I celebrated my birthday yesterday with a special kind of joy that comes from knowing you're going to spend a happy amount of time in the afternoon making a damn fine cake. I love my birthday, but feel no great need to do anything in particular to note it's passing. I was taking to my man about it, and what I love about birthdays is the opportunity to take an ordinary day and make it extraordinary. To do all those little things you might usually do (grab a coffee and breakfast, have dinner with your family, head to the grocery store) with a little bit more intention, a little bit more wonder and joy. Which sort of sounds like something we should be doing everyday, right?
The other thing that felt extra good about this birthday was that I finally feel like I'm growing into the age I've always been. At 25, I'm getting every closer to the thirteen-going-on-thirty that I seem to have been for the past twelve years. I hope that makes sense. Feeling like you're perpetually older than your biological age can (in an ironic way) make you a little wary of other people and their opinions. To have people not be shocked when I tell them my age ("You're only 24?! ETC) is something I'm looking forward to. I'm getting ever more comfortable with just doing me, but occasionally I get sick of dealing with other people's assumptions. Here's to feeling and wearing our ages authentically and personally, I say.
So: the opportunity to connect, to be excited, to have fun. That's what I love about birthdays. Give me that over a party with lots of people and loud noises and late nights anytime. So in the spirit of extra special joy and wonder, I made this ridiculously delicious and high-vibin' cake.
Layers of buckwheat, hazelnut and pear cake (soaked in ahem, chai syrup) are sandwiched together with the most luscious vanilla cashew cream cheese, topped with a crazy-looking toasted buckwheat brittle. There's so much about this cake that I really really dig. It's a balance of nutty, fruity, spicy, creamy, and toasty flavours that just works so well for me. The toasty-bitter combo of the brittle from the combination of toasted buckwheat and unrefined panela sugar is the perfect counterpoint to the sweet-but-tangy cashew cream and the toothy, fragrant cake. And the textures! Toothy cake, smooth wet cashew cream, crunchy brittle. Trifecta. My last point here: I learnt the trick of basting cakes in syrup as soon as the come out of the oven from a pastry chef at a bakery I used to work out. In cases where the cakes end up working best refrigerated (here to keep the cashew cream cold) then a moistening syrup to stop things drying out is necessary. And why not make it chai-flavoured?
This is a profoundly happy cake.
BUCKWHEAT, HAZELNUT + PEAR CAKESmakes 3 8-inch diameter layers
This recipe calls for organic eggs, which I happily use from time to time. If you'd prefer to make this cake vegan, you could try using a flax or chia egg (1 tbsp ground seed + 4 tbsp hot water = 1 egg) but I haven't tried this. Also, this might look like a lot of components and ingredients, but basically everything can be done in advance, and then you can just assemble it when you're ready to go. In fact, I'd highly recommend making the brittle and the cashew cream first, so you can chill out and get on with the cake.2 + 2/3 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup + 2 tbsp hazelnut meal
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
7 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 c maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla paste
4 organic eggs
1/2 cup almond mylk
Preheat oven to 180C. Line the base of 3 8 inch circular cake pans with baking paper and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk flour, meal, baking powder, salt, and spices together. Wash pears, then slice into quarters and cut away the core. To get nice flat pear slices for fanning, cut of the curvy cheeks, then slice thinly. This will give you nicely uniform slices. Start placing the pear in the tins: make a cross with 4 slices, then layer 1 slice onto each of the 4 existing slices (check out this photo), repeating until 1 pear layers the bottom of each tin. Set aside.
In the standing bowl of a mixer, beat eggs for a minute or two, until frothy. Then add the oil, syrup, vanilla + almond mylk, beating until combined. Add the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time and combine thoroughly. Evenly divide the batter between the three tins and smooth out to cover the pears. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the syrup. When the cakes are done, remove to a wire rack and immediately spoon over 3 tbsp or so of hot chai syrup. Allow to soak for 5 minutes, then pour off any excess. Allow to cool for a further 10 minutes in the tin, then carefully turn out and allow to cool completely.
CHAI SYRUPmakes 3/4 cup
3 bags organic chai
1 cup hot water
1/3 cup panela sugar
Steep the tea bags in water for 10 minutes, until you have a strong brew. Add to a small saucepan with the panela and bring to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, until the syrup has thickened and reduced to 3/4 cup liquid. Keep warm.
VANILLA CASHEW CREAM CHEESEmakes ~3 cups
If this yields too loose a cream cheese, increase the coconut oil and decrease the almond mylk by the same amount, which should firm things up a bit.1 cup cashews, soaked overnight
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup almond mylk
2 tsp vanilla paste
pinch of salt
juice of 1 lemon
Drain and rinse the cashews. Blend with the remaining ingredients in a blender on high until silky smooth. Scrape down the sides as you need too. Pour into a bowl and allow to chill until needed. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days if necessary.
TOASTED BUCKWHEAT BRITTLEmakes ~2 cups
If this is your first time making brittle, my advice is to trust your instinct. Depending on humidity and temperature, your conditions will be different to mine. If you burn the sugar or take it too far, don't stress and just start over. Take care though, hot sugar burns nastily. As an aside, this also makes a fantastic gift or treat. If panela sugar isn't your thing, you could use more traditional refined or raw sugar, but I love the molasses-y notes of the panela.1/3 cup raw buckwheat
1 cup panela sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp water
generous pinch of flaky sea salt
In a dry pan, toast the buckwheat over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, until a deep golden brown and toasty smelling. Set aside. Place a sheet of baking paper on your bench or flat baking tray.
In a small saucepan, combine water + sugar over medium-high heat. Stir a few times and then allow to come to rapid boil. Boil for 4-5 minutes, then quickly stir in the toasted buckwheat and pour the whole lot out on the baking paper, spreading quickly with the back of your spoon/spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. During this time the brittle will harden. Once cool completely, use your hands to snap the brittle into shards (generally, I found I need thinner,smaller pieces then I anticipated). Store in a cool, airtight container until required.
BUCKWHEAT, HAZELNUT + PEAR LAYER CAKE W VANILLA CASHEW CREAM + TOASTED BUCKWHEAT BRITTLEServes 10-12
Place one layer of cake onto the bottom of your cake stand/plate. Spread about 1/3 of the cashew cream cheese on top, smoothing with a spatula. Add another layer of cake and another 1/3 of cashew cream cheese. Add the final layer and press gently down to create some decadent oozes of cashew cream cheese from between the layers.Spoon the remaining cream cheese on top of the cake. At this point, I would recommend a quick chill in the fridge or freezer to help things firm and set (you can also do this in between layers if your cream cheese or cakes aren't completely cool/cold). Finally, skewer the brittle on top of the cake. Serve immediately. Leftovers will store in the fridge for a few days, though the brittle may soften or melt into the cream cheese a little.