Death by Chocolate Cake

Death by Chocolate Cake

I was in two minds whether to write this post. In my overly critical mind, I had sorely messed up. A fudgey but not too rich cake was on my mind when I began to measure out the grapeseed oil and sift gram after gram of cocoa powder. I dreamt of slicing through a thick ganache like softened butter, easing out a slice to wonder at three perfect layers of cake, a slick chocolate coating and a sliver of crisp chocolate shard. Oh how wrong I was.

A couple of weeks ago I nervously took to the kitchen in the first of three sessions to perfect what will now been known as Operation Two Tier Cake. Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that I like to follow the Beautiful Mess challenge of Four Simple Goals. A relatively simple challenge whereby one puts pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – to draft goals to achieve over a couple of months.  One of my goals for spring was to make my first two tier cake, tackling the frankly intimidating world of dowelling rods, cake boards and tins that aren’t your average 20cm. I mean really, half the time I serve up my cakes on a chopping board or my Poundland cake carrier. How on earth was I going to achieve this?

Simple – by making things as hard for myself as possible and offering to make a two tier cake for my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary. You know, the one where EVERYTHING is silver, intimating and refined. Erm, eek…

To conquer my cake-y fear, I accidentally ended up with a three day week in the days before the event, so took the opportunity to recipe test the chocolate cake I was planning to make. Lucky I did, as this cake would have been nowhere near suitable. However, if you are in the market for a beautiful celebration cake that is only one tier and won’t have you crying in the back garden minutes before the guests arrive – yes I did that – then this cake is for you.

At first this cake seems harmless – it is butter-free and uses a delicate grapeseed oil to keep the mixture light. But appearances are deceptive and the practically liquid batter bakes up into a thick richness not dissimilar to a torte. The ganache is thick and bitter, the high percentage of cocoa in the ganache mirroring the toothsome sweetness of the cake. It chills perfectly, and almost 4 days later was still delicious sliced up from the fridge. It will feed a great deal of people, so portion delicately as so to savour the richness of this cake. The chocolate shards were my first attempt for the real thing and although I preferred to smooth over baking parchment in the end, the dimpled effect from the clingfilm was quite endearing.

This is the first in a series of posts where I detail how I came to complete this challenge. Once I have permission to use the professional photos (after a few calming champagne flutes my SLR attempts were wobbly to say the least) I will continue the story. I promise it will be worth it and it may will probably make you laugh at me. I am willing to take the hit in the name of chocolate cake art.

Chocolate cake recipe adapted slightly from Poires Au Chocolat’s ‘That Chocolate Cake’ , ganache and chocolate shards adapted from Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli


You Will Need

450g granulated sugar

200g plain flour, sifted

85g cocoa powder, sifted (I like Green and Blacks)

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp table salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

275ml milk

135ml grapeseed oil

275ml boiling water


For the chocolate shards

100g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

¼ tsp unsalted butter

Edible silver spray to decorate


For the ganache

250ml double cream

130g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 85% but if you really don’t think you can handle the bitterness, take it down to 70%)

25g unsalted butter

A pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/gas mark 6. Grease and line three 20cm sandwich tins with  baking parchment and set aside. Note that you cannot use loose bottomed tins for this recipe, even if you test with water. Learned that one the hard way…

Death by Chocolate Ingredients

Place the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Whisk until all the ingredients are equally incorporated, then add the beaten eggs, milk and grapeseed oil. Boil a kettle then add the boiling water to the mix. Turn the speed to low as the batter will become very liquid at this point.

Liquid Chocolate Cake Batter

Divide equally between the three cake tins then place in the oven. Bake for around 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of each comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, removing the paper and leaving the cakes to cool completely.

Marbled Cake Batter

Next begin the chocolate shards. Lay one piece of clingfilm on a baking sheet, ensuring it isn’t wrinkled too much and have another the same size close by (you can use baking parchment for a smoother finish if you prefer).  Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and add the chocolate and butter. Melt two thirds of the way then take off the heat and stir until the chocolate is smooth. To check if the chocolate is ready, dip a (clean!) finger in the bowl and place to your lips; if the chocolate feels cool it’s ready to use. Smooth the chocolate over the clingfilm evenly and place the second sheet on top, smoothing out any air bubbles. Refrigerate for one hour.

Once the cakes have cooled, make up the ganache. Place the chocolate, butter and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the cream gently until bubbling at the sides then pour over the chocolate. Leave to sit for a minute, the stir through until thick and creamy. Leave to one side for around 10-15 minutes. The ganache should thicken to a dropping consistency.

Plain Chocolate Cake

Place the bottom cake on a serving plate or board and place four strips of baking parchment underneath to keep the plate clean. Dollop a tablespoon of ganache over the cake and smooth over neatly. Add another cake on top and repeat. Add the final cake then do a quick crumb layer across the top and sides of the cake to keep it neat. Use the ganache to fill in any gaps or tears in the cake. Leave to set for 10 minutes.

Smooth over the remaining ganache and neaten with the palate knife. Remove the chocolate shards from the fridge and peel back the clingfilm. Evenly spray the edible paint over the chocolate and leave to dry for a few minutes. Carefully break into shards and decorate the top of the cake.

Death by Chocolate Cake


  1. says

    As someone who started following you relatively recently, it’s the first time I hear of the Four Simple Goals challenge, but I caught up with your previous posts about it, and I wanted to thank you for inspiring me to try it myself. I always tend to set myself big targets I never really reach, and this looks like a much more realistic way forward (and by the way, “writing a book” was the first thing that came to my mind as well!).

    Besides this, I look forward to reading more about your cake challenge!

  2. says

    This must be the most delicious looking “mess up” I’ve ever seen! Far too good to give away, I hope you saved it all for yourself 😉


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