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I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of-songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst. – Hélène Cixous, an excerpt from ‘The Laugh of Medusa.” The beginning of the year has been an endless outpouring of flux and floods. Storms, I could drown the world with my fingertips. The sea is against me, all I desire to do is swim. I swirl, uncontained, I burst rivers, I crash the shore, I cascade and fall, I swell and get swollen, I beat against the break, my fingers, an eternal stream of downpour, I wring them out, I storm, rivers overflow onto beds and our whirlpools collide, the current carries me away. I drown beneath the high-tide, I drown, I am all tide. I am all ocean.  For the most part, I said two-thousand-and-eighteen would be a never-ending outpour of new material. And I’d be lying if I told you I thought it would be different. I started living, for more, for something else, for someone else. I could only ever do heat and intensity or cool and calamity, best. A happy medium. Endlessly difficult to achieve, and one I’m working on. Routine is slowly streaming back. And it’s a routine that makes space for more-frequent updates, and a greater direction of recipes. These Salted Hazelnut Bourbon Blondies with Cacao Nibs and Figs are my February heart. Filled with dark and stormy depth, richness, intensity, and a tremendous amount of sweetness. The month’s afternoon storms have led to a never-ending hunger for all things sugared. And a small square of these, are more than enough to sate. They’re buttery, golden, and filled with sweet, jammy, chunks of fig. There’s molten bitter pools of dark chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, and spelt flour, within. Bourbon, too. And there’s a final flourish of smoked fleur de sel. They’re the kind of thing that doesn’t hold back. NOTES – You can substitute the figs for an equal amount of another addition of choice. I love to use dried sour cherries or cranberries. For something even more decadent, try dates or caramelized white chocolate chunks. – I use couverture dark chocolate in this recipe. Sourcing couverture isn’t always necessary, but a good block of chocolate, is. The chocolate should be the kind you wouldn’t just bake with, but that you would eat. The 70% strength is on the slightly bitter side, which pairs perfectly with all the sweetness within. For a less intense flavor, you could use a chocolate with 60% cacao solids, though I wouldn’t recommend use anything less. – I use smoked fleur de sel to finish. You could also use regular fleur de sel or flaked sea salt. Pink sea salt would be stellar, too.   SALTED HAZELNUT BOURBON BLONDIES WITH CACAO NIBS AND FIGS 70 g hazelnuts, 160 g unsalted butter (cubed), 250 g dark muscovado sugar, 2 medium eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract, 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional), 130 g white spelt flour, 50 g hazelnut flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 110 g 70% dark chocolate (roughly chopped), 90 g dried figs (chopped), 1 tablespoon cacao nibs, smoked fleur de sel, (for finishing).                          Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Grease and line a 20 cm (8-inch) square baking pan with non-stick parchment paper. Let the paper slightly overhang the sides. Set aside. Roughly chop the hazelnuts. Place them on a baking tray lined with non-stick parchment paper. Bake, until fragrant and evenly toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Place the butter into a medium saucepan. Heat, over medium-low, until melted and golden. Remove from the heat and pour the butter into a large mixing bowl. Add in the dark muscovado sugar. Whisk until smooth and combined, about a minute. At first it looks like the butter and sugar won’t combine, but the mixture will become smooth and glossy as you continue to whisk. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until well incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla bean extract and bourbon. The mixture should be very glossy and smooth. Set the bowl aside. In a separate medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the white spelt flour, hazelnut flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl with the butter and sugar mixture. Use a wooden spoon to fold the ingredients together until just combined. Add in the dark chocolate chunks, dried figs, and toasted hazelnuts. Mix until evenly incorporated throughout the batter. Pour into the prepared baking pan, using a rubber spatula to help spread the batter to the edges and to smooth out the top. Sprinkle over the cacao nibs. Bake, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is shiny, crackled, and golden brown. The edges should be firm and the middle just set, but with a slight softness to it. Remove from the oven and let the blondies cool in their pan to room temperature. When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle over a little of the smoked fleur de sel, and slice into even squares.

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‘I walked for hours in those forests, my legs a canvas of scratches, trading on the old hopes – we were meant to be lost.’ – Joanna Klink, from 3 Bewildered Landscapes: ‘Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy.’ I have notebooks. Full of illegible scribbles and dog-eared pages. Notebooks with coffee stains, grease smears and spills. Some pages are stuck together, and I have to gently pry them apart so the ink doesn’t smudge. I write all my recipes in these books. The words might begin on one page and stop on the second. Resuming on the fourth. And carried deep into the sixth. I never write down the method. Only ever measurements. Sometimes just the ingredient. I don’t return to these notebooks often. But when I do, I only follow the stained pages. The dirtier the page, the better loved it is. I had these Bitter Chocolate Olive Oil Cookies with Buckwheat and Salt floating somewhere between the sixth or seventh notebook from last year. I originally made them on rye, as inspired by the salted chocolate rye cookies from Tartine. But then I needed them gluten-free, and buckwheat happened. It was the greatest addition to the rich tones of chocolate and olive oil within. Nutty, hearty, and warm. Slightly bitter. A unifier. These cookies, are the ultimate. Deep, dark, and rich. Fudge-like, with smoldering intensity. I’ve re-worked the recipe since its first conception. There’s both espresso and espresso liqueur within. I’ve switched out the liqueur for dark rum before, and it worked equally as well. There’s Mexican vanilla bean seeds too. And a flourish of salt, to round it all off. NOTES – For this recipe, I use couverture dark chocolate. The chocolate is the star, and there’s nowhere to hide. Use a block that you wouldn’t just bake with, but that you would eat. Callebaut is my favourite. Use a block that’s no less than 70% cacao solids for a cookie with more depth, richness and intensity. – I like to use the seeds from a Mexican vanilla bean pod in this recipe. It gives a slight hint of spice and a supple earthy tone to the overall flavor profile of the cookie. It’s a slight difference, but one I think well worth sourcing out. A regular vanilla bean pod or extract will work equally as well. Make sure to use extract and not synthetic essence. – I used flaked salt here, purely because I ran out of fleur de sel. You can use the two interchangeably. Smoked fleur de sel would be an even better option. I can imagine that the brininess of grey sea salt would work wonders, too. – The recipe calls for the dough to chill for thirty minutes before rolling. Don’t skip this step! The dough will always remain quite sticky, given the high concentration of chocolate – but, chilling the dough before-hand allows it to roll easier. If you leave the dough in the refrigerator for too long, it’ll keep firming up. Just let it sit at room temperature until it’s at the right consistency for easy rolling.  – You should get about 20-22 cookies from this recipe. I use a small cookie scoop that’s about 1 inch (2.5 cm’s) in diameter to form the balls. You could also use a scant tablespoon as a measure. Additionally, dip the cookie scoop or tablespoon into a little bowl of warm water, to make the dough easier to scoop out as you go. BITTER CHOCOLATE OLIVE OIL COOKIES WITH BUCKWHEAT AND SALT 300 g 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped 50 ml olive oil 45 g buckwheat flour 1 teaspoon finely ground espresso powder ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 140 g dark muscovado sugar 2 medium eggs 1 tbsp. espresso liqueur seeds scraped from a Mexican vanilla bean pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract Flaked salt, for finishing Place the roughly chopped dark chocolate into a medium sized heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water below. Heat, on medium-low, until melted and smooth. Stir often to ensure the chocolate melts at an even consistency. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the olive oil until well combined. Set aside to cool slightly. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together the buckwheat flour, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using handheld electric beaters, whisk together the sugar and eggs on medium speed, until thick, light caramel in color, and almost doubled in volume, about 4 minutes. In a slow and steady stream, pour in the melted and cooled chocolate, making sure to pour it down the sides of the beater bowl. Add in the espresso liqueur and vanilla bean seeds or extract. Continue to whisk until well incorporated and glossy. Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Set the mixer speed to medium-low and add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. The mixture should be thick and cling to the whisk when it’s raised. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and cover it with a layer of plastic wrap. Let the dough chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Line three baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop the mixture out and into evenly sized dough balls. Alternatively, you could use a tablespoon as a measure. Make sure to space them an even distance apart, to allow room for spreading. You should fit about 8 balls per sheet. Sprinkle over a little of the flaked salt. Bake, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed, beginning to crackle, and the edges are just firm. Let the cookies cool on their sheets for 10 minutes, before carefully transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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“I have breathed in deeply all the honeysuckle-perfumed air, the sunshine, the snowdrops of winter, the carouses of spring, the primroses, the crooning pigeons, the trills of the birds, the entire procession of soft winds and cool smells of frail colors and petal-textured skies, the knotted snake greys of old vine roots, the vertical shoots of young branches, the dank smell of old leaves, of wet earth, of torn roots, and fresh-cut grass, winter, summer, and fall, sunrises and sunsets, storms and lulls, wheat and chestnuts, wild strawberries and wild roses, violets and damp logs, burnt fields and new poppies.” – Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin It happened for a brief moment, and now it’s gone. I’ve forever felt the passing of time more heavily when I travel rather than when I’m home. And for all the ways in which I find myself coming home, I always return feeling far from it. I remember the morning chill, the intermittent rain, and the fog that shrouded the fir. The dampness of soil, scent of mildew, and the moss that devoured. The afternoon I baked gooseberry and pear galettes. The fire that roared, and the flames that threatened to engulf. I remember the stillness I was left with. And all the ways in which I find myself longing to return to it. The meaning of the word wander has been weighing heavily upon me. For the past few months, I’ve felt as if the wander we’ve come to know is no longer faithful to the true meaning of the word. The nature of social media has taught us to live against the moment. To focus on someone else’s curated moment. So much of the meaning of wander is lost. And so much of wander is getting lost. It’s about being present. Stillness. Scent. Finding flowers and flowering within yourself. The awe of the Earth. Unfolding to the wild and the wild of your own skin. It’s organic. I wanted to get back to that place. As much as I love the lens, I’ve always needed to live first within my memories. I barely photographed this trip. And by release, the photographs I ended up with are greater reflections of the organic sense of wander I’ve been desiring to capture. So, this isn’t a travel guide about all the things I did in New Zealand. You won’t find a carefully put-together list of places to visit (Sorry!). Rather, it’s a living guide. About all the things I didn’t do. Finding yourself within a place. Becoming part of its terrain. Breathing the same language as the Earth. We all come from the same bud. Leaving part of your roots behind. Coming back with soil deep within your heels. And finding home within each new terrain. All the ways in which I found myself, by losing myself. ALL THE THINGS I DIDN’T DO IN NEW ZEALAND – I didn’t stick to a plan. I lost the itinerary. I stopped measuring the days. I threw out the lists. I surrendered to the whim of the wild. And in doing so, I learnt how to live. – I didn’t follow maps. We drove endlessly, for hours. Through small towns. And found ourselves at the mouths of rivers. We drove against mountains. We drove to mountains. We stopped on the side of the road. We devoured yellow-hued cherries. We ate them in the full sun. We had no destination. – I didn’t eat out. Because eating in, is the new eating out. Cooking for those you love. Cooking for love. The scent of fresh bread to warm the house. Morning coffee and pastries. We visited farmer’s markets. There’s something to be said for sourcing seasonal produce and interacting with the hand that reared it. We feasted well. – I didn’t look to social media. I turned off my phone. I chose which moments to share. I created my own story. – I didn’t become a tourist. We swam against the stream. We explored. We became our own tour guides. Went back into nature. We hiked nowhere. We hiked everywhere. We saw trees bend. We heard the wind howl. We watched the sun rise, then fall. And fell into it. We became traveller’s. – I didn’t photograph everything. I shot film. I chased light. I sought moments. I sought people. I composed. I let myself live in the moment. I became the moment.

