I recently bought a massive box of old cookery books. That’s the thing about me, cookbooks are my catnip. I am fast running out of space to store them and, since I am constantly referring to them, they are usually stacked in crazy Jenga piles around my desk. Have you noticed that it’s always the book at the very bottom of the pile you need to consult? But I digress.
Amongst the books was this gem, The All American Cookbook – America’s favourite dishes for non-American cooks, by Martha Lomask. It was published in 1981 and contains some of the most unappetising food photography I have ever come across. The book has recipes for everything from starters to cocktails, but it’s the baking section that has me hooked. The names of some of the recipes are downright extraordinary: Shoofly Pie, Apple Pandowdy, Huckleberry Buckle – I want to make ’em all!
When I came across the recipe for Hershey, Pennsylvania, Black Magic cake I just knew it would be good. I didn’t realise it would be SO incredibly good as to become my go-to recipe for chocolate cake. It’s an absolute doddle to make but the resulting cake is light as air, moist, rich in flavour and absolutely foolproof. First time I baked it, I was sure the recipe had the measurements down wrong – the batter is very, very liquid and it really does not appear as if it would ever transform into a cake. But it does, as if by, well, magic (sorry, could not resist).
Variations of this recipe appear on many blogs and the original recipe may well have been produced by the Hershey Chocolate company. I am reproducing the recipe as printed in my book – but have tweaked the raising agents and flavourings a little. The cake contains quite a lot of coffee – if you are avoiding coffee you can simply use the same volume of water with 2 tbsp Camp coffee syrup.
The cake can be dressed up (see buttercream recipe below) or down – you can use ganache, American buttercream or anything you fancy as frosting. It makes an excellent birthday or celebration cake.
Black Magic cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Put paper cases in two 12 hole muffin tins.
- Put all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix using the paddle attachment on medium for a couple of minutes. Or sift them together over a bowl.
- Put the buttermilk, oil, eggs and flavourings in a measuring jug. Add the coffee (can be hot) and mix together lightly.
- Cover the bowl of the mixer and slowly add the wet ingredients while mixing on low speed. Increase the speed to high and mix for 2-3m. Take a rubber spatula and mix the batter, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Pour the batter into the cupcake cases, filling only halfway.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25m or until risen and firm.
- Let them cool completely before frosting.
Baileys Salted Caramel Sauce
This is incredibly easy to make and tastes amazing. You can leave the Baileys out if you prefer, but the alcohol cooks off so this is safe for children and anyone avoiding booze. This makes a generous quantity and you may have leftovers. Recipe easily halved.
300g | 10.5oz caster sugar
60ml | 2fl oz water
1tsp Maldon sea salt crystals (more or less, to taste)
200ml | 7fl oz double cream
60ml | 2fl oz Baileys or other Irish Cream liquor
30g | 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Combine the cream and Baileys in a measuring jug. Heat in microwave for 20 seconds or until tepid.
- Put the sugar, salt, and water in a medium heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to the boil and cook, swirling the pan, until the sugar dissolves and the colour changes to deep amber.
- Remove from the heat and pour the cream mixture – be careful, this will cause the caramel to bubble and rise in the pan.
- When the bubbling stops, add the butter and mix till combined.
- Return the caramel to the heat and boil for a couple of minutes (the longer it cooks, the thicker it will get).
- Let the caramel cool before using. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Reheat gently to use. Do not eat with a spoon – that’s bad.
Italian Meringue Buttercream (with Salted caramel & Chocolate)
200g | 7oz caster sugar
2 tbsp of the Baileys Salted Caramel sauce
70g | 2.4oz of dark chocolate, melted
- Put the sugar and water in a pan and clip on a sugar thermometer.
- Put the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer (make sure it’s clean without a trace of grease). Bring the sugar and water to the boil. When the temperature reaches 110C (230F) start whisking your egg whites till you get a nice meringue. Keep an eye on the sugar thermometer and when the sugar reaches 120C (240F) take off the heat.
- Reduce your mixer speed to medium-low and very carefully pour the sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl in a steady stream. Do not splash the syrup on the whisk or directly on the eggs – the sugar will harden and eggs will scramble! Do not splash yourself with it either – it’s searingly hot.
- Turn the mixer to high and keep whisking till the bowl has cooled – this can take up to 10 minutes.
- Reduce speed slightly and start adding the butter, a cube at a time. Keep adding the butter and pay attention to the texture of the buttercream. It may turn liquid at first, then curdle a bit – keep whisking and it should come together.
- Mix in the melted chocolate and caramel.
- Fit a large star nozzle in a piping bag, fill with buttercream and frost your cupcakes. Cool in the fridge for 30m and then drizzle with the caramel sauce and sprinkle with salt crystals.