Rich Honey Cake

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Apparently, I am honey illiterate. When I first decided to make a honey cake (for my grandparent’s anniversary, no less), I had no clue about the true potential of honey. I envisioned something like a slightly spruced-up sponge cake, with a light texture and a faint undertone of molten sweetness. What I did not imagine was a moist, rich cake that combined a whole bunch of ingredients, each adding a wonderful complexity to each bite while still allowing that straight-from-a-beehive goodness to shine through.

Obviously, I did not think it through.

But thankfully, we live in an age when even extreme stupidity can be corrected through the internet. A little bit of browsing turned up this gem of a recipe, which fascinated me because of the rather odd (but surprisingly perfect) combination of flavors. Honey and orange juice? Weird. Orange juice and coffee? Even weirder. All of that drowned in whiskey? Okay, that makes sense.

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The beauty of the finished product – I adapted the recipe based on personal preference – is exactly this. All the flavors come together in a sort of triumphant medley, with a boozy kick. I topped it off with a thin sheath of honey and a generous sprinkling of flaxseed, which adds a bit of crunch to the whole deal. It’s a pretty rich cake, but not cloyingly so and it’s absolutely perfect for the holiday season.

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Ingredients

3.5 cups flour

1.5 cups brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup olive oil

1 cup honey

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup fresh brewed coffee

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup whiskey (woohoo!)

1/4 tsp salt

3 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground clove

2 tsp all spice

2 tbsp flaxseed

Extra honey for drizzling on top

Method

The list of ingredients might be a little fussy but preparing this cake is a breeze – simply sift together all the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre and then pour in all the wet ones. In other words: sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, clove and all spice. Then add the olive oil, honey, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice and whiskey. Pour it into a well-greased pan (I used a 9 inch circular one) and bake at 170 C for 55 minutes to an hour.

When the cake is done (you can carry out the usual rigmarole with the toothpick to check if it is), let it cool for at least half an hour before trying to tip it out. The final texture should be rich and dense, but not sickeningly so. The syrupy-sweet honey flavor is predominant, but all the other ingredients – especially the whiskey – have their own part to play.

Baked Eggplant

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I have been an absolutely awful person, I know, with no sense of dedication or commitment since I haven’t updated a recipe since August (August! I KNOW). In my defense, I’ve had a ton of things going on – college applications, and work and all these little freelance projects (including an absolutely amazing research project in Tanzania, where I spent two weeks. And yes, I did get my teeth into some Tanzanian food and yes, I will be blogging about it soon). I’ve been cooking and out of sheer habit, I’ve been taking photos as well. But when it comes to actually sitting down and keying out a post and then adding the pictures and clicking the ‘Publish’ button, I’ve been inexcusably lazy.

Still, I hope to make it up with this recipe – an absolutely delicious and painfully easy baked eggplant affair, which is loosely based on this concoction from one of my favorite food bloggers. I grew up with a strong aversion to eggplant and anything that looked, smelled or tasted like it, but I’ve recently come to like it – which I take as a strong sign that I have finally, irrevocably grown up. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first piece of eggplant I liked was a lot more emotional for me than, say, paying rent for the first time or my first job.

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Either way, this recipe takes time to come together but it isn’t labour intensive. It takes time because to get a really creamy, stuff-of-the-gods texture, you need to roast eggplant slowly and gently for the better part of an hour, preferably slicked over with olive oil and some herbs. When it’s done, it should be like a little purple cup of cream – rich, delicious, eggplant-y cream that begs to have a spoon dug into it immediately.

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Then, to make it even better, you heap that eggplant with hung curd that has minced raw garlic stirred through; chopped up tomatoes and jalapenos that have been tossed in lemongrass essence; and a final drizzle of olive oil just so that it doesn’t come across as too healthy (who are we kidding?).

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Ingredients (serves 2)

For the eggplant:

1 large eggplant

1 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of rosemary

Salt as needed

For the curd topping:

200 g curd (the fresher the better)

4 cloves of garlic, minced (this is for the garlic enthusiasts – you can cut it down if you don’t want too much sharpness)

Pinch of salt and white pepper

For the tomato topping:

1 large tomato, chopped fine

1 tbsp chopped jalapeno

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp lemongrass essence

Method:

Prepare the eggplant first: you need to slice it in half, slice a hatched pattern into the open sides with a knife and then rub salt on to it. Cover it and set it aside for half an hour. This sucks out an trace of bitterness from the eggplant.

While the eggplant is resting, hang the curd and let the excess whey drip off.

Wash the salt off the eggplant and brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle the rosemary on top. Place it upside down on a greased baking tray, and bake away at 160 C for 45 minutes to an hour. When it’s done, there should be some caramelization on the surface but the flesh should be tender and creamy. Keep aside to cool a little.

Squeeze out any excess whey from the curd, and then stir in the minced garlic, salt and white pepper.

Toss the tomatoes and jalapeno in a combination of olive oil, lemongrass essence and a pinch of salt. You can add other herbs or flavorings according to your personal taste.

Assemble the eggplant just before serving – scoop the yogurt over the open end, and then a generous heaping of the tomato topping over this. Eat immediately and then lick your fingers for a prolonged period of time.

(Another option is to mince some mint leaves and add it to the yogurt – I tried this later, and it was absolutely lovely).