Friday, 6 April 2012

Chocolate and Spice Courgette Cake

I'm sorry to do this to you again. I really don't want to have to. It's just - it was my brother's birthday last week.

I do have a cake for you, which will hopefully make up for it. A courgette cake!

No seriously, it's a real thing. It actually has courgette in it and everything. Don't be scared though. The courgette makes it wonderfully moist and adds a great texture, but you don't properly taste it. Imagine the misconception you has before you'd ever tried carrot cake - now imagine the first time you actually tried carrot cake and how nice it was?

..If that story doesn't apply to you then, just roll with me. It's a good cake, I promise.

The thing I'm most excited about with this cake is not that fact it has courgette in it (although that is pretty exciting), but it's the fact that I didn't use a recipe, at all!

When my brother requested courgette cake I started looking up a few recipes to see what the general consensus was. That's the stage I normally go through when filtering down a ratio - I write down the quantities of each ingredient in a whole load of recipes, and standardise them to see if they all have similar ratios. But in this case, they didn't - they were all completely different.

So I (rashly) decided that I could probably do what I liked and it would be fine, seeing as that seemed to be what everyone else was doing.

OK that may be slightly inaccurate. I still spent a long time meticulously planning exactly how I would make it, I certainly didn't create it as I went along. But the point is that I did create it.

Now I have a problem at this point. Because now I've started creating foods, by starting from ratios and making simple adaptations (which really is all I've done so far), it's very easy to start making recipes. And that is very much not what I want to do at all. That would defeat the whole purpose of me even making this blog, if I was just going to turn into one of those people who tells you not to deviate from the recipe. And I've decided that the best way I can stop that from happening is to talk you through exactly how I created this cake, step-by-step, and the reasoning behind every element of it. It might not bother you to know that, and if it doesn't then feel free to skip through just to find the quantities I used if that's all you want. But I feel like I need to write it because otherwise I'm losing sight of what I'm trying to do here. So that's just my little heart-to-heart about recipes. Now back to the cake.

The true origin of the cake is the simple sponge cake ratio. But there are several important differences, and several more less important ones.

Possibly the biggest difference is the fat. In almost every courgette cake recipe I saw, the fat was entirely oil rather than butter. The general impression I got was that this is to make the cake more dense, moist and gooey, rather than being the traditional light and airy butter-based cake. I just used plain vegetable oil, the type you'd use for cooking. Some recipes recommended against olive oil because it has a slightly stronger flavour, but I did see at least one recipe which suggested using olive oil for that same reason. So it's up to you.

The second big difference is the use of baking powder. In my original cake post I went on and on about the fact that you don't need baking powder in a real cake, because the leavening comes from beating the sugar into either the fat or eggs (in this case the eggs - gold stars for those of you who remembered which one was sponge cake). The trouble was, I didn't see a single recipe which didn't require at least some form of chemical leavening. And I knew I only had one shot to get this right because I was pushed for time. So I decided to bite the bullet and just use baking powder. I guess I was just worried that the use of oil instead of butter, as well as the addition of a large amount of courgette to the batter could reduce the rise, and I didn't want to take any chances. One day I'll test it without, and just see how it turns out. All I know is the texture seemed good and just the right weight, which suggests that maybe if I hadn't added baking powder, it could have been too heavy and dense. But then maybe it would have just been more brownie-like in texture, which certainly isn't necessarily a bad thing. Again, it's your choice.

I'd actually classify the addition of grated courgette as a fairly small difference. That's because it's just an extra - it's just like putting bits into it, no different to adding chocolate chips. It doesn't really change much about the cake itself at all.

Except that's not quite true, because it does change the cake a little bit. It's an unavoidable fact that courgette actually does several things to the cake:
  • It adds moisture - the same sort of moisture as you'd get from the eggs and fat in a cake.
  • It adds flavour - just like fat and sugar normally would.
  • It adds some structure and substance - the kind of thing eggs do.

All of that means that with so much courgette in the cake, you actually don't need as much egg, sugar or fat. In other words, the ratio is weighted towards flour. Instead of needing to be equal parts of all four ingredients, it will be equal parts egg, fat and sugar, and one slightly bigger part of flour.

The final small difference is the flavourings - the chocolate (cocoa, specifically) and spices. Because cocoa is a dry powder, it does part of the job of flour. Of course it's not quite the same, but it's similar enough. So when deciding how much flour to use, I decided how much flour I should need, and then substituted part of that for an equal amount of cocoa. I also added small amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg, small enough that they didn't need to affect the ratio at all.

That pretty much sums up how I made this 'recipe' (for want of a better word). Now onto how you could actually make it, if you so desire.

I used a batch based on 200g of flour, which nicely filled a medium-sized cake tin. I don't know how wide it was - maybe 8 or 9 inches? I'm sure you could look at your bowl of batter and decide which pan would fit it the best.

I say it was based on 200g of flour, but technically it wasn't, because I traded some of that for cocoa. Here are the exact quantities of ingredients I used, if you must know:
  • 175g Plain Flour
  • 25g Cocoa Powder [You could leave this out and put the flour back up to 200g, if you wanted a non-chocolate cake]
  • 2tsp Baking Powder
  • 150g Cooking Oil [e.g. sunflower, or olive if you want more flavour]
  • 150g Sugar [I used half brown and half white, because I thought using some brown sugar would suit the type of dark, moist cake I was aiming for. I don't know if it really would make much difference to use all white, or all brown, so it's up to you!]
  • 150g Eggs - i.e. 3 Eggs
  • 1tsp Cinnamon
  • ½tsp Nutmeg
The method is the same as the basic sponge cake method. Beat the eggs and sugar together for a few minutes, then add in the other ingredients. For a 'pure' cake without baking powder, you have to try and carefully fold in all your ingredients so you don't lose the air bubbles from the eggs, but in this case that's not so important. I think I added the oil first, then the flour and other dry ingredients, and then the grated courgette last. As I said I used some kind of middle-sized cake pan, I'd probably guess 8 inches or so - and it took somewhere around 40 minutes to cook (at - you guessed it - 180C!), but would depend on the oven. The toothpick test is fine for deciding when it's done.

I also made a topping for my cake - a ganache. As you may remember from this post, ganache is made from a mixture of melted chocolate and cream. In that post, I used equal weights of chocolate and cream to make soft truffles, but in this case I used more chocolate than cream - twice as much, in fact. But after making it, I'd definitely recommend you stick with equal weights. Because the topping had cream in it, I had to keep the cake in the fridge. But then because of the chocolate in the topping, it went rock-hard and was really difficult to cut. I used 100g of chocolate and 50g of cream, but I'd suggest upping that to 100g as well.

That's all there is to it. Good luck, and don't be too daunted by the courgette thing if you've never tried it before - I promise it's good.

And I served mine with more double cream, which I think goes with it perfectly.

No comments:

Post a Comment