Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

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It’s getting cold here, and there’s a lot on my mind. Had a rather therapeutic and somewhat emotional talk with a stranger this morning. It’s hard to admit that one needs therapy, let alone talk to others about it. Nevertheless, it was oddly, strangely therapeutic. I’m even thinking of starting some sort of online blog to chart progress. It’s mostly to do with a great deal of self-doubt and esteem issues, possibly stemming from some stuff that happened in the past. I don’t know who reads my blog, as old as it is now, but it does help to type things out, because although the daily journal does help a great deal too, sometimes my brain runs too fast and it’s just a tad more gratifying to see everything immediately leap from brain to post. It’s also juicier stuff that I can instantly plop onto here, too, for my (hopefully more regular) blogposts. And if it helps just one person today, then that will be all the more rewarding.

Before me: French Toast. So let me describe it to you. The crusty, almost too-hard outside is deceiving, there is a world of golden softness within. The right degree of egged saturation, not too soggy, although that would still be better than stiff or overdone. A pile of whipped cream and melted berries. Some fresh, some frozen, all warmed up to let a bounty of juices seep out. French toast is like a person. You don’t know what he/she is really like until they open up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice, big breakfast like this. Some days I forget to have proper meals and it all ends up being a big mess of sugary snacks all the way through the day, which I know sounds like child’s play but sadly it’s true, at the grand age of 22 (coming on to 23). You’d think I’d have at least a healthy side to me… Not to say it’s non-existent, but it could definitely be 3.5x better. It’s a bit disappointing; sometimes I imagine my younger self thinking about the woman I would be now in 2019, and although I’m not too far off, I do wish some bad habits which I currently harbour were not so etched into my sense of self that the sense of self is, ultimately, warped, half-false.

In times like these, when I feel out of control, I always have to remember to come back to my element. That meditation on the sweet, can help one see the sweet things in life. But there should be a careful line drawn between allowance (of the sweet stuff) and dependence (on the sweet stuff). I can’t classify my love for sugar as a sickness, but it would do me good to be mindful, and not always have the French toast at every café I visit (ok who am I kidding). It is only a distraction if you let it be that way. Some fleeting thoughts that I’m not sure may resonate with any of you:

  • Fresher’s week here at Oxford a couple of weeks ago was overwhelming but I met a good number of incredibly interesting individuals. It does seem therapeutic to engage in conversations with these people, it’s a nice peek into the grander problems of the world, and I’m whisked away into the real world, that of heavy issues that I can be part of a solution to, away from the trivialities of my own head. I do tend to get stuck in my head a lot, forget about the big picture. Why I’m here, why I love it here, why I love doing what I do.
  • I met people who I really got on with, but many are here just for a year. I’m trying to figure out who I can truly connect with over my 3 years doing a PhD here.
  • Talking about PhD, I still don’t quite know what I’ve gotten myself into, ha.
  • Looking at babies makes me happy. Oh, the innocence and bluntness.
  • I hate the way nails split or crack at the most undesirable places.

Today isn’t a recipe for French toast, but that for an olive oil chocolate cake. Yes, olive oil and chocolate. I had this wonderful olive oil cake with my friend Zoe back when I was still living in London, at the famous Towpath café overlooking the lanky swishing river. I wanted to recreate such a cake, airy and flavourful without feeling like you’re just glugging down tablespoons of pure olive oil. More flavour, less grease, I guess you could say. I had a half mind to leave out the chocolate entirely, but 1. Everyone loves a chocolate surprise and 2. The olive oil taste here is pretty strong so the chocolate addition is actually complementary, if not necessary. It’s dense and sticky, so if you prefer a more cake-like cake then add slightly more flour and reduce the volume of olive oil.

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An easy process of mixing, in a single bowl. Almost an hour in the oven yes, but it’s worth it, especially when paired with something dairy or dairy-like, such as vanilla ice cream or coconut yoghurt. Eat this warm while looking outside, crisp air heralding the new season. My favourite season.

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Olive oil chocolate cake (makes one 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

240ml (1 cup) olive oil)

2 tsp salt

240g (1.75 cups) sugar

250g flour

½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda

3 eggs

120ml milk (of your choice, such as oat, almond etc)

80ml yoghurt

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a 8 or 9-inch cake tin. In a bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients except the flour, chocolate, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the remaining ingredients and fold in until you get a rather wet batter. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes in the preheated oven. After baking, leave to rest for 10 minutes before cutting in and serving with yoghurt or ice cream.

