“Man loves company, even if it is only that of a small burning candle” ~ Georg C Lichtenberg
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This past weekend we hosted our first Spaghetti Saturday of the new year.
A few minutes before our guests would arrive, the puppies stood watch, peering through the frosty front door. Eighty meatballs were warming in the crock-pot, and pots of noodles cooked on the stove. We turned the station to soft jazz, and I made my way through the house lighting candles.
I've begun to believe the difference between dinner and a dinner party, between having friends over and entertaining can only be
We've never been ones to call it entertaining. Somehow it sounds like an ill-fitting shoe, as in you'll need a ticket when you arrive, and perhaps a valet, and “Here, let me take your coat.”
It sounds like an evening in which there wouldn't be a cooler full of beer, a football game playing in the other room, and a black pug who'd love to sit on your foot
For a while, after we got married, it kept me from inviting anyone over. The thought of a dinner party, of “entertaining” with the place settings, flowers, and everything just so. It felt stiff, overwhelming, and a little out of reach
But candles, now that we could do
So this weekend we had twenty-five friends over for “entertaining” (the beer-in-the-cooler-kind). The kind of entertaining that started over a year ago when a group of strangers came together, whose only common bond was knowing my husband and me
This group of strangers, that now know, and call each other
Before everybody arrived, I had the best idea(!) a warming gesture in which I'd make a spiked hot chocolate, for which I had no recipe. I had candy canes on hand, the perfect drink stirs, peppermint schnapps, and what else could I add?
A mixologist, I am not, and well somehow it all went a little bit south. The kind of thing that is enough to make your husband shake his head, pat you on the shoulder, and begin offering everyone a bit of bubbly
As the evening wore on, there was love and laughter, funny stories of holiday vacations. The night was wonderful, and it was so much fun to see everyone.
Admittedly, there was a time when I dreaded the winter. The bundling up, bitter cold, darkened evenings. I don't anymore
maybe it's the candles
As I listened to the stories that night, I know too that this season has also been a tricky one for our little community. There are new businesses, new babies, new jobs, new retirements, ongoing illness, and unfolding complications.
But as we gathered, I watched the heat melt away our insecurities and fears and doubts, leaving a whole new waxy set in its place. We're on the cusp of something, I can feel it. It's the eleventh hour, and I'm thinking of taking another stab at the hot chocolate, hoping it'll take
After everyone had gone home, things were put away, and the dishwasher hummed, I looked at the pitcher of chocolate that had seen many better days. I contemplated pouring it down the sink but didn't
Instead, the next night, blending it with a bit of coconut milk and ice. Turns out, botched hot chocolate makes for the beginnings of a beautiful smoothie.
I suppose nothing's botched completely anyway, not really.
For even burned-out candles will melt into something new
For a while now, I've been searching for a healthier go-to cake recipe. A few requirements?
My healthier cake wouldn't have dairy (milk or butter), no refined sugar, and would either be gluten-free or use a better-digested flour than all-purpose. It wouldn't use processed ingredients (think vegan butter or tofu) to achieve a non-runny frosting.
It would be so delicious one wouldn't have any idea that it had these kinds of restrictions attached so everyone could enjoy. I've found the ONE.
“The cherry filling pairs well with the chocolate and nuts, adding a burst of tangy-sweet flavor” ~ Amy Chaplin
ps: It's best to make the frosting a day in advance, or at least several hours, to give it plenty of time to set and firm up
pps: For other recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturdays .. here
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~ Adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin
Chocolate Hazelnut Layer Cake with Cherry Filling and Chocolate Ganache
- Chocolate Ganache
- 2 (13.5 oz) cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 5 Tbsp agar flakes
- pinch fine grain sea salt
- 3 ½ oz dark chocolate bar, broken into pieces (70% cacao)
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
- 2 cups spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- ¼ cup ground flax seeds
- ½ cup coconut oil, melted but not hot + more for oiling the tin
- 1 ½ cups maple syrup
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp fine-grain sea salt
- 2 ½ cups pitted cherries fresh or frozen
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch fine-grain sea salt
- 1 tsp arrowroot powder
- 2 tsp water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp almond extract
- ½ cup black cherry jam
- Chocolate Ganache
- Add coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt to a medium, heavy-bottomed pan and whisk well.
- Place over high heat and bring to the boil, whisking frequently.
- Cover pan, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes. Check that the agar is completely dissolved
- Remove from heat, add chocolate and re-cover pan. Wait 2 minutes then whisk until completely smooth.
- Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool.
- Once the mixture has stopped steaming, put it in the fridge until cold and completely hard and set (~ 2 hours)
- Cut ganache into 2" pieces and place in a food processor with orange juice and vanilla; blend until completely smooth. Scrape down sides as necessary and check for unblended lumps.
- If ganache separates, keep blending until it comes together again – it can take up to 5 minutes to get it completely uniform and smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until you’re ready to ice the cake
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- Oil cake tins and line the bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper; set aside.
- Place ⅔ cup of the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and add ¼ cup of the spelt flour; blend until finely ground (~ 30 seconds). Place in a medium bowl.
- Sift in remaining spelt flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir with a whisk to combine and set aside.
- In another medium bowl, whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth. Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, vinegar, vanilla and salt and whisk to emulsify.
- Add flour mixture and use a whisk to mix well.
- Divide cake mix between prepared cake tins and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of the tin and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool
- Combine cherries, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt in a small pan and bring to the boil over high heat.
- Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook fresh cherries for 10 to 15 minutes, or until softened and juicy; cook frozen cherries for 5 minutes.
- Dissolve the arrowroot in the water and drizzle into the simmering cherries; constantly stir until mixture thickens slightly and returns to a simmer.
- Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts and jam.
- Pour into a shallow bowl and place in the fridge to cool completely before filling the cake
- Assemble the Cake
- Spread remaining toasted hazelnuts on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and crush them with the flat end of a rolling pin or a heavy jar; set aside.
- Run a knife around the edge of one cake tin and invert onto an 8-in cardboard cake base or bottom of a springform tin.
- Remove parchment circle and spread the surface with about 1 cup of icing.
- Top with cherry filling and spread out, leaving about ½" border around edges. (This prevents it from spilling out when you top it with the second cake layer.)
- Invert second cake onto a flat surface. (I like to use the bottom of a tart tin for this as it is completely flat and will allow you to slide the top layer easily onto the bottom layer.)
- Remove parchment circle and slide cake onto the bottom layer.
- Ice top and sides with remaining ganache and press crushed hazelnuts into sides of the cake. Garnish with fresh cherries, if available, and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
- It will improve after a few hours as the flavors settle, and it can even spend the night in the fridge