I always notice food in fiction; I study it with relish. Because of this, I can list a number authors who have used food, often cake, in such a perfect way, the cake itself has become another character in the story. So I was delighted when I started to read Dear Thing by Julie Cohen – one of my favourite contemporary authors – and found a coffee and walnut cake with espresso ganache. It is used to describe an emotional moment to perfection.
Claire is a fan of making cakes and adores the art of baking. Cakes and baking are therefore important to her. She makes them for birthdays, for her god-daughter, for anniversaries, for Christmas, for village fetes, for friends and for coffee mornings. Yet, as we find out a few chapters in, yes, baking is important, but there is something far more important. Something far greater. Something worth not eating cakes for.
And it is this that hits you, with the use of this extra character – a coffee and walnut cake with espresso ganache. Because of this cake, you can understand the true depth of Claire's feelings. The scene without the cake would not have had as much depth. I don't want to expand too much as I'll give away the plot, but once you've read it, I hope you see what I mean.
This scene, between Ben and Claire in Dear Thing, has gone right up there with my favourite use of food in a novel. It is powerful and emotional; it tugs on your heart strings. You really feel for Claire and what she has been through over the years. And even if you haven't been in Claire's situation, you can begin to get a glimmer of an understanding.
I'm excited about this week's post. When I told the author, Julie Cohen, via Twitter, that I'd be making her cake this week, she asked for the recipe so she too could make it for her tea party to celebrate the book's launch. It truly was a case of bringing fiction to life.
I know Claire baked her cake with just espresso ganache, as did Julie, but I am also giving you the option of the more traditional buttercream. I used this to sandwich the cake together and the ganache to decorate the top.
Two 20cm greased cake tins, electric mixer.
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
coffee – use either 2 tsp instant mixed with 1 tbsp boiling water or 2 tbsp fresh espresso (Or alter amounts according to your taste)
- Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees or 160 fan.
- Using an electric whisk, beat the sugar with the butter.
- Add the eggs, mix a little, then add the flour and baking powder.
- Add the coffee and mix again until all ingredients well combined.
- Put half in each cake tin and bake for 25 mins.
I used buttercream for the centre and ganache for the top. If you want to use just ganache then double the recipe below.
200ml double cream
Coffee – 2 tsp instant or fresh espresso as before (I used a combination of the two)
50g dark chocolate broken up
2 tsp butter
2 tsp icing sugar
Walnuts for decorating.
- Pour the cream and coffee into a non-stick pan.
- Heat to a boil, but do it gently.
- Remove from heat and add chocolate and butter. Stir until chocolate melted.
- Pour into a jug or bowl and allow to cool. I placed in the fridge for a while to speed up the cooling process.
- When it has cooled stir in the icing sugar, then beat for 30 – 60 seconds with electric mix. It should be thick and spreadable.
If you want to just use buttercream and not ganache then double these ingredients.
150g icing sugar
Coffee – as before
- Beat the butter with the electric whisk until soft.
- Add the icing sugar and coffee. Stir gently to incorporate as much icing sugar as possible (so it doesn't go everywhere!), then beat again until well combined.
- Sandwich the cake together with the buttercream or ganache.
- Spread the ganache over the top and garnish with walnuts.