My mum’s birthday was actually last week, and we each enjoyed a big slice of this cake then, along with a glass of bubbly.
If you’ve been following me for a while it probably has not escaped your attention that I am Belgian, and proudly so. I have not lived in my country for three years, two months and seven days (but who’s counting…) but you know the funny thing about moving to another country is that you suddenly become highly patriotic. Whereas Belgium, to me, had seemed to be an endless pit of boredom where I would surely perish if I remained for the rest of my life, a few months after the move it suddenly was a fond memory. The speculaas, the poffertjes, Ghent and the Graslei, my family’s farmhouse, with the field where I walked innumerable kilometres as I studied, repeating my lessons out loud to myself… Gradually, I began to miss all those little things that had never mattered before. Apparently they’ve recently repainted the door of my school; it used to be a gorgeous, deep cyan. That made me very sad.
And then there’s the chocolate.
You can throw all the other kinds at me – Swiss, Swedish, German, I don’t care, Belgian chocolate will always be the winner for me. Although there is a very, very good chocolaterie in Berlin, on the Gendarmenplatz, called Fassbender & Rausch, where I may or may not have once have spent over €40 worth of chocolate. You know the latest creation Côte d’Or has come up with, after they invented that lush milk chocolate with Speculaas pieces in it? Dark chocolate stuffed with smashed Amaretti biscuits. I mean, c’mon. Orgasm in a chocolate bar. Beat that, all you over-sweetened, sickly creamy “chocolate” bars.
But my mum’s favourite chocolate has always been Gianduja. A small packet, wrapped in earthy green paper that made a crinkly sound when you opened it, and stubby green little slabs of chocolate inside. It was Mum’s chocolate and if you took a bar, she’d know it. Hazelnuts and milk chocolate. A heavenly marriage of flavours and textures. What’s that you say – Nutella? Please.
I was not refined enough to appreciate the luxurious decadence of Gianduja when I was a child. I always preferred milk chocolate, which was so addictive, and then dark chocolate, plain and moody, through my teenage years (how appropriate).
But I am a grown-up now. I have tasted excellent chocolate, and I have tasted poor chocolate. (That is indeed a not-at-all subtle jab at you, Great Britain. What you call chocolate I call a sin against the word itself.) As I sit here munching on a cheap slab of plain chocolate I miss the idea of the chocolate I used to eat, and then I remember that sadly, the chocolate industry I once loved uses dairy from factory cows, and that, I cannot condone. I used to cheat on dairy chocolate a lot, but less and less as time passes by. Quality is not just about the luxury of the brand; it’s about the ingredients that are used, and were they came from.
This cake, my friends, is a luxurious, decadent, refined cake, made only with excellent chocolate. Only the best for my mum.
• I know American and other international readers may not have access to Bourbon creams. Firstly, let me commiserate your loss; life’s not worth living without Bourbon creams (I am not being dramatic here). But any chocolate biscuit will do. Try chocolate Oreos (check that they are vegan!) or other sandwich biscuits with a creamy centre. Always, always check the ingredients list before you buy.
• You can purchase coconut cream from most large supermarkets in the UK. If you should for some reason not be able to find any, fret not; soya cream or full-fat coconut milk will do the trick. Whatever substitute you opt for, remember that it must set in the fridge.
Makes one 22cm (9 inch) cake
For the crust:
300g (10.5 oz) bourbon creams
200g (7 oz) chopped dates, stones removed
2 tbsp hazelnut milk
Line a springform tin with baking parchment.
Pulse the bourbon creams till they resemble coarse sand. Add the chopped dates and pulse till combined. Pour this sticky mixture into a bowl. Add the hazelnut milk and mix it all together with your hands until you obtain a sticky batter.
Press this dough into the bottom of your springform tin, making it smooth and even. Leave it to set in the fridge.
For the Gianduja filling: