Well, it has reached that time of year again, it feels as if Christmas is just around the corner. It’s that time when we tackle the various baking challenges that the festive period has to offer. For today´s festive bake, I’ve had a go at an alltime favorite of mine with a rather nice twist, a Chocolate Butter Cake with Walnuts. Think of this cake as basically a cross between a Dutch boterkoek and chocolate shortbread. Crunchy sides, soft, slightly chewy middle and incredibly rich and quite indulgent at this time of year.
To be honest, I don’t think you can properly enjoy the festive seasons if you don’t spend part of it in the kitchen with the aromas of spices and chocolate and citrus filling the air, using every pot, pan, bowl, whisk and sieve, not to mention all those cake molds, cookie cutters etc.
This is a nice cake to bake in a square cake pan or a round one if you prefer. With so few ingredients, it does require some good butter but also some high-quality cocoa powder for a really indulgent, chocolatey taste. So, for the best dark and velvety cocoa powder, try shops that specialize in fine chocolates or look out for your favorite good-quality brand - for the best tasting cake with a dark, rich color, I recommend you use Dutch process cocoa powder.
Chocolate Buttercake with Walnuts
Ingredients for the Cake
- 250 g butter, unsalted, room temperature (plus some to butter the cake pan)
- 250 g light brown sugar (such as Billington´s Light Muscovado Sugar or use Dutch "Lichte Basterd Suiker")
- 1 1/2 tsps pure vanilla sugar (homemade or use good-quality store bought)
- 2 eggs (L), organic or free range, divided
- 210 g AP (plain) flour
- 40 g Dutch process cocoa powder (choose a very good-quality cocoa powder)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- a generous pinch of fine sea salt
- 80 g freshly cracked walnuts NOTE: you could use chopped hazelnuts instead of walnuts, though you should toast them first, then rub off their skins before using) OR use slithered almonds
- serve alongeside: seasonal fruits, fruit salad, lemon curd, vanilla ice-cream, double cream or lightly whipped cream OR serve as is with or with a dusting of powdered sugar
- optional: if you are using slithered almonds in the cake, you can add a handful of sliced almonds on top (about 15 minutes into baking)
- a square cake pan aka brownie pan (about 24 x24 cm/9.5 x 9.5 inches) OR use a springform cake pan 23 cm (9 inches) diameter
- baking parchment
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Butter your cake pan, line the base and sides with baking parchment, then butter again.
- Put the butter into the bowl of a food mixer, add the sugar and vanilla sugar and cream for a good 5 minutes until soft and fluffy. Please note: the brown sugar will not beat up as fluffy as white sugar.
- Break one egg into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork to combine (keep the small bowl for later). With the beater at a moderate speed, add the egg to the butter and sugar mixture.
- In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and sea salt.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly creamed.
- Mix in the walnuts or other nuts you are using (this is best done with a wooden spoon as the dough is rather stiff at this point).
- Transfer the mixture to the lined cake pan, gently smoothing the surface (this is best done with lighty floured hands).
- In the same small bowl as above (remember), break up the other egg, mix with a fork and brush the surface of the cake.
- Then score the surface with the tines of your fork (in a criss-cross pattern).
- Put the cake pan in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is firm to the touch but not completely firm, it should be a bit soft to the touch in the middle of the cake.
- Transfer to a rack and leave to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before turning out and slicing. NOTE: this cake is best served on the day it was made, we love it when it is still a bit warm and although it might crumble a bit when you slice it, it is utterly delicious when warm, Any leftover cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept for up to 2 days.
The moistness of the cake will depend not just on the addition of all that good butter (this is a butter cake after all), but how long you bake it. Short of the delicate moment when you mix it all together, it is the baking time that is truly make or break. What you are looking for is the moment, somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes, when your cake is crispy round the edge, but still a bit soft in the center. When baking this cake, please remember that when it comes out of the oven the cake should still be moist - sticky even - in the middle. As it cools the crust will crisp.
My perfect moment for such buttery, chocolatey goodness is in the afternoon, around 4 pm, when a nice piece or slice goes perfectly with a small, strong coffee. It acts as a pick-me-up, a little zip of energy to get you through till lunch or dinner. Or perhaps just through till your next piece of chocolate cake.
Since it is the season not only for showing off all your baked goods, but all your festive decorations and ornaments as well, I decided to bake teeny tiny gingerbread houses and let the kids decorate them while I rummaged through countless boxes searching for my treasured handcrafted wooden set of Hänsel and Gretel and the witch. As I happily retrieved my heirloom figurines from all that tissue paper that they were wrapped in, the kids had put their final touches to the houses and they loved how it all looked - the cake, the gingerbread houses, the powdered sugar snow and the little fairy tale figurines – not a bad start to the festive season.