incredibly delicious mocha cake

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I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

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But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

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After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

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Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

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music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Marmite Babka

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Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

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Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

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Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

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Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

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music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Canned Peach Cake

 

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Without wanting to overly romanticise the cheap staples of a pantry there’s nonetheless something comforting about canned peaches. Whether on cornflakes with evaporated milk for dessert or blended up in my grandmother’s old blender to make a smoothie (literally just the peaches and their syrup – as you can see I was always gourmet-minded) they’ve been a faithful constant throughout my life. Even the smell of them – when I was a kid I thought it would be the ideal perfume fragrance – specifically canned peaches, not the real thing – and if I’m honest I’d still buy it. Obviously in lockdown canned peaches are only reliable if you actually own them already, but this is a super chilled out cake that you don’t even need to use the titular fruit for: mashed bananas, stewed apples, canned pears or apricots would all likely work perfectly well and bring their own deliciousness to it.

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As far as other substitutions go – I couldn’t say for sure if they’ll work but you’re welcome to try. I used margarine here because I figured it was cheap and easy to find, I promise you can’t taste it at all in the finished cake. And I appreciate that there’s a relatively large amount of flour involved – but if you’ve got it, you might as well use it.

The finished cake isn’t wildly peachy – more a broadly lush fruitiness – but it’s fantastically moist and springy and so delicious, warm with cinnamon and vanilla, sticky with its peach-tinted glaze, and most of all – that word again – comforting. In lieu of being able to get a hug, I guess eating food that evokes a sense of cosiness is the next logical step.

It never hurts to pause and think on what you’re grateful for, indeed, having the means to stop and be grateful is frankly worth having gratitude for in itself. Some aspects of lockdown are getting harder and others are easily surmounted, but I am very fortunate that cooking is what I love and it’s still an avenue of enjoyment available to me. And while making a cake isn’t going to solve anything on a grand scale – you do still get cake.

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Canned Peach Cake

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 400g can peach slices
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter/margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup)
  • 1/2 cup plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing:

  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons reserved peach juice
  • 1 drop food grade lemon oil (optional) or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Fresh thyme leaves, to serve (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard square cake tin with baking paper.

2: Drain the peaches, reserving some of the juice for the icing (I would recommend simply drinking the rest yourself.) Either using a stick blender or in a food processor, blend the peaches until smoothly pureed. If you have neither of these, mash the peaches thoroughly with a fork, and the finished cake will have a bit more texture to it – not a bad thing. Add the butter, sugar and golden syrup and blitz again briefly – it might look a little messy but will come together!

3: Mix together the milk and vinegar in a small measuring jug and set aside for a minute. Fold the flour and baking soda (I definitely recommend sieving the baking soda to prevent lumps) into the peach mixture, along with the cinnamon, vanilla, followed by the milk and vinegar mixture.

4: Spatula all this into the cake tin and bake for around 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

5: To make the icing, stir the peach juice into the icing sugar a spoonful at a time – a little liquid goes a long way – followed by the flavourings if you’re adding them. Drizzle evenly over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the thyme leaves if using.

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music lately:

Denise, by Fountains of Wayne. This was the first song of theirs I heard back in 1999 and I’ve loved it ever since, it’s somehow 90s yet 60s, perky yet sour at the same time. Band member Adam Schlesinger died of COVID-19 complications on April 1 and this one hit me hard – he co-wrote most of the songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a TV show that means an enormous amount to me, and his ability to lovingly pastiche was unparalleled. For example – Love’s Not A Game which I genuinely think exceeds its inspiration, Luck Be A Lady Tonight, and I couldn’t even exaggerate the number of times I’ve watched the video for it.

Farewell Transmission, by Songs: Ohia. Sounds like every single Neil Young song blitzed together like peaches in an old blender, so obviously I completely adore it.

Next time: I’ll try to lay off the flour.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Vegan Lemon Bars

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One hour at a time, one day at a time: ten words so repetitively stuck in my head, I suspect they’ll soon tip from reassuring to cloyingly irritating the longer I spend with myself. Until then, it’s a serviceable mantra for these times – for this literal time in fact, this hour and this day and the next ones to follow. Since I last updated, New Zealand has gone into lockdown – we’re all under house arrest unless in essential services, so on the one hand there’s not much to do other than cook and bake, but on the other hand, ducking out to the supermarket for a specific ingredient is an activity of the past. With all this in mind I might as well to keep writing about food so long as I have the means to, but hopefully with a vibe of low-key non-urgency. Gentle food blogging. I can’t know what’s in your kitchen, and there’s no perfect catch-all recipe that will cover every variable, but on the upside if today’s recipe doesn’t work for you there’s the whole internet out there and surely someone will have used the exact same combination of ingredients you have to make something delicious.