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‘And all my soul is scent and melody.’ – Charles Baudelaire, an excerpt from ‘Les Fleur du Mal.’ Gingerbread Whisky Cake with Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Milk Chocolate Ganache. It sounds like a mouthful, and make no mistake –  it is. It’s cake that demonstrates my adoration for the flavours of the season. A cake inspired by the new fragrance from the Christmas collection at dusk – Gingerbread. It wholeheartedly embodies everything I need this season to be and more. Warmth. Heat. Sweetness. Spice. Exuberance. Drunkenness. Laughter. With each feeling embodied in a single, dulcet, slice of cake. I’ve always demanded heat and intensity, in all aspects of life. And it’s within the flavours of this cake, that I’ve harnessed it. The cake is comprised of three heavily spiced gingerbread layers, inspired by the fragrant notes found within dusk’s Gingerbread candle. There’s a whisky sugar syrup to moisten each layer, that brings an additional element of indulgence and depth. And a smooth milk chocolate ganache between each layer, which is slightly salted, oh-so-sweet and soft. I’ve always felt that ganache makes everything better. And the presence of it within this cake is a testament to that. A brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream fills and coats the entirety of the cake, which, unites all the richness going on within. It’s a cake of pure decadence, sweetness and spice. A cake for times of celebration. For laughter and loved ones. And there’s no other way in which I’d have it. If there’s anything I’ll be doing this season, it’ll be lighting candles and eating cake. Gingerbread candle and gingerbread cake – it’s a sensory affair. The two are fated for each other. The cake is good without the candle, and the candle is good without the cake – but paired together? It’s heavenly decadence. There’s nothing that comes close to it. It’s the entirety of the season wrapped up in both fragrance, and taste. So, eat a thick slice of cake, light a candle. And feel completeness.   NOTES – This cake uses the reverse creaming method. Which utilises the technique of incorporating the butter into the dry ingredients at the beginning, instead of creaming together the butter and sugar. The result is a cake that is kept moist for longer, with a finer crumb and bakes up almost always flat. – If you don’t like whisky, you could easily substitute it for another alcohol. A hazelnut liqueur, or rum, would be ideal. As too would espresso liqueur. – Make sure that the milk chocolate ganache is completely at room temperature before using it to fill the cake. If the ganache is too hot, it has potential to melt the buttercream below. Additionally, make sure that when layering the cake, the buttercream dam is deep enough for the ganache to fill. You want the ganache to be contained within, not leak out the sides of the cake. – Make sure that all the ingredients for the Swiss meringue buttercream are kept at consistent room temperature. You want the butter to be just soft and malleable, not very soft and runny. If you have a candy thermometer, you can test for the ideal temperature for the butter to be used, which is around 18 c (65 f).   GINGERBREAD WHISKY CAKE WITH BROWN SUGAR SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM AND MILK CHOCOLATE GANACHE For the cake: 300 g granulated sugar 280 g cake flour 100 g hazelnut meal 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom ¼ teaspoon ground all-spice ¼ teaspoon ground clove ½ teaspoon salt 190 g unsalted butter, at room temperature 230 g egg whites, at room temperature 280 ml whole milk, at room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Grease and line 3 x 15 cm cake pans with non-stick parchment paper. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the sugar, cake flour, hazelnut meal, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, all-spice, clove and salt. Set the mixer speed to medium. Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all used up. Beat, for a further 3 to 5 minutes, or until combined. The mixture should have formed a rough and sandy meal-like texture. In a separate large pouring jug or mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk and vanilla bean extract, until just combined. Set the mixer speed to medium-low. Pour in half the liquid ingredients. Beat until just combined then pour in the remaining half. Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 3 more minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, making sure to use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top. Bake, for 25 to 35 minutes, or until risen, lightly brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in their pans for 15 minutes before carefully turning out and onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, level off any domed tops. For the syrup: 50 g granulated sugar 50 ml whisky 30 ml water Combine the sugar, whisky and water in a medium sized saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a light rolling boil, then, remove it from the heat and set aside to cool until needed. For the ganache: 175 g milk chocolate, finely chopped 125 ml heavy cream Place the finely chopped milk chocolate into a medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside. Set the cream into a medium sized saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches a light rolling boil. Immediately remove the boiling cream from the heat and pour it over the milk chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute to acclimatize, then use a rubber spatula to stir until smooth and shiny. For the buttercream: 180 g egg whites 110 g granulated sugar 100 g light brown sugar 350 g unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon ground clove ¼ teaspoon salt Place the egg whites, granulated and light brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water set on medium-low heat. Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Heat, whisking often, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 70 c (160 f) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the mixture hot to the touch. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk, on medium-high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture holds stiff peaks. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and the meringue should be glossy and cool. Pause mixing and swap the whisk attachment for the beater attachment.  Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the vanilla bean extract, cinnamon, clove and salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until the buttercream is thick and silky smooth and velvety, 5 more minutes. Set the buttercream aside for assembly.  For assembly: To assemble the cake, place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, onto a serving plate or cake stand.  Use a pastry brush to glaze the first layer of cake with a little of the whisky sugar syrup. Then, use an offset spatula to spread about 3 generous tablespoons of the buttercream over the top of the cake. Slightly hollow out the center of the buttercream with the back of a metal spoon to form a buttercream dam. Fill the center with a quarter of the milk chocolate ganache. Gently press on the second cake layer, cut side facing down. Repeat the layering process above. Gently press on the final cake layer, again, cut side facing down. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of the remaining buttercream. Set the cake in the refrigerator to chill the crumb coat, about 30 minutes. Once set, remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the offset spatula to spread on a final layer of buttercream. (You can choose to frost the cake either thinly or thickly, here. I kept the final buttercream coating thin – for a more naked cake effect). Set the cake back in the refrigerator to chill for a further 30 minutes to firm the outside buttercream. Once firm, remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the remaining half of the milk chocolate ganache over the top of the cake. Use a butter knife or offset spatula to help it spread down the sides of the cake to form a drippy effect. Again, set the cake back in the refrigerator to chill the chocolate, before serving. Thank you to my friends at dusk for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions and words are my own. You can follow dusk on social media here and here. Find out more about their Christmas collection, here. And here and here to see other cakes I’ve created for dusk in the past.

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“This is why blind Orpheus praises love and why love gouges out our eyes and why all lovers smell their way to Dover. That is why innocence has so much to account for, why Venus appears least saintly in the attitudes of shame. This is lost children and the deep sweetness of the pulp, a blue thrumming at the formed bone, river, flame, quicksilver. It is not the fire we hunger for and not the ash. It is the still hour, a deer come slowly to the creek at dusk, the table set for abstinence, windows full of flowers like summer in the provinces vanishing when the moon’s half-face pallor rises on the dark flax line of the hills.” – Robert Hass, an excerpt from ‘Praise.’ If I had to tell you the exact moment I fell for flowers, my memories could only fail. All I know is that I fell somewhere between the bittersweet perfumed nights of my youth, and the morning the screaming sonnets stopped. My memories are solely based upon moments of flowering. How the seasons smelt, when the last of the rain fell, when we blistered and burnt beneath sunlight. And as only lost things can, I found myself within each bloomed moment. But as is fated for flowering, the ephemeral bloom soon fades. And not even I can remember who I once was. All that remains is the ashes of the perennial bud. The depth of the human soul is concealed within shadow. And it’s only with rare illuminations of light can you awaken it. I once violenced a war against my darkness, and it took near destruction for me to see how precious the all-consuming dark, as well as the light, is. That very same consummation is reflected within these entanglements. The visual representation of both Life and Death. Of Devourance. Of Beauty, however temporal. And of Struggle, wild Struggle. Struggle that exists throughout all forms of nature. I’ve always believed that creation is the nearest we can ever come to sanctity. And at the core of each and every one of us is an artist. Meeting certain people serves to awaken that inner self – no matter how deeply buried. Luisa is one of those people. We created and photographed together, masses of flowers and cake. An Almond Cake with Fleur de Sel Dulce de Leche and Smoked Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream. And through fluidity she made me see the potential of what could be, the vast expanse that creativity has to offer. I’ve always chosen to cling to the world of artists and creators, for art is the only true form of salvation from the bitterness of the world that so often threatens to consume. And if I could only style and photograph flowers solely for the remainder of my life, I’d remain eternally content. Thank you, Luisa, for your wisdom and guidance. And to my readers, I hope you enjoy these images just as much as we enjoyed bringing them to life.

