Chocolate Orange Cake

If you could only eat five things for the rest of your life, what would they be? You are also allowed water. You will have unlimited access to the best quality foods on your list, but nothing else. You can have dishes (for example, ‘lasagne’ is an acceptable answer) but not meals (for example, ‘Christmas dinner’ would not be permitted). Yes, of course this is a completely arbitrary hypothetical situation and it’s not actually going to happen. Probably. But who knows? Best to be prepared, right?

I play this game with friends sometimes, and there are two very distinct ways of going about it. Firstly, there is the approach of gluttony and joy. Here is where you can name your absolute favourite foods in the spirit of excess. Caviar, profiteroles, sirloin steaks, raspberries, chocolate mousse, chips, spaghetti carbonara…

Secondly, there is the practical approach. You know, the one where you attempt to avoid scurvy and rickets and death. Kale, blueberries, brown rice, salmon, oranges, beans, spinach, yoghurt… er, what else? I don’t even know what should go in this category.


So, as you can probably guess, I’m in the first camp. The camp that has the profiteroles in it. I mean, if there has been some weird, apocalyptic, food-destroying event on earth then we will probably all die anyway, so I might as well go down eating as hedonistically as possible.

Enter: chocolate orange cake. Can anyone else sense a theme emerging? I have already featured chocolate orange brownies – well, they were chocolate orange that day – and a chocolate fudge cake, and this is basically the love-child of those two things. What can I say? I love chocolate cake. I mean, yes, I also love macarons, and crème brûlée, and entremets, and all the fancy stuff. But really, when it comes down to it, nothing quite has my heart like a big slab of moist, fudgy chocolate cake. It’s a ‘last meal on earth’ type thing. It would be on my list of five things.


Source: This is barely adapted from this post on Pastry Affair, which is a fantastic blog that I would encourage you to check out.

Notes: I couldn’t quite bring myself to use 340g of chocolate, as specified, for the frosting in this recipe, so I used 300g, which worked fine in terms of proportions. However, I had a load of frosting leftover, so below I am suggesting 2/3 of the quantity I used. The frosting, as you can see from the pictures, isn’t perfectly smooth as it’s got orange zest in it. It’s not split, though – it’s delicious. I used 70% chocolate, as is my wont, which makes a very dark, rich frosting. I think this is lovely, but would forgive you for dialling it down a notch if you’re into that sort of thing.


for the cakes

350g granulated sugar
zest of 2 large oranges
2 large eggs
120ml oil (any unflavoured oil is fine)
115g sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
65g cocoa powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
240ml buttermilk (they sell this in Sainsburys, but plain yoghurt works too)
6 tbsp orange juice

for the frosting

200g dark chocolate
75g butter
zest of 1 large orange
75g sour cream
1 tbsp orange extract (optional)
orange zest, gold leaf, and/or chocolate orange matchsticks to garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4, and grease and line two loose bottomed cake tins – I use 20cm ones. In a large mixing bowl, combine your granulated sugar and orange zest and rub it together between your fingers – you should end up with a pile of orange scented sugar. Add your eggs, oil, sour cream, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and well combined.
  2. In another bowl, sieve together your flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt. Measure out your buttermilk in a jug. Add the flour mix and the buttermilk to the wet ingredients, alternating between the two, and mix until you have a smooth batter. Divide it evenly between your tins, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cakes are well risen and pass the skewer test. While they are cooling in their tins, use a knife, fork, or skewer to poke a few holes in the top of each cake and pour the orange juice over the top.
  3. Once the cakes are completely cool and out of their tins, make your frosting. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a pan on a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and add the orange zest, sour cream, and orange extract if using. Stir until smooth, and then leave to cool for half an hour to let it thicken.
  4. Place one cake on the plate you are planning to serve it on, and cover the surface with a thin layer of frosting. Pop the second cake on top, and coat the whole thing with the rest of the frosting. Decorate as desired.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

I went to a small school. By the time I got to Sixth Form, our year group comprised twenty seven people. Everyone else had left, mostly to go to schools that offered either a) a greater variety of A Level subjects or b) boys.

I loved school. Of course, there were some awful times – being a socially awkward, overweight, shy, bespectacled, book-obsessed teenager isn’t exactly the stuff of fantasies – and I certainly had what we can euphemistically refer to as ‘rocky moments’ throughout my time there. But basically, overall, it was great. I was at the same school for thirteen years (the secondary school had a primary school attached), it was a five minute walk away from my parents’ house (which was excellent, as I am lazy), and I felt like I knew my place in my safe little world.

Of course, I then went off to university and became a tiny minnow in a roiling, cavernous sea and it was awful, but that’s for another blog post.


