I think we are possibly still in the peri-New Year period where 2021 listicles are tolerated and somewhat relevant. For instance: last year I started an annual favourite album list which, given the constant content deficit this blog is under, is obviously being continued again this year.
As always, I never keep very up to date with music so these aren’t specifically my favourite albums of 2021, so much as my favourite albums new to me in 2021. Compared to my usual indecision, it’s usually strangely obvious to me what this list would entail as the albums that I listened to most over the past year spring to mind easily. The harder part is articulating what I love about them (and if I sound like I don’t know a thing about music, it’s probably because I don’t know a thing about music). But in my struggling lay terms trying grasp genre, emotion or theme, here goes a list.
1. i need to start a garden (2018) – hayley heynderickx
I Need to Start a Garden is three parts soft-spoken ballad, one part anthem of millennial angst. It wasn’t quite first love for all of these songs for me, but they grew on me tremendously, something which only makes me adore them even more. (Even the near-shout refrain of “Oom Sha La La” – not to mention, I have never encountered so relatable a rumination as “I’ve barely been to college/And I’ve been out full/Of all that I have dreamed of/The brink of my existence essentially is a comedy.”) My favourite album that I listened to this year.
favourite tracks: the bug collector, untitled god song
2. shelter as we go… (2017) – quantum tangle
This album effortlessly traverses the territories of haunting to sweet to righteously angry and determined, and stories of family, love, and colonialism linking ancestral and contemporary. The way that joy and pride and frustration coexist hints at the complexity of positive identity and community in an oppressive country. I also love an album where each song has its own distinct feel – and each of them is just lovely too.
favourite tracks: tiny hands, igluvut, ikersuaq (but really, all of them are my favourite)
3. i’ve felt all these things (2021) – anna leone
I first listened to Anna Leone’s debut EP which came out a couple of years ago and was immediately charmed by her music. I was so excited to see her first very album come out; it’s the most soothing set of songs I’ve listened over the past year, with delicate folky melodies and intimate vocals carrying the album.
favourite tracks: love you now, in the morning, still i wait
4. take the corners gently (2021) – steady holiday
Steady Holiday reminds me of melodic singer-songwriter albums from Emmy the Great and Zee Av. The tracks are about half slow, half fast, and lean wistful and nostalgic. It’s the heartfelt songs which I listen this album for: “Love me When I Go to Sleep” and “Living Life.”
favourite tracks: love me when i go to sleep, living life
5. foreigner (2020) – jordan mackampa
This is also Jordan Mackampa’s first full length album. It sounds as though his style has veered more pop-y recently, but still amazing vocals (and charming melodrama) regardless. This album is has plenty of flashy catchy tracks but it’s the more sincerely sentimental songs which are my favourite – the title track “Foreigner” particularly.
favourite tracks: foreigner, eventide, tight (a little cringy but so sweet!)
6. europhories (2021) – videoclub
This French electro-pop album is definitely a bit different from what I usually tend to enjoy but it’s only mildly electronic and also just very, very catchy?! The songs are sung in the most charismatic deadpan (I mean this as a compliment) and I’ve found myself listening to it many more times than I expected. The duo actually broke up (romantically) and disbanded (professionally) before I even discovered the album so sadly I think it’s the one and last from Videoclub.
favourite tracks: amour plastique (by far)
I’ve been sporadically trying to make a gateau basque, a buttery filled cake from Basque, for a few years now and I’ve made some rather terrible ones. Generally, the recipes I’ve seen fall into two types – some use a softer dough which you pipe into layers both below and overtop the filling, while others use a stiffer dough which is rolled out like a tart crust. My first try was based on a piped version, but I didn’t like how thick the layers of pastry ended up too being: predominantly pastry without much filling. The cake was also too dry by the time it cooked through, though that was on me… After that I mostly switched to rolled pastry methods which more easily facilitated thinner layers for a higher filling:pastry ratio. I tried a stiffer dough that was very easy to work with, but which baked up too dry, crisp and cookie-like (at this point I also realized from this one that I should maintain a certain amount of sugar in the dough for tenderness.) Finally, I found I preferred a softer rolled dough formula – harder to work with, but which ended up more tender and cake-like than its dryer counterparts.
