Sunday, September 20, 2015

Recipe: Flourless chocolate, hazelnut ricotta cake

If you have a food intolerance, life can get a bit boring food wise. It isn't just that you are limited in what you can have, it is that people get good at making one thing that meets your needs and you get to have it over and over and over.

I'm lucky enough not to have any real food issues but I seem to be surrounded by people with them. At a recent dinner 11 of the 14 people there had special dietary requirements. So while I can eat everything, I do spend quite a bit of time thinking about new and delicious things I can make for my friends who have limitations.

When it comes to gluten free baking I started, like everyone it seems, with a flourless orange and poppyseed cake. Now there is nothing wrong with orange and poppyseed cake, mine is actually pretty damn delicious, but I realised that more often that not it is the only gluten free option in cafes and so my friends had it a lot. Since then I've been experimenting with a range of flavours and particularly with different nuts to replace the seemingly ubiquitous almonds.

This cake is great. Rich, moist, packed with flavour. You certainly don't feel like you are missing out on anything with it and I'm yet to meet anyone who doesn't love it. It is best the day after it has been made after it has spent a night in the refrigerator really developing that dessert like texture.

I've got two options for toppings with this recipe because S and I can't decide which is best. Topping one involves sprinkling grated chocolate over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. It melts and forms a super chocolate layer. However it isn't that aesthetically pleasing.

Topping two is a simple dusting of icing sugar before serving which looks great but doesn't add a lot to the flavour.

Tips: Place a bowl of hot water in the bottom of the oven to add some moisture. This helps prevent cracks, although mine does often crack a little. If you don't like orange you can leave the zest out but it does add a lovely complexity to the flavour. When you take it out of the oven it will slowly drop in size, but that is what creates the great texture so don't worry when it happens.


Flourless chocolate, hazelnut ricotta cake
120g butter
250g caster sugar (divided into 150g and 100g)
1 tsp vanilla paste
zest 1/2 an orange
4 eggs separated
45g cocoa
1/3 warm milk
240g hazelnut meal
300g ricotta
flaked almonds
either 20g grated dark chocolate or icing sugar to decorate

Preheat a fan forced oven to 160oC. Grease and line a 20cm baking tin.

Cream the butter, 150g of the sugar, vanilla and zest till light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

In a small bowl, mix together the cocoa and milk to form a thick paste. Add to the butter mixture (note make sure your milk is only warm as it will help dissolve the cocoa but not too hot so that it melts the butter).

Add the hazelnut meal and mix well, then fold through the ricotta until all combined.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then beat in the remaining 100g of caster sugar until thick, glossy and hard peaks.

Fold the egg whites through the cake batter a third at a time. I do this by hand with a spatula carefully lifting and folding the mix so that you don't knock too much air out of the egg white.

Pour into the prepared tin, sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top and bake for 40-45 minutes until springy to touch. It may still look slightly wobbly in the tin but if the centre bounces back at the touch it is ready.

If you are using the chocolate, sprinkle over straight away so that it melts on the hot cake.

Allow to cool completely in its tin before transferring to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

Serve cold from the fridge, dusted with icing sugar of using that option and with a good dollop of whipped cream.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Random Musings: Knowing (and respecting) your limits

Today is a glorious spring day. Warm with a light breeze - just the perfect day to get out and go crazy in the garden.

A few month ago, however, I had a car accident. It wasn't very serious, the car was fairly easily repaired and I didn't even think I'd hurt myself other than bumping my shoulder but it turned out that "bump" was a partial dislocation - and didn't I know it a week later when the pain kicked in. Anyone who has had a shoulder injury knows that they are slow to heal. It has been a long road of chiropractic visits, massage and rehab but I'm pretty much back to normal.

Lets just pause on the term "pretty much" for a second.

Right now I'm still doing my rehab exercises. Day to day activities are fine but for an office dweller like me, that doesn't involve much manual work. So much as I'm dying to spend the whole day overhauling the garden, I just can't. A couple of hours and the tired feeling kicks in and I have to stop. Not because I want to, but because I have to or I risk setting back my recovery.

It is awful that moment when what you mind wants you to do and your body can do, don't match.

I recently caught up with an old colleague and somehow our conversation turned to exactly this topic. She told me that recently she had been at the gym doing intervals after a huge and exhausting week. Her mind was saying "go, go , go" and her body was valiantly trying but couldn't keep up and she found herself in tears. She said it was like the dichotomy between what her mind wanted to be able to do and what her body was capable of just broke her soul for that moment. She wasn't upset, or even really distressed but the tears were just the way her body was trying to tell her that she had to stop.

I know precisely what she meant. I've found myself in tears for exactly this reason - most mortifyingly in the middle of a dance class - on a number of occasions. I have to ask myself, is finishing the garden, doing that extra set of intervals, taking that extra dance class worth it when our bodies are clearly saying no?

I don't think that we give rest the importance it deserves. In our busy world there is always something else we could be doing and taking time to let our bodies recover seems to go missing in that equation. So I'm doing my best to buck the trend. I'm listening to my body when it says it is time to go to bed, even if it means I miss the end of a TV show. I'm recognising the evenings when I just need to stay home on the couch. And I'm stopping work in the garden, even when there is more to do.

Because there is always tomorrow and isn't tomorrow better when you feel well enough to enjoy it?

Do you know your limits? And more importantly do you respect them?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Random Musings: Spring

It is spring. 

The sun is shining. 

I'm wearing a t-shirt. 

Flowers are everywhere.

The world is good!