Grandma’s Layered Chocolate Cake
The origins of this cake remain unknown. The recipe, scribbled in my grandmother’s handwriting, credits no other source. I never questioned this, as I was always far more interested in devouring it; I still am.
To me, this is The Layer Cake. If I had to pick only one cake that I could have for the rest of my life, it would be this one. This is the cake my Grandma made for me for my Birthdays and Name Day, every year. And she would really go all the way with it: three large tiers, glued together with chocolate buttercream, which she generously and carefully adorned with the aid of a piping bag. This cake was a dazzler: rich, decadent and enough to serve 20.
Cocoa was pretty hard to come by in those times and so, a much smaller quantity was used for this cake, which gave the buttercream a café au lait color, much lighter than the one I am making. At one point, my mother took over this recipe and started making it, in more fortunate times, and so the cake started to acquire its dark, decadent look. I must say, she tweaked it to perfection.
The funny thing about this cake is that it’s gluten-free, since in lieu of flour, the recipe calls for ground walnuts. I’m sure my Grandma had no clue about this, she only cared about the fact that the walnut flour made the cake richer compared to a regular sponge.
Keep in mind that even it’s gluten-free, this cake is seriously rich, so enjoy in moderation. While I haven’t dared change a thing, you could try using coconut sugar instead, it will probably be just as delicious and a tad healthier.
The trick to achieving perfection with this cake is to not skimp on the syrup and to use a very good sour cherry spread, homemade is ideal, but a store-bought good quality one will work just fine.
For the cake:
250gr/2 cups ground walnuts
200gr/1 cup caster sugar
100ml/1/2 cup water
7 free-range eggs, separated
3Tblsp dark cocoa powder
1tsp organic vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 180C/360F. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan set over low heat. When the sugar has dissolved and the mixture starts to bubble, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Add the the ground walnuts and mix well. Next, add the egg yolks, the cocoa and the vanilla extract and mix well until everything is combined. In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold lightly into the egg yolk mixture. Grease two 20cm/8in cake pans with butter and line their bottoms with parchment paper. Divide the mixture equally between the two pans and bake on the center rack of the oven for 30-35 minutes. You will know that it’s ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you only have one pan, like me, you will bake the cakes one at a time. Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before assembling.
For the Cocoa Buttercream Frosting:
300gr/1,5 cups fine caster sugar
300gr/20Tblsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 free-range eggs
180gr/1,5 cups dark cocoa powder
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat all ingredients until well combined. You can do this with a handheld mixer as well.
For the sour cherry spread mixture:
Blend 6Tblsp sour cherry spread until it becomes a paste.
For the syrup:
250ml/2 1/4 cups water
3Tblsp caster sugar
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1Tblsp dark rum
Place the water and a sugar in a small saucepan set over low heat. When the sugar has dissolved and the mixture starts to bubble, remove from the heat, add the rest of the ingredients and leave to cool until using.
Assembling the cake:
Once the cakes have cooled, place the first layer on your serving dish or cake stand. With the aid of a spoon, spread the syrup all over the cake, allowing the cake to absorb it; start from the edges and work you way to the center. It is ready when the cake is moist, but still springy. Spread all of the sour cream mixture on top of the first layer, then spread some of the cocoa buttercream on top. Place the second layer on top of the first, then spread top and sides with remaining buttercream. Decorate with toasted almond flakes, candied violets or edible flowers, if you like. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. And above all, enjoy!