Emma Laperruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

Buckwheat Nutella Brownies

I have been feeling a little...fragile as of late. For example, this obituary made me cry. This book that I finished last night left me with the most sickening case of existential dread. I went into the boys' room this morning for a morning snuggle, but one boy was happily reading in his top bunk and the other was far too busy setting up Playmobil knights for something as silly as snuggling, so I had to start my day snuggle-less. Who cares, right? Reader, the heartache, I tell you. Sometimes I don't think I'll ever be prepared for the heartbreak of them growing up.

The sun has come out in full force this week, despite freezing temperatures at night. We're having the kind of blindingly bright, blue-skied days, still bundled up in warm coats and sweaters, that I normally associate with New England in early fall. Today, driving Hugo to school, I stopped at an intersection and the haze from the sun was so bright, I momentarily thought I was in Vermont.

What to do when one feels exceedingly wobbly? Besides going out into the sunshine for a long walk, I mean. I was thinking about that today as I cooked our lunch: an onion in hot olive oil, slivered canned plum tomatoes dropped in one after the other, the salting of pasta water, the reducing of the sauce. Laying out the plates and forks, digging out the parmigiano from the depths of the fridge. Cooking pasta with tomato sauce does seem to be one of my most foolproof therapies. The mellowing onion, the starchy fug, it all ends up being self-parenting alchemy.

Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

But! I am not actually here to tell you about the healing powers of tomato sauce! I am here to tell you about these 3-ingredient brownies, which—if the world is a just place—should be the next viral recipe to sweep the planet, like that baked feta situation earlier this year. The brownies are made with Nutella, eggs and buckwheat flour. That's it if you don't count salt, but flaky salt is essential to their success, so make sure you have some when you make these.

The Nutella and eggs are whisked together until smooth, then you stir in the buckwheat flour. You scrape this rather stiff mixture into your prepared pan, then sprinkle with flaky salt. The brownies emerge from the oven with that gorgeous crinkly top and the perfectly fudgy consistency. Now I have to make one thing clear: if you know buckwheat flour, you're familiar with its assertive flavor. Hugo and I love it and the combination of the chocolate-hazelnut spread and the earthy, grassy buckwheat turns the brownies into something truly unique. Hugo couldn't stop raving. "These are the best brownies ever," he eventually said (after brownie #5 or 6). They're pretty great. The other two members of our family, who are decidedly less enamored of buckwheat, didn't quite love them as much.

You don't have to use buckwheat flour. You could use teff flour, if you wanted to stay gluten-free, or regular flour, though I suspect they could end up a bit too cloying. The buckwheat adds a hearty, almost savory note. And the consistency! I didn't believe it could be possible with just those three ingredients, but it was perfect.

Gluten-Free Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

What do you do when you're feeling wobbly, dear readers? In case it's making brownies, well, here you go and hugs to you.

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.

Emma Perruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies
Makes 12-16 brownies

1 1/4 cups (370 grams) Nutella
2 large eggs
1/2 cup
(60 grams) buckwheat flour
Flaky salt (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line an 8-inch/20-cm square baking pan with parchment, with overhang on two sides.

2. Combine the Nutella and eggs in a bowl and stir until smooth. Add the flour and stir again until smooth. Spread into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt if you’re using it.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes until puffy, crackly, and a cake tester inserted near the corner comes out clean.


The Bojon Gourmet's Gluten-Free Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries

Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries

Let's talk about good things today.

  1. Call My Agent. A television show (4 seasons) set in a Paris film agency called ASK (Agence Samuel Kerr) that includes real-like movie stars (think Isabelle Huppert, Monica Bellucci, Juliette Binoche) playing themselves as clients of the agency. We just finished watching last night and oh, how we enjoyed it! It felt like a little trip to Paris every night. My favorite characters were Noémie and Hervé, two quirky assistants who both undergo a transformation during their time at ASK. It was the best kind of escapist television, funny, interesting, fashionable and a little bit sexy. Also, PARIS.

