I spent the weekend, for wont of a better word (or, at least, one that doesn’t imply that I’m about to give birth anytime soon), nesting. Within half an hour of being home, I’d unpacked my suitcase, put the first load of washing on and changed the sheets.
As the weekend unfolded, rather than spending the time sleeping or recovering from my transatlantic flight (and a relatively heavy last night in Mexico), I devoted my time to such worthy tasks as organising the coat cupboard and filing the piles of paperwork that I’d neglected since we moved house.
On Sunday night, as I half-watched a game of football while spending a therapeutic half hour at the stove making a risotto, I realised that it felt like I’d never been away. Throwing myself headfirst into the mundanities of my life was a far quicker way to recover from two weeks away than moping around would have been. I guess it’s the same when you come back from holiday and that first day of work tends to bring you back down to earth with a bump although, in this case, it was an entirely welcome return to normality.
I had high hopes for the food in Mexico. I was looking forward to two weeks filled with tacos, empanadas, toastadas and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was sorely disappointed. We tried traditional restaurants with starched tablecloths and waiters in dinner jackets at lunchtime, we tried the 24 hour cantina that all of our local colleagues recommended, we tried some fancy restaurants specialising in regional cuisines. We asked for suggestions from our hotel and everyone that we worked with and yet I don’t need very many fingers to count the number of good meals that we had; the fact that I didn’t instagram a single thing I ate is very telling. Even the breakfasts in our relatively expensive hotel were lackluster, too sweet and insubstantial for my tastes.
This cake is neither of those things. It’s dense and rich without being heavy. There is sweetness there but it comes on several different levels (the prunes, the brown sugar, the honey) bringing a depth of flavour rather than overwhelming everything in its path. The slightly boozy syrup adds a note of brightness; together with the generous helping of chopped chocolate running through the cake, it makes a slice feel like a proper treat.
Despite spending many hours salivating over Ottolenghi's cookbooks, I think this may be the first sweet recipe of his that I've used. I love a recipe that has an adjective in the title and his 'sticky chocolate and prune cake' sounded pretty much irresistible. I played around with a few of the ingredients and added the orange for another level of flavour. The sticky liqueur syrup is completely optional; it does add a bit of a kick but if you're not a fan of the taste of raw alcohol you can skip or or use orange juice instead of cointreau. The syrup certainly makes the cake taste a bit more decadent but there's a nice wholesomeness to the un-sticky cake. For those of you that are a little suspicious of prunes in a cake, don't be! You can process the prune mixture until smooth so you get all the good stuff without having to deal with what can be a slightly off-putting texture.
- 115g (4 oz) prunes
- 60ml (1/4 cup) plain yoghurt
- 60ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 egg
- 90g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
- 40ml (1/6 cup) honey
- 115g (1 cup less a tablespoon) flour (I used einkorn)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 15g (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
- A pinch of salt
- 150g (6 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
- The zest of 1 large orange
- 80ml (1/3 cup) water
- 75g (1/3 cup) sugar
- 30ml cointreau or other orange flavoured liqueur
- Preheat the oven to 170C/325F and butter a 1lb loaf tin.
- Add the prunes, yoghurt and olive oil to a food processor and process until you have a smooth paste. Add the egg, sugar and honey and pulse until mixed. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt. Finally, fold in the chocolate and orange zest.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tins and bake for 30 - 40 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by heating the water and sugar together in a small pan until dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the liqueur and set aside until needed.
- When the cake is baked, make a few holes in the top with a fork and pour over the syrup. Allow to cool in the tin before removing.
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook