Aubergine & Chocolate Cake (Melanzane e Cioccolato)
by Francesco Mazzei from Mezzogiorno: Southern Italian Cooking (Preface/Penguin Random House)
Photography: Yuki Sugiura
You’re probably thinking this sounds like a very strange combination, but southern Italians like to mix sweet & savoury – it’s our Moorish legacy, & I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised by how well the aubergine works in a cake. Its mild, smoky flavour is simply complemented by the chocolate & above all it just gives the cake a beautifully moist, fudgy consistency. The idea for this cake comes from a traditional Neapolitan recipe, which you’ll see served along the Amalfi Coast, particularly around the 15th August, Italy’s national day. Layers of fried aubergine are dipped in sugar, spread with chocolate & sometimes ricotta. It is very unusual but is a real treasure from South Italy & I’d like to see the concept live on.
1kg aubergines, cut in half lengthways
4 mint leaves, finely chopped
240g caster sugar
200g unsalted butter
225g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
140g ground hazelnuts (if you can’t buy them, toast whole hazelnuts in a 200C/fan180c/gas 6 oven for 8-10 mins until coloured. Put into a food processor while still hot).
Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas mark 6. Place the aubergine halves on a baking tray & cook until the flesh is really soft & the skin is burnt – it should take 30-45 mins.
Transfer the aubergine to a bowl, cover with clingfilm, leave to cool then scoop the flesh out of the skin & discard the skin. Place in a sieve for a few hours to drain the liquid so that most of it is gone. Finally, roughly chop the aubergine & stir through the mint.
Heat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas mark 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin with butter & line the bottom with baking paper.
Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Heat gently to allow the chocolate & butter to melt then stir together carefully to combine. Set aside to cool a little.
Whisk the eggs & sugar together in a large bowl with an electric whisk until very pale & fluffy. This will take about 10-15 mins. Gently fold the butter & chocolate mixture into the eggs with a spatula, followed by the ground hazelnuts.
Put the aubergine into a separate bowl, add about an eighth of the chocolate mixture & mix very well, then fold this into the rest of the chocolate mixture. Pour into the cake tin & bake for 1-1½ hrs. To check it’s ready, insert a skewer in the centre – it should come out almost clean. It won’t come out completely clean as it’s a moist cake. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 mins, then turn out on to a wire rack & allow to cool completely.