Minichefs at the Mount Nelson Hotel: the best chocolate cake

Earlier this year, some cooking sessions with a handful of bubbly kids and a patient Mum sparked off the foodie adventure we call, Minichefs. Our latest coup, was taking twelve kids to bake at Cape Town’s most iconic hotel, the Mount Nelson.

We gathered in the very glamorous Orchid room at the Nellie at 10 o’clock, and after some initial nerves the twelve warmed up and were as excited as Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg as he revealed they would be making and decorating chocolate cakes.

If you are after a reliable egg-free chocolate cake recipe, look no further (served at their famous high tea, nogal). Download printable version.

1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp bicarb
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup castor sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
½ cup oil
25ml vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup boiling water

1. Combine the flour, bicarb and baking powder.
2. In a second bowl combine the sugar, cocoa and stir.
3. Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla essence and water to the sugar/cocoa mixture.
4. Pour into the flour mixture and stir.
5. Bake at 170°C for approximately 15 minutes.

With instructions from Chef Fiona, and help from roaming Chefs Wynand and Cecile, the twelve made light work of mixing their ingredients and pouring them into grease-proof paper bottomed tins. A tour of the kitchen (in a neat crocodile) took them past the voluminous oven that baked their cakes to perfection.

[TIP: baking a single cake and slicing it in half creates a neater tower for a sandwich cake, than baking two separate rounds]

While the cakes were cooling, Executive Chef Rudi explained the spread of decorations and the various icing options, and then the floodgates were opened and an impressively unrestrained creative explosion ensued (check out some more pictures).

Think handcrafted chocolate decorations, piping bags with rainbow icing, hazelnut meringues, Boudoir and Marie biscuits, fluffy mousse icing, marshmallows and sweets galore. We loved that the kids were encouraged to be imaginative in their icing, and that no right-or-wrong parameters were given. Each cake was a burst of individual flavour and personality, and the kids were pleased as punch with their results.

Toolwise, it was helpful to have icing spreaders for sandwiching and covering the cakes. Piping bags (the kids used ones handmade from greaseproof paper, and we’ll post a template shortly) were vital for achieving certain effects, and if embarking on extravagant cake adventures we do recommend gearing up.

After the decorating, the kids were invited to the exclusive Chef’s table, a legendary experience in the heart of the hotel kitchen, and feasted on pizzas and milkshakes, experiencing a bit of Mount Nelson Hotel magic and getting a feel for what cooking for a hotel full of people entails.

Our thanks to the fantastic team at the Mount Nelson Hotel, who were up for hosting our first ever roaming Minichef session, and providing delicious snacks and drinks for mums, all the ingredients, lunch, a beautiful venue and going the extra mile and then some. A big thanks also to Eli, the leading lady of CapeTownKids who helped organise the event.

We plan to host Minichef sessions further afield around South Africa in the near future, and if you’d like to be the first to know about them, sign up for our newsletter and keep your eyes on Spatula.

Onwards and upwards, and adios (for now).