Written by Emma Mitchell


Making Winter

In the last of her creative survival guides, craft practitioner Emma Mitchell prescribes a hot mug of delicious instant chocolate cake. That’s right. A mug. With a cake in it. Let joy be unconfined.

Emma emerges from the gloaming with a spoonful of fondanty joy.

There may be the odd winsome-looking snowdrop dancing about in the wind out there but don’t be fooled. As I type these very words weather that resembles dishwater after a Sunday roast has just rolled in from the sea. I’m in Norfolk having one of those, “We’re near a beach! It’s half term! Let’s have FUN!” holidays. I’m wrapped in three layers of industrial strength manmade fleece and am scowling at the sky. It’s still winter.

The appley almond cake I wrote about last month is ace if you’ve got an hour or two to spare and can cocoon yourself in your kitchen. But when your poor knees haven’t seen the light of day for six months and an icy wind gets beneath your muffler, it isn’t always slow baking that is needed. Trying wintry moments such as these call for emergency recipes and speedy fixes.

Back when I began writing a blog, almost seven years ago, there was a trend for one-minute microwave cakes. A few ingredients were coddled up in a mug and within seconds were looming volcanically above the rim as you peeped through the microwave’s window with feverish anticipation. It really was a sort of miracle. Chocolate cake! In one minute! There was a drawback, though. These cakes were like eating a cocoa-flavoured flip-flop. The joy of the almost instant recipes was tempered by the fact that it took longer to chew them than it did to bake them. The trend faded. No one spoke of the crushing disappointment of these brown rubbery lumps for years.

I’m a mother of daughters. I knew that one of them might become keen on baking at some point. It turns out that they both did, at an early age. Neither of them is tall enough to bake without standing on a chair, but they determinedly wield the electric hand whisk and squabble over the cakely duties. “It’s MY turn to do mixing. It’s YOUR turn to smell of POO”, etc. There was a drear wintry day recently when I couldn’t face a whole hour of this sort of spatula-based stand off. I remembered the mug cakes and turned to Google in desperation. It turns out that a few valiant American souls had soldiered on in their quest for mug-based perfection. I found one or two blog posts purporting to hold the secret of the mug-cake-that-did-not-have-the-consistency-of-a-mattress: the longed-for instant chocolatey grail. I read on with interest, consolidated a few recipes and reached for the cocoa powder with some trepidation. I shoved my mongrel mixture in and pressed “start”. A minute later there was a tantalising smell and my mug appeared to contain a puddingy-looking brown mass with a slightly shiny area at its centre. I grabbed a spoon. And lo! It did taste like one of those fancy-ish chocolate fondant puddings and had a region of what seemed liked actual chocolate sauce at its centre. I felt as though something momentous had just happened. I gave the mug and spoon to my husband without a word. “Bloody hell”, he said. This was a good review.

The ingredients on a nice towel

Most of the ingredients in the American recipes were measured in cups and partial sticks of butter. I admit I’ve torn myself away from ounces with reluctance and would happily revert to bushels given half a chance, so I decided to convert everything to teaspoons or tablespoons for simplicity and speed. The recipe needs no more than basic store cupboard ingredients. You might need to nip out for some cocoa powder but otherwise you’re probably sorted to make it RIGHT NOW. Imagine!
The secret is that it doesn’t contain egg. It seems that egg turns a mug cake into a tragic oversized brown bouncy ball. But without it the milk and oil and cocoa and things seem to blend to make a heavenly soft brownie-ish substance with in-built liquid chocolate joy. I hope that this piece of mug-based wisdom will spread happiness throughout the land. Now, I feel, we can face the remaining few sunshine-free weeks with fortitude and cheer.

To a bowl with a pouring lip or a measuring jug add the following:
3 level tbsp plain flour (gluten free flour works fine)
2 tbsp cocoa (I used Green & Black’s)
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp caster sugar (1½ for a slightly more grown up, less sweet version)
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Beat everything up thoroughly for a couple of minutes with a whisk or fork to get rid of any lurking areas of flour. It should become glossy and as thick as emulsion paint.
Divide the mixture between two microwave-proof mugs.
Microwave each mug of mixture in turn on full power for 40 seconds (our microwave is 700W). This leaves a puddle of hot, still molten chocolate sauce in the centre of the pudding. This will solidify to a sort of delicious chocolate fudgey substance as it cools. If you fancy a solid chocolate cake then microwave for 50-60 seconds.
Pour cream on top.

Postscript: on particularly gruesome pre-spring days you can add a dollop of extra happiness to the centre of the mixture before shoving it in the microwave. E.G. a spoonful of Nutella, salted caramels (such as Paul A Young’s), Cadbury’s Caramel Nibbles, Mini Eggs, various dairy products.

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Written by Emma Mitchell

I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.