Chocolate & Aubergine Cake with Orange Buttercream

I know what you’re thinking – something along the lines of “yuck”, probably. But trust me and give this a go, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Of course you can’t taste the actual aubergine – that would be a step too far even in my book – but what it does is give a rich, bitter edge to the deep chocolate flavour in this cake, and make it gloriously moist and sticky. This is also a rather healthier cake than usual – yes, it has rather a lot of dark chocolate in it, but apart from that, there’s no fat (apart from in the icing) and no sugar apart from that which comes from a few tablespoons of honey. Since it contains two whole aubergines, you could even try and claim it was one of your five-a-day...

This recipe (slightly adapted here) comes from my favourite baking book, Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes (click here for more details). The first thing to do is cook the aubergines, which can be done in the microwave (pierce their skins with a skewer or knife first, and cook for about 8 minutes). Next you need to skin them, but leave them to cool for a little while first – and bear in mind that even when they feel cooler to the touch, the insides will still be quite hot! I found that the skins wouldn’t really peel off without the help of a knife, and you need to make sure you get rid of all the tough skin bits, so slice it off generously. Once you’re left with just the flesh, puree it thoroughly (I used my trusty hand blender – see the Kitchen Bits and Bobs page for more details), and then mix in 300g or so of dark chocolate, and leave it to start melting in the heat from the vegetables.

Next you need to mix all the other ingredients together – about 30g cocoa powder, 80g ground almonds (these take the place of flour, as you will notice), 3 eggs, 150-200g of clear runny honey, 2 tbsp baking powder, a sprinkle of salt, and a good splash of brandy. Check on your aubergine mixture, and if the chocolate isn’t melted yet, blitz it in the microwave. Once that’s sorted, stir it into the rest of the ingredients, to form a thick, wet cake mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (or 170°C if you have a fan oven – as a general rule, subtract ten or twenty degrees). Grease two shallow cake tins and line them with greaseproof paper, then divide the mixture between them. Cook for 30 minutes until the cakes are mostly solid (although they will be slightly gooey in the middle even when done).

While the cakes are cooling, make your buttercream for the middle. Put a couple of good big spoonfuls of margarine in a bowl and keep adding icing sugar until it tastes about right. Then mix in about half the zest from an averagely-sized orange. You can do the zesting with a cheesegrater, but if you can get hold of a little zesting tool it’ll make your life easier – see the Kitchen Bits and Bobs page for links. I must credit the lovely Katie Abraham with the inspired idea to make the buttercream orange-flavoured – the sweetness perfectly counteracts the bitter chocolate.

Once your cakes are completely cool, turn them out onto a flat surface (don’t turn them out before because they’re quite delicate, even more so when warm), spread the buttercream generously on top of one half, and sandwich together. Serve a large slice with a cup of Earl Grey tea – bliss.