To my knowledge, there are no epic tales about chocolate cake.

Until now.

And, no, I have not adapted Homer into a baking metaphor. (That is definitely going on my To Do list though.)

Before we embark on the chocolate cake voyage, though, I want to run a concept by you: The concept of the Ingredient Hack.

This is a magic ingredient that makes a perfectly good culinary creation into something ever so slightly extraordinary. This vanilla frosting for example: I wanted ‘oomph’. I did not want something tasting of outrageously sugary butter, I didn’t want lightness, I wanted something rich, creamy and sweet, that would make me cry and beg for mercy (…or beg for more). The hack? Condensed milk.

this is top secret business.

Dan Lepard, you beauty. MWWAH. I, of course, added an additional hack of my own that honestly had me considering an elopement to Vegas with this frosting. We’ll get to that in a mo (the hack, that is; the frosting said no to Vegas).

So, without further ado, may I introduce you to my absolute, hands down, go-to vanilla frosting – we may not have been married in a casino, but we love each other very, very much. Excuse us for a moment…

Go-To Vanilla Frosting (Dan, you’ve made me a happy woman)


  • 75g Unsalted butter, very soft
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 75g Sweetened condensed milk
  • 75ml Double cream (or check my hack, below)

The beauty of this recipe is that there are virtually no ‘steps’; Once the butter is as soft as possible without melting, bung it and all the other ingredients into a bowl and beat until combined and creamy.

See, now, I happened to have an impulse buy in my fridge, and it blew the double cream concept out of the water. Say hello to the Extra Thick Luxardo Vanilla Liqueur Cream:

this stuff should probably be illegal.

And look what it and its boozy, vanilla beany goodness did to my frosting…


(You’ve got a bit of drool on your chin.)

In future, I may use regular extra thick cream and scrape out a vanilla pod for fleckiness. Dunno. The future is over there somewhere. No, not there… There.

Let’s just look at this for a bit:

(was that you or me it just winked at?)

Oh!  A rather important tip: When you start mixing, do so at a very low speed and increase once the sugar gets a bit wet, otherwise you, your kitchen, and anything else within a five-mile radius will be covered in sickly sweet white powder. So unless that’s your thing (and please, keep that stuff to yourself), easy does it.

So now we get the concept of Hack, and we turn to the issue of chocolate frosting. I knew I could count on Joy – and I knew I’d hack her hack. Her secret ingredient was Ovaltine, which isn’t quite my bag, but it gave me all sorts of ideas…

...and only 60 calories.

So many words to describe ‘chocolately’ – AND there’s a chocolate cherry version of this stuff… *tremble*

This frosting is like spreadable fudge – not as deep or dense as a ganache, but miles away from some flimsy, light buttercream. Serve this stuff on even the dullest of chocolate sponges and watch your tasters’ eyes well up with grattitude as they slip into euphoria.

hand me a spoon and go away.

Again: I’m sold. I’m in love, and maybe this one will take that trip to Vegas with me. I want to buy it red satin lingerie and tickle its tender kneecaps. Or something.


Go-To Chocolate Frosting (adapted from Joy the Baker – you minx)


  • 170g Unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 1/4 cup Confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsps Milk
  • 1/2 cup Double cream
  • 1/3 cup Chocolate drink powder

Cream together the butter and cocoa powder.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the confectioners sugar.

On low (you do not want to be covered in this stuff) mix in the sugar while slowly adding the milk and vanilla extract.

As the sugar incorporates, you can the speed of the mixer. Beat until smooth.

In a measuring jug, stir together the cream and chocolatey drink powder.

Reduce the mixing speed slightly and steadily pour the cream mixture into the butter mixture until you’ve reached your desired consistency (I used all of my cream and it was poifect – up to you though).

Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.

Lying on floor, giggling with happiness: optional.

Now. Chocolate cake: Let’s get epic.

(this is not the epic bit, that's just a tin of cocoa powder.)

I tried another chocolate cake recipe. It didn’t look particularly earth-shattering (no melted chocolate, which I just know my Perfect Chocolate Cake will involve) but it looked promising. Apart from the baking time: 50 minutes. Eh?? And not at a particularly low temperature, either (Fun Fact: that’s a trick to keep cakes from doming too much: lower heat for a longer time – you heard it here first, kids). So I went ahead and poured and mixed and got the guys ready for a bit of quality oven time…

so far, so good.

…but at 20 minutes, I could smell finished chocolate cake. The tops felt springy and a toothpick in the centre of one came out clean, so I patted myself on the back for ignoring the recipe’s insane time demands and left the cakes to cool.

lookin pretty sexy.

Then something happened.

not so sexy.

I mean REALLY happened.


Utter carnage. Not happy. Besides, I tasted one, and it was fine! I had two scoops of the batter left, so I put those in the oven, ignored the I’m Done Now smell emanating from my kitchen, and let the cakes bake for 40 minutes (gulp).

that looks more like it...

Well, they didn’t burn, and the paper stuck to the cake. That’s something.

Another something is that they were dry and hard and in every other way utterly unpleasant. Not. Happy.

I needed a dozen chocolate cupcakes to deliver to Bourne’s, stat, so what did I do? I took a recipe that I had tweaked into Go-To-ness (hi again, Dan…) and sifted 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder into the flour mix.


...but this looks and tastes more like it.

It’s not the most chocolatey cake on the face of the planet, but it was tender, and balanced out that intense chocolatiness of the frosting.

i know.

I would definitely call the finished product a success. I would call it that, were my mouth not so full of cake, that is.

i feel so fulfilled... or possibly just full.

Of course I will continue to try and tinker with various chocolates and vanillas, but at least for now, I have some go-to basics that rise well above basic, flavour-wise, and can move on to trying truly crazy things. Like peanut butter cookies. Heh.

And for those of you who were worried about the fate of the demented-yet-tasty first batch of cakes…


I stripped em, flipped em, and gave them an Easter makeover for the jumble sale at the George.

much better.

Never – but NEVER – throw cake away near me.

Unless it’s hard as a rock and tastes like cocoa-flavoured cardboard. Obviously.

Now, I think we should take a break from this cupcake business, don’t you? But what shall we talk about next time… I’ll think of something.

I’ll surprise you – deal?

Until then…

3 thoughts on “The quest for chocolate + vanilla: an epic

  1. Pingback: easter and obscenity cake. « baking & alchemy

  2. It looks like the end product was pretty sexy though, we can only praise the power of creativity :D
    I heard that when the cake sinks after you’ve brought it out then it might be because it has been left in the tin so it’s still baking from the residual heat. Therefore it’s best to transfer the cupcakes to a baking rack and leave to cool down. I don’t know if it actually makes a difference.

    Thank you AND Dan for the vanilla frosting recipe! I’m the worst person ever when it comes to frosting. EVER.

  3. Pingback: (Magic) cake fight | baking & alchemy

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