In one way or another, or with the excuse to give me some jam jars, my loving granny is always able to draw me over to her overfilled but tidy shelves in her kitchen cupboard. I’m always surprised at the fact that, apparently, her food supply never ends. More possibly, there is always someone’s hand ready to fill up any empty spaces with some more jars.
The experience of the World War II and the starvation suffered during that time by my grandparents, has left a deep scar on them to this day, even when performing the most natural daily task in their lives, and in their life-style. Although today, they live a comfortable and respectable life, they are the most frugal people I’ve ever known.
They are a great example: if something can be recycled or used again, they know what and how to get it done!
Bread, for example, the most basic and precious food, was for them essential; something completely different to the value we give it today. It was home made, often using whole grain flour from the mill, and coming from wheat patiently grown, and whose swaying golden sheaves were like a sea, have remained as the background of the many memories of those long-gone days that my grandparents have kept with such amazing clarity.
“Bread should NEVER be thrown away!” is what my grandfather usually says, and I understand this value behind which whatever that can be re-used, especially food, shouldn’t be thrown in the bin, like if it were something sacred.
So, every time I’m about to throw something away, I think of him and try to find a way of using the left-over. In doing this, I feel I respect his life-story and, at the same time, it’s a small lesson against waste.
Exactly as my grandmother does, I keep the stale bread in a paper bag until it’s full and then I decide to use it to make one or two “recycling” recipes.
My favourite one is the recipe I’m writing here, in which the stale bread is transformed into a scrumptious cake with enough chocolate to stop even the most depressing pre-menstrual syndrome in history.
At the same time, it’s also good as an Autumn cake to be eaten warm during those evenings when the dark sets in early and it’s nice to be with some friends, maybe holding a nicely warm cup of herbal tea.
This cake is made with my favourite seeds which I also use in my digestive infusion in the evening: fennels and aniseeds.
It’s a comforting pleasure to start nibbling at the cake that gives hints of the difference of chocolate that is brownish and crunchy. It’s like being wrapped by a soft blanket while outside it’s raining or the fire’s crackling in the fireplace. If you can eat it slowly, when it’s still warm – something not easy to do at all! – you will discover a mixture of flavours that have the same aroma and crispness of every bread freshly baked from every old oven by every grandmother worldwide and by hands that have always crushed seeds, ground, knelt and taken care of whom they loved, in every kitchen, even the most modest, around the world. It still tastes of bread but it’s not bread anymore. This’s the trick of transforming and giving a new taste to something and, in this case, it’s a sweetness.
- 300 gr of stale bread
- 300 ml rice milk
- 200 ml water
- 1 egg
- 6 tbsp granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 80 g extra dark chocolate (cocoa content 70% or more)
- Half cup of raisin
- ⅘ star anise
- ¾ tbsp sliced almonds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
- 1 apple
- Pre-heat a fan assisted oven at 180C°/ 350F°.
- Break the bread into small pieces and put it into a large bowl.
- Add the rice milk to some water and then add the star anise. Bring to the boil. Remove the star anise and pour the liquid over the bread. Leave it to soften in the liquid for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the egg, sugar and sieve in the cocoa. Stir well until the mixture has blended well.
- Put the raisin to soften into a bowl of lukewarm water, then drain and add it to the mixture. Roughly cut the chocolate and add it to the mixture.
- Add the fennel seeds and the sliced almonds. Stir well. Set aside a handful of almonds for covering the top.
- (optional: - add a finely sliced apple, some walnuts and other seeds, such as the sunflower seeds)
- Line a baking pan with baking paper and spread the mixture evenly into it. Make a layer of about ⅔ cm (1 inch). Sprinkle over the remaining almonds and bake for about 40/45 minutes at 180C°/350F°.