Recipe: Chocolate hazelnut cake
Long past midnight, the hunger was worse than ever. I sent my partner to the kitchen to forage around. He took ages. When he came back he had a large but ugly-looking bit of cake on a plate.
"Cushla brought this," he said. "I found it on the bench under some greaseproof paper."
The cake was heavy, rustic and lumpy, a study in multiple shades of brown, the top coated in some sort of roasted nut. I took my first bite. Aaaah! Give me more! So began one of the most perfect meals of my life: three pieces of Aunty Cushla's wholemeal chocolate hazelnut cake, in bed, with one small orange lamp casting a cocktail-lounge glow over me, my partner, the breastfeeding manuals and the beautiful baby, six days old and asleep, at last.
In Charlotte Wood's new book Love & Hunger, she writes about food as a powerful, practical gift in times of crisis, or joy, or both. Food consoles, seduces, comforts and sustains. For me, three types of food gift stand out: the sweet ones, the home-grown ones and the wild ones. The sweetness of Cushla's cake; mum's home-grown rocket, Leanne's basil and grandad's red king potatoes; the wild, juicy snapper our neighbour Frank caught.
One of my old boyfriends was a hunter. Long before the phrase ''ethical eating'' was invented, he said he would only kill an animal he was prepared to eat. He made me wild goat curry and venison bolognaise. I'll never forget him.
I'm no hunter-gatherer, but I have baked plenty of cakes and given them as gifts. Although I make a very nice lemon sour-cream cake and can turn out an excellent scone, in a time of crisis, joy and need - such as the days following the birth of a baby - nothing rivals Cushla's cake.
There is something about its feral surface and lumpy, sweet interior that captures the wildness of those early days of motherhood, the way your life slips sideways out of time. I have made this cake for many new mothers. Weirdly, every woman says they have enjoyed the cake most in the middle of the night. It is also good for breakfast, as my friend Lisa and her greedy sons, Bon and Lang, can attest, and excellent with bubbly (my personal favourite).
Like all the best food gifts, this cake nourishes in deeper ways, too. Cushla had baked two cakes the night before she visited us a decade ago. She told me the other one was for a woman whose teenaged son had just committed suicide. No condolence card can match a gift like this. By baking her ugly-beautiful cake, Cushla told me and that other mother we were not alone in either our joy or our despair. It's a message worth passing on.
CUSHLA'S WHOLEMEAL CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT CAKE
|1 cup raw sugar|
|3 eggs, beaten|
|2 tbsp milk|
|1 cup wholemeal flour|
2 tsp baking powder
|200g plain dark chocolate, chopped small, or choc drops|
|125g ground hazelnuts|
|25g chopped hazelnuts|
1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs gradually.
2. Fold in milk, flour and baking powder and mix well.
3. Add chocolate and ground hazelnuts.
4. Spoon into tin and sprinkle on chopped hazelnuts.
5. Bake at 180C for one hour. Cover with baking paper after half an hour so the nuts don't burn.