My school doesn’t exist any more, of course. I mean, the building is still there, and it still has the same name. But the school I went to is gone. I’ve been away so long that all of the students I knew, even from the youngest years, will have passed through. All of the teachers who taught me at A Level have left, either retiring or going on to new places. Even the building has changed: since we left, they’ve rebuilt the boxy little old Sixth Form centre and made something shiny and new and unfamiliar. I wouldn’t know my way around there now. If I wanted to visit, I’d have to make an appointment, and sign in at the office, and get an access badge from an unfamiliar face on the reception desk. It was like a little bereavement, realising I couldn’t ever go back to the place where I spent the best part of thirteen years.

In our final year of school, as each of the twenty seven of us turned eighteen, we celebrated birthdays together. Everyone in the year would often club together to buy a special joint birthday present for whoever was hitting adulthood (legally, anyway), and we’d go out drinking, proudly flashing our legitimate IDs. We’d all share birthday cake in the Sixth Form common room, bringing pieces to class and giving them to teachers in the hope that they’d forgive us for being especially rowdy.

Sometimes, I made the birthday cakes for my friends, and when I did, I always made this one. After a while, people started calling it ‘Hannah Cake’.

My family isn’t particularly traditional, but we do have one ‘family recipe’: this chocolate fudge cake. I am tempted to lie and say it was passed down from my German great-grandmother, my Oma, to her son, and then to my mother, who passed it on to me. However, the truth is that my mother found it in a recipe book who knows how long ago, and baked it sporadically throughout my childhood. It was one of the first things I ever learned to bake myself.


Source: Now, this definitely originally came from a recipe book, but I’m afraid I can’t cite the source as it was twenty-odd years ago and I never knew it myself. I fear it will have been lost in time, but if someone does recognise it (anyone with a specialist knowledge of 1980s Canadian cookbooks?) then do please let me know. I am going to write it down from memory, so it will be slightly altered in any case.

Notes: The cake itself is more like a torte than anything else, I suppose, lightened as it is by egg whites, with a dense and delicious base of ground almonds. It lacks the apricot glaze of a sachertorte, though, and the icing itself is not a ganache but a delicious hybrid of a thing that I have never come across in any other recipe. It’s also denser, moister, and more cake-like than a classic torte, because of the breadcrumbs. I suspect the inclusion of breadcrumbs will be frowned upon by purists, but it makes it a very stable cake and therefore practically foolproof. I am going to tempt the wrath of the baking gods by telling you that I have been making this cake since the age of about eleven, and it has never gone wrong. It’s dense and chocolatey and moist and lovely, and best served in small-ish slices for those who are say things like ‘ooh, that’s very rich’. I can eat great slabs of it.

You will also need one cake tin, preferably springform. I’ve used everything from an 18cm tin to a 23cm tin here and been fine – you just need to keep an eye on it if you’re using a bigger tin because it will cook more quickly.


For the cake

225g good quality dark chocolate (I use 70%)
225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla essence
110g ground almonds
150g fresh white bread (this will become breadcrumbs).

For the icing

175g icing sugar
50g cocoa powder
110g caster sugar
75g butter
4 tbsp tepid water


  1. Grease and line your tin (yes, you do really have to do this. Yes, even if it’s non-stick). Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4.
  2. First, make your breadcrumbs. Whack all your bread into your food processor and blend it until it you’ve got some lovely white crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor then good luck to you: I have previously made breadcrumbs in a tiny little food processor-less student kitchen, and we tried grating bread, shredding it with forks, and eventually tearing it by hand. Not a fun half hour.
  3. Next, got your chocolate in a glass bowl over a simmering plan of water to melt. Keep a vague eye on it and stir it occasionally while you get on with the other stuff.
  4. Cream your butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. If you have done your mise-en-place properly you will have already separated your eggs. If you are like me and forget every bloody time, do that now. Then add your egg yolks to your butter and sugar one by one, beating them in as you go. Add the vanilla essence, then your almonds, melted chocolate and breadcrumbs.
  5. Whisk your egg whites into soft peaks. Take about a quarter of them and whack them in with the chocolate and beat it any old how, just to loosen up the mixture. Then fold the rest in slowly and carefully so you don’t knock all the air out.
  6. Dollop the mixture fairly carefully into your beautifully lined tin (again, you’re protecting the precious air that you worked so hard to get into the egg whites). Use a spatula to smooth it out as best you can.
  7. Pop it in the oven. Now, my oven is fairly vicious and I use a 23cm cake tin, so it takes about 35 minutes to cook for me. If you have a gentler oven or a smaller tin then it can take up to an hour. After half an hour, keep an eye on it. You want it springy to touch and just starting to crack along the top. Take it out, let it rest for ten minutes, then get it out the tin and turn it upside down so it’s flat-side up, ready to ice.
  8. Once you’ve got the cake out, start making the icing. You want to ice the cake while it’s still warm so that it runs off nicely. Put the butter, sugar, and water in a pan on medium heat and heat until there are no sugar crystals left – it should be smooth, not gritty. Keep an eye on it, though, so it doesn’t turn into caramel. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa together. Pour the liquid mix into the powder mix gradually and whisk until you have smooth, glorious, fudgy icing. Tip it onto your cake, and push it down the sides. Decorate however you wish, although it’s perfectly delicious as is.