The Art of Digestion

The joy of being a Londoner is that you never run out of things to do or see. Man and I are often lucky enough to be able to skive off mid-week and spend an hour or two wandering around the capital’s museums and exhibitions. Art in particular, from the medieval to the modern, is high on our list of interests, to admire as well as to buy. There is nowhere better to do this than the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly and perhaps no exhibition that has more variety than their annual summer exhibition – a cornucopia of over 1,000 works from known and unknown artists. Some of the rooms are so crammed with pictures it’s quite difficult to choose which way to turn, what to admire or what to raise eyebrows at. It’s an exhibition that you can race around or ponder over for hours with a similarly anal friend.

Our modus operandi is to move around at a reasonable pace, note down our favourite works from each room and then go and have a coffee to discuss and compare notes. The Academy has several restaurants to do this in, but our favourite is downstairs in the Grand Café where you are surrounded by Gilbert Spencer’s famous murals, and light streams in from the large arched windows. It was here I met my nemesis, a luscious chocolate cake which had the impertinence to be marked ‘Gluten Free’.

Now I am not one of the one percent of the population who suffer from coeliac disease and I’m not about to give in to the belief that I’d be better off not eating gluten. For most of my life I have had the ‘constitution of an ox’ and I am the only person I know able to eat a chicken phal (supposedly the hottest of curries) without breaking into a sweat! But age will take its toll, and lately my digestive system has not been working as efficiently as it used to. My Indian GP was pragmatic and, looking over the top of his spectacles, advised me to sip peppermint tea after meals. Man, however, is a scientist, and suggested I keep a detailed food diary to try and identify which food group might be upsetting the apple cart. With this in mind, I resolved to give up gluten for a week, bread, biscuits, cake etc., just to see if it made a difference. Hence when Man was scrutinizing the selection of cakes in the Grand Café, he chose a gluten free chocolate cake instead of our normal choice of carrot cake.

“Thankfully the trial didn’t prove I was gluten intolerant, just sensitive to additives in shop bought baked goods, shelf life improvers etc. So as long as I eat home baked produce I’m fine.” – Judi

There is nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but for the most part I find them either too dry and boring or sickly and sweet. This one was neither, with a texture verging on pudding and a sweetness that was more dark chocolate than milk. It was perfection in a slice. I would have asked the staff there and then for the recipe, but the café had filled up with the lunch crowd and attentive waiting staff were difficult to find. Returning home, I fired off an email to the Academy’s customer services and asked whether I could have the recipe.

There was a to-ing and fro-ing of emails and I have to confess that I emphasised the ‘gluten free’ aspect of this wonderful cake in a rather manipulative fashion, trying to get the sympathy vote. It therefore didn’t take long before I was put in touch with Anthony Boyton, the General Manager of Peyton & Byrne, who run all the food and drink concessions at the Royal Academy. In his turn,Mr Boyton put me in touch with the Group Executive Chef of the company, Paula O’Neill, who charmingly and kindly instructed the Head of Pastry to provide me with a downsized recipe for the cake.

Their normal batch size for this confection would be in the magnitude of 200 kilos – at that size, we would have been eating chocolate cake for a year or two! So, after approximately four weeks of emailing, I received a recipe more suited for a domestic kitchen. This delectably gooey chocolate cake is much loved by my family, despite it being gluten free,  but with the advantage that I can serve it up to my two friends who have been diagnosed with Coeliac disease. Peyton & Byrne your customer service is as wonderful as your cake!

Getting on the Gloss
My Version of the Peyton and Byrne Gooey Chocolate Cake
serves probably 10 depending how greedy they are. Preparation Time 2hrs approx.

6 large eggs
125g Muscovado sugar
125g Demerara sugar
60 ml whole milk
250g Lindt, Orange Intense chocolate (this is just what I had in my cupboard, I understand from Coeliac sites that Montezuma’s dark chocolate is the one that is gluten free)
225g unsalted butter
250g ground Almonds (these are better if more finely ground than you buy in packets, so I gave mine another whirl in a coffee mill)


Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease and line the bottom and of a deep 20cm springform cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Melt the chocolate and the butter in a bowl over hot water. Ensure it doesn’t get too hot. Place eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and with a whisk attachment, whisk until the mixture doubles in size. It should look thick, bubbly and golden at this stage. Reduce mixing speed and dribble in milk. Slowly add the melted chocolate and butter mix. Lastly still on a slow speed add the ground almonds. Ensure it is well mixed. Empty into the lined cake tin. Stand that on a baking tray and place on the central shelf of heated oven. Cook for one and a half hours. The cake is done when it comes out clean.

Slivering Slivers

150ml double Cream
150g dark Chocolate – see above photo – broken into small slivers. (A sharp knife is essential. If you are not into knives you can grate, but it’s messy and you must be prepared for licking your fingers.)
25g unsalted butter


 Put cream in bowl or jug into the microwave and bring just to a boil. Heat in in increments of a minute so not to allow it to boil over.

Add the slivered chocolate and stir until well combined and thickened, then stir in the butter for a glossy effect. Put the cake on a rack with a baking tray underneath and apply all over the surface and sides. You can scoop up the drippy bits to apply to bare patches on the sides before it starts setting. Give it time to set a bit (30 mins) then you can move it onto a plate – I used two straight long metal spatulas underneath to lift it. The gloss of the ganache makes it look very professional!

A Slice of Perfection



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