Basil and Chocolate Cake

There seem to be plenty of cakes on my blog recently. And yes, that is pretty much a faithful representation of my baking efforts, at least when I am stressed. In my opinion, there is nothing more soothing and relaxing than baking, assembling and eating a moist slice of cake. Few other things even come close and, frankly, very few beat it (pasta and chocolate are very close contenders). Quite recently, I had a very fun baking session with one of my friends, Valentina, who came round to make gluten- and lactose-free pizza. I might have to give that one a second go as the person it was originally intended for was actually ill the following day, so Vale probably had to eat it all. It came out very nice, though!

For one reason or the other, I ended up with a small pot of basil. If you know me, you might remember I had tried to keep one of these small plants a while back, which didn’t end well (for the basil). Therefore, why not make the most of it while it lasted? I decided to remake my basil butter cream. It received mixed reviews last time, but I thought that pairing it up with a dark and moist chocolate cake was probably a better option. And yes, it was. May I present you a 4-tiered chocolate cake with alternating chocolate ganache and basil butter cream, all topped by more of that green pale icing and some aptly positioned basil leaves?

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Ingredients (for the chocolate cake)

  • 227g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 118g cocoa powder
  • 473ml water, recently boiled from a kettle
  • 344g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the sugar syrup)

  • 236ml water
  • 200g caster sugar

Ingredients (for the basil butter cream)

  • 355ml whole milk
  • 75ml double cream
  • about 100g fresh basil leaves
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 40g plain flour
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • green food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 150ml double cream
  • 75g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 75g milk chocolate

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • a few basil leaves

Method

  1. If you can, start with the basil butter cream the day before. Heat the milk and double cream in a saucepan, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and tumble in the basil leaves. Decant to a glass bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool completely. Transfer to the fridge and leave to infuse for a few hours (but best overnight).
  2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two tall 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl, then whisk together until fully combined.
  4. Pour the cocoa powder into a jug, then add the water and whisk until fully combined and there are no big cocoa lumps. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream your butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 10 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add your eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the sides to ensure the mixture is fully combined.
  6. Now start adding the dry ingredients and the warm cocoa mixture alternatively, making sure not to overbeat the mixture or the cake will be tough. Divide your batter evenly between the two cake tins, then bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, testing the cakes for doneness with a skewer. If it comes out clean, they are ready.
  7. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmoulding from the tins.
  8. Make the sugar syrup. Pour the sugar and water in a saucepan, then heat and mix until fully dissolved. No need to bring this to the boil. Decant to a jug/tall glass and allow to cool completely before using.
  9. To continue with the butter cream, strain the infused milk and cream into a saucepan, squeezing the basil leaves to extract as much juice as possible. Add the flour and sugar, then mix well to combine. Cook over a medium heat, mixing regularly, until the mixture has thickened to cover the back of a spoon and there are no more lumps. Pour into a shallow dish, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool completely.
  10. Once the ‘basil custard’ has cooled, transfer it to the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the food colouring, if using, then slowly add the room temperature butter in small pieces, mixing well after each addition to ensure there are no lumps. If the butter cream does not whip up, transfer to the fridge for a few minutes, then carry on beating it. Continue until you have added all of the butter and the butter cream is light and fluffy (and pale green).
  11. To make the chocolate ganache, roughly chop the chocolate in small chunks, then transfer to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it reaches simmering point, then pour onto the chocolate and mix well to combine. Set aside and allow to cool to firm up to a spreading consistency.
  12. Remove the cakes from the tins, then slice them in half using a serrated knife (for a total of 4 sponges). Soak the sponges in the sugar syrup and use a pastry brush to liberally spread it on the surface of the cakes. Set aside to allow the sugar syrup to soak in before you move on to the following stage. You will have some leftover syrup.
  13. Start by placing one chocolate sponge on your cake board/platter, then place half of the chocolate ganache onto it and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Top with a second chocolate sponge layer, then place a big dollop of the basil butter cream on top and use a spatula to spread that around in an even layer. Continue with the third and fourth chocolate sponge layer, then use the remaining butter cream to cover the top and the sides of the cake. If you want, you can apply a crumb coat first, have that firm up, then continue with the remaining butter cream. I personally did not deem that necessary. Also, I thought a few chocolate crumbs make the cake look quite rustic, so why not. Use a big spatula to smooth the top and sides of the cake, then create some waves in the butter cream on the top of the cake. Top with the basil leaves, serve and enjoy!

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