This is my third instalment of my series in exploring my cookbooks, this time featuring Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson.
I find that different books respond to different moods. When I want to know the minutiae of proper hollandaise technique, I know that there is nowhere to turn but a dog-eared copy of Larousse Gastronomique. A desire for “classic American cooking” is easily sated by flipping though one of the many books by Marion Cunningham. In the mood for adventure? Madhur Jaffrey’s soothing tone can lead even the novice home cook through the complex world of spices.
But there is one author I turn to most often when I’m looking for companionship - Nigella Lawson. One known for her conversational prose rather than complex (or always accurate) preparations, her books bring pure comfort; it is rainy day reading at its best. She doesn't take herself to seriously, with recipes ranging from classic to kitch. Charming and engaging, her writing is like having a chat with another food-loving friend. Details are scattered sometimes, and the stories can be rambling, but it really is all about the food.
I find her books to be inspirational, not in the sense of something to aspire towards, but rather a style of cooking that is closely related to my own everyday routine yet full of new ideas. It is accessible and simple, but still with a world-travelled palate and with an evident fondness for the social aspect of preparing and sharing food.
I will admit, I rarely follow her recipes to the letter. I usually try to make them as written the first time, but after that I usually tweak and fiddle to suit my own tastes. The fact that Lawson includes space for notes in her books speaks to me of her desire for the reader to make each recipe personal - she does not aspire to be the definitive expert on a dish, but rather seems content in introducing you to a method or an ingredient.
Such was the case with this gorgeous Chocolate Cloud Cake. Featured in the book, Nigella Bites, it was such a success I ended up making three in the same amount of days. True, no two cakes were identical (I also took ideas from recipes from Williams-Sonoma and Ina Garten), but hers was the original inspiration — and really, isn’t that saying something? Densely fudgy with a crackling, brownie-like top, this cake is deceptively simple to make, with results far greater than the effort involved.
Chocolate Cloud Cake
Also available online (including US measurements) at Nigella.com.
On days when I want the warmth of the hearth rather than the hurly burly of the city streets I stay in and read cookery books, and this recipe comes from just the sort of book that gives most succour, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax.
The cake itself (which was the pudding I made for last New Year's Eve dinner) is as richly and rewardingly sustaining: a melting, dark, flourless, chocolate base, the sort that sinks damply on cooling; the fallen centre then cloudily filled with softly whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa powder. As Richard Sax says 'intensity, then relief, in each bite'.
For the cake
250g (9 ounces) dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
125g unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
175g caster sugar
2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)
Grated zest of 1 orange (optional)
23cm (9 inch) springform cake tin
For the cream topping:
500ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
Half teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.
Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.
Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 75g of the caster sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the Cointreau and orange zest.
In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the 100g of sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but not too stiff. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the centre is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.
When you are ready to eat, place the still tin-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its tin. Don't worry about cracks or rough edges: it's the crater look we're going for here. Whip the cream until it's soft and then add the vanilla and Cointreau and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a tea-strainer.
• You can make this into an Easter Nest Cake by folding 200g melted chocolate into the cream topping and dotting with the sugar-coated eggs instead of the cocoa. Leave the Cointreau out of both the cake and the cream. (NL)
• When I made this cake, I took some license and added 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the egg yolk/chocolate mixture. I also used a mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolates, for added depth.
• I ran out of parchment paper, and had fine success using a non-stick pan that I buttered and dusted with cocoa powder.
• Miniature versions of this cake are adorable, using six 4-inch springform pans. Adjust cooking times accordingly.