Heaven is a place in West London


(Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting)

Last weekend I discovered a place I had never dared to dream existed. When I heard about it 3 weeks ago, I immediately planned my trip. Whilst trying not to get my hopes up, I couldn’t help but be excited about it all of last week. After what seemed like an age, West London Saturday finally arrived.

Nestled between Portobello Road and Kensington Park Road is a shop called Books for Cooks. The small shop is crammed with over 8,000 foodie titles, many of which I had never heard. I was in heaven. I possibly looked a little posessed- I stood in exactly the same spot (in the baking section) for over an hour- but I imagine that the owners of the shop are used to such a reaction. I had found a place for people just like me.

Feeling a little sheepish about how long I had been there, I eventually settled upon what to buy. I mentioned in my last post that I was lusting after David Lebovitz’s ice cream bible, so no prizes for guessing what I bought. I very nearly bought his ‘Ready for Dessert’ too, but gave myself a good talking to before the cashier could swipe it through the till.

Books for Cooks was everything I had hoped for- and much more besides. Bear with me while I explain.

My trip would have ended at the cash desk- as it usually does- but for the fact that I had heard good things about the small cafe at the back of the shop, which cooks up recipes from various cookbooks every day. I took a seat, ordered coffee and a sinful slice of cake, and inadvertantly starred in several photos taken by a Japanese tourist (maybe I will be appearing in her food blog, subject ‘greedy Englishwoman’?).

But then something terrible happened- I found myself unable to finish the cake. I don’t think I have ever not finished a slice of cake before. I waited ten minutes…but still, the cake was there and I didn’t want any more.

The cake in question was Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting. The ingredients sound a little bit wrong but trust me, it is hands down one of the best cakes I have ever eaten. I think I was unable to finish the cake because it was just too good: it completely disarmed me. Its richness may have had something to do with it too, but that (ashamedly) has never been a problem for me before.

(the cake that defeated me)

After just one bite I was enquiring which book the recipe was from. I was told that it came from ‘book 9’ of the shop’s own recipe collection. I was very excited to learn that the cafe has published 9 books of its favourite recipes and that yes, this recipe could indeed be mine. I proceeded to buy book 9 without even contemplating any of its other recipes.

I didn’t have time to make the cake last weekend, but that at least meant that I spent all of this week being excited about it. I made the recipe in a pretty bundt tin, though it was served in the shop as single layer cake and the recipe specifies that it be made as a double layer cake, Victoria sandwich style. I had a little bit of extra mixture so made adorable mini bundt cakes too- I can’t wait to pair them with a David Lebovitz ice cream- I’m thinking creme fraiche or cinnamon.

The cake is very soft and very moist. It’s a one-bowl affair so is incredibly easy to make. It requires no more equipment than a bowl and a simple, hand-held balloon whisk.

The icing is a revelation too. The tangy cream cheese contrasts excellently with the creamy, cloying peanut butter.

Eat this and weep, but don’t be perplexed if you can’t finish it (slice, not cake, just to be clear). This is the cake that will make you realise that accepting your human limitations is not a bad trade off for heaven.

(baby bundts)

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting (Adapted from Books for Cooks 9)

Serves 8-10 (depending on stamina)

275g plain flour

75g cocoa powder

2 tbp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp salt

500g caster sugar

250ml sunflower oil

250ml sour cream

375ml water

2 tbsp distilled white vinegar

1 tsp natural vanilla extract

2 eggs


60g butter, softened

150g cream cheese, softened

5 tbsp smooth peanut butter

250g icing sugar, sifted

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter two springform cake tins (24cm) and line the base with baking parchment.

2. Sift (important- don’t skip this) together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar.

3. Whisk in the oil and sour cream. Then add the water, vinegar, vanilla and eggs.

4. Mix until thoroughly combined. It will be very runny- like chocolate sauce.

5. Pour into the prepared tins and place the tins on a baking sheet (the mixture is very runny so may seep out).

6. Bake until risen and firm and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out almost clean. In a bundt tin this took 1 hour, but it depends on the tin you are using.

7. Run a knife around the edge and leave to cool completely in the tin.

8. To make the frosting, with a rubber spatula beat together the butter, cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth. Sift in the icing sugar and combine.

9. If making a double layer, sandwich the cakes together with the frosting then put more on top. If not, pile it high on top.

You can make the cake up to two days ahead- store at room temperature without the frosting in an air tight container. Make the icing up to one day ahead- refrigerate but return to room temperature before using. Once frosted, the cake keeps well for one day in the fridge,

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One Response to Heaven is a place in West London

  1. I made this for Mum’s birthday yesterday. Managed to completely mess it up and it both exploded and imploded (I had a lot of Migraleve yesterday so was a bit confused) however it still tasted amazing. I skipped the cream cheese and butter icing and made a peanut butter caramel topping instead. Best. Cake. Ever.

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