Blood Orange & Pomegranate Cake

At least in the UK, February marks the beginning of the blood orange craze. While the availability window for this wonderfully sweet fruit is quite extended, lasting from late December well into May, the UK market seems to be pushing it only throughout February, meaning you won’t easily find blood oranges once you’re past that deadline. And 2016 is a leap year, which means even less days at your disposal. Therefore, better to make the most of it while it lasts. The idea behind this recipe comes from the BBC Good Food magazine, where it appeared as ‘Blood orange, blossom and pomegranate cake‘. As I usually do, I fiddled around with the recipe and this is my variation on the theme.

I find that using both sugar and honey in a cake batter makes the final result much denser and less light than it would normally be. Therefore, in my recipe I swapped honey with the same amount of light brown sugar, which still provides sweetness but also lends that slight caramel-y taste. Also, as I could not come across pomegranates and did not want to have to tour shops and markets (my life tends to be pretty hectic nowadays), I used pomegranate juice instead. This cake will keep quite well and, as a matter of fact, the taste will intensify as the days go by. It’s a very easy recipe and you all know I have a soft spot for upside-down cakes!

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Ingredients

  • 6 blood oranges, 3 whole, juice of 3
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g light brown sugar + 2 tbsp
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 140g full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 100ml pomegranate juice
  • dried rose petals (optional)

Method

  1. Place one of the whole oranges in a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 40 minutes. Drain and allow the fruit to cool down. Once cold, slice it in half to remove any pips, then whiz in a food processor until you have a smooth paste/purée.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  3. Grease the base and sides and line the base of a 23cm round springform tin with baking parchment. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp light brown sugar onto the base.
  4. Slice the remaining two whole oranges into very thin slices, then arrange them on the base of the tin, following the pattern you most like. This will be the top of your cake once it’s finished.
  5. To make the batter, cream the butter, the remaining light brown sugar and 200g of the golden caster sugar in a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then slowly add the eggs, flour, baking powder, ground almonds and yogurt. Mix well until combined, then pour in the puréed orange and mix it in with a rubber spatula, trying not to deflate the mixture too much.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin, onto the orange slices, and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool almost completely before removing it from the tin.
  7. In the meantime, place the orange juice, pomegranate juice and the 100g remaining sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then cook until reduced to a lovely syrup. Don’t be tempted to leave this and go about the house as it may overflow. Once ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Once you are ready, remove the cake from the tin, place a dish over the top (which really is the base) and flip the cake upside down. Gently peel off the base of the tin and the parchment paper, then drizzle the reddish syrup all over the cake, using a brush or a rubber spatula to spread it over. Save the remaining syrup to serve the cake with. Sprinkle some dried rose petals on top (optional), decorate with a few more blood orange slices, serve and enjoy!

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Persian Rice Salad with Grilled Vegetables

Middle Eastern (and Persian, in particular) food is all the rage now. So much so, in fact, that this vibrant and colourful cuisine has been identified as one of the hotspots for the 2016 food trends. And rightly so! As someone who knows very little about the culture and cuisine of this part of the world, I am completely spellbound by such bold and yet delicate flavours. Also, I love how perfumed and scented some of these dishes are, which turns a meal into a sensory experience, as it should be. Among many sources of inspiration, the cookbook Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour is probably one of those which I am mostly obsessed with at the moment.

The recipe below is my version of her red rice salad, which looks brilliant on paper and offers, to my mind, the right balance of sweetness, tangy citrus juice, crunch and saltiness. However, as it often happens, you need to make do with what you have in the kitchen (or can find in shops without embarking on the trip of a lifetime). Therefore, I had to amend a few details here and there, possibly making the dish a little bit less authentic – but still really delicious.

