Tag Archives: Katie Stewart

Buttermilk chocolate cake

Buttermilk chocolate cake

If I’m craving a cake, chances are I’m craving chocolate cake. Were someone, well Fran probably, to ask me what kind of birthday cake I want, I’ll say chocolate. Yes, I like chocolate. I like cake. I like chocolate cake.

But strangely, despite decades of baking and consuming chocolate cakes, I’ve never found a go-to recipe. A recipe so easy, reliable and rewarding that I don’t even have to think about it. Discussing this with my mum the other day, she asked if she’d ever given me an old Katie Stewart recipe called Quick-mix chocolate cake. Not that I recalled.

I like Stewart’s recipes. She died in 2013, and was somewhat out of fashion. But if you’ve ever seen or owned one of her recipe books, chances are it’ll be well-thumbed. She was one of those British writers food writers of a certain age, along with Prue Leith and Delia Smith1, born in or just before the Second World War, who produced practical, no-nonsense recipes.

Sometimes I like my recipes with a little more context and colourful images, but often I just want to reach for the recipe, forgo any preamble, grab the ingredients from store cupboard and fridge and get on with it. Stewart wrote for The Times from 1966, a year before my parents married and four years before I was born. She continued to do so until 1978, and my mum assiduously collected the cuttings in a yellow ring binder and used them a lot during my childhood. She still has it, still uses it. So yes, I had to try this recipe. Stewart was a big part of my upbringing and food education.

What is buttermilk?
Buttermilk is readily available from supermarkets these days – or at least the cultured version, as opposed to the liquid left from churning cream to make butter. This is what I first learned was buttermilk, when making butter while living at Newton Livery then Old Man Mountain farms in New Zealand in the early-mid 1990s. This is called “traditional buttermilk” and is unlikely to be available to you unless you’re churning cream.

If you really can’t find cultured buttermilk, I suspect (though I’ve yet to try. Watch this space*) you could make this using yogurt. A little Googling suggests a ratio of three parts yogurt thinned with one part milk. As you’re using alkaline baking soda as a raising agent, it needs an acid to react with, to produce the carbon dioxide that gives lift. Both cultured buttermilk and yogurt are acids, though they’re fermented with different bacteria giving rise to their different qualities2.

Here’s the recipe. I’ve converted it to new money and reduced the sugar.

225g plain flour
55g cocoa powder
5g bicarbonate of soda
2g fine salt
250g caster sugar
112g butter, softened
140g buttermilk
2 large eggs (about 120g beaten egg)

1. Grease and line two 18 or 20cm. (Smaller will be taller, larger will be flatter.)
2. Preheat the oven to 180C.
3. Sift the flour, cooca and bicarb into a bowl.
4. Beat together the sugar and softened butter.
5. Add the buttermilk and beaten egg.
6. Add the sieved powder and stir in.
7. Beat to combine thoroughly, for about a minute.
8. Divide between the tins.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm to the touch.
10. Cool in tins for 10 mins then turn out and cool on racks.
11. “Sandwich the layers with buttercream or chocolate frosting.”

Slices of buttermilk chocolate cake

I had some chocolate frosting in the freezer. I can’t remember what recipe I’d used to make it. I also had some cream cheese frosting left over from the Raver’s birthday. Both needed using up. I mixed them and added a dash more cocoa. Twas delicious, and probably fairly unrepeatable. I love those using-up-leftovers accidents. Any good frosting or buttercream will do.

I’m not entirely sure this will become my go-to chocolate cake recipe. As Stewart said in the cutting, it’s a “light-textured cake”, and sometimes I want rich and fudgy, sometimes I just want the ground nuts goodness of a Sachertorte or torta caprese. But I will be using this again, as it is indeed easy and reliable. Good old Stewart.




1. Obviously not everything. The earlier stuff by Smith, notably The Complete Cookery Course (c1980) is essential. How to Cheat at Cooking (2008) not so much.
2. Lactococcus lactis or Lactobacillus bulgaricus for buttermilk, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus and others for yogurt.

* I tried it. 105g yogurt mixed with 35g milk. It worked fine. Can’t quite put my finger on how different it was.


Filed under Baking, Cakes, Recipes

Chocolate fudge pudding. Aka self-saucing chocolate fudge pudding

My current city of residence Rome might reach temperatures of around 40C in August, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely lacking in the winter department. This time last year we had a dump of snow, and this year we’ve had several weeks of cool, wet weather, with some mornings starting just above freezing. Sure, it’s not winter like Moscow or Owen Sound, ON., but that’s still quite a notable temperature differential. Never mind the fact that our flat is all stone floors, white walls and seriously draughty shutters. Ergo, I feel perfectly justified in indulging in some classic, hot, stodgy British winter puddings.

This is one of my life-long favourites. It’s one of those things I simply have to eat when it’s cold and gloomy and damp.

There are several recipes knocking around, which all use the basic variant of a sponge batter with some cocoa, and a unprepossessing looking liquid made using sugar, more cocoa and hot water that is poured onto the batter before baking. It’s one of those processes where it’s hard to believe it’ll work. But work it does. The batter bakes into a lovely sponge, enriched by the sauce that, if you don’t over-bake it, pools in the bottom of the dish as you scoop the pud out to serve.

The recipe we use in our family is from The Times Cookbook (published 1972) by Katie Stewart, a cookery writer whose reputation is undergoing a well-deserved resurgence since her recent death. That cookbook was an important part of my cookery education as a kid, alongside the more successfully branded Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (1978-80). Both were very reliable. Indeed, this chocolate fudge pudding recipe seems to be one of the most reliable. I’ve tried or read a few more, and some of them just seem a bit strange. For example, this one from Lisa Faulkner, says “Cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight to set.” Why would that be necessary? And the overnight delay really just doesn’t cut it when you’ve got the specific craving and need the hot chocolaty hit in less than an hour.

So. For the batter you need:
85g self-raising four (or 82g plain and 3/4 a teaspoon of baking powder), sieved
25g cocoa
112g butter
112g caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla essence
50g chopped walnuts (or pecans, or whatever nut you like)
50g chopped chocolate (optional. Dark is classiest, white can be a nice surprise, milk is dandy)
1-2 T milk

For the sauce
112g soft brown sugar
25g cocoa
285g hot water

Heat the oven to 180C.

1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Beat together the eggs, add the vanilla, then gradually beat this into the creamed mixture.
3. Sieve together the flour (or flour and baking powder) and cocoa.
4. Beat in a little of the flour. (This helps it stop curdling.)
5. Add the rest of the flour/cocoa mix and fold it in.
6. Fold in the nuts and chopped chocolate.
7. You want a “medium soft” batter. Add some milk if it’s too thick.
8. Put the batter in a greased baking dish (volume around 1 litre/2 pints).
9. Make the sauce by combining the sugar and cocoa, then adding the hot water and stirring well. Don’t worry if it’s a bit gloopy.
10. Pour the sauce over the batter.
11. Bake for around 40 minutes.
12. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream, or even clotted cream. Something that’s denied to me living in Rome. *Sob*
13. Feel warm and contented.

BTW, these photos are of two different puds made over the last few weeks. Most of them are from a pud that contained some white chocolate and is served with ice cream. The last pic is of a version that contains hazelnuts, and is served with whipped cream. If I’ve was forced to decide, I’d say my favourite variant is walnuts-dark choc chunks-served with vanilla ice cream.


Filed under Puddings & desserts, Recipes