I didn’t think she would believe me.  I truly didn’t.  There are some things my teenage daughter needs to learn about life.

Number one being that when mummy says ‘birthday – tosh, don’t worry about that’, she obviously, clearly, does not mean it.

There we were, miles from civilisation in a tiny, rustic cabin.  It was one of my birthdays.  I have insisted and fought for two birthdays a year since I realised more is better.  My excuse is that I was born at home, one minute before or after midnight, no one’s sure which.

Not five minutes down the road was a shop.  It carried fairly basic items, but it still sold ice creams and chocolate and one would have thought that an innovative daughter might nip off and get a little something.  Even a bunch of dog daisies stolen from the roadside would have done it.  And, I point out, she had two days to do it in.

But no.  It became obvious to me that I would have to initiate the festivities.  The cabin was a gem.  It had lino on the floor, some bunks, one single cold water tap, and a 1950s Atlas stove.  This had two elements on the top, which offered one temperature – flat-out hot.  It also had a little oven.

Of course, I had no cooking implements but that did not stop me.  The lack of a good recipe slowed me for a second, but I used the one on the back of the cocoa bought from the tiny shop, the one that sold all the nice junk food that might have made me feel better. 

Using an aluminum saucepan I whipped together a chocolately looking chocolate cake, and, desperation being the mother of invention, used a skillet as a baking tin. 

The oven, it turned out, was a little beautiful.  It did its part of the deal effortlessly and even enthusiastically.  But the skillet was a bad idea.   As was opening the oven door halfway through to take a peep.  There was the cake, all glorious and rising, then it did a double-take and collapsed in on itself.  Rather like a black hole might.  Then it refused to come out of the skillet and when it did, it left all of its middle behind. 

What a fantastic pudding, said the husband, very kindly, spooning over lashings of whipped cream.  Not quite a flop, because it tasted nice, but not quite a birthday cake, methinks.

Then Judy rang.  And I invited her out for a visit – we were at the beach after all.  She came the next day, and bless her socks, she brought a birthday card (for both days, of course), party hats, a little present, and birthday cake.  She just called it Mocha cake, I call it devilishly divine.

What’s even more impressive is that it’s made using gluten-free flour and was moist and morish and all the things a good cake should be.  It would probably last quite well in a tin, but we’re not about to find out.  Oh, and don’t use a skillet.

The daughter, by the way, has still not even given me as much as a cold sausage.  By crikey...  

Devilishly divine mocha cake

  • 1 cup coffee
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 90g butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp real vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • ¼ cup (60g) sour cream (light is best)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 level tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Line tin with one thickness of baking paper
Stir the cocoa into the coffee
Beat the butter, vanilla essence, and sugar together until fluffy.  Add yokes and mix
Stir in the sour cream, almonds, flour, baking powder, and cocoa
Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold into the cake
Bake for 50 minutes – use the skewer trick to see if it’s ready.  Let it stand a few minutes before turning out.


  • 1 ½ cup icing sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 2 tsp coffee, dissolved in 1 ½ tbsp boiling water

Sift sugar and cocoa together
Add coffee, with melted butter, and stir until smooth.  Mix with sugar and cocoa.