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Ingredients

  • 350g long grain brown rice
  • 100g green raisins (swap cranberries for a more sour note or normal raisins if preferred)
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 large courgette, sliced lengthways into 5mm strips
  • 1 large aubergine, cut into 1cm thick round slices
  • 300g roasted red peppers in oil, drained and roughly diced
  • 1 x 20g packet flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (leaves only)
  • 2 x 20g packet coriander, finely chopped (leaves only)
  • 100g toasted sliced almonds
  • good-quality olive oil
  • juice of 1 1/2 orange
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Cook the rice as per packet, bearing in mind instructions may vary. Once cooked, drain well and transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly.
  2. Add the diced onion, raisins, orange juice, honey, vinegar and a good glug of olive oil to the rice, then mix well to combine. Set aside to allow the rice to soak in all the flavours.
  3. In the meantime, preheat a griddle pan over a medium heat. Brush the slices of courgette with olive oil and grill them for 4-5 minutes or until black griddle marks appear on each side. Transfer to a chopping board and allow to cool.
  4. Repeat the process with the aubergine slices, cooking them for longer (8 minutes per side), before adding them to the courgettes. Roughly chop the vegetables and add, together with the chopped red peppers, sliced almonds, herbs, salt and pepper to the rice mixture, then give the salad a good stir before serving. Enjoy!

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Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

Happy 2016, people! I really hope this turns out to be a very good one. Judging from the first few weeks, you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to think so, but here’s hoping! A lot has happened over the last few weeks, most notably I went back home to Italy for the Christmas/New Year holidays. It was great to be back and to pretty much devote my entire time to stuffing my face with great food and doing very little else. I also took advantage of my traveller’s nature to visit a few new places (Turin, just to name one) and to try the local cuisine in Venice.

Next week I will be in London for work. Needless to say, I will take advantage of my convenient location to try out a few places, namely Honey & Co. and Jose Pizarro‘s tapas restaurant. I cannot emphasise enough how obsessed I am at the moment with Middle Eastern cuisine. After having tried a few recipes off Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour’s latest book, I finally landed on Honey & Co.’s baking book, a true revelation. Below you will find my twist on their recipe for gooey and soft chocolate and pistachio cookies, although I strongly suggest you give their other creations I go!

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Ingredients

  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g light brown soft sugar
  • 65g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • about 150g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Make sure the water in the pan is gently simmering or the chocolate may seize and become grainy. Once melted, remove from the double boiler and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, whisk the eggs and the light brown soft sugar together in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You want the mixture to double in volume and to fall back on itself like a ribbon when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients, then gently fold in the mixture and combine until there are no flour streaks visible. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until you can easily handle the mixture. You could also refrigerate it, but you may need to bring it back to to room temperature if you cool it too much.
  4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Pour the roughly chopped pistachios in a shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  5. Divide the cookie dough into 12 and, using your hands, roll the pieces into balls, then drop them into the chopped pistachios and gently roll them around until they are completely covered. Arrange them on the prepared baking trays, allowing plenty of space in between for the cookies to expand while baking. Repeat until you have used all of the mixture.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes in the centre of the oven (you may need to do one tray at a time), so that they firm up on the edges but stay nice and chewy in the middle. Remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to lift the cookies. Enjoy!

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Brigadeiros (GF, dairy-free, vegan)

One of my dear interpreting colleagues at university comes from Brazil. On top of winding each other up in our office, we also talk extensively about each other’s cultures. I am deeply fascinated by her stories about the history and cuisine of her home country, not only because I have never been there, but also because this allows me to understand the reasoning behind some of the more traditional dishes Brazil has to offer (and believe me when I say the cuisine is as diverse in the country as it is in Italy). One such typical concoction are brigadeiros.

Call them truffles, if you wish, they are not made with cream and chocolate (as is the case for the European counterparts), but by mixing boiled down condensed milk with cocoa powder. As a result, however, they tend to be sickly sweet. So much so, in fact, that even some Brazilians find them hardly palatable. In a bid to make this delicacy available to my lactose intolerant students, therefore, I decided to opt for a vegan variety. I used this recipe as a starting point and only slightly amended it. I will be honest: I am becoming more and more fascinated by how creative you have to be when you stop using traditional ingredients. Who would have thought to use pumpkin seeds in this? Not even in my wildest dreams. And yet, let me assure you, it works.

