Rum Balls

So many of my memories are intertwined with food, such that they can’t be separated: my mum’s poppy seed cake and dinner parties, my dad’s fish and chips on the weekend, a chocolate cherry coconut tart the first time I stayed out at night drinking coffee with friends in high school (there was no actual coffee – not for another seven or so years – but that tart tasted intensely of freedom).

Rum balls also pop up in my childhood memories. I liked them the first time I tried them, a fact that slightly horrified my mother (and led me to believe that I had a lifetime of alcoholism in front of me).

But they’re not the kind of thing I’ve been able to find in Sydney for years. A couple of months ago my housemate baked a big batch of red velvet cakes. We couldn’t get through them fast enough so when they’d become too dry to eat, I looked for a recipe for rum balls. Despite being an Australian classic, recipes are hard to find: it seems they belong in bakeries in sleepy country towns where rock cakes, finger buns and peppermint slices are easy to come by. Nevertheless, I eventually found a recipe here.

It’s at this point you’ll think that I’ve gone completely mad (or had too much to drink?) because the recipe is clearly lacking in rum. As I went to make these the first time, I realised I had only brandy, no rum. I went with it, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. The brandy hints at the heady booziness of a well-soaked fruit cake, while moist chocolate takes centre stage.

Rum (or brandy) balls 

Cake mixture

1 1/2 c cake crumbs (see note below)

1/4 c icing sugar mixture, sifted

1/2 c almond meal

2 tbsp brandy

75 g chocolate, melted (I’ve used both milk and dark)

milk, as required

Icing

1/3 c icing sugar mixture, plus extra for dusting

2 tbsp butter

30 g chocolate, chopped

2 tsp brandy

milk or hot water, if needed

To make the cake mixture

1. In a bowl mix together cake crumbs, icing sugar and ground almonds. Pour in the brandy and stir through.

2. Add the melted chocolate to the cake mixture and stir through. I found that my mixture came together well at this point and was moist enough to hold together. If it is still looking dry, add milk, starting with 1 tbsp and going from there. The mixture should be wet, rather than moist, and should all hang together in one ball.

3. Roll heaped tbsp of mixture into balls and place on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper. Put in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.

To make the icing

4. Once the balls have been in the fridge for a couple of hours, start the icing. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I find the microwave is the easiest way to do this). When it is melted, stir to combine.

5. Add the icing sugar and then the brandy. Add just enough hot water or milk to make the icing the thickness of pure cream. Dip the balls into the icing one at a time and return to the same tray. Sift over some more icing sugar (or cocoa powder) and return to the fridge to set for a further two hours before eating.

  • Store in a airtight container in the fridge. Makes approximately two dozen.

Notes

  • I’ve made this cake using red velvet and butter cake crumbs. I imagine a chocolate butter cake would be fine too (amazing even!). Steer clear of anything too moist – a flourless chocolate cake or mud cake, for example.

Layer Cake

Image

My boyfriend leaned over my shoulder just as I opened this post and begged me to make the cake for a weekend treat. Never one to say no to a complicated, way-too-involved baking project I readily agreed. But on Saturday morning, just as we headed out the door to the supermarket he decided he wanted a chocolate on chocolate layer cake, not a vanilla cake. I clicked through a few of my favourite blogs but came up blank: everything required half a dozen eggs or three pans. Where was my standard issue chocolate layer cake?! Not having hours to pour over and compare dozens of recipes like I usually do, I logged on to the Epicurious app and chose the first cake that looked like a safe bet.  It looked moist and chocolatey, didn’t require separating eggs and it has a whopping 1,468 (overwhelmingly positive!) reviews. I guess it goes to show that sometimes the best decisions are the ones made in an instant, because this cake lived up to all our expectations. Granted, it’s so big that we’ll be eating it around the clock for the next week. But still, that’s hardly a sacrifice given that it’s super delicious and it made for a very fun way to spend a Saturday.

Chocolate Chocolate Layer Cake (adapted from here)

Two 20 cm cake pans

For the cake:

90 g dark chocolate

1 1/2 c strong hot coffee

2 1/2 c plain flour

1 1/2 c cocoa powder

2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

big pinch salt (I used beautiful, flakey Maldon sea salt)

2 1/2 cups caster sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 c vegetable oil

1 1/2 c buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:

400 g dark chocolate (I used Cadbury Old Gold), roughly chopped

1 c thickened cream

1 heaped tablespoon honey or golden syrup

50 g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 300’F and place the racks on the middle shelf.

2. Prepare your pans. I like to line the bottom of the pans with baking paper. I then coat the sides with softened butter, drop a couple of table spoons of sugar or almond meal into the pans and shake it around until the sides are fully covered. This forms a barrier between the cake and the pan and makes the sides of the cake sweet and slightly crunchy (yum!). You can also line the bottom and sides of the pans with baking paper if you prefer.

3. Chop the chocolate for the cake up and pour the hot coffee over it. Leave the mixture to stand for a few minutes, or until the chocolate has melted. Stir until smooth.

4. In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking power and salt. Add the sugar and stir together.

5. In another bowl, beat the eggs until thickened slightly and pale. I did this by hand, which took about 6 minutes, but you could also use a stand mixer or a hand mixer.

6. Slowly until the oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract and coffee/chocolate mixture to the eggs. Mix gently until combined.

7. Add the sugar and flour mixture to the eggs and beat until well combined and smooth.

8. Divide the mixture between the two pans. They will be about 3/4 full but don’t worry – the mixture doesn’t rise too much.

9. Place into the oven and bake until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. For me this took 1 hour but start checking at 55 minutes and note that it may take up to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

10. Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to cool in the pans for 10 – 15 minutes before turning out to cool.

11. While the cakes are cooling, get started with the ganache. Pour the honey and cream into a medium sized saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. When the mixture has started to bubble, remove from the heat and pour in the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the butter and stir until the butter has melted and is mixed evenly through the ganache. Leave the ganache to cool. I made this cake on a hot and humid day so I put it in the fridge to firm up.

12. Put the first cake on your serving plate and spread ganache over the top. Don’t be skimpy but don’t be greedy either. Pop the next cake on top and spread the top and sides with a thin layer of ganache. Put in the cake to cool slightly (about half an hour). This is called a crumb layer – it means that when you put the final layer of ganache on the cake it will look silky, smooth and crumb-free! Pull the cake out of the fridge and spread over a thick layer of ganache. Now you’re ready to go!

Notes

    I made this cake by hand, with an old-fashioned wooden spoon and mixing bowl. For some completely irrational reason I just can’t bring myself to use a mixer but in this case it would have been for the best – I ended up with slightly lumpy batter and a few flecks of flour in the finished cake. This did not at all detract from the finished cake but it looked a bit odd.
    The original recipe called for 3 cups of sugar. I cut this down to 2 1/2 cups and it would probably be fine with even a little bit less.
    The ganache recipe had 2 tbsp corn syrup and 2 tbsp sugar. Corn syrup is hard to get in Aus so I used honey. I’m sure golden syrup would be fine too. It was plenty sweet without the sugar and with the smaller amount of honey.
    My boyfriend requested sprinkles so that’s what we had! I cut out a piece of baking paper slightly smaller than the cake and gently placed it on the iced cake. I sprinkled the 100s and 1000s around the paper to form a border and then gently removed the paper.