Served with cream and berries for afternoon tea or warm for dessert with caramel sauce, this chocolate cake follows what I call the American principle of using vegetable oil instead of butter, and encouraging the rise with a combination of Bicarbonate of soda and an acidic dairy component, most commonly buttermilk but Greek or natural yoghurt is a perfectly good substitute (full fat, of course). If you’re avoiding dairy there is an alternative offered below.

This formula occurs a lot in traditional American baking (for example fruit muffins, red velvet cake etc), and produces a very moist and more dense crumb than our beloved sponge cakes that rely on a higher proportion of egg and raising agent for a dryer and more open texture.

While a Victoria sponge cake can be mixed at leisure and can even tolerate a few hours in the fridge or freezer before baking, this model relies on the acid and alkali combining to raise the batter and the reaction happens instantly when the two meet in the mixing bowl so speed is of the essence.

It’s also quick because there are only a few steps (weigh, mix, bake), there is no separating of eggs or creaming to stabilise, and all the ingredients are readily available.

The coffee reinforces the chocolate flavour but you could leave it out (just add the equivalent in water to make sure the consistency is correct).

In messing about with this recipe, I wanted to make it more dessert-like and started thinking about salted caramel sauce – the kind you have with sticky toffee pud (and ice-cream). It’s magic comes from three star ingredients that together are more than the sum of their parts and match so well with chocolate. I have yet to find a cake that isn’t improved by salted caramel and ice-cream.

I served it one way for tea and the other way for dinner. Both were winners.

 

Ingredients

Makes 1 900g loaf

110g plain flour (if you only have self-raising flour, omit the baking powder)

85g soft dark brown sugar

85g caster sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder (proper, not drinking chocolate)

1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

75ml Greek yoghurt or buttermilk*

30ml neutral vegetable oil, eg sunflower

1 large free-range egg

1tsp vanilla paste or extract

90ml strong black coffee (warm)

Thick cream and berries, or salted caramel sauce and good quality dairy ice-cream to serve

Caramel sauce
120g soft dark brown or Muscovado sugar

120g unsalted butter

120ml double cream

Generous pinch sea salt flakes, eg Maldon

 

 Method

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 1lb (900g) loaf tin with baking parchment.

Weigh out the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine. In a large jug combine the wet ingredients, except the coffee, and whisk together.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients in and use a hand or stand mixer to combine. Add the coffee and give it another quick blast with the mixer.

Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin and give it a good tap on the work surface so it settles in to the corners and releases any trapped air.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 45-50 minutes, until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before gently turning out onto a cooling rack.

To make the sauce, simply put all the ingredients in a saucepan, start over a gentle heat until the butter starts to melt and turn it up to a simmer. Give it a couple of good stirs and you’re done.

*if you’re avoiding dairy, do not add the Bicarb with the dry ingredients, put it in a ramekin and at the final stage of mixing add 1.5 teaspoons of cider vinegar and stir well. Add to the mix with the coffee (it will foam as the acid and alkali react with each other).