Ice formed in the ends of my hair as I pedalled hard through the back streets of Fulham in pitch darkness on the ‘old lady’ bicycle my father had bought me for forty pounds on my return from sunny California. At that time in the morning I certainly had no time or inclination to blow dry my long hair, and besides, I couldn’t wait to get to work.
Work was a trio of me, a beautiful South African man named Pieter, and his buxom Brazilian friend Helio who would come to bake in his spare time. We worked at one small stainless steel counter in a tiny basement kitchen and churned out food that I wanted to eat. My job entailed making the muffins every morning, and then whatever needed to be done; the first of which, though I say so myself, I eventually excelled at. Pieter made Bobotie that made every South African homesick. He roasted whole scrubbed beetroot drenched in honey and smoked paprika to be paired with handfuls of fresh coriander and tangy, creamy goat’s cheese. He put things together that just somehow worked and basically made everything look easy. Helio was an accomplished pastry chef. So much so, that his full time job was as live-in chef to one half of the most influential all-female chef team I have known. He was given access to the most beautiful ingredients and was taught by the best. I was in love. I was in awe. I hung on his every word. He showed me the merits of too much vanilla, that to make the best tart case you must grate the cold hard pâte sucrée straight into the tin and squash it together again with your fingers. He taught me the recipe for Chocolate Nemesis. A Cake/Mousse/Brownie affair, that I had obsessed over, having first tasted it at his bosses’ famous waterside restaurant years before. On close inspection his recipe bore little resemblance to the one in their book, but it tasted exactly as it did all those years ago…so I asked no questions.
This is not it. There are just some secrets I will never share.
This is a Dark Chocolate Torta that is an amalgam of all the gooey, rich outrageous cakes I have ever baked. The joy is you can make it start to finish in 45 minutes, including baking time. Did I mention it is flourless? So, even your wheat and gluten intolerant friends will be begging you for another slice. It is one of those cakes that you can do with your eyes half closed having forgotten at 10pm that you have to take something to someone tomorrow. You can do it half concentrating, while you are putting the rest of dinner together having just been informed you have company and have to somehow stretch dinner for two to dinner for four. With pudding? Easy.
DARK CHOCOLATE TORTA
1/4 cup cocoa plus more for dusting
100g ground almonds
Grease, line and grease again an 8” cake tin.
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Melt butter and chocolate together in a bowl over simmering water (or in the microwave) and allow to cool a little. Beat together the eggs, sugar, ground almonds and cocoa, but do not whip in too much air. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Pour mixture into the tin and place carefully in the middle of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes until set, remove and turn out only when completely cool, dust with the extra cocoa powder and serve.
Delicious with bitter orange ice cream (recipe to follow one day) or just a good dollop of crème fraîche or Greek Yoghurt!