“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.”
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