Chocolate almond cake (and the importance of saving recipes… and menus)

I’ve been reading the Chocolat series again. I’m onto Peaches for Monsieur le Cure and have The Strawberry Thief to look forward to after. As I result, I have been imagining my life as a chocolatier, with magical abilities to boot. Of course I am neither a chocolatier nor a witch but it is nice sometimes to pretend. I had friends over for Sunday lunch last month and decided I absolutely had to make a chocolate cake for dessert, to hell with the promise of an Indian summer.

My whole menu was autumnal: roasted squashes with sage, handmade cavatelli with pesto, focaccia, and a fig hazelnut salad. The weather was pleasantly grey, playing out my desire for an autumn lunch. For dessert I made a chocolate almond cake, from The French Market cookbook (also written by Joanne Harris).

When I took the cake into work on Monday (we have a series of meetings and I’ve been bringing cake in sporadically) one of the researchers asked if it was parkin, a fiery, oaty gingerbread, normally made in November for bonfire night (and that I had brought in last year). I realised I had no record of the parkin, no idea where the recipe had come from. I am always flicking through magazines, googling recipes, consulting cookbooks. Occasionally I add something to one of my cooking journals (which has grocery lists, recipes, and menus scrawled inside). This means I often don’t repeat recipes. I keep trying new ones, and so I have no ‘go-to’ recipe for chocolate cake, say, or the best chocolate chip cookie. Even Andres’ birthday cake this year diverted from the chocolate-caramel cake that has defined the last four.

How do you save your recipes? Do you make notes? Do you have recipe cards? A journal? I always think oh, I should save this, and then forget, or get distracted. As a result, I have few recipes that I know work every time. My mom asked for a recipe for lemon poppyseed cake recently. ‘Is it in this book?’ ‘Or this one?’ I wasn’t sure. I remember making an excellent one for my birthday one year but I don’t remember where the recipe came from or what the icing was, or whether we put lemon curd in the middle.

My sister messaged to say she was making blueberry cake but the recipe was much bigger and took way longer to bake then she expected. Where was the recipe I’d used for her birthday cake? I couldn’t say for certain.

Some of my recipes are recorded here, of course, but many are not. I want to become better at it – like Nigel Slater who says he writes down pretty much every dinner in a notebook, often with a photo associated. That is the dream – to have books of dinners and dinner parties and birthday cakes spanning the years that can then be shared with family. Do other people dream of such things? Or is it just me?

In the meantime, here is a recipe for Chocolate Almond Cake. Make it for your next dinner party.

Chocolate Almond Cake
Makes one 20cm cake
200g dark chocolate (70%)
175g unsalted butter, softened
50g light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
200g almonds
4 eggs, separated

Heat the oven to 160C and line your loose-bottomed
cake tin with butter and then a disk of parchment
on the base.
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt -
I find it fastest and easiest in a microwave but you
can also melt it over a pan of boiling water.
Cream together the butter and sugars until light.
Add in the eggs. Grind the almonds finely and
then beat into the batter. Fold in the melted chocolate.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt,
to stiff peak.
Fold in one third of the whites, then lightly fold in the
other 2/3, without losing too much air.
Pour into the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes,
until set but wobbly. Allow to cool before
removing from the tin and serving.
I like this cake slightly warm, with cream.