ALMOND CAKE WITH FLEUR DE SEL DULCE DE LECHE AND SMOKED BROWN BUTTER SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM  For the cake: 300 g granulated sugar, 280 g cake flour, 100 g almond meal, 1 tbsp. baking powder, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. salt, 215 g unsalted butter (at room temperature), 260 g egg whites (at room temperature), 325 g sour cream (at room temperature), 1 tbsp. vanilla bean extract, 1 tsp. almond extract Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Grease and line 3 x 15 cm cake pans with non-stick parchment paper. Set aside. Whisk together the sugar, cake flour, almond meal, baking powder, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat, on low speed until combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium. Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all used up. Beat, for a further 3 to 5 minutes, or until combined. It should begin to form a rough and sandy meal-like mixture. In a separate large pouring jug or bowl, whisk together the egg whites, sour cream, vanilla bean extract and almond extract. Set the mixer speed to medium-low. Pour in half the liquid ingredients. Beat until just combined then pour in the remaining mixture. Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 3 more minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, making sure to use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top. Bake, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until risen, lightly brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in their pans for 15 minutes before carefully turning out and onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, level off any domed tops. For the swiss meringue buttercream: 350 g unsalted butter (at room temperature), 180 g egg whites, 210 g granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla bean extract, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp salt, a few drops of liquid smoke Place 150 g’s of the butter into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Set the remainder aside. Heat, stirring often, until the butter is golden and melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the butter is beginning to turn amber in colour and smells nutty in fragrance. The butter will begin to foam, but will subside as it continues to cook. Some brown butter solids should just be beginning to form at the base of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour the brown butter into a large pouring jug. Set it in the refrigerator to set until the butter is malleable and soft, about 1 hour. Once set, remove the brown butter from the refrigerator and re-weigh it – you should have about 100 g’s. Add the remainder of the plain butter, as set aside above. Re-weigh to reach a combined total of 350 g of butter. You may need to add a little more plain butter depending on how much butter evaporated during the browning process. Set aside. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water set on medium-low heat. Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Heat, whisking often, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 70 c (160 f) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the mixture hot to the touch. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk, on medium-high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture holds stiff peaks. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and the meringue should be glossy and cool. Pause mixing and swap the whisk attachment for the beater attachment. Add in the combined butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the vanilla bean extract, cinnamon and salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until the buttercream is thick and silky smooth, 5 more minutes. Pause mixing and add in a few drops of the liquid smoke (I used about ¼ teaspoon for a subtle smoked flavour, but adjust as necessary to your personal taste preferences). Beat, for a further 3 minutes, or until smooth and velvety. Set the buttercream aside for assembly. For the syrup: 50 ml amaretto liqueur, 50 ml water, 100 g granulated sugar Combine the amaretto liqueur, water and sugar in a medium sized saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set the syrup aside until needed. For the filling: 250 g dulce de leche 1 teaspoon fleur de sel or flaked salt In a small bowl, combine the dulce de leche and fleur de sel. Mix until evenly combined. For assembly: To assemble the cake, place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, onto a serving plate or cake stand.  Use a pastry brush to glaze the first layer of cake with a little of the amaretto liqueur syrup. Then, use an offset spatula to spread about 3 generous tablespoons of the buttercream over the top of the cake. Slightly hollow out the center of the buttercream with the back of a metal spoon to form a buttercream dam. Fill the center with half of the fleur de sel dulce de leche. Gently press on the second cake layer, cut side facing down. Repeat the layering process above. Gently press on the final cake layer, again, cut side facing down. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of the remaining buttercream. Set the cake in the refrigerator to chill the crumb coat, about 30 minutes. Once set, remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the offset spatula to thickly spread on the final layer of buttercream and decorate the exterior however you desire. Set the cake back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm the outside buttercream, before slicing and serving.
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‘Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my definitive being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.’ – Fernando Pessoa, an excerpt from The Book of Disquiet. Today marks my birthday, twenty-two on the twenty second. That’s eight thousand and thirty days lived. And a further million ways to have grown. There are a hundred things I fear. Least of all age, most of all myself. And a thousand ways to be loved and left. The only thing I know for sure is that life’s reliable in its unpredictability. And all I’ve ever desired is that I continue to feel it’s warmth. To hear the rustle of fallen leaves during the autumn eve. To inflame under the heat of sun. To wilt beneath the blanket of night. I demand to be in accord with the highest of feeling, to drink poison from the fragmentations of moment that re-assemble themselves into new day. I don’t celebrate birthdays. For I don’t consider myself born and belonging to one, sole, date. It’s through slumber each night that I die and become re-born with the arrival of morning. Like the spider lily that after drowning in darkness, meets the virginal dawn with the greatest reverie. Pessoa once wrote that the worlds are switched around in our eyes. That we’re dead when we think we’re living and we start living when we die. And for the most part, I believe it true. After existing in consummation with both life and death, the only times I’ve ever felt truly alive have been in dreams. Not coated in blankness, in the stagnant well of fathomless dark, but rather like water returning to the ocean from which it once came. Fluid consciousness, a drug of the most natural, precious, intoxication.   