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This being week one of lockdown we’re pretty well stocked from prior supermarket shops, nevertheless I was wary of burning through too many ingredients at once. I also didn’t want to get stuck just staring at the ingredients too nervous to touch them, you know? The specific ingredient that kicked this recipe off was an abundance of lemons fresh from the tree, needing to be used before they turned oxidised and doughy. This recipe for Vegan Lemon Bars uses plenty of lemon juice – though you could of course sub in any citrus you have to hand, or use bottled lemon juice, or you could even try it with pineapple juice or whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Usually I prefer to bake with coconut oil but went with margarine for the base since I figured that was a cheaper and more accessible ingredient, and if you did happen to have a jar of coconut oil you might not want to lose a whole half cup of it in one fell swoop. There’s plenty of lemon zest and juice in the base and I promise the finished result doesn’t actually taste of the margarine. The real magic here comes from the cornflour, turning a liquid filling into a gelatinously firm and sliceable topping, and I realise “gelatinously firm” isn’t the most enticing language, but…it’s true.

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The crisp base against the dense, bouncy topping is texturally pleasing, and the intense hit of lemon tastes and smells of pure optimism. The sight of the finished product alone is immensely cheering with its sunshine yellow colour (aided, admittedly, by a bump of turmeric.) It’s sweet but not overly so, keeps well, and when there’s not a whole lot else going on it’s nice to know this deliciousness is waiting in the fridge to accompany your next cup of tea.

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Vegan Lemon Bars

Adapted pretty liberally from this recipe at Namely Marly.

Base:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • lemon zest, from the lemons used for juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Filling

  • 1/2 cup cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice milk (or whatever you have)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon essence or a couple drops food-grade lemon oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard brownie/baking tin with baking paper. Mix all the base ingredients except for the lemon juice together in a bowl, using the back of a spoon to press the butter into the flour. Add the lemon juice – you may not need it all – and continue to stir until the mixture forms rough crumbs that stick together when pressed.

2: Tip the base mixture into the baking dish and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Jab it a few times with a fork or sharp knife (this, plus pressing down firmly, helps it to bake evenly without rising) and bake for ten minutes. Once the time is up, remove the dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 160C/320F)

3: In a small saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling, making sure there are no lumps of cornflour trapped in the liquid. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s significantly thickened to a fairly spreadable, gluey (for want of a better word) paste. It may initially look like it’s thickening all lumpy and uneven, but if you keep stirring it will come together. Remove from the heat immediately at this point and continue stirring for a minute just to stop it catching on the base of the pan, and then spread it evenly over the cooked base in the baking dish.

4: Return it to the oven, now at its lower setting, for fifteen minutes. It may appear to be a little puffy and weird-looking, but it settles down once cooled! Allow it to cool completely and then refrigerate for about two hours before slicing.

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music lately:

Clay Pigeons, John Prine. I talked about this song in a playlist I made for Tenderly back on March 11 (literally a decade ago?) and as I said then, it’s simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Something about the world shrinking down to one house is making new music a little harder to take in, hence turning to the warmth of the familiar like this cover of Blaze Foley’s wonderful tune. I read yesterday morning that John Prine is now in critical condition with Covid-19, and my good thoughts, such as they are, are going out to him and his family in the hopes he pulls through.

You Don’t Have to Cry by Emma Ruth Rundle, continuing in the vein of songs I already love, songs that give without asking too much of you: this is glorious, building and swirling to magnitudes while still remaining extremely mellow.

Next time: let’s be honest, probably some kind of baking, I’ll try to make it more minimal than this week’s recipe. Also – I finally updated my Frasier food blog with an amazing curry noodle soup recipe if you want to check that out while you’re waiting. 

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Social Distancing Bread

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Everything’s changing – not just week to week, but by the hour, literally last Friday I was scoffing about the prospect of Broadway closing in the face of coronavirus and idly checking if flights overseas were getting cheaper. Seven days later that seems unspeakably churlish and straight up stupid and I also haven’t left the house once since. That’s the new normal for ya.

