It’s been quite some time since I last posted here, and indeed, quite some time since I last baked. The past few months have been a bit of a blur; my relationship of almost six years came to an end, I moved house, and seem to have spent most of my spare time since organising my new flat and toasting to the next chapter of my life with my wonderful friends.
At times of stress or trauma, it seems natural to retreat to self-preservation mode, living day-to-day and focusing on the basics of feeding yourself, general life-admin (mainly consisting of desperate attempts to get through the bottomless pit of laundry without the aid of a tumble dryer and phonecalls to utility companies), and work.
But living like this does little to inspire creativity, happiness, or wellbeing. I’ve found myself craving a return to the more well-rounded me, and a big part of that is tied up with baking and writing; the great satisfaction of creating something from scratch. Whether a piece of prose, or a slice of cake – to create, share, and enjoy, I’ve realised, is fundamental to my happiness.
Today brings the birthday of a wonderful friend, Esther, who has helped to make the last few months a time of fun, friendship and endless wine-fuelled laughter. So, last night, I dusted off my apron, turned my music up to 11, and spent an hour or two singing away at full-volume (apologies to my new neighbours) and baking up a storm with a smile on my face. ‘I’m back’, I thought to myself.
Esther isn’t a fan of citrus cakes, which are almost a go to for me, so I went back to the failsafe choice of chocolate – with a twist. I’ve posted before about my love of Harry Eastwood’s Red Velvet Chocolate cake, which features imaginative and decadent cakes made with vegetables in place of fat, and this recipe is adapted from one of hers.
I will admit to having something of a love-affair with sweet potato; its versatility, ability to hold its own against even the strongest of flavours, and quiet and assuming starring role in even the most decadent of cakes make it a staple in my shopping bag. It makes the texture of this cake quite unique; moist, but not heavy, sweet, and yet earthy. Like gravity, you never really notice it’s there, but it holds everything together. Ok, maybe that’s a little gushy, but it’s a damn good cake!
Besides that, it’s almost virtuous; the lack of butter in the cake surely compensates for the calorific content of the chocolate buttercream, and its vegetable content is a surefire way to convince yourself that seconds (and thirds) aren’t much worse than eating that dicey-looking apple in your desk drawer.
Sweet potato chocolate cake
- 200g sweet potato, finely grated. Squeeze most of the moisture out by wrapping it in a muslin cloth or kitchen roll.
- 230g plain flour (use rice flour to make this gluten free)
- 160g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 80g ground almonds
- 125ml buttermilk (I used natural yoghurt with a dash of milk instead)
For the chocolate frosting
- 200g icing sugar
- 65g unsalted butter
- 25g cocoa powder
- 25-30 ml milk
- Small bar of milk or dark chocolate to decorate (optional)
- Grate your sweet potato into a bowl on your scales – it won’t weigh the same at the end as in the beginning as you’ll have lost moisture, so factor this in when buying.
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees / gas mark 4 and grease and line two circular baking tins
- Whisk the eggs and sugar together for a good 4 minutes until very pale and fluffy
- Add in your sweet potato and whisk again until combined.
- Add the dry ingredients – flour, baking power, bicarb, cocoa powder, ground almonds, and mix again.
- Finally, add in your buttermilk or yoghurt and beat until well combined.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes. The cake should be moist, but firm enough to the touch that you know it will hold.
For the frosting
- While the cake is cooking, start on your frosting. Beat together the butter, sugar and cocoa powder with an electric whisk or in a mixer until combined to a dusty texture.
- Slow down the beaters, then gradually add the milk until the frosting combines into a smooth texture.
- Et voila! Wait until the cake is completely cooled, before spreading in between the two layers and on the top with a spatula or pallet knife. (Feel free to like the whisk beaters while you’re waiting for the cake to cool down – in fact, I highly recommend it).
- Decorate the top with grated chocolate and/or chocolate shavings. To make chocolate shavings, use the edge of a sharp knife with the tip pointed out to the side. Pull the knife down the length of the chocolate bar (carefully) and you’ll be left with long, delicate shards of chocolate.
Don’t forget to share; it’d be criminal to keep this little number to yourself. Besides, the look on people’s faces when you tell them it’s a sweet potato cake is usually fairly entertaining…