Monday, 24 February 2014

How To Temper Chocolate + A Chocolate Ganache Layer Cake

This particular cake recipe holds a special place in my heart. The original version is from Mary Berry At Home, and it is the cake batter I invoke whenever I get a certain type of emails from blog readers. They go something like this: "it is alright for you saying all this cooking and baking is easy, you can already do it!" Then I tell the story of the first time I made this, my all time favourite rich and indulgent chocolate cake solo. 
Shard Cake
Back then it was just a two layer sandwich cake, but as I have said it was really the batter that was the real story. I was quite young at this point, and the long and short of it is that to rescue the batter my Mother had to press the mix through a fine sieve to salvage the cake I'd managed to screw it up so badly. The real lesson here is everyone had to start somewhere, people you see as great bakers have made mistakes in the past and still make them occasionally, and we all learn from our mistakes. I reiterate here that anyone can cook, bake and eat well; practice makes perfect. I'm still learning every day, and I love to learn new skills in the kitchen.

While most of the food on this blog is really easy and simple because I don't want any of the recipes here to seem intimidating, behind the scenes I've slowly been teaching myself new skills, and going off to a few one off classes people are kind enough to send me on. For example in the latter few months of last year I learnt how to make French madeleines, make a soufflé, bone and fillet a couple of different type of fish and how to bone the chickens I learnt how to joint over the Summer. This year as I've been so busy I had not really learnt anything new yet, so when Something Sweet magazine wanted to know if I wanted to learn how to temper chocolate if they sent me a copy of the first issue of their magazine and some of the kitchen equipment I'd need, I jumped at the chance. After a bit of deliberation of what exactly I could use tempered chocolate for, I though why not make my favourite cake as an indulgent little three layer cake and temper chocolate shards for the top.
This recipe works in three stages. If you follow the instructions for the three steps carefully there is no reason that anyone should find this difficult. First the cake, then the ganache, then you need to make the tempered chocolate shards. So, without any further ado first up is the sponge cake recipe. You need all the usual suspects for baking a cake, as well as three 6" cake tins. I find it easier to use the ones with loose removable bottoms.

  • 50g (2 oz) Cocoa Powder, sifted (I like Cadbury's Bournville and Trader Joe's own brand)
  • 6 tbsp Boiling Water
  • 3 Large Free Range Eggs
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) Whole Milk
  • 175g (6 oz) Self-Raising Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 100g (4 oz) Soft Margarine
  • 275g (10 oz) Golden Caster Sugar (if you live in the USA granulated is fine) 

Line the bottoms of each tin with baking parchment and grease the sides well with a little extra margarine. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 degrees fahrenheit). I make my cake in a food mixer (I use the Kenwood K-Mix, mine is cream) but I have also made this cake batter using the good old mixing bowl and wooden spoon method many times. Make a smooth paste out of the boiling water and the cocoa. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat well until smooth. Divide equally between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes. Test after 25 minutes and test with a sharp knife or cake tester. If you can poke the skewer in and it comes out clean they are ready. As soon as the tins are cool enough on a cooking rack to touch turn the cakes out upside down onto the racks and remove the baking parchment. Set aside to cool while you make the chocolate ganache. 

  • 270g (10 oz) Plain Chocolate (I use Cadbury Bournville) 
  • 300 ml (10 fl oz) Double Cream

Break the chocolate into the smallest pieces you can manage into a large heatproof glass bowl. I swear by my 2l Pyrex bowl. Add the cream. Simmer a small amount of water in a medium saucepan. Place the bowl with the cream and the chocolate in on the top, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl and the water does not boil. The steam from the water hitting the bottom of the bowl will melt the chocolate and heat the cream. This is a good practice for tempering the chocolate to make the decorative shards later. Occasionally stir the cream chocolate mixture until the chocolate has completely melted into the cream and the ganache is smooth, rich and glossy. Remove from the heat and keep in a cool place, stirring occasionally. Set aside while you make the chocolate shards. 

  • 100g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Milk Chocolate 

To temper the chocolate you will need either the same or another heatproof glass bowl and the saucepan of water, a suitable thermometer for tempering (the team at Something Sweet sent me Lakeland Limited's Infrared Thermometer, which was perfect for the job), a large palate knife, a tea towel and a flat surface. I used a plastic chopping board wrapped in baking parchment, but I think acetate would have been better for the job. 

