Monday, 21 January 2013

Of Parallel Universes, snow and Chocolate Hazelnut & Black Cherry Zebra Cake

There's a film called Sliding Doors which (though I probably should be ashamed to say it) is one of my favourites. It's no blockbusting epic, no quirky indie pic, but I love it. If you haven't seen it, the premise is this: pretty, slightly scatty PR girl is living with vaguely handsome but no good (in an affable kind of way) boyfriend 'writer'. On the day she is fired (for drinking some company vodka), she just manages to catch a tube train home, has a passing conversation with enigmatic stranger, discovers affable-but-no-good boyfriend in bed with slightly psycho-ex girlfriend, and after soul searching and much Grolsch, she pulls herself up by her kitten heels, opens marvelously successful PR agency, gets it on with enigmatic stranger, gets pregnant, and is hit by a car at the height of blissful happiness. Or not. Because the film also offers the alternative reality where she misses the train and as the result of a combination of circumstances, doesn't find the boyfriend in bed with psycho-ex. Her immediate post-fired life is much less glitzy, and involves making and delivering sandwiches around London including to psycho-ex. However, at the end of it all, she still meets enigmatic stranger, and at the conclusion of the film looks like it's going to be a much more satisfactory life all round, with significant opportunities for unashamed blubbing. You should see it.

Nothing so dramatic has happened to me over the last few days - you'll be pleased to know that I haven't found the Husband in bed with anything other than his Christmas pyjamas, and there have been no other life changing events - apart from the snow.

Snow does this to us, the English, doesn't it. Life can be trundling along quite happily, and then there's the whisper of the white stuff and we whip ourselves up into a frenzy. The prospect of snow makes us all excited because we can do that most English of things and spend HOURS talking about the weather - "They say it's going to snow. A foot at least" "More like 3, I heard - it's that wind coming from Siberia" "School will be closed" "Better get some more milk in". Snow gives us the opportunity to raise eyebrows and exchange words with complete strangers, and to panic buy. Whatever anyone says, it is my firm belief that the siege mentality that understandably developed here during the first and second World Wars is still ingrained in our national psyche - witness the madness of over-food shopping before Christmas for one - and the prospect of snow gives an opportunity to indulge this. The mere whisper, the sight of a steely cloud, and our local Co-Op might as well have had a plague of locusts land, such is the speed with which the shelves are emptied - because you never know... Normal life is suspended. Nothing works. Committed office dwellers skive off and go sledging with their kids work from home.

Anyway, back to our parallel universe theme. Before the snow happened, the Husband and I were due to go out on Friday night for a good friend's 40th to a very smart restaurant. It involved driving quite a long way, but we were very keen to go. It was to be a surprise too - I love being part of a surprise. I had a new top, and had even booked in with my friendly hairdresser to get a 'blow dry' for the occasion which is something I would never normally do. The kids (and dog) were going for sleepovers - Pink and Fred one way, Blue another, and in our parallel life, the Husband and I would be off for our glitzy night, living the high life. And then, in the real world, the snow came. School was closed, and a hospital appointment was cancelled, so the Husband and I juggled work with sledging and constant vigilance. We exchanged words like "Well, if we can get to the M3, we should be fine" "Hmm yes. But is it going to freeze?". We watched as the snow fell all day. We couldn't go.

So in the non-glitzy snow bound universe, I made a cake. A 'zebra' cake. 



Apparently these are one of this year's cake trends, so if you haven't heard it before, let me tell you that now. I know, because Good Food told me it was. I'm not particularly one for trends but I have been intrigued by how this might work. Essentially, you make up two cake batters and then fill the tin alternately blobbing one spoonful of one batter in on top of the other. 



This way you can make a cake with contrasting flavours and a fun, stripy interior. Hmmm.

Chocolate Hazelnut and Black Cherry Zebra Cake

For the Chocolate Hazelnut sponge

200g self raising flour
140g caster sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder (sifted, or sift it in to your bowl when you add it)
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
150ml pot low fat hazelnut yoghurt
150ml vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Black Cherry Sponge

200g plus 3 tbsp self raising flour
140g caster sugar
 pinch of salt
2 large eggs
150ml pot low fat black cherry yoghurt
150ml vegetable oil
1/2 tsp pink food colouring

to decorate

200ml double cream
50g Nutella (other hazelnut spreads are available!)
50g dark chocolate

You'll also need a 23 cm loose bottomed (if possible) cake tin, greased and with the bottom lined; Pre-heat your oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4

Make the 2 cakes simultaneously - in 2 bowls (one for the chocolate sponge, one for the black cherry), first mix together the dry ingredients for each cake, then crack in the eggs and add the oil and yoghurt. Add the vanilla extract to the chocolate sponge and the pink food colouring to the black cherry sponge. Use an electric whisk or other to whisk the sponge mixtures together - remember to wash the whisk between bowls (I nearly forgot).

