This is one of my all time favourite flavour combinations. It's based around the liquorice chocolates I enjoyed in Stockholm a few years back, and since then I've been making this cake often. Its current permutation is somewhat of a showstopper, and is perfect as an occasion cake - though in my view, this cake is a cause to celebrate in its own right! 

Ingredients - serves 10-12

For the cake

  • 300g dark brown muscovado sugar 
  • 200ml boiling water 
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened 
  • 100g caster sugar 
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 240ml buttermilk 
  • 80g cocoa powder 
  • 320g self raising flour  
  • 2 tbsp liquorice powder 
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb

For the ganache and topping 

  • 1 tsp Calabrian liquorice lozenges
  • 40ml water 
  • 280ml whipping cream
  • 320g Bournville chocolate, roughly chopped 
  • Selection of liquorice sweets and chocolate nonpareils, to decorate 

Essential equipment 

  • 2 x 20cm cake tins, greased with the bases line with baking paper
  • Deep-sided baking tray 
  • 20cm cake card  


Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. 

In a heatproof jug, mix together the dark muscovado sugar and boiling water until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to one side until needed. 

In a mixing bowl or KitchenAid fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the butter and caster sugar until well mixed. Add the eggs, buttermilk and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Sift over the the flour, liquorice powder and bicarb, and fold in until smooth - this will be a very thick batter. Then slowly pour in the muscovado/water mixture and beat just until incorporated - don't overmix this. Divide the batter between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for five minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. The cakes will look a little cracked on top, but don't worry. 

For the ganache heat the lozenges and water in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Stir constantly until the lozenges more or less dissolve into the water. Add the cream and reduce the heat to medium. Put the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl, and once the cream starts to simmer around the edge pour it over the chocolate. Leave the cream to melt the chocolate for about thirty seconds, then beat to a smooth, glossy ganache. Pour onto a large, clean, deep-sided baking tray, and allow to cool until thick but spreadable. 

Meanwhile, slice the tops off each cake to level (reserve the crumbs for sprinkling), then slice each cake in half so you have four equal layers of cake. 

To assemble, place the cake card onto a cake stand (I use a cake decorating turntable at this stage) and place a layer of cake onto that. Spread over a little ganache - you don't want this to be too thick a layer, just a reasonable spread. Repeat with the remaining layers of cake until you have four layers of cake sandwiched together with three layers of ganache. Spread the remaining ganache over the top and sides of the cake. I use a small, crank-handled palette knife to get a really neat top and sides. When you're happy with how neat the cake is, place into the fridge to chill for 20 minutes. 

When the cake has chilled, chop a selection of the sweets and arrange these into a neat line about one third of the way across the cake. Sprinkle over a few cake crumbs - be delicate here - and the masterpiece is ready to serve. 

Did you know that John now owns a cookery school in the heart of rural Lancashire? If you didn't know that, or to get a little more info on his courses, click here.