Nigella’s sumptuous chocolate cake

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I have had a complicated relationship with Nigella through the years. It was definitely because of her and Jamie Oliver I started cooking as a teenager, but as I got better at both cooking and baking I also got a bit disappointed with some of Nigella’s recipes. Sometimes they seem to promise more than they delivered, but then some recipes are so great I still use them 15 years later.

With her new cookbook and series, both named Simply Nigella, I am back in awe of her. I want to try all the recipes, love like the style of cooking (and baking) and all the recipes I’ve tried so far have been great.

This cake seemed absolutely delicious and easy to make on her show, and it certainly is a treat, plus it’s vegan – so a good recipe to have in your repertoire. Mine wasn’t entirely vegan though, I must confess. As I couldn’t find any coconut butter in my supermarket I used regular butter in the icing, which worked just as well would you prefer to make it non-vegan.

It is probably the most moist chocolate cake I’ve ever made and I will certainly make it again and again.

Nigella’s dark and sumptuous chocolate cake, serves 10-12

Adapted from Nigella’s recipe.

For the icing:

60 ml cold water

75 coconut butter (this is not the same as oil)

50 soft dark sugar

1 ½ tsp instant espresso powder – I omitted this 

1 ½ tbsp cocoa

150 dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the cake:

225 plain flour

1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp fine sea salt

1 ½ tsp instant espresso powder – I omitted this 

75 cocoa

300 soft dark brown sugar

375 ml hot water from a recently boiled kettle

75 g (90 ml) coconut oil 

1 ½ tsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180°C and pop in a baking sheet. Then start with the icing: put all of the icing ingredients except the chopped chocolate into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure everything’s dissolved. Then turn off the heat – but leave the pan on the hob – then quickly add the finely chopped chocolate and swirl the pan to allow the chocolate to sink.  Leave for a minute, then whisk until you have a glossy icing, and leave to cool.

Line the bottom of your springform cake tin with baking parchment. Put the flour, bicarb, salt (and instant espresso) and cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.

Mix together the sugar, water, coconut oil and vinegar until the coconut oil has melted, and stir into the dry ingredients, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done.

Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.

Give the icing a good stir with a spatula and  pour over the unmoulded cake, and use a spatula to ease the icing to the edges, if needed. Decorate (Nigella used chopped pistachios and rose petals while I went for snowflake sprinkles) and leave for 30 minutes until serving. 

 

Mezze: amazing lamb scewers and Damascene lentil salad

Another recipe courtesy of the carismathic Syrian chef is this phenomenal lentil salad with pasta. Unfortunately my stomach does not allow me to eat lentils, but I still wanted to make this for my friends.

Pasta is actually quite common in the Middle East among with other Italian influences such as pizza. This dish requires lasagne sheets, but I couldn’t find any egg-free lasagne sheets (to make it vegan) in the shops near work so I used fusilli instead. It worked well but I used a little bit too much pasta to get the perfect pasta-lentils ratio, so do use the measurements below. It was still a very tasty dish and this is great buffet food. (And cheap too.)

Damascene lentil salad (Harra s’bao), serves 4

230 ml lentils

2 lasagne sheets, semi-cooked, cut in finger-sized strips

1,4 l water

2 tsp salt

4 lonions, finely chopped

1/2 bunch coriander, chopped

4 garlic cloves, pressed

juice from 2 lemons

3-4 tbsp pomegranate molasses

240 ml olive oil

250 ml pomegranate seeds

Arabic croûtons

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add salt, lentils and 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook for 2o mins, covered, stirring occasionally.

Add the pasta after 20 minutes and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the pasta is cooked.

While the lentils are cooking, fry the onion brown in a frying pan, transfer to a bowl. In the same pan, fry the coriander for a minute (until wilted), add the garlic and fry on low heat. Place with the onions.

When the lentils are done, add olive oil and the rest of the ingredients. Top with Arabic croûtons and pomegranate seeds. 

As I told you earlier, everything was vegan apart from one meat dish, and that is the lamb scewers above. It might not be strictly Middle Eastern influences in this recipe, but it has the chilli and the cumin, and besides, it was too nice not to try!

And if you will be barbecuing just one thing this summer, make sure it is these scewers! The recipe is courtesy of the lovely Rejina at Gastrogeek and you find the recipe here.

I marinated the meat for 2 days to cram in as much flavour as possible, but since we don’t have a barbecue (or a garden, sob) I cooked them in the oven for 15 minutes or so and a few minutes under the grill at the end.