If your new normal includes being at home a lot more, then perhaps your thoughts are turning more to the kitchen. Obviously we need food – whether or not the making of it provides any comfort is by no means a given, but presumably if you’re reading this you have some passing interest in it. So, you might consider baking bread. This recipe is named Social Distancing Bread partly because it’s cute, I concede – it’s a no-knead method so you’re literally practicing social distancing with your own bread as you make it. But the real point is that the lack of kneading makes it relatively easy and un-strenuous, so whether you’re a newcomer to bread or simply life-weary, my recipe asks very little of you. You stir, you wait, you bake.

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I’ve also heard from people who have gone outside in the last week that supermarkets are being fleeced of flour – so presumably this recipe will be relevant to someone out there.

There is one brief step in preparation – I’ve used the Japanese tangzhong method where you heat a small amount of flour and water together first to be added to the dough. For scientific reasons which I can’t convey convincingly, incorporating the tangzhong makes your bread particularly tender and pillowy. It only takes a minute and it really works – this bread is feather-soft and springy, with an impressively crisp, rich golden crust. And it’s delicious – just simple, perfect bread. I particularly like it dunked in olive oil. Life doesn’t offer us a lot of direct proportionality between patience required and reward promised – bread is one of the few reliable examples. And because you don’t have to knead it, the waiting really is the hardest part.

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If I may, I’m going to re-refer you to last week’s list of recipes on my blog which rely largely on pantry or freezer ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

And in slightly less practical news, I hope to offer some levity with this piece I wrote for Tenderly: Fifteen animals who invented social distancing. (The deep-sea bony-eared assfish is my personal favourite.)

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Social Distancing Bread

A recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water, extra
  • 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, extra
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1: First, make the tangzhong – a simple roux which will be stirred into the dough. In a small saucepan (nonstick is particularly good here) mix the 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together. Stir constantly over a low heat until it forms a thick paste that more or less holds its shape. This should only take a minute, and remove the pan from the heat as soon as it reaches this stage, continuing to stir just to prevent it burning in the residual heat. Set aside until it’s cooled to a lukewarm temperature.

2: While the tangzhong is cooling, stir the yeast, sugar, and remaining 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water together in a large mixing bowl, and leave it to sit for about five to seven minutes to get a little foamy/activated.

3: The most taxing part of the recipe is over – now all you have to do is tip the remaining flour, oil, salt and the cooled tangzhong into the yeast mixture, and give it a stir with a spatula till it’s thoroughly combined. Cover tightly – we have these reusable covers that resemble shower caps which make me feel slightly less environmentally guilty – and leave on the bench for an hour to let the dough rise.

4: Once your hour is up, remove the cover and press down on the inflated dough with your spatula to release the air bubbles. Line a regular sized loaf tin with baking paper and scrape the dough into it. Cover again with plastic or something similar (sorry!) and leave to prove – a second rise – for half an hour. This dough is quite sticky, so it might help to brush a little extra olive oil over the top first.

5: Set your oven to 200C/400F – about twenty minutes into the proving session is a good time to do this so it’s super hot and ready for the bread. Remove the cover from the dough – it should be significantly risen and puffy in the loaf tin – and bake for 50 minutes, covering with tinfoil for the last twenty if the top looks quite browned already.

6: Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes before slicing (or just hoof right into it, but it’s easier to slice after sitting for a bit)

music lately:

Song #1, Fugazi. A big chunky bruiser of song which somehow evokes both Led Zep and Beastie Boys.

Thursday Girl by Mitski, whenever I don’t know what to listen to or can’t commit to more than fifteen seconds of any song, even ones I like, I always end up realising that Mitski is precisely what I wanted to listen to the whole time. In particular this song, which has just continued to have a profound effect, moving back and forth through me like a persistent ghost.

Never Alone, by the Contemporary Gospel Chorus of the High School of Performing Arts, from the movie Fame. With Fugazi levels of energy and exuberance, Never Alone makes you feel about as much like you’re running downhill with your arms in the air and your eyes shut as a song is able to, and I love it.

