You guys, I think I have a new favourite cake.
Each year for my sister-in-law's birthday, it's assumed that I will make her Nutella cake; it'll be choc hazelnut cake, with bucketloads of nutella buttercream frosting and extra Nutella just because. So you can imagine her surprise (shock? alarm? mistrust?) when I informed her that this year's cake would, in fact, NOT involve nutella in any way, shape or form. She graciously accepted this turn of events, trusting that I would never do her wrong when it comes to cake, but I still was in the recipient of a frequent 'It's just not Nutella' chant throughout the birthday celebrations leading up to dinner, clearly re-writing the age old Australian idiom.
However, this was abruptly silenced when this year's flavour choice was brought to the dinner table (complete with mandatory sparklers, obvs). Ladies and gents, I give you choc-hazelnut semi-mud cake with salted rosewater frosting + black sea salt toffee shards:
I wanted something that would have a bit more density and richness than a regular chocolate cake, but still light enough to work with the buttercream frosting. It's also a good halfway point if you want something pretty chocolate-y but sadly don't have any cooking chocolate in the house and can't be bothered with the 90 second walk down to the grocer (yes, I'm lazy; some would say resourceful?). Hence, this recipe was born!
*Disclaimer: the batter was so yummy, both my Taster-in-Chief and Chief Tasters (roommates/friends who begrudgingly share any new tastings with the other) were devastated to have missed out; apparently I now owe them a cake each. I have warned you.
For the cake:
250g butter, softened
1 & 1/2 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup hazelnut meal
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp instant coffee powder
1/3 cup hot/boiled water
For the frosting:
600g icing sugar
150g butter, softened
1 & 1/2 tsp rosewater
1-2 tsp salt, depending on your flavour preferences (I went the full 2, plus some. But I'm greedy like that)
2-3 tbsp milk
For the toffee shards:
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
1-2 tsp sprinkles (if you so fancy. I ALWAYS fancy)
Yield: One double layered 8" cake, plus around 4 tablespoons of batter for 'tasting' (yeah that's right, I've planned for eating the batter. Don't say I never do anything for you.)
For the cake:
- Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line 2 x 8" cake pans.
- Combine your boiling/hot water with the instant coffee in a cup and set aside to cool (in the fridge for a few minutes should do).
- Cream your butter till it's slightly lighter in colour, then add in both sugars and mix for around 2 minutes until the mixture starts to lighten and become a little fluffy.
- Mix in the eggs one at a time, ensuring you scrape down the sides of the bowl after each one. It's up to you whether you follow that religiously, but I find if you get good lift/even fluffiness at the egg-mixing stage it has good outcomes for your cake texture in the end.
- Every recipe I've read says to sift flour. I rarely do (unless it's a sponge, or something similar) and as we're going for a slightly denser cake this time around you can just combine your flour, hazelnut meal, baking powder and salt in another bowl. But by all means sieve them if you want!
- Combine your coffee mixture and milk. Yes it will look like a boring-ass coffee you made at work that day you forgot your wallet so couldn't get your regular skim latte, but trust me here people. Have faith.
- Alternate adding your flour mixture and your boring-ass coffee mixture into the mixing bowl; I tend to start with the flour mixture, and end with the flour mixture (3 parts flour mix, 2 parts milk, if you get what I mean?). Mix it until it's well blended, I did it for around a minute or two.
- Now is a great time to eat some batter. You will enjoy it and you don't have to share with anyone. Cook's rules. Feel free to text pics to your envious friends.
- Pour the mixture evenly into each of the two pans, and pop in the oven for around 25-35 mins depending on the strength of your own. Mine is temperamental at the best of times, so it's around the 25 min mark that I start checking it with a cake tester/slim fork to see if it's cooked.
- When the pans have cooled a little, run a knife around the inside of the pans and overturn onto a cooling rack or two. If you want/need to even out the layers a bit, wait until the cakes have completely cooled (if you want to be particular about it, even freezing them/cooling them in the fridge for a while can help avoid extra crumbs at this step) before using a bread knife to slice off the slight rise in the centre.
For the frosting:
- While your cakes are in the oven, get a crack on with the frosting. As we've discussed, I'm lazy so don't bother sieving the icing sugar - a cheat's way is to put the sugar into the mixer (using a whisk attachment, if you have one) and let it churn away on low speed for 30-40 seconds or so.
- Add the butter while the mixer is on low speed (if you have a pouring shield I highly suggest using it; if not just make sure it's on very slow), but be aware it may look a little like crumbly sand until the milk goes in.
- Add the rosewater, followed by the milk - depending on the warmth of your kitchen/how softened the butter is, use as much of the milk as you see fit and add more if necessary. Just add a touch more sugar if you overdo the milk.
- At this point, season to taste with the salt - but be careful! It's much better to keep adding it in tiny bits than oversalt it and ruin your batter*.
*should you accidentally over-salt it, and believe me this can happen, the best thing to do is add more sugar, and then add additional corresponding amounts of butter/milk/rosewater as required. It will give you lots of extra frosting, but hey it will taste a lot better and now you have an excuse to bake another cake!
For the toffee shards:
- Lay some grease-proof paper on a lightly oiled baking tray. I verrry lightly greased the paper on top too, because I'm paranoid about those type of things.
- Next, put the sugar and water in a medium sized saucepan, but ***before*** you're turned the heat on, make sure the sugar is mixed evenly with the water as once it's on the heat you can't touch it otherwise it will crystalise and become horrible/useless/annoying.
- Turn your stove onto high heat and let it bubble away for a few minutes. The sugar will dissolve, it will boil, and then it will start to turn gloriously caramel-coloured and you will high five yourself because you've just made toffee.
- Take it off the heat while it's still medium coloured (toffee will keep cooking and darken off the stove); you can obviously have it darker if you like but I prefer it mid-range, flavour-wise.
- Holding the baking tray with a oven mitt on (that's important - don't burn yourself), pour the toffee onto the tray and quickly move the tray around to get an even coating across the paper. Give it about 10 seconds to settle, then sprinkle your salt and sprinkles across the toffee. Wait for a few minutes for it to set, then crack it as you so wish (I always try and aim for lovely long shards, and then get to eat the leftover stumpy bits)
At this point, you can now assemble your glorious cake; this is another great opportunity to eat the leftover cake crumbs from your layer-evening step with any leftover frosting and toffee pieces. No-one will know.
NB: I never did find out if she still prefers the Nutella cake, though. Let me know what you think of this one!