Friends who give a fig..

Chocolate Yoghurt Cake and Figs

(Chocolate yoghurt cake with sticky caramel figs)

A few days ago, a high school friend sent me an email. She was out of town, her fig tree was heavy with fruit, and did I want to go pick some before the birds got to them? It took me all of two seconds to say, heck yes. I mean, free fruit.. who (except the sugar deniers) would say no? Plus, I happen to also own a potted fig tree and it has all of two leaves left hanging for dear life on a singular branch. Sometimes I feel that branch is pointing accusingly at me for not being a better amateur gardener. Naturally, I wanted to see this bountiful tree of hers.

So now I have a small basket of doesn’t-get-fresher-than-this figs and have been experimenting with different ways of using them. A few were sliced, rolled in sugar, kissed with a blow torch, and served with a sort of Eton Mess. If you don’t have a blow torch because somehow Amelie and the whole creme brulee craze remains a complete mystery to you, then here’s another amazing way to treat figs : Melt a few spoonfuls of sugar in a sauce pan and heat to make a golden caramel. Toss in fig halves, stir gently to coat them in the caramel, then deglaze with Banyuls or balsamic vinegar to form a bit of a sauce. The whole process takes just a few minutes and the end result is sweet and slightly sour figs you can spoon over ice-cream, or serve with a simple chocolate cake such as this one.

Chocolate Yoghurt Cake with Figs

This chocolate cake is a take on Tartine’s devil’s food cake, made with yoghurt instead of buttermilk. It’s one of my favourites because it has the depth of flavour of a chocolate fudge cake without being dense or stodgy.

Chocolate Yoghurt Cake

Chocolate Yoghurt Cake :

115g unsalted butter, softened
235g caster sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs
100g Greek yoghurt
60g milk
125g plain flour
30g cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
60g cocoa powder

Grease and line a 9″ round baking tin. Preheat the oven to 175’C.

Cream the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated. Combine the yoghurt and milk and add this to the butter mixture. Sift in the flour, cornflour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder and fold to incorporate. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before covering with ganache or serve simply dusted with icing sugar and eaten with a generous scoop of Greek yoghurt.

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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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Another year, another gateau

(Devil’s Food Cake)

Another year, another gateau. Baked, iced and ceremoniously divided into thick slabs. We forked it over cups of tea, sitting next to a gas heater set on high. I couldn’t help but smile that chocolate-stained smile that always makes him shake his head and laugh.

Another year, another birthday. While swilling a glass of red over dinner with friends, he declared, “I don’t feel any older”.

Well, what a relief, I thought. Because, I secretly do. And with every passing year, that creeping fear that I’m no closer to realising where I want to be or what I want to be doing.

But I do love birthdays, if not mine. So with wine, and a 10-course meal (with a friend who cheekily wants to tell the waiter that she’s allergic to micro herbs), and later bundled with giggles and wobbly heels into a cab, I’m happy we’re all a year older. Or is that a year younger?

When it comes to birthdays, the devil is never in the detail.

(Happy Birthday B!)

Devil’s Food Cake :
(adapted from a recipe in Baker & Spice by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington)

150g 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
100g caster sugar
125ml milk
40g cocoa powder
3 eggs separated + 1 egg yolk
160g unsalted butter, softened
85g brown sugar
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
170g plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 170’C. Butter and line two 23cm springform cake tins.

Put the chocolate, caster sugar, milk, cocoa powder and 2 egg yolks in a bowl set over simmering water. Stir until chocolate has just melted, then remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 2 egg yolks, then the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Fold in the chocolate mixture followed by the yogurt. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until firm and fold this through the cake mixture.

Divide the mixture between the 2 tins and lightly smooth the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into a cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to completely cool before icing.

For the icing :

200g 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
25g cocoa powder
80ml hot water
1 tablespoon golden syrup
45g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
1 egg yolk

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, golden syrup and water. Add this to the melted chocolate and whisk until combined. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, icing sugar and egg yolk. You can add more icing sugar than the recommended amount if you wish. Chill this mixture until it is thick and spreadable.

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