sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

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.) 

death by chocolate is a myth, this I know because I lived

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I recently was re-reading Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, a book I turn to in times of crisis, happiness, fragility, anxiety, normality, national sporting-related success to which I’m entirely indifferent, pre or post-jeans shopping – there’s literally no mood this book can’t augment. I got my copy of this book in 2006 and it’s really something reading the little notes that I wrote by recipes in the first blush of ownership – so earnest, so youthful! “Didn’t have red wine but used leftover sangria and it worked a treat” was scribbled beside a slow-braised lamb and bean dish, a troubling phrase that raises more questions than its supposedly helpful inclusion answers (Did it really work a treat? Was it really sangria or was it just corner dairy red wine mixed with orange juice? Why, nevertheless, did we have leftovers?)

What cracked me up was the amount of times I’d put a tick beside a title with a modifying note stating what part of the recipe I actually had been able to afford to make. Lamb and chickpeas (tick – just made the chickpeas.) Cod and mushy peas (tick – just made the peas.) Who could have predicted that twelve years later I’d be equally as broke and meatless: tick and double tick.

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All this was in mind as I went shopping for ingredients for this week’s recipe, these Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars. It was precisely the moment where I considered abandoning the recipe altogether because nuts are so whole-assedly expensive; but then I shrewdly deduced that buying dark chocolate with almonds in it ($5-ish) would be markedly cheaper than buying dark chocolate ($5-ish) plus a bag of almonds ($9,000,000.) I already was darkly resigned to the fact that maple-flavoured syrup is monumentally cheaper than the real stuff.

This recipe is based pretty tightly on one that I found online. I was taken with the simplicity of the concept of blending up bananas to essentially use as glue, holding the coconut, chocolate and almonds to the base. Strangely, but appealingly, it barely tastes of banana – just kind of gently sweet and caramelly. I was a bit panicked because at first, straight from the fridge, the slice honestly didn’t taste like much of anything. But the more it gets towards room temperature the more all the flavours reassuringly make themselves known. I made some slight adjustments to the recipe – I nearly doubled the oaty base because the measurements given seemed to make hardly anything; I fiddled with the quantities of what went on top, I added more maple syrup and I added plenty of salt, which I think was the most important addition – it just makes everything taste so much more confidently of itself, so don’t be afraid to scatter a decent amount across the top. The oat base gets super hard over time so you definitely want to consume this within the next day or so; if you can’t get through it then might I suggest microwaving it or adding an oat-moistening scoop of ice cream to your plate.

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With this low-stakes rollercoaster of establishing whether or not it tasted good out of the way, I can assure you that this slice is in fact, really very delicious – the toasty, nutty oats, the flutter of maple sweetness from the fake but gamely hardworking syrup, the bitter, cocoa-rich dark chocolate for your teeth to slice through, the damply chewy shards of coconut, and barely a whisper of intrusive banana. Sorry banana, but sometimes what you bring to the table is what you don’t bring to the table, you know?

Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars

based on this recipe from feastingonfruit.com

2 and a half cups rolled oats
7 tablespoons maple syrup or golden syrup
3 bananas
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds) 
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Sea salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard brownie tin (you know, one of those standard ones…rectangular…not too big) with baking paper.

Process the rolled oats in a blender till they’ve turned into fine dust, then pour in five tablespoons of the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse briefly till it’s all clumpy. Spatula it into your brownie tin and carefully press it down evenly (use the back of a wet spoon and be prepared for it to take some patience) and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until it’s firm and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, rinse out the blender, and throw the bananas in with the remaining maple syrup, blitzing them to an airy yellow puree. Spread this evenly over the oat base, and then evenly sprinkle over the chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Sprinkle over another good pinch of salt. Return the tray to the oven for another forty minutes, although check after 30, and cover with tinfoil if it’s browning too much. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, and slice into bars. Taste to see if it needs some more salt sprinkled over – these ingredients really benefit from it.

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Should you wish to use different nuts (walnuts would be excellent here I think) or different chocolate or add other textural elements altogether – perhaps chopped dried apricots, or smashed up pretzels, or dried cranberries, or chopped crystalised ginger – you just go with precisely the amount of creativity that the intersection between what you want and what you can afford allows you to act upon, too.

