Perhaps it’s birthday baking. Maybe it’s a contribution to a cake stall. Maybe you need to whip up something at short notice to say “thanks” or “I’m thinking of you”. For all of these, and those other occasions where you want a reliable go-to recipe you can turn to again and again, and just KNOW it will work, meet Donna Hay’s magic no-flour chocolate cake, plus five other ‘little black dress’ baking recipes from her repertoire.
The rich, decadent fudge cake that is also gluten-free
There’s no flour in this indulgent chocolate cake – but as you can see, it holds its shape beautifully, and topped off with a rich chocolate frosting, it makes a perfect birthday cake. The secret to the texture is an easy one: a light hand when combing a chocolate-butter-date mixture and a fluffy whisked egg-sugar mixture. “We've got one thick fudgy chocolate-y mix here and one fluffy light-as-air mix,” Hay explains. “So we don't take out all the air bubbles that we put in [by whisking], you just need to add about a third [of the egg mixture].” Gently stirring in a few big spoonfuls of the light, airy egg-sugar mix loosens the other mixture, making it easy to then add the rest.
The amazing chocolate-caramel cake
This show-stopper is made using another magic cake recipe from Hay’s repertoire: another chocolate fudge cake, this time one that transforms in the oven to create a three-layer masterpiece, including a layer of meringue-y crunch on the top and a fudgy middle. “My idea of chocolate!” says Hay, who shares the recipe in her series Basics to Brilliance. “Amazing. Crunchy top and a whipped fudge-like centre and a nice solid base, the best of all chocolate worlds in one slice.” You can dust this with cocoa and enjoy it as it is, or transform it into a show-stopper. “The wonderful thing about my chocolate fudge cake is that it morphs itself into two 20-centimetre cakes perfectly, so you can make a gorgeous layer cake.” Each of the two cakes is cut in half horizontally, and then the four layers are stacked with soft chocolate ganache and rich caramel.
Hay shares two tips for making assembling the cake easier. First, refrigerate the cake layers. “Have the cake well chilled and that way as you're icing the layers they start to set, just makes it so much easier.” And second, when adding the ganache and caramel, start in the middle, and don’t spread them right to the edge. The layers put quite a lot of weight on those below, “so don't go too far to the edge or it all squelches out too far”.
Two ways with carrot cake
There are very few people who don’t like carrot cake! This version is made with wholemeal spelt flour and uses a ricotta frosting AND you can turn the big cake (which serves 12, so it’s great for a crowd) into cupcakes.
Best-ever bake sale chocolate crackles
Do you have fond memories of learning to bake? Donna Hay certainly does. “When I was a little girl my first cooking adventures were baking like they are for most kids,” Hay says. Two great recipes a lot of young bakers tackle are cupcakes (more on those in a bit) and chocolate crackles, so it’s not surprising that both are on the list when Hay gets in the kitchen with two keen young cooks to whip up lots of treats to sell at a cake stall in an episode of her series Donna Hay: Basics to Brilliance Kids. “I've taken my favourite bake stall treats, given them a healthy change up and left in all the fun and flavour,” Hay says in the series. So if you ever need to make something for a cake stall, and you need it to be easy, here’s your recipe! And these are chocolate crackles that crackle. The secret? Hay toasts puffed brown rice and desiccated coconut in the oven before mixing it with butter and honey.
The go-to very versatile cupcake
“Everyone loves cupcakes!” says Donna Hay. Hay’s versatile recipe is great for kid’s parties or bake sales. You can change up the icing – her recipe has instructions for vanilla and chocolate variations on the ricotta-cream cheese frosting – or add something to the batter, as she does with her strawberry cupcake variation. That one uses freeze-dried strawberry because as Hay explains, fresh strawberries add too much moisture to the cupcakes. Using the dried fruit adds flavour while maintaining that just-right texture.
Classic cookies (and they’re gluten-free!)
Donna Hay calls these “like a hug from Grandma jam drop cookies”. They’re an easy bikkie that anyone can make, and Hay’s version of this classic is gluten-free, too (they’re made with buckwheat flour and almond meal, making for a deliciously nutty take on the original).
And a no-bake bonus - popcorn for parties
We said this was a list of Hay’s go-to baking recipes, and obviously popcorn doesn’t need baking – but it seemed a pity to leave out what is an always-popular and so easy option for kid’s parties, movie nights, gifts or fundraising food stalls. Try her choc-coconut popcorn, cinnamon popcorn or maple butter popcorn. All of them are really easy and quick.
Watch Donna Hay: Basics to Brilliance Kids via SBS On Demand.
If you're a chocoholic this cake is heaven. And if you're not, it's still heaven! Wickedly rich and strikingly handsome, this layered centrepiece demands attention no matter what the celebration.
I first made a version of this cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday. At the time I thought it was completely original, very clever idea I had dreamed up with colourful sprinkles decorating not only the outside but also the inside of the cake.
Think those golden baklava-ish flavours, but in a moist cake with sticky, dark caramelised sides.
Chewy layers of cashew meringue are sandwiched with a rum-spiked buttercream to create this traditional Filipino dessert.