Back in the 1970s and ’80s, when shoulder pads were in and Michael Jackson was still black, the chocolate cake of choice for many Singaporeans comprised a rich, pillowy chocolate sponge cloaked in a pudding-like chocolate frosting. This was the cake our mums used to bake for our birthdays and on special occasions. Those without a good baker in the family turned to Mrs Violet Kwan, she of Lana Cake Shop fame, who made headlines when she announced her impending retirement. If anyone is interested in taking over, the shop is reportedly valued at $4 million. Without that kind of moolah, we set out to make our own version of a Lana cake, with old recipes from mum’s hand-written notes. We came up with this cake that’s moist, fluffy, light, yet satisfyingly rich. The main difference between this and regular chocolate cake is the inclusion of chocolate emulco (a flavour enhancer), Hong Kong flour and Optima sponge cake mix (for a finer texture), plus hun kwee (green bean flour) and gelatin powder. These ingredients popular in old-school Asian-Western cakes all meld to yield that beloved retro taste and wobbly, jelly-like fudge. This certainly isn’t Mrs Kwan’s recipe, but our rendition of the chocolate cake she made famous. Not bad for something you don’t have to cough up at least $42 (or $4 million) for.
Makes a 10-inch square cake
For the cake:
85g Hong Kong flour
170g Optima sponge cake flour mix
85g cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
8 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
150ml corn or canola oil
2 tbsp chocolate emulco
8 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
100g caster sugar
For the fudge frosting:
3 cups water
6 tbsp hun kwee (green bean flour)
110g caster sugar
130g semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1½ tbsp chocolate emulco
4 ½ tsp gelatin powder
½ tsp sea salt
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C. Lightly grease and line only the bottom of a 10-inch square (or round) tin.
2. Sift the ingredients in (A) together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Make mixture (B). Place egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on high speed till pale and thickened.
4. Add oil, water, chocolate emulco and beat briefly on low speed till well mixed.
5. Add mixture (A) to mixture (B) and beat on low speed till evenly mixed. About 45 seconds. Set aside.
6. For mixture (C), place egg whites in a clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, along with the cream of tartar. On medium-high speed, beat till frothy, then gradually add the sugar. Whisk till stiff peaks form, about 3 mins.
7. Transfer a third of mixture (C) to the chocolate batter and gently fold in with a spatula till almost incorporated.
8. Add the remaining mixture (C) and gently fold in till everything is evenly mixed together.
9. Pour batter into the prepared baking tin and bake for 30 to 45 mins, or until the centre of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
10. Remove cake from the oven and cool in its tin for 10 mins, before carefully umoulding it. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
11. To make fudge frosting, place water in a medium pot. Remove a ladle of water and transfer to a small bowl, along with the hun kwee.
12. Whisk the hun kwee mixture till it dissolves. Set aside.
13. Place the rest of the ingredients in the pot with the water over medium heat. Stir till it starts to come to a boil.
14. Add the hun kwee mixture to the pot and whisk till it all comes to a gentle boil and thickens.
15. Remove pot from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
16. Once cake is cool, carefully slice it in half cross-wise with a serrated knife. Set one cake layer on a cooling rack above a tray or sheet of greaseproof paper.
17. Ladle the fudge frosting over one cake layer so that it covers the top and sides of the cake. Use a palate knife to smear the frosting around the cake evenly. Gently place the second cake layer on top and ladle remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, using a palate knife to smoothen it out. Swirl palate knife over the surface of the cake to create a gentle pattern.
18. Place in the refrigerator to set completely, for at least two hours. This cake will keep in the fridge covered in a container, for up to five days.