Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Chocolate, lime and Szechuan pepper cake





A couple of weeks ago, I was very kindly invited on a food crawl around Angel  by the good people of Great British Chefs, who have created an amazing app full of delicious recipes from the UK's leading chefs. It is elegantly designed and user friendly and packed full of handy hints, tips and snappy little interviews. The app includes 180 recipes for a snip at £4.99 from iTunes. Not bad for less than a fiver!

The food crawl kick started with bubbly and canapés from the lovely ladies of Home and Pantry. Purveyors of all things rustic and cute, their shop is an Aladdin's cave of home and garden ware. Next up on this cold and rainy day was a frozen yoghurt from Frae. Despite the umbrella weather, my pot of green tea frozen yoghurt generously sprinkled with fresh raspberries was refreshing and delicious - like Mr Whippy for grown-ups AND less calories than a Kitkat (though for those unwilling to remain too saintly, you can get those calories back with a Kitkat topping*). What's not to like? After our fat free pot of frozen goodness, off we crawled to Giraffe for a generous array of dishes and drinks from cajun chicken wings and edamame beans to mini smoothies and cocktails, but not before we sampled the delights of Paul A. Young, master chocolatier. Paul welcomed us into his pretty purple premises and we all sighed with pleasure at the rich, intoxicating smell of chocolate. It's a gorgeous little shop full of treasure and we were all invited to pick one chocolate from the tempting display. 

Photo courtesy of GBC, see more here

After much umming and aahhing, I settled on the lime and Szechuan pepper chocolate truffle. The chocolate was smooth and silky with a subtle but zingy hit of lime, and not until after the citrus works its magic on your tongue do you feel the warm and fragrant cuddle of Szechuan pepper at the end. I'm a huge fan of chocolate with pepper and, despite having a keen fondness for a Szechuan pepper rub on duck breasts, I'd never thought to try them out with chocolate before. After tasting Paul A. Young's delicious truffle, I knew this would have to change, and I decided to pair these flavours together in a cake. At first, I was considering just adding the flavours to a chocolate cake batter, but more and more people I know and clients I meet have gluten allergies, so I decided to make this cake the subject of another experiment I've been plotting for some time. Many of my most delicious gluten-free cakes contain nut flours, which is fine if it's only gluten you have a problem with, but not so hot for those who need more of an all round 'free-from' experience. So I decided to make this fruity little number  gluten-, nut- and dairy-free to boot. In my household we are extremely partial to a plate of grilled tomatoes on socca bread for a weekend brunch and, as such, are almost never without a huge bag of gram flour knocking about in the cupboard. I've never used gram flour in a cake before but have often wondered about it, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. What's more, as gram flour is made of chickpeas it must surely count as one of your five a days too, no? So here it is, my free-from chocolate, lime and Szechuan pepper cake and I am very pleased to report that it's none too shabby!

Chocolate, lime and Szechuan pepper cake



Grease and line a 6" round tin and preheat your oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)

for the cake

6 oz/ 150g dark chocolate (best quality you can afford)
7 fl. oz/ 200 ml sunflower oil
8 oz/ 200g dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs, separated
4 limes
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, ground
5 oz/ 125g gram flour
1 oz/25g cocoa
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1 heaped tbsp caster sugar

  • Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water and leave to cool.
  • Whisk the egg whites with the salt and set to one side.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the dark muscovado sugar and oil together and then add in the egg yolks one at a time. Keep whisking until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
  • Mix in the chocolate, pepper and the zest of 4 limes.
  • Sift the gram flour, cocoa and bicarb over the chocolate mixture and whisk in. Don't worry if the mixture looks a bit peculiar at this stage.
  • Fold in the beaten egg white and pour into your prepared tin and bake for about an hour or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While you are waiting for the cake to bake, mix the juice of 2 of the limes with the caster sugar.
  • As soon as the cake is out of the oven, stab it all over with a skewer and pour the lime and sugar over the top of the hot cake. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in its tin before turning out on to a wire rack with the top of the cake facing up, so all the lime syrup will soak through.
for the topping

2 heaped tbsp light muscovado sugar
The juice of 2 limes
6 oz/ 150g of dark chocolate
A handful of Szechuan peppercorns

  • Bung all the ingredients, minus the peppercorns, in a saucepan and place over a gentle heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the chocolate has melted.
  • Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before spreading the topping over the top and sides of the cake with a palate knife.
  • Scatter with peppercorns and leave the topping to cool completely before serving.

*Other toppings are available.

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