Next time: I still have that pineapple sage syrup and still haven’t had it in a gin, despite having been in extremely close proximity to it all week, so perhaps that’ll be next week’s recipe.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you’re stuck at home and need them, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

ginger-molasses cake

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It’s nice to know I can climb to the weird age of thirty three (thirty four in just over a month!) and still be astonished by an ingredient previously unknown to my tastebuds. I say weird only because I seem to socialise with people much older or way younger than me and I’m either like “oh god, the eighties, what a time that was,” or “how do you find Frozen 2 compares to Frozen 1?” and were it not for my friend Charlotte in Wellington who was born ten days before me I’d think I was the only thirty three year old in the world, and even so I’ve missed the boat on knowing what a person my age is supposed to be like, and honestly, why is no one frantically trying to jovially relate to MY stuff?

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Returning to my original point: I’m thirty three years old, and I tried molasses for the first time. In my defence, it’s not a terribly common ingredient in New Zealand, though the word is so easily part of one’s everyday vernacular and thoughts – slow like molasses, Blackberry Molasses, the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 – that perhaps my brain complacently assumed I’d already eaten it. My brain was, typically, incorrect. Who could mistake that flavour! That heady, thick, magnesium richness, like sweetened road tar, like a puréed cedar hope chest, like a photo negative of Marmite. I practically needed a lie down afterwards. It’s too much! I thought. Too intense! And then I went back for another spoonful.

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My reason for trying molasses was this Ginger-Molasses Cake recipe from Bryant Terry’s excellent book The Inspired Vegan – I pared his down a little for simplicity (he includes walnuts that have been caramelised with further molasses, you should definitely consider following his lead there) but other than that the cake is entirely his and it is wonderful. Dense and intense, hefty and hearty yet light and springy, with the ginger’s rhizome heat and the baritone sweetness of the molasses and I swear, notes of chocolate appeared from somewhere. It’s incredible warm from the oven, and amazing after sitting in the fridge, the chill making it extra fudgy. And it takes about three minutes to mix together.

You know that feeling, when you can tell a recipe is going to be part of your life forever? A feeling almost as delicious as that which you just cooked? That’s this cake.

Ginger-Molasses Cake

Adapted very slightly from Bryant Terry’s recipe in his book The Inspired Vegan

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with a sheet of baking paper.

2: Whisk the molasses, coconut oil, rice milk, apple cider vinegar, and salt together briskly. The coconut oil might form little clumps as it combines with the cold rice milk, which didn’t cause any issues – but if it puts you at ease you can gently microwave the mixture in fifteen second bursts to bring it all together. If you’re heating the liquids, do this before you add the vinegar.

3: Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and then stir in the sugar, ground ginger and walnuts.

4: Fold the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring gently until just combined. Don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy or wet looking.

5: Spatula this mixture into your loaf tin, and bake for fifty minutes or until the top is springy and firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before slicing, and store in an airtight container.

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music lately:

Love Is In The Air by John Paul Young. This, like Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, is from a highly specific genre – that possibly exists only in my head – of songs that are instantly, heart-poppingly euphoric, unflinchingly sincere, and bafflingly simple – I can’t think of anyone currently writing songs like this but I want to be proven wrong! Anyway, this song, with that come-hither disco beat, those iconic stair-step chords, the fact that he just repeats the title over and over and yet it sounds more profound every time? It’s a reward for being alive.

Emmenez-Moi, by Charles Aznavour. He was dubbed the French Frank Sinatra, although I personally pick up Scott Walker vibes – his voice ripples effortlessly over the music, I love the echoey, theatrical production, his deliciously glottal pronunciation, and the way the words speed up practically into patter at various intervals. Glorious! And without his jaunty Parce que tu crois we wouldn’t have Dr Dre’s What’s The Difference, so.

Next time: I was given some tiger nuts for Christmas and still haven’t tried them, it’s hard to tear my eyes away from what remains in the jar of molasses though.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

c’mon everybody and rock with me, I am the one on the Christmas tree

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I love this time of year – no, not Christmas, I mean this precise moment, where I do my annual round up of recipes from this blog that I believe would make ideal potential edible gift ideas for the season ahead or indeed any time (which also coincides with my annual struggle to convey this concept in a concise manner.) It’s not just that it gives me a break from devising content, and it’s not just that it’s an opportunity to be self-congratulatory and self-serving in equal measure – actually, that’s more or less precisely it – but I also do love being useful, and I’d like to think this list is, in fact, of use to someone out there.

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Sake Pickled Radishes

Whether or not you subscribe to Christmas at any level there will still probably be an occasion throughout the year where a gift of some kind is required from you, and personally – second to flagrant quantities of money – there’s no better gift than something you can eat. By its very nature the space it takes up in the receiver’s home will be temporary and receding, it’s thoughtful, it’s fairly low-level as far as rampant consumerism goes, and you can completely personalise it. Giving food also lowers the fear of accidentally getting a person something they already have – as far as delicious food goes, more is more.

