Sunday, November 3, 2013

When chocolate’s not an option

Lemony-coconut makes a great, tropical substitution for chocolate

When chocolate’s not an option

Many of you will know from previous cakes I’ve blogged about that my office has a birthday cake tradition; someone in the office has a birthday, someone else makes a cake and we all spring out from behind our desks at some point during the day, thrusting cake with lit candles underneath the embarrassed, but inevitably unsurprised, person’s nose, half-heartedly singing an out of time and out of tune rendition of Happy Birthday. Bad singing over, candles blown out and cake cut, we stand around together for 10 or 15 minutes discussing the cake – home made, of course (no-one dares dreams of doing a shop-bought job these days) – and anything else not related to work.

Incidentally, it was my birthday the first year I joined the office, that was somehow the catalyst for the compulsory birthday cake. I’m not sure why it came about, but I still remember the first cake made by my friend and colleague Julia, a chocolate concoction with Toblerone chocolate pieces and icing sugar dusted over it, to signify the Alps. I was touched. Not surprised though, because although Julia had hid the cake around the corner from my desk, she blew it by posting it to Facebook and tagging me in the photo five minutes before they actually gave it to me. Still, I remember it being rich and chocolatey.

Fast forward two and a half years, and there’s been good cakes and bad ones, but everyone gets a cake for their birthday and the baking load is shared by most of the office. But since the first chocolate cake for my birthday, we’ve had to change tack and try not to have cakes with chocolate in them as one of my friends and colleagues, Amelia, is allergic to it. How anyone could be allergic to chocolate and still be as calm, rational, friendly and funny as she always is, defies logic. Because of her allergy, Amelia’s birthday or not, chocolate cake is out. It’s been hard.

But also rewarding. Chocolate cake is the natural default one for birthday cakes, but the no chocolate rule has broadened the flavour horizons. Teri, a good friend and colleague of mine, had her birthday approaching and I put my hand up to bake it. Searching through my multitude of recipe volumes and books, anything chocolate or with chocolate in it was instantly vetoed. Amongst my own collection, the amount of non-chocolate recipes was decidedly small.

One stood out, however. Lemon and coconut cake was something I found on, through the Fairfax Australian news sites, a website I’ve increasingly turned to for inspiration. And it was an inspired choice, given lemon is one of Teri’s favourite flavours, so not only was it something that suited the taste of the person whose birthday it was, its non-chocolate status meant it was a winner for Amelia as well. It was easy to make, always a plus on a school night - a simple place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon - and the cake itself was light, moist and packed full of lemon punch. The icing – while made in a strange way – was the perfect balance between the sweet icing sugar and a fair amount of tart lemon juice. I think I would've preferred a butter cream icing, but the taste really did complete the taste of a cake that had a fair amount sweetness balanced by zing.

In the end, having to think about flavours other than chocolate has been inspiring and refreshing. Although I'm still partial to the good old chocolate cake, and will go on making them when possible, exploring new flavours can open up your tastebuds to a whole new world they may not previously have encountered. And that's no bad thing.

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