BEST OF 2022: DAY 4

Throwback Thursday: Rich dark chocolate cake

Throwback Thursday: Rich dark chocolate cake
Tony Jackman’s rich dark chocolate cake. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

You know that glorious looking chocolate cake you see in a display cabinet in a restaurant and think, wow, that looks amazing; then you order a slice and it’s bland and hardly chocolaty at all? This recipe endeavours to taste like you wanted that to taste. This week we’re revisiting the Top 5 recipes I turned out in 2022. In 2nd place, and the Throwback Thursday recipe of the year, is my rich dark chocolate cake, first published in April.

Chocolate began life as a luxury and became ubiquitous after a man called Coenraad van Houten in the Netherlands developed a mechanical way of extracting fat from cacao liquor, to create a solid mass that could be sold as rock cacao or ground into powder, a process, says Wikipedia, which “transformed chocolate from an exclusive luxury to an inexpensive daily snack”. And look at us now, unable to reach the supermarket till without negotiating row upon row of chocolate temptations, like sweet little devils on every shoulder.

There’s nothing like chocolate. It occupies a category all its own. Nothing is more likely to blow a well-intended diet to smithereens than chocolate; and it’s the first thing most of us gravitate towards when we think of having something sweet.

But it’s Rodolphe Lindt we have to thank for taking chocolate and making it better, by inventing a process called conching, in 1879, that made it smoother, silkier and better to bake with. There was, until the 1880s, hardly any such thing as a chocolate cake or gâteau, the online encyclopaedia asserts, with people having to get their fix from chocolate drinks, or in a glaze for a cake made of other things. By the 1850s, says Larousse Gastronomique, chocolate production had spread throughout the world, and by 1886 Americans had started to add it to cake batters.

Names like Cadbury, Suchard, Rowntree’s, Nestlé, Kohler and of course Lindt became synonymous with chocolate and immediately brought its taste and texture to mind, and still do.

The first chocolate cake recipe is said to have been published in 1847, but it would have been nothing like the ones we know now, made rich, moist and luscious by techniques such as tempering and skilful use of fillings and toppings such as ganache and the fudges that Americans love. That was the same year that James Fry invented mouldable chocolate paste, launching the chocolate bar into modern culture.

Today’s chocolate cakes – the really good ones, the kind that we get all dreamy-eyed about – are much richer than the standard chocolate cakes of even the mid 20th century. We are spoiled rotten by modern-day bakers, especially speciality cake stores like Charly’s in Cape Town.

But what kind of chocolate cake do we make at home? I did a lot of googling, read a lot of recipes, made a lot of notes, and then wrote a recipe based on the many things I’d read. Then I baked it, following the recipe I’d written. Would it turn out well? I couldn’t know until I followed my recipe and made it, put it in the oven, took it out after a good long while, iced it and, finally, took a bite.

First things first: this is very rich, heavy, dense, and very moist too. That’s what I wanted, so if it’s a light and fluffy cake you want you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s rich with chocolate (Lindt: five 100 g slabs of it including for the ganache topping and grated chocolate to finish it off), contains three large eggs, a little buttermilk, and sugars including dark muscovado, demerara and castor.

You can choose to lighten up those sugars if you like. My choice to go with dark muscovado and demerara, which are heavier than castor, combined with the egg component and all that melted chocolate, does make for a dense cake which had all the flavour, texture and moisture I was seeking.


200 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped

200 g butter, at room temperature

1 Tbsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 125 ml water

170 g cake flour

2 tsp/ 10 ml baking powder (fresh, not having sat in the cupboard for ages)

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g dark muscovado sugar

100 g demerara sugar

100 g castor sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

80 ml/ ⅓ cup buttermilk

100g peeled chocolate curls, to decorate

For the ganache

200 g 70% dark chocolate, chopped

300 ml cream

2 tbsp demerara sugar


Preheat the oven to 160℃. 

Grease a deep 20 cm round springform cake tin with butter and line with greaseproof paper.

In a stainless steel pot over a slightly bigger pot filled ⅓ way up with water, melt together 200 g butter with 200 g dark chocolate, broken up, on a gentle heat. The water should not bubble. Stir with a wooden spoon while it melts and combines.

Stir the coffee granules into 125 ml cold water and stir it into the melted chocolate and butter.

Still on a low heat, stir while it heats through and melds. Turn off the heat.

Sift the flour into a large baking bowl with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, and stir in the dark muscovado sugar and castor sugar. Workout the lumps with a wooden spoon and/ or a strong whisk.

Whisk the eggs into the buttermilk and beat this, using a wooden spoon, into the dry mixture along with the chocolate mixture from the pot. Beat until smooth and somewhat runny, but don’t overwork it.

Pour into the lined cake tin and bake in the 160℃ oven for about 90 minutes or until an inserted skewer in the centre comes out clean.

Remove to a wire rack but let it cool in the tin before releasing the springform tin’s catch.

When it is perfectly cooled to room temperature, carefully slice all the way through the cake in the middle, so that you have two equal rounds.

For the ganache, break 200 g of 70% dark chocolate into a bowl.

Pour 300 ml cream into a stainless steel pot and add 2 Tbsp demerara sugar. Heat it through on a low heat but do not let it boil. It should only be at the point of simmering at the edges and the demerara sugar should have melted into it completely, leaving no granules.

Pour this over the chocolate in the bowl, off the heat, while stirring with a wooden spoon until it is smooth. This is a delightful process as the chocolate thickens and darkens while you stir.

It should be cool enough to work with now. Spoon a little onto the top of the lower half of the cake and spread it with a palette knife or back of a spoon. Don’t use too much as you need most of the ganache for the top.

Once assembled, pour the remainder on top and allow it to run over the edges, encouraged by a warm palette knife you have dipped in hot water.

Use a potato peeler to peel 100 g of dark chocolate curls all over to garnish a cake that will, I hope, have all the deliciousness the one in the display cabinet at the café lacked. DM/TGIFood

The recipes published daily this week reflect my personal and subjective choice of the best recipes I have produced in 2022. On Friday, we will publish a People’s Choice Top 10 based on the number of users of the most-read and clicked recipes in the Daily Maverick TGIFood section this year. That list, as you will see, is quite different, though there is some overlapping. Let’s say these are the ones I’m proudest of… 

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.

SUBSCRIBE to TGIFood here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options