2 x 400 ml cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
60 ml maple syrup
5 tablespoons agar flakes
pinch sea salt
100 grams dark (70 per cent) chocolate, broken into pieces
120 ml fresh orange juice, strained
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
280 grams toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
200 grams whole spelt flour
2 teaspoons aluminium-free baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
60 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
240 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) boiling filtered water
45 grams ground flax seeds
120 ml melted extra virgin coconut oil, plus more for oiling the tin
360 ml maple syrup
1 teaspoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
340 grams pitted cherries, fresh or frozen*
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons filtered water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
120 ml unsweetened black cherry jam
For my sister’s 30th birthday, my father and I came up with a clandestine plan for him to fly to New York from Australia to surprise her at her party. I was beside myself with the excitement of keeping his visit a secret and thrilled to see my plan unfold undetected. After the initial shock and delight of his surprise visit, we enjoyed this rich, moist and decadent cake – it was a perfect ending to a wonderful night.
Makes 1 tall 20cm cake.
Equipment: Two 20cm cake tins.
Ganache: Add coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt to a medium, heavy-bottomed pan and whisk well. Place over high heat and bring to the boil, whisking frequently. Cover pan, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes. Check agar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add chocolate and re-cover pan. Wait 2 minutes then whisk until completely smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool. Once mixture has stopped steaming, put it in the fridge until cold and completely hard and set, about 1 to 2 hours.
Cut ganache into 2.5-cm (1-in) pieces and place in a food processor with orange juice and vanilla; blend until completely smooth. Scrape down sides as necessary and check for unblended lumps. If ganache separates, keep blending until it comes together again – it can take up to 5 minutes to get it completely uniform and smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until you’re ready to ice the cake.
Cake: Preheat oven to 180.C/350.F/Gas Mark 4. Oil cake tins and line bottom of each with a circle of baking parchment; set aside.
Place 90 grams of the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and add 25 grams of the spelt flour; blend until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Place in a medium bowl. Sift in remaining spelt flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Stir with a whisk to combine and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth.
Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, vinegar, vanilla and salt and whisk to emulsify. Add flour mixture and use a whisk to mix well. Divide cake mix between prepared cake tins, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of tin and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Filling: Combine cherries, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt in a small pan and bring to the boil over high heat. Cover pan and reduce heat to low. Cook fresh cherries for 10 to 15 minutes or until softened and juicy; cook frozen cherries for 5 minutes. Dissolve arrowroot in the water and drizzle into simmering cherries; stir constantly until mixture thickens slightly and returns to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extracts and jam. Pour into a shallow bowl and place in the fridge to cool completely before filling cake.
Cake: Spread remaining toasted hazelnuts on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and crush them with the flat end of a rolling pin or a heavy jar; set aside. Run a palate knife around the edge of one cake tin and invert onto a 20-cm cardboard cake base or bottom of a springform tin. Remove parchment circle and spread surface with about 240 ml of icing. Top with cherry filling and spread out, leaving about a 1.2-cm border around edges. (This prevents it from spilling out when you top it with second cake layer.)
Invert second cake onto a flat surface. (I like to use the bottom of a tart tin for this as it is completely flat and will allow you to slide the top layer easily onto the bottom layer.) Remove parchment circle and slide cake onto bottom layer. Ice top and sides with remaining ganache and press crushed hazelnuts into sides of the cake.
Garnish with fresh cherries, if available, and place in the fridge until ready to serve. It will improve after a few hours as the flavours settle, and it can even spend the night in the fridge.
Note: For best results with the icing, make it a day ahead so it has plenty of time to cool and set. Make sure you assemble the cake when all components are completely cool. I recommend assembling it on either a round cardboard cake base or the bottom of a springform cake tin. This makes it easier to decorate the sides with hazelnuts, holding the base of the cake with one hand and pressing nuts into the sides with the other.
*Use fresh cherries when available, and save some to garnish the top.
The cake mix is based on a chocolate cake from Myra Kornfeld’s brilliant book, The Voluptuous Vegan.