Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g¬†cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

New Zealand Road Trip. Top 5 reasons to travel in May.

There are some compelling reasons to choose the month of May for a road trip around New Zealand, despite the fact that winter is looming.

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  1. All the major hire car companies drastically reduce the daily cost of renting large motor homes (RVs) from the beginning of May. The daily cost of a 7.2 metre self contained motor home reduces to around AU $30.00 per day. We have rented vans from Britz and Apollo companies over the last two years. The vehicle layout, insurance liability and excess, and other features differ slightly from company to company but the price is the same. More about this below.* These vans come equipped with a cooktop stove and microwave, sink and fridge, shower and toilet, heater, large bed, linen, DVD player, kettle, toaster and kitchen utensils.Image
  2. Travelling from Melbourne to Auckland in May is often economical as Jetstar annually cuts the return fares to around AU$ 200 pp ( walk on 10 kilo hand luggage, no extras). We hope this trend continues.
  3. The camping grounds are often empty, allowing you to choose the best spots overlooking glistening bays dotted with islands, yachts and distant promontories. The price is reduced slightly as off-season rates apply. The facilities are clean and empty.Image
  4. Freedom camping is alive and well in New Zealand and some ‘choice’ spots can be found overlooking inlets and bays, or along green verges. Camping for free reduces the average daily cost. The van DC batteries are designed to last 2 or so days without plugging in. We ran the lights, DVD player and the water pump and used gas for cooking in these situations.Image
  5. The weather in the North Island is perfect for travelling. The mornings are sunny and warm, around 20-22c, the afternoons can be the same but with an intermittent shower, followed by chilly evenings, making for comfortable van sleeping.Image
  • The fitouts of the vans vary from model to model.This year we rented our vehicle from Apollo. The fitout was cumbersome, with wasted spaces and unusable features, obviously designed by someone who had never camped. ¬†Last year’s fitout ( Britz) was sensational. You could attempt to hassle the companies regarding your preferred fitout but on the whole, these companies don’t promise much. It was hard enough to get Apollo to agree to an automatic transmission.
  • Despite having researched credit cards which provide insurance excess on these vehicles, some insurance slug will be necessary. Car hire companies make money from insurance products, interest transactions and add ons, such as rental of outside chairs and tables. The latter can be negotiated.
  • These vans have Mercedes engines and run very economically on deisel fuel. Factor in the cost of a tax for¬†Pay Road User Tax, around $10 per 100 kilomteres. This tax is collected by the hire company, who pay it on your behalf.
  • The Britz hire company provides a ‘recycling’ corner where travellers may leave left over, non- perishable provisions after their journey. In 2013, I picked up EV olive oil, spreads, soy sauce, plastic wrap and tinfoil, coffee, salt and pepper, flour, toilet paper and more. Then on returning the vehicle, I knew that I had some lovely offerings to leave on the shelf. Sadly, Apollo doesn’t provide this service. I had to hunt around for someone in a camping ground to take my little pile of yummy, useful things. I hate waste!
  • Paid camping in New Zealand is not cheap. Prices vary from NZ$32- $50.00. Prices are related to the star rating of the facilities and the location within the camp, seafront often requiring a surcharge, despite the absence of customers in May.The other odd feature of NZ camping is that hot showers are not included in the price, often requiring a 50 cent coin. These showers have a habit of running out without warning, requiring a dash OUTSIDE the cubicle to feed the coin vending machine. In the flashier camping grounds, showers are free but the overall fee ( particularly those in the TOP 10 Holiday Park chain) is excessive. These franchises are often equipped with playgrounds, silly giant chess pieces and other unnecessary geegaws. On the up side, all camping grounds come with functional indoor kitchens, BBQs and¬†TV rooms, providing a break from cooking in cramped conditions, especially when fish is on the menu. The overall weekly cost of camping is reduced dramatically when interspersed with freedom camping. See 4 above.Image

More on the food and wine of New Zealand next time.