Monday, 24 March 2014

Tiramisu-esque cake

8am wake up, go to the bathroom, drink some warm water, do my 20 minute stretches, read the newspaper, shower, eat breakfast, get ready for uni. That's my morning routine. It's the fourth week into my academic year and I feel like I've been here for months. My days are long, I'm stuck in front of my computer all day, reading articles after scientific articles, searching for that light, that spark that goes 'Yup! This is it woman! You found me!' I'm so close. So close to defining my Masters project. And i tell ya, resilience pays off. When I first started searching for a topic, the only way to start was the obvious 'where on earth do I start?' I felt that it was such an impossible task to find a topic that's novel, and on top of that, my ambitious self demands me to find a topic that is significant, that contributes to society AND that I'm passionate enough about that I can spend one year dwelling on it. But the best advice anyone could give was read, just read, doesn't matter what, just read. And read I did. But something else I should add too. Don't read blindly. Pause and reflect. Pause and re-surface to re-connect with the world around. What is the world up to these days? What are people into? What would our ancestors say about the world today?

I'm passionate about dietary practices and folk remedies - those practices that have passed down generation after generation for hundreds and even thousands of years - especially Chinese dietary advices and Chinese medicine. There is such a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in these practices. They've had people experimenting and testing them out for centuries and they've survived the test of time to be passed down to us. Yet most people these days do not believe in them, preferring to trust in science. I am studying science. I can tell you, yes there are so many amazing things science has done. Science has come such a long way over these past few centuries. But compared to ancient practices, science is but an infant. There is this thing about scientist, the urge of every scientist to discover something new, be it a novel gene, or a magic bullet for curing cancer. It is nobel to have these ambitions. But personally, I think we shouldn't rush to discover something new before we've learnt from existing knowledge. And this wealthy mine of knowledge and wisdom has large been left neglected as scientists dig elsewhere.

Take the concept of nutrition. Most advice these days focus on telling you what fibre or vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids you should be eating, what saturated fats, refined carbohydrates you shouldn't be eating. The world of nutrition has become so focused on the nutrients that they've forgotten about food itself. This sort of thinking is downward. Because we don't just eat singular nutrients. We eat food containing many many types of nutrients. We eat many types of food. Nutrition is so focused on discovering good nutrients and their benefits (which is not a problem. But) it's forgotten that each individual is different. We all have different lifestyles and habits. We all have different needs at different times. Yes, say... an orange is good because it contains lots of vitamin C. Yes, we all need vitamin C, but if we're not deficient in vitamin C, it's not particularly 'good' for us. But for someone with scurvy, orange is very good for them, because they need it. And also, if you just take vitamin C tablets, the effect might be lost. Why? Because an orange isn't just made of vitamin C. There are hundreds of other compounds in there. Ones that probably haven't even been discovered. Maybe the effect of vitamin C is dependent on those other compounds. Otherwise why would nature make an orange? Why doesn't nature just make vitamin C tablets?

Oh by the way, I'm hoping that my Masters project will be on grapefruit (or maybe orange) and how the bitter compounds are affected by processing. Why? Because bitter compounds (flavonoids and limonoids) have been shown to have anticancer and cardio-protective effects.  I know... it's a bit contradictory that I'm singling out bitter compounds to study. Like, how did epidemiologists know that it is those bitter compounds that lead to decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases? Yes, bitter compounds have shown to elicit antioxidant, radical scavenging properties, but this happens only in the petri dish and what happens in the human body, when there are millliioooooons of other compounds around? But hey, I actually have back-up. Traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back THOUSANDS of years mentioned that bitter foods are good for heart. I guess I'm just making the most of what I have? I'm trying to make my little contribution and nudge science that bit further in its long long long long long (x10000000000) way to go? And anyway, my thinking is that those bitter compounds play a part in the larger picture of food that gives its beneficial effects. Gosh... trying to justify myself... On a side note, I'm actually rather enjoying this whole research thing. Never ever thought i would, but as long as I don't lose track of what my values and beliefs are, and try to integrate them into my research, it's not too bad. At times I'm even like... PhD doesn't sound too bad either. Dr... Lol no I won't go there just yet.

