Earlier this year, I signed up for the Great Brussels Bake-Off, organised on behalf of the YouthStart charity by the British Chamber of Commerce. It’s not the first time I’ve participated in a baking competition, but this time was different. My colleagues and I were part of a team (the Rolling Scones) and, somewhat symbolically, the event took place during my last week at Dods.
Look, the last few months were busy. From the start of the new term of the European Parliament through to the hearings of the new Commissioners (#TeamJuncker), there was no time to be thinking of cake. So while the other teams were making plans and practicing, we made our final decision three days before and our first attempt was our only attempt. Who needs practice when you have sachertorte, the most delicious cake to come out of Austria?
Why sachertorte and why a train as decoration? Sachertorte tastes better after a couple of days in the fridge, sacher sounds like Juncker (it was genuinely the only thing on our minds) and in the words of Natalie, everyone loves a train.
Not least a train with carriages full of edible gold and diamonds…and little cubes of fudge. First class.
The focus of our cake was flavour. When we arrived at the venue (the fairly swish Hotel Le Chatelain), it was clear that some of our competitors had also focused on flavour, others on appearance and a few more had managed to nail both requirements. Some of my favourites (and ultimate winners) were: a mint chocolate cake designed as a Monopoly board; moules frites, where the moules were profiteroles and the frites speculoos biscuits; a similar idea with cornets of frites made of sliced apples and pastry; and an entire map of Europe, which managed to be accurate and tasty.
Our risk was in not tasting our cake before it was presented to the judges. What harm, we said, we came, we competed, we had a nice Saturday afternoon of chat and baking, and we got to eat cake. So it was a wonderful surprise to hear the judge announce our sachertorte as the runner up in the very broad Cake catergory, raving about the glaze, saying that it was the best chocolate cake in the room and that he wanted the recipe.
Here is the recipe, based on a Mary Berry recipe. For some bizarre reason, Mary held back on including any alcohol in the apricot glaze, but we remedied this with Astrid’s store of fine rum.
140g plain chocolate
140g unsalted butter, softened
115g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated
85g ground almonds
55g plain flour, sieved
6 heaped tbsp apricot jam, sieved
2 tbsp white rum
140g plain chocolate
200ml double cream
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a 23cm round cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. The tin we used was a little bigger, so this means you have to reduce the baking time slightly.
Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it in a bowl over a pan of hot water. When it is all melted, allow it to cool a little. Meanwhile, beat the butter until it is really soft and then beat in the sugar until the mix is light and fluffy.
Add the cooled chocolate and the vanilla extract and beat again. Add the egg yolks and fold in the almonds and sieved flour until completely mixed.
Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are stiff (but not dry). Add one third to the chocolate mix and stir vigourously. The remained egg whites can then be gently folded into the mix.
Pour the mixture into the baking tin and level the surface.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, but keep an eye on it. Our mix was actually ready in 30 minutes. When it is done, the cake will be well risen on top and will spring back when you prod it with a finger. Leave it to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack to finish cooling (remove the paper).
In the meantime, you can be making the glaze and icing. We used a similar glaze in the bakery, except that the apricot jam didn’t have any annoying apricots in it. Heat the de-apricoted jam in a saucepan and add the rum. The trick is to let it bubble and boil as much as possible, you want it to be almost completely translucent, so that when you go about brushing it on to the cooled cake, it is smooth and spreads easily. Allow it to cool again – you don’t want to put the chocolate on a hot surface or it will roll right off.
To make the icing, break the plain chocolate into pieces. Heat the cream until it is almost ready to boil, remove it from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and then let it cool. If it is too hot, it won’t stay on the cake.
When it has cooled, pour the icing on the centre of the cake and gently spread it around so it is smooth on the top and sides. Then leave it to set. We left it in the fridge until it had to be delivered to the hotel on Monday, where it went right into the cold room. This amount of coldness was a good move because the competition room was sweltering.
If you want to write on top of the cake, you can melt 25g milk chocolate over a pot of hot water and then use a piping bag, but make sure that the chocolate isn’t too hot. This was my mistake (note: there are no photos of my writing mishap). Serve with a dollop of unsweetened cream.
We shall move onwards and upwards – I’m thinking about next year’s event already.