(*All the bowls and dishes on this post are ©TheFreakyRaku ceramics handmade by myself and Francesco. If you want to know more, read here. )
Any short story has its beginning and its end, this goes for everything….
Last week, my beloved old cat – she is 21 years old – was almost passing away while I was just about to leave. But, maybe, it wasn’t her time because she is still here, purring sweetly, despite her poor health conditions. Sometimes I hear my grandparents say something like “When the time will come” or “it wasn’t the time yet”, but I think the time for something to happen is exactly when it happens, neither a moment earlier, nor a moment later.
It was like this for my birth. I was born before the due time, during the night of the last day of the year, right on December 31st.
Shortly after I was born, the clock struck midnight and the city was lit up with fireworks; was it for welcoming the New Year or for me? I like to think it was for both because from that moment the two celebrations have forever been tied together in my life.
Maybe it is also for this reason that when a year is ending and another is beginning, I can’t help but think about the changing of the date without thinking also about the changing of my age.
We say “to take stock” when someone wants to review what has happened, which is like tracing an imaginary line between the past, on one side, and what has yet to come on the other. And in doing this, I imagine the whole year like a small but really good and special cake with each slice representing a month.
The beginning is when we put our cake on the table, while the end is when we brush away the crumbles, feeling pleased with ourselves of the result.
I want my cake to be full of flavour and comforting. I don’t want it to be sumptuous or perfectly smooth because these are not my primary ambitions.
My cake will be unique and above all, it won’t look like any of those wonderfully perfect cakes that are on Facebook at the moment. My cake will be “Freaky”, the way I mean it. It will have a slight touch of imperfection, just barely visible. There will be some scattered crumbs around it or some other tiny fragments that will attract our gaze on what, in photography, is known also as “punctum”…which is a point where our gaze is drawn by a tiny, accidental detail, an intrusion, such as a drop of cream spilt by mistake; but it is thanks to these very small details that we can almost feel the touch of the hand and imagine the work that was needed without trying to make everything perfect, but only to give the right adjustments to transform it.
The same can be said for my thoughts concerning my life: I desire kindness, satisfaction, pragmatism, harmony, not only appearance and glossy beauty.
Thinking about the many expectations during the traditional waiting for the New Year’s Eve, I prefer to celebrate the moment in a more silent and private way, sharing the pleasure of the event and the love for closiness with only a few.
Therefore, I think I deserve a small but intense delicacy. This small cake, made with hazelnut flour, is very easy to prepare. Its strong flavour is like the scent of a wood, its inside is warm because we want something good to warm us up; the sweet and slightly bitter flavour of the toasted hazelnuts is still my favourite. I remember that, as a child, I prefered it to any other well-known chocolate spread. Once all the humble ingredients have been mixed together, they intensify to become one. Thus, the ingredients will be made into a shape; the shape will become a flavour, the flavour will be that of many memories.
This is a small cake, and a bit “freaky” , but it is enriched with a loving flavour and it is a little present to myself on this special day. I celebrate my birthday but I also wish to celebrate with all of you the end of a year and the beginning of a new one!
On a misty December morning, while I was walking along a country lane without knowing exactly where I was going, I picked a few branches full of berries from the holly trees, a few from the pines, and other foliage from other bushes, as if they were samples for a Christmas herbarium.
We are getting closer to the last day of the year that is also my birthday. I’m looking for that before-and-after imaginary line that marks the arrival point and that of a new beginning, as if this was the distance needed to get back home. My home, the place where this small cake will be prepared. Its lovely smell will fill every room, there will be nice images…and is where I know I will be quite happy having done all this and enjoy the new that is coming.
- 250 g peeled hazelnuts
- 50 ml organic sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp rice malt syrup
- 250 g unpeeled hazelnuts
- 150 g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 pinch of salt
- A knob of butter (to grease the baking pan)
- Toast the hazelnuts in a non-stick pan stirring continuously until they become golden brown.
- Put the hazelnuts, still warm, in a food grinder. To make the hazelnut cream it will take about 10 minutes on a high-speed grinding during which, after having obtained a fine flour, you should add 50 ml of sunflower oil for facilitating the emulsion process. Grind patiently until a smooth and homogeneous cream is obtained.
- Add a tablespoon of rice malt syrup to sweeten and mix at reduced speed to get a perfect emulsion between the malt and the cream.
- Pour the hazelnut cream into some clean and dry glass jars, put the lid on and close well.
- It will preserve for a long time depositing its natural oil on the surface that you'll have good care to mix before the use.
- Just like the cream's recipe, toast the hazelnuts in a non-stick pan and grind it using a food grinder until it become a thin flour. Set aside a little of hazelnut flour to garnish the cake.
- Preheat the oven.
- In two different bowls, separate the yolks from the whites.
- Add the sugar to the yolks and stir very well till it gets a frothy cream.
- Add a pinch of salt to the whites and beat it until stiff.
- In a third clean bowl, mix by alternating and stirring gently a tablespoon of sugar and yolks cream with one of hazelnut flour and one of whipped whites until all the ingredients are well mixed in a smooth and frothy cream.
- Grease a baking dish and pour the mixture into it.
- Bake in a oven at 180 C° / 350 F° for 40 minutes. Allow the cake to cool into the oven without opening it.
- Using a spatula spread the hazelnut cream over the top of the cake and sprinkle it with the hazelnut flour that you have kept aside to garnish.