SORRY I've blabbed on so much about science. I can't help it. It's what I've been and will be breathing and living all day, all night, all week, all YEAR. I'm so sad that it's taken my baking and blogging time away from me! I've only baked TWICE in this past month. TWICE. What is this atrocity? All I've cooked is fried egg and (made) sandwiches... which incidentally involved slicing two slices of bread, slapping on some jam and peanut butter. BAm. Guys. I wouldn't be alive without my mum. Like, seriously. Without her cooking all those delicious and healthy meals, I'd just be eating plain bread and store bought muesli bars. Sad sad situation. OR, I'd be mean to my equally sad looking bank account and buying $9 paninis everyday (yum, but so not worth the money). And soon, I'll be sculling coffee by the gallons.

Anyway, this cake was one I whipped up for my friend who requested it for his birthday! I didn't actually plan out what i was gonna make. I pretty much just went with the flow. Scrounged around the kitchen for ingredients and bashed them all together to create this beauty. Obviously it took longer that it should because I silly-ly (hehe) chose not to follow a recipe for the cream cheese-cream bit. I was going to buy savoiardi biscuits to layer them in because my friend requested tiramisu. BUT oh my god, I can't believe it, they stopped selling them at both my local supermarkets! (More atrocity). But I just made a sponge to substitute the 'cakey' bit, because it'd take less time than to make lady fingers. For the coffee drizzling, I omitted the alcohol because they wanted it to be an alcohol-free party, but if you sloshed in some Kahlua of Baileys, it'd kick the awesome level for this cake up. And one more thing, since I couldn't make it to his birthday party (sadface), I didn't get to try the cake NOR take photos of the insides of the cake. I'm sorry, you'll just have to make do with the exterior. I was told that everybody loved the cake though (yay!)!

Tiramisu-esque Cake

Serves 10

Sponge cake

Recipe from Wholefood Baking by Jude Blereau
4 eggs
1/2 cup blended raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup minus 1 tbsp (120g) wholemeal flour
40g butter, melted and cooled, placed in a bowl

Cream cheese filling

250g cream cheese, softened
200ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp really strong coffee
1 tbsp Kahlua or Baileys or Tia Maria (optional)
1/4 cup blended raw sugar
150g dark chocolate, melted

Coffee drizzle

1/3 cup strong coffee
1 tsp raw sugar

Chocolate decoration

About 50g dark chocolate, melted
Extra chocolate for shaving

For the cake
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line base of 8 inch round cake tin. 
2. Whisk together eggs and sugar using a stand mixer until very thick, pale, creamy and tripled in volume. As Jude says, the mixture is thick enough 'when you can lift the beaters and the mixture falls back into the bowl in a ribbon that rests on the surface for about 10 seconds'. Add in the vanilla and whisk until just incorporated.
3. Sift 1/3 of the flour onto the egg mixture and fold in very gently until just incorporated. Add in the remaining flour in two additions, folding really gently. 
4. Add about 1 cup of batter to the melted butter and mix until incorporated. Gently fold this back into the egg mixture. Transfer to tin and bake for 20 minutes until folden and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave the cake in the oven and the oven door ajar so the cake can cool slowly. This prevents the cake from collapsing. 

For the cream cheese filling
5. Beat the cream cheese and cream together until well mixed. Continue beating so the mixture becomes more light and fluffy. Add in the rest of the ingredients and beat until mixture is smooth. Reserve about 1/2 cup. Beat the cooled melted chocolate into the rest of the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate before use.

Assembling the cake
6. Once the cake is cooled, cut the cake into three layers. Using a brush, spread the coffee drizzle onto every surface of the cake. 
7. To assemble, spread on about 1/3 of the chocolate cream cheese lavishly. Layer on the sponge and repeat. Cap on the final sponge layer. Spread the remaining 1/3 chocolate cream cheese on to cover the cake. The reserved cream cheese mixture should more or less be of a pouring consistency. Carefully pour it over the cake. This will give a smooth finish. Refrigerate until the icing has set.
8. Using a spoon, or a piping bag, drizzle on the melted chocolate in your desired fashion. The chocolate will solidify quickly once it hits the cold cake. Shave some extra chocolate on top. Refrigerate the cake.
9. Serve the cake chilled.  

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