Chocolate Truffle Maple Syrup Cake

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Describe the taste of maple syrup.

Research informed me that it depends on the degree of roasting flavour. Typical notes are coffee, chocolate and chicory, and for the strong roasting flavour, you get hints of burnt sugar and smoke. Whatever the degree, there’s something incredibly enticing about this ingredient in particular. I use it several times a week without fail, almost always on toast and always on the occasional Sunday pancake session, yet it only recently occurred to me how deeply embedded it is in my kitchen system. It sits there day after day, use after use, so giving, so heartwarming. I love maple syrup, and there are few things I like more than chocolate and maple syrup. The sophistication of a rich, dark truffle stuck in honey-coloured, maple-flavoured fluffy cake is a welcome picture.

With so many truffles lying around the house, I thought I might as well put them to good use. The sort I use here are 60% cocoa; your standard, powdered, melt-at-room-temperature truffles. My hands were an absolute mess working with them, but the mess only enhanced the pleasure of the whole process, even as I witnessed some smaller bits melt a little into the batter before anything even hit the heat of the oven.

Your fork dives in. Zero resistance as it goes right through the pale, tender, moist body, and then maybe just a little once you hit a pocket of slightly stiffened chocolate goo. Break the cake apart. It’s a mess of black and white, a welcome juxtaposition of soft, fluffy crumbs and dangerous dark hotpockets. Sin trapped in something all too normal, all done before. No truffles? That’s ok, just use broken up bits of your dark chocolate bar. The effect won’t quite be the same with the whimsical shape irregularities and molten middles, but I would think it would be almost as delicious.

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Chocolate Truffle Maple Syrup Cake (makes 16 squares, heavily adapted from my cinnamon coffee cake)

Ingredients

165g all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

55g (less than 1/4 cup) white sugar

115g unsalted butter at room temperature (or microwave cold butter in 15-second increments until it’s a little warmer and soft to touch)

120ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk, or make your own by putting half a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into your measuring cup or jug and filling it up to the mark with whole milk (let this mix sit for 5 minutes at room temperature before using).

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

100ml (1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon) maple syrup, and more for drizzling

9-11 medium-sized (around 2 inches wide) chocolate truffles, a few broken up into smaller pieces, or if you don’t have truffles, just broken up bits of a good quality dark chocolate bar.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F), and butter and line an 8×8-inch square baking pan. What I like to do is butter the pan liberally, before placing down a piece of parchment that has 2 sides which are 8 inches, and the other 2 slightly longer so that it’s easy to pull out the bars once cool. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) except for the sugar in a medium bowl.

Beat together the butter, maple syrup and sugar in a separate bowl. In a smaller bowl (yes there are 3 bowls here, but the washing up is not much pain, promise), whisk or beat together the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Add half of the dry ingredient mix and half of the egg-buttermilk mix to the butter and maple syrup mix, and then beat to mix. Then add the rest and gently mix everything together, starting with a wooden spoon, and then switching to a rubber spatula to make the job easier.

Into your buttered and lined pan, add half of the batter, which should be smooth and slightly thick, and then dot the batter with chocolate truffles. Add the rest of the batter on top and smooth it out. Bake in the preheated oven for 33-35 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean. The top should be slightly darker than when you first put it in, and brown around the edges. Enjoy this with vanilla ice cream or whipped and sweetened mascarpone (as in the pictures above) and a drizzle more of pure maple syrup.

Avocado Yin Yang Mousse

Black and white. OK, green and white. It’s balance, it’s harmony, it’s almost meant to be.

I’m all for avocado and all the variations it can take on. This will be a short one, because I’m aching to get the directions out; it’s ridiculously easy and delicious. Plop everything into your blender or food processor and you’re in the groove. Chocolate avocado mousse has been done before, aka the wholesome take on a classic chocolate pudding. Look, I love the green stuff, but I still think a good chocolate pudding deserves to be just that– sinfully chocolatey, donned in cream and your normal sugar. But wait! Let’s think thick, rich, glorious breakfast toast spreads here. Maybe a snack, or something along those lines. With dark chocolate done, why not experiment with white? This one here incorporates both dark and white chocolate, with a few different ingredients thrown in here and there to enhance the chocolate theme, simultaneously complementing the natural richness and creaminess of avocado.

