Even the children - mainly river children, but some like Jeanette Drou and, of course, Anouk Rocher - were there, some almost asleep, some dancing by the river's edge or eating sausages wrapped in thick barley pancakes, or drinking hot lemonade laced with ginger. My sense of smell seemed preternaturally enhanced so that I could almost taste every dish - the fish grilled in the ashes of the brazier, the roasted goat's cheese, the dark pancakes and the light, hot chocolate cake, the confit de canard and the spiced merguez. I could hear Armande's voice above the rest; her laughter was like that of an overtired child. Sprinkled across the water's edge, the lanterns and candles looked like Christmas lights.
Chocolat, Joanne Harris, Friday, March 7
Through Francis Reynaud's disapproving and uncomprehending eyes, the riverboat party holds an almost otherworldly significance in Chocolat. It's the heart of the novel - a celebration of the changes that Vianne has brought to the small town. It is also a simple and very successful formula: good food and good people, on a boat, on a lovely spring evening. It's a party I would give anything to attend.
Sadly, it takes place in the mid-1950s, in France, in a fictional world. So, with attendance impossible, I can (at the very least) make a cake in honour of it. I've taken the 'hot' in the description of the cake very literally, adding a large amount of sweet paprika; it's quite mild, so you do need to add it in near-excessive quantities. I've become addicted to the warmth and smokiness of this stunning spice following a trip to Budapest, and have no doubt Vianne and Anouk would have picked some up along their travels as well. Make sure you do serve the cake while it is still warm and near liquid inside.
ps. In case you've missed them earlier this weekend, do check out my previous Chocolat inspired posts - in celebration of Easter weekend. Make yourself a Hot Mocha with a couple of Mendiants on the side, and I'll see you next weekend for a gastronomic journey into Austen's Emma.
Hot Chocolate Cake
250g chocolate, broken into pieces
250g butter, cut into small pieces
4 eggs, separated
200g golden caster sugar
100g finely ground almonds
4tsp sweet paprika
1tsp hot paprika
20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin
2 mixing bowls
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat your oven to 170C and grease the base and sides of your cake tin.
2. Place the chocolate and butter in one of the bowls over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally with the spatula until melted. Set aside to cool.
3. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together, and then stir in the chocolate mixture. Sieve the ground almonds and both paprikas into the mixture, and fold in lightly until just combined.
4. Whisk the egg whites to firm, stiff peaks in a clean, dry bowl. Mix 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen the batter, then very gently fold in the remaining 3/4.
5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is slightly cracked but the mixture still wobbles a little in the middle when shaken gently. Leave to cool slightly in the tin, then transfer carefully to a serving plate and eat in small slices while still warm. The cake will not quite have set in the middle, so you should expect it to collapse a little (as it has in my photo above) - it'll be all the more lovely in the eating for a small aesthetic compromise!