In 1998, I took a trip out to Boston with some college friends on spring break and stopped at my friend’s parents’ house in Michigan on the way. When we got back to Wisconsin a week later, I still vividly remember going to the café where I worked before class with my friend. “My parents really like you,” he said as I topped up my coffee with milk. “They want to set you up with my brother.”
“The one in Ireland? Fat lot of good that does me!” I laughed. But when that brother came to town a few months later for my friend’s graduation, I remembered what he’d said … and I wore my prettiest skirt on the afternoon he was due to stop by my apartment to pick up some notes, just in case his brother was with him.
Well, turned out his parents were on to something. I was smitten, and after a few days of flirting, the brother finally got the hint and we hit it off. He went back to Ireland and I got a passport so I could see him again at the end of the summer. After nine months of racking up huge long-distance phone bills and Visa bills from the plane tickets we bought to visit each other while I finished my last year of college, I moved over with two suitcases and a wide-open heart.
And on this day 10 years ago, I married him.
We had a small wedding here in Ireland, with an equal mix of old American friends and family who travelled over and new Irish friends. We got married in a pretty little country church with a robin’s egg blue ceiling, by a priest who quoted Robert Frost in his sermon as a nod to our American roots, then had our reception in a hotel right on the Irish Sea with views of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains to the north. And we had chocolate biscuit cake as our wedding cake.
While I now know that chocolate biscuit cake is popular in Ireland — you’ll often find it at cafés and coffeeshops, where it might also be called tiffin — I’d never had it before I sampled it at the Dublin bakery where we got our cake from, and I thought it was fantastic. Prince William famously chose a chocolate biscuit cake as his groom’s cake for his wedding last year, but we were way ahead of him nine years previously.
But here’s the rub about that chocolate biscuit cake. We had a three-tier cake, covered in plain white royal icing, and we duly froze the top tier and ate it on our first anniversary. But when we were checking out of the hotel the day after the wedding, we found out that for some reason they’d only cut up and served the bottom tier — leaving us with the entire middle tier to take home and eat ourselves. Despite giving some away to anyone who came to visit us in the weeks after the wedding, we were eating that cake every day for a month solid — which may explain why in the past 10 years, I never once made chocolate biscuit cake at home. Much as I loved it, I didn’t want to have it for a long, long time after that. But after a decade-long break, we’ll be having it again today — and more often now in the next 10 years.
Chocolate Biscuit Cake
Makes 1 x 450g (1 lb) loaf cake
There are lots of variations on this basic recipe — you can add nuts, raisins, glace cherries or even marshmallows; you can leave out the espresso powder (but I love the combination of chocolate and coffee); or you could make this in a round cake tin and cut it into thin wedges or a square tin and cut it into cubes. Most chocolate biscuit cake recipes call for golden syrup, but the condensed milk gives the cake a creamy, fudgy texture. It also means it slices easily, even straight out of the fridge. In the US you can find digestive biscuits in the international section of some supermarkets (I use McVitie’s brand), otherwise try a butter biscuit like Le Petit Beurre. Or if you’re feeling particularly industrious, you could even try making your own with this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.
200 g (7 oz) milk chocolate, roughly chopped
100 g (4 oz) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
100 g (1/2 cup) butter, diced
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 x 400 g (14 oz) tin condensed milk
250 g (9 oz) plain digestive biscuits, each biscuit broken into thirds
Line a 450 g (1 lb) loaf tin with cling film and set aside.
Set a heatproof bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Add in the chocolate and butter and allow to melt, stirring now and then until it’s smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and mix in the espresso powder and salt, then pour in the condensed milk, stirring well to combine. Add in the biscuits and stir until they’re evenly distributed in the chocolate. Pour the chocolate biscuit mixture into the lined loaf tin, pressing it down evenly and firmly with a spatula. Smooth the top with the spatula, then place in the fridge for about 3 hours, or overnight, until set. Cut into thin slices or small cubes (it’s very rich) to serve. Wrapped tightly in clingfilm, this will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge.