Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Chocolate and cinammon cake

I was at loss at what to make for my granddad's birthday, after all you only turn 78 once! Having seen a stack of chocolate, lonely in the cupboard, I decided to put it to use. Originally I intended to make a large chocolate cake by itself, but I didn't think it would be enough, and so the cinnamon cake was born... If you were to close your eyes whilst eating the cinnamon cake, it would taste like a light cinnamon bun, but with crumbs. The cinnamon cake provides a contrast to the chocolate cake in that it has a less rich flavour. The espresso in the cake adds another dimension of bitterness so the cake is not overly sweet, whilst the salt brings out the flavour of the chocolate. The pepper adds a little bite to the sugary goodness. Whilst the white chocolate buttercream is sweet, the ganache is slightly bitter, and so the sugariness is not too much...Whilst they make the cake look quite dramatic, the nuts add another dimension to the cake in that they give more texture, more of a bite.

Cinnamon cake:
150g self-raising flour
100 caster sugar
50g brown sugar
two teaspoons of ground cinnamon
one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150g unsalted butter, softened
a dash of milk
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cream the butter and sugars.
Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon to the mixture, and fold in.
Whisk the eggs, then add to the mixture along with the milk.
Mix together until you have a smooth batter, and pour into a buttered baking tin.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until a few crumbs comes out of the cake when it is skewered with a fork.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, before turning out onto a wired rack.

Chocolate cake:
200g self-rasing flour
180g caster sugar
one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150g unsalted butter, softened
a drizzle of olive oil
two teaspoons of coffee granules dissolved in 30ml of boiling water
two heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder
120g dark chocolate, melted
2 eggs
a teaspoon of sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, pepper. and cocoa powder to the mixture, and fold in.
Whisk the eggs, then stir into the mixture.
Once the espresso mixture has cooled down, add to the cake batter. If you add it whilst it is too hot, it will start to cook the eggs.
When the melted chocolate has cooled, fold into the mixture, along with the olive oil.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until a few crumbs comes out of the cake when it is skewered with a fork.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, before turning out onto a wired rack.

Dark chocolate ganache:
50ml whipping cream
80g dark chocolate, broken in pieces

In a small saucepan, heat the cream.
As soon as the cream starts to bubble, take off the heat.
Stir the chocolate into the cream, so it is fully combined.
Set aside to cool before using.

White chocolate buttercream:
150g unsalted butter, softened
180g icing sugar, sieved
150g white chocolate, melted
dash of milk

Cream together the butter and the sugar.
When you have a smooth mixture, pour in the white chocolate. Make sure the chocolate is not too hot, or the butter will melt, giving a runny icing.
If the icing is too thick, add a few drops of melt to thin it.

Chopped pistachios
Chopped caramelised hazelnuts

If the cakes are too high or too sunken in the middle, trim with a serrated knife, so that you have a flat surface. Make sure that the cakes are cool when you cut them, otherwise they will crumble, and will the trimming will not be as neat.
Spread your base cake with the chocolate ganache near to the edges. Don't spread right to the edges, or when you put the other cake not top, the filling will spill over the sides. I put the chocolate cake on the bottom because it was bigger.
Put the smaller cake on top of the ganache and press down firmly.
Using a palette knife, (preferably a straight one,) spread the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. I find that working from the top down is easiest. The buttercream should be thick enough that it can hold the nuts, but not so thick that it is too much to eat in a slice...however much that may be!
Firmly press the hazelnuts onto the side of the cake so that they stick. Using a palette knife to press them in may help.
Spread the pistachios on the top of the cake, but much more sparsely than the hazelnuts were put onto the cake. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Lemon polenta cake

Polenta is one of the nicest grains for a cake, in that it provides a light yet firm crumb. Popular in Italian cuisine, polenta comes from corn.  

