incredibly delicious mocha cake

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I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

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But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

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After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

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Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

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music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

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