When I looked at my dessert plate and saw the chocolate cake speckled with raspberry juice, it seemed to me that someone was pouring more and more red sauce than usual...
Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman
If we've had a conversation in the past couple of months, there's a good chance I've spent a chunk of it telling you to read Call Me By Your Name. I read it in November in a single sitting, my back against the radiator in an Edinburgh kitchen, jumping up every now and then to attend to a conveyer belt of cakes going into and out of the oven. I emerged from the book somewhere near 4am, as I placed the final cake onto a cooling rack. A love story set on the Italian Riviera in the 1980s, it is so evocative, of Italy, and of summer, that I realised I had spent the night transported, leaving the icy flat behind. Reading it made me want to be a better, bolder, and braver person. It's rare to walk away from a book feeling genuinely changed, but I was by this one.
The book captures, so beautifully, the stultifying, soporific nature of summer, the listlessness, the days spent lying languid by a pool with books, the bursts of energy in the late afternoon, suddenly desperate for something to do. I have recently returned to summer - my first Australian one in nearly ten years. The heat has been sitting heavily on us this week, easing only once the sun starts to sink from the sky. And I've spent it struck by the similarities between my summer garden and Elio's:
I loved the afternoons best: the scent of rosemary, the heat, the birds, the cicadas, the sway of palm fronds, the silence that fell like a light linen shawl on an appalling sunny day...
My mum's house, where I am this week, has a rosemary tree in the front garden. A tree, not a bush - it has spent nearly two decades sending its roots deep, and spreading out across the rest of the plants. She gives great handfuls of it to people who drop by to visit, but can never get rid of it fast enough. Along with the smell of hot bitumen melting on the roads, the late afternoon rain, and a Bunnings sausage sizzle on a Saturday, Australia smells to me like the rosemary that hits my nose when I open the gate, and walk down the steps to the other place I call home.
We use it in as many dishes as possible, and it it is a welcome presence in the cake I make most often - the Winnie-the-Pooh inspired cakes that are in my book. I wanted to included it here - a scent of summer in Call Me By Your Name, and here in Brisbane. In summer, I generally have to be persuaded to eat dessert - rejecting anything heavier than a scoop of gelato, or a single, ripe peach. But this cake is special. It is a chocolate cake suitable for a summer day - not at all cloying or too heavy. It is undeniably rich, but with a bit of sharp fruit (the raspberries suggested in the book are perfect), it is more than appropriate for a balmy afternoon. If you're currently in the Northern Hemisphere, in deepest, coldest January, it would be lovely with some poached rhubarb, or roasted pears.
Chocolate, Rosemary, and Hazelnut Cake
250g dark chocolate (70% is good here)
50ml extra virgin olive oil
250g caster sugar
250g hazelnuts (whole, if you have a spice grinder, or ground)
Two 20cm stalks of rosemary
Saucepan and heatproof bowl
Spice grinder (optional)
23cm springform cake tin
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (180 fan). Grease and line the tin, doing so thoroughly as the cake is delicate and will be tricky to get out of the tin if it sticks. Melt the butter in the heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Chop the chocolate into small chunks, and add to the bowl, stirring until the chocolate has melted. Add the olive oil, stir, and set aside.
2. Separate the eggs. and whisk the yolks and sugar together in the mixing bowl until pale. Whisk in the butter, chocolate, and oil.
3. Blitz the hazelnuts finely, in batches, adding the leaves from the rosemary to the final batch. If you are using ground hazelnuts, chop the rosemary as finely as you can. Fold the ground hazelnuts and the rosemary into the cake batter.
4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold a third into the cake batter to loosen it, then fold the rest in very gently. Tip into the lined cake tin.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool and settle in the tin for at least twenty minutes. Dust with cocoa and serve warm or at room temperature.