Prune and Chocolate Cake

This is a delicious, richly spiced and dense cake. It’s a recipe from Doris Brett’s Australian Bread Book, which I think is now out of print, but is a wonderful book full of unusual cakes and breads. This particular cake is not only very easy and quick to make, but also versatile – it can be an afternoon tea cake, or a dessert if served with cream.

one and a half cups sugar
two and a half cups white flour
one teaspoon salt
one teaspoon each of cinnamon, all spice, and nutmeg
one teaspoon baking soda
one cup vegetable oil
three eggs, lightly beaten
two teaspoons vanilla essence
one cup buttermilk (or milk with one tsp vinegar added)
twenty-four large pitted prunes, chopped
one cup chocolate bits

Firstly, heat the oven to 180C. Then the method couldn’t be simpler – simply mix all the ingredients into a bowl. I put the flour, sugar, spices and baking soda in first, make a well, and pour in all the wet ingredients. After mixing well, I stir in the prune pieces and the chocolate. Done!

Grease a loaf tin well, and pour the cake mixture in. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, and then check on it fairly regularly. The top of the cake should bounce back a little. My oven isn’t fan-forced, so in a fan-forced oven, it will cook much faster.

Variations – replacing the chocolate bits with sultanas, dried cranberries or dates.

Brownies

This is a recipe for utterly divine, dense, rich brownies. It’s a huge recipe, and I haven’t been brave enough to experiment with halving it. I’ve found people quite enjoy being pressed to eat brownies, so I haven’t minded having enormous amounts of them. The original cooking time in Nigella’s recipe (from her book¬†How to Be a Domestic Goddess)¬†didn’t work for me at all, which I think might be because she uses a fan forced oven, so I had to do a little experimenting. However, I think I’ve got it just about right.

375g (1 1/2 cups) soft butter
375 g dark chocolate
6 large eggs
1 tblsp vanilla extract
500g (3 cups) caster sugar
(I know, this seems insanely excessive. I’ve used 2 1/2 cups, and that’s fine. You could probably reduce it to 2)
225g (just under 2 cups – 1 7/8) plain flour
300g chopped walnuts
(I made up this weight with almonds and sultanas)

Preheat the oven to 180C (that’s Nigella’s suggestion for temperature – in my non-fan forced electric oven, I used 190C).

Grease and line a baking tin measuring approx. 33 by 23 by 5.5 cm.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. Measure the flour into another bowl.

When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool for a bit (I usually melt the chocolate mixture first, and then beating the eggs and measuring out the flour gives it time to cool). Beat the egg mixture into the chocolate, and then add the nuts and flour. Beat until smooth, and pour into the lined pan.

Bake for 25 minutes. (At 190, I baked it for 45 minutes, and then checked it every five minutes, until the top was crusty and fairly firm, but a skewer still came out with mixture on. They solidify and continue to cook as they cool).

A variation on the recipe – the 300g of walnuts is replaced with 170g of dried cranberries, and 130g of walnuts. The cranberries expand juicily into scrumptious red dots of fruit – very attractive.