Hej hej! Me again! Back from my sojourn in Medieval Europe. Was quite a nice holiday, really, all things considered. Lots going on, what with kings, popes, power and the need to defend Christendom. I have now reached that happy island which exists between the end of exams and receiving the results (I’m taking it as a good sign that my university has allocated me my tickets for graduation).
So anyway, now I must turn my attention to the Real World and what I wish to do now that I have Grown Up. I’m not one of those super-organised people who’ve known what they wish to do since they were five and have been driven by burning ambition ever since. Instead, I changed my mind on pretty much a yearly basis, probably more frequently. I signed up to do Viking Studies because, quite honestly, I was interested. I like history, especially medieval history, and I’m something of a Wagner obsessive. (Yay for it being his bicentenary and the BBC doing the entire Ring Cycle at the Proms this year!) So I went to learn the sagas. I gave practically no thought to what I would do after my degree. I was off to study and learn!
Although, right now, my mind is probably still too full of Vikings and Crusaders, kings and popes, warfare and gold, to be of much use. I still think that one of the best crusaders was one King Sigurd of Norway, quite apart from the fact that whenever I hear the name ‘Sigurd’ I think ‘Dragon-slayer!’. In 1107, having belatedly received the memo from Pope Urban II (dated 1095) about there being an expedition to the Holy Land to retrieve Jerusalem from the Muslims, Sigurd gathered ships and set sail. Norway, by the way, was a new Christian country, converting in a bloody fashion during the eleventh century. Sigurd, we are told by Snorri in Heimskringla, won every battle he had on his crusade, defeating several pirate ships in the Mediterranean. Upon reaching the Holy Land, he was received by King Baldwin I of Jeruslam (previously Baldwin of Boulogne) and presented with a splinter from what was considered to be the Cross of Christ. Because, you know, what better present is there, than a chip of wood from a torture device? But anyway. Sigurd and his men returned home to Norway via Byzantium and that was his crusade. The First Crusade had ended in 1099, so he was only a few years late…
Anyway, while I have a think about What to Do Next, I thought I’d spend time productively making cake. I choose, at random from my collection, my Hummingbird Bakery recipe book, Home Sweet Home. OK, it wasn’t that randomly. I haven’t used it before.
I still think flicking through a recipe book is probably one of the best parts of baking. All those pictures and scrumptious sounding goodies! The only suggestion made by my flatmates was “Chocolate, please!”. So I meandered a pleasant route through the book, with lots of stopping and starting as pictures and recipes caught my eye. I settled on, because it intrigued me, a recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. I’ve made gluten-free things before. That is not what intrigued me. What intrigued me was the complete lack of any flour substitute. Previously, when I’ve made gluten-free things, I’ve used ground almonds instead. But this recipe had nothing like that; just chocolate, butter, sugar, water, and eggs. Intriguing. A baked mousse…
It’s straight-forward: the eggs and just over a third of the sugar get mixed together. This was tediously slow until I discovered that the whisk I thought was broken, wasn’t. So that sped up the process a bit. The rest of the sugar was made into a syrup, and then the butter and chocolate was melted into the syrup before being added to the eggs. Mix mix mix. It fills the tin better than most of the Victoria sponge mixes I make do. Only once I’ve shut the oven door do I remember that the recipe said something about sitting it in a roasting pan of water to make a bain marie. Never mind.
Fifty minutes later, it somehow managed to rise. I’m impressed. It smells like a chocolate cake ought. It squidges a little when I press the top, and the crust crumbles. The recipe says it shouldn’t be firm, so I’m not unduly worried. I leave it on the side to cool in the tin, as the recipe tells me. When I come back to remove it from the tin, the centre has sunk. It looks like a kladdkaka – a Scandinavian brownie-cake. Very unexpected. Tastes like it too. Just perfect with a dollop or two of sour cream.