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.

Frosted Walnut Layer Cake – Bake Off Bake Along Week 1

I think one of the best things about the internet is that it connects people who might otherwise feel like they are alone. If you have always wanted to re-enact the Battle of Hastings dressed as a Death Eater while reciting the closing speech from The Breakfast Club, then you can find the only other person in the world who wants to do that too, and make it happen. When I was a child, the internet made me realise how big the world is, and yet made it feel so much smaller at the same time.

Over the last week, the internet has reminded me that I am not the only person who is worryingly excited by the return of the Great British Bake Off to our screens. And yes, I do mean ‘worryingly’ excited. I spent the afternoon and evening last Wednesday in such heightened anticipation that I think I scared James a bit.

How can I explain the joy of the Bake Off to those who don’t watch it? For me, it’s a guaranteed hour of pure happiness and escape from everything else that’s making me stressed. The Bake Off of is an overwhelmingly positive programme. You can see that Mary and Paul, and Mel and Sue, really want the contestants to do well. It’s light-hearted, and funny, and charming. It’s about people doing the thing they love as well as they can. It’s about creating things that are delicious, beautiful, and inventive. It’s about baking, for god’s sake.


Anyway, the show started last week, and it made me just as happy as it always does. I am going to go on the record now, by the way, and say that my bet on the final three is Marie, Tamal, and Flora. Just putting it out there.

I will be doing the #bakeoffbakealong for as long as I can manage this year, before my schedule absolutely cripples me. The choice this week was between a Madeira cake for the signature challenge, a walnut cake for the technical, or a Black Forest gateaux for the show-stopper. For me, I want the bake along to be an excuse to try recipes I wouldn’t normally bake. I made a variation on a Madeira cake mere days ago, and I need absolutely no encouragement to make a Black Forest gateaux. So, down walnut way we went.


Source: This recipe is widely available now that it’s been used on the Bake Off – see here – but I actually used the version in my copy of Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.

Notes: The recipe in the book is actually a bit different from the recipe that the contestants used in the show. Firstly, it doesn’t call for buttercream, simply advising you to use the frosting to sandwich the layers together as well as to coat the cake. Secondly, it doesn’t call for the walnuts to be caramelised. I was planning to do that anyway, but, as you can see, I didn’t in the end. I was making this cake to take to a party and we had to rush out the door: I simply ran out of time. Hard experience has taught me that you shouldn’t try and rush caramel, so I left it rather than risking burning myself dramatically.

Even though the recipe I was working from didn’t call for buttercream, and the bakers on the show used a plain vanilla buttercream, I went for an espresso buttercream. Just because, really. I felt like I wanted something to break up all the sweetness of the cake a bit. While I am happy with this decision taste-wise, it does mean the layers of the cake looked less distinctive, because the buttercream was a very similar colour to the sponge.

I am going to called this a marshmallow frosting, rather than a boiled frosting. This is partly because is tastes like marshmallow and partly because ‘boiled frosting’ sounds horrid.


for the cakes

225g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g walnuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decorating

for the buttercream

100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
2 teaspoons of espresso powder dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water

for the frosting

2 large egg whites
350g caster sugar
4 tbsp water
¼ tsp cream of tartar


  1. Preheat your oven to 160C/ 140c fan/ gas 3 and grease and line three 20cm sandwich tins with baking paper. I don’t have three 20cm tins (or any three matching tins, for that matter), so I had to do the baking in two stages.
  2. Whack all your cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat them together with an electric whisk. The book specifies this all-in-one method, which is what I used, and it worked fine. That’s why you have two teaspoons of baking powder – you need extra rise because you’re not getting as much air into it through multiple beating stages. Divide your batter into three equal amounts and bake your cakes for 25-30 minutes.
  3. Once the cakes are completely cool, make your buttercream, Beat your butter and icing sugar together until smooth and fluffy, then beat in your espresso. Spread half of it over your bottom sponge, and top with your second sponge. Spread the second half onto the top of your second sponge, and top with the third.
  4. For the frosting, measure all of the frosting ingredients into a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water and beat for 10-15 minutes with an electric whisk. This bit is really boring, but you do have to do it to make sure the frosting isn’t grainy with sugar. Check it about ten minutes in by rubbing a bit between your thumb and forefinger and seeing if you can feel sugar grains. It should be smooth.
  5. Cover the top and sides of your cake with the icing. You can either swirl it or leave it smooth(ish), depending on your preference. Decorate your cake with walnuts (or do it properly and caramelise some, if you are better at time management than me).