I have mentioned to you before that I did not have a sweet tooth. However, it was not always so. Like many of my generation, I was dispatched to boarding-school at a young age. There, we were served poor and insufficient food. Yes, there were times when I was hungry and the inadequacy of the diet also fostered an appetite for all things sweet, bordering on an addiction. This is where my abiding memory of chocolate cake comes in. On the rare occasions when my parents visited me in boarding-school, my Mother invariably brought me a chocolate cake. Yes, a whole cake all for myself.
Now in other schools, like the polite convent establishment which inadequately prepared my sisters for life, it was the practice for such goodies to be shared with those at one’s table in the school refectory. Not so in my borstal. Despite rules to the contrary, we squirreled away all tuck in our locker in the dormitory and it was then slowly gobbled up, sometimes in the dead of night, when other boys were not about to threaten one’s food hoard. Salivary juices still run riot in my mouth when I think of those large wedges of chocolate cake, which I stuffed clandestinely into my mouth. They melted on the tongue, instantly satisfying those insatiable cravings for anything sweet.
Even then, I dabbled in the kitchen and so I can remember that, in the case of this chocolate cake, ground rice and ground almonds partly or wholly took the place of the more usual flour. The cake also had two icings, a butter icing in the middle and a glacé icing on top. Many years later, I recall asking my Mother for the recipe for this school chocolate cake, which had brought me so much joy. In her characteristically vague way, she promised to search for it but she never did and she took the culinary secret of how it was made to her grave.
Over the years, my consequent inability to re-create this confection periodically came to mind and with it came a sense of sadness, a sadness I shared one day with my older sister. To my surprise, she also had a memory of our Mother’s chocolate cake and wondered where the recipe had gone. She then told me that she had come across a recipe, which produced a chocolate cake that came close to the one made in our youth. It is to be found in West of Ireland Summers, A Cookbook by Tasmin Day-Lewis. It is pure serendipity that this cookbook dwells on the author’s memories of food eaten during childhood summers on the west coast of Mayo, for I too spent the happy summer holidays of my youth in this part of the country.
Be that as it may, with many thanks to Tasmin Day-Lewis, I now share this recipe with you. My sister was right. Although my addiction for sweet things has long since gone, this cake wafts me straight back to that school dormitory with its serried ranks of beds and to the culinary delights of that chocolate confection made by my Mother.
175g good dark chocolate, chopped
175g caster sugar
4 eggs separated
85g ground almond
whole walnuts to decorate
RICH CHOCOLATE ICING:
125 g good dark chocolate, chopped
50g caster sugar
85 ml cream
First make the icing. Put all the ingredients into a bowl over a saucepan of hot water and stir gently over the heat. When smooth, leave to cool and then put in the fridge, where it will thicken as it cools and become much easier to spread.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease two 18cm sandwich tins. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water.
Cream the butter with the sugar (this is easily done in a food processor), add the egg yolks one by one, then the almonds, flour and the melted chocolate.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently fold them into the mixture, little by little.
Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly in the tins and then turn out on a wire rack.
When cold, sandwich the cakes together with half the icing and spread the other half on top, which I also like to decorate with whole walnuts.