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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Happy Birthday dear Bloggy...!": and a decadent dark chocolate fantasy

Yes, it was one year ago today that I made my first tentative steps into the foodblogging world, after being an enthusiastic observer for the previous 18 months. I had been toying vaguely with the idea of setting up my own, but felt daunted by the technology involved and the perceived lack of privacy of putting my life on a public forum. However, it was meeting Johanna of The Passionate Cook in London in early October 04 - and staying with her fabulous foodie parents when performing in Linz, Austria the week before - that really spurred me into action. That and the fact that I was filled with that typical flat depression of coming home after a wonderful month away with friends, to greet the mountains of study needed to finish my postgrad course, whilst my boyfriend was still over there having the time of his life gallavanting about Holland.
So, looking back, it was mainly procrastination that inspired me to finally set this up. Those who know me won't be surprised at that admission! And it has been a very inspiring year; looking at the stats for the year shows not much activity in the beginning; those first few desultory months that put so many bloggers off, and often lead them to abandon their new project. But it really is the comments from readers that inspire you to keep going, and I particularly remember Zarah Maria and Cathy (edit: and Anne!) being two of my first regular commenters, and who are still dropping by. Thank you so much for your encouragement. I'd also like to acknowledge Nic, Ana and Stephanie as well as the new supportive bevy from Australia for being some more of my most loyal commenters. I'd love to put links to everyone who has dropped me a line in this post, but I know I will leave peole out and that will cause sadness. And I don't want to cause you sadness!
It is partly through all of you readers, plus a genuine enjoyment for this project I set for myself, that I am still here one year, and 55,500 visits (wow!) later. And still really enjoying it. I love knowing that there are so many readers around the world visiting this little blog in Melbourne. At the moment I'm particularly enjoying reading the growing number of Australian foodblogs, especially those set in my own city; it's such fun recognising and relating to things posted by you Aussies!
If you're a reader and yet haven't commented, drop me a word or two. You don't have to be a blogger, you know. Comments really are what drives us on! :-)

In actual fact, there is some contention about the anniversary date. Yes, the first entry was 19 Oct 04, but it had nothing to do with food. The first "real" ie food-related entry came a week later, with a post about nasu dengaku, the Japanese eggplant & miso dish I love. So, what to do? Do I go for the literal or lateral date??
The answer came easily when I discovered the theme and date for the next Sugar High Friday: two days from now. Excellent! I could combine my blog birthday celebration with my entry for the next Sugar High Friday. No difficulty for me, as I adore THE DARK SIDE (ahem! dark chocolate. See my last SHF entry for my obvious love of the dark stuff: Dark chocolate custard tarts). And everyone knows that when it's your birthday celebration, you can make whatever you like! So, I went to town creating something that I wanted, and didn't bother if there'd be people around who didn't like cream...or sweet things....or berries or whatever. Bugger them all! This is MY cake, and I'm gonna do what I want to do!

Inspired by the latest edition of Donna Hay magazine, with its section on meringues, I decided to my my own version of the Milk Chocolate and Coffee Layer Cake. Because it just looked so good in the photo. Except I'd use dark chocolate ganache. And fresh strawberries. And raspberry preserves. And maybe make a little hazelnut praline to sprinkle over the surface. Because more sugar is good sugar, you know? Yep....and Diabetes Australia had better not read those few sentences.
Well, naturally mine wasn't as beautifully styled as Donna's, but I think you'll agree that it looks pretty damn decadent. Yes, this was very, VERY rich. Yes, you will feel sick after a small piece. And yes, you will want another one. :-) Mum and I alone have got through nearly half of it in two nights. That's some pretty damn serious sugar intake.

It's actually pretty easy to make, but did involve a few separate stages of construction. It's assemblage cookery, really. If you're not confident about baking cakes, but have an eye for design, this is the dessert for you. You make your meringue discs, which is really very easy; even I who have two left hands managed it, and layer each one with the dark chocolate coffee ganache and whipped cream. The middle disc I also layered with some raspberry preserves and halved strawberries, which I sprinkled with the same hazelnut praline I used for the top. Making the praline was lots of fun and I got to do a Jackson Pollock with my hot toffee over my chopped hazelnuts. Very avant garde. Then the sound when I pulverised it in the food processor was ear-splitting. Heh. Kewl!!

The crispy, intensely sweet meringue works well against the thick, dark ganache made even more bitter by the addition of coffee. In turn the soft clouds of whipped cream complements both of these through its masking dairyness. The praline is crunchy and provides more texture and sweetness - maybe next time I would leave it out; that extra sweetness really isn't needed. And then, a relief from the richness and sugar: the strawberries and raspberry preserves temper the sweetness of the whole confection with their fresh tartness. Definitely don't leave these out, or you'll fall to the floor in a diabetic coma.

