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."
(NEVER GROW UP, HUGO, PLEASE AND I PROMISE I WILL MAKE YOU BIG CAAAAAYKES FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.)
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.
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.
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!
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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.