upped the percentage of cocoa solids for the chocolate in the icing a little bit too. If I were making this for a children's birthday party, I'd use the original amounts of sugar (300 grams in the cake and 250 grams in the icing) as well as a milkier chocolate (50% instead of 60%). You will notice I did not include the conversions to imperial; I just don't have the time at the moment. My apologies. A kitchen scale will set you back between $10 and $30, or else the internet can help you out with the conversions.
One last thing for Berliners: To find malted milk powder (Horlick's brand), go to The India Store on Potsdamer Strasse. 

For the cake
140 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
350 grams all-purpose flour
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
275 grams light brown sugar
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspon vanilla extract

For the icing
200 grams dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa
120 ml milk
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
140 grams soft butter
200 grams confectioner's sugar
A handful of Smarties or M&Ms for decoration, optional

1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350 F). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Melt the butter in a pan and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Mix the flour, cocoa, malted milk powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the sugar and break up any lumps with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, oil and vanilla into the melted butter and pour this mixture into the well.

3. Using the whisk, mix the wet and dry ingredients together slowly. Once combined, give the batter a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake has risen, is firm and slightly shrunken from the sides. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

5. For the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring each time. Leave to cool a little.

6. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or the microwave until steaming hot. Sift the cocoa and malted milk powder into a large bowl, then slowly stir in the hot milk to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

7. Now add the butter to the paste, sift in the confectioners' sugar, and beat together with an electric mixer until very creamy. Follow with the melted, cool chocolate, and beat to make a silky, soft icing.

8. Decorate the cake with the M&Ms or Smarties, if desired. The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a cool place, well wrapped or, if frosted, loosely covered on its board.

Saturday Round-Up

It's 6:50 again and Hugo and Max are both asleep this time - bliss - and I'm back at my desk with my trusty cup of tea. Thank you for all those virtual fist-bumps yesterday. They meant the world.

Berlin is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall this weekend and the main event, a wall of 8,000 illuminated balloons that traces where the real Wall stood, was inaugurated last night. (If you can read German, this is an interesting article on the production of those balloons.) Whenever I see pictures of it, it gives me goosebumps, sort of like the Tribute of Light does. This aerial shot in particular. For those of you wondering what life in West Berlin with a Wall was like, these photos are just wonderful, especially the ones from Kreuzberg. I've written about this in my book - though it is so incredible to see it in black-and-white (or color, as the case may be) - but it really was as normal and almost banal as it seems in those pictures with kids playing ball and people sunning themselves. It was just part of the (totally surreal) landscape. (On our side, obviously.) Anyway, after a summer of miserable, horrible, no-good news from all over the world (not a small part of the reason I'm struggling with general anxiety and insomnia, I think), it just feels so good to relive all those special moments that led up to Wall falling. What a happy, special, incredible time that was. Also, this collection of memories from that time is a must-read. 

Ha, I can hear Hugo chatting from the next room over, so I've got to get going now, but before I do, a few links for your weekend. I really miss doing these round-ups (this one was started and abandoned back in June, just as things started getting crazy). There's just so much good stuff out there. I'll try to be better about getting regular. (The last link below has obviously inspired me!)

Cheesy popcorn for dinner.

Caribbean hot chocolate for dessert.

This summer, the Baked guys were interviewed by Grace Bonney about growing their brand and it was absolutely fascinating to listen to all their stories about Baked's humble beginnings, their Oprah moment and their plans for the future. A must-listen for anyone running, opening or dreaming of owning a food business.

I have been craving stuffed cabbage something fierce lately. You too? Here you go. (That blog's beauty is something else.)

This piece, on creating community through meatballs, made the rounds in August, but it so touched and inspired me, I have to mention it here. Like so many others, I'm sure, I now desperately want my own Friday night meatball party tradition.

I can't get over the look of these striped, rippled meringues.

My lovely, glamorous friend Aparna just opened a South Indian street food restaurant called Chutnify in Berlin, where she's serving crisp, buttery dosas, a slew of housemade chutneys and many other delicious Indian dishes, as well as thoughtful, well-made cocktails. For a city long-deprived of good Indian food, this is totally revolutionary and deeply delicious. So proud of her.

Rachel's been writing about Roman cooking for the Guardian and her latest column about boiled beef and boiled beef sandwiches moistened with broth (!) is almost painfully good.

Next August, I'll have been writing this blog for 10 years. WHAT. Heidi's latest post is all about the art of long-term blogging. It's so thoughtful and interesting to get insight into how she works and why. She's such a pro.

