Top Hat Cake

The most enduring memory of the annual Sunday School picnic of my childhood revolves, unsurprisingly, around the food. I couldn’t tell you precisely what my mother used to bake but someone, possibly my great aunt, used to make what we called ‘Top Hats’. The level of culinary skill involved wasn’t – well, there wasn’t any skill, to be honest.

Top Hats consisted of cooking chocolate, melted and poured into bun cakes to a depth of about half a centimtre, with a Princess marshmallow plonked in the middle. Perhaps they weren’t top hats but toadstools. They were the sort of thing that children lusted after and made a beeline for. You’d manage one no problem and then generally find your teeth started to melt halfway through the second one. The cooking chocolate had that fatty fudgyness, without much flavour. It coated your tongue and cemented the marshmallow sweetness right on your tastebuds.

But I love marshmallows (and as soon I get a stand mixer – and, um, a new kitchen to fit it in, I’ll be making them at home) and they also make me think of the Devil’s Food Cake recipe in the 70s Hamlyn cook book I grew up with. I love cheesecake, or the base at least. This is what I came up with…

I used a springform tin – then also used paper liner just to be on the safe side.  A non-stick pan is essential for the marshmallow melting – don’t say I didn’t warn you. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5/375.


  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 60g butter
  • 170g marshmallows
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 100g dried sour cherries or sour berries
  • 3 tbsp Morgan’s Spiced Rum
  • 100g Dark 70% chocolate
  • 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 100g unsalted butter


  1. Soak the fruits in the rum.
  2. Crush the biscuits in a plastic bag. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the biscuit crumbs, mix well. Pour the mix into the lined tin. Turn the plastic bag inside out, use it to cover your hand and press the mixture down very firmly. Pop in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Melt the marshmallows in the milk, stirring well til it all melts and set aside for at least ten minutes.
  4. Pour the marshmallow sauce over the completely cooled biscuit base. Drain the fruits and dot them all over.
  5. Melt the chocolate, peanut butter and butter together. Once it’s cooled sufficiently,  pour onto the marshmallow layer and swirl together a little. Refrigerate.

The sweet from the chocolate and marshmallow is cut by the booze and sour fruits, as well as the saltiness from the peanut butter.

I’ve upped the fruit quantities in the recipe compared to the first time I made it, hence the scarcity in the photos.  Use milk chocolate, or omit the fruits, at your peril. Or have the original Top Hat experience all over again.

4 thoughts on “Top Hat Cake

  1. When I saw the title of this in my Google Reader I was expecting a cake that looked like a top hat but this is SO much better. I can see why you would need the boozy fruit and peanut butter to cut through all that sugar and fudge-y-ness though!

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