Sunday, August 07, 2005


Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. James Bond has Blofeld. Dr Who has the Daleks. Monkey Gland has Chocolate Nemesis.

Now, the first time you try anything, your pretty much guaranteed to get some aspect of it wrong. Even the second time, some curve ball might come your way. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to make this damn cake and ended up with chocolaty slop.

The recipe, as you'll probably know, is from the first River Cafe Cookbook by Ruth Rodgers and Rose Gray. I have had the pleasure of eating there a fair few times and I've always loved it, I've even eaten the Nemesis, and it is very good. However, for some reason it will never ever go right for me. Different kitchens, different equipment, various states of consciousness, it will not work. It is so deceptively simple, the recipe is only about 12 lines long. Eggs, Chocolate, Butter, Sugar are all that are in it but for some reason it has become my albatross, the one damn thing I can never make right. The picture here is of one of the only pieces of the cake, in today's effort, that came out looking vaguely as it should.

Today for instance, I bought a new baking tray to act as the bain mariee. It was the correct depth and everything. I figured this time was gonna be the breakthrough. It leaked. A lot. Who ever heard of a baking tray that LEAKED!!??

I guess like Sisyphus I'll just have to keep making the damn thing, always failing, never quite getting there and comfort myself with the fact that the resulting gloop is pretty tasty. I'll view it as a Zen like exercise in permanent failure, ultimatly learning more about myself than the process of baking a chocolate cake.


cookiecrumb said...

Sisyphus was a baker? Thought he was some sort of rock-n-roller. :D
Anyway, who wouldn't love a little chocolaty slop? However -- looks like you achieved perfection!

farmgirl said...

LOL, your baking tray leaked?! That's ridiculous! (but funny)

Isn't is nice when the imperfections taste so yummy? And if you're really desperate for a perfect slice of chocolate cake, you might try baking this. I already made the mistakes for you! : )

wendy said...

I love the gooey mistakes. One of the best deserrts I have had was at a restaurant where they didn't cook the souffle all the way, so the chocolate was still battery, warm & delicious.
How many times have you made it?

shuna fish lydon said...

I do not have the recipe in front of me but for steamed things I usually just use a pot. many times pans with seams will leak. even my cheesecake pan leaks although it is sealed tight with a latch. this is why I always bake on a pan lined with parchment. it's much nicer for the dishwasher (at home--me.)

if you send me the recipe I could tell you some tricks. at any rate the world is constantly eating prepared and genetic errors.

Barbara said...

Your chocolate cake disaster could one day be as famous as Tarte Tartin.

Monkey Gland said...

Yeah the goo does taste pretty good!

Shuna: this is the recipe:

Chocolate Nemesis


675g of bitter chocolate
10 whole eggs
575g caster sugar
450g unsalted butter

Beat the eggs with 1/3 of the sugar, until the quantity quadruples.

Dissolve the remaining sugar into a syrup with hot water.

Place the chocolate and butter into the syrup, and combine over heat.

Allow to cool slightly before adding the chocolate syrup to the eggs.

Pour into a cake tin, and bake for 40-60 minutes in a bainmarie.

Allow to set completely before turning out. Serves 10-12.

In order to get it just perfect, you should watch while it is cooking.

Looks easy don't it!

shuna fish lydon said...

I don't think it looks easy. In fact I think the whole bit about the syrup is confusing.

This is what I might do:
Make sure those eggs are TRULY room temperature. In fact I might whisk them over some boiling water/bain marie to get them a little warm before beating them to quadruple their volume.

when whipping the eggs with sugar, start the mixer on low and increase incrementally. This needs to be done with a free standing mixer, not hand-held.

put sugar and cold water in pot. heat only until sugar dissolves.

Did you say originally that the said mixture is placed in a bain marie in the oven?

From the way this is written is supposed to make what we americans call pudding. a soft creamy texture, not a cakey one.

One change I might make, just for testing sake, is that I would take my melted choc/butter mixture off heat and add the sugar straight without making a syrup. then, in thirds, I would fold in the egg mixture and I would butter and flour the mold I was to bake it in.

Also what temperature does it say to bake it at?

Monkey Gland said...

Great! Thanks for the advice Shuna. Much appreciated.

It says bake at 160C/325F.

S said...

Hiya Monkey Gland,

Two things that I hope will cheer you up:
1. Many, many other people have famously failed at said Nemesis. You are not alone. Julian Barnes has a great ramble about it in The Pedant in the Kitchen. Or you can read the specific essay right here:

2. The recipe must work at some level because J at Kuidaore gave me a slice of hers months ago. Perhaps you'd like to grill her for tips.

I truly admire your determination to get it right. Have you taken a look at the Easy Small Nemesis in River Cafe Cook Book Easy? If nothing else, you'll need smaller portions of precious chocolate to try your hand at it!

S said...

Hiya, I've just read the recipe again. The one thing they don't suggest is refrigerating it. Given that the mixture essentially gives you a huge disk of something akin to chocolate ganache, perhaps refrigerating it would help?

Monkey Gland said...

Excellent!, I'm in good company then. I will get the little sucker right or die covered in chocolate.

S said...


As you might have noticed by now, I am a little obsessive. Take a look at Heidi's post at She has made a cake very similar to the Nemesis (recipe included). Notice that while it should be served at room temperature, part of the preparation includes refrigerating it for 3 hours.