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I-heart-my-mama cake

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's my mother's birthday today. She's 70 but you wouldn't know it. The woman doesn't just potter around the house, she does the heavy lifting. You try and tell her to slow down.

I reviewed Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache for an article out in print today (link to pdf is up shortly), featuring butter-free cakes that get their fluff and moisture from finely grated vegetables, and their "Excellent Crumb", as the author calls it, from ground almonds. The butter, she says, solidifies when cold and the cake hardens. Vegetables, on the other hand, keeps the cake moist and tender.

After my initial success with the sunken apricot almond cake and camomile-courgette cupcake recipes for the review, I decided to make another cake from the book for my mother. The Light Chocolate Cake on the cover looks good as does the Pistachio Chocolate Cake inside, but they use the same vegetables in the cakes I tried ­­– butternut squash (I used pumpkin though) and courgette.

An unusual recipe, and one that's talked about quite a bit online, is the Heartache Chocolate Cake. It is sweetened with honey instead of sugar and the vegetable used is aubergine (or eggplant or brinjal, depending on where you live). Mixing up the cake reminds me of making a fudge brownie batter, where everything is combined in one go. Only difference here is instead of melted butter, puréed aubergine is used. While you can taste the vegetable on its own, you wouldn't know it was in the chocolatey cake that comes out of the oven. And although it may look heavy, it's actually very light and mousse-like. The nutritional information at the back of the book lists the calorie content per slice at 216 and with only 10g of saturated fat. I would eat it from the fridge but some people prefer having it warm, and it certainly doesn't need a creamy top or filling.

One observation: we had the cake at the family lunch yesterday, and I found out that this is an adult cake. The children (all below 12) all wanted a slice – it is chocolate, after all – but they very nicely told their aunty that there was too much chocolate in it (!) and it wasn't sweet enough. I didn't mention the aubergine, of course.

By the way, the cake is a girl according to Eastwood's description:
"This cake is sad. It's dark and drizzling down the window panes. She puffs her chest in hope when she goes into the oven; she then breaks, like a chest heaving a sob. This is why Aubergine (the Eeyore of the vegetable world) is the right kind of friend to hold your hand."
I'm not making it up – that is the way Harry Eastwood writes. Another example is in the recipe below; I have reproduced it in her own words.

Well, this cake may cheer up those who are feeling down, but I'm sure happy (adult) people will enjoy it too. Maybe for those times, we'll call it Heart-soaring Chocolate Cake.

Sadness, be gone! 
From Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood
Serves 14

2 small whole aubergines (weighing roughly 400g)
300g best dark chocolate you can find (minimum 70% cocoa solids essential), broken into squares
50g good-quality cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
60g ground almonds
3 medium free-range eggs
200g clear honey
2 tsp baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (or some tears, if you have any in the kitchen)
1 tablespoon brandy (for moral support)

You will need
a 23cm-diameter x 7cm-deep loose-bottomed tin
a skewer
a microwave (see Trust Me Tips, below)
a blender
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the tin with baking parchment and lightly brush the base and sides with a little oil.
  • Cook the aubergines by puncturing the skins erratically here and there with a skewer, then placing them in a bowl covered with cling film. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and limp. Discard any water at the bottom. Leave the aubergines to stand in the bowl until they are cool enough to handle.
  • Next, skin (I find that the tip of a knife does the job) and purée the aubergines in a blender. Once the warm aubergine is puréed and smooth, add the chocolate, which will mingle and melt slowly. Set aside, covered once again in cling film, until all the chocolate has melted.
  • In a large bowl, whisk up all the other ingredients for a minute until well introduced to each other and slightly tipsy (bubbly). Fold the melted chocolate and aubergine mixture into the bowl with all the other ingredients. Don't be afraid of being a little brutal with the spatula ­­– they will get on and fuse.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the bottom of the oven for 30 minutes, by which time your kitchen will sing with the smell of hot chocolate.
  • Remove he mixture from the oven and let it cool in its tin for 15 minutes before turning on to a wire rack and peeling off the parchment. Quickly turn the right way up again and sit it on a plate to avoid any scars from the rack.
  • Sieve a little cocoa powder over the top of the cake before cutting yourself a slice and letting the medicine work its magic.
Trust Me Tips
  • If you don't have a microwave, peel and cube the aubergines and cook them with a tiny splash of water on top of the hob until they are soft and squidgy, taking great care neither to burn them nor to drown them with too much water. Discard the water before blitzing.
  • Make sure that the aubergine has definitely melted the chocolate – this is not an instance where chunks of chocolate are wanted, I'm afraid. If the aubergine is too cool, simply blitz in the microwave for another 2 minutes before adding the chocolate chunks.
  • Be very careful to unmould the cake when it is cool rather than warm – it is terribly delicate (just as you are) and could smash easily. A little time to cool down helps make it more robust.
  • On particularly sad days, this cake will crack on the surface when it's cooking. Don't be upset by this – it's just the heart of the cake breaking too and trying to make you feel less alone.

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