Brownie Sharing Pudding

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Experimenting with writing from home this time. The familiar hum of the washing machine, occasional opening and closing of the café doors, and lack of ambient buzz typically isn’t conducive to any good writing from my own experience, but let’s see how this goes.

Last exam done, and I’m sat here wondering if this truly may be the last exam I ever will have. The past few days have been a blur, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Now back to proper weekly experimentation recipes now that all that is over! Feels unreal. Taking a few snippets from the past week’s diary entries, and I’m wondering if anyone can empathise with any of these, even if not in a totally literal sense:

  • Monday, 9.23am: Gail’s chocolate sourdough is to die for
  • Monday, 12.13pm: Omotesando‘s little kashi cakes are also to die for. I appreciate good company here and the cold brew. I should come here at least once more, again.
  • Tues: Things that made me feel good: reading, exercising, food, going to the cinema alone, watching certain things with certain people, massages (oh my god)
  • Thurs: Everyone should go to Bancone here in London for their silk handkerchief pasta, and there’s also a delicious vegan options for you vegans
  • Fri, 7.07pm: Once the brain and blood gets pumping, a little cycle, a little heel kick, an easing of the joints.. everything else seems to fall into place.

And finally, does anyone else hate it when a face or thought can’t seem to escape your brain… ever? Please hit me up with any possible solution. A solution for dissolution.

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In short, the most versatile, the best, the fudgiest and chewiest-edged, brownie. I curated this recipe as a ‘sharing pudding’, which is just my way of saying I underbaked this during the experiment and it turned out still to be a very beautiful thing. It’s very reminiscent of a molten lava cake, except this time it’s meant for sharing.

Brownies are pretty close to my heart, which explains why one of my very first recipes was a brownie with some raspberry jam rippled through because I tried to be cool like that. A brownie may be less versatile than a cookie, but there is something so indulgently satisfying about preparing a disgustingly easy tray bake in less than 10 minutes and have something too moreish for your own good a little while later. It’s incentive enough to do something productive, like read two chapters of a book or call up an old friend or do your nails (if you can do that sort of thing, because I can but then realise it looks terrible), in those 20 minutes of waiting. Who doesn’t want a good, classic brownie recipe. The wonderful thing about this brownie is that it’s a brownie, normal and fudgy and satisfying, and also a sharing unit, something to bring you and family or friends together over whatever else may be occupying your night on any occasion.

If you would rather have this individually you can still split the batter into a muffin tin and cook it at the same temperature for 10-12 minutes. I had some extra batter left the first time I played around, so did that, and it turned out beautifully.

It’s muddy, gooey and all-round chocolatey. It takes 10 minutes tops to put together, 20 to bake. You can prep the batter before guests come round for dinner, then put it in the oven just when dinner is about to wrap up. Then. Then you serve this quick and easy babe of a dessert piping hot and ooey-gooey from the oven when dessert time calls. Hand everyone around the table a spoon and you just dig in. No waiting, no cutting, no fretting about when to cut or how big to cut it. You just do. Vanilla ice cream, or cream, or yoghurt on the side for everyone to help themselves.

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That stretch.

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Brownie Sharing Pudding (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

115g salted butter (normal/vegan), melted (add 1 tsp of fine salt to the wet mixture if you only have unsalted butter)

100g brown sugar

100g white sugar

2 eggs or flax eggs (make the flax eggs by combining 2 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a bowl, then set that aside for a while to set)

1 tsp vanilla extract

60g plain flour

55g cocoa powder

90-100g roughly chopped dark chocolate, or you can use a mixture of chocolates (e.g. dark and white)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a standard 9×5-inch loaf tin with a loaf tin liner or parchment paper. Alternatively, simply grease the pan with butter or vegetable oil. If you’re making individual molten cakes, split the batter in a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a bowl, mix the melted salted butter, two sugars and vanilla. Then add the eggs and whisk well. Finally, add the cocoa powder, flour and chocolate, and fold until everything is just incorporated. Pour the batter into your loaf tin/muffin cups and place in the preheated oven to bake for 22-25 minutes (11 minutes if you’re doing the individual molten cakes– check to see if the top and edges have set at the 11-minute mark and leave them in for another minute if it doesn’t look quite dry on top yet). I found that the perfect time for these brownies is 22-23 minutes if you want them extra fudgy, but cook for 2-3 more minutes if you want them slightly more set. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle will reveal a still-wet batter at the 22-minute mark, but that’s what you want, and it will continue to set a little more once you take the tin out of the oven.

