Bright sunshine; hard frost. The house was quiet, cats curled up asleep. The family would be back from their travails in the Northern Wastes later in the day – as always someone has to remain to tend to the livestock, to keep the economic wheels on the move, away from reverse – afore school starts on the morrow. A treat for them, perhaps.
That was the theory, and if you’re well organised, working efficiently, it should be possible to get the Star Anise and Lemon Chocolate Mousse Cake through the oven whilst the bread you have already started rises slowly. Maybe.
Being January there needs to be one eye on the calories, after all the festive excesses, so no guilt to this pleasure. It’s an appealing recipe, a good use of some the many bars of quality chocolate that tempt your guilty pleasures every night, just part of those festive excesses.
Once out the oven, drizzled with lemon syrup, the heat gets cranked up, and the over-proved loaves shoved in for half an hour. A walk beckons, under the rare sun, against the hardened frost. By the time the bread is ready so too is the intrepid wanderer. A route half in mind, cycled often, never walked. Plans could change on the way.
But we go past the point of no return, chasing chaffies along the hedgerows, glancing elusively for sight of the buzzard squealing in protest as a pair of marauding, mobbing crows spoil the peace of the afternoon sun above the pine trees. And on we go.
By the time we start to plod downhill, knowing only one brief but steep climb remains, the old bones are aching, aging hips, throbbing feet. In the kitchen rests a feast of chocolate, and a sugar rush is desperately needed. In we delve. Which is why the photograph here is taken from Chetna Makan’s The Cardamom Trail, rather than The Kitchen Table, where destruction is evident.
The returning family will be greeted with most of a cake, and the drizzled syrup that has leaked through the tin, and run from the table to drip to the floor will have been wiped up, mostly.
Here’s what you need, for this scrumptious feast:
5 large eggs; 250g caster sugar; 125ml water; finely grated zest of a lemon; 1 tsp ground star anise; 300g plain dark chocolate (min 70%), roughly chopped; 50g milk chocolate, roughly chopped; 225g unsalted butter, diced. And for the lemon drizzle – 175g natural sugar; 5tbsp water; 2 lemons, thinly sliced.
OK, so I lied about the calories; it is a diet disaster, but essential to keep the energy levels of any tax consultant at the right level through this vile month. And it provides an instant hit after two and a half hours of winter walking, a revival whilst the bacon and French toast is under way.
Here’s the instructions:
Pre-heat oven to 160/gas 3; line a 23cm round cake tin.
For the mousse cake, whisk the eggs with 150g of the caster sugar, leaving the stand mixer running for seven minutes or so as you prepare the good stuff.
Heat the remaining caster sugar with the water over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Add the lemon zest and the star anise – don’t even think about grinding a few star anise, get a jar of ground – mix well. Next, add the chocolate, then the butter, and stir until melted. Fold into the egg mixture, ensuring the batter doesn’t lose too much air. Spoon into the prepared tin, then put the tin into a large roasting dish.
Transfer to the oven, carefully pouring boiling water into the roasting dish until it reaches half way up the cake tin. Bake for 50-55mins until a crispy skin forms on the surface and a skewer comes out of the cake with a little mix left on it.
Half way through cooking start on the syrup. Heat the sugar and water over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Add the lemon slices and cook slowly for 15-20 mins.
With the cake still warm and in the tin, gently spoon the syrup over the surface, arranging the lemon slices on the top. Leave to set at room temperature for a while. You can enjoy the cake very gooey, or if you prefer, chill it for a few hours to set.
This is when you decide to exhaust yourself, walking the lanes, whilst the syrup turns the kitchen into something sticky that may linger for days. But it’s worth every minute, every step, every calorie. Go on, you know you want to. Leave the Christmas cake for a day or two and indulge your inner chocolate gene. It’s what January’s for, that and bloody tax returns…