June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve always been a bit suspicious of people who say that they don’t like chocolate. It’s a panacea for most ills: a gentler-than-caffeine morning wake-up in a warm, milky mug; a post-lunch jolt in the form of a couple of intense squares of the darkest, fruitiest variety straight from the fridge; a cake slice with a movie on a Sunday afternoon; a creamy little pot at the end of a dinner for two. Luckily I married a man who feels the same, and if we were sharing a dessert, we’d rarely have to discuss whether or not to go for the chocolatiest option. The discussion is more likely to be whether we should order one or two.
Chocolate cake has been my dessert of choice since the ubiquity of the chocolate fudge cake that was such an intrinsic part of the 1990s. Less exotic than the molten chocolate volcanos that at that time were being served in gourmet restaurants and later became the staple of the gastropub, chocolate fudge cake was the archetypal dessert for family eateries and middle range restaurants. It always consisted of two layers of cake separated by a generous layer of fudgy icing, with the same icing smothered across the top and sides of the cake, ideally in concentric circles. At these eateries the cakes would be proudly displayed in a glass cabinet in lieu of a paper dessert menu, the fudge cake typically sharing real estate with a lemon meringue pie and a pavlova, the choices of fools, or grown ups. I would spend the whole meal impatiently awaiting the point where I could order a tall slice of cake, served warm, with cream or ice-cream (never both as far as I remember). The popularity of the chocolate fudge cake later made it available outside of restaurants too. I don’t think I ever had a homemade version though. That would have been quite the disappointment, when there was the glory of the Sara Lee frozen option, a favorite of midnight-feasting and broken-hearted teens, or, if visiting a grandparent, the classy and safe Marks and Spencer’s offering.
The fancypants cousin of the chocolate fudge cake is the flourless chocolate cake, which turns the nomenclature on its head to become a fudgy chocolate cake. It’s darker, denser and just a lot more serious minded than its frivolous little sister. It’s the cake I decided to make for this year’s father’s day. For Ollie’s first, only chocolate cake would do, and while perusing my options I happened upon a recipe for a bourbon-spiked version. Heavy on the chocolate, as is only right, this is one of those cakes that comes out of the oven proudly puffed up, then falls back lazily upon itself as it cools, into a slender, compacted layer that cries out for the airy contrast of a dollop of whipped cream. The bourbon tinge to the cake is subtle, which I mention in case you want to ramp it up and spike your cream with the liquor too. You’ll see from my pictures that I sprinkled a few raspberries on the plate too. Forget them. The chocolate and cream is all you need. A shot of bourbon alongside? Midnight feasting has come a long way.
Chocolate Bourbon Cake
Adapted from Green and Black’s Ultimate: Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection
110g/1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, plus extra for greasing
150g/5oz dark chocolate (ideally 70% cocoa solids), either in chip form or chopped into 5mm pieces (my preference for this kind of baking is Guittard)
30g/1oz all purpose (plain) flour
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. good bourbon
50g/2oz dark brown sugar
whipped cream to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Butter a 20cm/8inch round tin and line the bottom with parchment paper (I used a springform tin).
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, until it sizzles and gets really hot. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips until they melt. Set to one side to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt to combine. Add the 3 eggs and the bourbon and whisk well until smooth.
Stir the brown sugar into the cooled chocolate and butter mix. Pour this into the bowl containing the batter and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes. When the cake is ready, the top will be puffing up and it will have a dull appearance. As the cake interior is fudgy and will continue to set as the cake cools, it will be hard to test for doneness with a skewer. If the centre still looks wobbly though, you can give the cake another 5 minutes in the oven.
Remove the cake to a wire rack to cool completely in the tin. Unmould to a serving plate and serve with whipped cream, berries and, if you like, bourbon on the rocks.
June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
I have a thing for cookbooks. Most definitely not a problem, but certainly a thing. I’ve been involved in the book industry since finishing my college degree, right from a torturous few months working for Borders, through becoming an editor. Needless to say, I love reading, but I love books just as much, if not even more. Whimsical or classic cover designs, the promise held by a tight, uncracked spine, or the love inherent in a browning, well thumbed tome. And of course that smell – of the fresh ink and sharp clean edges of an untouched new title, or of the dusty histories all around in a used book store.
I suspect that without the lure of cookbooks, I might not have become a cook. They were my gateway drug to this wonderful world and still, when cooking becomes a chore or I get stuck in a pasta-pesto rut, an hour or so flicking through glossy pictures or passionate explanations is usually enough to bust through the ennui and get my butt in the kitchen. It was while working in said terrible job at Borders that I took advantage of my staff discount to bring home a copy of Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook. It was my first real cookbook, and from it I made a Szechuan-pepper crusted steak and what I thought were chips in UK parlance and turned out to be chips of the US variety, transatlantic culinary translations haunting my cooking experiences from the very start. But errors aside, it was a good meal, and Nigella came next, and Nigel not long after, and it all snowballed from there.
Nowadays the books come in and out of use depending on my moods, fads, and the season. I love discovering anew one tome or another that has languished at the bottom of the pile: flicking through brings a journey through memories of past meals, other kitchens and homes and countries. Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day is a book that never spends long out of rotation. Last week we had orzo salad with broccoli pesto, muesli with marcona almonds and the wonderful baked oatmeal. I remember the oatmeal recipe doing the blog rounds when Heidi’s book was first published but I don’t recall why I didn’t immediately start making it once a week. My bad. I’m here to persuade you not to make the same mistake.
The dish is simple: line a well-buttered casserole with a layers of banana and blueberries (or huckleberries should you be so lucky), top with cinnamon-dusted oats and walnuts, pour over a milk and maple mix, top with more blueberries and nuts and melted butter. You end up with something that’s halfway between a flapjack and oatmeal, a golden, crunchy top hiding the softer milky interior. I made ours the night before and just popped individual servings into the microwave for a couple of minutes, before pouring over a good glug of raw milk (our current obsession). The dish would make a great do-ahead recipe for a brunch, and you can play around with the fruit and nut combinations – I’m thinking some sort of cherry and almond version might feature in our lives this week while the cherries are at their glorious peak. I know it’s a bit against the wholesome focus of Heidi’s cooking, but I’m sure a handful of chocolate chips wouldn’t go amiss in the right setting too. I look forward to a future day when I come across that recipe for the first time in a year or two, and it reminds me of slightly bleary eyed breakfasts in the late spring of 2013, when my little boy was just learning to eat his own oatmeal, and we all had blueberry handprints on our clothes.
Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Walnuts
Yields 6-8 hearty servings (would easily serve more as part of a larger brunch spread)
2 cups/200 g rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup/60 g chopped walnut pieces
1/3 cup/60 g sugar or maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
2 cups/475 ml milk
1 large egg
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch/1cm pieces
1 1/2 cups/185 g blueberries, huckleberries or other mixed berries
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C and make sure there is a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of a baking dish, roughly 8inch/20cm square (I used a smaller rectangle dish).
In a small bowl, mix together the oats, half the walnuts, the sugar, if using, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture.
In the now empty bowl that had the oats, whisk together the maple syrup, if using, the milk, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla.
Drizzle the milk mixture over the oats as evenly as possible. Gently give the baking dish a couple of taps on the countertop to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the remaining berries and remaining walnuts across the top. If you are making the dish ahead and planning to reheat it in servings, drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top now too. If you are going to eat the dish immediately or reheat in the same dish in the oven, wait to add the butter just before serving.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and either cool completely, cover well and keep in the fridge overnight, or let cool for a few minutes, drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar or drizzle with maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter. We like a glug of milk over it too.