I was pleasantly surprised by the texture of the white chocolate variant in particular. The incorporation of the special ingredient –tahini– is what made it lush, thick and deliciously spreadable. No graininess, nothing. Just ease. Smoothness, a slight hint of salt, the childlike sweetness from melted white chocolate. That’s what I love about white chocolate. It appears to lack dimension and sophistication, but it’s the perfect medium for so many other things.

Avocado Yin Yang Mousse

Ingredients

For the dark chocolate take:

half an avocado

2 tbsp cocoa/cacao powder

1 tbsp honey/ maple syrup

1 tsp milk of choice

pinch salt

For the white chocolate take:

half an avocado

30g white chocolate, melted in the microwave

2 tbsp milk of choice

1 tbsp tahini (optional, but highly, highly recommended)

pinch salt

Directions

Blend the ingredients for the respective versions together in a food processor or blender. If you wish to make both (of course!), start with the white chocolate take first so that you won’t have to wash out your blender or processor after dealing with the cocoa/cacao powder. Spread on toast or eat on its own, maybe with a couple of dark chocolate truffles, mmm. This will keep for a week in the fridge.

Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla Bean Baked Doughnuts

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Somewhere in between rubbing fragrant vanilla bean into sugar and popping these guys into the oven, I found myself at the beck and call of Strawberry.

Out they came, and my heart was singing. A subtle burst of tang. Gooey bursts of warm chocolate dispersed throughout the batter, little nuggets of treasure. Plump, light-as-air cakey batter to encase everything. Two bowls, whisk, an oven, done.

I was skeptical at first. Initial thoughts gravitated to classic vanilla bean with a more exotic fruity frosting, or chocolate whatnots. Some people don’t like the combination of berry and chocolate, and I get it, but I just couldn’t help myself when I saw fresh, fat strawberries sitting, beckoning in the fridge, round-butted, the promise of sweet juice pulsating under firm and uneven flesh. I thought of strawberries dipped in melted chocolate, and couldn’t get the theme out of my head. So after my good daily dose of reading and writing, I jumped up and got to work. It had to work. And I’m glad it did.

You could say the addition of vanilla bean is pompous, but goodness does it add a whole new dimension of flavour and (slight) grandeur to the whole thing. The speckles are endearing, no? It’s exotic, it’s fearless. Each little doughnut is jam-packed with bits and bobs of strawberry and chocolate, so every bite is a great deal of wonder, a different experience, a slight surprise. In between, you can savour a dandy cake-like medium, the vehicle for all those pockets of tang and sweet. A standard batter so silent and unassuming it almost feels guilt-free.

What’s a doughnut without the glaze.

The magic lies in the incorporation of puréed strawberries, without which this recipe just wouldn’t be the same. J’adore. Pink isn’t my favourite colour, and never will be, but the muted tangy notes elevate this from airy-fairy to plain wicked. Despite my not being accustomed to having real chopped fruit in a doughnut glaze, or any topping for any baked good in general, the whole experience made me realise what a difference the real deal makes.

There’s something about a simple doughnut, enjoyed alone at home or at a coffee shop with a large cup of black coffee, which makes a breakfast get-up or solitary pondering session all the more sensual. It’s homey, and pretty bad, but pretty good.

Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla Bean Baked Doughnuts (makes 16)

Ingredients

For the doughnuts:

265g (slightly less than 2 cups) all-purpose flour

170g (3/4 cup) white castor sugar

1 vanilla bean

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

60g melted, unsalted butter

180ml (3/4 cup) buttermilk, or take a tablespoonful of white vinegar and place it in the bottom of your measuring cup before filling it up to the 180ml-mark with whole milk

70g chopped dark chocolate

2 eggs

170g (1 cup) finely chopped strawberries

For the glaze:

60g (1/3 cup) strawberries, washed and finely chopped

230g icing sugar

pinch salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and butter doughnut pans with melted butter. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, chopped chocolate and salt. In a separate, slightly smaller bowl, pour in your sugar. Take a sharp knife and run it firmly down the middle of the vanilla bean, then scrape out the insides. Dump the clumps of black into the sugar. With your fingertips, rub the vanilla bean into the sugar, so most of it is evenly incorporated into the white mass. Tip the vanilla and sugar mix into the bowl with the rest of the dry ingredients and whisk everything together well, for at least 30 seconds or so.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk (or milk and vinegar mix) and melted butter. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix everything together slowly with a wooden spoon until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly thick. Not in the least bit liquidy. Pat your chopped strawberries with a dry paper towel just to remove excess moisture, then stir them into the mix. Using 2 tablespoons, dollop the doughnut batter into the greased doughnut pan(s) (I only have one so I did this in batches). Bake in the preheated oven for 15-16 minutes.

