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I think there is nothing more thoughtful than appreciating those around us by baking something delicious for them!

After all, when we offer a sweet treat, people are more likely to reciprocate with sweetness. Moreover, nowadays Valentine’s, being celebrated today, is not just a lover’s holiday and we seem to be taking our cue from the US, where it is celebrated by everyone: children send Valentine cards to their parents and teachers, friends treat each other to gifts and even co-workers celebrate Valentine’s together and express gratitude for those around them.

There is something more romantic and touching about baking a cake for Valentine’s than, for example, individual muffins. The thought of sharing a cake brings everyone together. When it is freshly baked, even before they see it, guests are greeted by the aroma that is only unique to baking.

There is something more romantic and touching about baking a cake for Valentine’s than, for example, individual muffins

There is a sense of anticipation, as everyone gathers round for tea or a celebratory toast, first admiring the cake perched proudly on a decorative stand and – although somehow it always feels like a shame to cut it, the process of presenting the first slice always creates a moment of suspense as everyone awaits their share. The baker is anxious to see reaction and approval.

Then, there are the crumbs it creates, refusing to disappear forever. The last slice is politely declined and it finds its way to the fridge, memories of the event wrapped in cling film and allowed to become inedible, as we cling on to those good memories that remind us of our loved ones each time we open the fridge door.

And when we do finish off that last slice, it is often with great reluctance, as it seems like the end of the special moment captured in a cake.

For my Valentine’s theme, I usually choose something quite decadent with an appearance and aroma that make an impact, a show stopper to get some sort of reaction.

However, my Valentine’s Bake this year is a simple idea which I love. I have already baked Cake Nua, several times using different variations, and I am told it is the trendiest cake in Italy at the moment. I love the idea of baking a cake with the filling already inside and I hope that my recipes will bring back a lot of good feelings and nostaligia for you in the years to come.
cake nua strawberry 4

Strawberry Cake, baked with pockets of strawberry flavoured ricotta

You will need:

250g self-raising flour
150g labneh cheese or butter
150g sugar, or the equivalent in Stevia
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 eggs
vanilla
1/4 tsp lemon zest
100g coconut
For the filling:
250g ricotta
vanilla
250g strawberries
1 egg
100g coconut

Preheat the oven to 160ºC and prepare a 23cm or similar cake dish with baking spray. Cream the labneh soft cheese or butter with the sugar, using an electric mixer until the mixture is creamy and white. Add the vanilla and lemon zest. Mix the eggs and add them to the butter and sugar mixture, little by little, until they are well blended. Use low speed. In a large bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Use a metal spoon to fold into the flour mixture.

Finally, add in the coconut. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to achieve dropping consistency if required. Pour the batter into the cake dish.

For the filling: Chop the strawberries but do not over-process. Mix all the ingredients together and place in a piping bag with no nozzle. Pipe blobs of the filling into the cake. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160ºC for 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting up and decorating with more strawberries.

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Labneh Soft Cheese and Authentic Strawberry Yogurt by Kolios are imported, marketed and distributed by Quality Foods [Marketing Ltd]

Photos: Gino Galea
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