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Ingredients (makes approximately 20)

  • 120g pumpkin seeds, soaked in water overnight, then drained
  • 56g dairy-free butter alternative
  • 3 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)
  • 45g gluten-free cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 70g cocoa nibs

Method

  1. It couldn’t be easier, but do make sure you have soaked the pumpkin seeds overnight. Put all of the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade, then process until you get a smooth paste. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
  2. Transfer the dark and luscious mixture to a bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This way it will be easier to roll them out.
  3. In the meantime, break up the cocoa nibs a little bit in the food processor (once you have washed and dried the bowl). You don’t want to end up with a cocoa dust, but also ensure the bigger pieces are broken into small ones. Transfer to a shallow plate.
  4. When the mixture has hardened enough, remove from the fridge and get ready to roll. I use a small ice cream scoop for this, but you can decide on the perfect size for your brigadeiros (I would suggest roughly 1/2 tablespoon).
  5. I discovered that, when the mixture is still very cold, the surface tends to harden quite quickly once you have rolled them out. Therefore, the cocoa nibs won’t stick. My solution for this was to portion all of the truffles first, then to roll them in pairs between my hands to make them smooth and, finally, into the cocoa nibs. When you do so, ensure you give them a good coating, then transfer to a serving plate.
  6. I was concerned these would melt once left outside for a prolonged period of time. Don’t worry, they won’t last that long anyway!

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Spiced Caramel Cake with Rosewater Cream (and Pears!)

To me, nothing says celebration like a great cake. Not every cake will do, it needs to have that wow factor to it. Therefore, when I have guests visiting, one of the first few things I do is to look online – and in the many baking books I have – for inspiration. Colours, textures, flavours and presentation all come into play. For this one, the proverbial cherry on the cake has been replaced by pears (excuse the pun). By slowly simmering them in red wine and spices, they acquire an almost caramel-like and deep flavour, which perfectly marries the creamy and not so sweet butter cream.

You could argue this is a festive cake, if only for the pairings of pears, wine and Christmas spices. However, to my mind, this cake mainly speaks to me of Arabian nights. The rosewater (stick to the measurements given here) lends a specific Middle Eastern aroma to the cake, further enhanced by the juxtaposition of chopped pistachios. Rose petals would have also been perfect (as in the original, see here). Finally, as Nigella Lawson says, there can’t be too much pink and green. In this instance, I feel I have to agree.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 200g white chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 250ml hot water
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 145g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 225g ground almonds

Ingredients (for the poached pears)

  • 4 medium pears
  • 380ml red wine
  • 60g golden caster sugar
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Ingredients (for the rosewater cream)

  • 500g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 250g mascarpone, at room temperature
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp rosewater
  • pink food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • chopped pistachios (optional)
  • edible rose petals (optional)

Method

  1. Start with the cake. Grease the base and sides and line the base of a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Place the butter, white chocolate, dark brown sugar, vanilla bean paste, water and golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, then gently melt together. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly. In a bowl, combine the flour, raising agents, spices and ground almonds.
  3. Once the melted mixture is at room temperature, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients and use a rubber spatula or a balloon whisk to incorporate all the ingredients and remove lumps.
  4. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake in the middle shelf of the oven for about 50 minutes. Start checking the cake for doneness after 40 minutes by inserting a skewer in the middle. If it comes out clean, then it’s ready. Otherwise, give it another 7-10 minutes. Remove the cake tin from the oven and allow to cool completely before attempting to unmould.
  5. To make the poached pears, place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer gently for about 30-35 minutes, depending on how ripe your pears are. Turn the pears occasionally, so they colour evenly. When done, use a slotted spoon to remove the pears from the liquid and place them in a heatproof container, then increase the heat under the saucepan and let the mixture bubble and reduce to a thick syrup. Discard the star anise and cinnamon stick. Pour the mixture on the pears, then cover the container with clingfilm, allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  6. To make the rosewater cream, do ensure you are working with room temperature ingredients. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer, combine the cream cheese, mascarpone, butter and icing sugar and beat with the whisk attachment until fully combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat well again. If the mixture looks very liquid, do beat it on high speed for a couple of minutes, otherwise place it in the fridge for about 15 minutes. Add the rosewater and enough pink food colouring to tinge the cream a subtle/pastel pink hue. Transfer the cream to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and set aside.
  7. To assemble the cake, use a serrated knife to cut it into three even layers. Place the first layer on your cake stand/board, then pipe small roses of the rosewater cream on the surface, making sure the ones on the rim are visible. Top with the second cake layer and repeat, until you have created three layers all topped with the rosewater cream. You can pipe some extra cream on the top layer as it will help to hold the pears in place.
  8. Remove the pears from the fridge, then use a knife to cut them in slices/halves, depending on preference, and arrange on top of the cake. Dust liberally with the chopped pistachios and rose petals, if using.
  9. This cake is best served at room temperature, although you may wish to keep it in the fridge and only take it out about 20-30 minutes before bringing it to the table. Enjoy!