Much love, take care, be well. xo

Ina Garten's Blueberry Bran Muffins

Bran muffins

It's 6:50 am. Max has been gone for over half an hour already, off on his daily commute that lasts nearly two hours each way. Hugo's still sleeping, thank goodness; the hallway from our bedroom to the living room goes directly past his bedroom and for many months (let's call it a year?), the slightest noise from the floorboards at 5:30 am, when Max would try to creep down the hallway soundlessly, would wake him up. But for a few weeks now, Hugo's been sleeping until 6:30 or 7:00, every day. I'm almost afraid to put it down in writing.

I had another sleepless night; I've been struggling with a mean case of insomnia for the past several months. I've never been a good sleeper, but this is different - on most nights since early this summer I haven't slept more than a few hours, if that. It feels like most nights I just lie awake and wait for morning to come. I've had this before and I know it will pass and I also know that I'm not taking great care of myself at the moment and that I'm eaten up with stress and that it's all pretty normal, but still, you know, at 3:00 in the morning, after you've lain awake quietly since going to bed at 10:00, it's a little frustrating.

Anyway, I crept down the hallway myself just now and made myself a cup of tea and turned the oven on to defrost a couple of Ina Garten's blueberry bran muffins that I made a while ago (muffins made with wheat bran that I later abandoned in the cupboards and which turned out to have been the vector for a recent infestation of moths in our kitchen, shudder) and stashed in the freezer for mornings like this one, when I'm so tired that it hurts to have my eyes open.

A few minutes of quiet, a few moments to myself when I'm not the mother or the wife or the freelance writer/editor/whatever. Part of me just wants to sit in a chair with a cup of tea in my hands, close my eyes and breathe until I feel some calm, real peace, steal over me. The other part of me is already off to the races: Hugo's breakfast, folding the laundry, the manuscript I'm copy-editing, a blog post for this neglected, beloved place, the grocery list for later, for tomorrow, and next week, the doctors' bills, the raw chicken sitting in the fridge, the column for Bazaar, the shoot next week. And then there's everything else that's taken a back seat lately, a low hum of reproach running underneath all the to-do lists and anxiety: exercise, friends, answering emails, vacuuming, you know the drill.

But we got away by ourselves to Vienna last weekend. We left Hugo with three of his grandparents and flew to Vienna to see friends and eat incredible food (every single meal was good, can you believe it?) and just be together for a little while without our mommy-papa hats on. It was lovely, of course, and funny and nice and sometimes I really miss our old life and I think it's important to admit it without telling myself that I'm a terrible, no-good mother for thinking it, because even though I love that little boy so much, of course I do, sometimes I just want someone else to be in charge.

Thank you so much for all your interesting, thoughtful comments on my last post. I loved reading them. It was one of those times when I wished I could have gathered you all in my house and fed you deviled eggs and cheese puffs and just talked, late into the night, about all of this stuff. You are all lovely people, you really are.

The sky's turning light now and the muffins smell good and the tea in my cup has already lost its first curl of steam. I'm feeling better, too, a little more awake, a little more ready to face the day and my to-do lists and that useless, silly, stubborn undercurrent of anxiety about everything and nothing. It's going to be a long day and a busy weekend and a gnarly work week awaits me again next week, so I don't know when I'll be back here, but I hope it's soon, even if it's just for a little update like this one.

I hope you know that I'm not complaining, not about anything on my plate (well, except for maybe the insomnia and also my husband's commute) - it's just that putting it down in words sometimes helps it feel more manageable, less all-consuming and overwhelming. Things are good: there is work, after all, and a happy, healthy child and a nice husband, daycare that's a 5-minute walk away, grandparents who are there to help out, weekends away. I am counting my blessings. I am also very tired.

By the way, Hugo helped me make these muffins, whisking the batter, sneaking blueberries, asking a million questions, only half of of which I understood. And last night, he pushed his chair up against the counter and watched me make dinner: frozen cod slipped into a panful of tomato sauce, brown rice in the rice cooker, steamed zucchini. ("Kini, mama? Kini?" I dress them with olive oil, salt and snipped basil leaves and he gobbles them before even touching anything else.) It was one of those perfect moments when being a mother felt good and natural and full.

Happy Friday, you all. xo

Ina Garten's Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
These are very nice, very simple yogurt-based muffins that freeze and defrost well. The original recipe uses twice as much honey and sugar, but I like the less-sweet version below. Tastes less like cake and more like breakfast. I also added half an apple, diced very finely, to the batter, but just because it was lying around and I didn't want to waste it. It adds a little more moisture and a few more pockets of sweet-sour flavor.

Vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 ounces Greek yogurt (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups wheat bran
1½ cups fresh blueberries (8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of a muffin pan with vegetable oil and line it with 12 paper liners.

Stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, ½ cup vegetable oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon, just until incorporated. Gently stir in the wheat bran until incorporated. Add the blueberries and stir until evenly distributed.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups. Bake for 22 to 30 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. Fully cooled, they can be frozen for several months.