espresso cake

I’ve always felt a bit let down by traditional coffee cake. I mean, as sponges go, it’s okay, but coffee is a mean flavour, and by all rights it should make for a mean cake.

At best, coffee cake is a bit weak. It takes a strong, adult flavour and turns it into an inoffensive indulgence suitable for everyone. It’s a bit over-sweet, a bit too rich, a bit too much in terms of creaminess – it is, essentially, the equivalent of one of those bucket-sized full-fat milk-based syrup-soaked non-coffees one finds at the high street chains.

Perhaps this is a purpose that needs serving, but for most of my life I’ve sought a cake that actually reflects the reasons many love coffee – the bitterness, the intensity, the body, the aroma… ahh, the good stuff.

Not being adept at sweet baking myself, this cake only ever existed in my mind’s eye – until now. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the finest foodies in the business, and thankfully my friend Rozzie in the food team not only also has a soft spot for coffee, but is a baking and nutrition guru.

Rozzie kindly sat down with me this month to figure out the flavours needed for a dark espresso cake that would match what I was picturing, and then, genius that she is, developed the recipe below.

The result is nothing short of perfect; the crumb is moist and dense, and the bitterness of the espresso comes through, as espresso should, because it teams up with the sweet sharpness of the dark chocolate. On top of this, the robust flavour that walnuts bring to traditional coffee cake is retained by the ground almonds, which make up a lot of the body.

Should you find yourself without the means to add real espresso to your cake, either look at my cheat’s guide to brewing it at home, or brew a small filter in a cafetiere that’s 3-4 times stronger than usual.

For me, it’s everything a coffee cake should be, and, incredibly, it’s also flourless, which means it’s absolutely gluten-free, and fits beautifully into our focus on special diets.

So, pull yourself an espresso (or whatever coffee you like, I suppose – this cake is bitter enough) and dig in.

Gluten-free dark chocolate & coffee cake recipe

espresso cake

  • 200g almonds
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs (separated)
  • 20ml strong espresso
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees and grease and line a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
  2. Blitz the almonds in a food processor until just finely ground – don’t over-pulse as they will start to become sticky.
  3. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together with the espresso in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until thick and pale – about 5 minutes with a handheld electric whisk.
  5. Fold the chocolate mixture in to the egg and sugar mixture and then fold in the ground nuts.
  6. In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites in to stiff peaks and then fold this in to the cake mixture.
  7. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. If you prefer a gooey chocolate pudding then feel free slightly undercook it.