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chocolate-dipped pumpkin spice lemon pistachio cookies

This year I’m also going to be including some of the recipes I contributed to Tenderly, since the only thing I enjoy more than calling attention to myself is doubling down on calling attention to myself. They’re all separated out into helpful categories, and you should know that some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant.

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salted vanilla brazil nut butter, coffee cinnamon hazelnut butter, cumin and paprika spiced pumpkin seed butter

The HungryandFrozen Inviolably Unimpeachable List of Edible Gift Ideas For Life, Not Just For Christmas, But Definitely Also For Christmas

Category One: Things In Jars

Seasons change, fickle trends come and go, but still jars abide. Put some stuff in a jar and you’ve instantly got a simple, elegantly rustic benefaction which no one can deny looks as though some considerable effort was made. It’s also what we in the business (that is, show business) call a twofer, because as well as getting something delightful to eat the receiver also gets a handy jar for their own future shoving of food into.

Savoury:

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Berry Chia Seed Jam

Sweet

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Vanilla Chocolate Macarons

Category Two: Baked Goods

Baked goods! It’s right there in the name! They’re good!

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Peppermint Schnapps and Coffee-Orange Liqueur

Category Three: From the Unbaked to the Unhinged

This is everything else, the kind of thing that comes from such lines of thought as “what if I dissolved candy canes in vodka?” The results are remarkably almost potable! Some of these items have a fairly low melting point, so use your judgment when it comes to packaging and storing them.

Oh yeah, and all these recipes are vegan.

title from: Master-Dik by Sonic Youth, a sprawling and loquacious song where the less of a point it makes the better it sounds.

music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders, I just love this song so much, there’s something about it that evokes running through an airport frantically but also trying to wade through syrup, like it’s on fast-forward and in slow motion simultaneously.

The Look, Roxette. RIP Marie Fredriksson. This is just literally one of the best songs in the world – that chord progression in the chorus that almost makes me feel carsick with its urgency, the fantastic devil-may-care bizarreness of the lyrics, the drama of the synths, the muffled 80s production making it sound like you’re running down a corridor trying desperately to find the locked, padded room that it’s being recorded in.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light, originally by Meat Loaf, as performed on Glee. I realise that is an extremely cursed sentence right there but hear me out. I genuinely hate all of Meat Loaf’s music and by all accounts the man himself is a Republican; I also realise Glee covers of songs do not necessarily represent the highest form of art. Nevertheless, this performance is incredible and it makes my heart ache to watch it, because it was really the last time things were good on Glee, on and offscreen. The cast looks like they’re having a ball, and there’s so many little moments – I love Santana resting her head in Brittany’s hand at 1:25 – but it’s Lea Michele’s entrance at 1:40 that kills me, I swear my achilles tendons nearly snapped when she growled “I gotta know right now.” I genuinely can’t stop watching this video. On that note you should definitely read this piece I wrote about Glee and Rachel Berry (Lea Michele’s Glee character) for Tenderly – it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year.

Next time: Back to business as usual! Like I don’t know what it will be specifically, but it will be business as usual.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, a short story, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

talking sweet about nothing, cookie I think you’re tame

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My tea-drinking has ramped up substantially since moving back in with my parents in a remote rural village, because, well, what else is there to do? I’m not even sure that any of us have particularly passionate feelings towards tea, but nevertheless we must drink it at quarterly intervals throughout the day. I suppose it provides a marker of the passage of time, while stopping us from doing this by drinking wine at 10am; though I could be talked into that without much effort if I’m honest, indeed, let this very paragraph be considered as planting the seeds of suggestion. The good thing about tea is that it usually brings with it a biscuit or confection of some kind, and the good thing about me is that I can be relied upon to bake such things.

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If your tea-drinking intervals could also do with an accompanying sweetmeat then you might consider these Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies. Don’t be alarmed by the effect of the rum content on your day ahead, as there’s only a bare tablespoon in the mixture – you could literally allow a teething infant to use it as a rusk. Even its contribution to the flavour is fairly minimal, I just really liked how it looked in the recipe title there – aesthetic or death, as I always say. Whatever your preference, these cookies are very easy to make and completely delicious. They’re snappishly crisp with a muted sweetness and caramel warmth from the combination of brown sugar and tahini, with beautiful textural interruption from the walnuts and chunks of chocolate. If I were to make them again I would try baking them for as little time as I can get away with to try make them chewier, but as is, their light crunchiness is perfect tea-dunking material. Needless to say you could change the walnuts for something else or leave them out altogether, same with the chocolate, this dough seems well-built to support any particular fixings you might choose to mix in.

