The Musette: chocolate cake

A bit like little black dresses, a girl can never have too many recipes for chocolate cake in her armoury. I recently read about an Italian chocolate cake made with a particular red wine and decided I just had to recreate it, albeit with a twist. Mine was made with Rioja so I suppose that would make it Spanish!

I often find chocolate cakes that use cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate can be a bit dry but this time I reckoned the wine would counter the issue – and I was correct in my assumption. This is a lovely moist cake that, at a pinch, could be served warm as a dessert with either ice cream, creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Red wine and chocolate - what's not to like? (image: Sheree)

Ingredients (makes 96 fingers)

  • 300g (2 cups) sugar (use any type)
  • 200g (1⅔ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 75g (¾ cup) cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 large organic eggs beaten, approx 45g each (1⅔oz) without their shells
  • 250ml (1 cup) buttermilk  or milk with a tsp of vinegar or lemon juice
  • 250ml (1 cup) dry red wine
  • 125ml (½ cup) light-flavoured olive (vegetable) oil

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Grease a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil loaf tin 13cm x 23cm x 7cm (5” x 9” x 3”). They’re easier for storing the cakes in the freezer, which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. This amount fills three cake tins.

3. Sift and combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), coffee and salt into a bowl, add the sugar and stir with a fork to combine well.

4. In another bowl, mix the beaten egg with olive oil, wine, buttermilk and vanilla extract.

5. Add wet ingredients to dry, fold gently with a spatula to combine, ensuring there are no remaining pockets of flour. The mixture will be quite runny.

6. Pour the mixture into the three baking pans, put them into the middle of the oven on a baking tray and cook for 30-35 minutes. Baking times will vary depending on the dimensions of your baking tins and your oven, so check regularly. The cakes are ready when a toothpick inserted into their centre comes out clean.

7. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and eating, or freezing for no longer than two months. The cakes will keep for a week in an airtight container providing I hide them from my husband.

A deliciously moist cake (image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cakes are browning at the edges, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4. You can substitute the olive oil for another mild or unflavoured vegetable oil.

5. I don’t think the type of wine matters too much, just so long as it’s both red and dry.

6. I cut each cake into 32 fingers – in total 96 finger sized portions to feed a lot of cyclists!

The Musette: Brownies

Hands up who doesn’t love brownies? Thought so! This is a recipe from Hannah Grant’s The Grand Tour Cook Book that I’ve tweaked and have cooked for numerous professional cyclists. It’s universally popular and, according to my beloved, is my best brownie recipe ever. I should warn you, he’s not lightly given to exaggeration.

At this time of year, many of the pros, including my crack team of taste testers, are trying to lose that last stubborn kilogram so cakes are only permitted post-race. Strade Bianche’s a tough race, riding over the white gravel sections requires total concentration and don’t get me started on that final climb up into the Piazza. I checked the start list, saw two of my friends were riding, and cooked up a few batches of brownies to take with me.

These are deliciously rich and gooey, so just a small finger does the trick. One tray’s enough for eight riders, even after that gargantuan effort.

Ingredients (makes enough for 16 cyclists)

  • 375g (3 sticks and 3tbsp) unsalted  butter
  • 375g (14oz) 70% dark chocolate, chopped
  • 375g (14oz) unrefined cane sugar
  • 6 large organic eggs, weighing approx 45g (1⅔oz) without shell
  • 225g (8oz) almond flour
  • 1 tsp instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 150g chopped walnuts (optional)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/gas mark 3 (325°F/300°F fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of two  baking tins. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the brownies in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove them. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving.

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3. Melt together the chocolate and butter either in the microwave on a medium setting or in a glass bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (bain-marie), whisk to combine and allow to cool. Add the coffee powder, vanilla essence, salt and whisk to combine.

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4. Beat the eggs and sugar together to dissolve the sugar.

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5. Now lightly fold in the melted chocolate mix, the almond flour and walnuts with a spatula.

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6. Pour the mixture into the two baking tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. The top of the cake at the edges should be crinkly and a skewer or toothpick inserted in the centre should still have some mixture clinging to it.

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7. Let the brownies cool in the tins and then refrigerate to firm up before cutting. Because of the fat content, I store the brownies in the fridge. They’ll keep for a week  – providing they’re well hidden – equally, they’ll happily sit in the freezer for a month.

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Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the brownies in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you don’t like your brownies to be this dark, substitute a chocolate with a lower percentage of chocolate.

4. I have made them with and without walnuts – your choice. Or substitute the walnuts with chopped pecans or hazelnuts.

5. These are so rich, they need no further adornment. However, my beloved enjoys them with a dollop of crème fraiche.