Do you remember Sophie Dahl's TV show last year? All cutesy illustrations and tinkly music in an amazing kitchen, accessorized with so much "vintage chic", it was as if a stylist had exploded all over it. No one needs that many little jugs of peonies and artfully distressed, pastel-coloured ladles. The producers also seemed to have enforced a "food by mood" theme which seemed to embarrass poor Sophie, who kept having to witter on a bit about "feeling selfish" or "nostalgic" or whatever, when she could perfectly easily have just said "here is some yummy food I like. Look, here's a pie".
But she was very beautiful and nicely dressed, and I quite liked it. Although it was the girliest programme I have ever seen, it was undemanding, and pretty to look at, and a nice way to spend half an hour on a cold, rainy weeknight. Plus, her food actually looked really tasty - just the kind of thing I like, and faintly health-conscious while still suggesting you eat toffee apple and pear crumble. Which I really want to do.
This recipe came from her "celebration" episode and I tried it when faced with feeding a coeliac last year. No matter how winsome and coquettish Sophie may be, this proved that she knows good cake. It's really simple, absolutely luscious and because you serve it cold from the fridge, it's perfect for easy entertaining. A bit of faff the day before, but a perfect pudding without any last minute prep or cooking. I approve. Of course, the reason it's so easy and delicious is because it's heart-stoppingly unhealthy, but we can't have everything.
Sophie covered it in crème fraiche and great swags of colour-themed berries, but with the zeal of a convert I couldn't think of any better accompaniment than pears. Specifically the vanilla-roasted pears I've made before, which I cooked at the same time as the cake on the preceding evening and just warmed up at the last minute. And because we're greedy, we also had vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. Frankly, it seemed a bit late to be thinkinng about healthiness at that point.
We served this after our burger extravaganza and it seemed to go down pretty well with our meat-stuffed guests - although by that point I think we'd just battered them into submission with booze. But even stone cold sober, this is a winner - not just for gluten-free diners, but anyone who likes fudgy, melting chocolate squidge. Which is surely everyone, no?
So no matter how girlish and twee Sophie Dahl's programme may have been, don't let it put you off - this recipe really is a winner. I've got my eye on her borscht with vodka as well. Now that pears are a part of my life, I've still got to work on Operation Beetroot. But for now, there's left over chocolate cake that is calling my name. I suspect that there might not be any left by tomorrow.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
From Sophie Dahl's tv show, recipe available here
- - 300g of dark chocolate, broken into bits
- - 225g caster sugar (I tend to use vanilla sugar if I have it)
- - 180ml boiling water
- - 225g salted butter
- - 6 eggs, separated
- - a teaspoon of instant coffee powder if you have it, not if you don't
- - 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or one of vanilla bean paste
- Preheat the oven to 180C and line a cake tin with parchment. Blitz the chocolate and sugar together in a food processor until you have a fine powder, then add the water, butter, egg yolks, coffee, and vanilla and whiz until it's all combined.
Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until stiff peaks, then fold them into the chocolate gloop with a metal spoon. Pour this into the cake tin (it'll be very runny) and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a skewer in the middle comes out clean. Mine took a bit longer, so I think the top went a bit darker than is ideal - it still tasted good though so no problem.
Let it cool in the tin, then keep in the fridge until serving for pure fudginess. BE WARNED that it's incredibly difficult to get out of the tin without falling apart - I didn't manage it either time, so just be prepared to squidge it back together or cover up any cracks with cream or icing sugar. Serve with creme fraiche and berries (Sophie's way) or roasted pears, ice cream and chocolate sauce (my way). Either way, it'll be good.