  2. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell. Like so many others, I'm having a hard time concentrating on novels these days. I have a pretty strict rule about not forcing myself to finish books that I'm not enjoying. There's too much good stuff to get through and I figure that those books' readers are somewhere out there and they don't always have to be me. But then came This Must Be the Place. It took me a long time to get into it. I thought about giving up multiple times. And I don't know why I didn't. Something made me keep going. Then about halfway through the book, one of the chapters just...resonated. Right in my heart. I reread it three times. It made me rethink my own novel (yes, it still exists! sob!) and gave me a whole new perspective on an integral relationship that was stumping me completely. Just thinking about the chapter now gives me goosebumps! This is all to say that I'm so glad I listened to the little cosmic voice that told me to keep going.

  3. Everything is Fine. A podcast that was started by Kim France and Tally Abecassis for women over 40. (Tally recently left the show and has been replaced by Jennifer Romolini.) I've enjoyed every episode that Kim and Tally hosted, but there are a few standouts you definitely shouldn't miss. The episode with Emily Flake was hilarious, the episode with Stacy London was unexpectedly enlightening, I'm still thinking about the episode with Claire Dederer, I have mentioned Ann Kreamer's episode on going gray before, but it is just so good, and an early one with Andrea Linett, about getting dressed, is also a delight. Basically, listen to them all. They're a burst of joy - wise, funny, smart, interesting, occasionally wrenching joy - and listening to them makes me feel less alone.

  4. Willow Crossley. Willow's an English florist with a lovely Instagram account. She has given me more confidence with flowers and bulbs than anyone/anything else. She's adorable and bubbly and talks about flowers as if they were people. She demystifies flower arranging and bulb planting so effortlessly. (For those of us with black thumbs especially!) Her IG Lives are a highlight of my week and I currently have no less than three pots of Willow-inspired bulbs in terrines and planters going in my house right now.

  5. Cody Rigsby's rides.

  6. These brilliant cookies from Alanna Tobin-Taylor, the blogger at The Bojon Gourmet and the author of Alternative Baker, which won an IACP award in the Health and Special Diet category a few years ago. Their base is teff flour and tapioca starch, then you pack in rolled oats, toasted walnuts (hello lovers!) and chocolate chunks. You could leave them like this, but I added dried cranberries (sour cherries would work, too) because I love those kitchen sink cookies that are just packed full of all kinds of chewy delights. Oatmeal cookies just need a little fruity burst to balance out the buttery toastiness of the oats, don't you think? Anyway, Alanna's gluten-free cookie recipes are marvelous. They taste and feel, texture-wise, just like regular cookies. No grittiness, no weird textures. Just a chewy, crunchy, toasty, malty, delicious cookie that everyone can enjoy.

What's bringing you joy and comfort this week? Please, please share in the comments!

Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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.

The Bojon Gourmet's Teff Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts and Cranberries
Adapted from Alternative Baker
Makes 20 cookies
Note: For extra dense, chewy cookies, give the pan a few firm raps on the counter when you pull them from the oven.
Print this recipe!

8 tbsp (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 g) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 g) organic granulated cane sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4
cup (100 g) teff flour
1/4 cup (27 g) tapioca flour/starch
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (90 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces (170 g) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (60-70%)
3/4 cup (90 g) walnuts, toasted, cooled, coarsely chopped
Handful dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat.

2. Place the cooled butter in a large bowl. Whisk in the two sugars. Then whisk in the egg and vanilla.

3. Sift the teff flour, tapioca flour and sea salt over the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously to combine thoroughly. Stir in the oats, chopped chocolate, walnuts and cranberries. (If you need the time, you can let this mixture stand for 2 hours before baking.)

4. Scoop the dough (about 2 tablespoons per cookie) onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until the edges are golden and the tops are set, about 10-15 minutes. 

5. Remove the sheet and place on a cooling rack. Repeat with the second sheet and remaining batch of cookie dough. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


David Lebovitz's Gluten-Free Chocolate Tahini Brownies

Gluten-Free Tahini Brownies
 
Beep. Boop. Hello. I thought maybe you could use a panful of brownies today. Couldn't we all?
 
I have been looking forward to telling you about these brownies. For a very long time, I am more than chagrined to admit, I couldn't quite grasp the concept of tahini in baked goods. Tahini, in my limited mind, just wouldn't budge from its savory pedestal, where I associated with falafel or grain salads or maybe a nice little yogurt sauce, but nothing more. How terribly basic, I know!
 
