Whoa, wait, hang on a minute. Christmas is in how many days? I haven’t done a thing.
Well, we have a Christmas tree, though it’s getting more undressed by the day (saucy). And I have half a knitted garland for my living room. But no presents and no prep. I need to get a grip. Shake some jingle bells, that sort of thing. And also, make some Christmas food, because nothing says festivity to me like festive baking. I wanted to get stuck in to biscuits and pies and Christmas morning muffins, but first we had a party to attend. Party people want to eat chocolate cake, and that is the truth.
We decided on the Hummingbird Bakery’s sweet and salty chocolate cake, in a moment of heady abandon. If the holidays mean decadence, this is the cake for the season: three layers of chocolate sponge, sandwiched with salty caramel and caramel chocolate frosting. It’s a tiny bit obscene. When I got home from the supermarket I put all of the ingredients on the table and we stood and gaped for a while. How much sugar? How much cream?
Oh, go on then.
Start with salty caramel. You combine syrup, sugar and water, boil it for ten minutes, combine it with lightly salted double cream and sour cream (which has also been boiled) and stir like billy-oh. That’s stage one, and the caramel it makes is delicious. I’m never sure how I feel about salted caramel, by the way, but this isn’t off-puttingly salty, so you’ll be fine.
Then repeat the process exactly, but without the salt, and end up with another bowl of creamy caramel that becomes the frosting, once you’ve added half a ton of chocolate and some butter. You’re supposed to whip and whip with a whisk until the mixture cools. After the chocolate, the frosting turned thick and spatula-friendly, which was exciting. Then after the butter, it suddenly became thinner and silky-smooth. I hoped it would solidify in the fridge (it didn’t), but perhaps it’s supposed to be splashier.
That’s stage two. Stage three is the sponge. And this was the exciting bit, because I got to break in the ancient (let’s say ‘vintage’, that’s trendier) Kenwood mixer I just inherited from a very lovely friend. It’s a thing of beauty. I can’t stop looking at it. And I cannot believe that it’s possible to make up a cake mix with no input from me or my bicep whatsoever. What is this?!
Twenty-five minutes later, and after I’d decided to get rid of one of the cake layers to save time, we were on to the assembly. I was right: the frosting was a pain to keep on, especially sliding over the caramel. But it looked rather spiffy, all the same.
The verdict, then –
Deliciousness: Do you know, we thought it was only alright. Don’t get me wrong, it was a delicious chocolate cake. The caramel frosting went all fudgy, the sponge was soft, and it was beautifully rich. But we couldn’t taste the caramel, salty or no, which meant that after all that effort we’d just made… a chocolate cake. A very good chocolate cake. But not a life-changer.
Complexity: The most difficult bit was keeping the frosting on the cake. The rest of it was a little more time-consuming than your average effort, but not hard.
Washing-up pile: Approximately twenty-seven. Thousand. Maybe more. It was a lot.
Casualties: Distracted by frosting at a crucial point, Timothy stubbed his toe on the wall halfway through the afternoon. It wasn’t all bad. In throes of agony on the sofa, he asked (through the medium of song) for a spoonful of the caramel stuff as his last request. I was sympathetic, and complied.