We were lucky recently to be offered a pound of pure Guatemalan cacao beans by a friend with a contact on a plantation. It all felt a bit covert – she emailed, we chose our weight, transferred the money and waited. Eventually, after several weeks of wondering where the elusive beans were and whether we’d been duped out of a tenner, I arrived home one evening to find them double wrapped in plastic and hidden in the dustbin pen by my front door. We shook them free from the baggie and blitzed them to fine powder in the coffee grinder, then jarring them for safekeeping in our pantries. I don’t think we’ve known such gastronomic curiosity: from the furtive acquisition of the large, nutty beans to their grinding and division into two sealed containers for each of us to savour like panned gold this recently harvested, exotic, raw cacao in its basic packaging seemed full of promise.
I’m not a great baker, and to be perfectly honest, reaching in and out of ovens to burn my forearms (I’ll leave that to Rosie) isn’t my favourite kind of cooking – I’m more of a hob and counter cook, actually. I’m aware, though, that we’re notching up quite a few puddings on our Salad Club site and that most of you are probably wondering what we’re up to. The thing is, we’re obliged to serve pudding at our Kitchen Club and Salad Club suppers so we’ve sort of had to learn on the job about this part of the meal. It’s still my least favourite course to assemble, which is why we like to keep it tasty yet simple. This is a recipe I’ve adapted from the crazy-named Willie Harcourt-Cooze of Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory fame and as well as being straightforward, leaves you with a bit of a high from the pure energy in the cacao. A quick Google search shows that it’s easily bought online and in health food shops.
Preheat the oven to 180˚. In a bain marie on a low heat, melt 250g of unsalted butter and 180g of fine to medium ground cacao beans, stirring to combine. The coarser grounds make for a slightly gritty texture that really complements the earthy and intense flavours of the cacao. Keep pulsing if you want a smoother cake. While the mixture melts together, beat 5 eggs, 150g of golden caster sugar and 50g of vanilla sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add a teaspoon of good quality vanilla extract and a pinch of good sea salt and beat again. When the cacao and butter is melted, add to the main mix and combine well. Line a round cake tin with baking paper, pour in the mix and place the cake tin within a roasting tin. Fill the roasting tin half way with boiling hot water and place in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes or until set.
Remove from the oven and slice when half cooled. Serve with a generous dollop of mascarpone or creme fraiche and a scattering of toasted, crushed hazelnuts.