Ami’s recipes are scribbled on small pieces of paper. Soft pages which crumple in your hands; torn out from my elementary school ‘exercise books’ in Lagos, Nigeria. Another scribbled on the back of a Pan Am ticket sleeve. Or maybe on an index card, in her friend Liz’s cursive handwriting. The curly kind of writing your Third Grade teacher used to have. Liz, the first friend my mother made after moving to the United States as a young bride. The mother of my first boyfriend, at age 3. Or maybe another recipe, written in Ami’s inky, flowing streaks for a Lemon Velvet Pudding she had at the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Nairobi.
Ami had no cookbooks; recipes were noted down on a piece of paper here; an envelope there.
But mostly, in my home, recipes were passed down through oral tradition. (I so do wish Ami had passed these shades she is wearing down to me, regrettably -for me- she gave them to her favourite cousin).
“Cooking in our part of the world is like the music of the sitar, unwritten, passed through generations, the flavour defined by the gharana (family) with scope for some improvisation,” says my Baba. An accent here, an undertone of spices there.
Having inherited no chocolate cake recipes from the women in my family, I spent a week researching the science behind baking cakes when my husband’s birthday came up last month.
I wanted to create a recipe of my own for him. Given my husband’s love for dark chocolate, I decided something dense and muddy would have to be served at the end of the Greek-themed birthday dinner of spanakopita and arni youvetsi I prepared for him.
Besides, did I mention that I, too utterly adore dark chocolate?
I made him a chocolate cake with fleur de sel ganache.
The fleur de sel ganache resting on the cake in lacquered swirls, with just one candle for him to blow out.
And of course, there was Moët.
Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F
Line the base of a 25cm (10in) Springform pan with parchment paper and butter the sides.
* 5 tbsp cocoa powder (I use Valrhona)
* 80 ml boiling water
* 150 g granulated sugar
* 130 g brown sugar
* 150 g unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 4 eggs, brought to room temperature
* 4 tbsp buttermilk
* 100 g flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* In a small bowl, add boiling water to cocoa and stir.
* In your kitchen mixer or in a medium-size bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat at a high speed for 7 minutes.
* Add vanilla essence.
* Add eggs one by one and mix for another 7-10 minutes on high speed.
* Fold in the flour and baking powder gently, and mix on medium speed.
* Once all the flour has been incorporated, add buttermilk and cocoa and continue to mix.
* Transfer to springform pan and bake for 40 minutes.
* When a skewer is inserted in the middle of the cake it should come out clean.
* If the cake dips a little in the middle, don’t worry, you’re going to invert the cake and cover it with chocolate ganache.
To prepare cake for ganache:
* After removing from the oven, allow to rest and cool at least one hour.
* In the meanwhile, cut out 4 large square pieces of parchment paper.
* Once the cake is cool, place parchment paper squares on top of cake- make sure they are slightly overlapping when placed on the cake. Take the cake dish / stand in which you will serve the cake and with a swift movement, invert the cake onto it.
*Leave the parchment paper as is, you will need it when you decorate it with the ganache.
* Warm 240 ml heavy whipping cream till scalding, but it should not boil over. Pour over 200g dark chocolate (I use Valrhona Guanaja). Allow it to rest for a bit, if you start whipping it immediately, bubbles will form.
* Stir gently and slowly. Please do not whip rigorously- it will create pockets of air and you won’t have a smooth, shiny ganache in the end.
* Add a good pinch of fleur de sel, do a taste test. Add more if you like. I added a mere pinch.
* Give the ganache a gentle stir.
* With a spatula, apply the soft ganache over the cake in gentle swirls. (You will have some ganache leftover, serve with the cake in a small bowl).
* When spreading the ganache on the cake, there will be overflow on the sides, but don’t worry, that is what the parchment paper is there for.
* Place cake in fridge and allow to rest for at least half an hour.
* Remove from fridge and gently pull the parchment squares out from under the cake.
* Serve with a light sprinkling of fleur de sel.