I feel sure that any day now, my quarter-life crisis will arrive. I'm in my last semester of university and I'm incredibly prone to worrying. And, I turned 23 yesterday! But so far, this birthday's been all fun. I had a lovely small party where we ate spaghetti and meatballs, as well as mushrooms stuffed with hazelnuts and truffle oil. Most importantly though, the birthday cake was a big success.
I had very ambitious plans for this cake and they mostly panned out. It was a dark and dense chocolate sponge sandwiched with a fudgy chocolate meringue and topped and filled with ganache. I had wanted to include a chocolate mousse layer but that threatened to be the straw that broke the camel's back, so I abandoned it. But it didn't really need it anyway, as the meringue was lovely and marshmallow-y so it kind of fulfilled the mousse-y function.
I'm sure that this cake could work in a number of guises. For example, I briefly thought about folding ground hazelnuts into the chocolate meringue and making a nutella frosting for a chocolate-hazelnut version. I also considered spreading salted caramel between the layers and sprinkling the top with some flaky salt for a salted chocolate caramel version. I think about chocolate cake a lot, I don't know if you noticed. In fact, I've been thinking about a Marmite chocolate cake - before you abandon this blog forever in disgust, think about salted chocolate and how goooood it is. Marmite is basically salty with a little yeasty flavour. Look, my dad has a stash of Marmite chocolate at home which he forced me to try. I refused, thinking it would be gross, but it was so good! So, watch this space.
I recommend cooking the meringue the night before, as it takes a while to bake and cool. In fact, I did the meringue and then the sponge the night before, and made the ganache and dressed the cake the next day. Also, I made the meringue in a lined cake tin, so it would have the same edges as the sponge. But it would work just as well if you traced the shape of the cake tin on a piece of baking paper and just spread the meringue mixture in a circular shape.
Chocolate Meringue Layer Cake
Makes one 20cm cake with three layers
Sponge recipe adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
one slice of lemon
For the sponge:
200g butter, cut into rough chunks
170g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
25g cocoa powder
200g light or dark brown sugar
200g caster sugar
pinch of salt
75ml buttermilk (5 tablespoons)
For the ganache:
200g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
300ml double cream
First, make the meringue:
Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C. Prepare the cake tin or baking tray, and cut out the required sizes and shapes of baking parchment you need to line the base and sides of the cake tin.
Whisk your egg whites and the pinch of salt to a dense, white froth, using a freestanding mixer or a handheld whisk. When they start forming peaks, slowly and gradually add the sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture is holding stiff peaks.
Now, add the cocoa powder and whisk again to incorporate fully. Once the meringue is completely incorporated with the cocoa powder, stop whisking.
Dab a tiny bit of the meringue mixture onto the bottom and sides of the cake tin or baking tray, and line with your prepared baking parchment. The meringue mixture will make sure the paper doesn't move around.
Fill your cake tin or baking tray with the chocolate meringue mixture, and bake in the oven for 2 hours.
When it is done, turn off the oven and let the meringue cool in there. It should be crisp and brittle on top and have the promise of squidginess in the centre.
Next, make your sponge:
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C. Butter and line a 20cm cake tin.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl sitting over a simmering pan of water. Don't overheat; once everything is nearly melted together, take it off the heat and let it cool slightly.
In a big mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugars, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together. In a separate bowl or jug, beat the eggs and buttermilk together.
Pour the melted chocolate mixture and the egg and buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Once everything is blended, stop mixing.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1 and a half hours. A skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean, telling you the cake is done.
Cool the cake in the tin for at least 15 minutes, and then take it out and cool it on a rack.
While the cake is cooling, make your ganache:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, heat up the cream, but don't let it boil. Once small bubbles start forming and it's threatening to boil, take it off the heat and pour over the chocolate.
Let it sit for a few seconds so the chocolate starts melting, and stir until everything is well mixed. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes. It should be runny enough to spread onto the cake, but not so runny that it just slides straight down the sides.
With a serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally into two. Now, remove your meringue from its surrounding paper.
Spread one-third of the ganache onto the bottom half of the cake, and place your meringue upside down on top of it. This is so the top of the meringue is flat and will be easier to spread ganache on.
Spread another third of the ganache onto the meringue and sandwich the top half of the cake on top. Spread the remaining ganache onto the top of the cake, and let it run down the sides slightly. Leave to set.