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Potato Pierogies (Ruskie)

My friends know very well I love cooking and baking, and that I particularly enjoy trying out different cuisines. What with having lived in Russia, I am particularly fond of Eastern European and Russian food. You don’t necessarily find a great deal of Polish or Russian restaurants in the North of the UK. When you do, moreover, they tend to be hit and miss (or tourist traps). Therefore, I would much rather cook my own food than venture outside to try and find someone who could do it to a decent standard. Some good friends of mine recently gave me a book on Polish food called, quite tellingly, Authentic Polish Cooking (by Marianna Dworak). Broadly speaking, I think the book starts on a very good basis, but unfortunately misses a few details here and there.

There are some great recipes, but the details provided tend to be too vague at times (e.g. ‘use a cake tin’ – what size?). Also, I am not a massive fan of very meaty dishes, which probably goes against everything I have said earlier. Pierogies (or dumplings), however, are a classic I never tire to make. First of all, the dough (and filling) is very easy to make. And secondly, you can tailor the filling to your own liking. Here I have gone for a fairly traditional take, although I have heavily amended the recipe for the dough.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml warm water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 900g potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 250g soft goat’s cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1-2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and black pepper

Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 150g pancetta cubes (or diced bacon)
  • black pepper (to taste)

Method

  1. Start by making the filling. Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Add to a large pan of salted boiling water, then cook until soft (but not falling apart). Drain in a colander and set aside to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, peel and finely chop the onion. Melt the butter in a frying pan over low-medium heat, then add the onion and cook for at least 15 minutes, until nicely browned and caramelised.
  3. In a bowl, mash the potatoes to obtain a slightly coarse texture. Add the gently fried onions and crumble in the cheese, then add the nutmeg, season well and mix to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside.
  4. To make the dough, combine the flour with the salt in a bowl, then make a well in the middle. Gently pour in the warm water and either use a wooden spoon or your hands to combine the dough, drawing all of the flour in as you mix. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
  5. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a thin sheet (slightly thinner than a pound coin). Use a cookie cutter (or a glass) about 6cm in diameter to stamp out as many circles as you can. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling in one half of the circle, then fold over the other half to make a crescent shape. If the dough is not sticking well, moisten the edges with water before you seal them.
  6. As you roll and fold, place the prepared pierogies on a floured cloth or a tray lined with baking parchment. Bring a big saucepan of salted water to the boil.
  7. Reduce to medium heat, then drop in the pierogies making sure not to overcrowd the saucepan. Stir once or twice so as to ensure they do not stick to the bottom. When they come up to the surface, wait one more minute, then fish them out with a slotted spoon.
  8. To make the sauce, fry the pancetta cubes in a frying pan with no oil/butter (the pancetta is fat enough) until nice and crispy. Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Add the boiled pierogies to the pan and pan fry over a medium heat on both sides until slightly golden. Serve with the pancetta cubes and some black pepper. Enjoy!

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Basil and Chocolate Cake

There seem to be plenty of cakes on my blog recently. And yes, that is pretty much a faithful representation of my baking efforts, at least when I am stressed. In my opinion, there is nothing more soothing and relaxing than baking, assembling and eating a moist slice of cake. Few other things even come close and, frankly, very few beat it (pasta and chocolate are very close contenders). Quite recently, I had a very fun baking session with one of my friends, Valentina, who came round to make gluten- and lactose-free pizza. I might have to give that one a second go as the person it was originally intended for was actually ill the following day, so Vale probably had to eat it all. It came out very nice, though!

For one reason or the other, I ended up with a small pot of basil. If you know me, you might remember I had tried to keep one of these small plants a while back, which didn’t end well (for the basil). Therefore, why not make the most of it while it lasted? I decided to remake my basil butter cream. It received mixed reviews last time, but I thought that pairing it up with a dark and moist chocolate cake was probably a better option. And yes, it was. May I present you a 4-tiered chocolate cake with alternating chocolate ganache and basil butter cream, all topped by more of that green pale icing and some aptly positioned basil leaves?

