Nutella chocolate cake

(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.

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Orange and yoghurt drizzle cake

(Orange and yoghurt drizzle cake)

Icing a cake, it has to be said, is purely an optional exercise 99% of the time. At the discretion of the baker, a cake may be garnished with a pelmet of extra sugar to either hide inadequacies or enhance its visual appeal (ie. hide inadequacies). The icing I’m speaking of here is plain water icing; icing sugar and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or water, mixed to a flowing consistency. Chocolate frosting, as everyone knows, is an entirely different matter altogether, as it is almost always a compulsory addition to any chocolate cake!

From the point of view of someone whose parents were fairly strict about their cake and sugar intake, I must admit this cake was iced with a large amount of childish glee, perhaps to the point of being over-iced. Take that, Choc-Top-free childhood, banned Jacobs gem biscuits with crispy frosting and total and utter lack of fairy bread! Hmm.. Maybe this is why I can’t have iced things.

Oranges are such a bargain at the moment, so orange and yoghurt cake was made twice this week. One cake served us well over many tea breaks. This iced one will hopefully take us through the weekend.

Orange and yoghurt drizzle cake :
(adapted from a recipe in Mix & Bake by Belinda Jeffery)

450g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3 eggs
400g sugar
250g softened butter
250g thin yoghurt (or kefir)
grated zest of 2 oranges, juice from 1 orange

Preheat oven to 150’C.

In a Thermomix or food processor, process the eggs and sugar until pale. Add the butter and continue processing until well incorporated. Pulse in the yoghurt, zest and juice, followed by the flour, baking soda and salt. Scrape the mixture into a greased and floured large bundt tin. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes before turning it out onto a plate or wire rack. While the cake is still warm, brush it with the orange syrup then allow to cool completely before icing (if you wish).

Orange syrup :
110g icing sugar
50g orange juice

Mix the icing sugar with the orange juice. Set aside until ready to use.

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Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons

(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 :
6 eggs
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
400g water
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.

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