Agatha Christie's 120th birthday this week. I posted a bit about Agatha Christie yesterday on my other blog, Mystery Fanfare. Be sure and check it out. It includes a link to a 1955 BBC interview with the Queen of Crime. I will be posting more about Agatha Christie this week as part of two Agatha Christie Blog Tours.
As many of you know, I collect 'literary' cookbooks, tie-in cookbooks and the like. There is sadly no Agatha Christie cookbook, and if there were, I doubt there would be a lot of chocolate cakes in the cookbooks. Lots of scones and finger sandwiches, perhaps, an omelet or two, but not many that I would consider deliciously chocolate, although certainly for Poirot there might be some Belgian chocolate.
However, in honor of Agatha Christie's 120th birthday celebration, Jane Asher has created a chocolate cake she calls Delicious Death. Jane Asher, a long-time fan of Agatha Christie and actor in many Christie productions, was asked by Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, to create a recipe for the celebration.
"There is nothing more indulgent than afternoon tea. I have particularly fond memories of the lazy afternoons spent with my grandmother at Greenway as she tried out her latest ideas on us over a pot of tea and delicious cakes," said Prichard, calling Asher's invention "truly decadent".
Asher's cake was inspired by a passage in Christie's Miss Marple novel A Murder is Announced in which émigré housekeeper Mitzi bakes it for Dora Bunner's birthday tea. "'Impossible to make such a cake. I need for it chocolate and much butter, and sugar and raisins,'" she tells her employer, Miss Blacklock, who suggests using a tin of butter sent from America and raisins that were being kept for Christmas, along with a "slab of chocolate and a pound of sugar".
Mitzi is delighted. "'It will be rich, rich, of a melting richness! And on top I will put the icing – chocolate icing – I make him so nice – and write on it Good Wishes. These English people with their cakes that tastes of sand, never never, will they have tasted such a cake. Delicious, they will say – delicious'" - but is not so impressed with the name which is dubbed Delicious Death because it's so rich. It becomes an apt name though when Dora Bunner is found dead from poisoning after her birthday tea.
Basing her recipe on the ingredients mentioned in the 1950 novel, Jane Asher created her own version of Delicious Death. From the Guardian: "It has an intense, forbidding dark Belgian chocolate centre which is lifted by the unexpected sharp zing of its brandy-soaked cherry and ginger filling," she said. "The glorious assault on the senses doesn't end there: the cake is decorated with flecks of pure gold, sprinklings of crystallised rose and violet petals, and swirls of ganache piping. This paragon of a cake is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious – and deadly? – to eat."
This cake will be served at Greenway in Devon throughout Agatha Christie Week (September 12-19, 2010), as well as being available at Greenway and the opening of the Torquay festival. It will also be on the menu at Brown's Hotel in Mayfair, said to be the inspiration for At Bertram's Hotel.
Agatha Christie's Delicious Death by Jane Asher
175g dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
100g softened or spreadable butter
100g golden caster sugar
5 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
100g ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
For the filling:
150ml rum, brandy or orange juice
55g soft dark brown sugar
6-8 glacé cherries
4-6 pieces crystallised ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
For the decoration:
175g dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
2 tsps apricot jam
10g crystallized violet petals
10g crystallized rose petals
A small quantity of gold leaf
Pre-heat the oven to 150C, (300F, 135C 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 two 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 two to three 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.