Yesterday at work, whilst complaining that we have no cake in the office (or biscuits or chocolate for that matter), I stepped up to to the proverbial tea-plate and made a quadruple chocolate loaf cake (from Nigella Lawson’s Feast). I say quadruple, however it’s more like your bog-standard double because I couldn’t be bothered to make the chocolate syrup or shave the chocolate on the top (and to be honest, I think that the shavings barely count as a fourth choco-element anyway, artistic licence I assume). The batter was incredibly easy, everything in to the KitchenAid (one of the most useful Anniversary gifts – ever!), give a good mix round then slowly pour in some boiling water, pour into loaf tin and in the oven for an hour at 180c. Incidentally, the chocolate batter was the most delicious raw cake product I have ever tasted. Sort of like the icing on a Sara Lee double chocolate gateau but without the chemicals and moussy texture. So, in the oven it went, and I pottered around finishing off the egg and bacon (and sausage and fried onion) pie that was to be our supper.
After forty minutes, temptation, as usual, got the better of me and I peeked at the cake. I was expecting to see the cake, risen but not yet completely cooked. Unfortunately, instead of the wafting aroma of chocolate, I was greeted with cocoa-scented smoke, billowing out and making my eyes water, albeit in a most pleasurable manner. Pushing the sensory overload aside, I quickly retrieved the cake from the oven, peered remorsefully at the blackened, billowy edges, and broke a charred morsel off to sample. Actually, burnt chocolate cake is not unpleasant tasting. It becomes smokily resonant; you can see where the affinity between chillis and chocolate begins.
A skewer in the cake reveals the middle to be runny, not Brownie squidgy-runny but this-cake-doesn’t-have-a-hope-in-hell-of-being-cooked runny. The crack running through the middle of the cake, described in the recipe, was present but once removed from the oven it had gone past the crack stage and into the crater stage – an oozy runny crater. So, back in the oven t’was the cake banished but covered this time with some greaseproof paper to avoid the onset of further charring. After another 15 minutes the cake seemed more cooked than previously so I took it out, speared it, and was content with it’s Brownie Squidgy-Runny Centre. Left overnight to cool, by morning it had set into a not hugely attractive looking loaf cake (the central ‘crack’ still insisted on crater-dom) but which tasted darkly, hugely rich, leaving the consumer with a caffeine kick that makes your jaw tighten and your body jitter. Perhaps if I had poured over the chocolate syrup, in accordance with the recipe, on removal from the oven, the cake would have improved in texture. Perhaps, like the old and wrinkly women who use Collagen, the chocolate syrup would have filled in the gaping crater. Perhaps it was because I used enormous whole chunks of chocolate in the mixture instead of morsels or chips. Who knows? All that matters in the end is that in the end it tasted great (just when you think that you can’t eat anything more chocolately, along comes another recipe) and let’s be honest, a loaf cake is not made for looks but for the family cake tin, for you to cut a huge, comforting chunk of and eat in front of telly. Just beware of the serious sugar comedown that follows.
The point is that mistakes happen in the kitchen. It is inevitable. Last night, both my loaf cake and my bacon and egg pie were partial disasters (the egg wasn’t cooked properly in the pie so liquid egg white oozed out when I cut it open. Not entirely conducive to piquing one’s appetite – back in the oven that went too). Some cookbooks give you cosy reassurances that your cake may stick a little, your pastry may be a little bit short but they can’t hold your hand every step of the way. Ovens vary widely (and I put the blame of last night’s mistakes wholly at the mechanical feet of mine), as do quality of ingredients and myriad of other factoring elements. As I demonstrated last night, albeit wearily, mistakes can be rectified, disasters salvaged. This is also the reason why I save my experimental recipes for my husband and work colleagues.
And as I write, my head is still spinning, woozily, from the sugar and caffeine in the chocolate cake. I think I need to lie down.

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