There’s a widespread headcanon among the writers of Sherlock fanfic (and others in the fandom) that Mycroft Holmes — possibly as an associated phenomenon of an old or longstanding weight problem — is very fond of cake. For some reason, chocolate cake is the favored candidate in these theories. So in 2012 or so, when without warning I turned up the notes I’d made on this cake when I ran across it in Switzerland in the very late 1990s, my thoughts turned to Mycroft, and the idea that he’d have really liked this one.
I got busy recreating the cake as accurately as I could. In the neighborhood of Sedrun — the tiny town near the Oberalppass where I ran into it — it was referred to simply as an Urner brenntweintorte, suggesting that its ancestor-cake originally came from over the border. (Andermatt is in Canton Uri: Sedrun is in the Graubunden.) I had no luck in getting the recipe from the little confiserie where it was one of the star items, and with reason: I think they suspected me of being a spy for another bakery.
But over time I’ve learned how to pretty accurately analyze what I’m eating, and my notes from my two visits to the little confiserie were pretty detailed… so I don’t have too many qualms about sharing it here. (It’s kind of overdue for that, anyway: it’s been up in a couple of different versions on Tumblr since 2012, but not at my main blog until now.)
I’d say it’s a cake worthy of a Mycroft’s attention. It’s nowhere near as pretty as the original, for which apologies. (I can still see that lovely cake in my mind’s eye. The glaze on top was smooth enough to skate on, and their version had six significantly skinnier layers. It was a beautiful thing.)
So here’s the recipe. I add one caveat in passing. Others who’ve baked the cake have sometimes found the initial batter overly thick / dry. There’s a more extensive note about this here, but the problem seems to have been something to do with egg size. In particular, Irish eggs run larger than US ones: so get the biggest “extra large” eggs you can find.)
Double Chocolate Courvoisier Torte with Brandied Buttercream Filling and Two Icings (Brandied Nutella Frosting and Cream Cheese & White Chocolate Ganache Glaze) ...otherwise known as Mycroft’s Delight
Note please: this cake will take the guts of an afternoon to make. Don’t attempt it as a last-minute thing. In particular, there’s no harm in baking the layers, soaking them in the syrup, and then refrigerating them overnight – you can then pick up where you left off with the fillings and icings.
Ingredients come first: directions after.
Also note: this recipe is set up for three 8-inch layers. You can, of course, if you like, do what I did here – bake two 9-inch layers in a springform, then cut them in half crossways and stack them.
For the cake proper:
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup superfine granulated sugar or fine caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
- 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
- ½ cup good quality cocoa
- 1 cup flour, sifted
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon mace
- ½ teaspoon orange extract and 1 teaspoon orange zest, crushed as smooth as possible in a mortar (or if you’re lucky enough to have access to it, a half teaspoon of orange zest puree)
- A few grinds of fresh nutmeg (about 1/8 teaspoon if we’re being picky about it)
For the soaking syrup:
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons Courvoisier cognac (alternately, you can substitute a good brandy: Hennessey, etc)
For the buttercream frosting base / filling:
- 3 cups confectioners’ sugar / icing sugar
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter
- 2 large egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons Courvoisier or brandy (whichever you used above)
(A note in passing: you will be dividing this in half. Half goes in between the layers; the other half gets Nutella mixed into it and goes on the sides of the cake.)
For the brandied Nutella side-frosting:
- 4 ounces Nutella, warmed
- 2 ounces melted milk or dark chocolate
- 1 tablespoon Courvoisier or brandy, as above
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
For the ganache / cream cheese glaze:
- 1 recipe white chocolate ganache (see below)
- 3-4 ounces Philadelphia or similar cream cheese (plain Neufchatel will also work)
The white chocolate ganache proper:
- 4 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- ¾ tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 3 pieces
…So let’s take this one thing at a time.
First of all, make the cake layers.
Butter and flour three 8-inch cake pans/tins, even if they’re nonstick. (To prevent the cake acquiring pale patches during baking, you can mix a teaspoon of cocoa with each couple of teaspoons of the flour you use to prep the pans.)
In a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, orange extract and orange zest, until this business is light and fluffy – usually ten to twenty minutes. At the end of this process, slow the speed down and add the dry spices.
When these have been combined, stop the mixer and alternately fold in by hand the combined, remaining dry ingredients and the melted chocolate.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Bake the layers for about fifteen minutes until done (check for doneness with a skewer if you have any doubts). Remove the layers from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes: then bang the pans on the worktop to loosen things up, and turn the layers out onto a rack to cool completely (usually 30-45 minutes).
When completely cool, use a skewer to poke twenty or so little holes in the top of each layer. Do your best not to go all the way through the bottom of the layer. Put the layers on a cookie sheet or other waterproof surface to prepare for the next stage.
Now make the soaking syrup:
Boil the sugar and water together for five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When cool, stir in the cognac or brandy (whichever you used) and set aside until the layers are ready.
When they are, pour the syrup carefully over the tops of the layers so that it soaks in through the holes. Use a pastry brush to paint any excess syrup evenly over the tops of the cake layers.
Now set the layers aside while you work on the filling and icings.
Make the buttercream filling:
In the mixer bowl, using the “normal” beater or paddle, combine the butter, icing sugar, egg yolks and brandy, and beat like crazy for about ten minutes until perfectly smooth (beat longer if you need to).
Scoop out half the buttercream and use it to “butter” the bottom and middle layers of the cake: then stack them. Press down evenly and gently on them (I usually use a cookie sheet for this) to even out the layers and the filling.
Now make the Nutella-and-buttercream side frosting
Add the cocoa, melted chocolate, brandy and Nutella to the remaining buttercream mixture, and beat very well. Since the goal is for this mixture to stick to the sides of the cake and not run straight off onto the serving plate, check the texture and beat in some extra cocoa if necessary to thicken the frosting until it’s tractable.
Smooth the sides of the cake with the flat of a knife if necessary to deal with any buttercream that’s oozed out the sides. Use the Nutella frosting mixture to coat the sides of the cake. Also frost the upper edge and a little ways up onto the top surface of the cake with the Nutella mixture if you can. If you have enough to frost the whole top without the side frosting being too thin, that’s great: it’ll look better.
Finally, make the white chocolate ganache and cream cheese glaze
Prepare a large bowl with some cold water and ice cubes in it. Then break up the white chocolate into as many pieces as possible, and put them in a heatproof bowl that will fit comfortably in the bigger bowl that contains the cold water and the ice cubes.
Bring the heavy cream to a boil. Then pour it over the white chocolate. Working with a whisk or spatula, gently stir the chocolate and cream together until the white chocolate is completely melted. When the ganache is smooth, stir in the butter.
Now cool the ganache by putting the its bowl into the larger one and stirring constantly so that it doesn’t harden. After about five minutes of this, start beating in the cream cheese by forkfuls. You’ll probably need to whisk it at the end of this process to get rid of the last few lumps. Finally, add a tablespoon or so of brandy to make it easier to work with. (You can correct the thickness of the ganache back and forth by beating in more cream cheese or a little more brandy until it reaches the consistency you’re after.) Spread and/or drizzle this mixture over the top of the cake until it’s evenly covered.
Once all this craziness is finished, you may want to refrigerate the cake for half an hour to stabilize everything a little.
Serve in thin slices. A shot of brandy on the side (to cut the incredible richness) and a double espresso wouldn’t hurt, either.
And by the way: there’s fanfic to go with the cake.