bake & decorate (flourless chocolate cake)

This week I appear to be a step behind everyone. First, a couple of blogger reviews for an East London eatery popped up before I had a chance to pen my own, then my twitter feed brings to my attention two posts on Fiona Cairns’ ‘Bake & Decorate’. I guess I should be thankful, as this prompted me to pull out my sad, half-written number from my bulging drafts folder and finally give it the attention it deserves. Mind you I hadn’t actually forgotten about it – I was simply holding out with the intention of attempting more recipes before giving my final verdict. Unfortunately due to my poor self-restraint during (as well as before, and after) the Easter period, I can ill-afford to bake (and consume) any more than the two cakes I have already made.

The pretty lavender volume features 30 recipes, followed by more than 50 decorating ideas for the preceeding cakes and cookies. As I have my fair share of baking tomes, it was the latter portion that I was most interested in delving into. First impressions were good, with plenty of bright, well-composed pictures and fun-looking concoctions. However closer inspection reveals the instructions and designs themselves to be pretty simplistic; in fact each of those double pages could have been condensed into a one paragraph tip, placed at the end of the corresponding cake recipe. I was further put off by many of the projects requiring purchases of animal-shaped cutters, foliage stencils, lollipops (apparently sticking them into iced cupcakes qualifies as decorating) and the like. A lot of the designs are cute though, and would certainly put a smile on any child’s face. I’m just not sure you need this book to re-create them.

Disappointed by the ‘Decorate’ segment, I decided to focus on the actual cake recipes instead. I had not heard of Fiona Cairns prior to picking up the book, but the inside cover assures me that her illustrious clientele include British institutions Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and Selfridges, as well as superstars Bono, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney. So surely her cakes must be good. The first I tried came out rather well, and I was so pleased with the Flourless Chocolate Cake that I’ve made it twice since! Rich and chocolaty, yet still light and moist – sort of like a lighter version of a fudge brownie. The only issue was how fragile it was, cutting and plating was a bit of a nightmare as the crumbly texture meant the cake easily falls apart (this is when adorning with berries comes in handy).

The Victoria Sponge I attempted was not quite as successful – it looked the part but the cake was dense, heavy and not at all sponge-like. I think this was largely due to the the “throw-it-all-in-and-mix” method, which logically would never have yielded an airy sponge. This could be a one-off dud, but I am reluctant to try another considering the many other more reliable books I have on hand (although the Sticky Toffee Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream might just tempt me!).

Having said that I will definitely be revisiting the Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake. The original recipe uses hazelnuts but Fiona mentions that almonds or pecans would make good substitutes, so I made mine with ground almonds and left out the suggested ganache as I felt it would be plenty sweet enough as is (I was right). You can top with raspberries or, as I prefer, with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream and a smidgen of whipped cream. Divine!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
serves 8

90g unsalted butter, cubed (plus more for greasing)
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into pieces
90g golden caster sugar
60g ground almonds
3 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Butter well a 20cm round cake tin (or a rectangular brownie tin), and line the base with baking parchment.

Place the chocolate, butter and 70g of the sugar in a bowl over a gently simmering pot of water (ensure the base of the bowl does not touch the water) and melt together gently. Remove from heat, stir in the almonds and set aside to cool. Beat the egg yolks until they change to a paler colour, then stir into the cooled chocolate mixture.

In another very clean bowl, whisk your egg whites, then slowly add the remaining sugar until the mixture forms soft peaks. Take a large spoonful and fold into the chocolate, to lighten it. Then fold in the rest (with a metal spoon or spatula) as gently and lightly as you can until just combined (if there are a few white streaks in the mixture that’s fine).

Transfer the batter into your greased cake tin and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cold carefully overturn the cake onto a plate (it is very fragile so do it slowly or it will fall apart!), so that the base becomes the top of the cake.

I find it’s best served on the day of baking but will keep reasonably well for up to 2 days in an airtight container.

Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns is now available on Amazon.
(RRP £19.99, published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd)

Many thanks to Quadrille Publishing for kindly providing the review copy.

~ by gourmettraveller on April 15, 2010.

6 Responses to “bake & decorate (flourless chocolate cake)”

  1. Wow…flourless…looks rich and very chocolatey. I really like that. I’ll look out for that book.

  2. Now, that is a great recipe and I shall try it soon for my husband’s birthday!

    • it’s good! but like I said, very fiddly to serve. i found the easiest way was to press metal ring molds into it, then gently nudge it back out on a plate for neat, round individual cakes. hmmm, that tip’s not so useful for a birthday cake is it?

  3. Oh ok… I shall give the flourless cake a go then. Good review and agree with everything you’ve said. That salted caramel frosting is flipping good though – just don’t let the caramel go cold as the book says to.

  4. I love flourless chocolate cake. There is nothing richer or better! I will have to take a peek at this cookbook.

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