Let the brownie sharing pudding cool for at least 5 minutes before serving with ice cream or cold yoghurt. Just let everyone have a spoon for digging in immediately. Perfect.

Banana Cake with Toffee Sauce

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Where has the consistency been? This week has been a flurry of priority questioning and it’s taken until now, April, to finally feel as if things are getting back on track. I’ve forgotten how effective blogging is at re-wording my sense of self and re-aligning priorities. More and more I’m realising it’s an outlet, to help me more than just others, and it feels good. If others indeed benefit from my own vulnerability in words as well as my recipes, then the ultimate goal is reached. Further, although Instagram, that occasionally fun and bright little platform, nicely links to this blog, I have to say that words flow a little more naturally here in prose. I can write all the long captions I want on every Instagram post, but that would ruin the point of this blog, and rarely does one go on Instagram to read paragraphs anyway.  There’s no limit here, just freedom of thought as my hands hurry across the keyboard. And doing it even just once a week is such a great relief, a comfort, away from other pressing worries.

Life is supposedly about work and play, but I realised there must be a couple of concrete things in place, done on the daily or weekly, that help reinforce my work ethic and everything else that comes in this sphere of daily living. Namely, blogging like this, fitness and health, and words. There are some practical ways in which these can be enforced, ways which in previous years I may have been too nervous to talk or even blog about. In the points below I’m more specific in methods that help my human relations (this is the one thing I think I’ll always be private about), body, life and general goals.

read and write a little everyday: words are assuagement, trailing between my teeth and lips and hands, giving meaning to the smallest overlooked things on the daily, resetting focus and slowing down my (usually too fast to the point of no return) brain. So a little everyday goes a long way. I’ve been journalling almost every day since I was 7, so I’m happy that that’s a natural habit in place, but my reading of books could seriously be upped, and my German is still incredibly poor so I must drastically improve my practice, with this blogpost keeping me accountable.

On this note on words, here’s an interesting quote to fluff up your day: ‘Science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method because atheism is a declaration of nonbelief, but there are not really any declarations in science.’–Marcelo Gleiser, winner of the Templeton Prize 2019. Funny to read this as I constantly question where I am on the spirituality spectrum. That was something complex compressed neatly into a few keen sentences, something to think about more often.

cardio and strength training: movement is another meditation. I’ve been trying to alternate between these two 4 times a week, and I’ve found my general focus and memory to have improved significantly. Yoga, spinning, bodypump classes, and walking daily. I have pretty crap stamina so aiming to get stronger with time, as I zone out and tune in, and to improve insulin sensitivity. Anyone else have a strict fitness routine?

food: I’ll repeat myself every day if I have to– this blog is my fairytale place. It makes me happy to write about sweet things, made slowly and pleasingly with jazz music in the background, but it’s by no means what I eat on a daily basis. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m pretty health-conscious, given what I study (human nutrition, gut health and how it links to brain health), but good at pretending I’m not. I will happily visit the newest bakeries and indulge my sweet tooth, but that probably goes as far as once or twice a week, and I’m apt to look out for the other sugary things I enjoy slotting into my meals: sweet chilli sauce, oat mochas (I’m having one right now, guilty), maple syrup, etc. I never can, or will, be too militant because this in itself is a set-up for failure and a very UNfun life. So here’s to more protein in my protein-lacking diet, slow-releasing carbohydrates, more whole fruit and veg, and less sugar overall to keep me feeling sluggish.

And with that said…

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Cake. A cake for the weekend, or a midweek pick-me-up. This banana cake has olive oil in it, which I find readily complements the ripe banana flavour, but if you so happen to not have that on hand, then any other oil (sunflower, rapeseed or even coconut) would work. Maybe not sesame. There’s not much oil in the cake anyway, so you should be safe in any case.

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Banana, chocolate, olive oil. A serious, yet light-hearted, harmony. I experimented with the vegan version of this using ground flaxseed to make the flax eggs, but really this was The best part of eating this cake, in my humble opinion, is the drizzling of hot toffee sauce and cold cream (plain or coconut) on the cake, making it a squidgy, moreish mess, dry and wet in all the right places, before digging in. The hot and cold and bit of banana on top of the cake come together in a cute waltz that intensifies into a crazy textural orgasm. So hot.

