Despite gaining only a little pleasure from baking cakes, I do love the smell of a rich, buttery birthday present rising slowly and peacefully in the oven. Nothing follows a morning of meetings and emails better than tuning in to a Radio 4 afternoon play while whisking together eggs, sugar and excruciating quantities of bitter chocolate. As darkness falls, the kettle goes on for a sustaining cup of Earl Grey and I find myself falling deeper into Mariella Frostrup’s purring discussion on audio books.
My tangle with puddings is well documented (see earlier posts for all things savoury). Where the cook’s instinct helps out when it comes to finding new marinades for legs of lamb, or dressings for new salads, puddings for us have been wanting of these natural, intuitive answers. There’s no knowing where to start in inventing a pudding (nor salvaging it) and no way of trusting what to do when putting a mix of flour, eggs and butter into a hot oven. The precision – the science – is so off-putting that I find it hard to marvel in the beauty of puddings; they are known to me as things that waste my time and make me fat (as well as aware of my shortcomings.)
No; much safer, much freer to run within the bounds that cover savoury foods, where odd bedfellows, anchovy and lamb, have met, or where basil and chilli are known to be friends. Puddings are just too full of the potential for error – custards too prone to splitting and pastries melting in too hot hands – for it to be fun. Everything in the pudding world seems a test of one’s nerves, a sugar-crusted balancing act of whisking skills, oven temperatures and burnt caramel. The fact that you can rarely eat the ingredients as they go in is just another reason not to bother, frankly.
So I’m very much hoping that the simplicity of this Easy Small Nemesis from the marvellous River Cafe Cook Book Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers is going to give me my confidence back. I’m also hoping that its success can be revived in other flourless cakes which seem to get rid of all the hassle of cake-baking, full stop. No more folding! No more knocking the invisible air from the bowl!
Preheat the oven to 120°C. Grease a 25cm cake tin and line with parchment paper.
Break 340g of 70% cocoa solids chocolate into pieces and melt with 225g unsalted butter in a bain marie. Beat 5 medium eggs and 70g caster sugar with an electric mixer until the volume quadruples.
Heat another 140g of caster sugar with 100ml water until dissolved into a light syrup. Pour the hot syrup into the melted chocolate and allow to cool slightly.
Add the chocolate to the eggs and beat slowly until combined. Pour into the cake tin. Put a folded kitchen cloth in the bottom of a baking tray. Put in the cake and add enough hot water to come three-quarters of the way up the side of the tin.
Bake in the oven for 50 minutes until set. Leave the cake to cool in the water before turning out.