vendredi 27 mars 2009

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There are days of frustration when nothing ever seems right. I sleep badly, wake up tired and I feel everything I do just isn't good enough. If I write something, I want to have polished, musical prose but there are moments when writing the simplest sentence feels like pulling teeth out then the words seem too heavy and dull. There are days when I don't feel sure of anything anymore and just wish I could be someone else. Worst of all are those times when whatever I try in the kitchen is a disaster. The best cure for truly rotten days is to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head but sometimes this just isn't possible. You might think I'm exaggerating here or have just seen too many Bergman films or become too influenced by Leonard Cohen songs but I assure you that the off days sometimes hang heavily over me like rainclouds. Fortunately, they don't seem to last long.Last week I made my usual cake for the Toastmasters, a club to practise public speaking. Everyone there has been kind enough to give me the title of Cakemistress, an honour I try to live up to. As I'm a neurotic through and through, I always try to make a different one each time and often worry it won't taste good as obviously, I can't try a piece myself beforehand. Last Wednesday was a good example. I found a wonderful recipe on the Smitten Kitchen website and adapted it a little but when mine came out of the oven, I felt it just looked too simple and boring. On the website, hers was golden and spectacular but mine just looked yellow.
Could anything like that really taste good? Despairingly, I made a cream cheese icing which actually worked nicely and made me feel better about taking my humble cake to the meeting.

It turned out I had worried about nothing and everyone really loved the cake. Seeing it again in the photos, golden and glowing in the all too brief rays
of the evening sun, I think it looks lovely after all and wish I could convince myself more often that the most complicated things aren't always the best.

Pound cake

1 pack of full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese at room temperature
250g soft butter
100g sugar
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet baking powder
200g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 160° and butter a bundt pan or Springform if you prefer.

1. Mix the cream cheese and butter with a hand held electric mixer for 2-3 mins or until smooth.
Add the sugar and beat until light and

fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well and then theflour, baking powder and salt.
2. Pour the batter into your baking tin and
shake it a little so the top is roughly flat and the same level everywhere. Bake until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean - around 70 mins.
3. When the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and leave it in the tin for about 20 mins before turning it out onto a cooling rack. If you like, you
can also make the icing - this is probably a good idea if you want to at it the next day so it doesn't dry out.

Cream cheese icing

125g Philadelphia
25g icing sugar, sieved
15g soft butter

Simply mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Add more sugar or cream cheese if the icing is too runny or stiff. Spoon over the cake.

I'm now going to immediately contradict myself by giving you a recipe for a chocolate torte of Gargantuan proportions which is undoubtably THE chocolatiest cake I've ever eaten. It takes a bit of time but isn't complicated and surely, this should be a good enough reason to make it as everyone will think you've been working in the kitchen forever . The most important thing however is patience because you'll need to leave it to set. This cake combines the damp squidgyness of chocolate cake with a heavenly mousse, followed by cream and strawberries. Be warned though, even the most ardent chocoholics would find it a challenge to polish off a piece after a big dinner.

Double chocolate torte (from Smitten kitchen)

For the cake

200g semi-sweet chocolate (or you can just take half dark, half milk like I did)
150g unsalted butter
100g sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 packet of baking powder
150g plain flour

For the mousse

100g unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
2 small tubs of whipping cream
200g semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
50g sugar

To decorate

Fresh strawberries or raspberries

Preheat the oven to 160°. Grease and dust your springform baking tin with sugar.

1. Begin by melting the chocolate and butter in a metal pan over a low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and leave until lukewarm. Whisk in the sugar, followed by the eggs (one at a time) and blend well. Add salt, flour and baking powder and mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 35 mins until the middle of the cake just starts to rise. As the cake is so damp, a tester won't come out clean.
2. Leave the cake in the tin and place on a cooling rack.
3. To make the mousse, melt the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (the bowl should NOT touch the water). Whisk eggs yolks and 1 pot of cream in a small bowl and then gradually whisk this mixture into the butter. Whisk constantly over simmering water for around 5 mins. Remove the bowl from heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted.
4. Beat the egg whites and then add the suagr a little at a time until you have medium stiff peaks. Add a little of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it then gently fold in the rest, taking care not to overblend. Pour the mousse over the cake in the springform and smooth the top. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours and up to one day. To avoid temptation, perhaps it's better to go to a restaurant the night you make this cake!
5. When the mousse has set, gently transfer the cake onto a plate from the springform. Whip the cream until thick and cover the cake. Place the fruit on top in a semi-circle and prepare to be amazed.

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