One of the questions I’m most often asked about this blog is where I get my love of food and baking from. My first point of reference is almost always my parents – a childhood where helping my Mum out in the kitchen and making my own birthday cakes was the norm, every summer spent in Italy amongst an abundance of incredible produce and a father whose eyes are a whole lot smaller than the stomach which unfortunately reflects his infectious love of food (sorry Dad!).
However if I look a little further back into my family history, I’d say that any real baking genes most likely come from my paternal grandmother. I’ve complained before about how my Mum was fairly strict with sweets and puddings when my brother and I were little, but visiting my granny on her apple farm always came with the promise of the sweetest of treats. Her chocolate cake was sticky and delicious, her rock buns legendary and on the savoury side of things, her crispy crusted toad in the hole made with local sausage meat and a smidgen of mustard stirred through the batter was the stuff that dreams are made of.
On the other side of the family, my maternal grandmother was a little less domesticated (sorry Granny – my second apology in one post, this isn’t looking very good). However there are four foodie things I’ll forever associate with her. The first is a toaster that lived in my grandparents’ dining room and popped the toast so high it would flip over the sides and onto the floor if you weren’t there ready and waiting to catch it. Second was her homemade lemon squash, cloudy and thirst-quenching, stored in recycled plastic water bottles and an unforgettable taste from my childhood. Third was ‘wait and see’, the answer she’d always give when we asked about dessert (almost always a crispy meringue nest filled with cream and topped with chopped fruit) and last but not least, the chocolates she’d serve at tea time.
Although I’ve never been a big fan of drinking tea, I’m always excited by the things that come with it. Tiny tarlets, little éclairs piped full of perfect crème pâtissière, scones with jam and plenty of cream – tea is really just an excuse to enjoy an additional mini mid-afternoon meal and eat all the treats that you can’t cram into a dessert course after dinner. Not being a baker, my granny would keep it fairly simple, offering round a little white bowl full of chocolate balls for everyone to enjoy with whatever they were drinking.
Coated with milk chocolate these powdery, slightly soft balls had a strong taste of malted milk and melted in your mouth into a mushy mess of malty goodness. I’d never eaten them anywhere else, and although there was something slightly strange about these special powdery granny chocolates, my brother and I would happily eat them up, squabbling over who’d taken more and lamenting the size of the small white bowl in which they came.
These balls, in case you already had your suspicions, were of course Maltesers. Just as my other granny keeps a jar of (what must now have matured into some kind of vintage version) Marmite that only my Dad and I have ever been known to eat since she bought it in about 1987, my paternal grandmother must have kept these Maltesers for an inordinately long amount of time, or otherwise stored them somewhere damp extremely damp to account for their soft, slight staleness. And while I wouldn’t advocate allowing your Maltesers to go stale – a lot of the joy is in that initial crunchy crispness before they melt in your mouth – this early childhood memory of soft, malty, milky sweetness inspired me to come up with the recipe below.
Rich, moist chocolate sponge is baked in a square tin then sandwiched together with a light, fluffy chocolate buttercream, made sweet with the addition of malted milk powder before being topped with gold-dusted maltesers. I made this cake for a friend’s hen party at work, hence the giant fondant ‘L’ plate, but this extra layer of icing is absolutely unnecessary and you could easily make the cake without. Baking in a square allows for lovely generous slices and equal ratios of buttercream to sponge, which I like, and is also easy to cut if you’re serving a crowd.
Stored in an airtight container, this malted milk chocolate cake should keep for a couple of days, although the Maltesers round the edge may go a little soggy after sitting in the icing too long. Which might not necessarily be such a bad thing.
Malted Chocolate Layer Cake (adapted from The Birthday Cake Book)
Makes one 20cm square, two tier cake
For the cake
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp Horlicks (or other malted milk powder)
4 tbsp boiling water
225g unsalted butter, softened
180g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
4 large free range eggs, lightly beaten
225g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the buttercream
100g chocolate, chopped
150g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar, sifted
50g malted millk powder (see above)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Maltesers, to decorate
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin.
Mix together the cocoa powder, malted milk power and boiling water to form a smooth paste. Set aside to cool.
Combine all the ingredients, including the cooled cocoa/malted milk powder paste in a bowl and beat together until just combined. Do not over mix.
Scrape into your prepared tin and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
For the buttercream
Melt the chocolate gently in a bain marie then set aside to cool. Beat the butter until pale and really fluffy then add the icing sugar, malted milk powder and vanilla. If using a stand mixer, place a tea towel over the top to prevent all the icing sugar escaping in a cloud as you mix.
Beat for five minutes until fluffy then add the cooled chocolate. If the icing isn’t quite as thick as you’d like, continue to beat and it will thicken up.
Slice the cake in half so you have two thin layers. Secure the bottom layer to your plate or serving board with a little buttercream, then slather over the middle. Sandwich the second layer on top and repeat. Allow to firm up slightly in the fridge, but serve the cake at room temperature to allow the flavours to develop.
I added a square made out of white fondant icing and secured the ‘L’ plate (made of fondant icing with a little red food dye) with edible glue before dusting with edible gold powder. Stud some Maltesers round the edge, if you like, and dust with more edible gold dust.