This was truly a mind-blowing and calorie-blowing dessert. I'm so glad I took the time to create it, rather than just bunging a cake mix in the oven. And I'm so pleased I could use it not only to celebrate this blog's first birthday (little baby's all grown up now!), but also to fill the criteria for this edition of Sugar High Friday.
Read on for the recipe:

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Dark Chocolate and Coffee Layer Cake, with Summer Berries and Hazelnut Praline
150ml (4 3/4 fl oz) eggwhites (approx 4)
1 1/2 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
1/2 cup almond meal (ground almond)

400g (14oz) dark chocolate
1/2 cup (4 fl oz) single cream
3 teaspoons instant coffee
1 1/2 cups (400ml/12 3/4 fl oz) single cream, whipped

~50g hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
1 cup water
1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar

1 punnet fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
~1/4 cup Raspberry preserves (lightly sweetened jam)

To make meringue discs:
Preheat oven to 120C (250C). Place the eggwhites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat until the mixture is thick and glossy. Fold through the almond meal until well combined. Use mixture immediately.
Draw 3 x 20 cm (7 3/4 inch) circles on 3 pieces of greased baking paper and place on individual baking trays. Divide the mixture between the circles and spread it out evenly with a butter knife. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the meringue is crisp to touch. Turn off the oven and allow to cool in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

For the dark chocolate coffee ganache:
Place the chocolate, 1/2 cup cream and coffee in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Allow to cool.

For the hazelnut praline:
Place toasted, chopped hazelnuts on a lightly greased baking tray in a small pile. Place the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan and stir to combine. Heat until mixture turns a dark amber (~5 minutes) and pour quickly over the nuts. When the toffee has cooled, break into pieces and place in a food processor on high speed to crush into powder.

To assemble:
It is easier to work with each disk on a separate board and to top each disc before stacking onto a serving dish.
Spread one meringue disc with the chocolate mixture and top with a layer of whipped cream. Lift carefully with a wide spatula to serving tray. With the second layer, spread the meringue disc with a layer of raspberry preserves before adding the ganache and cream. Then top with the halved strawberries and a handful of the praline powder. Again, lift carefully with a spatula and place on top of the first layer. Repeat the ganache/cream process with the 3rd disc, and sprinkle with a large amount of the praline.

This will be easier to cut after refrigeration, but will be decadent and rich at whatever temperature you eat it. Enjoy!!


  • vacherin?


    By Blogger cin, at 10/19/2005 09:53:00 pm  

  • Oh, my, Niki! That cake does look delicious, but the last chocolate cake you posted, from that party you helped host, well, that is a strong competitor. Congrats on your year-long achievement! I've just started this week myself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/20/2005 12:44:00 am  

  • That looks just so evil!! ;-)

    (hungry now)...

    By Blogger Andrew, at 10/20/2005 02:45:00 am  

  • Happy blogday!

    That's one heck of a cake you made to celebrate. Send us a piece?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/20/2005 03:25:00 am  

  • Happy Blog Birthday!!!!

    I have been coming here for a long time...I can't remember when I first visited Esurientes, but it quickly became a daily read. I'm here at least once a day!

    And I've really enjoyed getting to know you...and more about Australian foods!

    Wishing you many more years of foodie blogging, Niki...

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 10/20/2005 04:12:00 am  

  • Happy Blog Birthday, Niki. I know I started coming by fairly early. Your blog started right around the same time as mine. I was shy about posting at first. Silly, eh?
    The dessert looks decadent, but I wouldn't expect anything less!

    By Blogger Nic, at 10/20/2005 09:12:00 am  

  • Happy birthday blog - I have to say my first statement when I opened your blog today was "OH MY GAWD!!" I am amazed by your concoctions and you are an inspiration to me to once again get back into the swing of cooking, photographing and writing again soon!

    By Blogger Amanda, at 10/20/2005 10:19:00 am  

  • Thank you everyone for your wishes; it almost feel like a 'real' birthday! And in comparison to the flat, depressed feeling I had a year ago when I started it, I'm in a much happier mood!
    Lisad - congrats, and maintain the enthusiasm. Especially a few months in when you might start to question whether it's worth all the time and effort. :-)

    Andrew - I bet!

    Barrett - No chance matey! We're scoffing all of this ourselves!

    Stephanie & Nic - yes, you are two of my long-time readers. It's funny; I can't really remember when you fist started commenting, but suddenly you were there and you were regular, and it was wonderful! I mainly remember Zarah Maria and Cathy because they might have been the two earliest, and my god, one of them was from Denmark! I had a reader in DENMARK! It felt so cool.

