I am newly 24.
This is what I remember:
1. At 17, a blistering scald on my finger from Italian meringue and Italian meringue buttercream, all for the sake of macarons. A plaster still on my finger when I went on that once-in-a-lifetime school trip to Florence. (Year 13 History of Art and Photography. We felt grown up drinking rosé in view of the duomo.)
2. ‘Four failed academic exams is an almost unmanageable smorgasbord of fail and I’m sated, thank you: I definitely don’t want any more …. giving up is definitely not an option. I’ll keep going til my face falls off,’ my 19 year old self wrote in their diary. (I was a wordy arsehole even then). I didn’t anticipate that an intercollegiate degree would be an administrative nightmare; when my name wasn’t on the initial progressions list I assumed I’d failed first year. My parents comforted me. Food tasted like nothing during the weekend I waited for the final email. My results were merely delayed: I passed. I still kept going.
3. One lunchtime during my final year, I emerged from Senate House to eat like a normal person, picking Bea’s of Bloomsbury because it sounded cute. I drank chai masala, spiced tea that was comfortingly milky and just sweet enough (why is that so rare outside of the home?). There was also a beautiful slice of chocolate raspberry cake which shut me right up.
4. The eve of my 21st was spent doing coursework and making lemon Swiss meringue buttercream for my birthday cake. The former was ‘scruciating and the latter a revelation: luxurious, none of the pain of Italian buttercream. The birthday itself involved a 9am lecture; that morning was at least dulcoratingly bright: I matched it with a yellow dress and gold shoes. When I got out Mr. Pear was waiting for me cross-legged on the grass near the Brunei Gallery, grinning at me from across the square. (Later, while my birthday cake was in the oven, he lifted me onto the kitchen counter, kissed me, and said, ‘I’m so glad about you.’)
5. Snow didn’t deter us from getting to Norwich for my sexy pre-birthday tea party with Mary at Biddy’s. There was also tea and cake with Natty at The Field’s Beneath a few days later. All this made turning 23 much better.
Such is the dramatic self-doubt of youth–I’ve spent most of it puzzling over how I measure up to my peers: at 21, I could make macarons, write decent essays and letters, paint a portrait in oils, garden, play a little piano, sew skirts. I could process stodgy academic texts, confidently analyse a work of art. On a good day I could do long division. But I couldn’t do my own laundry or compete in job interviews.
Well–nevermind. I know how to keep going and carry on learning despite real or imagined failure, and the importance of sometimes making my cake but always having it and eating it, too.
Most of all, I’ve slowly, nervously learned to accept the love of other people.
CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY LAYER CAKE
Approximately 21 cm x 7 cm x 8.5 cm. Makes 10 – 14 slices, maybe even more.
Finished layer cake keeps for at least 7 days in an airtight container, chilled. After a few days it’ll lose its spring and become fudgier.
Cake layers and ganache are about 1/3 of Orangette’s recipe; idea for layering with raspberry jam from Bon Appétit; rectangular shape from Sweetapolita.
A satisfying and straightforward cake that’s forgiving enough to be dolled up when the occasion calls. It’s deeply flavoured, just sweet enough, and the texture is the best I’ve ever had in a chocolate cake of this kind–perfectly balanced between plush luxuriousness and a tight, definite crumb.
Use hot water if you don’t want fresh coffee in the batter. In addition to melting the chocolate, the heat brings out the cocoa flavour.
The rectangular layers are cut from a single 21 cm square cake. This was for ease: I didn’t want to go out and buy more cake tins, plus it’s easier for me to cut portions by eye. For a less fussy cake, just divide into 2 layers and frost with the ganache. That’s how I tested it the first time round. Entirely delicious with a cup of fresh coffee.
On the day of baking and icing, the ganache frosting will be at its butteriest with the chocolate coming through sharply. It’ll eventually set and mellow, becoming much like any other ganache (not a complaint, obviously). The raspberry jam adds a subtle fruity tang which brightens the otherwise quite rich cake, but if you want it stronger, try mashing some raspberries into the ganache filling.
25g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
50g cocoa powder (unsifted weight; the volume is 118ml or 1/2 cup)
160ml (about 2/3 cup) hot brewed coffee
200g white or golden granulated sugar
100g plain flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 large egg
4 tbsp butter, melted (plus extra for greasing tin)
120ml buttermilk, well-shaken
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
80ml double cream
2 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp golden syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in little dice or blobs
A few drops vanilla extract
2 – 3 tbsp heaped seedless (or or heated til runny, sieved, then chilled to set) raspberry jam, for spreading over 2 layers
decorations – fresh or freeze-dried raspberries, gold lustre dust, icing sugar, chocolate flakes… whatever you like.
for the cake:
Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius/130 fan.
Grease and line a 21 cm square tin with a sling of baking paper. Butter the paper, too. Set aside.
Put the finely chopped chocolate and cocoa powder into a small-medium bowl and stir in the hot brewed coffee. Cover loosely and leave to sit, stirring occasionally til smooth and melted.
Sift together sugar, flour, bicarbonate soda, baking powder, and salt into another medium bowl; set aside for now. In yet another bowl, larger this time, beat the egg on medium speed until pale and thick, with fine bubbles (about 1 1/2 minutes with hand mixer). One at a time, and beating briefly between additions, add the melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and the chocolate-coffee mixture. Finally, add the dry sugar-flour mixture and beat until just combined.
Pour the thin, silky batter into the cake tin and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or whenever it’s completely cooked. It’s ready when the sides have pulled away from the tin and the top is a little springy. A toothpick should come out dry and clean from the middle except for a few tiny smears and crumbs on it. Remove and let cool completely in the tin, about 1 1/2 hours.
for the ganache:
Have the finely chopped chocolate ready. In a medium saucepan, heat together the double cream, sugar, and golden syrup over a medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar (don’t let it boil). Remove from heat and tip in all the chocolate, whisking til melted. Add the butter. whisking til smooth. Transfer to bowl and cool til spreadable. Dunking the bowl in cold (or hot) water can help speedily bring it to your desired temperature.
note: if the ganache splits (anything from looking slightly curdled to a full-blown oil slick on top), add a spoonful of cold water and whisk vigorously. For me, this has always worked to bring it back to perfect smoothness without (as far as I can tell) affecting the taste. You can also add vanilla extract, very possibly also liqueur of your choice.
Turn the cooled cake out onto a cutting board, peeling off the paper. Cut the cake into thirds (I get the ruler out here) to make 3 rectangular layers.
Thickly spread the first layer with about half of the seedless raspberry jam. Dollop over about a quarter of the ganache frosting and spread; it may slide a bit, but persevere–it’s easier if the ganache is not so stiff. Carefully put the second layer on top and repeat, using up the rest of the raspberry jam and another quarter of ganache. Add the top layer, then (if you feel like it) do a crumb coat of the whole cake using scant quarter of ganache. To finish, completely spread the entire cake with all remaining ganache. I did all this with an eating spoon and a butter knife; I suppose you could also do a pouring ganache if you want a smooth shell.
If you want the raspberry decorations to adhere, add them now. Leave to set, either at room temp or in the fridge (won’t take long at all) before serving. Run your knife under hot water first if you want the neatest slices.