Pleasure On A Budget: Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake (sadly not vegan)

First of all, let me address the glamorous goddess in the room. This is obviously not my recipe and nor will I pretend it is. I’m publishing this to make a point (and shut up haters). To borrow from Dwayne The Rock Johnson…it doesn’t matter how cheap your ingredients are!

As Jack Monroe has always stated, the ingredients to any recipe are mere building blocks. It’s what you do with them that counts. So whether you got them from Waitrose 1, Tesco Value, or your local corner shop, you can be confident that you’ll still arrive at the same result if the recipe is good.

And this enchanting, confounding, deeply pleasurable cake from Queen Nigella can be made either with top-tier organic range….or entirely of value ingredients. I’ve tried it many ways and I can assure you it is ALWAYS nothing less than sumptuously good and worthy of its title – far greater than the sum of its parts.

I was keen to see just how much I could ‘cheapen’ this cake to fit my sadly stricter budget these days and not feel like it was compromised. It hasn’t at all. Because I’ve made a few changes I wondered if it was worth posting…I feel it is, though of course I have linked the original recipe to show that I never intended to plagiarise.

The icing I wondered if it would turn out sickly because of the lower percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate but I find that budget-brand plain chocolate is a dark horse in cooking. It’s produced in France (Tesco) and Germany (Sainsbury’s) and the continentals know a thing or two about making good chocolate. Cocoa solids are a mere 45% (compared the 70% usually recommended in cakes like this) and it does contain whey, but for the tiny price tag it snaps nicely and has a good sheen, and I’ve always found it easy to cook with and never tastes nasty, synthetic or cheap. So it may be 45p a bar but all you’ve paid for is the chocolate and who cares about the ugly wrapper? It may be sweeter than 70% solids but that’s countered by the welcome bitter edge brought by the instant coffee and the cocoa powder and the margarine contains salt anyway so really…it’s just a slightly different formula that results in an identical taste.

I find that the icing made with these particular ingredients goes very thick but that’s not a hardship – for my clumsy self it made it far easier to spread and it sets beautifully. I’m not bothered about mirror glaze finishes. I bake cakes for taste.

I do recommend sticking with Nigella’s stated dark brown soft sugar as I find it’s not a bank breaker but I’m sure if you’ve only got the granulated white stuff to hand, there’s more than enough flavour given by the cocoa and coffee in the cake itself too. And as for the vinegar needed to help the cake rise – it’s such a tiny amount that you can use regular malt, distilled even. That’s the beauty of this recipe. So I’m not trying to pass off this as my own. I’m just saying what I did and proving that Nigella’s haters have yet another of their pathetic arguments nulled and voided – this is not an expensive cake and Aldi and Lidl will stock everything you need.

As for the topping – she says use whatever your heart desires. I topped mine with freeze-dried raspberries and freeze-dried tangerine powder as I happened to have those int he cupboard from more prosperous times. Use what’s to hand and within your budget. Or leave it plain.

Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake On A Budget

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Cake:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g soft dark brown sugar (I tend to have this in but I’m sure granulated would be fine here)
  • 375ml hot water – from a recently boiled kettle
  • 6 tbsp (90ml) vegetable oil
  • 1½ tsp vinegar (even clear distilled is fine)

Icing:

  • 60 ml/4 tbsp cold water
  • 75g margarine (I used essential Waitrose sunflower spread which also makes a fabulously light Victoria sandwich and only £1 a tub)
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1½ tbsp cocoa
  • 150g plain chocolate, broken into pieces

You will  also need a 20cm/8in round springform cake tin, lined with greaseproof and lightly greased.

  1. Start with the icing, though first preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and pop in a baking sheet at the same time.
  2. To make the icing, put all the ingredients bar the chocolate into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure it’s all dissolved together before turning off the heat and adding the broken chocolate. Swirl the pan to make sure it’s submerged; leave for a minute before whisking until glossy and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Put the dry ingredients – flour, bicarb, salt and cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.
  4. Dissolve the instant coffee granules in the water, before mixing in the sugar, vegetable oil and vinegar.
  5. This cake is literally wet-into-dry – once the wet’s all mixed (ensure the oil isn’t floating on the top), tip into the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined and there’s no lumps, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though ovens do vary – do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done – but you may need to bake for an additional 10 minutes as well.
  6. When it’s ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgy cake and you don’t want to overdo it – chocolate cake can take being slightly underdone and squidge is desirable here.
  7. Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.
  8. When the cake is cooled, unspring from the tin and place on a stand or plate. Stir the icing in case it’s really thick and then spread with rapturous joy over the cake. I found it to have the exact consistency of buttercream frosting when made with these ingredients so just frost away.
  9. If you want to decorate it, just sprinkle with whatever your heart desires and then leave to set before slicing.
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