From scratch

. classic chocolate cake .

When it comes to presents, most wives ask for pretty things like flowers or jewelry.  The Hubs found himself one who asks for all kinds of gadgets that whizz and move – from cameras to a tennis ball launcher.  Last week, I asked for a standing mixer.  And then spent the rest of the day happily messing around with cake batter and frosting.

And because it was the first time I was baking a cake from scratch, I had a gazillion questions.  Here are some of the things I learnt along the way:

Our grandmothers had really strong arms –  All the recipes asked that I cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  I had no idea what this meant.  Turns out this is the most basic step to a fluffy cake as it introduces air bubbles into the batter by mixing the butter and sugar together.  You’re supposed to start with room temperature butter at the lowest speed.  DO NOT attempt this with a block of butter taken right out of the fridge.  Trust me.  With a standing mixer, it should take at least 3 minutes until the butter becomes off-white in color.  I can only imagine the workout our grandmothers had creaming butter by hand.

Sugar?  – To me, sugar is sugar. But when it comes to baking cakes, you can’t just use whatever is in your kitchen.  The size of the sugar crystals makes a difference to the amount of air that is incorporated into your batter during the creaming process.  Granulated sugar will incorporate more air into the batter because the sugar crystals cut into the butter and introduces air, while icing sugar will not.  Most recipes will ask for castor sugar because its fine grind makes it ideal for creaming and baking.  I now have regular sugar, castor sugar, brown sugar, molasses and icing sugar in my kitchen.  That’s the most sugar I’ve ever owned in my life!

Everything at room temperature – I’m not the most well organised person in the kitchen, and have a tendency to just grab ingredients out of the fridge.  Not a good plan when it comes to baking because it requires a little more planning and precision.  Ingredients should be prepared beforehand and at room temperature.  Not just the butter but also the eggs and milk.  It makes a difference as room temperature eggs whisk to higher volumes and ensure that the cake rises properly when baked. 

Quit opening the oven door! – While tempting as it may be to admire your baking cake, leave the oven door alone.  At least for the first half of the baking time.  Opening the oven causes heat to escape and leads to uneven cooking, and can cause cracks on the cake.  No prizes guessing how I found this out 🙂 

The best part about baking at home? – The heavenly smell of chocolate cake wafting through the house.

Recipe from

You will need:

  • 1 1/3 cups (200g) plain flour
  • 2 tbs cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 225g unsalted butter, softened, chopped
  • 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) milk
  • Chocolate ganache icing and chocolate curls, to decorate
  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease and line a 24cm round springform cake pan.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (don’t let bowl touch water). Cool slightly.
  4. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. With beaters on medium speed, add vanilla, then add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour in cooled chocolate and beat until well combined. Beat in a third of sifted ingredients, followed by a third of the milk. Repeat until all ingredients are incorporated, beating until smooth.
  5. Pour mixture into the pan and bake for 45-55 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto rack to cool completely.
  6. To serve, spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake using a hot palette knife, then decorate with chocolate curls.
  7. To make chocolate ganache: Melt 150g chopped good-quality dark chocolate with 125ml pure cream and 20g unsalted butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Stir until well combined, then set aside for 30 minutes to cool and thicken before use.

6 thoughts on “From scratch”

  1. Very interesting post. As a disadvantaged baker (I can cook okay, but not bake!) I found your struggles and hard-acquired knowledge very interesting!
    And the cake looks like it was delicious!

    1. Thanks! I’m learning along the way and having fun. Thankfully the cake came out pretty well – dark and rich. It was a little dry though because I forgot to take it out of the oven! I really need to get more organized in the kitchen 🙂

  2. Oh, yeah it’s all about the chocolate cake and the food photography is quite nicely done. The strawberry visual element of color is perfect for the viewer to be led into the photograph more.

  3. That is a great post. The cake looks excellent. The learnings are nearly all things I heard my mum tell us. Particularly the shouted “don’t open the oven” that I remember so well from over 40 years ago as our enthusiasm to see the cake was quelled. The best bit of any cake; licking the spoon.
    Keep baking, you are made for it.

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