HODDERSCAPE ADVENT CALENDAR DAY 7
By Tom Harper
Posted on December 7, 2013 in Hodderscape Advent with tags Zodiac Station
Seven Ways to Eat Chocolate
As an author, people often ask me how I write my books. There are some long and complicated answers, but the short answer is: chocolate. So here, in no particular order, are seven of the ways I keep the words flowing.
I’d probably go to the British Library for research anyway, seeing as it has almost every book ever published. But I’d definitely go for this cake. It’s not often I pay £3.50 for a slice of cake and don’t resent it, but this ultra-dense, velvet-moist chocolate cake, flavoured with ground almonds, is close to my Platonic ideal. And gluten free, which I believe means it’s officially healthy.
There are many wonderful brownies out there. This holds its own with the best of them – all the more surprising (to me) for being milk chocolate. It pulls off the alchemical trick of being crumbly dry on the outside, and satisfyingly squidgy within, with chocolate chips baked into it to add a satisfying crunch. I used to live thirty seconds’ walk from the shop. When I moved away, I lost two stone.
My all-time favourite chocolate bar: I still remember the first time I tasted it (from a snack van, at a re-enactment of the Battle of Oxford circa 1984). Sadly, it’s fast disappearing from the shelves of the nation’s newsagents. In fact, I feel like the last man in Britain still eating them, a candy-bar King Arthur holding out against the barbarian hordes of Snickers, Kit-Kats and the rest. A little too big to eat in one go, but I usually manage.
The best dark chocolate on the market – smooth, bitter and perfect with coffee. Best sampled in the form of an Easter egg: you get a lot of chocolate, and a selection of their equally delicious chocolates inside. Conveniently, my parents live near the original Rococo shop in London, so when I go home for Easter, that’s where the eggs come from. Though my mother still can’t remember if I prefer milk or dark.
What’s better than a cake that combines meltingly smooth chocolate mousse, a soft chocolate sponge, and a nice crisp chocolate wafer in the middle? A cake that combines all of the above – and covers it in GOLD. This cake from Maison Blanc comes complete with bits of gold leaf on top; a chocoholic blingfest that’s served as my birthday cake more than once.
NB: The photo on Maison Blanc’s website implies they’ve scaled back on the use of gold (casualty of the recession? High gold prices?) – which, in my view, is a mistake.
Every time I hear people mention these, there’s something a bit snide in their tone: a hint that Bittermints might be naff or passé, uncomfortably close on the chocolate continuum to Ferrero Rocher. Whatever the joke is, I’m not in on it. The bitter chocolate, and the ice-dry mint core, is something that stands for all eternity, outside time or fashion. I eat mine by nibbling the chocolate away around the edge first (see also: Choco Leibniz). And they’re available by the yard. What’s not to like about chocolate you can buy by the yard?
This is my go-to recipe for children’s birthday cakes. And grown-up birthday cakes, for that matter. It’s a fairly simple cake – but, as La Lawson says, ‘that doesn’t convey the damp, heady aromatic denseness of it.’ Nor does it convey the fact that it’s solid enough that you can make the Octonauts’ GUP-X out of it, if that’s required (see below). I sometimes replace the dark chocolate with Maya Gold, which adds a dusky, spicy note that almost blows my mind. The longer you keep it in the fridge, the better it gets.
Octonauts – to the cake!
Tom Harper was born in West Germany in 1977 and grew up in Germany, Belgium and America. He studied history at Lincoln College, Oxford, worked for a while in the glamorous world of pensions services, and now writes full time. He lives in York with his wife and two sons. His novels have been sold into twenty languages, from Brazil to China. In 2001 Tom Harper’s debut, The Blighted Cliffs, was the runner up for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. He can be found online at www.tom-harper.co.uk.
His latest book, Zodiac Station, publishes in June 2014.
When a Coast Guard ship on a routine trip rescues a nearly-comatose man from an ice flow off Utgard, a tiny island in the Arctic circle, they’re left with more questions than answers. The man, Tom Anderson, says he’s a scientist from the remote scientific outpost Zodiac Station, and claims that he’s the only survivor of a massive explosion. Why is he wearing another man’s coat, and whose blood rings the suspiciously bullet-hole shaped tear in his clothing? The story Anderson relates is one of secrets and lies, conspiracies and madness. But can they trust that he’s telling the truth?