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Ingredients (makes one 9-inch cake)

For the cake:

188g (1+1/2 cups) plain, all-purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

handful of chopped chocolate (milk/dark)

230g (around 1+1/4 cup, unpacked) light/dark brown sugar

4+1/2 bananas, 2 whole and 2+1/2 mashed

3 eggs or 4 flax eggs (made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed with 7 tbsp water and leaving aside for a while to gel)

120ml (1/2 cup) olive oil, or sub with melted butter/vegan butter/another oil that’s more neutrally flavoured

Handful of chopped chocolate

For the toffee sauce:

113g (1/2 cup) butter/vegan butter

3 tsp fine salt

135g (2/3 cup, unpacked) light or dark brown sugar

120ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream or coconut cream

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Grease a standard 9-inch round cake pan. It would be easy if you use a springform pan, in which case you can easily take the cake out, and I don’t bother lining the tin. If you do use a normal pan then make sure to line your tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. In another medium bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas (2+1/2), brown sugar, eggs, oil and salt. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and fold everything together until you get a nice homogenous batter. Some banana lumps are fine. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Next, cut each of the remaining 2 bananas in half, and then cut each half again in half, lengthwise this time. You end up with 8 short banana halves. Place each banana piece cut side up in a wheel formation (or however you like) on the cake, then sprinkle on the chopped chocolate on top, then place the cake into the preheated oven to bake for 35 minutes exactly.

Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Add the brown sugar and butter to a saucepan, bring the heat up to the highest and wait for the mixture to come to a boil, helping the brown sugar and butter to dissolve faster by nudging the mixture with a wooden spoon. Once it starts to sizzle, let bubble for 2 minutes, then add the cream and whisk. It will sputter a little, but that’s normal and good. Cook for a couple more minutes, then bring the heat down, cook one more minute until everything is smooth and caramel-coloured, and take it off the heat.

Once the cake is baked, take out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. Serve with the toffee sauce and some extra cold cream or coconut cream. Store the toffee sauce in the fridge, and the cake at room temperature for up to 4 days in an airtight container.

Classic Crepes (gluten-free option)

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Fall, friends! It’s here, and I don’t know about you but I’m ready. Hello, excessive amounts of anything with pumpkin and apple pies. Hello, my favourite season.

The term has once again started, and with it comes a sense of both excitement and dread. To be intellectually stimulated is one thing, but it’s important to not let the intimidation of new, bright faces obfuscate any goal, be it professional or personal.

Enough with my obsession with pancakes. I let crepes take over this time. Sometimes a change of breakfast routine is all you need to feel excited about a new season, a new beginning, a new.. anything. These crepes can be made with any flour you wish, however buckwheat or spelt does result in a fluffier crepe with a more interesting flavour dimension. I never was a buckwheat gal, but decided to experiment with the rather wholesome-looking grain after a friend of mine whipped up a delicious buckwheat veggie dish for me last year, and since it’s free of gluten, it’s worth a try for my increasing number of gluten-free peeps. What’s more, more buckwheat, barley, brown rice and basically anything not scarily white is a good way of reducing intake of refined sugar and carbohydrate, for as much as I (and most of us) love the stuff, it does nothing for the brain or body, and can possibly trigger terrible eating habits.  Furthermore, it’s exciting just knowing that buckwheat:

  • is full of the bioflavonoid rutin, which contains quercetin (also abundant in apples), and is thus of higher nutritional value than many other grains. Rutin helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, to name just a few things.
  • is full of magnesium (supports respiratory health and helps restore normal sleep patterns), copper (helps the body absorb iron), and manganese (can improve bone health and reduce inflammation)

Makes it all a bit more exciting to put together. So you just whisk a few ingredients together, smack a quarter-cup of batter each time onto a hot pan, spread it out a little, flip to cook the other side for a short while, and there you have it– incredibly soft, tender crepes. The uniqueness of this dangerously delicious breakfast lies in its versatility– there’s a lightly toasted nutty flavour that can be combined with almost any flavour topping, although my personal favourite is coconut yoghurt and plenty of frozen but thawing summer berries on top.