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Ingredients (for the chocolate cake)

  • 227g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 118g cocoa powder
  • 473ml water, recently boiled from a kettle
  • 344g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the sugar syrup)

  • 236ml water
  • 200g caster sugar

Ingredients (for the basil butter cream)

  • 355ml whole milk
  • 75ml double cream
  • about 100g fresh basil leaves
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 40g plain flour
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • green food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 150ml double cream
  • 75g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 75g milk chocolate

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • a few basil leaves

Method

  1. If you can, start with the basil butter cream the day before. Heat the milk and double cream in a saucepan, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and tumble in the basil leaves. Decant to a glass bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool completely. Transfer to the fridge and leave to infuse for a few hours (but best overnight).
  2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two tall 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl, then whisk together until fully combined.
  4. Pour the cocoa powder into a jug, then add the water and whisk until fully combined and there are no big cocoa lumps. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream your butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 10 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add your eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the sides to ensure the mixture is fully combined.
  6. Now start adding the dry ingredients and the warm cocoa mixture alternatively, making sure not to overbeat the mixture or the cake will be tough. Divide your batter evenly between the two cake tins, then bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, testing the cakes for doneness with a skewer. If it comes out clean, they are ready.
  7. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmoulding from the tins.
  8. Make the sugar syrup. Pour the sugar and water in a saucepan, then heat and mix until fully dissolved. No need to bring this to the boil. Decant to a jug/tall glass and allow to cool completely before using.
  9. To continue with the butter cream, strain the infused milk and cream into a saucepan, squeezing the basil leaves to extract as much juice as possible. Add the flour and sugar, then mix well to combine. Cook over a medium heat, mixing regularly, until the mixture has thickened to cover the back of a spoon and there are no more lumps. Pour into a shallow dish, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool completely.
  10. Once the ‘basil custard’ has cooled, transfer it to the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the food colouring, if using, then slowly add the room temperature butter in small pieces, mixing well after each addition to ensure there are no lumps. If the butter cream does not whip up, transfer to the fridge for a few minutes, then carry on beating it. Continue until you have added all of the butter and the butter cream is light and fluffy (and pale green).
  11. To make the chocolate ganache, roughly chop the chocolate in small chunks, then transfer to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it reaches simmering point, then pour onto the chocolate and mix well to combine. Set aside and allow to cool to firm up to a spreading consistency.
  12. Remove the cakes from the tins, then slice them in half using a serrated knife (for a total of 4 sponges). Soak the sponges in the sugar syrup and use a pastry brush to liberally spread it on the surface of the cakes. Set aside to allow the sugar syrup to soak in before you move on to the following stage. You will have some leftover syrup.
  13. Start by placing one chocolate sponge on your cake board/platter, then place half of the chocolate ganache onto it and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Top with a second chocolate sponge layer, then place a big dollop of the basil butter cream on top and use a spatula to spread that around in an even layer. Continue with the third and fourth chocolate sponge layer, then use the remaining butter cream to cover the top and the sides of the cake. If you want, you can apply a crumb coat first, have that firm up, then continue with the remaining butter cream. I personally did not deem that necessary. Also, I thought a few chocolate crumbs make the cake look quite rustic, so why not. Use a big spatula to smooth the top and sides of the cake, then create some waves in the butter cream on the top of the cake. Top with the basil leaves, serve and enjoy!

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Celebratory Chocolate, Caramel and Mango Layer Cake

When I think of a showstopper, this is probably the cake I have in mind. With its 4 sponge layers, each with a varying intensity of caramel and chocolate, chocolate ganache coating, choux buns filled with cream and mango custard and meringues on top, you could hardly envisage such a cake for a non-celebratory occasion. The truth is, however, that as difficult, complicated and lengthy as it may look, this cake is in fact pretty easy to make. Ok, maybe not easy, but straightforward is the word here. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. As it says on the tin, there are a lot of stages required here. Just make sure you read the whole recipe first and only then start making it. Believe me, you will love it.

The recipe for the cake appeared a while ago on a BBC Good Food magazine. I have saved it and keep on using time and time again, with minor tweaks here and there, as it’s such an easy and delicious one. The sponges are very moist thanks to the addition of natural yoghurt and the dramatic effect is ensured when you cut through the whole cake to reveal sponges of different colours. This time, seeing as I was making this cake for a birthday, I decided to push the boat out and top it with choux buns and meringues. Mango, caramel and chocolate go surprisingly well together, and the subtle acidity of the custard cuts through the richness of the cake beautifully.

