So, I have some BIG news. This morning I landed into Hong Kong to begin my new life as an English teacher. It’s a long story, but one that mainly hinges around that fact that a relationship conducted across an 8 hour time difference just isn’t that fun. I’m sat in Starbucks (for as taste of the local culture!) as part of my stay-awake-until-night campaign eating something called an ‘italian sausage stick’. So far I’m unconvinced it has little to do with either Italy or sausages…..
Dubious sausages sticks aside, on previous visits to Hong Kong I’ve been delighted by its food. Each time leaving about half a stone heavier, which doesn’t bode well for a long stay. I love the exploration of different food here, eating on street tables covered in plastic clothes, lit by bulbs from the dubious wiring looping above your head. Biting into steaming dim sum, never quite sure what’s going to await inside. Big plates of Chinese vegetable, dripping in Oyster sauce. Polishing off a deep-fried duck, head and all. Fish balls cooked by street vendors alongside street food made of parts of animals I can’t identify. Flaky little egg tarts sitting in heated cases outside of shops. Buckets of live frogs, fish, prawns and other crustations splashing under foot as you wander through the markets. Hairy crabs tied up for sale with a few deft turns of the wrist. Dropping white rice everywhere as I attempt to shovel it in my mouth like the locals. And, a very guilty pleasure here, exceptionally cheap Macdonald’s! Hong Kong also brings many new challenges, most notably the traditional lack of ovens in the space cramped Hong Kong apartments. I have fingers, toes, everything crossed that mine will be one of the happy exceptions. My time in Hong Kong will probably involve a lot less time in the kitchen than exploring the many hundreds of restaurants that Hong Kong has to boast, but with so much on offer to explore that can never be a bad thing.
But first, back to a little bit of good old-fashioned baking. Before I left for Hong Kong I threw a leaving dinner to say goodbye to my family and close friends. Among the party was one guest who was gluten intolerant, and a guest who was severely intolerant to both gluten and dairy. Not the easiest to cope with in a dinner party. It’s always a challenge to find food that both can be eaten by those with intolerances, and enjoyed by the rest of the guests. Puddings are especially difficult. It’s hard to find a good desert that doesn’t hinge around flour, butter or cream. This time I managed to find two really good puds that hid every suggestion of their gluten/dairy free nature. No heavy, solid cake here. No cardboard-like pastry falling apart at the slightest touch.
Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta Cake
This is a heavenly cake, one that everyone should try. It may not be the most elegant and beautiful of cakes from the outside, but once you cut into it you are rewarded with a rich yellow cake with a large moist crumb, sticky with lemon syrup and melting in the mouth. This was my first attempt at cooking with polenta. The form I’m most familiar with is as a creamy, running pale substance that looks like thin mash potato and served alongside savoury dishes. I was a little dubious about how this would work within a cake. The texture of the finished cake is unusual but wonderful. Once the cake comes out of the oven its top is pricked all over and a lemon syrup is drizzled in. The whole cake becomes sticky with the syrup, gooey and decadent. What’s more its such a versatile recipe. It was a great dinner party dessert but it would also be a wonderful supper pudding, or excellent with a cup of tea in the summer sunshine.
Sophie Dahl’s Flourless Chocolate Cake
This scrummy chocolate cake is based on a recipe by Sophie Dahl. It’s like a large, gooey chocolate brownie. My cake used goat butter instead of normal butter. A heaven-sent product, tastes and reacts like butter produced from cows milk. Melts, creams, bakes and responds just the way it needs to, unlike a few other dairy free butter substitutes on the market. The recipe was reduced by a third, but cooked in the same tin, to make it a thin, more tart-like cake. Sophie tops her cake with mountains of fresh fruit and lashings of crème fresh. unfortunately this isn’t an option in my diary free adaptation, so instead it was topped with raspberries and a dusting of icing sugar.
200g Dark Chocolate (if you’re making the dairy free version make sure you pick one that doesn’t contain any milk)
150g Caster Sugar
120ml boiling water
150g goat butter, cut into cubes
4 eggs, separated
half teaspoon of instant coffee granules
half teaspoon vanilla extract
raspberries to decorate
1) Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease a 23cm spring-form tin.
2) Blend the chocolate and the sugar together in a food processor until you’ve made a fine powder. Don’t worry if you are left with a few lumps of bigger chocolate, these will melt into the cake as it cooks. Add the boiling water, egg yolks, coffee powder and vanilla extract and blend until it is well combined.
3) In a separate bowl whisk up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture.
4) Pour into the cake tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Take out the oven and leave to cool in its tin. The cake will probably crack a bit or sag in the middle – it’s all part of its charm! Remove from the tin and cover in raspberries and icing sugar to serve.