Sunday 23 November 2008

Chocolate Cake, Creative Control and Climate Change

Yesterday was a grey and gloomy spring day with heavy rain punctuated with teasing bursts of sunshine. I was baking chocolate cake while E and Zinc were shut away in the study recording a new song. It seems that E’s musical genius is starting to rub off on the cat. When I went in to see how it was going, I found that not only had Zinc managed to get her miaowing on the recording but that backing vocals were not enough for her. Her paw was hovering over E’s keyboard where he was working at his music software. She wanted creative control. Don’t we all!

While those two were immersed in their creative endeavours, I was baking at a leisurely pace. When it comes to creaming butter and sugar, some days it seems more relaxing to do it by hand rather than get out the electric beaters. However there was quite a lot of it and took me a while.

My thoughts meandered along the lines of positing that if we run out of fossil fuels for electricity, I would have a skill I could share. But then I started to think I probably wouldn’t have my gas oven and might need a wood oven like my mum has. Then I got to worrying about felling trees for firewood, especially given we live in the city. Not to mention concerns about how we make chocolate, how we get spices to Australia, how we keep dairy cool without a fridge. Argh! Would climate change mean no chocolate cakes? A scary prospect. Maybe better to use the electric beaters than have time to contemplate such a future!

Indeed I love my chocolate cakes. If you have a quick look at my index you will find a selection of 13 chocolate cakes. Some of my favourites would have to be walnut fudge cake, one bowl flourless chocolate cake and melt and mix chocolate chunk mud cake. Special occasion cakes that are meant to be shared. All indulgently rich and gooey. Just the sort of cake that Lorraine has asked for in her Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge at Not Quite Nigella.

She has asked us to make our Best Ever Chocolate Cake. But which one? Despite having blogged about some of my favourite cakes, I realised that there are still plenty more. I started thinking of other chocolate cake recipes I have returned to due to fond memories: Helen Goh’s chocolate cake, Nigella’s store cupboard chocolate orange cake, chocolate banana cake, and the paragon choc orange cake. I checked my notebook that I write my recipes in and a quick count showed there to be 34 different chocolate cake recipes. That doesn’t even include all the chocolate cake recipes in my cookbooks.

Searching my memory, one cake stood out for me as fascinating and delicious enough to make again and again, yet not so rich as to have to be kept for a special occasion. It was originally an Applesauce Cocoa Cake from Molly Katzen’s Still Life with Menu Cookbook. But when I first made it a couple of years ago at an afternoon tea around Halloween, I also used some leftover pumpkin from pumpkin scones. So I made it again this weekend with a few extra changes (Zinc is not the only one to want a little creative control). I think this cake pleases so much because it has so many elements that I love in good chocolate cakes – vegetables, fruit, nuts, spices, and of course cocoa!

The pumpkin adds to the light texture of the cake and the spices make it rich but not indulgently so. It is best on the day with either a light dusting of icing sugar or iced (icing sugar, cocoa, a knob of butter and hot water). But it will last for a few days and some of mine will go in the freezer for later. I am not sure I would be bold enough to claim it is the best chocolate cake ever. There are too many out there to choose from. But when climate change alters our lives drastically, I hope we will still be able to bake such a cake!

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake
(adapted from Molly Katzen)

185g butter
1½ cups brown sugar (lightly packed)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp orange zest
2 cups plain white flour
1 cup plain wholemeal flour
½ cup cocoa (I used dutch cocoa)
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup (100g) finely ground almonds
1 cup mashed pumpkin*
½ cup sugar free raspberry jam*
½ cup yoghurt

*To prepare the pumpkin, take a wedge of pumpkin (I used Kent) weighing about 350g. Trim and peel. Cut into chunks and microwave on high for about 4-5 minutes til soft. Use a fork to mash. You could also substitute unsweetened apple sauce for the raspberry jam and/or pumpkin.

Preheat oven to 200 C (350 F). Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin.

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla and orange zest. Beat well. Set aside.

Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix pumpkin, jam and yoghurt together. Add dry ingredients and pumpkin mixture to butter mixture in two batches (wet, dry, wet, dry). Stir til just combined. It makes quite a stir mixture.

Spoon into prepared tin and bake for 45-55 minutes or til a skewer comes out clean. (NB mine took 45 minutes.) Cool on a wire rack. Serve iced or dusted with icing sugar.

On the Stereo:
16 Lovers Lane – the Go Betweens


  1. Johanna, you're a poster girl for pumpkin, I reckon! Yum-o.

    Hard to pick a favourite of all time. Well done to you for trying!

    Your mum has a wood-fired stove? I'm intrigued. Any chance of a photo next time you're there?

  2. Don't worry too much about climate change - you don't need dairy to make an awesome chocolate cake!

  3. Oh my word - chocolate AND pumpkin? I think you may be some sort of genius, and that your skills will be needed in other ways than firing an oven by the power of stirring (that could be a good way round the problem) when the meltdown comes.

  4. I think I should try this recipe. I like the idea of chocolate cake, but quite often they look nice, but taste dry and disappointing.
    There is an award for you on my blog

  5. Sounds like a wonderful cake (actually, they all sound wonderful!). I love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate--seems so rich and decadent.

  6. thanks Lucy - yes, I should get a photo of my mum's wood stove - it is lovely in winter and very ornamental in summer! And I like your sentiments about me being a pumpkin poster girl - I could do that when we run out of fossil fuels!!!

    Thanks Lisa - you are so right about doing without dairy - in fact I have a dairy surplus in the kitchen right now and it is quite an effort to think how to use it up!

    Thanks Lysy - your comment made me laugh as I realised maybe my post was suggesting my cat was the genius and I was just fit for stirring cake mixture - I wouldn't dare suggest this to her as she already has too many airs and graces :-)

    Thanks Flower - E has discovered eating the cake with cream but really it is moist enough without it

    Thanks Ricki - yes pumpkin and chocolate is a great combination - and this cake does have a surprising richness and decadence!

  7. Goodness what a lot of chocolate cakes and all so wonderfuly different. You certainly know your chocolate cakes.

    I've given you an award, go to my blog to collect it :)

  8. Cool. 'Cos I'd LOVE to see it.

  9. thanks Katie - yes when it comes to chocolate cakes I know too much :-) Thanks for the award - v kind!

  10. i'm sure the pumpkin adds great moisture. sweet potatoes may work too. zinc has a great personality. :-)

  11. thanks Bee - good point about substituting sweet potatoes - and yes most definitely re Zinckie!


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