Life after Life 5: Almond Choc-Chip Cake

They were eating cake, almond speckled with chopped-up pieces of chocolate, an old recipe of Mrs Glover’s handed down on a piece of paper that was covered in greasy fingerprints. (2 September 1939, page 303)

One of the things I like so much about cooking is the idea of food as a legacy, as something that is passed down through the generations over time. And of course the way in which that manifests itself is through recipes – through writing down how to make something to eat, the joy and pleasure of food can be transmitted from person to person, from age to age.  

I still remember when I was preparing to leave home for the first time and go to university, the hours I spent writing down recipes that my Mum dictated to me: recipes for familiar childhood dishes – shepherd’s pie, macaroni cheese, pizza, risotto. Those recipes were probably the starting point for making me into the cook I am today.

But it is not only through older family members that recipes are passed on. I was delighted when a couple of years ago my 7 year old niece presented me with a handwritten book titled Esme’s delicious recipes that she had compiled for me: her recipes for chocolate muffins, cookies, apple crumble, healthy rolls and strawberry smoothie showed what she had learned about cooking from her own parents and her desire to pass this on to her aunt.

In this episode from Life After Life Ursula and her elder sister, Pamela, are sitting in the garden of Pamela’s house in Finchley on a Saturday afternoon on 2nd September 1939, one day before the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made his radio broadcast to the British public informing them that Britain was at war with Germany. As the sisters discuss the imminent war and their elder brother Maurice’s pronouncements on it – ‘Maurice says it will be over in a few months‘ – they eat home-made cake from a recipe of Mrs Glover’s, the cook of their childhood and the creator of the Sole Veronique with which I began this series of posts – see  Perhaps the use of a recipe from the sisters’ past serves to give them a sense of reassurance and continuity in a world that is feeling increasingly unstable and unfamiliar.

It seems highly appropriate that, just as Pamela is using another cook’s recipe to make her almond and chocolate cake, so am I. When I saw Kate Atkinson’s reference to almond cake speckled with chocolate, I remembered a recipe by Nigel Slater – one of my favourite cooks – in the Observer that I had made for my Dad’s birthday a few years ago.
So, here it is – with barely any changes (why improve on tried and tested perfection?).


200g butter
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
200g fine chocolate, chopped finely (I used a mixture of dark and milk, but the original recipe is just for dark)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
180g ground almonds
50g plain flour, thoroughly mixed with 1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons sieved icing sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C / fan oven 160C / gas mark 4.
Grease and line a 20cm non-stick cake tin – ideally one with a removable base.
Beat the butter and sugar together – either in a food mixer or using a wooden spoon – until pale and creamy.
Add the beaten egg mixture a little at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, beating between each addition. If the mixture shows any signs of curdling add a spoonful of the flour mixture.
Fold in the vanilla extract, ground almonds and flour and baking powder mixture.
Finally fold in the chopped chocolate.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Smooth the top and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes until golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean of cake mixture (it will almost certainly have a smear of melted chocolate on it).
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 20-30 minutes and then turn onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
When the cake is cold I like to dust it with sieved icing sugar.

Almond choc-chip cake

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