So I ended up with two glasses of Tia Maria, one topped with cream, the other mixed with cream, not to mention a little cup of cream flavoured with Tia Maria. Incidentally, that cream had grown an amazing rubbery skin, not protein-y, quite different somehow. Anyway, I figured I'd make a chocolate cake.
Traditional recipe for a chocolate cake:
8oz self-raising flour
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 lid full of vanilla essence
(If you are really desperate for grams, let me know. For me, those are for science, and Imperial is for food.)
Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4.
Grease 2 baking tins. Sift the flour and cocoa powder, and set aside.
Put the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Beat them until they are "creamed" - light and fluffy.
Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat with a knife until they are more or less an even mixture. Stir in the vanilla essence. Add about a third of this egg mixture plus a big spoonful of flour into the beaten butter and sugar, and fold in. Keep adding flour and egg until they are all stirred in.
Spoon this mixture evenly into the tins, and cook for 30 or 40 minutes - times vary depending on oven.
How to make cake like Alice
Same quantities as above apply, except that I'm now not 100% sure I didn't only use 4oz butter. Strangely, this didn't seem to upset anything. The cake was moist and really just right.
Put the butter into a bowl and leave it on the Aga to warm, as it's rock-hard from being in the fridge. Sift the flour, and then suddenly remember to grease the tins. Go and find them. Wash the dust out. Doesn't matter. The mixture needs to start cooking quickly if you've stirred the eggs into it, but before that, it's fine to hang about.
Decide that dark brown sugar would go well in a chocolate cake. Only dark brown sugar available is also rock hard, despite being kept in an air tight box (pah!). Take a cleaver to it, bag and all. Chop as hard as if you were trying to behead Marie Antoinette. As it happens, about 5oz worth is just what comes off, clean as a whistle and certainly cleaner than a head. Put this in a small bowl. Fill another small bowl with water. Put these both in the microwave.
No, I haven't gone nuts here - this is actually a tip from Robert Wolke's wonderful "What Einstein Told His Cook", a hilarious food chemistry book that I must review here one day. Brown sugar goes hard because it dries out and behaves like cement. He recommends leaving it in a really airtight box with a cup of water or just a wet piece of kitchen paper for a few days - but putting it in the microwave is a quick remedy which won't last so long; and you add the water so the poor microwaves have somewhere to go!
Anyway - be delighted with how soft the sugar goes. Think how cool science is. Add it to the butter, find it is about 5oz, and add 3oz caster sugar to top it up. Find a new bag for remaining brown sugar and return it to not very airtight container, making a mental note to do something about it one day, probably whilst next in use. Apply big wooden spoon and find, oops, should have left brown sugar in microwave for longer. Attempt to break lumps with spoon. After some time, remove biggest lumps from mixture and put (with buttery mixture and all) into pestle and mortar. Grind them up. Feel suitably avenged. As for the smaller lumps, they will melt into the cake later.
Find out there is no cocoa powder!! How can this be . . . ? Go through cupboards, find only very weak Tesco drinking chocolate. Unwilling to use. Eventually find some dark chocolate. Attempt to grate it. Seems successful until realise said chocolate appears to have filling. Re-read packet several times. Ooops - it's chilli chocolate! Didn't even know there was such a thing. Hmmmm, cake will be interesting now, but too late, flakes already in mixture. Find some more ordinary dark chocolate. Refuses to grate at more than 1 molecule a minute. Get fed up. Break into pieces into mortar. Put mortar in microwave on low power. Works a treat - even while chocolate looks solid, it melts as soon as touched by spoon. Stir into mixture.
Beat eggs, add these, vanilla essence and flour - at least this bit goes right. Finally, add all of the not-very-creamy glass of Tia Maria, and about half of the creamy one. Stir in. Smells wonderful. Put in Aga. Ha ha, didn't need to preheat it. I love Agas.
Now the kitchen is beautifully messy, and aren't I lucky - I have more chocolate grating to do. Get out a wooden chopping board this time. Grate and grate and grate, and finally use a mezzaluna to chop up the tiny bit that refuses to be grated!!
Pour most of a pint of double cream into a bowl. Get an egg-beater and twizzle it for a while. When it starts thickening just a little, but not much, put the remaining cream and Tia Maria together, along with about 1.5 teaspoonfuls of coffee, into the cool oven of the Aga. When this fails to dissolve the coffee, give up and bung it in microwave on a low temperature. Comes out not looking like faintly caramel-coloured cream anymore, but more like rich dark coffee. Add this to cream. Whip in. Cream turns the most delicious colour and smells very professional. When it's got more solid than liquid, then stir in the grated chocolate (I didn't want to do that too soon or the chocolate particles would only get even smaller). Finish whipping until you can barely get the egg beater out. Get as much cream off this as you can, first with knife, then with fingers. Lick fingers. Put bowl of chocolatey, coffee-y, Tia Maria-y cream into fridge.
Get out cakes when they a) are smelling delicious, b) pull back from the tin, c) spring back perfectly when you poke them and d) skewers stuck into them come out clean. Put onto cake rack (bottoms of tins delightfully sticky and bits of brown sugar haven't let me down - pools of dark toffee!). Allow to cool completely before getting out the bowl of cream . . .
. . . smearing it on top of one cake, then adding the other cake, then admiring it . . .
. . . then eating.
And that, my friends, is an added benefit of the Tia Maria experiment.