Photos by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 6 March 2013
February is a big birthday month in our house, and coincides with the timely arrival of two containers of home grown blackberries from a work colleague. Blackberries are such a luscious fruit, that I refuse to relegate them to just a puree. They scream out to be showcased, and are a tart contrast to a bitter, slightly sweet, chocolate layer cake.
The recipe I choose from my collection is a dated, 1980s handwritten one, that probably originates from a relative somewhere down the line. The method of making this cake is a little unusual, but makes for pillowy-soft layers of bitter chocolate cake, sandwiched between oozing layers of unsweetened cream. I modify this with my fresh blackberries and push the chocolate endorphins into overdrive by decorating the top of the cake with mini Easter eggs.
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup good quality dark cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
170g good quality 70% or 80% dark bitter chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp water
6 eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1/8 tsp cream of tartar or lemon juice
2 cups washed, fresh blackberries or any berry you have on hand
extra ½ cup pure cream
125g bitter chocolate, chopped
Filling and decoration
½ cup of berry jam
2 cups of pure cream for whipping
mini chocolate Easter eggs for decoration, optional
Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 30cm by 45cm baking tray with butter and sprinkle with flour. Line the base with baking paper.
In a small bowl, combine the sifted flour, cocoa powder and salt.
In a medium microwave proof bowl, combine the chocolate, water and butter. Warm the mixture in the microwave, for fifteen seconds at a time, stirring at intervals, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks at medium high speed for about fifteen seconds, until just combined. With the mixer still running, add about half of the sugar. Continue beating and scraping the bowl as needed, for about eight minutes. The mixture should be light and creamy. Stir in the vanilla and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk to reuse.
In the electric mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, this should take about thirty seconds. Add one tablespoon of sugar and continue to whisk until soft peaks form, then gradually add the rest of the sugar. Whisk the whites for about one minute, until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
Stir the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Once combined, add about one quarter of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a spatula to loosen the mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites until combined, then sprinkle the dry ingredients over the top. Gently fold them in until combined, so as not to lose the air that has already been incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking tray for about ten minutes. Tap the tray on the benchtop to remove any air bubbles and to ensure the mixture is spread into the corners.
Remove from the oven and overturn the cake onto a cooling rack so the base is facing up. Carefully peel the baking paper off the base immediately and allow to cool for at least half an hour.
When cool cut the cake width ways, into three equal slices of fifteen centimetres each. These will form the layers of the cake. If the end edges of the cake are uneven, trim them up with a sharp knife to keep them even and square.
For the filling, whip the extra two cups of cream to stiff peaks.
For the chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a gentle boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and allow to sit for a few minutes to soften. Whisk the cream and chocolate together into a smooth and glossy paste. If your chocolate ganache is a little stiff, place it in the microwave oven on medium for ten seconds until you reach the pouring consistency you need.
To assemble the cake, place one layer of cake onto a serving platter. Spread the cake layer with jam and then a one centimetre layer of whipped cream. Spread an even handful of blackberries over the cream. Place the next layer of cake on top of the berries, keeping in alignment with the bottom layer. Repeat with the fillings of jam, cream and berries. Place the final and top layer of cake neatly on the top, pressing down gently to steady the fillings and to push the cream gently outside the edges to create a slightly messy look.
Finally, pour the chocolate ganache evenly over the top layer of cake allowing it to run down the sides. Top with a row of mini Easter eggs or berries. For optimum flavour, allow the cake to sit, refrigerated and covered, for a day or so to infuse the flavours. To cover in the fridge, poke some toothpicks into the cake to keep the plastic wrap suspended above the cake.