Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween Chocolate & Prune Cake

I am fat fingered, cack handed, inept - useless basically - when it comes to doing fiddly things. Paint skirting boards? More on floor, walls and me than ever goes onto those strips of wood. Pretty cards with sprinkles, glitter and sticky on hearts and flowers? Fingers stuck together, glittery face, smudged card. Sew on a button? I once sewed a button onto the waistband of a pair of trousers, having lined it up with the hole - who says I never learn - and finished it without a single knot or tangle in the sewing thread. Can't tell you how thrilled I was till I tried them on and found the button was on the wrong side of the fabric.

So I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why I decided this week to decorate a cake.

I had some Agen prunes that I wanted to use, having opened the pack last week. I fancied cake and wanted chocolate, hoping for something dark and unctuous. I searched the internet for inspiration and was astounded how little there is to do with prunes. They have so little *love* that even the California Prunes site calls them ugly and acknowledges they're the butt of  many many jokes. Really guys? That is one odd marketing pitch. They are lovely things, richly flavoured, great texture, perfect amount of chewy, and they soak up liquids to replump into glorious fruit any time of  year. When I was a kid my mother made dessert pretty much every day and a regular one (snicker) was prunes soaked in cold tea and brown sugar overnight then served with cream or custard next evening that I just loved. A good starting point, I decided and set about adapting a couple of recipes I found till I arrived at this fab mousse like, brownie like, chocolate delight.

It's nearly Halloween, an event it's impossible to ignore these days with lots of creepy crawlies and fake spiders and ghoulies and goodness knows what adorning pretty much everything, and I suddenly thought I want to make it a creepy cake.So off I went  to buy black food colouring and something that could be legs or fangs or hairy appendages and came home with ready to roll black icing and a packet of Oreos. I was thinking I could crush the Oreos to make  a dirt topping then decided I didn't like the flavour of them enough to ruin my cake. I started to roll out long strips of icing - a fabulously messy process especially if you're me - and realised I could make worms to look like they were emerging from the holes I'd make testing the doneness of the cake. Deciding it looked brilliant - very life like - I made little bugs, like scarab beetles, cutting patterns into their backs with the blunt end of a butter knife. By this point my palms are black and sticky from rolling icing, the knife is black and sticky too and there's bits of discarded icing on the bench and stuck to the outside of my left elbow.

Has to be said I was having a lot of fun, really enjoying the way my 'design' was evolving. I had been thinking of making spiders entirely from icing but, in a flash of inspiration, remembered a half jar of rum soaked prunes in the cupboard from quite some time ago. Pure alcohol, basically. I melted a bit more dark chocolate and, using a couple of toothpicks, rolled my boozy prunes in it till they were well coated. I put a little pile of  popping candy (Waitrose sell it, Heston makes it) onto a sheet of baking parchment alongside another pile of those tiny coloured sticks and rolled my prunes around using increasingly encrusted toothpicks and sticky fingers everything - and I mean everything - was pretty much covered. Decidedly cack handed by now, I cut out some very unconvincing legs from a bit more of the icing and added them and some 'feelers' to my bugs. Didn't have enough legs so you'll have to believe there was some kind of terrible industrial accident in creepy crawly land and these were the lucky survivors. Dropped them onto the cake and - voila!

Be afraid....

Prune & Chocolate Cake

If the cake is to be eaten only by the grown ups, you can always soak the prunes in 5 tablespoons of rum or brandy rather than tea and sugar for an afternoon tea treat.

175g pitted prunes
1 tea bag
1 tablespoon brown sugar
100g butter, diced
150g dark chocolate
50g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
4 eggs, 2 separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
100g ground almonds
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
50g soft black icing
50g dark chocolate, extra
2 tablespoons brown and coloured edible popping candy

Put the prunes into a heatproof bowl with the teabag and the tablespoon of brown sugar and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for a couple of hours or overnight then drain away any remaining liquid, set 3 whole prunes to one side, and then roughly chop the rest using a stick blender.

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line the base of a 23cm springform pan with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter. Break the chocolate into large chunks and put it into a heatproof bowl with the diced butter and heat over a pan of just simmering water. When it’s all melted take off the heat and add the chopped prunes.

In a separate bowl beat the 2 sugars with 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks for about 5 minutes till the mixture is pale and doubled in volume. Fold in the chocolate prune mixture and then add the combined ground almonds, plain flour and cocoa and fold in gently till just mixed.

Whisk the remaining 2 egg whites till stiff and lightly fold those through the cake mixture. Pour it into the prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes till the cake is just set. Leave it in the tin on a cooling rack till cold.

Decorate as described above, or simply eat unadorned, it's still fabulous.

 Eat more prunes.

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