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Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies

A recipe using this one at The Curious Chickpea as a starting point.

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum (or an extra tablespoon of milk instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

Place the coconut oil, tahini, and the two sugars into a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and smoothly combined. Stir in the milk and rum, then the flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and the walnuts and chocolate. Stir thoroughly, then refrigerate the cookie dough for about half an hour, or overnight.

While the dough is chilling, set your oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking tray/cookie sheet with a piece of baking paper. Scoop out spoonfuls of dough – I used a coffee spoon of about 1 1/2 tablespoon capacity which, nevertheless, did not result at all in uniform cookies – and arrange them in rows on the tray. Don’t flatten the cookies – just leave them as squashy balls of dough on the tray, and stop when you get to about twelve cookies.

Bake them for 10 – 13 minutes, or until browned and crisp-ish looking (they’ll continue to firm up as they cool). Carefully slide them onto a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes around 28 cookies give or take how much cookie dough you eat as you go.

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On Thursday night I attended the launch of Dominic Hoey’s new book I Thought We’d Be Famous, if you like extremely beautiful poetry that feels like it has its thumb on your trachea than you can and should order a copy through Dead Bird Books. This weekend I’m going down to Wellington to visit my best friends and to bask in the sensory overload of being back in a city again. Till then: it’s probably time for another cup of tea.

If you are intrigued by the use of tahini in this recipe then you should also consider my Black Salted Caramel Sauce recipe, which is then used in my Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream recipe. That particular blog post last year marked my revamp of hungryandfrozen.com, where I moved everything to another platform and changed the logo to the one you can see above, and started allowing you to receive my blog posts emailed to you before I publish them. And this is my fiftieth blog post since I changed everything! Isn’t that something? Well, not really, compared to my last blog post about how hungryandfrozen.com turned twelve years old, but I am nothing if not a Russian Doll of self-congratulation, ever striving to further uncover ways to draw attention to myself while disguising it as edifying content!

title from: Tame, by Pixies. Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance or 2019’s news cycle eroding me like a deviated septum but despite it being full of howling screams, every time I hear this song I just fondly think “ah, that’s nice. Good for them.”

music lately:

Thursday Girl by Mitski. She’s almost too powerful: yesterday I just saw her name written down and got a lump in my throat. This song is so gentle and so brutal at the same time, like a…knife with a smiley face drawn on it? Look, I can’t even write metaphors when I listen to it, that’s how good she is.

Bolero, by Ravel. I thought this piece must be like 300 years old since that’s when I assume all classical music is from, but it actually premiered less than a hundred years ago, which seems kind of wild and recent, right? Angela Lansbury is older than this song! Were people like, “ugh Maurice Ravel, you can’t do the Charleston to this“? Well if they did, jokes on them, because Bolero is an unimpeachable rumpshaker, listening to it gets me so hyped up I want to headbutt someone. If you have a short attention span like me then jump ten minutes in first to experience the drop, but I promise that you’re going to want to start from the beginning again afterwards because that build is just exquisite.

Next time: Something savoury, between last week and this week that’s quite enough chocolate for now.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly you should join my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

look who’s here, I’m still here

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This time last year when my blog turned eleven I made a moderate fuss – a big chocolate cake that I ate with my best friends and a solemnly cogitative post about everything I’d learned from the moment I pressed send back in 2007 right up to that very second. This year I kind of completely forgot until literally just now, but that’s okay! Sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard singing a retrospective song that sums up your entire career, sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard telling his wife “I’m gonna miss some birthdays…I’m gonna miss some births, period.”

Nevertheless, let us take a moment, because if nothing else, twelve years is a ludicrously long time for a food blog to exist. Like, you can fit a WHOLE DECADE in there with wiggle room on either side. That’s so long ago technologically and culturally that it might as well be the 90s. Yes, I’ve hit some walls, and yes, only some of them were metaphorical. Yes, as I’ve said, I sometimes feel like the Velvet Underground of food blogs but instead of the six people who listened to them going on to form influential bands there’s just six people out there who have read this and then gone on to make a nice pilaff. Yes, it’s just a food blog, not War and Peace. The War and Peace of food blogs, perhaps? (I mean, I’ve never thought “that’s three hours I’ll never get back” about my own writing.)

