The Musette: Sticky chocolate prune cake

Chocolate cakes are always popular at cycling club events. I’ve tried a number of different versions but this one really hits the spot. It’s very rich – you only need a small piece to get that sugar hit – so it goes a lot further. Crucial when you’re feeding up to 500 hungry cyclists in a morning. I like to think that the addition of all those prunes must make it better for you too.

That's a lot of mouths to feed! (image: Richard Whatley)

That’s a lot of mouths to feed! (Image: Richard Whatley)

This recipe comes from that fabulous cookbook Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi but it’s been tweaked to make it more cyclist-friendly – more of a cake and less of a dessert.

Prunes really are good for you!

Prunes really are good for you!

Ingredients (serves plenty of hungry cyclists or eight as a dessert)

  • 220g (8 oz) dried  prunes (about 20 medium), pitted
  • 120ml (½ cup) buttermilk
  • 1 large organic egg, (approx 45g or 1⅔oz without shell), lightly beaten
  • 75g (6 tbsp) muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsp maple or golden syrup
  • 120g (¾ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 150g (5⅓oz) dark (bittersweet) 70% chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 50g (¼ cup) raw cane sugar


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof (parchment) paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving to the hordes!

3. Place all the prunes into a small bowl and add 150ml (⅔ cup) of hot water to help them plump up, then set aside to cool.

4. Take the prunes out of the now cool water – keep the water – and put them, the vanilla and the buttermilk into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

5. Pour the prune and buttermilk mix into a large bowl and whisk in the egg, sugar and maple or golden syrup. Beat well to combine.

6. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), salt and cocoa powder into a medium-sized bowl. Stir to combine.

7. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix with a spatula until just combined – don’t overmix. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

8. Scrape the batter into the cake tin – it should have a soft-dropping consistency – and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack.

9. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan, mix 50g (¼ cup) cane sugar and 80ml (⅓ cup) of the water used to soak the prunes. Stir slowly over a low heat to dissolve the sugar then bring to a simmer and remove immediately from the heat.

10. While the cake is cooling, prick it all over with a wooden toothpick and, using a pastry brush, brush all over with the warm syrup. This gives the cake a really nice glaze and it stays very moist.

11. Once completely cool the cake will keep happily in the refrigerator for a week, well wrapped in cling film (plastic wrap) or for a month in the freezer.

I cut this very rich cake into fingers
I cut this very rich fudge-like cake into fingers

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. As the prunes are whizzed up in a processor there’s no need to use top quality dried ones such as those from Agen.

4. The original recipe calls for half of the prunes to be soaked in brandy and then snipped in half and pushed beneath the surface of the cake. This is impractical for a cake destined to be cut into bite sized pieces for cyclists. However, I would recommend going down this route if you plan to serve it as a dessert, maybe with some prune and Armagnac ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche.

5. If you don’t have muscovado, use raw cane sugar, but substitute the maple syrup (or indeed golden syrup) for treacle (molasses).

(Images: Sheree)

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