What is it?: That old childhood favourite, pimped with chocolate, nuts and marshmallows
Occasion: Something for Ollie
After my mincemeat making a few days ago, I have really started getting into the Christmas spirit. I have put up with the sneers of those that say November is too soon to be feeling festive and, now that we are two days into December, I am celebrating Christmas openly and joyously. I have bought a tree from my favourite East Dulwich garden centre and decorated it, dug out my Christmas CDs, set up the advent calendar and found some particularly gaudy christmas tree earrings that have been lurking at the bottom of my jewellery box since last year’s Bad Taste christmas party. My Christmas baking and Christmas menus are planned with military precision, but I wanted to get a few other things from Short & Sweet in before I began them. With nothing but festive cheer on the brain, I decided to hand the book over to something who does not have the problem of turning into a small child as soon as 1st December hits – Ollie. I again asked him to choose something from the book for me to bake and, to my surprise he, king of the savoury bakes and without any kind of sweet tooth, chose one of the sweetest things in the book – the rocky road rock cakes.
Rock cakes were one of the first things I learned to bake in my Nan’s kitchen. We would make some very basic versions with flour, sugar, margarine, eggs and mixed fruit, that we would eat warm from the oven with a cup of tea. My brother who, unlike me, would only ever venture into the kitchen to eat, would be all over them, devouring far more than his fair share. Dan’s version is slightly less wholesome and would probably have been like sugar-crack to us as children. Rocky Road hadn’t really become popular on this side of the Atlantic by the late 80s / early 90s, but if it had, we would have loved it. These are chocolate-cinnamon rock cakes studded with nuts and then topped with a sauce of chocolate and condensed milk with marshmallows stirred into it. Chocoholic heaven. As with the old version, they are messy to make – rubbing the butter into the flour and cocoa creates a ridge of chocolate under the nails and the topping is impossible to apply without falling down the side and dripping over everything in sight, but it is fun.
The cakes are exactly what you would expect, a chocolately-marshmallowey indulgence. The cinnamon gives the cake part depth and warmth and cuts through some of the sweetness. For me, it was lacking something and I would have liked to have included a fruity element to the cake, maybe a raisin or dried sour cherry, which would have also introduced a bit of sharpness into the mix. I would also prefer to make this in the form of a traybake, with little sliced squares, with the topping on top, but I guess you can’t have everything. Perhaps something to experiment with.
In other news:
On Saturday mornings, North Cross Road in East Dulwich transforms from a quiet residential street with a few shops into a full-on thriving street market. About a year ago, I wrote an article on it for Londonist, and since then it has grown even more. One of its more recent additions is a little yellow van emblazoned with ‘New York – Paris – Peckham’ selling, not stolen VCRs and faulty blow-up dolls, but some rather spectacular banh mi. I fell in love with these Vietnamese baguettes whilst travelling in south-east Asia, so to have them available so close to my house is fantastic. Viet Van’s version contains some rather delicious pulled pork along with the usual ingredients of pork pate, pickled vegetables and sriracha (they also make a caramelised chicken version and a tofu and portabello mushroom for the veggies). Despite it not being entirely authentic, it is one of the best sandwiches I have had in a very long time, and far less hassle than going to Saigon to get one.
Viet Van, North Cross Road, East Dulwich (Saturdays only)