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Last year to mark the occasion there was chocolate cake and entirely coincidentally I have a chocolate recipe for you this time as well. These Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares were intended to be brownies but they’re just not quite there, texturally – you might feel differently and can call them what you like. They are nevertheless extremely delicious. The idea simply appeared in my head, fully formed, but based on the concept that balsamic vinegar and chocolate have pleasantly overlapping properties – inspired by another chocolate cake this year which was itself a variation on last year’s aforementioned celebratory chocolate cake – you know what, maybe this is on a level with War and Peace.

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The balsamic vinegar doesn’t override the strident flavour of the chocolate – how could it, when the chocolate is present threefold – but it has this kind of fruity juiciness which is wonderful alongside the rasping bitter edges of the cocoa, it almost, but not quite, tastes like some berries were involved. Any actual vinegary sourness is completely beveled off by all the sugar, but the pleasing complexity remains. It’s 2019 so I don’t know if we are still surprised that aquafaba, the brine from a can of chickpeas, is a useful ingredient – indeed, I made macarons with it this year – but in case this is new to you, the brine acts very similarly to egg whites and is thus a useful means to glue all the remaining ingredients together. As I said, I couldn’t in good conscience call these brownies, they’re just a little too cakey, although once they’re in your mouth the texture turns melting and dense. I can’t put that last sentence in a recipe title so chocolate squares they shall be. Most importantly, this recipe is as delicious as it is easy, and vice versa.

Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares

A recipe by myself.

  • 150g dark chocolate (roughly a measuring cup full)
  • 4 tablespoons plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or your preferred variant of this stuff)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (canned chickpea brine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate drops (or just more dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular baking tin, the kind that you’d make this sort of thing in, you know the one I mean, with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate (I do a few 20 second bursts in the microwave.) While this is happening, stir the balsamic vinegar and soy milk together.

Thoroughly mix the brown sugar, white sugar, balsamic/soymilk mixture, oil and aquafaba into the melted chocolate. Sift in the salt, cocoa, flour and baking powder and then stir it in along with the chocolate drops or extra dark chocolate.

Spatula the lot into your baking tin, and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool for around ten minutes before slicing. Store in an airtight container.

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You might ask, Laura, what is your end game here? Are you like one of those shrews in that self-help book, Women Who Love Too Much, clinging on to a loveless unreciprocated relationship, because you’re too scared of doing anything different and don’t believe in yourself? And because I spend much of my time rehearsing powerful answers to hypothetical yet inevitable interviews, I would say: somehow, twelve years on I love hungryandfrozen.com more than ever and I imagine this will continue to extrapolate out with mathematical accuracy until my ecstatic food blogging is ceased only by the collapse of the earth itself. I am currently writing a novel, I would love to write another cookbook of some kind, I would like it if a new quantity of readers – numbering the population of a New York borough, perhaps – somehow found me. Is this blog a strange manifestation of my absolute tunnel vision, is it a work of art, is it a snake, asking whether eating its own tail is vegan? Whatever: I’m going to keep writing.

title from: I’m Still Here, the bitterly triumphant song from Sondheim’s musical Follies that eventually came to belong to Elaine Stritch, a woman as elegant and acidic as balsamic vinegar itself. I think I’ve earned the right to use it here (not least because Stritch is now dead and therefore can’t beat me up for being impudent.)

music lately:

A Mistake, by Fiona Apple. This song is so on point it’s puncturing me, I get actual shivers when she sings I’m gonna make a mistake, I’m gonna do it on purpose, the absolute swaggering recklessness of it all.

Work It Out, Monie Love. She’s so good, effortlessly getting the words out rapid-fire as though the crunchy beat were actually moving three times as slowly.

Next time: potentially time for me to finally try making seitan? Starting to think it might be like haircuts and mathematics, best done for me by other people.

PS: you might say, damn it Laura, now I’m impressed, what can I do after twelve years to show my sincere adoration of you? And I would say, first of all it’s an obvious horse to lead to water but sharing my blog around to anyone you think might like it is a lovely thing to do; if you want to support me even more directly there is of course my Patreon where you can join a discerning coterie of people who, for a modest monthly sum receive exclusive content from me.