"There you are, cook," the Trunchbull cried. "Bogtrotter likes your cake. He adores your cake. Do you have any more of your cake you could give him?" "I do indeed," the cook said. She seemed to have learnt her lines by heart. "Then go and get it. And bring a knife to cut it with." The cook disappeared. Almost at once she was back again staggering under the weight of an enormous round chocolate cake on a china platter. The cake was fully eighteen inches in diameter and it was covered with dark-brown chocolate icing.
Matilda, Roald Dahl, Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cake
Matilda Wormwood (constantly battling Jo March, Mary Lennox and Cassandra Mortmain for the top spot) is the book character I have always most wanted to be - brave, ballsy and bookish. I spent the first (and only) afternoon I've ever been grounded shut up in my bedroom with Matilda, feeling a deep affinity with her continual struggle against the adults in her life. I was seven, and feeling very hard done by. Twenty years on, it's still my favourite of Roald Dahl's fantastic books; dark, thrilling and full of magic and surprise, all the things he does best. It also invokes a strange picture of England, of terrifying headmistresses, shady secondhand car dealerships and the power of escaping to other worlds through fiction.
Like most of Dahl's books, there's quite a bit of food in Matilda, and the simple cake and cup of tea Matilda and Miss Honey share at the cottage mid-way through the novel is perhaps a post for another time. First, I feel the need to do justice to a slightly more iconic cake - the 18-inch monster Bruce Bogtrotter is forced, by the inimitable Miss Trunchbull, to eat in its entirety. No matter how much I enjoy cake, the idea of consuming this fictional monstrosity is a true nightmare. In fact, the only person I can imagine coming close to finishing a cake like that is my friend Richard, who has been known to inhale whole blocks of chocolate following gruelling dance rehearsals. So, for his 30th birthday, a Bruce Bogtrotter cake it had to be...
Bruce's Chocolate Cake
Serves at least 15 (or 1 - if you're Bruce)
180mL boiling water
350g plain flour
4tsp baking powder
200g softened butter
550g caster sugar
300g dark chocolate + 100g extra for decoration
300ml double cream
5tbsp blackcurrant jam
3 sandwich tins
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the sandwich tins and line the base with greaseproof paper.
2. Sift the cocoa into the mixing bowl and pour the boiling water over the top. Stir until the cocoa is dissolved. Add the rest of the cake ingredients and beat with the electric whisk until the mixture forms a smooth, thick batter. Divide the mixture equally between the tins and level off the surface of the batter.
NB. If you have only two sandwich tins (as I did), you can make 2/3 of the mixture first, and then make the final third separately. It's a very simple cake batter, so this shouldn't be too much drama! You could also leave 1/3 of the batter in the mixing bowl until the first two cakes have finished in the oven, but you should be aware that cake batter doesn't like to hang around, and the third cake may not rise as well.
3. Place the cake tins in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes until the cakes are well risen and bounce back when pressed lightly. Leave to cool in the tins for a couple of minutes, and then turn out to cool fully on a wire rack.
4. To make the ganache, chop the chocolate very finely and place it in the (washed-up) mixing bowl. Bring the cream almost to the boil in a saucepan. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Leave the ganache to cool until it is nearly set.
5. To decorate the cake, soften the jam in the saucepan, and paint the top and sides of each of the cakes. As well as adding a sharpness to the overwhelming sweetness of this cake, this will prevent crumbs from getting stuck in the ganache. Using the palette knife (dipped in hot water), spread the top of the first cake with ganache and lay it on the serving plate. Continue with the other cakes. Spread ganache around the sides of the tiers, and smooth it out with the palette knife (dipped again in hot water). Finally, shave the leftover chocolate with the vegetable peeler and arrange on the cake. Serve unadorned and in large slices!