4 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
80ml olive oil
120g polenta
200g plain flour/ground almonds
zest of two lemons

apricots, diced
icing sugar
juice of two lemons

Preheat the oven to 220C, and line the base of a cake tin with baking parchment.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed, then add the caster sugar whilst continuing to whisk.
Fold in the polenta, ground almonds and lemon zest.
Pour in the olive oil, whilst continuing to fold.
Put into the oven, and after 20 minutes turn the temperature down to 190C.
The cake should take around 40 minutes in total to cook, but depending on your oven, it is ready when the top is hard, and crumbs come out when a fork is put into the cake.
When the cake comes out of the oven, it is time to make the syrup topping.

In a small saucepan, heat the apricots until they start to soften. 
Add the lemon juice and the icing sugar, gently stirring to dissolve it.
When all the liquid has combined, pierce the top of the cake with a fork.
Drizzle the syrup over the cake - the pierced top means that the syrup is fully absorbed into the sponge.
Serve warm with soured cream.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Yoghurt with crème de marrons de l'Ardèche and toasted walnuts

When you've had a massive French meal, the last thing you want is a big dessert. The slightly acidic yoghurt and crème fraîche mixture is complemented by the sweetness of the crème de marrons de l'Ardèche, a chestnut purée. Topped with the toasted walnuts for some texture, this is the perfect light and refreshing dessert for a hot summer's day.

Greek yoghurt
Crème fraîche
Soured cream

Crème de marrons de l'Ardèche (chestnut purée)


I tend to use whatever type of yoghurt and cream is in the fridge for the base. Having said that, I avoid using sweetened yoghurts because the sharpness is needed to contrast the chestnut purée. I also refrain from using a majority of runny yoghurt in the mixture, as it needs to have a bit of substance!

Stir together whatever type of cream and yoghurts you have. If the dairy mixture is too sour, add a little sugar or agave syrup to taste.

In glasses or jars, add the creamy mixture until a third of the container is full. Layer about a teaspoon of the chestnut paste. Next, cover with more of the yoghurt mixture. Top with more of the crème de marrons de l'Ardèche- I squeezed it straight from the tube. Leave in the fridge to set a little.

In a pan over medium heat, toast the walnuts in no oil- you don't want to fry them. When they have browned but not burnt, remove from the pan onto some kitchen paper. The walnuts release oil when heated, but you don't want too much of this in the yoghurt. Bash the walnuts into smaller pieces, and sprinkle on the dessert.



To make the mixture even lighter transform the yoghurt into a mousse by folding in whisked egg whites.

If you're not too keen on nuts, layer lemon curd instead of the chestnut paste, and top with mango.

For a 'cherry bakewell', layer with cherry jam and top with toasted, flaked almonds or crushed amaretti.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Banana pancakes

Pancake day is brilliant. It's that time of year where you can stuff your face yet claim it's because you are following religious practices. Like Christmas. And Easter.

There are so many types of pancakes available: fluffy American pancakes, crepes, blinis, buckwheat pancakes... Buckwheat and I have never got on too well.

The first time I tried buckwheat was when my mother was looking for an alternative to rice and potatoes and bread. The result was that I chucked it into next door's garden (I was a rebellious youth \m/).

The next time I encountered buckwheat was in the form of soba. It was probably just the way I (over)cooked the Japanese noodles so that they were glutinous and sticky, but they didn't agree with me particularly well either.

Next was in the form of bread. Using a Kenwood bread machine booklet, I got used the recipe for a plain white loaf and used buckwheat flour instead. The only thing I can say about this is DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Finally I came across buckwheat pancakes. The problem with buckwheat is often that it is too heavy, and weighs down whatever is being made with it. However in pancakes, if you beat whipped egg white into the mixture, you can have light and fluffy pancakes, or, if you make a mixture with solely the flour and milk, you can have a delicate crepe, like they serve out of foodtrucks in markets around Lille.