And if you’re on a specific chocolate buzz, may I also recommend such recipes as Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice, or Homemade Bounty Bars.

title from: Death by Chocolate from Sia’s fourth album Some People Have Real Problems, absolute years before her mainstream breakthrough. This song is just gorgeous, melancholy with these occasional major key bursts, with real classic torch song vibes to it and a stunning coda that I almost wish was its own song, it’s so lovely.

music lately:

Nina Simone, Children Go Where I Send You. This style of song is known as cumulative and there’s something so weirdly thrilling about the way it builds and expands with each verse. Obviously Ms Simone is an absolute master of interpreting a song and making it the best, most joyful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. However! I also strenuously recommend Johnny Cash’s version with June Carter Cash (and the casually fulsome snarl in her vocals) and family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers on backing, it’s so earnestly rollicking and you’re like how does it keep going up a notch each verse? Was there ever even a more exciting song than this to be sung? I’ve literally listened to both versions of this song every day for the last week and would be happy to continue on in this manner for the actual rest of my life.

The Pharcyde, Drop. The incredible video has this almost queasy surreal vibe from the backwards-forwards Spike Jonze direction but even without the slightest hint of visuals this song is so so good, mellow and soft but just slightly sinister with amazing lyricism. You should definitely watch the video though.

Next time: I genuinely just want to make absolute bathtubs full of the corn butter from last time, but will attempt to look further afield for all of our sakes.

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pile on many more layers, and i’ll be joining you there

three chocolate cakes sandwiched together with cream cheese icing and crushed up creme eggs and you can’t see it but there’s also an implied *painting nails emoji*

Well, Mars may be in retrograde and my April tarot card may be the tarot card equivalent of a heavy resigned sigh, but: ya girl is out here being thirty finally. (She says, quite thirty-ish-ly.) It seems only right that the first blog post I do after my birthday is for a birthday cake, yeah? Not my own, but instead one I made for my pal-and-colleague’s girlfriend’s 21st, because that’s a thing I do sometimes. Such a momentous occasion and an honour of a task calls for something a little no-holds-barred, and with the simple brief of “Cadbury Creme Egg” I set to work on what turned out to be this three layer masterpiece. Being the dingus I am, I stupidly only took a few cursory snaps of it on my phone rather than sitting it down and lovingly photographing it with my proper camera, but I was so pleased with the results – like, look at that thing! It’s beautiful! – that I decided to blog about it anyway, hasty photos and all. Who knows when you, yourself, might need to make a three layer creme egg cake!

 champagne for my real friends

As for my birthday, I won’t sugar-coat it for you: it was wonderful! It started when the clock ticked over to midnight the night before because I was still working; however all the hugs and frolics made it fun and I liked that I got to catch my birthday in the act, right as it started, without wasting a drop of it. As someone who wastes a lot of time fretting about wasting time, that was nice. The day proper had a professional hair wash and straighten like I am a fancy rich woman who just does that, real champagne, delicious brunch, the receiving of exciting gifts like tequila and a gilded bowl and Lana del Rey vinyl and a rather gobsmackingly beautiful record player; rewatching Once More With Feeling; a phone call home where tales of my birth and incredulity at the passage of time since then were recounted, and then lashings of wine and platters and selfies with beauties at the place where everybody knows your name (yeah, that’s right, I went back to work to hang out on my birthday, that’s how much I like the place.)

a bad but maybe useful photo of the three layers waiting to be iced

So, the cake! Oddly enough it was incredibly un-stressful to make – I made it in my mornings between doing wall-to-wall shifts at work and was still generally very serene the entire time. The mixture generously makes three moist, rich cakes with near-perfect tops for stacking and icing (I sliced a bit off one to make it super evenly flat, and this is how I know it tastes extremely good.) The icing of it is also very straightforward, and in fact the hardest thing about it is getting your hands on some creme eggs. I was going to ice the whole lot like a more traditional cake but decided to leave the sides nakedly exposed with the icing tightly spread into every gap a la momofuku – it’s actually much easier, and that way you can see the cakes themselves in a “you’re damn right this cake is three layers tall” kind of way and it’s all rakishly messy yet neat at the same time.

