Monday 31 October 2011

Halloween Hell

Halloween!  What a perfect time for kids.  What a super time to spend time together as a family. How many Halloween magazine spreads do I have to bear - happy children, beautiful spotless house, everyone smiling, carving pumpkins, baking cakes, dressing-up, happy, happy, happy......Looks so lovely and if it wasn't for one thing, it really would be quite easy to achieve the fantasy. What is the obstacle that once again so cruelly prevents me from finally achieving that perfect family moment?  The bloody kids!  

Instead, an hours happy recreation is turned into a stress filled two hours, with another hour just to clear up. "Please get you fingers out of the cakes", "Don't eat any more icing, you will be sick",  "Of course I love you helping me, but you can't use that very sharp knife","I told you not to eat anymore icing", "You can't lick the spoon and use it again",  "I have absolutely had enough.  Just go and play somewhere else!"  Slimy pumpkin seeds litter the floor, sticky icing on every possible surface.  Happy, happy, happy.........

I have to admit that I never used to make many cakes.  Once I started cooking in restaurants there was never much call for them as they were not considered a classic dessert.  An exception was the Chocolate Nemesis at the River Cafe which I made so often that I can still remember the recipe off by heart even today.  It was so mousse-like in texture that I suppose it wasn't really a cake at all  and passed as a pudding.  

Now a days, two kids later and what with birthdays, mum's coffee mornings and endless school charity cake sales, I seem to be endlessly making cakes and my skills are coming along.  I am not going to pretend that I am anyway as talented as all those cupcake bloggers out there who spend their lives in pursuit of the perfect cupcake and my heart will still always be with the savoury but this week was my son, Daniel's seventh birthday birthday.  I must admit that I only intended to make the cup-cakes and buy the cake but when I got to the supermarket they had sold out of Halloween cakes, four days before Halloween itself.  So I ended up making that as well.  

I chose a super chocolate cake recipe which is really easy and fantastically rich and fudge-like in consistency.  In contrast I wanted the cup cakes to be as light as possible.  The vanilla cupcake recipe is from The Hummingbird Bakery and somehow manages to be airy but chewy at the same time, which I find quite satisfying.  The chocolate Nutella cupcakes I got from The Ordinary Cook.  I have made them before and they are a winner.  Just sublime.  Once I got the kids out the way it was plain sailing.

Amazing Chocolate Cake
200g good quality dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa solids
200g butter , cut in pieces
1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1⁄4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g light muscovado sugar
200g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs
75ml buttermilk (5 tbsp)
grated chocolate or curls, to decorate

Chocolate Ganache
200g good-quality dark chocolate , as above
284ml carton double cream (pouring type)
2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Butter a 20cm round cake tin (7.5cm deep) and line the base. Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3. Break the chocolate in pieces into a medium, heavy-based pan. Tip in the butter, then mix the coffee granules into 125ml/4fl oz cold water and pour into the pan. Warm through over a low heat just until everything is melted - don't overheat. Or melt in the microwave on Medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.
While the chocolate is melting, mix the two flours, bicarbonate of soda, sugars and cocoa in a big bowl, mixing with your hands to get rid of any lumps. Beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the buttermilk.

Now pour the melted chocolate mixture and the egg mixture into the flour mixture, stirring just until everything is well blended and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour this into the tin and bake for 1 hour 25- 1 hour 30 minutes - if you push a skewer in the centre it should come out clean and the top should feel firm (don't worry if it cracks a bit). Leave to cool in the tin (don't worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When the cake is cold, cut it horizontally into three. Make the ganache: chop the chocolate into small pieces and tip into a bowl. Pour the cream into a pan, add the sugar, and heat until it is about to boil. Take off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.

Sandwich the layers together with just a little of the ganache. Pour the rest over the cake letting it fall down the sides and smoothing to cover with a palette knife. Decorate with grated chocolate or a pile of chocolate curls or ghosts. The cake keeps moist and gooey for 3-4 days.

Vanilla Cupcakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120ml whole milk
1 egg
¼tsp vanilla extract
1 quantity vanilla frosting
a 12-hole cupcake tray, lined with paper cases
Vanilla frosting:
250g icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
25ml whole milk
a couple of drops of vanilla extract

Nutella Filled Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 10
110g light soft brown sugar
110g softened butter
120g self raising flour (or plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder added)
20g good quality cocoa
2 eggs
Nutella or hazelnut chocolate spread, about 6 teaspoons.  Place all of the ingredients, except for the Nutella, in a large bowl and whisk well until all is combined.  Place a scant teaspoonful of the mixture into a fairy cake (mini muffin) case in a patty (mini muffin) tin. Place half a teaspoonful of Nutella on top. Cover with another scant teaspoonful of cake batter. Repeat with the remaining eleven. Place in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the baking oven of the Aga for 15-20 minutes until springy to the touch of a light finger.  Place on a wire rack to cool.


  1. what fantastic cakes, brilliantly decorated!

  2. Wow. Thank you Ruth. I take it as a real compliment from you! I must admit, I did enjoy the eye-ball.

  3. So great! I have to say I find your food pics so enticing. These cakes are brilliant!

  4. These look wondeful! What a pity halloween doesn't last a bit longer!

  5. Ha ha, I so recognize your life... the bloody kids part, not your wonderful baking... am only a mere amateur at baking... will try some of your recipes tho now. Nom nom nom

  6. Thank you for all your comments. It's lovely to get some feedback.


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