My family Christmas was at my aunt’s house this year. She lives in rural Victoria, in a one street town with petite houses, gum trees and a waterfall within walking distance. It’s very close to Hanging Rock. Last year Sarah and I adventured to Hanging Rock and discovered that it is just as eerie as it is depicted in the 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock. The sound carries very strangely within the rocks, it echoes and bounces and it is sometimes impossible to hear someone calling from only metres away. We couldn’t hear a group of Italian students partying with a boom box at the top of the rock until we were right there, walking into their midst (not quite as romantic as teenage girls in white dresses, disappearing, but still very strange). Walking through the bush everything is slightly different; the world is almost the same but not quite right, just a little askew.
My aunt had a stroke just before Christmas, and very suddenly for her the world felt very strange and not quite right. Things that were easy and unconscious were now difficult and new – an unsettling feeling. But within all this we laughed. She decided that she has come out of the stroke a new person, and that hilariously, it is quite possible she has come out of it a better cook. She was of course a brilliant cook before the stroke – and unlike me is classically trained – but at Christmas everything turned out perfectly. We cooked this beautiful flourless chocolate cake to eat after afternoon bush walks and it was just so good. It’s moist, with such a delicate flavour and it’s not too sweet. Sarah and I have made this since and it’s excellent, maybe not quite as excellent as my aunt’s but close enough without us having to undergo a major brain injury.
Chocolate and Almond Cake
This is a doubled and converted recipe from my aunt’s copy of Elizabeth David’s, French Provincial Cooking. You could halve it and make one flattish cake (only cook for 45 minutes though) or make the doubled recipe but two cakes.
230g bitter dark chocolate
170g caster sugar
170g ground almonds
2 tbsp rum or brandy
2 tbsp strong black coffee
Preheat the oven to140C.
Break the chocolate into small pieces. Put them with the rum and coffee in a bowl to melt over a saucepan of boiling water. Stir the mixture well. Add this mixture to a saucepan with the butter, sugar and ground almonds and stir over a low heat for a couple of minutes, until all the ingredients are blended smoothly. Off the heat stir in well-beaten egg yolks, then fold in stiffly whipped whites. Turn into a lightly buttered spring form tin (7 to 8 inches diameter). Cook in a very low oven for an hour (check at 45 minutes) or until a skewer comes out clean.
Owing to the total absence of flour this cake is fragile. Turn it out of the tin with the utmost care. It can be served as is, or with thick cream, or iced with a bitter chocolate ganache. Ours is sprinkled with a little cocoa.