While they are baking, make the glaze- no electrical beaters needed!!

Purée the chopped strawberries in a blender, or you could microwave them and then mash with a fork. Put the strawberries into a large bowl, then using a tablespoon, remove any extra liquid that seeped out. It won’t be much, and you need not remove all of the extra juice. Add half of the icing sugar first and the salt, and mix together with the same tablespoon until you get a wet, dark pink mixture. Add the rest of the icing sugar and continue to mix until you achieve a thick, spreadable consistency.

Once the doughnuts are baked, leave to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before turning them out. Once fully cool (around another 15 minutes later), dip the tops of the doughnuts into the strawberry glaze, then let them rest on the cooling rack again. Store the doughnuts in the fridge, because the glaze doesn’t sit too well in a warm environment.

Pink kinda pleasure.

Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies

On the spur of the moment, I pie-d my way through yesterday. I have a knack for fishing out completely random things from the pantry and thrusting them all together in some wacky ingredient spin-off (or should I say dance-off in the oven), but this one isn’t all too unorthodox, and well heck it yielded something far more pleasurable than what I envisioned during the process.

So that was this morning’s breakfast.

An incredibly flaky pastry, my new favourite recipe after modifying a wonderful one I found on Saveur (details later), drizzled with chocolate and almond glaze and topped with fresh vanilla bean ice cream, encasing the baked and glorious juices of roasted strawberry, melting chocolate, and what turned out to be the highlight for me– marzipan.

I used to hate the stuff, believe it or not. Marzipan, I mean. When I was a kid and invited to a party with cakes neatly dressed in marzipan, I would feel all too inclined to turn away an otherwise perfect plate of cake. The smell of ground almonds pressed with sugar somehow made me feel sick to the stomach. Now, I can’t see how this could be half as special without the addition of sweet, fudgy marzipan. Coarse, yet chewy, the density upping the indulgence that much more.

Yes, this was all before a little bit of the filling overflowed. I liked that quite a lot, actually; picking all the crusty bits from the parchment paper, simultaneously enforcing neatness and deriving gross pleasure from picking up the dejected trails the oven always leaves in its wake. Other things I liked about making this beautiful delicious mess was rubbing lots of butter into flour and stirring the strawberries as they cooked and bubbled in the pan. Sauce thickened, excitement grew.

Cut into one, and you get a jammy, fudgy mess. The hot, crusty, flaky-as-ever pastry works too well with a nice scoop of cold vanilla bean ice cream or cold cream. The almond and chocolate glazes up the ante with their showgirl effect, reflecting the filling’s personality. The strong hint of almond essence in the former may be left out if one isn’t too keen on that flavour. I haven’t been this excited about a recipe in a long while. I’d say 11/10.

Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies with Almond and Chocolate Glaze (makes 6-7 3×4-inch hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the pastry dough, lightly adapted from here:

252g (around 2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your counter later on

1 tbsp white sugar

large pinch of salt

226g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled for 5 minutes in the freezer before using

1 egg, beaten in a bowl

1 egg for brushing the pastry edges later on

For the filling:

10g unsalted butter

400g strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp white sugar

1 tbsp white vinegar (any white is good; I used a local brand of diluted cane vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

40g ready-roll marzipan (which can be easily broken up into pea-sized chunks with your fingers)

half cup chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

For the almond glaze:

100g icing sugar

1/2 tsp almond essence (very strong, so I shall leave this to your own discretion)

4-5 tsp whole milk

For the chocolate glaze:

40g baking coverture chocolate (or any regular brand of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips), melted in 30-second increments in the microwave

Directions:

Make the dough. Ready some cling film. You can put all the ingredients in a food processor but I personally think rubbing butter into flour is ludicrously therapeutic, so I do that instead. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Rub the butter into the flour until you get pea-size crumbles and maybe a few larger bits of butter. The dough will briefly hold together if you squeeze some of the mix together in your palm. At this point, mix in half the beaten egg. If the mix does not hold together well upon squeezing at this point, then add a little more egg, bit by bit. Flour your hands, flatten the dough into a shallow disc, wrap with cling film and let the dough chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes (that’s how long I waited for mine, though the original recipe states at least an hour for good measure).

