Chocolate Layer Cake

The umpteenth chocolate cake, I know. But what can you do? Chocolate has such a soothing appeal to it, when I see a new way of using it, I’m all over it. I had planned to make this as we were supposed to have my partner’s nephew round for dinner. When that plan fell through as he had a football match the following day, I still decided to make it. A chocolate cake is the perfect ending to a busy week, especially if it’s a very rich one. Also, please use good quality chocolate, both white and dark. It makes a real difference to the cake and I found cheaper ones do not blend well with the cake mixture.

The sponges contain chocolate and the ganache is, well, a chocolate one. As if that wasn’t enough, I topped the cake with some chocolate Maltesers! The original recipe asked for white ones (and they would, indeed, provide for a more dramatic effect), but as I couldn’t find them, I settled down for standard dark ones. You could, however, prefer to use different candies or, in fact, omit them altogether. The cake is very rich as it is, you might want to keep the calories within a reasonable limit – not that this has ever bothered me. Also, the original recipe stated to halve both sponges, but I preferred to keep the dark chocolate one as a big lump because I thought it came out a bit on the thin side.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 175g golden sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 195g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp very strong coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the decoration and the ganache)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 50g white chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 small bag of Maltesers, to decorate

Method

  1. Separately melt the white and the dark chocolate for the cake mixture in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Once both mixtures are fluid, set them apart.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line and grease two 20cm sandwich tins.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat on high speed until fluffy and creamy. Slowly add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl. Finally add the flour, baking powder and the milk and beat until you get an even mixture.
  4. Divide the mixture into two. Add the dark chocolate and the coffee to one and the white chocolate and vanilla extract to the other. Fold the extra ingredients in with ample and gentle movements, then tip each mixture into a cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until fully cooked. Check with a skewer if the sponges are done, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the chocolate ganache. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat until small bubbles start appearing on the surface, then remove from the heat and tumble the finely chopped chocolate in. Swirl the pan to roughly mix the cream and the chocolate, then let it stand for a couple of minutes before finally combining the mixture with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency. This might take a while, so you could also put it in the fridge, but keep on stirring and checking the mixture every 5 minutes to avoid it seizing or becoming too hard.
  6. On a work surface, cut the vanilla and white chocolate sponge in half, then set one of the two halves upside down on a cake stand. Top with about a third of the dark chocolate ganache, then cover with the chocolate sponge. Spread the second third of the ganache on top, then top with the last vanilla sponge and use the remaining ganache to cover the top of the cake.
  7. Transfer the melted white chocolate to a piping bag, then use it to zigzag it the top of the cake. Be creative and use as much as you want, then top with the Maltesers or your favourite candies/chocolates. Enjoy!

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Paella

Ah paella. The mere sound of it takes me straight to Spain. And not, God forbid, pronounced in the British way but, rather, with its original clicking sound. The recipe below is not mine (I wish) as I do not know Spanish cuisine that good as to conjure up such an exquisite dish. It is Simon Hopkinson’s, the food writer and TV chef. It also passed the test of a real Spanish food lover’s taste, so it must be good.

There’s something deeply satisfactory about paella. Be it the rice, the abundance of ingredients or the mixture of shellfish and chicken (an authentic one calls for both indiscriminately), it makes such a perfect autumn/winter dish, not to mention how good it is when tasted during the warmer season. Be generous with portions too! The quantities indicated below serve 4, but believe me it would be enough for 3 greedy and hungry people. I have slightly adapted the ingredients and their quantities because the marketplace is a wonderful place to shop at, but does not unfortunately respond nicely to the tiny quantities of fish required below. Therefore, I went a bit commando with it.

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Ingredients

  • 150g chorizo sausage, cut into small coins and then halved
  • 1 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
  • 350g chicken thigh fillet, cut into small pieces
  • 100ml dry sherry
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 150g green beans, sliced
  • 150g sweet red peppers from a jar, thickly sliced
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 600ml hot chicken stock
  • 300g paella rice
  • 750g mussels, debearded and well washed (or already shelled, like in my case)
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 5 tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Use a large pan (I rely on my flat and very versatile Le Creuset pan) to heat some olive oil and then fry the chorizo slices until crisped up and the orange fat runs. Lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Now introduce the squid and very briefly sliced until coloured. Remove with the slotted spoon and add to the chorizo.
  2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then tumble in the pan and cook until golden brown for about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sherry, cherry tomatoes, garlic and paprika in a food processor and whiz until smooth. Push the mixture through a fine sieve, then add to the pan once the chicken is nicely coloured. Bring up to a simmer.
  4. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato mixture has thickened.
  5. Now add the beans, peppers and saffron, then carefully pour in the chicken stock. Stir all together and bring to the simmer once again. Sprinkle the rice into the liquid and stir well, making sure it is evenly distributed among the chicken and the vegetables.
  6. Once you have done this, try not to stir the paella again and cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes. Truth is I did stir to avoid catching at the bottom. I suggest that if your pan is not entirely non-stick you do that too. Cook until you can see the rice puffing up.
  7. Remove the paella from the heat and clamp the lid on. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid and return to the heat. Add the mussels, chorizo and squid to the pan and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat for the final time and steam with the lid on for another 5 minutes. This not only ensure the fish is completely cooked, but also keeps the rice very moist.
  8. To decorate, mix the ingredients together and trickle over the paella. Serve at once and enjoy.

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