The one thing I do wholeheartedly endorse is sweet things to celebrate. And this Fresh Mint Ganache Tart is a demonstration of my commitment to that belief. It’s vegan, semi-raw, naturally sweetened – and all the other things good for your soul. I left the labels off the title. I don’t want this tart to be defined. It’s pure deliciousness. The kind of deliciousness that shouldn’t be understated. The base is a roughly textured mixture of cashews, cacao, coconut and espresso. Over the top is the most dark, rich and chocolatey filling, ever. I mean it on the ever. It’s a cross between ganache and mousse. And made with cacao, not chocolate – so you get those good, good, antioxidants and the deep, dark, flavour. There’s a little fresh mint whipped coconut cream over the top too, which perfectly cuts through all the intensity below the surface. All things cold, dulcet and intensely rich, possess my heart. And it doesn’t get much better than this. I wish I could share a slice with you all. NOTES  – For this recipe, you will need a highly powered food processor to blitz the base and to create a perfectly smooth and aerated filling. – I use raw, natural, cacao powder for this recipe. Please do not use cocoa The difference between the two is incomparable when it comes to flavour and depth. – I’ve found that different brands of cacao powder vary slightly on the intensity. I suggest tasting the filling as you go and adjusting the sweetness with a tablespoon of maple syrup at a time, if necessary. The filling should be dark, smooth and with a hint of bitterness. An overly sweet chocolate filling is not what we’re after here! – The whipped coconut cream topping can be difficult to stabilise. I place an unshaken and unopened can of full-fat coconut cream in the coldest part of my refrigerator overnight. The next morning, the solids should have separated from the liquid at the top of the can. Use the firm coconut solids and discard the liquid. Additionally, keep in mind to not whip the coconut cream in a slightly warm bowl, and be very careful not to over whip it. Coconut cream loves to melt, so watch it closely. For the topping: 1 x 400 ml (13.6 fluid oz) can of coconut cream 5 fresh mint leaves, thinly chopped seeds from 1 vanilla bean Begin by chilling the coconut cream for the topping first. Place the can of coconut cream un-opened in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Do not shake it. Let the can sit in the refrigerator to chill overnight and until needed. Just before you’re ready to serve the tart, whip the coconut cream. Open the can and scoop out the white and thick coconut solids that have formed at the top, separating the liquid. Place the solidified coconut cream, mint leaves and vanilla bean seeds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk, on medium-high speed, until the coconut cream resembles a texture similar to that of thickly whipped cream, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to over whisk as the cream will melt as it continues to heat, which will cause it collapse. Spread the whipped coconut cream over the top of the tart (recipe follows) then chill until firm. For the base: 135 g (4.8 oz) almonds 2 tablespoon desiccated coconut 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder ½ teaspoon finely ground espresso powder ¼ teaspoon salt 6 dried dates 1 tablespoon maple syrup 2 tablespoon coconut oil, melted Grease and line a 23 x 13 cm or 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with non-stick parchment paper. Let the paper slightly overhang the sides. Set aside. To make the base, place the almonds, desiccated coconut, cacao, espresso and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz, until a rough crumb begins to form, about 15 seconds. Add in the dates, maple syrup and coconut oil. Blitz, for a further 30 seconds, or until the dates have finely disintegrated and the entire mixture is evenly moistened. The ingredients should not come together in a unified mixture, rather they should form a moist crumb that can easily be pressed into the base of your pan. Remove the mixture from the food processor and place it in the base of the loaf pan. Use your fingers or the back of a metal spoon to gently spread it into an even layer, making sure to push it all the way to the corners. Place it in the freezer to chill while you prepare the filling. For the filling: 125 g (4.4 oz) dried dates Boiling water 100 g (3.5 oz) raw cacao powder 350 ml (11.9 fluid oz) full-fat coconut cream 60 ml (2  fluid oz) maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract ½ teaspoon salt 160 ml (5.4 fluid oz) coconut oil, melted Place the dried dates in a medium sized bowl. Pour enough boiling water over them, making sure that they are covered completely. Let the dates sit in the boiling water until they have completely softened, about 5 minutes. Once the dates are soft, drain the dates from the water then place them in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz, until the dates form a rough but smooth paste, about 2 minutes. You may need to pause the processor occasionally to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add in the cacao powder, coconut cream, maple syrup, vanilla bean extract and salt. Blitz on medium speed, until a smooth and thick mixture has formed, about 3 minutes. Lower the processor speed and slowly stream in the coconut oil, until it is all incorporated. Set the processor speed back to high, and continue to blend until the mixture is glossy and very smooth, 3 more minutes. Remove the loaf pan from the freezer. Pour over the filling, then using a rubber spatula or the back of a metal spoon, evenly spread it over the base and right to the edges. Set the loaf pan in the fridge. Let the tart chill until completely firm, about 2 ½ to 3 hours. You could also place it in the freezer to help speed up this process. Once firm, carefully unmold the tart from the pan and set it out and onto a serving plate or cake stand then spread over the whipped coconut cream topping. The tart should be served cool and kept in the refrigerator at all times, when not being served. Let the slices sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, before enjoying.

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‘I love the autumn-that melancholy season that suits memories so well. When the trees have lost their leaves, when the sky at sunset still preserves the russet hue that fills with gold the withered grass, it is sweet to watch the final fading of fires that until recently burnt within you.’ – Gustave Flaubert, an excerpt from November I haven’t sat down to write for the longest while. It feels as if I’m afraid of the whisperings within before I even start, serpentine in their hidden malignity. Asphyxiated by the desire for completeness, the scattered and fragmented impulse of inner weeping’s that exist purely to strangle the contours of my split soul. And it’s with my own two hands that I do the strangling. I’ve always considered mess to be beautiful. Mess of consciousness? All I ever demanded of myself is that I never truly wake to it. And now the forest is on fire, created by my ache for finality that built the stone that cultivated the wood and inflamed my second skin. And when then the ashes clear and reassemble themselves into new terrain, I breathe myself again into a new wild. Given the season, all things dough are my new saving grace. I made this Chocolate Chip Challah for an article recently, and the double batch of left-over dough became this. An exceptionally decadent Spiced Chocolate and Halvah Babka. It’s a babka with a little unusual characteristic and plenty of inner sweetness to sate. There’s flecks of molten dark chocolate chips studded throughout the pillowed challah dough. A dough that’s ever-so light, aerated and tender. The lightness and softness of the dough shouldn’t be understated. A mouthful is akin almost to the devourance of delicate clouds, if ever there was such a thing. A slightly salted cinnamon white chocolate filling rests within the babka’s hypnotic folds. And a generous handful of crumbled halvah too, which disintegrates into the most addictive molten-sticky-mess. There’s a little streusel too. And a sticky-sweet hazelnut liqueur sugar syrup glaze. It’s the babka of clouds and dreams.