Make the filling. In a medium-sized saucepan and with a wooden spoon, mix together the strawberries, butter, sugar and vinegar. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until very soft, and the juices have leaked but thickened a little. Mix in the black pepper, then taste. If it’s not as tangy as you would like, add a splash more of vinegar. Using the edge of your wooden spoon, mash a few chunks of strawberry against the side of the bowl. This will help thicken the cooked mass of ingredients and yield a more jam-like texture at the end. Let the mix cool on the counter for half an hour before using.

After the pastry has chilled, it can be rolled out and then filled. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F). Lightly flour your counter and rolling pin, then roll out your dough till it’s approximately 1/3 of an inch thick. Cut the dough into 3×4-inch rectangles, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll up the dough scraps, roll out again with the rolling pin, then do the same. On one rectangle, place a teaspoon of strawberry filling in the centre, then add a few chocolate chips and a few mini chunks of marzipan (you can break it up yourself). Use the other beaten egg to brush the edges of all the pastry rectangles, then fold one edge of dough onto the other half. Use a small fork to crimp the edges. Prick the tops using the same fork, then brush the tops with any remaining egg. bake for 20-22 minutes (mine took 20). Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the counter before drizzling with the glazes.

Naked Moist Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Creme Fraiche Frosting

Thunder now. I’m loving the endless precipitation in this otherwise stifling furnace. When trivialities seem to take hold of life, there are always certain important people to bring me back down to Earth, and there’s, well, cake. Hey, childhood fancies, it’s been a while. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset I think it only de rigueur to celebrate a special occasion with something a little more elaborate. ‘F’ and ‘L’ are the initials of someone pretty damn special in my life, and special people deserve something a little more elaborate, more celebratory, more.. regal if a little rustic. Chocolate and salted caramel has been done before, tried and tested, stamped with approval, signed off in girlish curlicues. But I daresay this endeavour is a bit more wild, and not quite so predictable in taste and texture with the addition of crushed meringue and lavish drizzles of homemade salted caramel. The waterfall effect of the buttercream frosting does a bit of justice to the ‘naked’ cake; I here term it as such because the ridges and painfully thin outer layer of frosting allow the bottom halves of each chocolate cake layer to be seen, for a subtle gradient effect, the salted caramel running slowly between the ridges, cutting through the purposeful flaw. Mimicking the movement of pale frosting. Godspeed. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset If you are wondering why the two pictures above look a mess, I’d gladly point the finger at that solo stack of plates. An unfinished crumb coat was almost completely wrecked when the stack of three layers, frosting in tact between each, toppled over and collided into the side of the stack. But this cake held its own, unflinching. Sometimes, failures or mishaps really do prove someone, or something’s worth. Despite the delicate moisture of the cake, its sweet and slightly bouncy crumb, the collision underscored a hidden robustness, making me hold this cake in the highest regard. It deserved to be treated right, after not letting me down. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset This amalgamation of flavours imparts subtle, simple decadence. The chocolate cake of our childhoods is wrapped with the familiar indulgence of sweet and salty caramel, with a bit of zip thanks to a squeeze of lemon and fresh Maldon. The first time I tried the cake with all its components, I did think the salted caramel crème fraîche frosting lacked oopmph, my tongue betraying the anticipation of a more sophisticated flavour profile. Hence, I did a mini batch of frosting after this cake was made, altering the salt and creme fraiche content to taste. In all honesty, a slice of this stuff is good warm or cold, and can be stored for at least a week in a fridge, or a couple of days at room temperature. And finally, I really don’t know what could possibly beat fresh, homemade salted caramel…? Moist Chocolate Cake With A Salted Caramel Creme Fraiche Frosting (makes a three-layer, 8-inch wide cake) For the cake: (cake recipe adapted from here) 300g (3 cups) cake flour, or all-purpose flour if you don’t have cake flour on hand 300g (3 cups) white caster sugar 150g (1 1/4 cups) cocoa powder 3 tsp baking soda half tsp of fine salt 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 380ml (around 1 1/2 cups) buttermilk 180ml vegetable oil 3 eggs at room temperature 2 tbsp vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups (370ml) freshly brewed coffee For the salted caramel