That being said, this dough is really soft. It becomes super delicate and prone to tearing as soon as it starts to warm up. It helps to be patient and roll out the dough onto parchment so you can slide it back into the fridge or freezer for when its cold-forged will begins to fade.
Gateau basque is usually filled with either a cherry jam or a pastry cream. I generally prefer the pastry cream filling, but I wanted to add an extra layer to this one, one which I felt wouldn’t detract from the sense of butter on cream on richness on butter: and that meant a layer of warmly spiced date paste. The date paste, an idea inspired by date ma’amoul, has a deep flavour, much like caramel (I now understand why date caramel is such a thing in vegan baking). As the paste is very thick, especially when chilled, I found the best way to get it into an even layer was to roll it out between two pieces of plastic into a circle just big enough to fit into the bottom of the cake. Together with the pastry cream and pastry, it’s a mellow and rich combination.
spiced date gateau basque
Pastry adapted from Mon Petit Four. Date paste adapted from Sohla El-Waylly. This is a fairly sweet recipe due to the sweetness of the dates and the sugar in the pastry (which I haven’t quite decimated as it has a bit of a tenderizing role), so I’ve kept the sugar in the pastry cream to a minimum.
special equipment: 7.5″ fluted tart ring (1″ tall)
- 2 egg yolks
- 14g cornstarch
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- 240g whole milk
- 1 tbsp butter
- 150g whole dried dates
- 1 1/2 tbsp oil
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- pinch kosher salt
- 85g butter, softened
- 40g granulated sugar
- 40g brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- finely grated zest from half an orange
- 140g all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- beaten egg for egg wash
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla bean paste. Place the milk in a small saucepan and heat until steaming. Slowly pour the milk into the eggs, while whisking constantly to combine.
Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat while whisking constantly. Watch for slow bubbles to rise to surface (you’ll need to briefly pause whisking to see this) and once the cream is bubbling, continue to cook for 1 minute more, whisking vigorously, to ensure the starch is cooked. Immediately transfer the cream to a new bowl and whisk in the butter. Cover and let cool, then place in the fridge to chill completely.
Cover the dates with boiling water and let sit 20 minutes to hydrate. Drain and pit the dates, and place the dates in the bowl of the food processor. Process until chopped, add the oil and spices, and continue to process until the dates form a smooth puree. Chill until ready to use.
Cream the butter and sugars together, then beat in the egg and orange zest until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until a soft dough is formed. Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 2/3 of the dough, and the other, the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Wrap each in plastic and chill completely in the fridge.
Lightly butter the tart ring. On a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour, roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle wide large enough to line the bottom of the tart tin. Aim for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. This dough is very soft and delicate when it warms up, so if it has started to warm, slide the parchment paper onto a tray or cutting board and place in the fridge to chill again. Then use the dough to line the bottom of the tart pan. Tears are okay – just patch them up with a bit of extra dough. Trim any overhang.
The next layer is the date paste. Rather than spreading it, I found the best way to get a nice even layer is to roll out the date paste just like a piece of dough. The chilled paste will be quite firm, so use your hands to form it into a disc. Roll out the disc between two pieces of plastic wrap until to a round that fits in the bottom of the tart tin. Pull off the top piece of plastic, and place the round of date paste upside down into the bottom of the tart tin so that the bottom piece of plastic is on top. Peel off the plastic.
Next, dollop the chilled pastry cream overtop and spread into a smooth layer.
Now, place the final piece of dough on a piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour (you can add any extra dough from the first piece) and roll into a circle large enough to cover the tart, aiming for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. If the dough warms up too much, slide it onto a tray or board and chill it again. Otherwise, drape the dough over top of the tart and trim any excess. Now place the whole cake into the fridge to chill while you preheat the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the cake from the fridge and place on a tray. Brush with beaten egg and use the tip of a paring knife to score lines over the top, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Bake for about 40 minutes or until browned. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.