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.

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.

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.

Chocolate-stuffed Pillow Pancakes for One

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And it’s back to the pancake grind. Does anyone else think pancakes are just beyond magical? I mean really, think back to when you had one really good pancake, and all the suffering it may have alleviated. I’m not saying one must be dependent on pancakes (or good food) alone to be relieved of anything depressing or sad, because that in itself isn’t a case for good health. Good health need not mean a good pancake, but good health certainly leaves room for a damn good pancake.

My signature pillow pancakes have been my (and your) long-standing favourite recipe since I started posting recipes on this blog. Though it seemed initially banal to re-write a recipe which I’ve done too many times to count, it behoves me to re-write it for your benefit, just this once, because chocolate-stuffed pancakes do take these to a whole new level, and because it’s ‘for one’, you need not share, or worry about tidying up and freezing leftovers. Further, it’s the perfect way to use up any leftover chocolate frosting you may have from a cake or tart experiment. This is no pabulum or stupidity (the latter you may witness, though, in the current issue surrounding the new American immigration policy; I am both heartbroken and angered by such hoo-ha).

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A firm warning from yours truly– these pancakes will make you productive the entire morning. I topped mine with a homemade pumpkin spread and some granola given to me by my dearest Charlie, although these toppings are optional (and honestly, gave the photography shoot bit a nice bit of pop and fun). You’re good with some maple and extra chopped dark chocolate, and I imagine some good, thick coconut yoghurt would work so well.

I’ll dial the excitement down a shade, and leave you to it. The past week has been rife with friendly gatherings and good food, and I hope this does not stop for a long, long while.

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Chocolate-Stuffed Pancakes for One

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

80g plain flour, or use half plain and half whole-wheat

1 tbsp ground flax (optional)

1 tbsp coconut/white/brown sugar

1/2 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

pinch of salt

2 tsp melted butter (normal/vegan) or coconut oil

100ml milk or mylk (I like almond or soy)

For the chocolate middle:

10g cocoa powder

30g icing sugar

splash of milk or mylk almond/soy)

 

Directions

The night before you make the pancakes, whisk the cocoa powder and icing sugar together, Drizzle in the milk/mylk drop by drop until you get the consistency of a smooth and thick chocolate icing. Put the icing on a plate, spread it out and put it in the freezer to set. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour(s), flax (if using), sugar, salt and leavening agents). Pour the rest of the ingredients into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon or a normal dinner spoon. Continue to mix until everything is justt combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy.

Preheat your pan on medium-high heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, add a little pat of butter, let it melt, and add a heaping tablespoon of pancake batter for your first pancake. Then take your frozen chocolate disc and place it in the centre of your first pancake. Add a little more batter to cover the disc. Wait for the pancake to cook through, or once you notice one or two bubbles forming on its surface. Flip the pancake and let it cook for at least 30 more seconds. Let this cool on a paper towel while you do the same for the next pancake.

Serve with butter and maple syrup, or whatever you want. They’re wonderful with banana and more chopped chocolate, its moist sweetness adjoining arms with the maple. What a Sunday.

 

Kaya Bundt With Dark Chocolate Frosting

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Things have been taken a step up. In thought, and in action. From trying out crazy buffet restaurants, to understanding which camera is the most accurate (iPhone, Snapchat, Instagram or something else? Help, which tells the truth?) and why, to Kim and Trump having negotiations just this morning, in a luxury hotel right here on our little red dot Singapore. Why not do the same in the kitchen? Like this, like now.

Making my own kaya was an intrepid effort, but by no means terribly intimidating. Kaya has always been one of my favourite spreads ever. Simply spreading the stuff on my toasted, buttered crumpet this morning was some beautiful nostalgia. I just had to recreate a vegan version. A few years ago, with so many amazing nonya kayas out there, I never felt the need to make my own. Although this vegan recipe, which I adapted from an online source, needs a little tweaking, the final product turned out more than fine, with the right gloopy texture, a strong coconut taste, perfect for soaking into crevices, into the porous, crusty craters of white toast, on a crumpet (this morning’s gala).

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So you’ve got the kaya. Then it’s simply a matter of mixing wet with dry, the kaya going into a smooth homogenous mixture of butter and sugar all nicely creamed together, some flax eggs (or normal eggs, whatever floats your goat), and added coconut extract for punch and pizzaz. Once that’s done, you make a damn good, deep and dark chocolate frosting to literally ice the cake in flavour, texture, and colour. Experiment with the baking time too– mine needed 45 minutes in total although you may only need 40 or so minutes. I even used some edible flowers to decorate but I’m posh that way (ok no, I’m supporting a sustainable urban farming movement. The owner propagates edible flowers and breeding pollinators in the middle of bustling Orchard Road here in Singapore… how cool is that??).

The cake is dense, moist yet fluffy. Behold some robust coconut breath in each sturdy bite. The icing stays strong even in this terrifying heat and humidity, so you can be well assured you don’t have to worry about a schmozzle when you drizzle it on your beautiful bundt.

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Kaya bundt cake with chocolate drizzle (makes one medium bundt)

Ingredients

For the kaya bundt cake:

400g kaya, homemade or store-bought (make your vegan version, I found a good recipe here– mine turned out tasting a little too much of soy due to all that tofu, but the texture and taste was still nonetheless on point)

350g cake flour, or plain flour if you don’t have cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp coconut extract (optional, I added it for amplified flavour)

200g each of vegan butter (room temperature) and sugar (sub: normal butter if you’re not vegan)

2 flax eggs (sub: whole eggs), made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp room temperature water)

For the frosting:

40g icing sugar

10g cocoa powder

1 tbsp tahini (optional, I added for creaminess and a hint of sesame flavour)

5-6 tbsp almond milk

60g dark chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Make your flax eggs by combining the ground flaxseed with water and setting it aside to gel up. Grease and flour a bundt pan. I coated the inside of my pan with coconut oil, then floured it by adding a tablespoon of flour into the pan and then jiggling the pan around so the flour is mostly coating the oiled inner surface.

In a large bowl and with a spatula, cream the room temperature butter with the sugar. I find a spatula makes it nice and easy. Cream together until the mixture is homogenous, pale and fluffy. Add the flax eggs, coconut extract and kaya, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Tip this into the large bowl containing your wet ingredients, then mix all together gently, until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated. Spoon dollops of batter into the greased and floured pan, continuing to do this until all batter is used up. Bake the bundt in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs.

While the bundt is baking, make the frosting. Chop up the dark chocolate, tip into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the chocolate is all melted. In a separate bowl, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together, then add the tahini (optional) and milk. Add the melted chocolate and mix until you get a thick but runny consistency. Once the bundt is done, let it cool down (don’t tip it!) on a wire rack for at least a half hour. Drizzle the chocolate frosting over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds for decoration.