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Crepes (makes 4-6, enough for one hungry person, scale up as necessary)

Ingredients

65g buckwheat flour (sub: plain or spelt flour)

pinch of salt

200ml plant milk of choice (I used oat)

1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vegetable oil/melted vegan butter (sub: normal butter)

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients well. The batter should be pourable but not too wet, so if it seems too thick, add a tablespoon of milk, and if it seems too thin, add a little more flour. Heat your pan (add a little oil if it’s not a nonstick pan) on medium heat. Flick a splash of water on it to see if it sizzles, to check if the pan is hot enough to use. Once it is hot enough, add a quarter-cup of batter to the pan and use the back of the cup measurement to spread the batter out into a thin circle. Be careful here– you don’t want the batter to be too thin, as this will lead to easy breakage afterwards when you try and flip the crepe.  Cook the first side until you see the edges of the crepe firm up, then slide your spatula carefully underneath and flip the crepe. Cook the second side for a little shorter, about a minute or so. Place the cooked crepe on a paper towel and roll it up before placing on a serving plate. Continue to do this for the remaining amount of batter. Serve with thick coconut yoghurt, tahini, berries and maple syrup!

 

No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake

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Rain, outside. Currently listening to Millie Vernon’s That Old Feeling, and feeling swingy. I haven’t given enough verbal weight to the importance of smooth jazz to my creations. Its silky notes have a way of churning the cogs up there. The rain is helping, too.

Cheesecake, cheesecake! Inspired by none other than my favourite Ben&Jerry’s ice cream flavour as a child. Am I the only one who thought it was better than every other flavour they had? Phish food was fine, Cherry Garcia was an atrocity only because I had no appetite for cherries in any form at that age, the banana thing was a no. It was a picky phase, I could only stick to solid chocolate and cheese sort of flavours, and anything nutty or fruity was sacrilege. Except for strawberry cheesecake.

I approach most vegan cheesecake recipes with caution. Cashews and coconut? The furthest things from that signature dairy taste? I think not. But this one proved me (and will hopefully do the same to you) wrong. A good soak of your cashews will yield a fine, smooth texture, similar to your typical New York cheesecake, I promise. I kept this one base-less to keep the focus on the pure filling, but you can use this crust if you wish. That crust is also featured in my recipe for a classic vegan cheesecake, if you wish to try a proper baked one instead. It’s good to remind oneself of why it’s important to use more plant-based foods and proteins in anything you cook and bake. Just look at the power of cashews, the main star of this event:

  • They are almost a quarter total protein
  • 62% of its fats are monounsaturated, and have less fat than most other nuts
  • They are brimming with a sort of flavonol that starves cancer tumours
  • They help manufacture enzymes involved in the formation of haemoglobin and collagen, and are therefore key in skin and hair health
  • I keep forgetting that full stops don’t belong in bullet points

So you see, I guess this whole cashews-not-milk-plus-save-cow-exploitation sort of headspace isn’t so bad. The better you blend all this up, the better your result. You really want it to be as smooth and creamy as possible. What’s great about this recipe is also that i’s no-bake, which means it satisfies all you lazy bakers (me included sometimes).

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Ingredients

250g raw cashews, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in lukewarm water, and drained. You can leave the cashews in the fridge or on the counter. Alternatively, you can add boiling water to the cashews and let this sit for half an hour before using.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed from about 3-4 lemons

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

80ml maple syrup

60ml vegetable oil (sub: melted vegan butter/melted coconut oil)

3 heaped tbsp coconut yoghurt or any yoghurt you like (sub: applesauce or milk)

3 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

Directions

Blend all ingredients except for the jam in a high-speed, powerful blender. Continue to blend until you get a smooth, pale consistency. It should be thick and runny. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the strawberry jam and then use a spatula to fold the jam in, creating a ripple effect. Tip this into a 8 or 9-inch cheesecake pan with a removable bottom and place it into the freezer to set.

*To create the swirly effect as you can see above, take the cheesecake out of the freezer after 30 minutes, and run a small knife or spatula in the formation of a spiral from the outside to the inside. You may get this all messy the first time, especially as the cheesecake starts to thaw, but don’t worry, the fact that the cheesecake thaws easily means it’s also easy to scrap whatever pattern you’ve done and start again. You can also put the cheesecake back in the freezer and take it out 10 minutes later to re-mold whatever pattern you want. Enjoy with coconut yogurt and strawberry jam.