Being busy is great. It’s nice to have things to do and people to see, social events to attend and activities to fill your time with. I live in a city, so the pace of life is pretty hectic, but I love it; it’s fun and thrilling and there is always something going on, if you just take a look around you. Sometimes though, it’s good to just take some time out for yourself, to relax and breathe and slow down for a moment. That’s what lazy Sundays are for, and this is very definitely a lazy Sunday. It’s been a crazy week and between lectures and rehearsals and coursework, I just feel like there has been no time to stop. On the plus-side, it means that I managed to get a lot done in the last seven days. Among other things, I read several (boring) books and countless journal articles, I wrote a three thousand word essay, I went shoe-shopping (which was actually a necessity, rather than an indulgence), I met up with some old friends and I went dancing. For the first time this academic year, I feel like I’m really living my life, not just going to university and going through the motions of academia. In the last few weeks, just by branching out and trying new activities, I’ve met many new people and made a few new friends, and it finally feels like I have a real life in this city.
Of course, my life is not all about university; as a reminder of this, my parents came to visit me last weekend, shortly after my mum’s birthday. It’s always a little strange, because it’s a collision of my two worlds – my university life and my life back home. Still, that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing! Generally, it’s an excuse to go and visit our (i.e. both mine and my parents’) favourite restaurant in the city(!) But back to the subject in hand, I decided that for her birthday, I would make my mum a cake.
I am one of these people who finds it very difficult to buy gifts for their parents, because I never really know what they would like; they never want for anything and I don’t like to buy gifts which are generic and impersonal. As a result, I often end up baking something instead of buying something, because to me, it is a gesture of love and affection. To me, making something for somebody means more than just giving them the end product; it is also your time and effort and passion that goes into it, rather than just your money. Plus, it’s personal, almost like giving part of yourself, and that’s what really counts.
This time around, I decided to branch out a little and experiment with something new. My mum is familiar with my repertoire of cakes and bakes, from vanilla sponge and banana loaf to lemon poppyseed cake and chocolate brownies, so I thought it would be fun to mix things up a little. I eventually decided on a chestnut and chocolate truffle cake, just conservative enough to be familiar (in the chocolate aspect) and exciting enough to be new (the chestnut and truffle cake part).
The recipe is for a flourless cake, which I had never attempted before, but as a first attempt, it was mostly successful! At any rate, the cake was rich and dense, almost fudge-like and intensely chocolate-flavoured, which was good. For me, the only aspect that let it down was the finish, which was really due to an error of judgement on my part.
I decided that, for an extra little flourish, I would cover the torte with ganache and add some piping detail in chocolate. The only problem is, truffle cake is not a medium which lends itself to a clean finish, as I learned after pouring over the ganache. Its unstable nature means that it is prone to cracking and imperfections (as you may be able to see in the photo above). This meant that the chocolate simply sank into the cake, leaving uneven dips and lines on the surface. The piping work was also not as well-done as I would have liked, but having never piped with chocolate before, this is probably more due to inexperience than anything else.
Overall however, while the appearance may have let it down (for me as its creator more than anyone else, I think), it was still a good cake and the most important thing is that my mum loved it. Surely that’s enough to make it a success? I think so.
(Recipe for chestnut and chocolate truffle cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.)