Last weekend was spent in Essex celebrating Hazel’s birthday. Since being in the UK, I’ve come to learn that you can never trust the weather, but luckily we got some sunshine during the weekend. I also learned that Essex has some nice sandy beaches, who knew!
I was asked to provide the birthday cake for 16 people (no pressure, right?) with only vague mentions of “something with chocolate”, “maybe coffee”, and “I’ll leave it up to you”.
Coffee is a finicky flavour to have as the star in a dessert because not everyone’s a fan, and with 16 people who were tucking into a slice of this birthday cake, well, that was going to be a gamble.
I was inspired by my dad’s opera cake – a European classic where layers of coffee buttercream are sandwiched between thin layers of almond sponge soaked in coffee syrup.
Instead, I went with alternating layers of almond sponge and meringue, with a chocolate coffee cream (disclaimer: I’ll avoid buttercream where I can, was never a fan). There’s something satisfying about biting into a cake where you get that extra sweet, crunch from the meringue which makes the extra step worth it.
Let me just say that sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a decent shot of the cake sliced. You see, with 16 people, the cake probably lasted a good 10 minutes before empty plates started making their way back into the kitchen. I’ve been asked by the birthday girl to mention that there were “many smiles around after the cake” – which I suppose, means that thankfully, it was a success.
CHOCOLATE MOCHA CAKE
Serves 12-14 (or 16 in this case)
Part 1: Meringue
This can be prepared a couple days ahead of time, and warmed up in the oven to take any moisture out the day of assembling your cake.
174 ml egg whites
132 g caster sugar
114 g caster sugar
83 g ground almond
30 g corn starch
20 g coarsely chopped pecans
- Set the oven at 120⁰C/250⁰F.
- Prepare two baking trays, trace a 10” tin on two sheets of parchment paper with pencil. Flip parchment paper over, pencil mark down, and place a sheet on each tray.
- Place egg whites and first portion of caster sugar into a mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, whip until hard peaks are formed.
- In a separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated.
- Slowly fold in dry mixture into egg white mixture in thirds. Careful to not over mix, otherwise the egg whites will lose their stiffness.
- Spoon mixture into a piping bag with circular, medium sized nozzle.
- Pipe the outline that you previously traced on one of the trays.
- Spoon remaining mixture into the middle of the circle. Using a palette knife, spread the mixture evenly within the outline, ensure that the top is as even as possible. You will want it to be no more than ¾ inch thick. To reduce any air bubbles, use the tip of the palate knife to tap various areas of within the circle, and use your palate knife to smooth it back out.
- Repeat steps 7-9 for the second baking tray.
- For any remaining mixture, spoon onto any space you can find within the baking sheet, making small dollops.
- Place trays in the middle of the oven, bake for 2 hours. Make sure you turn the tray 1 hour into baking, and swap rack positions.
- Check the meringue base by lightly touching the middle of the meringue, it needs to feel dry and solid.
- Set aside and cool.
Part 2: Sponge
This can be made up to two days in advance, wrap in cling film/saran wrap and store in the fridge.
1 egg yolk
90 g sugar
105g AP flour
7g melted butter, cooled.
⅓ cap Vanilla flavouring
- Set oven at 175C⁰F/325⁰C
- Grease a 9” tin, then lightly coat with flour. Shake any excess out.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk and sugar with a hand mixer until the mixture doubles in volume, and forms a thick mixture. The more air that is beat into the eggs will help make the sponge rise.
- Slowly fold the flour into the egg mixture until just incorporated. Careful of over mixing here as it could deflate the eggs.
- Take the melted butter and slowly pour it in, while folding, add half a cap of vanilla flavouring and keep folding until incorporated in.
- Pour mixture into your greased tin and place within centre of oven to bake for 45 minutes – hour
- You may need to turn the tin 20-30 minutes in depending how even the baking is. To check if the sponge is ready, use a sharp knife, or toothpick, and stick it in the middle of the sponge. If it comes out clean it’s ready.
- Set aside and cool.
Part 3: Mocha cream
We use instant coffee to give it the flavour. Why? Because with a brew, you’re dealing with more liquids. So make sure you use the good, strong stuff, like some sort of instant espresso. Depending on how strong you like the taste of coffee, I suggest tasting as you go along, but maybe not late at night when you suddenly have to deal with a sugar and caffeine rush.
200 g Dark chocolate 75%, high quality
850 mL Whipping cream (or 600mL whipping cream and 250mL fresh double cream)
3 caps Coffee liqueur, or as an alternative use brandy or rum (optional) – can also use
a teaspoon to measure
4 tbsp Instant coffee, the good kind
- Melt the dark chocolate in a small bowl over a bain-marie.Once melted, set aside.
- In a small bowl, melt the instant coffee with the liqueur, or a splash of hot water if you’re not using liqueur. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer to whisk the whipping cream until softly whipped.
- Mix a spoonful of the whipping cream into the melted chocolate to temper it – it will turn into a ganache-like texture at this point.
- Mix in the coffee mixture into the chocolate ganache.
- Carefully fold the ganache into the whipping cream until well incorporated.
Part 4: The Assembly
3 tbsp Sugar
¼ cup Hot boiled water
2 caps Coffee liqueur, brandy or rum
2 tsp Instant coffee
50g Dark chocolate, 75%
- Dissolve the sugar and instant coffee with boiling water in a small bowl or cup, set aside and once cool, mix in the caps of liqueur to make a sugar syrup and set aside.
- In a small bowl, melt the chocolate over a bain marie.
- In the meantime,take the two meringue layers, and trim any edges to ensure its uniform in size when compared to the sponge.
- Using a brush, paint the top of each meringue layer with the melted chocolate. Place in the fridge to set – approximately 10 minutes (or less if it’s in the freezer!).
- While the meringues are drying, prepare the sponge. Take the sponge and horizontally slice off the top most layer to remove the top coating. Slice remainder of the sponge cake horizontally into equal halves These should be about 1.5cm thick. Set aside.
- Take one of the meringue layers as the base, and place a big spoonful of mocha cream on top, spread evenly with a palette knife until cream is 0.75” thick across the surface.
- Place a layer of sponge on top, and lightly brush the surface with the coffee sugar syrup to moisten the surface.
- Evenly spread a layer of mocha cream on top of the sponge, until you reach 0.75” thickness.
- Repeat steps 6-8, alternating the layers of meringue and sponge until you get 4 layers of alternating meringue and sponge with layers of mocha cream in between.
- Use the remaining mocha cream to cover the surface and sides of the cake.
- Decorate as you wish. Here, I’ve created a ganache drip and decorated the top with homemade macarons and crumbled meringue.