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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anna Berrill

How to keep chocolate cake moist and fluffy

‘Few things are more disappointing than a chocolate cake that doesn’t taste of chocolate’: Benjamina Ebuehi’s chocolate, buttermilk and hazelnut layer cake.
‘Few things are more disappointing than a chocolate cake that doesn’t taste of chocolate’: Benjamina Ebuehi’s chocolate, buttermilk and hazelnut layer cake. Photograph: Laura Edwards/The Guardian. Food styling: Benjamina Ebuehi. Prop styling: Kitty Coles. Food assistant: Julia Aden.

How do I achieve a rich, moist, fluffy chocolate cake that Bruce Bogtrotter in Matilda would be proud of?
Katie, London N17
“The key to most fluffy cakes is the addition of oil,” says Phil Khoury, author of A New Way to Bake. That could come, he says, via replacing “up to 50%” of the butter in a recipe with neutral oil or substituting it entirely, the reason being that “oils are liquid at both fridge and room temperatures, whereas butter has to go above 25C for it to take on the attributes you associate with a moist cake”. Also, as butter starts to solidify, it has a drying effect on cakes, so having some oil in there will help soften things, Khoury adds.

There is, of course, no butter involved in Khoury’s vegan take on the theme. “I use olive oil, but not a lot, especially when you’re in the business of not using eggs.” Typically, “you need quite a lot of fat to tenderise the gelling effect of eggs and flour, so, if you don’t have eggs to contend with, you can use up to 60% less fat”. To lighten things up, he includes apple cider vinegar: “It activates the bicarb and gives it that pre-bake lift, then the baking powder does the rest of the lifting in the oven.”

Georgina Hayden, author of Nistisima, meanwhile, adds yoghurt and milk to her oil-based sponge. “It stems from the red velvet cake, which traditionally uses buttermilk,” she explains, although that’s not as readily available in the UK. “Yoghurt gives acidity and reacts with the raising agent to help the cake stay fluffy.”

Few things are more disappointing than a chocolate cake that doesn’t taste of chocolate, but, happily, you can safeguard against such tragedy. First, cocoa powder is essential for Khoury, Hayden and Guardian columnist Ravneet Gill, while Tarunima Sinha, of the My Little Cake Tin bakery, also adds melted chocolate: “If a recipe uses 200g flour, I’ll melt 200g chocolate in with my butter.”

You’ll then want to add some dark brown or muscovado sugar to the mix – “It deepens the flavour,” Khoury says – and coffee stirred into boiling water “to help boost that chocolate flavour”, says Gill, whose new book, Baking for Pleasure, is out in December. Sinha suggests considering the bake time, too: “Just like with brownies, if you underbake a chocolate cake by five to seven minutes, depending on your oven and timings, then it will be moist.”

A ganache glaze, meanwhile, never fails to make you abandon all dignity and start squashing cake into your mouth Bogtrotter-style. Hayden heats 200ml cream “until super hot but not bubbling”, while Gill would pop some malt extract or treacle in there, too, to “give the texture more elasticity and enhance the flavour”. Hayden then pours the cream over 200g chopped dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl and leaves it untouched for a minute. Starting from the middle, she stirs in one direction, “until the chocolate has melted and turned glossy”, then sets it aside for 30 minutes to thicken a little. “It will then hold sprinkles,” says the ever-sensible Hayden. Those were sorely lacking from Cookie’s creation at Crunchem Hall.

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