Sunday, 20 March 2011

On chocolate and Queen Mother’s Cake

It is nothing like the flourless chocolate cakes that are so popular today. 
It is not as heavy or dense … It is divine.  
                                                                                                                                                  (Maida Heatter, Book of Great Desserts, p12)

There was a Birthday at work, and an appropriate cake was needed for our Labyris Bearer.

I’d been waiting for an opportunity to try out Maida Heatter’s Queen Mother’s Cake for some time. Maida claims it to be her most popular cake, and she corresponded with the Queen Mother about it, and found that ‘She was charming.’ I’m no staunch monarchist, but I quite liked the cut of the Queen Mother’s jib myself.

In a perpetual effort towards identifying obscure connections between the birthdayer and the cake, admittedly the Queen Mother didn’t really fit the bill, but Maida’s cake was photographed crowned with a steeple of long Chocolate Cigarettes, which were much more relevant to our Labyris Bearer.

The cake was great. It’s not difficult to see why Maida is fond of it – which clearly she is, as it’s in several of her books, and she’s very discursive about it. It’s nothing incredibly unique, just a superb specimen of a flourless chocolate cake, much lighter and more textured than a mud cake thanks to the 6 beaten egg whites and the toasted-almond meal. The recipe can be found here – it’s no less than four pages in Book of Great Desserts (pp12–15), so forgive me for dodging reproducing it here. Boiled down, the cake is very straightforward and didn’t take long to put together, though it needed over an hour in the oven and a further hour of cooling before icing. And it helped to toast the almonds the night before.

But the Chocolate Cigarettes were one of those recipes that’s tucked away elsewhere in the book, and not included in the instructions for the cake. Having shirked the preliminary read-through, I found with little time to go that I needed a marble work surface – just like that, produce a marble work surface; what, you don’t have one? – and what’s more, compound chocolate (which I thought was the stuff bulk Easter eggs are made from, and to be avoided). Or if all that could be found was Callebaut instead of compound, why, turn around and temper it. Tempering makes me think of frightening episodes of Masterchef, which might be a good enough reason to give it a go one day, marble benchtops or not, but suffice to say I wasn’t up for it this early in the morning.

I ran outside to rip lime leaves off the tree, figuring they probably weren’t toxic, melted uncompound chocolate in 20-second bursts in the microwave (not having a dedicated double-boiler either) and hastily slathered the backs of the leaves with it and laid them on a plate. Into the fridge for about 20 minutes with them, then the leaves peeled away from the chocolate, my fingers melting it upon contact so that I had to prefreeze them uncomfortably with ice water.

It seemed to work. They looked like leaves. And no one was poisoned, so win-win.


It should hardly be mentioned in the same blogpost, but speaking of chocolate, check out this video of David Lebovitz visiting Patrick Roger, a chocolatier in Paris – now that’s working with chocolate.


And another word on chocolate – due to frequently wanting to make chocolate-centric things without breaking the bank, I used to be always on the lookout for specials on Lindt at Safeway, sometimes sneaking in some amount of that Coles-brand dark chocolate that’s supposed to be Belgian when making something calling for the better part of a kilo of good dark chocolate, such as this crazy buttermilk cake kindly chronicled by my colleagues here. Then one day I came across a blog that gloatingly related picking up pounds of bargain Callebaut at somewhere American called Trader Joes (like I won’t be checking that out when I go to the US next month, and filling my boots), and it filtered through to my dim brain that maybe there was a way of finding bulk decent chocolate in these parts. 

Well, turns out there’s a chocolate-making school called Saveur almost round the corner in Brunswick, and beyond its macaron towers lie racks of Callebaut 2.5 kilo bags exactly the size and shape of the Eukanuba pellets I buy the cats, and at $46 they’re a better deal than any Woolies special, even if not quite the super deals that can be had in the land of the free. I’m working my way through two: the bitter 70.4% Strong and the semisweet 53.8% Select, which I often combine as some sort of middle road. Much as I like my chocolate dark and dusty as hell, I find the Strong is a bit … well, strong. It bears little relation to the 70% Lindt, and is bitterer even than the Lindt 85%.

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