Can a chocolate cake ever be healthy? Or is it better to indulge in the real thing every now and again?
I’m saving you the bother of trial and error by testing two recipes for you. One is a classic, rich, chocolate cake. The other is a ‘virtuous’ chocolate cake. Can the healthy option compete – or it just tasteless cardboard in disguise?
First up is Nigella Lawson’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake (ingredients and instructions here). This really is a classic cake. As Nigella puts it, this cake is ‘melting, luscious and mood-enhancingly good.’ I first made it about eight years ago, and I keep the memories of it on a special pedestal in my mental cake gallery. It’s dark, velvety and just sweet enough. Why did it take me so long to come back to this recipe? Probably because it’s so unhealthy.
There’s just something that works so well about this cake, and it’s incredibly easy to make. If you have a food processor (I don’t) it’s even easier. Both the cake and the icing contain sour cream – which makes everything beautifully moist, fresh and glossy. The icing is a dream to put on – it spreads easily, and the sponge is firm enough not to dissolve into crumbs.
Oh, and the taste. We were all in raptures over this. It’s rich and sumptuous, but never cloying. It also keeps rather well, if you can manage not to eat it all at once. I think it actually tastes nicer the day after it’s made, and ours was still tasting nice five days after I made it.
Nigella doesn’t tell us how many calories it contains, but it’s probably squillions. Luckily a small slice is very satisfying.
If you’re looking for something a little more virtuous, I can point you in the direction of Angela Nilson’s Lighter Chocolate Cake fits the bill. It’s not a fashionable cake. It doesn’t contain avocados, raw cacao nibs or expensive unobtainable syrups. The secret ingredients? Ground almonds, quark, and natural yoghurt.
The cake itself is very easy to make, and the instructions are clear. It didn’t rise particularly well, but wasn’t disgracefully bad. The icing contains light cream cheese and quark. If you haven’t heard of quark, it’s a special sort of German curd cheese. Find it in the supermarket next to things like mascarpone and buffalo cheese.
The overall taste of the cake wasn’t bad, but it was rather unusual. The icing had a very fresh yoghurty taste. Nice, but perhaps more so eaten out of yoghurt pot. The sponge was also a little dry and lacklustre. It looks pretty, but was a bit disappointing. Like getting a carrot stick when you really wanted a cheese straw.
Due to the overall yoghurt and curd cheese theme, it also didn’t keep very well. There was no room for it in my fridge and it went mouldy after three days. It does, however, only contain 260 calories a slice. According to BBC Good Food Magazine, most normal chocolate cakes will contain about 500 calories. I suspect you can probably double that for Nigella’s offering.
But when it comes to chocolate cake, is less really more? If you’re going to have an occasional treat then you might as well do it in style. A slice of chocolate cake shouldn’t be a compromise. Eating the lighter cake gave me little pleasure, and I could have easily lived without it. Nigella’s cake, on the other hand, was all about pleasure – the taste, the velvety texture… and that’s what a chocolate cake is all about isn’t it? I’d rather go without than compromise.
What do you think?