I haven’t set any major resolutions this new year, but I reckon starting the year off with a post (a strawberry and chocolate laden one at that) is probably a good way to start anyway.
This has been a strange transition year of sorts; I’m quite happy leaving it far behind me and focussing my energies on exciting times ahead. I baked a lot more cakes this year than I usually do, and a whole lot of things with very dark chocolate. It seemed only fitting that I’d combine my new found cake-skills with my ever-present love for chocolate and strawberries, which incidentally are in season, to come up with this cake. I also got a pretty good deal on the strawberries from a fruit-seller who was looking to clear off his strawberry stock at the end of the day at Crawford Market.
This is one of those cakes that work best when you cut and spoon a little of everything into your mouth— fresh fruity strawberries, two chocolate ganaches of dark, dark chocolate and fluffy chocolate sponge sandwiching a sweet layer of nougat. The lush strawberries counter the bitter chocolate especially well, and the nougat would offer beautiful relief to anyone who tends to be overwhelmed by the darkness of chocolate (or even with sweeter inclinations).
Sure, chocolate coated strawberries might seem simpler, but if you want to surprise, awe and seduce someone, this is a far better way to do it. I’ve been looking for a tall cake recipe for a very long time, and when Jamie Oliver’s Chocolate Clebration Cake fell short, I decided to take it upon myself, by doubling the height of the cake by creating two whole cakes instead of baking one and slicing it in half.
The overall process might seem a little elaborate, but this certainly isn’t a difficult cake to put together. The sponge is fairly simple, and it’s very hard to mess up the ganache, unless you forget to turn off the heat when the chocolate is in the saucepan with the cream, or if you forget to keep whisking the nougat till it is ready.
One thing I’m thankful to Jamie Oliver for introducing me to (amongst hundreds of other things I’ve learned from him of course) is home made nougat. I sampled some authentic Italian nougat a couple of years back, when a friend received some from friends in Italy and shared some with me. Nougat is delicious, but an exceptionally tedious thing to make by yourself. This recipe is a simplified version, and does not require any candy thermometers or special equipment to execute accurately. An electric whisk would be very helpful though.
Nougat is primarily egg white, making it a relatively guilt-free sort of cake frosting. I ran out of honey while making the nougat, and had to use this special French honey a friend had gifted me earlier this year and serendipitously discovered that using a flavoured honey can add a subtle new dimension to the riot of flavour that is this cake.
No, this cake is not your annual resolution to eat healthy, watch your diet and waistline, but until that sort of resolution kicks in (if you’re the sort that has them in the first place at all), this is one way to ring the new year in with lush decadence and flavour— having lived a little more on the first day of the year feels better than exerting restraint in the hope of a hypothetically better shaped tomorrow.
And then go to the gym/pool the next day, since we don’t want to kill you with all this early 2015 sexy Strawberry Chocolate Decadence.
Happy new year!
For the chocolate sponge cake (x2)*
100g 70% dark chocolate
1⅓ tablespoons cooking oil
200g powdered sugar
4 large eggs
30g cocoa powder
1tsp vanilla extract
¾tbsp Baking Powder
For the strawberry ganache
60g cream (23-25%fat)**
50g dark chocolate
For the chocolate ganache
200g cream (23-25%fat)**
120g dark chocolate, chopped
50g milk chocolate, chopped
3tbsp Old Monk Rum
For the nougat layer
1 large egg white
½tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
100g powdered sugar
½tsp vanilla extract
Around 400g fresh strawberries for the top of the cake.
- In a double boiler (a glass bowl over a saucepan or vessel with about an inch of simmering water) melt the butter, oil and chocolate with the sugar. Stir till smooth and then let cool.
- Beat in the eggs, one by one; the batter should turn glossy and become smooth. All the sugar should dissolve. Add the vanilla extract and rum.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Butter and line two 8″ circular springform tins with parchment paper. Freeze the buttered tins; this hardens the butter and seals up potential leaks.
- Weigh out the dry ingredients and sift them into the batter; fold until incorporated.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean when poked into the centre.
- Cool this for about 15 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate.
- Make two of these (at the same time if your oven is large enough, one after the other otherwise).
- Cool the cakes in the fridge before starting any of the next processes.
Making the nougat layer
- In a heat proof (glass or ceramic) bowl, add the Cream of Tartar, salt, honey and water to the egg white and whisk to stiff peaks.
- Start adding the sugar by the teaspoon, and transfer the bowl onto a vessel with simmering water.
- Whisk for about eight minutes till glossy.
- Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for a few minutes till the nougat cools and starts to thicken.
- Let this sit for about ten minutes.
- Empty out the nougat in the centre of the lower cake, using an offset spatula or knife to spread evenly across the face of the cake. Let this sit in the freezer for a bit for the nougat to set and harden.
- Add the second layer on top of this and chill just before you start to prep the next layer of ganache.
Making the chocolate ganache
- Heat the cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan till it starts to bubble at the edges. Don’t let it burn.
- Add the chocolates and turn off the heat– mix briskly till all of it dissolves and leaves no lumps.
- Mix the butter, honey and brandy/rum in till evenly incorporated.
- Pour evenly over the chilled cake and let it set in the fridge. This recipe ought to have just enough ganache to coat the whole cake evenly. Let this chill in the freezer.
Making the strawberry ganache
- Slice the strawberries up and mix them with the cream. Let this sit in the cream overnight, or at least an hour. You could even double the amount of strawberries used to give this ganache a greater strawberry kick.
- Blend the strawberries and cream with the sugar, using a hand blender and pour into a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat.
- Heat till it starts to bubble at the edges. Don’t let it burn.
- Add the chocolate and turn off the heat– mix briskly till all of it dissolves and leaves no lumps.
- Mix the butter, honey and brandy/rum in till evenly incorporated.
- Pour evenly over the chilled cake, coating the top and just flowing over the edges, and let it set in the fridge.
- Hull the strawberries and layer them on top of the cake, pressing them into the ganache to hold them in place. I composed the taller ones in the centre with the shorter ones towards the periphery.
- Cut impressively large wedges and serve.
Strawberry Tip: The strawberry ganache could have been a lot more strawberry-esqe. I suspect one method to achieve this would be to use double the amount of strawberries with a dash of balsamic vinegar and sugar and reduce on a low flame till the strawberries are almost halved in volume. Mixing this with the cream and then chocolate might yield a berrier ganache.
* The quantities are for a single cake. This recipe needs two, so you’ll have to double the ingredients.
** I used the standard Amul Cream tetrapack.