I could’ve gone for a more hardcore filling but decided that the tang of the cream cheese would gently counteract the bone-dissolving sweetness of the fondant inside the eggs while still showcasing them. Honestly, the more novelty involved the more serious and thoughtful you have to be. This cake is so majestic and tall and the creme eggs look so cute all halved and nestled in together that you really don’t have to worry about any further decoration but there’s also nothing stopping you – my one concession was to quickly melt a caramac bar and pour it onto the top layer to echo the look of the eggs’ filling, but it’s not that necessary.

These recipe instructions are long as hell, I grant you, but it’s honestly more or less chill. I just like to reeeeally explain stuff. As I point out in the recipe, I only had two caketins so baked two layers at once followed by a third, and it all worked out. Also, this would be easier with a cake mixer probably but I used a mere wooden spoon and honestly didn’t even do that great a job of creaming the butter and sugar and it STILL worked out fine so – let’s all just breathe.

triple layer creme egg cake

I made the actual cake itself by following the recipe from this site pretty well to the letter; all the random measurements are a bit of a faff but the cake same out perfect so I’m happily and trustingly passing it on to you. I deviated and made my own icing, if you wanted to take this cake in a whole other direction you could use whatever filling and icing you like. It’s a very good starting point.

cake:

one and a half cups good cocoa powder
one and a half cups boiling water
one tablespoon instant espresso powder (or plain instant coffee if it’s all you can find)
three quarters of a cup of sour cream
one tablespoon vanilla extract
375g soft butter
two and a half cups sugar
three large eggs
one and three-quarter cups plain flour
one and a quarter teaspoons baking soda
a pinch of salt

Take three 20cm springform caketins and line the bases with baking paper. Grease the sides with butter and sprinkle a little cocoa over them, shaking the tins about till they’re fairly evenly covered with a cocoa dusting. Set your oven to 180 C/350 F.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the cocoa, coffee powder, water, and sour cream till smooth. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together till creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time till thoroughly incorporated, then add about a third of the flour and baking soda (you’re gonna want to sift them if you’re going to all this trouble, the last thing you need is baking soda lumps) along with the cocoa mixture in alternating quantities, mixing till it’s a suddenly-enormous dark, smooth chocolatey batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the three cake tins, smoothing down the tops. Place them all in the oven and bake for thirty or so minutes, rotating their positions on the oven shelves halfway through to ensure even baking. If you only have two pans, then just bake two cakes using 2/3 of the cake mixture, then while they’re cooling, put the remaining third of the batter in one of the used cake tins and bake that after. This is what I did and it was totally fine.

Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Icing:

100g soft butter
500g cream cheese (this sounds like a lot but it’s just two of those Philadelphia packets) at room temperature
two cups icing sugar, but have more just in case
five or so creme eggs (perhaps grab a few extra in case anything goes wrong.)

Make sure both the butter and the cream cheese are soft, and your icing sugar isn’t lumpy, and then just mix the hell out of all three ingredients till you have a ton of icing.

Assembly:

Slice the peaked tops off any of the cakes if they’ve risen too much, so that they’re all more or less flat. Place one cake on your chosen serving plate, and place a good dollop of icing in the centre. Spread it out fairly evenly using the side of a knife. Unwrap one creme egg, roughly chop it, and sprinkle/drop the whole lot evenly on top of the icing. Then place another cake layer carefully on top.

Don’t worry if there are massive gaps between the layers, we’ll take care of that later. Repeat this process with the next layer of cake and another egg.

Finally, put the top layer of cake on and spoon most of the remaining icing on top. You want a decently thick, even layer on here. Now, using the side of the knife, smear remaining icing into any gaps along the sides, running the knife’s side around the sides of the cake to press it all in and to create a messy yet smooth look. Does that make sense? You kind of want the cake to look like it has just fallen out of a cylinder. Halve three creme eggs and arrange them, cut side up, on top of the cake. I melted a caramac bar and drizzled it into the centre just to add to the creme egg look, but it’s not essential. You now have a damn creme egg cake.

So I ate a bit of cake off-cuttage and a lot of icing and loved it all, but in order to strike real faith in your hearts about this recipe, let me quote the actual recipient of the cake, the birthday lady herself: “Argh it was amazing! With all of the layers and all of the creaminess and chocolate and just the fact that a cream egg could be transformed into a cake. Super awesome and delicious”.

