Kirsten Tibballs’ decadent chocolate cake.
Kirsten Tibballs’ decadent chocolate cake.

The chocolate queen shares her cake tips

KIRSTEN Tibballs is one of Australia's most celebrated and internationally respected pastry chefs and chocolatiers. In fact she's even been dubbed "the queen of chocolate''. Here's five things we bet you didn't know about cooking with chocolate, and some delicious recipes to try this weekend.

Five secrets

1. Cacao refers to the tree, pods and seeds from which chocolate is derived. Cacao doesn't become cocoa until the pod is opened and fermented. That's when you get all the forms of cocoa: butter, powder, and liquor.

2. Chocolate tastes different depending on where it's grown, much like wine. Cacao beans differ widely depending on where they're from. South American beans are often intensely fruity and floral, African beans are known for simple and earthy chocolate flavour, and Madagascar beans are often fruity and acidic.

3. When you're cooking, cocoa absorbs moisture to create a great base for baking. Cocoa powder does the same job as flour, and can actually absorb more liquid - so if you're adding cocoa to a cookie or cake, you can decrease the flour.

4. Keep chocolate in opaque packaging to avoid it deteriorating and store away from strong aromas.

5. You can melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until it is completely liquid. Always use a plastic bowl, not glass, when tempering chocolate as glass retains too much heat and can untemper your chocolate.

Decadent choc cake

Simple and luscious, this rich cake is perfect served as an afternoon tea or as a dessert with some fresh berries and drizzled cream.

INGREDIENTS: 260g almond meal 115g icing (confectioner's) sugar 120g caster (superfine) sugar 120g (about 2) whole eggs 320g (about 16) egg yolks 100ml vegetable oil pinch of salt 80g (3/4 cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted pinch of baking powder, sifted 140g unsalted butter 180g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped.

Chocolate ganache: 110g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped 80ml (1⁄3 cup) cream (35% fat) 10ml (2 tsp) orange liqueur (optional).

Garnish: small block of milk chocolate lavender flowers.

METHOD: Preheat the oven to 160C. Prepare a 22cm cake ring or tin. Put the almond meal and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat well on low speed to combine. Gradually add the whole eggs and egg yolks, mixing well after each addition. Slowly add the vegetable oil in a constant drizzle, followed by the salt, regularly scraping down the side of the bowl. Using a spatula, gently fold in the sifted cocoa powder and baking powder until just combined.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler or in a bowl in the microwave. Add the butter and chocolate mixture to the cake batter and mix together by hand until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and hollow out the centre slightly (about 1cm) with a spoon. Bake for 50-55 minutes. To test if it is ready, insert a metal skewer or small knife in the centre of the cake - it should come out a little bit sticky just in the centre.

To make the chocolate ganache topping, put the chocolate in a bowl. Put the cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, whisking by hand until combined and the chocolate has melted. Add the orange liqueur and continue whisking until combined.

To prepare the garnish, using a large knife or vegetable peeler, scrape chocolate shavings from the chocolate block and set aside. Pick the very centre of the lavender flower for decorating. To assemble the cake, unmould the chocolate cake once cool and remove the baking paper. Spread the chocolate ganache on top with a palette knife. Place the individual chocolate shavings around the edge of the top of the cake and place the lavender flowers on top of the shavings.

This cake is best stored covered in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 5 days.

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