NOTES – Halvah is essentially sesame & sugar, in solidified form. It’s easy to find, both in store and online. I prefer to opt for a plain or nut-based halvah (the one I used here is studded with pistachios), though I can imagine that chocolate flavoured halvah would be something completely wild, as too would coffee. – Before the white chocolate is spread over the dough, make sure that it’s cool enough to be handled. Let it sit on the kitchen counter until it reaches a lukewarm or body heat temperature before use. The white chocolate should thicken up considerably as it stands, which will render a babka that’s more controlled and easier to braid. – If you find that your dough is slightly sticky, make sure to knead a teaspoon of flour into it at a time, until you reach a dough that’s soft, pliable with a slight amount of stickiness remaining. – To make this babka simpler to braid, I prefer to let the dough rise until it’s doubled in size then knock it back and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight so it’s easier to handle. If you’re short on time, you could leave the dough to chill until it’s cool, about five hours, before using it. SPICED CHOCOLATE AND HALVAH BABKA for the dough: 210 ml water 10 gr instant dried yeast 500 g all-purpose flour 65 g granulated sugar 1 ½ teaspoons salt 2 large eggs 125 ml vegetable oil seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod 175 g dark chocolate chips Place the water in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, until it is lukewarm in temperature. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the yeast until just dissolved. Set the mixture aside to proof, 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Mix, on low speed, to evenly incorporate the dry ingredients. In a separate large pouring jug, whisk together the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla bean seeds. Pour the yeast mixture into the dry flour ingredients. Mix, on medium speed, until a rough and shaggy dough begins to form, about 1 minute. Set the mixer speed to medium-low. In a slow and steady stream, pour in the egg and oil mixture. Increase the mixer speed back to medium and knead until a very smooth and sticky dough has formed, 6 to 8 minutes. Pause mixing as needed to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add in the dark chocolate chips and knead until they are just incorporated throughout the dough. Transfer the dough to a large and lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap then set it aside in a warm and draft-free place, until it has doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Once risen, knock the dough back on itself. Set the dough in the refrigerator to chill until completely cool, 5 hours or preferably, overnight. The dough should continue to slowly rise in the cool and controlled environment. for the filling: 150 g white chocolate, finely chopped 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon salt When you’re ready to bake, make the filling. Place the finely chopped white chocolate into a medium sized mixing bowl set over a saucepan filled with an inch of barely simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water beneath. Heat on low, and stir with a spatula often, until the white chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the cinnamon and salt. Let the salted cinnamon white chocolate filling stand on the kitchen counter until it cools to room temperature. for the streusel: 50 g all-purpose flour ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold Next, make the streusel. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon and salt. Toss in the cold butter. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until rough clumps begin to form. Set the streusel aside until needed. for assembly: 150 g halvah 1 lightly beaten egg yolk, for the egg wash Grease and line a 22 x 13 cm (9 x 5 inch) loaf tin. Let the parchment paper slightly overhang the sides. Set aside. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and set it out and onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough a few times to bring it together. Add a teaspoon of flour at a time, if the dough is slightly sticky still, making sure to re-knead it in well. Lightly dust the top of the dough with a little flour. Then, using a lightly dusted rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a rough rectangle, about 1.2 cm’s (½ inch) thickness. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, spread an even layer of the white chocolate filling over the face of the dough, making sure to leave a slight border from the edges. Evenly crumble over the halvah. Starting with the longest side of the dough, begin to tightly roll the dough up onto itself to form a neat log shape. Once rolled, turn the dough over so that the seam is facing down. Using a sharp knife, trim about 2.5 cm’s (1 inch) of the dough off the ends of the log. Then, starting at the top, slice the dough log in half. The layers of the dough should be visible and you’ll end up with two pieces. Begin to tightly twist the dough pieces over and under each other to form something that resembles a twisted plait. Gently pinch the ends together to seal. Carefully place the babka, braid side facing up, in the loaf tin set aside above. Loosely cover it with a layer of plastic wrap then set it aside to rise until just under doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). When the babka has risen, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of the babka with a little of the egg wash. Scatter over the streusel. Bake, for 28 to 32 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the babka from the oven and immediately pour over the sugar syrup (recipe follows). Allow the babka to cool in its tin for about 20 minutes, then set it out and onto a wire rack to either cool completely or slice and serve it.  for the liqueur sugar syrup: 50 g granulated sugar 30 ml water 30 ml hazelnut liqueur Place the sugar, water and hazelnut liqueur in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, Heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Increase the temperature to medium. Allow the syrup to just come to a simmer then remove it from the heat and use on the babka.

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“Mine is a heart of carnelian, crimson as murder on a holy day.” – an excerpt from Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead I have always allowed myself to dream. It’s the only thing I know how to do well. The world is dark, as dark as night. With rare moments of illumination. But more often than not, those come few and far between. The weight of my insurmountable past chokes and stifles. Like the strangler fig, devouring one breath and consuming the other. The more you fight the more it constricts. And so, I release. Even flowering can happen in the dark. I’ve always said that my body operates within an instinctual continuum of transformation. Shifting into new being is the thing I do best. It’s a consequence of being born under the multiplicity of stars, and one I hope to forever surrender to. There’s a thrill that comes with the descent. A new beginning, a new perspective, a new love, a new obsession. A new thing to fall into complete and utter consummation with. And falling is happening now more than ever. I’ll be travelling up until the course of January. And the instability has left me both fervent and anxious in anticipation. That very same stain of anticipation has me shaking with deep affliction. I can forever hate the instability, I can forever hate the unknown, but I can never regret licking the reward of such sweet, wild, honey. And onto these Pistachio Custard Morning Buns. I’ve been meaning to create a morning bun for a while now, but the creation of croissant dough proved laborious enough as a deterrent. I’m under no illusion that we all have hours and hours to spend on making it from scratch. Enter this Morning Bun. It’s comprised of a dough inspired by Claire Ptak’s Cinnamon Buns in the Violet Bakery Cookbook, which utilises the assistance of baking powder and a quick-style method so far removed from the folds and turns that encompass the nature of croissant dough. The result is a Morning Bun that’s equal parts flaky pastry and yeasted bun. Between the folds of dough is a custardy pistachio flavoured crème patissiere, which is both sweet enough to sate and mellow enough to compliment all the surrounding flavours. There’s a hint of orange blossom and cardamom within. Vanilla too. And a heavy scattering of sugar to finish. Don’t go light on the sugar. It’s forever the best part. NOTES – The crème patissiere filling calls for pistachio paste. Pistachio paste, in it’s pure form, should be almost black in colour and incredibly thick in texture. I purchased mine from G. Detou in Paris. It’s readily available in specialty stores and you can find it online. If you don’t have access to it, nor particularly care for the flavour of pistachio, you can easily substitute it for something else. Hazelnut paste or chocolate hazelnut spread is another good option. As too, I can imagine would be peanut butter (peanut sugared buns!) – Make sure to use very cold butter for the dough. You want the butter to partially retain its shape in order to achieve a flaky and soft dough. PISTACHIO CUSTARD MORNING BUNS For the pistachio crème patissiere: 350 milliliters whole milk 270 milliliters heavy cream 1 teaspoon orange blossom water seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod 4 large egg yolks 120 grams granulated sugar 30 grams cornstarch ¼ teaspoon salt 50 grams pistachio paste Place the whole milk, heavy cream, orange blossom water and vanilla bean seeds in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, until the mixture is just beginning to reach a gentle simmer. Make sure to stir it occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, granulated sugar, cornstarch and salt until the mixture is pale and just under doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Ladle a little of the hot cream mixture into the whisked egg yolk mixture. Whisk vigorously to combine and acclimatise the eggs. Pour this mixture into the saucepan with the remainder of the cream set it back on the stovetop. Continue to whisk, for a further few minutes, until the mixture has thickened up considerably. Do not let the crème patissiere come to a rolling boil otherwise it will curdle. Simply keep it on controlled- low heat and make sure to constantly whisk until it thickens. The crème patissiere is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove it from the stove top and stir in the pistachio paste. Place a fine mesh sieve over a large mixing bowl. Strain through the crème patissiere, making sure to use a rubber spatula to help ease and press it through. Immediately cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic touches the surface of the mixture. Set the bowl in the refrigerator to chill the crème patissiere, about 4 hours or overnight. For the dough: 500 grams all-purpose flour 140 grams granulated sugar 2 tablespoons baking powder 1 teaspoon ground cardamom zest from ½ small orange 1 teaspoon salt 170 grams cold butter, roughly cubed 280 milliliters whole milk, cold Combine the all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, ground cardamom, orange zest and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Beat to evenly combine the dry ingredients. Set the mixer speed to medium. Add in the roughly cubed butter and beat until the mixture forms a coarsely textured meal. Some larger chunks of butter should run throughout the dough. Lower the mixer speed. Slowly stream in the milk. Beat until the dough is beginning to form a ball around the base of the beater blade. Some dry floury bits may remain at the bottom of the beater bowl. Stop mixing and turn the dough out and onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a rough disc, incorporating any dry floury bits that remain from the bowl. Cover the dough with a layer of plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator, about 1 hour. For assembly: 75 grams granulated sugar Pre-heat the oven to 180 Celsius. Generously butter a 12-cup muffin tray then set the tray aside. Place the granulated sugar into a medium sized mixing bowl then set the bowl aside. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and set it out onto a floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with a little flour to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Roll the dough out and into a rough rectangular shape, until it is about 5 mm in thickness. Adjust the dough as necessary to prevent it from sticking to the work surface. Remove the pistachio crème patissiere from the refrigerator then use the back of a metal spoon or a large rubber spatula to thickly spread it over the top of the dough. Starting with the longest top edge, begin to roll the dough into a cylindrical log, making sure to keep it tight and even. Use your hands to lightly apply pressure to the log to ensure that it is kept at an even thickness. Use a sharp knife or kitchen string to carefully slice the log into 12 even pieces. Neatly divide each piece the muffin tray. Bake, for 23 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant. Remove the tray from the oven and let the buns cool for about 5 minutes, before carefully one-by-one turning them out and into the bowl filled with the sugar. Roll each in the sugar to evenly coat then set them aside on a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

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“In these moments where an abyss opens up in my soul, the tiniest detail distresses me like a letter of farewell. I feel as if I’m always on the verge on waking up. I’m oppressed by the very self that encases me, asphyxiated by conclusions, and I’d gladly scream if my voice could reach somewhere. But there’s this heavy slumber that moves from one group of my sensations to another, like drifting clouds that make the half-shaded grass of sprawling fields turn various colours of the sun and green.” – Fernando Pessoa, an excerpt from the Book of Disquiet October so far has been dove grey morning skies that dim and fade into the evening.  For the most part it rained. Rained, endlessly. A sole droplet flows and disturbs far deeper than the sum of the ocean. Everything and nothing can be glimpsed through the thin veil of mist and fog. The shroud, both elusive and fathomless. There’s a kind of phantasmagoric atmosphere to October’s temperament. An ethereality that I want to sanctify. And possess.    And when it rains I bake. I bake regardless of the rain, but, my desire waxes tenfold when the skies turn bleak and the clouds burst. So, here’s a Marzipan Cake with Gin Blueberries and Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream to demonstrate my commitment to the dream that’s so far been October. It’s a good cake, revelatory in nutty sweetness and intense with flavoural depth. It’s my perfect white cake. Perfect is an understatement. Rather, it’s the white cake. For so long I’ve struggled with white cakes, the one’s in the past could never quite live up to my inner expectations and without fail discontent. And after many tweaks, this is it. The cake crumb is intensely moist, soft and fluffy. Richly flavoured with marzipan, almond and vanilla bean. The four layers are drenched in a gin sugar syrup and then slathered with jammy pockets of quick blueberry preserves. There’s a very burnt brown butter Swiss meringue buttercream to coat the cake too. And a little hint of cinnamon. It’s a dream kind of cake. NOTES
  • This recipe utilities the reverse creaming method. The technique requires that instead of the butter and sugar being creamed together at the start, the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients later on. It’s a method that I wholeheartedly endorse. The result being a more moist and flat cake, with a finer crumb.
  • I used fresh blueberries for the preserves. You could also use frozen. If so, make sure to keep an eye on the liquid level. The preserves might need slightly longer to thicken on the stove top too. Additionally, the blueberries I used weren’t particularly sweet. Adjust the sugar levels as necessary to accommodate for berries that a little on the sweeter side, or a little sour.
  • If you don’t like gin, you could easily substitute it for another alcohol or even juice of choice. Amaretto liqueur would be a wonderful replacement. As too would champagne. Or even fresh orange juice.
MARZIPAN CAKE WITH GIN BLUEBERRIES AND BROWN BUTTER SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM For the cake: 175 g marzipan, 300 g granulated sugar, 280 g cake flour, 100 g almond meal, 1 tbsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 215 g unsalted butter (at room temperature), 260 g egg whites (at room temperature), 325 g sour cream (at room temperature), 1 tbsp. vanilla bean extract, 1 tsp. almond extract Pre-heat the oven to 180 c (350 f). Grease and line 4 x 15 cm cake pans with non-stick parchment paper. Set aside. Use your fingers to break the marzipan apart and into rough chunks. Place the pieces into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment, along with the granulated sugar. Beat, on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until the marzipan is evenly broken up. Meanwhile, whisk together the cake flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the stand mixer. Beat, on low speed until combined.  Set the mixer speed back to medium. Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all used up. Beat, for a further 3 to 5 minutes, or until combined. The mixture should begin to form something that resembles a rough dough ball around the beater blade. In a separate large pouring jug or bowl, whisk together the egg whites, sour cream, vanilla bean extract and almond extract. Set the mixer speed to medium-low. Pour in half the liquid ingredients. Beat until just combined then pour in the remaining mixture. Pause mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 3 more minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, making sure to use a rubber spatula to smooth out the top. Bake, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until risen, lightly brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in their pans for 15 minutes before carefully turning out and onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, level off any domed tops. For the blueberries: 400 g blueberries, 65 g granulated sugar, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 tbsp. gin, 1 tsp corn flour, seeds from 1 vanilla bean, 1/8 tsp salt Place the blueberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, gin, corn flour, vanilla bean seeds and salt into a large saucepan set over medium heat. Stir to combine. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the berries are beginning to release their juices. Increase the heat to medium-high. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the berries have slumped and the syrup is thick and reduced by a quarter, 5 to 7 more minutes. The syrup should also be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off from the heat and let the preserves sit at room temperature until cool, making sure to stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. For the buttercream: 350 g unsalted butter (at room temperature), 180 g egg whites, 210 g granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla bean extract, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp salt Place 150 g’s of the butter into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Set the remainder aside. Heat, stirring often, until the butter is golden and melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the butter is beginning to turn amber in colour and smells nutty in fragrance. The butter will begin to foam, but will subside as it continues to cook. Some brown butter solids should just be beginning to form at the base of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour the brown butter into a large pouring jug. Set it in the refrigerator to set until the butter is malleable and soft, about 1 hour. Once set, remove the brown butter from the refrigerator and re-weigh it – you should have about 100 g’s. Add the remainder of the plain butter, as set aside above. Re-weigh to reach a combined total of 350 g of butter. You may need to add a little more plain butter depending on how much butter evaporated during the browning process. Set aside. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand to combine. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water set on medium-low heat. Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Heat, whisking often, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 70 c (160 f) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the mixture hot to the touch. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk, on medium-high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture holds stiff peaks. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and the meringue should be glossy and cool. Pause mixing and swap the whisk attachment for the beater attachment. Add in the combined butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the vanilla bean extract, cinnamon and salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until the buttercream is thick and silky smooth, 5 more minutes. Set aside for assembly. For the syrup: 50 ml gin, 50 ml water, 100 g granulated sugar Combine the gin, water and sugar in a medium sized saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set the syrup aside until needed. For assembly: To assemble the cake, place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, onto a serving plate or cake stand.  Use a pastry brush to glaze the first layer of cake with a little of the gin syrup. Then, use an offset spatula to spread about 3 generous tablespoons of the buttercream over the top of the cake. Slightly hollow out the center of the buttercream with the back of a metal spoon to form a buttercream dam. Fill the center with two tablespoons of the blueberry preserves. Gently press on the second cake layer, cut side facing down. Repeat the layering process as above for the next cake layers. Gently press on the final cake layer, again, cut side facing down. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of the remaining buttercream. Set the cake in the refrigerator to chill the crumb coat, about 30 minutes. Once set, remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the offset spatula to thickly spread on the final layer of buttercream and decorate the exterior however you desire. Set the cake back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm the outside buttercream, before slicing and serving.