frosting: 340g salted butter 4 tbsp créme fraiche 980g powdered sugar 180ml (slightly less than 3/4 of a cup) of salted caramel (ingredients for this down below) For the salted caramel (recipe adapted from personal trials): 1 tbsp light corn syrup 5 tbsp (75ml) water 1 tsp vanilla 125ml (around half a cup) of heavy cream 110g (1/2 cup) white sugar juice of half a lemon (approximately a teaspoon) 1 tsp fine sea salt Preheat the oven to 177C (350F) and line three 8-inch circular cake pans with parchment paper (trace around each pan with pencil on the parchment paper and then cut out neatly). Spray the bottoms of the pan before laying on each piece of parchment, and then spray lightly again. Set these pans aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, sift in the dry ingredients– cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir on low speed until combined. The same can be done with just a large bowl and a whisk if you don’t have an electric mixer. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, vanilla and eggs. Stir in the fresh coffee. With the mixer on low speed (or without a mixer), add the wet mixture into the dry. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of your bowl and make sure everything is well combined. The batter should be sticky, dark, glossy and liquidy. In fact, the wetter, the better. If your bowl of batter looks too dry, or drops off the back of your spoon or paddle too slowly (it shouldn’t really ‘drop’ at all, really), add at least 2 tablespoons of milk. Drop each pan on your counter to knock out excess air bubbles. Use a weighing scale to ensure there’s an equal amount of batter in each pan. For this recipe, there was around 750g of lush chocolate batter in each pan, and each layer is rather thick. Place the pans in the oven (you can place 2 in first if your oven can’t fit three, which is usually the case, and then pop the last one in afterwards). Bake for 35-40 minutes, before removing from the oven and let cool on wire racks. Mine took 36 minutes, and a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the pan should come out dry, with a few moist crumbs clinging to the very tip. While the cakes bake, make the salted caramel. Put the corn syrup, water and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir together with a wooden spoon and let the mixture come to boil. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the lemon juice (add less if you like your salted caramel less ‘lemony’), vanilla and cream. Once the mixture in the pan comes to a boil, stop stirring (to prevent crystallisation) and let boil for a while. This will take at least 5 minutes or so. If it looks like one part of the pan is turning darker faster than the other parts, then gently swirl the pan to distribute the heat and quicken the chemical reaction. Slowly, the sugars will all caramelise and the whole mixture will suddenly turn a dark amber. At this point, turn off the heat and add the cream mixture. Stir in the salt to taste. The mixture will bubble almost immediately, before lightening and turning a lighter caramel shade. If the mixture seizes, don’t fret!! Simply put the pan back on a low heat and stir until everything amalgamates nicely again, which will take 2-3 minutes. All is good, all is good. Make the buttercream. In an electrical or handheld mixer, beat the salted butter, which should be slightly cold but not too frigid, and the créme fraiche, until pale, creamy and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar in thirds, and beat well to combine. Add half a cup of salted caramel (125ml, or slightly more, all to taste)  and beat briefly to distribute the caramel’s colour and flavour. The buttercream should be smooth and not too runny, so I suggest adding the salted caramel bit by bit to get the right consistency. Once the cakes are cool, assemble. Remove the circular pieces of parchment from the bottoms of the cooled cakes, and place one in the middle of a cake stand. Using a third-cup measurement, measure out a third of a cup of buttercream and spread onto the first layer. Place a little more on top if the layer of frosting doesn’t look thick enough. Place the second layer on the first, and do the same. Repeat with the third layer, but this time, spread more buttercream down along the breadth of the cake, creating a thin crumb coat to catch any excess crumbs. Let the whole cake set in the fridge with the crumb coat for at least a couple of hours, or overnight. After this period, use more buttercream to cover up any obvious bits of brown on the outside. Use the blunt edge of a butter knife to create the ridged, naked, waterfall effect, going from the bottom up. It’s much easier than how it might read here, I promise! In any case, the decoration is entirely up to you. Once you have run the butter knife up along the sides for the entire circumference of the cake, do the same for the top, but direct the butter knife movement towards the centre, so you get the ‘wheel’ effect, as can be seen in the third last photo above. Drizzle the top with leftover salted caramel and, if you wish, crumbled biscuits of meringue.