(Cracking fresh Yarra Valley hazelnuts)
After our recent trip to Shanghai, I feel the need to slow down again. Shanghai was a blur of crowded streets and brightly lit concrete towers by night. By day, the streets remained crowded, while sunshine sifted valiantly through pale dusty skies. I remember the sounds – of street karaoke, car horns and bicycle bells, of people having animated discussions on park benches, and the shout of street sellers hawking their wares. All overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
My favourite moments were visiting Fuxing Park for a bit of people-watching, and strolling through Dong Tai Road, admiring the collections of objects on display at the antiques market. Quiet little moments you would not expect to experience in such a bustling city.
And now I’m back, incidentally also armed with a few new baking tins that I bought at a massive kitchen warehouse in Shanghai. They’ll be put to use eventually.
This Nutella cake comes via Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and was made after something moist and very chocolate-y was requested for dessert. It reminded me of the chocolate orange cake from one of the House of Flour stores in Shanghai. I had not intended to seek out cake during that trip (why would you, when there are so many dumplings and crispy duck bits to be eaten?) but after spending the whole afternoon negotiating the perils of being a pedestrian and getting intermittently lost, it was somewhat comforting to spend just half an hour contemplating nothing more than a piece rich chocolate cake and a cup of tea.
As luck would have it, we bought fresh hazelnuts from a farmers market in Melbourne recently, so these were shelled and ground into meal for the cake. In hindsight, we should’ve bought a bigger bag of nuts and then I could have made my own Nutella too. Maybe next time. Melbourne’s not that far away afterall.
If you don’t have the book, her recipe is also online here. Now I’m off to enjoy another quiet cake-filled moment.
Tags: cake, chocolate, flourless, ganache, hazelnut, Nigella Lawson
(Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons)
The best things I ate this week? Juicy, dribbly, sweet and sour West Indian cucumber pickles, straight from the jar. Plump steamed dumplings stuffed with barbecued eel and spring onions. Misshapen blue corn tortillas piled high with ceviche, pickled jalepenos, avocado, chilli and lime. And this lamington. Turns out the best things in life aren’t necessarily always the prettiest.
My favourite things act as antidotes to the melancholic nature of a season. August feels less friendly when you’ve misplaced a favourite woolen blanket or feel too keenly the cold creep of kitchen tiles on bare feet. Sometimes, it’s also just about wanting a little bit of cake, nothing too heavy, preferably chocolate flavoured, maybe with a sprinkle of coconut and some brown sugar as well, thanks…
Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons :
For the sponge :
140g brown sugar
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
chocolate sauce for dipping (recipe below)
250g dessicated coconut
Whisk the eggs in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and salt and continue whisking for a few minutes. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the egg mixture and fold in gently but thoroughly. Transfer this mixture to a greaseproof paper-lined 8″ x 12″ baking tray. Bake in a preheated 175′C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
Once the cake is cooled, peel away the baking paper. With a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cake (or leave it if you don’t mind slightly rough edges on your end product) and split the sponge in half lengthways. Spread filling of your choice on one half of the sponge. Here I’ve used a salted caramel sauce but you can also use cherry jam, chocolate custard or whipped vanilla cream. You can also skip this step if you want unfilled lamingtons. Sandwich the sponge back together and cut into as many squares as you like (12-16 squares, depending on how big you want each portion to be). Dip each square in chocolate sauce and dredge in dessicated coconut.
For the chocolate sauce :
(You can use a more traditional recipe for chocolate frosting, but I prefer this one because it has more depth of flavour and is less sugary. It doesn’t set the way the frosting recipes do, but the sauce soaks in a little and sticks well to each sponge square.)
200g brown sugar
120g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium pan, place the brown sugar and cocoa. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Bring to boil, stirring. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Strain and leave to cool before using.
Tags: brown sugar, cake, caramel, chocolate, cocoa, coconut, lamingtons, teacake, vanilla
(Chocolate ricotta fudge cake with beer caramel)
After spending two weeks in Hobart, I return feeling somewhat re-energised. It’s all about a change of pace, experiencing great generosity, taking the M and E out of Team, and just eating well. Really well. Followed up with a run in 2′C weather with the wind whipping at your ears and legs. Turns out, it doesn’t take a lot to make things a little bit better.
So now I’m ready to get back into a commercial kitchen. Trouble is, I don’t know which kitchen.
I started baking with ricotta when I got back, having been inspired by the great ricotta and prune pastries at Pigeon Hole. This chocolate ricotta cake is one of several happy experiments. Remind me to also tell you soon about ricotta buttercream and ice-cream!
The chocolate ricotta cake is based on Tartine’s devils food cake recipe. The fudge frosting is like this but omit some of the caster sugar and increase the cocoa powder plus a pinch of salt. The beer caramel is adapted from here. Assembled cake then goes into mouth. No other instructions necessary.
Tags: cake, caramel, chocolate, fudge frosting, ricotta