Here are grouped together, all higgledy-piggledy, notes from readers and stoppers-by with questions or comments, frenzied appeals to publicise charitable events, PRs and marketers looking for a cheap and easy way to gain pixel space for their clients, and subject lines asking me if my Mr. Winkie needs improving.
This particular Wednesday, September the eighth was no exception to the rule (well, apart from notes of well-wishing for both this blog’s anniversary and another notable event). And so it was with great interest while sipping my tea and nibbling a foofy pink cupcake, I perused Mailwasher’s preview pane, I noticed lying betwixt newsletters and messages imploring me to try “it” now for the purposes of shocking friends with my tool, I spied the following notice: A cake is announced and will be available to celebrate Agatha Christie’s 120th birthday on 15 September, and will be available a Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair during Agatha Christie Afternoon Tea the week of 12-19 September 2010. *
My, it was like my inbox was like the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette.
Further reading truly got my heart racing. No, the cake would not be prepared by or served by Lucas Bryant (my current actor crush). For you see, this was not just any cake, but one created by Jane Asher, inspired by "Delicious Death," Mitzi's celebrated dessert in A Murder is Announced.
Its description is only this, in Mitzi's own words:
"Yes. It is rich. For it…I need for it chocolate and much butter, and sugar and raisins….It will be rich, rich, of a melting richness! And on top I will put the icing--chocolate icing--I make him so nice...These English people with their cakes that tastes of sand, never never, will they have tasted such a cake. Delicious, they will say--delicious--"
Recipe in hand, I set out to bake the cake. If you followed my Twitter feed this past weekend, you're well aware of my skirmish with the kitchen gods.
To the floor.
Dismayed, I collected the hunks of crumb, and still glistening confettied dried, preserved and sugared fruit off the floor. It was very much a lovely tribute not only to the story, the lady but also post-war rationing and baking traditions in England but also from somewhere in the middle of Europe. This was not a light and tender, buttery crumbed floury cake as many of us are accustomed to, but a more substantial cake gilt with chocolate, dried fruits and fortified with brandy (or rum, if you prefer). It is not a fruitcake, but could easily turn into one by folding the fruits into the batter before baking.
I tasted it before binning it. The cake was chocolaty and moist with a nutty undertone from the ground almonds. It was, as suspected, sweet. Cloyingly so. Between the sugar in the cake, the sugar in the filling and the sugar in the glaceed cherries and crystallised ginger, I buzzed around my kitchen like a little humming bee.
I checked my ingredients. What I didn’t have I’d simply substitute for or use a reduced amount. I faithfully followed the recipe once. This second time I would play a bit, based on what I had on hand and my assessment of the first attempt. My recommended tweaks are in the baker’s notes following the recipe.
To me this cake is not the wedge-serving kind, but instead one where squarish slices are sliced off. So I baked it in a 21.5cm (8.5”) loaf pan. Since I could not find candied flower petals, nor was I willing to pay for gold leaf. and I was besotted by the jewel-like translucency of the glaceed cherries and crystallised ginger, I decided to mince some of each and strew them on the ganache glaze.
Regardless if you choose to bake the original or tweak it, it is a lovely little cake. It’s equally at home to be brought out for an afternoon coffee or tea, but also as a festive dessert.
Delicious death? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Agatha Christie’s Delicious Death
by Jane Asher; Imperial/volume conversions by me
175g (1c) dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
100g (7Tbsp) softened or spreadable butter
100g (0.5 c) golden caster sugar
5 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
100g (1c) ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
For the filling:
150ml (10Tbsp) rum, brandy or orange juice
150g (1c) raisins
55g (0.33c, packed) soft dark brown sugar
6-8 glace cherries
4-6 pieces crystallized ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
For the decoration:
175g (1c) dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
150ml (10 Tbsp) double cream
2 tsps apricot jam
10g crystallized violet petals
10g crystallized rose petals
1 small pt of gold leaf.
Pre-heat the oven to 150degC, (300degF, 135degC fan assisted). Grease an 8” deep cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment or silicone.
Prepare the filling: in a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients and stir over heat until the mixture is bubbling. Allow to simmer gently, while stirring, for at least 2 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened. Allow to cool.
In a small heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate drops over simmering water or in a microwave, being careful not to let it overheat. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Separate the eggs, setting aside the whites in a large mixing bowl, and, one by one, add 4 of the yolks to the butter/sugar mix, beating well between each one.
Add the melted chocolate and fold in carefully, then stir in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix together the ground almonds and baking powder, then stir them into the cake mix.
Whisk the egg whites until peaked and stiff, then fold gently into the chocolate cake mix.
Spoon the mix into the prepared cake tin, leveling the top, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 55-65 minutes, or until firm and well risen. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out on to a rack to cool completely.
Using a serrated knife, slice the cake in half horizontally. Spread the cooled fruit filling onto one half and sandwich the two halves back together.
To decorate: put the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and melt them together over simmering water or in a microwave. Spread the cake all over with warmed apricot jam and place on a rack over a baking tray. Keeping back a couple of tablespoonfuls, pour the icing over the whole cake, making sure it covers the top and the sides completely, scooping up the excess from the tray with a palette knife as necessary. Add any surplus to the kept back icing. Carefully transfer the cake to a 10” cake board or pretty plate.
Once the reserved icing is firm enough to pipe, place it in a piping bag with no. 8 star nozzle and pipe a scrolling line around the top and bottom edges of the cake. Leave for 2-3 hours, to set.
Place the violet and rose petals into a plastic bag and crush them into small flakes. Sprinkle these liberally around the chocolate scrolls. Finally, with a cocktail stick, pull off some small flakes of gold leaf and gently add them to the top of the cake.
- Chocolate: If you cannot find chocolate chips with the cocoa solids percentage listed on the packet, look for bittersweet chocolate chips.
- Double cream: Double cream can be difficult to find in Canada (I only manage to find it at Christmas). It has 40% fat and can be substituted with whipping cream (heavy cream), which is 35% fat.
- Caster sugar is the same as superfine sugar.
- If you wish to make this a loaf cake, use a 21.5cm (8.5”) loaf pan and bake at 150C/300F for 65-75 minutes.
My tweaks to the original filling
30ml (2Tbsp) Cointreau, plus extra for assembly.
75g (0.5c) raisins
1Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
8 glace cherries, minced
6 pieces crystallized ginger, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
a pinch of salt
While you mix the cake, soak the raisins, cherries and ginger in water, to remove as much of the excess sugar as possible. Drain the water. After the cake is done, mix 2Tbsp Cointreau with the remaining filling ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium heat to let the alcohol evaporate and the liquid thicken. When assembling the cake, brush or sprinkle the slices’ surface with Cointreau.
Original recipe reproduced with permission.
AGATHA CHRISTIE and DELICIOUS DEATH are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited (a Chorion Limited company). All rights reserved.
* With apologies to Dame Agatha and all her fans. I couldn't resist.
I'm a quill for hire!