Let them eat cake

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am

Loaf cakes can be simple snacks fit for feeding a hungry child after school or, with the right accompaniments, be dressed up to serve as dessert at a dinner party. Here are two basic recipes: the gingerbread is delicious with honeycomb ice cream; the chocolate cake is good in a decadent variation on a sundae, layered with vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream then smothered in rich, warm chocolate sauce.

Gingerbread with orange glaze (pictured)

This recipe is based on one in M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. The book was written in 1942 and its focus was on cooking and eating within the privations of war. The recipe reflects that - it's remarkably austere, containing just a little fat (the original called for shortening rather than butter), one egg and a little sugar. Despite this, the gingerbread is dark, moist and delicious. The orange glaze is my addition (Fisher suggests serving it with wine sauce or brandy butter sauce), but the gingerbread also tastes fine on its own. The batter is very loose, so don't think you've made a mistake.

For the gingerbread:

60 grams butter (or shortening), slightly softened, plus extra for greasing the tin

50 grams sugar (white or brown)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2-3 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp fine sea salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 large egg, at room temperature

170 grams treacle (molasses)

3/4 tsp baking soda, divided

180ml boiling water

160 grams plain flour

For the glaze:

100 grams icing sugar, sieved

20ml fresh orange juice

Finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour a 1.5 litre loaf tin. Sieve ? tsp of baking soda into the treacle in a bowl - it will form a thick froth on the surface, so leave a little room for expansion.

Cream the butter with the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking powder until light. Stir in the treacle then the egg. Mix ? tsp baking soda into the boiling water. Stir about one third of the flour into the butter/spice mixture and let it almost fully incorporate before slowly mixing in half the water/baking soda.

Scrape the bowl with a spatula to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Stir half the remaining flour into the mixture then add the rest of the water/baking soda. Thoroughly incorporate the remaining flour, making sure there are no lumps. Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake at 170 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the cake is fragrant and starting to retract from the sides of the tin. When you press the surface with your finger, it should not leave an indentation.

Cool for about 30 minutes before removing from the tin. When the gingerbread is completely cool, mix the sieved icing sugar with the fresh orange juice and zest. Check the consistency to make sure it's thick enough to coat a spoon. If necessary, add more icing sugar. Pour over the gingerbread and allow it to drip down the sides.

Chocolate cake with Grand Marnier syrup

250 grams unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the tins

150 grams bittersweet chocolate (containing from 65 to 80 per cent cacao), broken into pieces

200 grams cake flour (or plain flour)

50 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (don't use the Dutch-processed type)

5 large eggs, at room temperature

250 grams sugar, divided

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

For the syrup:

80ml boiling water

15 grams sugar

60ml Grand Marnier

Melt the butter, stir in the chocolate then cool until it's lukewarm. Sift the cake flour and cocoa powder together. Break one egg into a large mixing bowl then add the yolks of the four remaining eggs. Put the four egg whites into a clean, dry medium-sized mixing bowl. Grease and flour two loaf tins capable of holding 1.5 litres each (they can be slightly larger). Make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the boiling water. Allow to cool then stir in the Grand Marnier. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Use an electric mixer to beat the egg and egg yolks with 150 grams of sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is thick and pale yellow (about five minutes). Add the baking powder and beat for 30 seconds. Stir in the butter/chocolate with a spatula. Use the mixer on low speed to mix in the flour/cocoa powder in three additions. Wash the beaters with hot, soapy water then dry them.

Using the electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Add the sugar and continue to whip until the whites reach soft-medium peaks. Add about one-third of the whites to the batter and mix quickly. Gently fold in the remaining whites in two additions, trying to maintain as much volume as possible. Divide the batter between the two tins and bake at 180 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the cakes are fragrant and start to retract from the sides of the tin. When you touch the surface gently with your fingertip, it should not leave an indentation.

Remove the cakes from the oven and use a long, thin skewer to poke holes all over the top, poking all the way to the bottom of the tin. Brush the syrup liberally over the surface. After 10 minutes, carefully turn the cakes out of the tins and turn them on one side. Poke holes in the sides of the cakes, brush generously with the syrup then turn them over and repeat the process.

Very carefully turn the cakes upside-down (they're fragile because they're still warm), poke holes in the bottom and brush generously with syrup. Turn the cakes right side up on the cooling rack and brush the tops and sides again with the remaining syrup.

Let them cool completely before wrapping securely in plastic wrap. Leave them for about eight hours so the moisture has time to spread throughout the cakes.