I had a lot of fun making this cake and it was such a nice opportunity; and should you ever be called upon to make a fancy big cake I definitely recommend this one. If creme eggs are emphatically not your jam, I think this would be amazing with roughly chopped caramel-filled chocolate covering it with the caramel dripping everywhere; or with smashed up oreos, or with milk chocolate melted and drizzled all over the top, you see what I mean? For an enormous time-consuming cake made to a very specific brief it’s really quite versatile.

what a cute 30 year old.

Finally: fun birthday fact! It turns out that if you say “Happy Birthday” to me I’ll immediately say it back to you without thinking. I’m not sure if it’s cute or weird or both (the Laura Vincent Story) but it’s what my brain has decided is a fantastic reaction and I can’t break it. Not that I – or indeed, you – have to worry about it for another year. Happy birthday!

title from: Pink Floyd, Shine On You Crazy Diamond. I may not be inspired by Pink Floyd to write poetry anymore as I was in my teens – for which we can all be relieved – but this song still goes off. Very slowly. And what an imperative in that title!

music lately:

Something To Sing About, from Once More With Feeling. As I said, on my birthday I rewatched this, the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon can be ever so Joss Whedony but I’ll never deny the incredible cleverness that went into writing this episode. All the songs are brilliant and Something To Sing About is 100% NOT the best place to start if you don’t know the story because of the massive spoilers and lack of context but it’s still my favourite and you should watch it anyway. Buffy’s eyes! The discordant wobble when she sings “heaven!” Spike’s half smile when he sings back at her! The time signature changes! I died.

By My Side, Godspell. I busted out my copy of the original broadway cast recording of the musical Godspell on vinyl and while it hilariously does not hold up, the music is still endearing and By My Side is still one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Penguins and Polarbears, by Millencollen. Couldn’t say why, but I truly adore pop-punk singers when they sound completely congested, which Millencollen delivers upon handsomely. If the lead singer makes you want to swallow an antihistamine for your own safety, then chances are I’m all over it. (There’s a point during the Green Day Bullet in a Bible concert performance of Brain Stew where I’m pretty sure lead singer Billie Joe is literally just dribbling incomprehensively and I love it.)

next time: I think I mentioned last time that I made homemade matcha mayonaise but I also made this awesome granola stuff. Either way: deliciousness awaits you.

 

for the want of the price of tea and a slice

Things I’ve said at work lately:

– here, have this salted chocolate cashew butter slice that I made. It’s dairy free and gluten free!

– uhh I have to go to the bathroom because my satin jumpsuit is actually on backwards and I’ve only just noticed

– hey, I know we’re kind of busy but I have a rather singular situation, the centre bit of my bra is hanging on by a fragile, tautly pulled thread and if I shake one more cocktail it will very likely break and bust open, and since I’m wearing a cropped top there is very little room for error here. Is it okay if I run home and change my bra? I can be back really soon- oh, you were just coming to tell me I could sign out? So there was actually no need for me to tell you any of this?

As well as wearing clothing quite uselessly, I also like to occasionally bring in treats to work to boost both morale and blood sugar. In this case I’d been toying with an idea, batting it about like a cat with a small felt mouse on a string, about some kind of nut butter slice covered in chocolate. What I made was fine, with a soft, fudgy texture in the base followed by the snappish crunch of cold dark chocolate, but it wasn’t quite there. As soon as I sprinkled some salt on top the flavours sprang to life and it all made sense and tasted properly delicious as opposed to giving the illusion of tasting delicious. So don’t leave that bit out, even if it seems either excessively sodium-ish or small enough to forget about.

This is so easy to make – truly, the hardest bit is getting the various nut butters and coconut oil out of their jars without flinging them everywhere. Indeed: if you end up getting slightly more than half a cup of each ingredient it’s completely fine. I know I probably did.

salted chocolate cashew butter slice

a recipe by myself

half a cup cashew butter
half a cup peanut butter
half a cup coconut oil, melted
half a cup LSA mix, or ground almonds
quarter of a cup icing sugar
one tablespoon honey or maple syrup
150g dark chocolate
sea salt

Mix the nut butters and oil together till smooth, then tip in the sugar, honey, and LSA and stir again. Pour it into a brownie tin lined with baking paper, and freeze till firm. Gently melt the dark chocolate and remaining coconut oil together, and pour over the base. Freeze again. Once you’re pretty confident that it’s completely solid, sprinkle with plenty of sea salt and slice up however you like.