    Lushlife - Thanks so much! I look forward to reading of your many cooking adventures to come.

    By Blogger Niki, at 10/20/2005 11:11:00 am  

  • You know, I just had a look back through the first 3 months of comments (not a lot!) and noticed that Anne in Sweden was also an early reader. So, thank you Anne. I remember the amazement I felt that I had regualr readers from all over the world; not only USA which was exciting enough, but exciting countries in Europe too. It was the most uplifting feeling. And again, thanks to everyone who started reading and building this little blog into something quite important to me. So much of it is thanks to all of you. :-)

    By Blogger Niki, at 10/20/2005 11:17:00 am  

  • I'm arriving a little late, but want to wish you the happiest of blog birthdays!! May you and Esurientes blog on for years to come!

    Oh, and of course that gorgeous heap of sweetness sounds just amazing!

    By Blogger Cathy, at 10/20/2005 11:47:00 am  

  • Happy blog birthday, Niki! I love visiting your blog and reading all about your baking adventures :)

    PS> That cake looks fantastic.

    By Blogger Kelly, at 10/20/2005 12:00:00 pm  

  • Wow Niki! Happy Birthday Esurientes! A whole year! Actually, I thought you'd been around longer that. You seem so poised, I guess, as a blogger.

    I love reading a Melbourne blog too! Although, you have led me seriously into sugary stuff, thanks to that Billington's stuff. I can't get enough!! Aaaah!

    By Blogger plum, at 10/20/2005 12:57:00 pm  

  • Happy blogday Niki. A good reason to make a Donna recipe.

    Finally Donna Day is now organised. Looking forward to your entry!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/20/2005 01:31:00 pm  

  • Happy birthday Niki! Time does fly doesn't it?

    And good work on the new blog banner. Looks great!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/20/2005 02:40:00 pm  

  • Oooh, happy birthday dear Esurientes!! Mine is coming up in just a few days too and I have no idea what to make for it. :) Your cake looks absolutely gorgeous!!

    By Blogger Anne, at 10/20/2005 02:48:00 pm  

  • congrats. that celebration dessert looks magnificent!

    By Blogger deborah, at 10/20/2005 06:24:00 pm  

  • Hi Niki,
    I'm a regular reader of yours and I wish you a Happy Blog Birthday!!
    It's amazing what you are doing over here..I come to visit very often.
    Zsofi, a Hungarian blogger from Brussels

    By Blogger chili&vanilia, at 10/20/2005 10:08:00 pm  

  • Happy Blog Birthday!! And, keep it up! :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/20/2005 10:46:00 pm  

  • Aww, you're too sweet! Yes, I was there in the beginning, and I'm still here - and as long as you keep going, which I hope will be for many, many years, I'll stay here Niki! Congratulations! The banner looks wonderful and the cake equally so! If I was anywhere near Melbourne I'd sneak by and help you and your Mum eat it! In fact, I think I'd do that with all of the cakes you've made within the last year - so it's probably good you aren't close, lol! TILLYKKE LILLE BLOG!

    By Blogger Cerebrum, at 10/20/2005 11:37:00 pm  

  • Happy Blog Day.
    I don't know about you - but I know that I'll have many happy returns to Esurientes.

    (which, btw, I never worked out how to pronounce, or what it means!)

    By Blogger Sam, at 10/21/2005 03:44:00 am  

  • Sam - what? You didn't learn your Latin at school in the UK? All my Enid Blyton books suggested this was the case! ;-)
    Nah, it's funny you mention that bc I've been planning for ages to write a post about where the name comes from, what it means and how to pronounce it (Eh-soo-ri-ENT-es). Basically it is Latin conjunction meaning 'to hunger, the hungry, yearn, greed...' Stuff like that.

    Thank you everyone for your wishes; the cake is nearly all gone now!!!

    By Blogger Niki, at 10/21/2005 09:53:00 am  

  • Dear Niki, I've only commented a couple of times but you've been on my favourites list for nearly a year now! CONGRATULATIONS on your Blog Birthday!!! Everything is always sensational looking and I get fearfully hungry when reading, best wishes and looking forward to many more happy food photos!

    By Blogger suburbansider, at 10/22/2005 06:44:00 pm  

  • Happy Blogoversary! The vacherin looks simply scrumptous!

    By Blogger Robyn, at 10/25/2005 02:45:00 am  

  • happy blog birthday. The cake looks gorgeous. I gained 10 pounds just reading!!!

    By Blogger Ruth Daniels, at 10/25/2005 06:10:00 am  

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