Humble alternatives to chocolate cake

There have been quite a few disasters lately, including a chocolate cake that was squishy. Squishy chocolate cake can’t be so bad, one would think. A crater-shaped confection, with a sticky-crumbed circumference letting out smug cocoa-y wafts of richness, beckoning cake naysayers. Sadly no. My chocolate cakes have decided to disagree with me, with no consideration for certain insatiable I-will-brook-no-argument-on-the-natural-superiority-of-chocolate-cake types. I try to lure them with
—kiwi cupcakes

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—strawberry swirl lemon cake

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they’ve been fooled earlier, with beetroot cake, bashfully plump and pink-tinted, and those without a distinct strain of flavour, which is the one thing I hinge my baking on. A fruit reduction or puree unblemished by cinnamon or nutmeg. I imagine the mini loaves that turn out thus being a mite apologetic till they’re mollified with a bit of frosting.

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I’ve come to trust my loaf pans more. They aren’t as temperamental as the round tins. To come back to the earlier point, my foolproof chocolate recipe has turned out to be full of holes. Or it could be the stoneground baking chocolate from a gourmet store where it stood out as the cheapest among its brethren. It’s minimalistic packaging had suggested it would be a quiet stunner. So much for hipster values. I’m going with the easily available variety or the high-end snoot next time. Carrot season is over, the last hummingbird cake was more banana than I would have liked and the I’ll-just-fold-the-strawberry-puree-into-the-batter idea also bounced. It’s glutinous and gritty and cake pops seem like too much of an effort for something so far gone.

There’s a tiny container of passion fruit curd hanging around. One last try with the white chocolate can’t hurt. I’m torn between that and orange peel. Maybe throw in some chocolate chips too in a grotesque and escapist subversion of the Momofuku naked chocolate chip cake with passion fruit curd.

Bottom shelf of my fridge

The cake I bake
Is not a frosted monster
Ice-capped, pink-tipped
Whipped peak perfection
Alluring to the touch
Dome of sugar
A sponge too soft
That’s the cake he steals to the fridge for
While I sleep
To not hurt my feelings

***

Week-old breadcrumbs
Day-old egg wash
Swirled with rosemary
Fritters and foam
in a languishing pint of beer
Potatoes scrubbed and peeled
await a pan
I cobble the stragglers together
to find I have run out of salt

Time for Tea

 

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Dregs of tea and cake crumbs—as a pair, these two eloquently sum up a repast of delicate proportions, wedged in the corners of mealtimes. I used to regard the act of sipping on tea, usually engaged in by grown-ups, with suspicious envy. Could a simple brew honestly smoothen brows and relax limbs, provide a fleeting sense of time regained? My own squat, ungainly cup of always-scalding milk did not elicit any such emotion. It didn’t evoke the sort of revulsion it did in most of my friends either. I used to get cajoled by friends into saying I dislike papaya and milk. Make the appropriate squeamish noises. Even now, I feel the need to over-validate my response to a piece of music, literature or dessert in the light of the majoritarian opinion. I do not like Wes Anderson movies, Coldplay’s music and Philip Roth’s books (the last one may not be completely true, I have only read Nemesis, but I disliked it deeply).

It is vaguely surprising and a relief that none of the romance I associated with the glory of tea-time was excessive. It is a comprehensively pleasurable experience, marred only by the progressive cooling of the tea. One could invest in a tea doily of course, but there is only so much shelf space one can grant to one’s tea things. While I’m nowhere near the mountain of dainty crockery some people own I fear that my obsession with mugs borders on the hysterical. But what’s moist, squidgy cake that’s not arrayed on a pretty plate and err, lots of variously-patterned mugs to go with it?