(Regarding that bra situation: I juuuust made it home before I heard this muffled popping noise indicating the valiant thread had finally snapped. I was sad to see it go, I called it my “power bra” because I got it in New York and it basically positioned you in such a way so you could break a glass ceiling with your own buoyant cleavage. I was like…I’ve defeated my power bra. Am I too powerful? Do I have to eat the bra now, like that scene with the Khaleesi in Game of Thrones?)

As well as giving you an energy boost and being full of shiny-making ingredients, this has a gorgeously buttery, mellow flavour with a pleasingly dense bite to it. Texture is everything here but you can totally play with flavour too – you’re welcome to use entirely cashew butter in the mix, but I decided to cut it with the much cheaper peanut butter so as to not make this ridiculously extravagant. You could, however, use almond butter or all peanut butter or add cinnamon to the base or whatever you like, really. If avoiding dairy isn’t a daily task for you, then you could definitely use white or milk chocolate on this instead – and I do adore both – but the bitter plainness of the dark chocolate against the creamy, nutty base is genuinely pleasing.

We ended up being extremely busy on the night that I brought in my container of this in to work, so I left it in the freezer and when I opened up the bar the next day it was entirely gone: I am taking this as positive feedback. I myself couldn’t stop eating the stuff that I’d left in the freezer at my apartment, so for what it’s worth my own personal feedback is highly positive.

All I’ve really been doing is working lately and I’m so tired that all I can talk about is how tired I am like it’s my one personality trait (as opposed to in high summer, when my one personality trait is that I’m sweatily overheated.) But I managed to make this delicious stuff, and I somehow overthrew my own Power Bra, so I guess I’m doing alright.

title from: Us and Them by Pink Floyd – I used to be incredibly obsessed with them, then dropped off a bit, and now am back to gently sincere fondness.

music lately:

Billy Bragg and Wilco, Walt Whitman’s Niece. I used to listen to this song all the time, it has this rollicking, shambling quality that I love and the call-and-answer bit is charming.

Roots Manuva, Witness the Fitness. This song is on the work playlist and no matter how exhausted I am it brings me back up every single time. It is a TUNE.

next time: I’ve been mucking around with this roasted broccoli turmeric coconut thing recipe which may appear here.

 

i got my batches and cookies

As a kid I actually really wanted to be a fashion designer, and would fill up scrapbooks with drawings of clothes that I wished would exist. For example, one outfit that I invented when I was about 9, that I would totally wear now, is a hooded white velvet minidress with a long zip up the front and hot pink feathers around the edge of the hood. Honestly, like, someone please make me that immediately for a casual daytime look. Somehow fashion design morphed into recipe design, but I still love clothes so, so, so much, and approach them much the same way in which I do food – with my mind on texture and bringing together slightly strange elements with more recognisable and familiar things. Not much makes me happier than fossicking through op shops and vintage shops, allowing time to dissolve like a sachet of colourfree raspberry flavoured Raro juice in a jug of water as I try on garment after garment and imagine how I can incorporate them into my daily costumes.

However! I can talk myself out of buying clothes, no matter how much I need them, like, my shoes will be held together with superglue and have the holes in the soles buffered with beer coasters and I will still be all “uhhhh I probably shouldn’t spend money on these new, excellent value, durable, good-looking replacement shoes, I will just hobble around in these travesties for another year.” When it comes to food though, I go into a damn trance. Just two days ago I went in to the supermarket to get cocoa and buckwheat flour and walked out of the supermarket with a jar of raw organic probiotic sauerkraut (which is, thankfully, SO delicious.) I absentmindedly meandered into Commonsense Organics the other day and came out with seven whole turmeric roots.

they pair well with a rose wine from the local dairy and one’s bed

I’m kind of not really going anywhere with this – it’s just that the reason I was going to buy cocoa and buckwheat flour was because I was going to make the cookies that you see here, and it got me thinking about myself because that’s all I think about, apparently.

