Riding the Baking Edge #1: Albertine’s Sunday Gâteau au Chocolat
by Susanna Crossman
This is the first in a weekly baking series dedicated to Leonora Carrington, the beasts of the forest, sumptuous feasts and all sorts of cake.
Albertine’s Sunday Gâteau au Chocolat
The recipe for this French gâteau au chocolat came scrawled on a damp piece of paper, handed to me, along with a wink, a scowl and a bag of oysters, by Albertine, a sea-captain’s wife (as she called herself).
Albertine hailed from Cancale, a scrappy, grey Breton fishing port, infamous for its oysters and female inhabitants, les cancalaises, renowned for their fiery caractère, hard-nosed business sense and dark beauty—that rumor has it—was inherited from shipwrecked Spanish pirates.
During the French Revolution, les cancalaises attacked aristocrats, slapping them with fish. On the quay, overlooking the Mont St Michel bay, Albertine sold oysters by the dozen. As a Northeasterly wind blew, through rain and shine, she brought up four boys and ran her stall, while her husband sailed the seas. On Sundays, with pearls in her ears, her long black hair curled into a bun, Albertine baked this cake.
My daughters always tell their friends this cake is ugly and delicious. Easy to make. Always good. The texture hovers between a brownie and a meringue. A gentle, intense chew. The sea salt is an addition for Albertine and her oysters. You’ll need a low oven. It can be served with ice cream, lavender liquor, peacock eggs, candyfloss, or whatever is currently invading your dreams.
125g Dark chocolate, broken into pieces the size of small pebbles;
125g Caster sugar
3 tbsp Milk
2 tbsp Flour
A pinch of salt
First, line the bottom of a cake tin with greaseproof paper. Or just butter it if that is easier.
Put your oven onto to heat at 150°c. The cake should be cooked gently and slowly.
Melt the broken chocolate together with the milk. This can be done in a microwave, on full blast like a wailing banshee, or using a bain marie, a technique named after the bath of Mary the Jewess, an ancient alchemist.
Mix the chocolate and milk until smooth.
Add sugar. Mix again until the mixture has the texture of a glossy satin ballgown.
Separate the eggs. This can be done by hand, which requires a sense of balance, and a little Wu Wei, a Taoist concept describing action that does not involve struggle. Be connected to the flow of life, and add the yolks and butter to the chocolate mixture. Keep the whites aside for now.
Fold the flour into the chocolate and egg yolk mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites (with either an electric hand beater or a whisk) until they resemble snow drifts peaks. Ponder for second upon Nancy Campbell and her book The Library of Ice.
Fold the whites into the mixture. Turn everything very gently. Add salt.
Pour the mixture slowly into the cake tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The heat should still the cake into fudge like a long, slow summer’s day.
When cooled eat, and think of Leonora Carrington’s words in The Hearing Trumpet:
Do not give up hope entirely in spite of the horror of your situation. I am mobilizing all my mental capacities to obtain your unconditional freedom.
About the Author:
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French fiction writer and essayist, winner of the 2019 LoveReading Very Short Story Award. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau, S. Fischer (translated into German), Repeater Books, The Creative Review, 3:AM Journal, The Lonely Crowd and more. Nominated for Best of The Net (2018) for her non-fiction, her fiction has just been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. Co-author of the French roman, L’Hôpital Le Dessous des Cartes (LEH 2015), she regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. She lives in France. @crossmansusanna.