I don’t know what has happened to the last few weeks. They seem to have whirled by in a blur of grey skies, tremendously monotonous rain and an intensively all-consuming course that finished with a two-hour oral exam where I had to get 80% to pass. It was stressful. And in between all this we’re trying to buy a flat – which no matter how romanticised my idea of it is, it is just plain painful. A welcome reprieve to all this – was having a houseguest move in ten days ago. She is also buying a flat and due to ‘unforseen’ delays (namely that the seller’s solicitor will only communicate via post) she’s been left with couple of weeks between flats.
It was her birthday this last weekend – and so this cake is for her. Although rather gaudy, it’s a fun cake of decadently rich chocolate sponge, smothered in a white chocolate, vanilla and sour cream ganache – and finished with a light marshmallow meringue frosting (in various shades of pink).
50g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C for fan oven). Place the hazelnuts directly onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 20 minutes. While the nuts are toasting, put the caster sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until it melts. Watch it constantly so that it does not burn.
As the sugar begins to turn golden and caramelise, add the hazelnuts and stir to coat them in the syrup. Continue stirring over a medium heat until golden brown. Pour the mixture out onto a baking tray lined with grease proof parchment and allow to cool.
Break the solid mass of nuts into chunks, place in a food processor and pulse blitz to desired chunkiness or powderyness. I blitzed mine until quite fine – ensuring I didn’t over blitz it as this will then turn from powder into paste. Alternatively you can bash them with a rolling-pin.
Sitting on the floor – somewhat bewildered, that Sunday after the happy couple came round for the first time – frantically thumbing through my books looking to be inspired by something impressive I came across a decadent looking layered pistachio cheesecake. A combination of creamy pistachio cheesecake, little cubes of syrup soaked sour cherries in the middle topped with a pistachio mousse and then sprinkled with ground pistachios.
This was my starting point for putting the wedding cake together. Stumbling at the first hurdle though, every component of this cake needed pistachio paste. I’d never seen in it supermarkets, but presumed it would be easy enough to find in London – I mean you can practically buy anything if you’re willing to spend a bit in fancy specialist food stores. I googled it, and although pistachio paste is a common ingredient in French and Italian baking, I couldn’t find a single source to buy it from in the United Kingdom. Ordering from online shops in France was easy enough but paying £25 with postage for a small jar of paste seemed obscene. So, my only other option was to make it.
Remembering the composition of these sticky buns takes me straight back to high school. Hot, highveld lunch breaks in Greenside, Johannesburg spent sitting in the sun in the concrete flag stone quad with class mates – idle chatter interspersed with quiet munching. The bell would ring shrilly signally break and on days when I had tuck money I would tear down to the tuck shop to avoid the queue. Lunch would consist of the special of the day and an ice-cold coke or frozen slushy. Mondays hotdogs… Tuesdays hamburgers… Wednesdays chutney mince rolls… Thursdays… Thursdays and Fridays I forget. And if I had scrounged enough money together lunch would be finished off with a big chunk of sticky chelsea bun.
The buns would come pre-wrapped in cling film, and I remember them being much bigger than any others I have seen in the last few years, and certainly bigger than the ones I recreated. Sitting cross-legged on the warm concrete I would discard the unwanted cling film and then start devouring my bun by carefully peeling away and eating it layer by layer, spiralling down through moist yeasty bun infused with cinnamon, sweet vanilla custard cream and raisins – all stuck together by the sugary icing on the top. Pure bliss. And certainly enough calories to power me through the next four periods before home time.
Yesterday I did what I do best – procrastinate writing – in order to do what I love most – cook, buy cookbooks and peruse nurseries. I contemplate ways of sneaking my three new hardcover purchases into the cookbook collection in the said tiny kitchen without my other half noticing.
So now I finally sit down to write in the sweltering London heat, perched laptop on knee on the couch in front of the big open sash windows in an attempt to get whatever breathless gasps of breeze exist into the overheated apartment. Out of the corner of my eye I can see the bright shades of pink pelargonium and cosmos and lilac lavender, which I acquired whilst procrastinating, stirring in the breeze on the window sill. I smile.
Despite the unusual heat this week I have had an insatiable need to recreate my absolute favourite coffee time treat – the chocolate twist. I’ve been eyeing them up for weeks trying to work out exactly how they’re constructed. Whether right or not, my conclusion is that they’re made of a delicate croissant like pastry, laced with crème pâtissière, sprinkled with bitter-sweet chocolate bits and then twisted into strips of deliciousness which are baked and then finished off with a dusting of icing sugar.