These cookies though! I was recently given a copy of Simply Nigella, the new cookbook by my idol Nigella Lawson. I want to make pretty much everything in it but this recipe caught my eye with the inarguable motivating factor of, if I make them then I will have cookies. It also seemed like a nice thing to be able to tell my newish roommate that there are cookies on the bench and they can help themselves to as many as they want – I just like being that person!

The buckwheat flour in these cookies makes them gluten-free, which might be pleasing news to some of you, and also gives it a rather fascinating smoky tone echoed in the rich cocoa and almost throat-burningly dark chocolate. They’re all cakey and melting and punctuated with chunks of chocolate. They look like lumps of coal and are altogether highly compelling wee things; you could make them with regular flour which would make them taste more normal but I like the oddly addictive husky flavour the buckwheat gives. I am lacking in measuring scales and so had to estimate the quantities in cup measures; thus I have written out here the recipe I made since this is the one that worked for me. I accidentally got white sugar instead of the brown sugar requested in her recipe, because my reading comprehension is useless – I’m very sure they’d be even nicer with it though.

smoky triple chocolate buckwheat cookies

from Simply Nigella, altered slightly to accommodate for things like cup measures and the fact that a block of chocolate here is 250g and I couldn’t be bothered buying an extra 20g chocolate to make up her specified quantities.

125g melted dark chocolate
125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (or the same amount of buttons/chips etc)
60g soft butter
half a cup sugar
two fridge-cold eggs
one cup buckwheat flour
quarter of a cup of cocoa
half a teaspoon baking soda
a good pinch of sea salt

set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking tray with paper (or in my case, realise you have no baking paper so just hope for the best.)

Beat the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon or whatever, until it’s quite light and fluffy. Briskly beat in the melted chocolate – make sure you let it sit for a minute or two so it’s not boiling hot before you tip it in – and then beat in the eggs quickly. It will look far too liquid at this point but stir in the flour, cocoa, baking soda and finally the remaining chocolate bits and it will suddenly turn into a thick cookie dough.

Take heaped spoonfuls of the dough and drop them onto the baking tray – Nigella suggests leaving 6cm space between them but they don’t spread that much – and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and leave them to sit on the tray for five minutes before carefully transferring them to a plate or rack, then repeat with the remaining dough, which you should put in the fridge while you’re waiting for each batch to cook.

These are so good! I’ve had one in my mouth pretty much the entire time that I’ve been typing this (that is, I’ve eaten several in quick succession, it wasn’t just one cookie) and couldn’t be happier about it. For once I got as many cookies out of the batch as the recipe promised, as the raw dough is honestly not thaaaaat nice – however the grainy density of the buckwheat becomes entirely delicious once it’s all cooked. They’re even better the next day, somehow even more melting and more chocolatey.

All I’ve done lately is work so I have little to report but coincidentally I’m feeling moderately financially chill for the first time in living memory (I have the memory of a goldfish though, but also goldfish are incredibly intelligent and their three-second memory is a total myth so…ha! Okay, I got a bit lost here.) I don’t know how I’m doing so okay as my rent is more expensive than it has ever been but I’m trying really hard at budgeting and freelance hustling and so on; I’ve always identified heavily with grubby uselessness-monger Nick Miller from the TV show New Girl, but as the latest season unfolds it’s nice to see we are growing together.

“they said avocado is extra and I said shh, I know it’s extra. but I want it.” Nick is I and I are Nick.

title from: the siiiiick Lizzo song Batches and Cookies featuring Sophia Eris. Such queens.

music lately:

DZ Deathrays, Blood on My Leather. I spontaneously went to see these guys at Bodega a couple of years ago and they were sooooo good. I love their bratty sound.

Rihanna feat Drake, Work. She released a double video for this and they’re both so dreamy and gorgeous. This song just gets better with every listen: praise Rih.

Stereo Total, I Love You, Ono it starts off disguised as an irritating song but suddenly the more you listen the more it gets stupidly endearing.

next time: maybe something more from Simply Nigella, this book is a stunnerrrrrr.

