Baking challenge: chocolate celebration cake

I completed part three of the very first episode of the first season’s set of baking challenge for my Great British Bake Off challenge, which is, I suppose, a milestone, though not a very big one. I ended up making the very large chocolate popcorn cake from Delicious magazine’s November issue (the one with Nigella on the cover) featuring a Chocolate War, which I thought was appropriate. I brought this massive cake (monster by name, monster by nature, I guess) to my book club meeting. One of the challenges that has cropped up with this baking project is limiting the number of sweet baked things around in my house that I have to eat. I’m trying to mitigate the effects of this waistline-busting undertaking by providing baked goodness only when people are coming over/I’m going somewhere, but it does slow down the whole process to thing to a snail’s pace of baking.

Chocolate popcorn cake
Chocolate celebration cake!

One of the verdicts on this cake from the Delicious magazine chocolate showdown judges was ‘where’s the chocolate?’, and it’s a fair point. Yes, there are chocolate cake layers, but there’s also a sweet and buttery biscuit base, a layer of popcorn crunch and salted caramel buttercream competing with it all. I made this cake not so much because it was the ne plus ultra of chocolate fabulousness but because I really wanted to try it and needed to provide it at an event where there would be a few people to take it off my hands. Did I mention that it’s quite big? Yes?

Anyway, when I presented the cake, a friend noted that “Paul and Mary would have something to say about the presentation!”. Mind you, it had gone on a cross-London Tube journey, but actually I agreed. I followed the recipe’s quantities for the decorating layer of popcorn, but it could have done with a bit more to cover all of the cake, like the photo in the magazine (admittedly the popcorn in the magazine cake looked as if it it had been lined up, rather than scattered over chopped up as per the instructions). Still, very tasty. I thought it was more delicious the next day.

William Leigh’s chocolate popcorn dirt-monster
Slightly adapted (layout and text of recipe only) from the November 2012 issue of Delicious magazine

I made the cake in stages; the base and chocolate crunch one day, let it all mingle all night, then baked the cake and assembled the whole thing the day after. It was better the day after assembly so I imagine you can make this a few days in advance.

Buttery biscuit base

  • 130g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • 360g digestive biscuits
  • 80g golden syrup
  1. Grease and line a 23cm springform tin.
  2. In a food processor, whizz the digestives to fine crumbs. Melt together the butter and golden syrup in a pan, pour into the crumbs and mix.
  3. Spoon into the tin, smoothing it out so it’s as flat as possible. Chill for an hour or so (I didn’t chill it in the fridge as it isn’t big enough but in my cold unheated flat)

Popcorn peanut crunch

  • 150g crunchy peanut butter
  • 95g caramelised/toffee popcorn (William Leigh uses Butterkist, I used Tesco’s own)
  • 40g Crunchie bar
  • 2g salt
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 150ml double cream
  1. Whizz together the popcorn, chopped-up Crunchie bar and salt in a food processor until the mixture forms small crumbs. Add the peanut butter and mix it in.
  2. Chop the chocolate. Heat the cream and chocolate together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Mix together until smooth. Combine this with 200g of the popcorn crunch. (William Leigh suggests keeping the remainder to sprinkle over ice cream but…it didn’t actually make it that far with me. Ahem)
  3. Spoon the mixture over the biscuit base, smoothing it over.

Chocolate cake

  • 165g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g golden caster sugar (I think I used ordinary caster sugar)
  • 100g light muscovado sugar (I used dark)
  • 3 medium free-range eggs at room temperature, beaten
  • 20g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 120g whole milk (I used skimmed)
  • 20g golden syrup
  • 175g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate!)
  • 6g baking pwoder
  • 4g salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan). Grease and line a second 23cm springform tin with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for 3-4 minutes. Gradually whisk in the eggs, then beat for 5-6 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. In a pan, melt the chocolate with the milk and chocolate syrup. Do not allow to boil; it should only be warm enough to melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. Slowly beat the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into the sugar and butter mixture. Don’t beat too long, just enough to incorporate.
  5. Mix in the melted chocolate mixture, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Let stand for about ten minutes, then lift off the outer ring of the tin, then leave the cake to cool on a wire rack (I left it overnight).

Salted caramel icing

  • 180g caster sugar
  • 120ml double cream
  • 120g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 200g cream cheese
  • Pinch salt
  1. Heat the sugar in a pan over a low heat with a splash of water until it turns a deep amber. Add the cream (carefully, as it may splatter), then the butter and a large pinch of salt, whisking to combine.
  2. Allow to cool, then beat with the cream cheese until fully incorporated.

To finish

  • 100g caramelised/toffee popcorn
  • 150ml whipping cream
  1. With a long bread knife, cut the sponge in half horizontally to give two even rounds (the recipe says to slice the domed top off the sponge so it’s even but I didn’t do this as it baked fairly evenly).
  2. Remove the outer ring of the springform tin from the crunch-covered biscuit base (I didn’t bother trying to prise it from the bottom of the springform). Spread a thin layer of the caramel icing over the base.
  3. Place one sponge half onto the base.
  4. Whip the cream until firm and spread enough of the whipped cream over the sponge to make a layer about 0.5cm deep. Top with the second sponge half.
  5. Using a palette knife (or, in my case, a normal knife) spread the remaining caramel icing over the top and sides of the cake construction, filling in the nooks and crannies.
  6. Roughly chop the popcorn and sprinkle it over the top and squash it gently into the sides until the whole cake is coated.
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