Malteser Chocolate Birthday Cake

Last week Lily turned eleven. She's growing up fast. She loves clothes, bath bombs, board games, colourful stationery, her new i-pod, reading books. She likes cooking, playing her violin and she has an in-depth knowledge of world flags.

'Happy Birthday' banner by My Little Day.

She also has an opinion where food is concerned. She is probably my toughest critic. Every year, I bake her a surprise birthday cake. She likes her cakes to be fairly simple - no fussy ingredients and under no circumstances should any 'healthy' ingredients be sneaked in. I therefore decided to make a classic Victoria Sponge cake and decorate it lavishly with fresh raspberries, cream, mini meringues and fresh flowers.

So one day, while she was a school I made a buttermilk sponge; a Nigella recipe no less. The cake had 'domed' slightly, so once cool, I sliced off the tops to make them level and packed the sponges away ready to be filled and decorated on her birthday.

That evening, I served up the slices of 'domed sponge' after tea. Arthur declare this simple, but delicious, vanilla sponge as 'the best he's ever had'. A somewhat strong statement. Lily on the other hand, came into the kitchen with the sponge in hand saying 'I don't like it'. 'Really?' I asked, 'Don't you feel well?'. To which she replied, 'I'm fine, but that sponge has way to much vanilla in it for me'. I didn't have the heart to tell her it was her birthday cake.

Back to the drawing board it was. I ended up making this Malteser Chocolate Cake, which was an undisputed success. There is a happy ending to this tale: the buttermilk sponge went to a good home, as my donation to the school's Easter fair. A happy punter snapped up the whole cake to take home for the Easter holidays. I hope they like vanilla.

Malteser Chocolate Cake

225g margarine or unsalted butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour, sifted
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g cocoa
2 tbsp whole milk
100g good-quality dark chocolate, melted
For the ganache:
200g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
1 x 300 ml carton double cream
For the topping:
1 x 135g pack Maltesers
bronze chocolate honeycomb sprinkles (available from M&S)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. In a food processor, cream the margarine or butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa and milk, then mix until combined. Add the melted chocolate and mix again until smooth.

Grease 2 x 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with non-stick baking paper. Divide the cake mixture between the tines and smooth the surface. Bake on the middle shelf for 20-25 minutes until golden and a skewer come away clean when inserted into the middle. Turn out the cakes on to a wire rack to cool.

To make the ganache, finely chop the dark and milk chocolate and add to a pan with the cream. On a low heat melt the mixture, stirring constantly until smooth. Pour the ganache into a shallow dish and cool, stirring occasionally and then chill until firm.

Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate and spread with half the ganache using a palette knife. Alternatively, spoon half of the ganache into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe on to the cake. Scatter with half of the Maltesers, lightly crushed.

Place the other layer on top of the first cake and either spread with the remaining ganache or pipe over a spiral of ganache, starting from the outside and working inwards. Finish off with the rest of the Maltesers, the bronze chocolate honeycomb sprinkles, and if you wish, some fresh flowers.