 

you were rubbing both my hands, chewing on a candy bar

mutiny on the bounty

I, like Homer Simpson, am the highly suggestible type. If you need someone to rob a bank with you, just ask me: not because I am particularly stealthy (although I can do the splits with ease which I imagine would be useful for getting around laser light security) or inclined towards a sexy danger crime life, but simply because I’ll probably be like “ummm yeah why not, I haven’t got much on tonight” without even thinking about it too deeply. Indeed, the other day when my friend Jen was all, “My kingdom for a bounty bar!” I was all, “you know what? My kingdom, also, for a bounty bar!” And then I thought it would be way more fun to go to great effort to make my own, rather than just walking 200 metres to the dairy to retrieve one in a matter of moments. Jen is also currently crashing at mine, which means I was able to get both of us bounty bars while neatly using only one kingdom as bait. Or…something.

okay sure I could’ve tried to have been neater about this but the chocolate could’ve tried too

These are, charmingly, entirely vegan and really pretty cheap to make, although I confess I am a milk chocolate-adoring heathen and so used that to coat them, but all you have to do to keep them vegan is use a dark chocolate like Whittakers which has no milk solids in it. I found this recipe online and basically didn’t change a thing; but it’s worth keeping in mind that chocolate-dipping stuff uses sooooo much chocolate.

It might seem like far too much trouble to go to for a mere chocolate bar dupe, but there is a significant motivating factor: these taste so, so, so incredible. The coconut is all damp and squishy (there’s no better way to describe it sorry) and the feeling of the firm crunch of chocolate giving way to it all is straight up heavenly. I truly don’t want to be one of those people who are all “it’s practically health food!” because that kind of talk makes my teeth feel like I’ve just bitten into tinfoil, however, as these are blessed with twelve hundred different types of coconut by-product, you take one bite and you can practically feel your hair getting shinier.

homemade bounty bars

from a recipe on healthyeah.co.nz (which is a v cool site!) 

one cup full-fat coconut cream (I like Fia Fia which has the texture of whipped cream and the highest percentage of actual coconut that I could find, according to the ingredients list)
three cups dessicated coconut
two heaped tablespoons coconut oil
pinch sea salt
two tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
two 250g blocks of dark chocolate (or chocolate of your choice!) 

Put the coconut cream, coconut oil, and golden syrup into a small pan and heat gently, just till the oil is melted fully. Stir in the salt and coconut and remove from the heat. Spatula into a baking-paper lined brownie tin (y’know, one of those regular sized rectangular baking tins) and refrigerate the mixture till it’s firm. Then slice into even rectangles or squares and freeze (or if your freezer is tiny like mine and won’t fit a damn thing in it, just put it back in the fridge and hope for the best.)  

Once you’re quite convinced that the mixture is as solid as it’s gonna get, gently melt the chocolate in a small pan, and carefully dip each coconut block into it, coating it on all sides, before resting it on a fresh sheet of baking paper to harden. Unfortunately the best way I can think of to do this is to literally sit each slice of coconut stuff in the chocolate and spoon more chocolate over the top, but you do you. Transfer the slices to the fridge once they’re all coated. It’s probably easier to melt the chocolate in two separate batches, just to prevent it burning while it melts. 

So very worth the effort. Honestly, can not emphasise hard enough how good the bit is when you bite through the hard chocolate into the soft coconut.

Literally nothing of significance has happened in my life since my last blog post since all I’ve been doing is apartment-hunting and taking the distressing heat of summer very personally. I mean, I do love summer! I do not, however, love being all “why is someone pouring water down the back of my neck how rude oh my god it is my own sweat, how vulgar and embarrassing…better tweet about it.” But seriously, it’s so, so hot. Sweaty is my one personality trait. Wait, there’s a back-up personality trait: joy at having eaten a good 75% of this bounty of fake bounty bars that I made, while gaining mountains of praise for the mere 25% that other people managed to get their hands on.

title from: Blood Bank by high-pitched gentle-mongerers Bon Iver.

music lately:

Eliot Sumner, After Dark. Am 100000% in love with Sumner (fun fact: child of Sting and Trudi Styler!) and their music.

CHVRCHES, Lies. It’s so fizzy and atmospheric and the beat is addictive and I’m soooo bummed that I couldn’t go see them at Laneway on Monday.

next time: let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it’s some kind of cleaning-out-the-pantry type activity on account of I’ve finally found an apartment and need to, like, clean out my pantry.