It’s time for the school Christmas fair again, which means baking something delectable for the cake stall. There’s always a slight pressure when you know that people will be paying good money for your wares, so I wanted to create something that looked appealing, but wouldn’t take up an entire day of baking. My Granny’s chocolate cake has always been a winner and can be put together in a jiffy. It’s essentially a Victoria sponge recipe with cocoa and hot water added for the chocolate flavour. My Granny’s secret was the butter icing filling, with added melted chocolate and rum essence, which is a taste sensation combined with the chocolate sponge! She used to cover the top with cooking chocolate and decorate with chocolate buttons.
My plan to make the cake the night before, when the children were sleeping, completely failed, so I was in a hurry to make it with the kids in the picture, which was not ideal. I won’t even pretend that I involved my 2 year old son in this; luckily the morning’s activities meant he was fast asleep on the sofa. My daughter was so excited when she heard I was baking and headed straight for the kitchen to join me. I felt very unkind saying that she couldn’t help, so I came up with a way to keep her busy while I whipped up the sponge – making chocolate leaves for the cake decoration.
I have fond memories of making these with my own Mum as they are so easy, but the result is rather wonderful. The best leaves to use are sturdy leaves with lots of veins on the back. Rose leaves are very good as you then also get the detail around the edge too. We don’t have any roses though, so I found quite a few shrubs with leaves that I thought would work well.
How to Cover the leaves:
Wash the leaves thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen towel, being careful not to tear them. Melt a good quality cooking chocolate – I use Green and Blacks 70% cocoa solids. Put some baking parchment on a chopping board as your base, as then you can recycle any spilled chocolate as it hardens. Apply to the leaf using a small knife, or teaspoon, and make sure that it is reasonably thick, so you can no longer see any of the leaf. Ensure that the chocolate covers the leaf right up to the edges but doesn’t run over the edge, as this may affect the detail when you peel it off. Put the leaves in the fridge to set for about 10 minutes. Once set, you simply peel off the leaves and reveal the beautiful chocolate leaf with lots of detail.
My daughter was delighted with the result and helped arrange them in a flower, which we then decided could do with a Belgian chocolate as its centre. So once the cake was baked, all I had to do was to sandwich with the butter cream, cover it in melted milk chocolate and arrange the leaves on top. (The mistake I made was to apply the leaves before the chocolate had fully cooled, so they melted a little around the edges. I had wanted them to ‘stick’ to the cake but could have waited until it was almost set. Also, the higher the percentage cocoa, the faster the chocolate sets once melted. I used a much lower percentage cooking chocolate for the top and this took a lot longer to cool).
Finally, as it was for the Christmas fair and needed to be safely carried away once purchased, I decided to wrap it in a clear film with red ribbon at the edges to make it look like a Christmas cracker.