Dessert, Easy, Sweet

Lover’s Ache / Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pepper Cake

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.”

I wander into one of my regular cafés and catch the eye of the barista. He’s the young surfer-dude stereotype; soft drawling voice, small scruffy goatee and dark hair cropped at chin length. I followed him here about 6 months ago from another café where he used to work. He’s just that good at making my drug of choice. We chat, as usual. He’s quiet, a little dampened. His fun and flirty banter doesn’t have its normal sparkle.

“What up?” I ask, “You look pretty flat.”

He sighs, ducking his head and looking up at me from eyes that I’d never before thought to meet, “Really? I mean, you really want to know? Cos I could seriously blurt today.”

I laugh, thinking if only he knew about the thoughts that whirl madly around my head on a daily basis, “Give me your best shot.”

Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pudding - TIK

He sighs heavily, silent while grinding the beans and sliding the coffee basket into place before starting the machine, then glances around the cafe to make sure we’re alone, “It’s a girl. An ex.”

“Ah. The worst.”

“Yeah, well, we broke up, y’know, two months ago. I mean, I broke it off man, y’know? I was so into her and she just brushed me off all the time. So, I ended it. Thought it was okay, and she’d started seeing someone else, so y’know, time to move on.”

He breathes in deeply and stares at the last drips of coffee spilling into my cup.

“But, y’know, we got together again, a few weeks ago. And, ahhh man, I just love her man. I just fucking love her.”

His pain’s almost tangible as it comes up for air, his usual professionally shallow cheer swallowed down low. It’s tempting to dismiss his feelings as a naivety of youth, but he’s so raw and aching that I just ask whether he’d said anything to her.


“Yeah man, I told her. I told her. She didn’t say anything. She’s still seeing this other guy, y’know? I dunno what to do. All my friends say I was so unhappy with her, but I love her, I just dunno.”

He huffs a small laugh, attempting to insert social acceptability into a pain that rarely shows in public, “Whatever man. Doesn’t matter. Fuck love, right? It’s all Hollywood bullshit anyway.”

I try to tell him that it does matter but he barely hears me, pride and vulnerability fighting for the same spot in his heart. There’s more silence as he steams the milk and swirls it gently. He suddenly leans back against the wall, continuing to stare at the milk like it’s holding more answers than dairy ever really could, before looking up at me, his uncertainty shining through. And in that moment, he’s not a surfer-dude barista, he’s a vulnerable and slightly fractured twenty-something man looking for the safety of certainty and not sure when he’d drifted so far from it, “What should I do man? Should I just give up? I just don’t know what to do.”

I look inside for wisdom and find myself severely lacking. We’re silent again as he pours milk over the coffee and pushes the cup my way. And, as I start to stumble over words that feel wholly inadequate, someone walks into the cafe and he quickly buttons back up his soul, flipping out the hospitality frontman routine. He’s good at it too, before long he and the other customer are laughing and chatting; you can barely see the pain leaking out, like an old ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket.


I take my coffee and he vaguely waves at me as I wander out the door. And all through the day, the conversation keeps popping into my mind and I think about how much love aches, and how incredible it is, and how bloody confusing it can be and I decide that this bake’s going to be about the love that’s unspoken in Hollywood movies. The sweet, satisfying and bitter flavours of dark chocolate, layered with the light bite of orange and finally, szechuan pepper — both smoking for the good times and numbing for the bad. And all of them in innocuous little molten cakes, so innocent looking until your first bite of incredible, explosive, unforgettable flavour.


  • 185g (6.5oz) dark chocolate
  • 185g (6.5oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 6 tbl sp caster sugar
  • 3 tsp plain (all purpose) flour
  • Zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tsp szechuan pepper

Preheat the oven to 230˚C / 450˚F and grease 6 moulds or ramekins

In a small saucepan, dry toast the szechuan pepper for 2-3 minutes until the aroma is wafting up and they are just threatening to smoke. Remove from the stove and grind into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar

Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter, either in the microwave or over the stove.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until thick and fluffy

Whisk in the chocolate and orange zest

Working quickly but carefully, fold in the plain flour and szechuan pepper

Divide the mix evenly between each mould and bake for about 8-10 minutes, until the outside is set and the centre is still soft

Turn each pudding onto a plate and carefully remove the moulds

Serve immediately with double (heavy) cream, ice cream or crème fraîche

Eat fearlessly…


39 thoughts on “Lover’s Ache / Hot Chocolate, Orange & Szechuan Pepper Cake

  1. only365words says:

    Quelle chance! It seems that chocolate orange is the order of the day – I’m currently making a chocolate hazelnut torte with a choc orange glaze. I’m fascinated by the addition of szechuan pepper – I’ve tried strawberries and black pepper together, but never thought to try a similar combination with orange. Sounds delicious!


  2. Love, love, love.
    Love the Plato quote.
    Love this: “I try to tell him that it does matter but he barely hears me, pride and vulnerability fighting for the same spot in his heart.”, and this: “And in that moment, he’s not a surfer-dude barista, he’s a vulnerable and slightly fractured twenty-something man looking for the safety of certainty and not sure when he’d drifted so far from it…”
    Love the bittersweet slice of compassion.
    Love your rustic table and the photos.
    I’ll be making those cakes as soon as I can get to my favorite spice store for some Szechuan peppercorns.


  3. Love the storytelling style of your blog, which I came across today (new to the blogging thing). Also the recipe looks to die for. I will try it, and if I don’t burn down my kitchen and I get to eat it, I’m sure I will enjoy it immensely. Look forward to reading more. 🙂

    • Nola


  4. Coffee and chocolate – perfect for so much! In my case they get me through an exhausting day with two little ones and no husband (as he works away). This recipe is so very different – love the look of it and love that you give the ingredients using the metric system!!


    • Thanks Kellie, I have a sleepless toddler so can relate strongly to the coffee and chocolate diet! Yes, my poor readers have to put up with me banging the ‘weight not cups’ drum a bit on this blog – luckily they mostly forgive me and come back for more!


  5. This recipe looks like the perfect comfort food. I am literally drooling over the screen. Perfect for those bad days. Maybe you should bring the young man in the coffee shop a portion of this. I could do with some myself at the moment as my mother in law has terminal cancer so we are really going through a tough time at the moment. Your story struck a bell with me as it wasn’t that long ago that I was talking to a barista who was facing eviction from his flat because he was behind with his rent. For some reason his landlord thought he was a barrister not a barista and therefore believed he earned a lot more money than he really did. Emma.


    • I’m so sorry about your mother-in-law Emma, you guys have had a tough year. It’s lovely to see you both finding ways to enjoy life with your anniversary gifts to each other and such lovely writing on your blog. If I lived closer I’d be on your doorstep with some of these, failing that, I hope you find someone to make them for you! xx


  6. So love your style! Beautifully written, inspirational photos and quotes. You should open a bakery; I want to eat in your kitchen, everything looks so good!
    Your Art Teachers would truly be impressed!


    • Thank you for such a lovely comment. Not sure about a bakery, 3am starts don’t appeal to me in any way! Love people at my virtual kitchen table though; telling and hearing stories while being steeped in butter and flour seems like an idyllic way to live… I really enjoyed reading your blog as well, good luck with the baby making!


  7. Beautiful pictures. I heard this sentence once ” chocolate doesn’t ask stupid questions, chocolate understands” 😀 not sure if it’s relevant to this story, but there is something about it 😉


  8. Pingback: Let Us Eat Cake! | The Reluctant Baptist

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