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Ingredients (for the vanilla and chocolate sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 140g milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 300ml double cream

Ingredients (for the choux pastry)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175ml water
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the mango custard)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 40g cornflour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 whole mango
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 2 gelatine leaves

Ingredients (for the meringues)

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • orange food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (to assemble the cake)

  • 1 x 397g can of caramel (Carnation is a good brand)
  • 300ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks
  • 60g dark and milk chocolate, melted over a bain marie
  • Chocolate sprinkles, optional

Method

  1. First of all, start with the mango custard as it will need some time to set in the fridge. Peel and stone the mango, then transfer the flesh to a food processor with the lime juice and purée until smooth. In the meantime, heat the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan over a medium heat. Mix the caster sugar with the cornflour to disperse the latter evenly, then transfer to a heatproof bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk until fully combined and slightly paler in colour.
  2. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. In the meantime, transfer the mango purée to a small saucepan on gentle heat and bring to the boil, then reduce by approximately half. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Once the milk has come to the boil, remove from the heat and, whisking continuously, slowly pour onto the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Make sure to scrape the sides, then gently pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Make sure the heat under the saucepan is not too high or the eggs will scramble and, most importantly, stir the custard constantly until nicely thickened. You will be able to tell because the custard will cover the back of a spoon and small ridges will form when you stir it.
  4. Transfer the reduced mango purée to the saucepan with the custard and mix to combine. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove excess water, then add to the hot mixture and stir to dissolve. Transfer the mango custard to a heatproof bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before putting in the fridge for a good 5 hours.
  5. Now, moving on to the sponges. Start with the vanilla and chocolate one, so as to get the hang of it. Grease the bottom and sides and line the bottom of 2 x 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).
  6. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer equipped with the paddle attachment or in a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until slightly paler in colour and fully combined. Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste too. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, then add to the bowl while mixing on low speed. Finally, add the yoghurt and mix well to combine. The mixture should be very creamy and full of volume.
  7. Divide the mixture into two, pouring half into one of the prepared tins (this will be the vanilla sponge). Pour the other half into a bowl, then sprinkle in the cocoa powder and mix well to combine with a rubber spatula, ensuring not to knock all of the air out of the sponge. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the other prepared tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, but do check them after 20 minutes to ensure they don’t overbake. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.
  8. To make the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges, prepare 2 more tins as outlined above. Cream the butter and sugars together, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add them, together with the vanilla bean paste, to the remaining mixture. Pour in the natural yoghurt, then mix well to combine. Pour half of the mixture into one of the prepared tins, then add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture, gently fold it in and transfer to the other cake tin. Bake as above, then set on a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. To make the choux pastry, combine the butter, water and salt into a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat and tumble in the flour. Use a wooden spoon to combine the pastry – don’t worry, it will look lumpy, but persist and you will be fine. Put the saucepan back on the heat to dry the pastry out. You are ready to go when the lump of pastry easily comes together and stays together, stops sticking to the sides and leaves a coating on the bottom of the saucepan. Transfer the warm lump of pastry to a heatproof bowl, flatten it out slightly with the back of the wooden spoon and leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (or silicone mats).
  10. To make it easier, transfer the eggs to a jug. When the pastry has cooled down (you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs), start adding a little bit of the eggs, then mix really well with the wooden spoon after each addition. As before, do not be put off by the way the pastry look. Continue adding eggs, a little at a time, and mixing well. You are aiming for a silky yet somewhat solid consistency. There are several ways to test the pastry: when you gather some on the wooden spoon then tilt the latter, the pastry should slowly fall back into the bowl leaving a triangular-shaped trail on the spoon; also, if you trace a line in the bowl, the pastry should divide evenly and keep the trail, not fall back on itself, etc.
  11. Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a plain round nozzle, then pipe even round mounds on the baking trays. I opted for two different sizes (one slightly bigger than the other) to add a dramatic effect to the cake. Bake for 30 minutes without ever opening the door to check on them, by which time they will be golden and puffed up. Quickly remove from the oven, make a small hole in the base or on the sides to let the steam escape, then put back in the oven to crisp up for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  12. Cool the oven down to 130°C (110°C fan) to bake the meringues. To make them, in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until frothy. In a separate bowl, combine the caster sugar and cream of tartar, then increase the speed to high and slowly add the sugar mixture, one tablespoon at a time, until you get a very glossy and stiff mixture.
  13. Prepare the piping bag by adding a star nozzle at the end and using some orange food colouring to drag some lines on the inside of the bag (I used a toothpick, but a small brush is also fine). When ready, transfer the meringue mixture to the piping bag, then pipe small meringues (again, I went for two different sizes) on previously lined baking trays. Bake for 2 hours or until crisp. When done, turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool inside the oven with the door ajar.
  14. To assemble the cake, start by making the chocolate ganache. Transfer the chopped chocolate to a heatproof bowl, then pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Transfer the hot cream to the chocolate, then mix to combine until smooth. Place in the fridge to set, mixing occasionally, while you assemble the sponge layers.
  15. Place a small dollop of caramel on the cake board/base/platter you will use to build the cake on. Gently peel the parchment off the back of the vanilla sponge, then place it upside down on the cake board. Use 1/3 of the caramel to cover the cake and spread it around using an offset spatula. Top with the vanilla & caramel sponge, cover with half of the remaining caramel, then top with the caramel & chocolate sponge, the remaining caramel and, finally, the chocolate sponge.
  16. Once the ganache has more or less set (but is still of a spreadable consistency), use it to cover the top and the sides of the cake and give it a smooth or a rough finish according to preference. Place in the fridge to harden while you get on with the decorations.
  17. In a bowl, combine the whipped cream with some of the mango custard, then fill a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle and use it to fill the choux buns. For reasons of practicality, I decided to fill the small ones with the mango custard alone, thus leaving me with leftover whipped cream.
  18. When you are ready to proceed, take the cake out of the fridge. Spread some of the melted chocolate on the bottom of each choux bun, then gently pile them up on top of the cake and down the sides. Repeat with the meringues, ensuring there is a good proportion of them all around the cake. I shall leave it the final design up to you.
  19. Use the remaining melted chocolate to drizzle on top of the cake, then decorate, if you so wish, with some of the mango custard (also drizzled over) and chocolate sprinkles. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake

When one of my close friends has his/her birthday, I don’t mind trying to push the boat out and make a gorgeous cake. After all, you could argue, it is a celebration and a showstopper cake should be the perfect ending (or complimentary part) to a fun party. In this case, I had been given some instructions, namely that the cake needed to contain raspberries. After scouring on Pinterest, the perfect platform to actually see what the cakes look like, I ended up on this recipe, which looked perfect for the occasion. The cake is made up of mousse layers (chocolate, raspberry and vanilla, respectively), held together by gelatine and resting on a brownie base. Whoa, you could say.

There are some non-negotiable aspects which you should keep in mind when making this cake. As usual, they relate to the quality of ingredients, which needs to be the best you can get. Forget that cheap chocolate you normally find in supermarkets, go for a very good brand. I normally use Green and Black’s organic range. Their white chocolate, in particular, contains real vanilla seeds and is therefore perfect for the job. Please also go for very good raspberries. They clearly play the main role in this cake and the cheap, watery stuff you find in supermarkets would just not do. If you are put off by gelatine, please allow me to say these mousse layers are creamy and moreish, not gloopy and horrible. However, if you don’t want to use gelatine, then I suggest you either increase the amount of chocolate used or freeze the whole cake.

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Ingredients (for the brownie layer)

  • 95g plain flour
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 220g golden caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the chocolate mousse)

  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 415ml double cream
  • 2 leaves of gelatine
  • 2 tbsp water
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the raspberry mousse)

  • 200g fresh raspberries
  • 255g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 355ml double cream
  • 2 leaves of gelatine
  • 2 tbsp raspberry liqueur
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the vanilla mousse)

  • 255g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 355ml double cream
  • 2 leaves of gelatine
  • 2 tbsp water
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste

Ingredients (to finish)