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“I swam under water as if I really did not want to return to the surface, as if I wanted to stay below with the fish.” – Anaïs Nin, Summer 1942 I have days of escapism and nights of no-return. These past few weeks saw the return to forgotten surroundings. And the arrival of lost memories. A refuge to the sea. A sea so engrained within my flesh and blood, that if I was to slit my throat and bleed, I would slowly stream salt, sand and the shrill swan song of swallow. It’s never easy to come home to the thing you grew from. And the more you try to clutch and fight, the more it’s carnal desire eats. I feel as if I possess inside me the ebb and flow of the ocean. And at any given moment, the tide will swell to the point of drowning. I was born from this very ocean, the very grains of sand that I still find deeply-entangled within my sheets. The shore, pale to the hilt of white. The tide, opalescent and glistening. A bloody tide that drowned more than it ever saved. With every return, the sky only seems to increase with intensity. Brilliant shades of pink and blue with streaks of golden light. The dwindling light, killing all notions of time. Time lost as ephemeral and deeply-wounded as she. Though, nothing is ever lost to the girl who remains dedicated to shadow. I once sought my past in everything I did, every stranger ever met, every man ever loved. And with every return, the ocean forces me to let go. Maybe I’m finally beginning to learn something. And then there were these cookie bars. Brown Butter Cookie Meringue Bars with Espresso Fleur de Sel. I teased these bars, a long time ago. And the response received was nothing short of astounding. So, I thank you all for being patient for the recipe, and with me too. It’s never forgotten that you’ve granted me the space and voice to create. These cookies bars are a dream. The base comprises of an intensely nutty brown butter cookie-like-cake, that hides puddles of molten bittersweet chocolate. There’s a slather of vanilla-bean flecked swiss meringue over the top, which is torched to toasted perfection. And a flourish of an espresso infused fleur de sel, to finish. The combination of sweet and salty, is my all-time favourite. And the infused salt here, really does make the overall cookie bar. They’re mouth-wateringly good. NOTES – I use a kitchen blow torch to toast the meringue. I don’t recommend placing these cookie bars under the broiler as the cookie layer would likely end up a double-baked, mess. It may seem daunting, but using a torch is far safer and allows for greater heat control. They’re relatively inexpensive too and make a great addition to your culinary arsenal. I use mine a lot more than I initially thought I would. – I use a small mortar and pestle to infuse the salt. If you don’t have access to one, you can still achieve the same result by placing the fleur de sel in a small bowl and using the back of a metal spoon to grind the ingredients together until fragrant.  – If you don’t have fleur de sel on hand, a coarse-grained salt easily be used as a substitution. As too could un-refined salt flakes. BROWN BUTTER COOKIE MERINGUE BARS WITH ESPRESSO FLEUR DE SEL For the cookie bars: 210 grams unsalted butter, cubed 170 grams light brown sugar 140 grams granulated sugar 1 large egg 1 tablespoon vanilla bean extract 1 tablespoon bourbon, optional 275 grams all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon finely ground espresso powder ¾ teaspoon baking soda ¾ teaspoon salt 200 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped  Pre-heat the oven to 180 c. Grease and line a square baking tin with non-stick parchment paper. Let the paper slightly overhang the sides. Set aside. Place the butter into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the butter is golden and melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the butter is beginning to turn amber in colour and smells nutty in fragrance. The butter will begin to foam, but will subside as it continues to cook. Some brown butter solids should just be beginning to form at the base of the saucepan. Remove from the heat. Pour the brown butter into a large sized mixing bowl. Add in the light brown sugar and granulated sugar. Whisk until combined. Add in the egg, vanilla bean extract and bourbon, if using. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside. In a separate medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, espresso powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl with the butter and sugar mixture. Whisk until just combined. Some flour chunks throughout the batter are okay. Fold in the dark chocolate chunks until evenly combined throughout the dough. Place the cookie dough into the prepared baking tin, using a rubber spatula to smooth down the top and help spread it to the edges. Bake, for 15 minutes, or until golden, just firm and crackled around the edges and the middle has begun to set. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for 15 minutes, before carefully placing the cookie onto a wire rack to cool further.  For the swiss meringue: 80 grams egg whites 100 grams granulated sugar seeds from 1 vanilla bean ¼ teaspoon salt In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the egg whites and sugar together to combine. Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2.5 cm’s of water and over medium-low heat. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Heat the mixture, until it reaches about 70 Celsius on a candy thermometer. Make sure to whisk the mixture with a fork often and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl to avoid any sugar crystallization. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and place it in the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Set the mixer speed to medium-high. Whisk, until the mixture forms that of stiff and glossy peaks, about 6 minutes. Add in the vanilla bean seeds and salt and continue to whisk until evenly combined, a further 30 seconds. The bowl should be cool to the touch and all the steam will have escaped from the meringue. Stop mixing and remove the bowl from the stand mixer. For the espresso fleur de sel: 1 teaspoon fleur de sel ½ teaspoon finely ground espresso powder In a small mortar and pestle, grind together the fleur de sel and espresso powder until the mixture is fragrant and evenly combined, about a minute. Set aside until needed. For assembly: Carefully set the cookie out and onto a serving plate or tray. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the meringue over the top of the cookie base, in a swoop-and-swirl motion. Use a kitchen blow torch to char the top of the meringue until it is evenly toasted. When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle over a little of the espresso fleur de sel before slicing. The cookie bars are best eaten on the day of making but will keep for up to 2 days, stored in an air-tight container, in a dark-cool place.
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