April 17, 2019
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A Depression-Era Cake for a 21st Century Queen
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Queen Elizabeth’s favorite dessert is so easy, it doesn’t even involve baking.

A few years ago while watching Netflix period teledrama The Crown, I developed a level of emotional intimacy with the Queen that I had, to that point, shared only with my children and two of my three cats. I know how this woman likes her eggs (boiled), how she likes her meat (well done), how she likes to keep hydrated (gin). Queen Elizabeth’s tastes were shaped by the Great Depression, an even greater war, and years of strict food rationing, and it shows in her favorite dessert: chocolate biscuit cake.

Chocolate biscuit cake is not actually a cake, per se—it’s more of an assembly. The original recipe calls for creaming together sugar and butter, whipping in a raw egg and lots of melted chocolate, stirring in broken-up digestive biscuits (mildly sweet British teatime cookies), and then pouring it all into a cake pan and sticking it in the icebox. The biscuits add heft, the egg provides a bit of moisture, and when the butter and chocolate return to their solid state, they give this dessert its structure.

Once teatime rolls around and it’s time to serve, this hodgepodge will have transformed into something elegant, composed, and slice-able. The roughly broken biscuits soak up a bit of moisture and soften a bit, but not so much that they lose their bite. Each slice is spotted brown and white, like Princess Margaret’s leopard coat—only extra leoparded after she rolled around in the dirt during an epic bender.

Some recipes add polish in the form of a rich chocolate ganache drizzled over the whole thing. I decided that my version would need to honor this simplicity, but with some updating for the modern American audience.

My first improvement: Drop the dowdy digestive biscuits from the biscuit cake. I exchanged them for something that would add incredible texture, distinctive flavor, and make me reflect on the true beauty of amber waves of grain: cornflakes. They behave much like they do in a bowl of milk, absorbing some moisture but staying mostly crispy. As for the moisture element, Americans aren’t fond of raw eggs, so I swapped it for some heavy cream.

To show that I meant business, I used not one but two types of chocolate: rich dark chocolate for the cake itself, and creamy milk chocolate for a shiny, luxurious ganache glaze. To elevate it from “weird brown disc sitting on a plate” into an irresistible, fancy-looking cake, I garnished with some more cornflakes, toasted in sweet butter until radiantly golden, tossed with a bit of very fancy salt.

The resulting cake did not last 24 hours in my house, whereas the Queen reportedly takes an entire week to get through Buckingham Palace’s version. Sure, she’s 92 years old, significantly smaller than me, and responsible enough to know that you shouldn’t eat an entire cake by yourself in a single day, but I choose to believe that none of those things are relevant to this situation.

Chocolate Cornflake Cake

Chocolate Cornflake Cake

8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 11 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 3 ½ cups cornflakes
  • ganache
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon corn syrup
  • cornflake topping
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • ½ cup cornflakes
  • fancy salt

Anybody, and I mean anybody, can make this cake. It doesn’t require a ton of skill—if you can mix things in a bowl, you can do this. It doesn’t require a ton of effort—it comes together in minutes, doesn’t need to be baked, and sets up in the fridge. It doesn’t need any special equipment—I couldn’t find my 6” cake pan and discovered that a 2-quart saucepan works just as well. And if all that wasn’t enough, it’s cheap to make, though if you have a few bucks to spare, splurge on the good chocolate. Store this cake in the refrigerator and let it thaw on the countertop for 15 minutes before serving. Or, to do it like the Queen does, keep the whole damn thing for yourself by precutting it into slices so you can have a slice (or four) every day.

  1. In a double boiler or microwave, melt half the chocolate. Remove from heat, add the rest of the chocolate, and stir well until everything is melted and smooth.
  2. Using a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt together until light and fluffy. Beat in melted chocolate and heavy cream. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir the cornflakes in by hand—you want them to break up a bit, but you don't want to pulverize them.
  3. Line a 6" cake pan with plastic wrap, then pour in the cornflake mixture and spread it out to the edges. Place plastic wrap on top and press down, smoothing the top and making sure that the cake is even. Allow the cake to set in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

For the topping

  1. Put the heavy cream into a microwave-safe mug and heat for 40 seconds. Add the chopped chocolate and corn syrup; allow to sit for one minute, then stir vigorously until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small skillet over high heat. Add the cornflakes and toss in the pan to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown—about 3 or 4 minutes. Toss with a hefty pinch of fancy salt and pour out onto a plate.
  3. Pull the cake out of the fridge, unwrap, put on a plate. Walk away from everything for 10 minutes: The cake will warm up a bit, the cornflakes will cool, and the ganache will thicken up a bit.
  4. Slowly pour the ganache onto the center of the cake, allowing it to spread across the top and drip down the sides. Pop into the fridge or freezer for a minute or two to let the ganache set up a bit. Sprinkle the toasted cornflakes on top and serve.

Allison Robicelli

Allison Robicelli is a D-list celebrity-chef chef, author, humorist, entrepreneur, general polymath, and all-around good time. You may remember her from such places as Food52, Eater, Food Network, VH1, and many other quirky corners of the food Internet. She is the author of the critically acclaimed cookbook/memoir Robicelli's: A Love Story, With Cupcakes, which has been called one of the funniest food-related books of all time. You should buy it.

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