However this Pancake Day, I wanted to make a pancake which did not involve flour. Potato would be too heavy, carrot too watery, but banana... banana had the right substance for a thick pancake which could settle in the pan without clogging up your throat when you ate it. For these pancakes though, you cannot have overripe bananas, as they will not solidify enough.

You will need:
two bananas, pureed
one egg
a dash of milk

Mix all the ingredients together and fry over a medium heat in a lightly oiled pan.
Serve with butter, bananas and syrup - it can't be too healthy!

Other variations of pancakes I have seen but have yet to imitate include the ricotta pancakes served at The Hoxton Grill in Shoreditch (EC2A).

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Valentines Day Goody Bag

Valentines day splits people into two groups. Those with a 'special someone', and those without. Regardless of which category you belong to, it is most likely that you will consume some chocolate, the only difference being that one group buys it for some one else, and the other buys it for themselves.

There was a bag inside this bag! Pass the parcel anyone?
So when the thoughtful people at Hotel Chocolat asked me if I would like to sample some of their chocolate, the only mature response was "YES! YES! YES! Please.". When the Valentines Goody Bag (£19) arrived, it was like Christmas had come early. Or late, depending upon how you look at it. When the goody bag arrived, I was hit by a wave sweet aroma. Delving into the large bag, only to find another bag enclosed in wrapping paper, I was reminded of playing pass-the-parcel at fifth birthday party I never had.

Love-Me-Do Raspberry Fusion
I was a little apprehensive at first. Aside from the occasional Terry's chocolate orange, I don't really do fruit-flavoured chocolate. Faced with the aptly titled Love-Me-Do Raspberry Fusion, which can best be described as a slab of chocolate, I wasn't particularly enamored. However upon my first bite of the milk chocolate, I was pleasantly surprised by the crunchy cocoa biscuits hidden within the bar, and the tangy bursts of freeze-dried raspberry goodness. Unfortunately the "red berry flavoured white chocolate" was a little too sweet, even for my sweet tooth! Thankfully, my mother couldn't get enough of it. Upon finishing MY bar, she claimed that although she doesn't like raspberry she can't get enough of this one. What I have learnt from this chocolate, is that it has something for everyone- like a boyband.

Selection of filled chocolates
Next to face the jury were the selection of filled chocolates- Raspberry Smoothie, Caramel Gianduja and Passionfruit Ganache.
The Caramel Gianduja was a pleasant surprise from the gooey caramel filling I had anticipated. The truffle filling had the texture of marzipan, whilst showcasing a praline-esque flavour. Top marks Hotel Chocolat!
The Passion Fruit Truffles were next to face my palette. The zingy passion fruit centre combined with the white chocolate casing was my favourite. It packed a punch of flavour without feeling like you'd been whacked in the mouth.
The Raspberry Smoothie chocolates were pretty decent too. Although I wouldn't agree it tasted like a framboise crush fresh out of the blender, I couldn't say that it wasn't tasty. The intense raspberry flavour contrasted well with the bitterness of the dark chocolate, leading to a symphony of flavours.

Strawberry flavoured white chocolate.
If you like the raspberry-flavoured chocolate, you'd probably adore the strawberry-flavoured lolly. Pure, indulgent goodness, I am counting this as one of my five-a-day.

Passion Fruit Truffles
 To be frank, the passion fruit truffles are the reason why people should eat truffles. The passion fruit purée ganache filling gently complemented the white chocolate, perfect for an after-dinner munch.

If you want to win someone over this Valentines Day, forget the red roses, get this! Nothing says I love you better than a selection of good-quality chocolate, and Hotel Chocolat's goody bag is the perfect answer to the Valentines Day question.

If you belong to the 'singles' category, don't fret. Not having a partner shouldn't spoil your Friday night. In fact, just think of the money you're saving from not having to buy for two, let alone eat over-priced, over-cooked steak in the West End. If your still not comforted by this, find a Ryan Gosling movie to eat you're chocolates with.

Disclaimer:this product was sent to me in exchange for a review. All thoughts and opinions are mine.