NTS Mairi Sawyer Chocolate Cake

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Originally published in the National Trust for Scotland Spring Magazine

Perhaps one of the best known of Mairi Sawyer’s recipes: many visitors to Inverewe Gardens tell of having tea with her 40-50 years ago, and they always speak of Chocolate Cake with a light in their eyes.  Cherry with it’s fruit and nut flavour is a natural partner for chocolate providing a winning combination that has stood the test of time.

NTS Mairi Sawyer Chocolate Cake

Inverewe Gardens in the far north west of Scotland is one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust for Scotland. I'm a long time member of the National Trust and my Mum who is now in her 70's had a summer job in the cafe at Inverewe Gardens in the early 1960's! As a highlander, Inverewe is somewhere I've visited a number of times most recently with my own children when we stayed in Gairloch for a family holiday. As such I was delighted to be approached by NTS to recreate three historical Inverewe recipes for the modern day cook. The recipes were devised by Mhairi Sawyer, and collected in two books. One being Highland Fayre (from 1992) and another a folder of recipes which look to have been typed by Mairi herself.


Who was Mairi Sawyer?
Mairi Sawyer gave Inverewe to the National Trust for Scotland in 1952. She'd seen the efforts of her father, Osgood Mackenzie to create a garden full of exotic plants that florished in remote northern Scotland thanks to the proximity of the Gulf Stream. When her father died Mairi continued his work to create a horticultural jewel in the North. 


The Chocolate Cake recipe is etched into the marble top of the table in the main Inveweve house. The room is painted in Mairi Sawyer blue, a colour that was believed to reduce insects in the pantry. The other recipes I'll be recreating for the National Trust for Scotland Magazine will relate to game and seasonal preserves as she was very prolific in not just making them but growing all the ingredients (and shooting and skinning the deer!)

NTS Mairi Sawyer Chocolate Cake

At first glance this recipe looked relatively simple to convert to a modern day kitchen but it still took a wee bit of reworking. Cherry with it’s fruit and nut flavour is a natural partner for chocolate providing a winning combination that has stood the test of time. The resulting bake was a delicious but not overly chocolatey cake with a close texture akin to a gingerbread. Provided you can resist temptation it also keeps well in an airtight tin. 


NTS Mairi Sawyer Chocolate Cake

6 oz. butter
6 oz. melted chocolate
4 oz. ground almonds
4 eggs (separated)
Maraschino flavouring
7 oz. sugar
4 oz. flour
1 teasp. Baking powder
water icing

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. (160c)
2. Beat the butter and sugar to a cream and add the melted chocolate, flour, baking, powder and ground almonds, beating thoroughly with each addition.
3. Beat in the yolks of eggs one at a time.
4. Whip the whites of eggs till fairly stiff and fold lightly into the mixture with a metal spoon.
5. Put the mixture into a well-greased and lined cake tin: a square one gives good results. (24cm x 24cm x 5cm)
6. Bake in a moderate oven for approximately 70 minutes. (My cake was cooked in 55 mins)
7. When cool, ice with thin water icing flavoured with Maraschino.


My scales measure in both imperial and metric so no issues there. A moderate oven of 350F I converted to 160c (fan) but the ‘a square one gives good results’ cake tin proved more tricky to convert! I opted for a 24x24x5cm tin and the cake mix filled it perfectly. I used modern technology to melt the chocolate in the microwave and beat my ingredients with a stand mixer rather than a wooden spoon and elbow grease. 70 minutes baking time seemed rather lengthy to me so I started checking with a skewer at 45 minutes and removed the cake from the oven after 55 minutes. Maraschino flavouring is not something that I’ve ever come across – only cocktail cherries. My first thought was that I could use the liquid from the cherries but that would have given the icing a pink tinge which I didn’t think would be authentic. My modern day solution came in the form of cherry flavouring from a cupcake supplies website but I would love to know about the Maraschino flavouring that Mairi used. Was it perhaps a cheeky tipple of Maraschino liqueur? 

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