Luckily, one day this past fall, a friend brought me a tahini chocolate chip cookie and who knows why this particular cookie flipped the switch, but it did. I ate it, the nutty richness flooded my mouth, the heavens opened, angels sang, etc etc. Oh, it was a wonderful moment. (2020 was also the year I finally learned to love halva, so who knows, I guess I'm a late sesame bloomer.)

In case you are still looking for a gateway into the world of baking with tahini, you must start with these brownies, which are a combination of these two recipes: David Lebovitz's and Bon Appétit's. They are gluten-free, yes, made with cornstarch instead of flour, which makes them fudgy and chewy as can be, and you will love them even if you're not avoiding gluten, pinky promise. A tablespoon of tahini is beaten into the batter, bolstering the texture a bit, and then the remaining tahini is mixed with syrup and marbled throughout.
 
I am usually agnostic when it comes to nuts in brownies, but I feel quite strongly that they are non-negotiable here. You can use walnuts, pecans or almonds, but they must be toasted. Must! The recipe below calls for 1/2 cup of nuts, for those who are just dipping their toes into nutty brownie territory, but if you like nuts in your brownies, you can bump it up to a full cup.
 
Once baked, the sandy tahini swirl, the warm crunch of the toasted nuts and the deliciously fudgy crumb of the brownie all add up to create a spectacular treat that is surprisingly sophisticated for something as crowd-pleasing as a brownie. I never cut these babies larger than 16 little squares, because they pack quite a punch. Even Hugo, who is a purist and a traditionalist when it comes to brownies, loves them. I hope you do too.
 
Next up, miso cookies?
 
Gluten-Free Chocolate Tahini Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
 
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons tahini, divided
3 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch
1/2 cup (70 grams) almonds or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup or agave syrup
1. Line an 8-inch (23 cm) square pan with parchment paper and let the paper come up to the rim of the pan to function as a sling after baking. Preheat the oven to 350º (180ºC).
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat on the stove top, stirring constantly until smooth.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs and salt. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of tahini and the cornstarch.
4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl and whisk vigorously until completely smooth, for about a minute.
5. Fold in the nuts, if using, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons tahini with the brown rice or agave syrup. Dollop this mixture over the top of the brownie batter, then swirl through the batter with a knife or skewer.
7. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the brownies feel just set in the center. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting into squares. The brownies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Homemade Chocolate Treats for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

In case you might still be looking for a last-minute treat to bake for your darlings, here's a little round-up of my favorite chocolate delights that are, for the most part, easy to whip up with what you've got in your pantry already (or that you could get on an emergency run to the store or gas station, if you live in Germany where stores are closed on Sunday).

I'm still undecided on what to make, though I'm leaning heavily towards these tahini brownies. Better get cracking!

French Chocolate Cake

Evelyn Sharpe's French Chocolate Cake - This is the best nearly flourless cake I know. Rich and intense, it's definitely for grown-ups.

Devil's Food Cupcakes

Karen DeMasco's Devil's Food Cupcakes - Gorgeous little cupcakes with a thin cap of chocolate icing and a cream middle. A lovely baking project and sure to please your littlest Valentines.

Malted Chocolate Cake

Jane Hornsby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake - This may be labeled birthday cake, but if you bake it in a heart-shaped pan instead, hey presto, you've got an easy, totally satisfying chocolate Valentine's cake. Don't skip the frosting!

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Barbara Fairchild's Chocolate-Toffee Cookies - Imagine a brownie-like cookie, but stuffed with bits of crunchy toffee and walnuts. I know.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies - These excellent cookies call for a whopping 1 1/4 pounds of chocolate.

Intensely Chocolate Sablés

Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés - Easy to whip up with what are probably staples in your pantry. I recommend adding a drop of peppermint extract to the dough to make Thin Mint facsimiles.

Belgian Brownies

Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies - These tender, almost creamy little cakelets come from the way-back depths of the blog, but have definitely held up over time.

Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies - This is basically the only brownie recipe we ever use, because it's easy and classic and reliable and never fails to satisfy everyone.

Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting - The brownies are good on their own, but the silky swaths of peanut butter frosting on top take these into total romance territory.


Gerhard Jenne's Bittersweet Brownies with Cranberries

Brownies with cranberries

Drowning as I am in cakes and cookies and sweet breads, I have absolutely no business - none! - making brownies on my day off. But I couldn't help it! I'm sorry! It's just that I was looking through a book that a British publisher sent to me last year (written by a German baker living in London) when something on page 141 called Boston Brownies caught my eye.

Now as you know, I have spent many a year in Boston, both as a child and a college student, and I have never, in all that time, heard of a Boston brownie. (Have you?) I had to read a little closer. My interest was piqued! Turns out that Gerhard Jenne, inspired by the fresh cranberries he discovered on a trip to Massachusetts, decided to pop a bunch of them in a brownie batter. The result - sort of like an American take on the Black Forest Cake of his youth - was so good he put the recipe in the book.

I was intrigued. I was also a little skeptical. I mean, fresh cranberries? With chocolate? (Also, er,  Anglo-German brownies?) The recipe looked really easy, though, and it was Sunday and I happened to have frozen cranberries in the freezer, so I decided to go for it and I am here to tell you now that these brownies are amazing.

AMAZING.

Bittersweet brownies with cranberries

You all. The brownies themselves, made with a mix of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa, are incredibly fudgy and dark with a gorgeous crackling crust. So the recipe would be a keeper for that alone. But the addition of the cranberries is, in fact, totally inspired - the sour, fruity pop against all that rich, dark chocolate is really delicious. We took the brownies to tea at our friends' house, where we each ate two pieces (Hugo included!) and then the men each ate a third while I tried to distract Hugo from demanding more by throwing myself on the floor and pretending to be a car. (It worked!)

In conclusion:

A.The world does need another brownie recipe.

B. Fresh cranberries in brownies are brilliant.

C. Anglo-German bakers have got the brownie thing figured out.

Oh, and furthermore! Do not repeat my dunderheaded mistake of always leaving the pan of brownies wherever I bring them. Make sure to keep a few for yourself the next day or you will regret it. Speaking from experience. Ahem.

Gerhard Jenne's Bittersweet Brownies with Cranberries
Adapted from Deservedly Legendary Baking
Makes 16
Note: The original recipe calls for 200 grams of chocolate and only 1 tablespoon of cocoa, but I didn't have enough chocolate in the house that day, so I made do with what I had and upped the amount of cocoa. I loved the result, so that's what I've listed below.

3 eggs
1 1/3 cups (275 grams) sugar
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) butter
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) dark chocolate (54 – 60% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
1 1/3 cup flour plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) fresh cranberries

1. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper.

2. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, then whisk in the sugar until frothy. Set aside.

3. Put the butter in a pan and melt over medium heat until it has completely melted and small bubbles are just beginning to rise to the surface. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until melted.

4. Whisk the eggs and sugar again until pale and frothy, then whisk in the chocolate mixture until well combined. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and stir gently with a spatula until there are no white streaks remaining. Add the salt. Fold in the cranberries. (If you're using frozen, this will cause the batter to seize up slightly, so work quickly.)

5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and even the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, then take the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.


Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting

Bittersweet brownies with peanut butter frosting

According to the internet, the East Coast of the US is about to be swathed in an apocalyptic amount of snow. Meanwhile, over here, it's just miserably gray, as it always always always is this time of year. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun. Hugo, who is really into SAAHN! and MOOOON! and DAHK! and LIGHT! and COWDS! is very confused.

Luckily, I have just the thing for all you over there and all of you over here to make while the winds howl and the sun remains stubbornly behind that impenetrable bank of clouds: Brownies. Bittersweet ones. With SALTED PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING. (If you can, imagine me yelling those last four words, getting increasingly louder with each word.)

Bittersweet brownies

For the past five years, I've been loyal to one single brownie recipe: Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies. They're easy, they're fudgy, you don't need a single special ingredient and everyone who eats them falls instantly in love with them. Why, even my husband now knows how to make them. (This, my friends, is saying a lot. Ahem, Mister Instant Mashed Potatoes, ahem.) I was pretty happy with my one single brownie recipe! It felt pretty good to have found The One. After all, at least on the brownie front, I didn't have to do any more looking.

