This past weekend has involved excessive time staring at my laptop screen, alternatively typing a few words and getting distracted by a facebook notification or instagram scroll. Moments of inspiration result in a full paragraph or two, which clearly must be followed by a treat break (i.e. reward) – coffee, or a slice of the pistachio & plum cake haunting me from the kitchen counter. Then it’s back to staring at the document, checking the word count and rifling through notes and resources. So no, this isn’t me writing a blog post, when words seem to flow relatively easily and rapidly without the restriction of topics, word counts, marking criteria and references. It’s a 5000 word psychiatry assignment that needs to achieve a balance of narrative and fact, history and analysis, story-telling and medicine. AND I’m a fantastic procrastinator.
The upshot is that my desk, messy with scrawled papers and charging cables, has begun to feel too much like a place of monotony and effort – so I’ve shifted my blog writing elsewhere. Instead, a cafe window seat with a view of the street, an uncluttered modern bench space and best of all, no internet (!) has to be the least distracting environment I’ve found. It’s accompanied by a flat white (and maybe a sweet treat, depending on how extravagant I’m feeling) and a background hum of music and customers – making it feel like a place I’ve chosen to be, and a place I enjoy being, rather than the dead, stifling silence of a library. I wedge it in somewhere between hospital placement and tutorials as a productive way to break up a Tuesday. A treat, rather than the grind of assignment slog. Do any of you find it easier to work in cafes rather than from home?
Because the last thing I want is for blog writing and recipe development to blend into the slightly more stressful side of life that is work and study. It isn’t a job or an income, so it needs to remain an outlet and something I love in order to continue. A hobby I want to do and take time to do well, not something I have to do, if that makes sense. Separating work spaces helps to avoid blurring that boundary, as does a regular self-check not to feel pressured to photograph a post each week – it’s still a priority, but not number one.
It also helps to eat insanely decadent flourless chocolate hazelnut layer cake like this one – it may be a celebration cake, but I’m sure you could come up with any number of reasons to make it. It’s been a regular go-to recipe for years, the original printed sheet covered in creases, cocoa powder remnants and chocolate finger prints. The opposite end of the spectrum from the soft, cakey crumb of this kind of chocolate birthday cake, it is dense, dark and the kind of cake where your mouth almost explodes with the chocolateness of it all.
I used to make a more diminutive single layered version, but my brother’s 16th birthday gave me an excuse to transform it. He’s the biggest nutella-lover/addict I know, regularly smearing his toast so thick there’s more chocolate than bread – he’d live off it if Mum let him. I needed to find a way to incorporate that into a cake without literally gifting him a bucket of nutella, and in a way that the rest of us would actually enjoy too (to be honest, I find nutella overwhelmingly sickly on its own). I swapped out half the ground almonds for toasted hazelnut meal and added a rich chocolate-hazelnut frosting, which must be the most luscious (if I can use that word?!) frosting I’ve ever made. It’s smooth and silky, spreads on to the cake with ease, and no one could resist eating leftovers straight by the spoonful. The cake uses beaten egg whites to stay light as there is no other raising agent, and the combination of hot coffee, melted dark chocolate and dutch cocoa give the richest chocolate taste I could manage. Don’t just make it if you’re gluten free – flour in this case only gets in the way, so it’s not a sacrifice to leave it out. Plus there is no fiddling around with crumb coats of frosting, leveling cakes or fancy decorating – you literally smear it on each layer and you’re done!
- I personally only own 2 x 20cm cake tins, so I kept the third cake mix in a separate bowl and baked it once the first two were done – this worked fine.
- For a single layer cake, halve the mixture and bake in one 23cm round cake tin (halve or third the icing then too)
- ⅔ cup dutch cocoa (70g)
- ⅔ cup hot espresso coffee (or instant dissolved in hot water)
- 300g good quality dark chocolate
- 300g unsalted butter
- 2 cups (370g) firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 cup almond meal (125g)
- 1 cup hazelnut meal (or toasted hazelnuts, skinned and ground to an almond meal consistency)
- 8 eggs, separated
- 225g unsalted butter, just softened but cool
- 1½ cups (190g) icing sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 125g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
- ⅔ cup (200g) nutella
- 1 tablespoon cream
- pinch of salt
- berries and cherries and chopped hazelnuts to decorate
- Grease and line 3 x 20cm round cake tins. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- In a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, watching carefully and stirring to ensure it doesn’t burn.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa and hot coffee until smooth.
- Stir the chocolate mixture into the cocoa. Add the brown sugar, ground almonds, ground hazelnuts and egg yolks. Whisk to fully combine.
- In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixture until soft peaks form. Adding a third of the egg whites at a time, gently fold into the chocolate mixture.
- Divide mixture between the three pans.
- Bake until a skewer comes out just clean with a few crumbs, about 45 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the icing sugar and butter. Beat on low speed for about a minute. Add vanilla and beat until well combined.
- Add the cool chocolate and beat on medium until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the nutella, cream and a pinch of salt and beat on med-high speed for another minute.
- Place one layer of the cake on your serving plate. Top with a third of the frosting and spread to the edges with an offset spatula (see pictures for thickness).
- Repeat with the remaining layers.
- Decorate with chopped hazelnuts, strawberries and cherries.