Performing miracles, and our first house cake

Well, that was an exhausting two weeks. And I mean both physically and emotionally.

I’m not sure I’ve ever slept so well as I have over the past fortnight, even though the bed I’ve lain down on each night has been an air mattress. Non-stop cleaning, painting, furniture-moving, blind-hanging, curtain-hemming and tea making (to fuel the DIY, natch) will do that to you.

Friends, let me give you some words of advice. I do not recommend ever moving into a house sight-unseen. It is not for the faint of heart or the fussy and particular (that would be me). In our case, we didn’t have a choice, but if you can avoid this fate then my suggestion would be avoid, avoid, avoid. Like you’d avoid the bubonic plague.

You can find more recipes at barbara-luijckx.com

But actually, it’s turned out happily in the end. Paint, window treatments and some nice bits of furniture with transform any space. If I do say so myself, Edward and I have worked aesthetic miracles on the place over the past ten days. In the Church of Interior Decoration, we would be up for canonization.

Once I was feeling a little more cheerful about our new surroundings, Ed dared to ask me when I would be making 'our first house cake'. I mean, a new home calls to be christened with a new cake, right? Luckily, I knew just which book to reach for. I have been dying to finally crack open my new Ottolenghi cookbook since it arrived in June, while we were packing up our London flat and shipping out. And after all these months of anticipation, Ottolenghi didn’t disappoint.

The chocolate fudge cake I selected as 'our first house cake' didn’t look like much at first glance, but when I delved in I was astonished at how much I liked it. A bit like our house.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi

240 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
265 g semisweet chocolate (52% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
95 g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
290 g muscovado sugar
4 Tbsp water
5 large eggs, separated
a pinch of salt
cocoa powder or icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170 C / 340 F. Grease an 8 or 9 inch (20 or 23cm) springform cake tin.

Put the butter and both chocolates in a very large heatproof bowl – it should be big enough to accomodate the entire batter. Put the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Pour the boiling sugar syrup over the butter and chocolate and stir well until they have melted and you are left with a runny chocolate sauce. Stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. Set aside until the mixture comes to room temperature.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand whisk or electric mixer, whisk the egg whites and salt together to a firm, but not too dry meringue. Using a spatula, gently fold the meringue into the cooled chocolate mixture. The whites should be fully incorporated but it’s OK if you see small bits of meringue in the mix.

Pour about two thirds of the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level with a palette knife. Set aside the rest of the batter for later. Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out almost clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool almost completely.

Flatten the top of the cake with a palette knife – don’t worry about breaking the crust. Pour the remaining batter on top and level the surface again. Return to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake still has a few moist crumbs when checked with a knife. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar and serve in small slices.