But. Then. Along came Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt and her beautiful, vulnerable, touching first cookbook called Date Night In (more on that in a second). In one flip of a page, her recipe for bittersweet brownies with a salted peanut butter frosting very unceremoniously kicked those sweet little cocoa brownies right off the ledge. Pow!

Ashley used to have her own custom cake company, and before that she learned the tricks of the trade at Spago, working under pastry chef legend Sherry Yard, so when it comes to sweets, she's a voice of authority. In Ashley's brownie recipe, you build layers of rich flavor by first browning the butter and then using a combination of chocolate and cocoa. She also gives you tips on how to get the fudgiest brownie possible (just use 2 eggs instead of 3) and that lovely crackly top, but the salted peanut butter frosting is really the, uh, icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gilding of the lily. It's the whole raison d'être of these brownies (though they are pretty fabulous on their own, too).

Salted peanut butter frosting

You whip peanut butter, butter and confectioners' sugar together, beating them together at high speed until the mixture gets lighter and lighter, and then spread great swoops of it onto the cooled brownies. Ashley has you sprinkle the pan with flaked salt at the end, but I happened to have some of this fancy French butter with salt crystals hanging around and used that in the frosting instead, eschewing the salt sprinkling at the end.

But whatever path you take, definitely include salt. It's an essential finishing touch that keeps all the flavors together, that cuts the richness, that makes you sit up and take notice. It's no coincidence that Ashley's blog is called Not Without Salt. These aren't just any old brownies, no sirree. These are paradigm-breakers.

Bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting

As for Ashley's book, which is a collection of seasonal menus (from cocktails to dessert) that she's made for a weekly date night at home with her husband Gabe, it really is so lovely. Each menu is preceded by a little story she tells about her marriage and its natural ups and downs. With busy jobs, three children, and 10 years of marriage under their belts, several years ago Ashley and her husband found themselves drifting apart. Determined not to slide into a deeper hole, they started going on dates at home every week. Gabe would mix cocktails and Ashley would create a restaurant-worthy menu just for the two of them, no kids allowed. Through this very purposeful, conscious way of approaching their marriage and their need to connect again, they created a whole new level of commitment to each other. It is, to say the least, inspiring.

Also mouthwatering, because Ashley really knows food. A few of her menus are ambitious (for a tired working mother, at least), but that's sort of the point. It's her way of showing her husband her love and commitment and she expects no less from her readers. And there are plenty of menus that are more straightforward. I've already earmarked the recipes for their perfect burger, the French 75 cocktail, salted toffee popcorn, a pickled vegetable salad and salmon cakes with chiles and fresh herbs. (Plus, thrillingly, Ashley includes a recipe for pickled peppers in the style of Mama Lil's, which Molly sent me for Christmas once and which I haven't stopped thinking of since!)

Now all I have to do is get my husband to mix me a cocktail...

Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Date Night In
Makes 16 square brownies
Note: The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which isn't available in Germany. Instead I substituted an equal amount of 70% chocolate and then reduced the sugar from 300 grams to 175 grams. I was thrilled with the result, especially paired with the sweet-salty frosting. Depending on your taste, though, if you go this route, you may want to up the sugar amount to 200 grams.

Brownies:
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 ounces (90 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour

Frosting:
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter with salt flakes, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar

1. For the brownies: Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C) degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so that a couple of inches hang over the edge. Then grease the parchment.

2. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to cook until the milk solids bubble up and then settle into the pan and caramelize. Swirl the butter in the pan in order to see the color of the little bits on the bottom. As soon as the milk solids are golden and the butter smells nutty, about 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.

3. Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute to melt, and then whisk together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the butter mixture is still warm. Stir in the eggs, and salt until well blended. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined using a spatula.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature.

5. For the frosting: With an electric mixer, whip together the butter, peanut butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Continue to mix until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color. Frost the cooled brownies, cut into squares and serve. Brownies can be made 1 to 3 days in advance. The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance.


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."

(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.

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.