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Stranded

I wanted long hair
Hair I could flip behind my shoulder
Self-importantly
Hair so long
It would get in the way
What I hadn’t envisioned
Was the pyramid shape
The tickle at the neck
But I still leave my hair open
Awry and enigmatic
Hoping someone
Will want to stroke it

The cake, not the bird

I have been grappling with the fact that I don’t seem to discover new music anymore. Music that I naturally and effortlessly feel drawn to, which compels me to drain my measly 500mb monthly data pack. It’s Red Hot Chili Peppers or Three Days Grace most of the time; sometimes Poets of the Fall and Tori Amos. Commentors on YouTube are very apologetic about listening to songs from 2005, 2012, heck, even 2014, in 2016. I’d be wringing my hands all the time then. My typical baking songlist alternates between The Cardigans, Evanescence and Tame Impala (now that’s a new-ish find).

Conclusion: Discovering new music is not easy. By contrast, new, doable recipes are not too hard to come by in the baking bylines of the world wide web.

The recipe for this mutated hummingbird cake, for instance. Most of the versions I saw were gorgeous layer cakes, glazed with the promise of moist heartiness. I am not ambitious  and just this one layer was as far as I went, and it was pretty good, the runny icing notwithstanding. In goes crushed banana and pineapple. I don’t believe in pineapple in carrot cake—carrots should never be trifled with. In the hummingbird cake, the pineapple tempers the banana-y intensity and lends it a lush lightness. I’ve also come to think that cinnamon is overrated, unless it’s a cinnamon roll packed with brown sugar. A ‘wise’ person once said one can’t differentiate between my banana, pumpkin and carrot cake because the base flavour is cloyingly cinnamon-y. There was fighting and kicking at first but I have come to the conclusion that when using overripe bananas, roasted pumpkin or red carrots in cake batter, cinnamon is redundant.

It’s a cake I see myself returning to, canned pumpkin and bananas not being hard to come by and the almost toffee-ish undercurrent being easy to replicate (fingers crossed till next time).

So, hum along to the dense notes of hummingbird cake.

The Conundrum of Chocolate

Apart from the occasional procurement of Lindt, chocolate doesn’t elicit extreme joy. I suspect that a preference for milk chocolate over dark is an indication of emotional stunting, but that’s exactly what I have. I also admit to the guilty pleasure of savouring almonds and raisins in slabs much to the chagrin of my aggressively raisin-hating peer group. They want no distractions-cookies, cakes and chocolate must be committed to their core composition devoid of frivolous elements. Once in a while I get taken in by chocolate cake, obviously if it’s a standout. I’m no one to call my own cake a standout and I have been accused of baking vanity, but everyone agreed it was spectacular, except the hard-to-please partner.

There was this cocoa from Kerala I had been hoarding for some reason. When I tried using it in cake the last time, it seemed too mild at the batter-stage and that was a ridiculous plum chocolate cake that came out sad. I’m yet to figure out how promising combinations often turn out disappointing. In my defence, it wasn’t my idea. The partner is to blame again, he insisted on an untenable plum upside down. In fact, the sister routinely thinks she can ask for specific flavours that are very prone to upsetting the balance of ingredients.

BTW, this was a no-egg chocolate cake, the only one ever.It was moist and all of that but I felt the absence of eggs acutely (please note the strategic placing of the Munro book in the frame to convey coolness et al).

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This post is not about this cake. It’s about a chilli chocolate cake that I wanted to revisit. In went the cocoa and copious amounts of kahlua. I was also keen on a maple syrup frosting. With chocolate cake, you start anticipating a fine brown crumb from the batter stage itself prompted by the lush brown shade and warm cocoa-y aroma. This reeked only of brown sugar. I was upset but soldiered on. By the next day, the cocoa had blossomed and the cake was moist and mature. The pinch of red chilli that goes into it translates into the slightest heat at the back of the throat after the first few bites.

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More, I was very pleased with this one.

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And something like a cross-section.

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Conclusion: Chocolate can be interesting.

 

 

 

Bite

I have not always been a frosting person but people change. I’m still not at the point of luxurious swathes of buttercream swirled into peaks of sin-mine’s a more tentative swipe across the top of the cake, unevenly plastered. Clockwise from top: blackcurrant tea cake, pumpkin and coconut cake, carrot cake and vanilla apricot cake. The last one was stuck to the pan and refused to dislodge. More on my stinginess with parchment paper later.