hold on tight, hold on eleven, this is paradise

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This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.

As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.

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In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?

Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.

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What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.

Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

A recipe by myself

Cake:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

  • 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
  • 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
  • 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • a pinch of salt 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.

Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.

Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.

Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.

Allow both cakes to cool completely.

For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.

Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.

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But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.

Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.

title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.

music lately:

Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.

The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)

Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!

(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)

Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this. 

PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.) 

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