Because my Dad was a medical missionary, I spent some of my childhood in China. Now and then, for sins unknown, my mother would condemn us to Purgatory.
This would come in the form of being sentenced to visit some stranger somewhere else in the vast, unknown, confusing city of Canton because: they too were foreigners, or because they were lonely, or because they were the same age or because they invited us – all of which, to an 8 year old mind, were utterly ridiculous reasons to spend time with a jerk.
Having a brother and a sister always to the ready, I felt that we were a self-sustaining unit that didn’t need outside support.
One grim event, particularly rich in dire foreboding, was an invitation to a birthday party. After an insufferable, suspension-free rickshaw ride across the city to the designated destination, my leaden heart picked up hope when we entered the house and saw a big beautiful chocolate birthday cake as the centrepiece of a food-laden table. It was perfect. Even our cook Ah Yang couldn’t have made a cake that high. It was like every cake in every storybook come to life. How did they, I wondered, make it so smooth and rounded and chocolatey on top? How was it crafted so perfectly?
This cake was going to be my reward for the journey here, the self -opinionated arrogance of the birthday boy, his weird accent (as a child I didn’t realise that Brits actually talked that way; they couldn’t help it) the inane senseless party games that grownups tried to brainwash us into thinking were “so much fun!” (and Birthday Boy insisted on winning) and the desultory meat paste sandwiches that had to be tolerated before we came to what we all wanted, THE CAKE! At last, after an agonising wait, the high domed beauty was sliced and shared. I looked down at my serving. Horrors! It had an implant! Between the layers of rich chocolate cake was a slice of anemic white bread to lift the upper layer artificially to its perfect, domed shape. Ugh.
I’ve spent a lifetime trying out chocolate cake recipes. Here’s one I served at a Learning Celebration supper. I was told in no uncertain terms that “Cake isn’t a proper pudding [dessert] – that’s for tea”. However by warming it slightly and serving a jug [pitcher] of cream beside it, people didn’t have trouble choking it down.
Three cooks join me in making this particular version: Fanny Farmer (Boston School of Cooking) Dean from the Nadi Bay Resort Hotel in Fiji (Under the Mango Tree) and Bruce Bogtrotter (Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes).
Oven at 180 [350F)
Dab a bit of butter/marg around a 33 x 23 cm [13 x 9 inches] pan, or 2 round cake tins and line with baking parchment.
In a food processor or mixing bowl mix together 235 gm [1 2/3 cups] plain flour, 200 gms [1 cup] sugar, 50 gms [2/3 cup] unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda [baking soda] and ½ teaspoon salt. Add 225 ml [1 cup] yogurt, 110 ml [½ cup] vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla flavouring. Mix well. If batter is very thick, add 2 – 4 tablespoons water. Spread in prepared tin(s) [pan(s)]. Bake until a cocktail stick [toothpick] comes out clean when prodded in the middle of the cake. Time varies according to size of your cake – start testing after 25 minutes or so for the large, and 20 minutes for the layers.
Bruce’s topping. In a bain-marie [double boiler] over barely simmering water, melt 225 grams good chocolate — sweetened, unsweetened or a combination. Remove from heat. Add 225gms double [thick] cream, and beat until smooth and glossy. Lavish it all over your cake. It will be quite wet, but hardens with time.
- add peppermint or brandy flavouring instead of the vanilla.
- Fling in a pkt [pkg] of chocolate chips into the batter before baking;.