Temper the chocolate in two batches, washing and making sure your equipment is very dry between chocolate types. Water added to melted chocolate will make it go grainy. Break the chocolate into small pieces and set aside 1/3 of the pieces. Melt the rest of the chocolate in the glass bowl over the pan of simmering water until all the pieces have melted and the chocolate reaches 48 to 49 degrees celsius (118 to 120 degrees fahrenheit). Remove from the heat and rest in a nest of a clean tea towel to stop the bowl losing too much heat. Stir in the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate until melted and allow the chocolate to cool, stirring occasionally to cool to 28 to 29 degrees celsius (82 to 84 degrees fahrenheit). Pour the chocolate onto the flat surface and using the palette knife smooth it out thinly, backwards and forwards until the top of the chocolate only just goes a little cloudy. Leave to cool until you can touch it with the tips of your fingers without making a mark. Using a sharp knife cut shards and gently peel away from the surface. Trim to smarten up. 

  • 3 tbsp Apricot Jam (I like Bonne Maman) 

To assemble your cake, heat the jam in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it thins. Brush on top of each sponge and place one on the bottom of a cake stand. Sandwich each layer together with as little ganache as possible so you have as much as possible to frost the cake. Using a palette knife, carefully spread the rest of the ganache across the outside of the rest of the cake until smooth. Press the longer of the shards in a milk and dark alternating pattern around the sides, and arrange the rest of the smaller shards across the top of the cake.  

Have you ever tempered chocolate before? I found it easier than I expected, but I feel that I am going to get much better at it with practice. You can read the full Something Sweet issue one which tells you how to temper chocolate, coat fondant fancies and make vanilla fudge on their website, and you can subscribe here


  1. Ohhh no this does look really simple, I might have to make it now! I've never tempered chocolate before, I don't think I've got the equipment though.

  2. Oooh this is not good for my diet. :o The cake looks amazing! I shall try it one of these days...

  3. Oh my god Rachel, this cake is absolutely stunning!!! x

  4. Thank you! I'm not at all happy with the pictures though. After two hours trying different lights set ups etc. this is all I could come up with. It was what triggered my ordering a tripod, though!

  5. Try it, it really is that easy! And if you don't have the equipment to temper chocolate you don't really have to worry about it - it is delicious without, and you can decorate it so many different ways! I was just in the mood for a shard cake!!

  6. I am rather partial to chocolate cake and this one looks so delicious I'll give your recipe a try. Thanks

  7. Be sure to let me know what you think of it!!

  8. Great recipe! I was just looking for a unique way to decorate a chocolate torte and I wish I'd seen this, the shards look brilliant! :)

    Jenna ||

  9. How did you end up decorating yours in the end?

  10. I made some cocoa powder coated truffles and piled them in the centre of the torte. It looked nice but these shards would have looked brilliant, I'll definitely remember it next time :)

  11. That sounds amazing. I have not made a good truffle in ages. And thankfully, it is warming up again I think (!) so I may have to wait until Winter again to make them, though, as I have very warm hands, and an AGA in my kitchen!

  12. I use the whiskey truffles with burnt butter in Lily Vanilli's sweet tooth book which I recommend - they taste amazing! :) Oh no! I hate it when your hands get all sticky with chocolate, I tend to keep a plate of cocoa powder next to me and press my hand into it which allows me to roll the ganache without it sticking and melting :)

  13. Great tip! And what is the rest of her book like? I have not actually considered it before, and I have not been to the bakery properly yet. I always seem to get there too late for cake!

    I'm also thinking about making square truffles, so I can just think about slicing and coating, and I have seen them look pretty slick like that when got right.

  14. Its a brilliant book, I've made a few recipes from it and every time they've turned out perfectly. If I have to make something last minute and haven't been able to test it first this is the only book I turn too as so far its never let me down :) The recipes are very unique but there some brilliant tips in it.

    Thats a really good idea! They do look really modern and professional when they are perfectly square. I find the rolling and dipping takes the longest.

  15. So I'm definitely coming over for a slice of this - it looks incredibly amazing! xx

  16. Wow that cake looks incredible! Cannot wait to try this at home - although I don't know I'll ever limit myself to just one slice ;)

  17. Make it when there are people to share it with! That is what I did - good luck, and let me know what you think of it!!

  18. Be sure to let me know what you think of it if you do end up trying it!

  19. Oh this looks delicious, I will definitely have to try this for myself!

    Maria xxx