Check that the batters are of pretty similar consistency - if one is noticeably thicker (it shouldn't be) you could thin it a little with some milk.

You need to work quickly now, and with a large spoon/cup measure for each batter, spoon a measure of one batter into your prepared tin, then immediately dollop a spoon of the other batter on top, and repeat. Once all the batter is used up, bake the cake for around an hour till a skewer (or whatever you use to test cakes) comes out clean. Check it after 45 mins though and cover with foil if you think it is going too dark on top.


Leave to cool in the tin, then turn it out and ice. Put the cream, Nutella and chocolate (broken into pieces) in a small pan, and stir over a gentle heat until everything is melted. Remove from the heat and keep on stirring till you get a smooth thickened icing. If you lose faith and think it's never going to thicken, you may find that it helps to pop it in the fridge for a few minutes - or just put your coat and wellies on and stir it outside.  

When the icing is ready, spread it on to the cake, and add any other decorations you consider appropriate. I left mine unadorned on the basis that the stripy interior would be 'wow factor' enough.


Well, I was pleased with the stripes, but the black cherry layer was no where near pink enough. The problem is clearly keeping the batters the same consistency, but you don't want them too thin, I don't think, otherwise they will run too quickly as you're blobbing the batter in. I think gel colouring may be the answer if you want to really make a good pink (or other) colour.


As for the cake, well, it was moist and held together well, and pretty tasty too. The icing was definitely a hit - I'll be making it with Nutella more often, I think.

And parallel universes? Well, while I'd have loved to have gone to the dinner, the Husband and I dispatched the kids as planned and went for a curry instead. And there's cake too - so not all bad.

14 comments:

  1. Fabulous cake RJ. I think it looks perfect as it is, too pink and it might disappear next to the choc.
    I really like that film too and I'm glad that you haven't had any tube doors knocking you out..
    Oh RJ, I have to tell that I love you a wee bit more for your blow dry and new top too :)

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    1. Glad you like that film too! The top is all sparkly, and I was really REALLY looking forward to wearing it, so I took it out for the curry anyway. I cancelled the blow dry though.

      May be I'll go for a raspberry and vanilla stripe next time, that way I can indulge my desire for a stripy pinkn cake. May be I can persuade Pink that's what she wants for her birthday.

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  2. Oh poor RJ. What a shame about your cancelled plans but your cake looks really ace. I love the stripes - and I didn't know it was a trend either but then I've always been a bit behind the door! The nutella icing sounds well worth a go too. Here's hoping you can wear your sparkly top very soon! x

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    1. The nutella icing is probably the best bit, although I am quite pleased with the cake. It has just fed ravenous hordes as 'pudding' this evening which is always a good thing. Don't worry about the sparkly top - I'll wear ot on the school run if necessary - but who knows? it may get a trip up to town soon!

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  3. I love that film and i'm constantly thinking I see myself getting onto tubes when i'm in London... amazing looking cake and I must be the last person in the world to jump onto this bandwagon as I haven't make it yet, although I can see the variables with different icing colours... so chic... so messy!

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    1. I'm a bit suspicious of anything too garish, although as I've said, I'm hankering for a stripy pink cake. It's a bit hit and miss getting the batter in the tin - lots of opportunity for mess, but quite a fun one to make.

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  4. Oh, the swirl and frosting look spectacular!

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  5. Lovely-looking cake and I love the idea of using the flavoured yoghurts (especially the hazelnut - I just love hazelnut cakes). So sorry that your plans were snowed off - I know the feeling. I have seen Sliding Doors but, for some reason, I had a completely different plot in mind. I think I've seen too many films for my own good.

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    1. hazelnut yoghurt is one of my favourites - for some reason it makes me think of my childhood, although I'm not sure we had it very often (mum being of the make your own natural yoghurt kind of woman). I know the feeling about seeing too many films, although it applies less these days (cost of cinema vs cost of babysitter plus actually never any time to sit down and actually watch a DVD...)

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  6. How frustrating! So sorry you couldn't get out on friday. Blinking snow.
    Fantastic cake though - love the stripes, they look perfect to me, but I'm pretty sure I'd be going straight for the icing :)

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  7. Awesome looking cake recipe junkie! Hazelnut ganache yum. Does the cherry flavour come through?
    http://mycupcakehabit.blogspot.co.uk/

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  8. I'm a disaster in the kitchen but I'm tempted to have a go at a zebra cake. With any luck my kids will think it's made of zebra an will leave lots for me!

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    1. good luck! it's pretty fool proof 'cakewise' you just have to be quite quick getting the batter into the tin.

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