  • 150g fresh raspberries
  • 115g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 120ml double cream
  • chocolate decorations (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm springform round cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Start with the brownie layer: in a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-to-low heat. Add the sugar and stir until it melts. Don’t allow the mixture to come to a boil. Set aside to cool slightly. Once the mixture is at room temperature, add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between each addition. Pour in the vanilla extract and fold in the dry ingredients, then scrape the brownie batter into the prepared tin and bake it for 20-25 minutes. Check the cake is cooked by inserting a toothpick in the middle – if it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs attached, the brownie is ready. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  4. Once the brownie is stone cold, gently open the sides of the springform tin and line the sides with acetate – baking parchment is also OK, although acetate doesn’t tend to stick to the food and leaves a smoother finish. Ensure the acetate layer around the cake ring is at least 6-7cm, as the layers will be quite thick.
  5. Now move on to the mousse layers, starting with the chocolate one. The procedure will be very similar for each one of them, but I will repeat the instructions just to be safe. Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl filled with cold water and leave there for a good 15 minutes. Pour the chocolate shards/chunks and the salt into a heatproof bowl, then bring about 180ml of the double cream to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate, stirring to ensure all of the dark chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the water to a small saucepan and place it over medium heat, then squeeze out as much water as you can from the gelatine leaves and add them to the saucepan. Ensure the gelatine melts, then pour it into the cooled chocolate mixture and mix well to combine. Whip the remaining double cream to soft peaks, then gently fold it into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Pour this mousse onto the brownie base and spread out to the sides in an even layer. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until completely set.
  7. To make the raspberry mousse layer, make a quick puree by blending about 100g raspberries in a food processor. Pour them through a strainer to remove the seeds. Add this to the finely chopped white chocolate and the salt and transfer to a heatproof bowl.
  8. Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl filled with cold water and leave there for a good 15 minutes. Bring about 180ml of the double cream to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate mixture, stirring to ensure all of the white chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add the raspberry liqueur to a small saucepan and place it over medium heat, then squeeze out as much water as you can from the gelatine leaves and add them to the saucepan. Ensure the gelatine melts, then pour it into the cooled chocolate mixture and mix well to combine. Whip the remaining double cream to soft peaks, then gently fold it into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Scatter the remaining raspberries onto the chocolate mousse, making sure to leave about 1cm around the egde of the cake. Pour this mousse onto the chocolate mousse layer and spread out to the sides in an even layer, ensuring all of the raspberries are evenly covered. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until completely set.
  10. Finally, on to the vanilla mousse layer. Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl filled with cold water and leave there for a good 15 minutes. Transfer the white chocolate and vanilla bean paste to an heatproof bowl. Bring about 180ml of the double cream to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate mixture, stirring to ensure all of the white chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  11. Add the water to a small saucepan and place it over medium heat, then squeeze out as much water as you can from the gelatine leaves and add them to the saucepan. Ensure the gelatine melts, then pour it into the cooled chocolate mixture and mix well to combine. Whip the remaining double cream to soft peaks, then gently fold it into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Pour this mousse onto the raspberry mousse layer and spread out to the sides in an even layer. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until completely set.
  12. To decorate the cake, proceed as before to make a chocolate ganache. Unmould the cake and remove the acetate, then pour the cooled ganache on top of the cake and use an offset spatula to push it to the edge and let it drop down the sides. Arrange the raspberries on top and decorate with the chocolate curls, balls, etc. If you want, dust with icing sugar and use some berry jam to make the raspberry shine. Best kept refrigerated until it’s time to serve it, but remove it from the fridge at least 10 minutes before slicing it. Enjoy!

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Salmorejo-style Tomato Soup

For those of you who don’t have a clue, salmorejo is a tomato soup very similar to gazpacho and usually served cold with hard-boiled eggs, lashings of olive oil, jamon serrano (Spanish dry-cured ham) and sometimes tuna. True to its origins, this recipe contains all of the above and black olives. It’s a true revelation and I need to thank chef José Pizarro for this wonderful concoction.  Salmorejo originated in the Spanish city of Cordoba, in Andalucia, but this tomato and bread soup has now conquered the whole country and is enjoyed on every dinner table. And quite rightly so! The scent alone is wonderful.

Opt for vine-ripened tomatoes as they have a more intense flavour. If you can get your hands on some heirloom varieties, then even better. As for the bread, use a decent sordough loaf, if you can. Don’t even remotely consider that sliced plastic bread you find in shops – you need something wholesome and thick. Finally, as odd as it sounds, serve this soup cold. My partner thought it very weird and did not enjoy it as much as I did, but I completely see why. The colder the soup, the thicker it gets and the more satisfying it is to eat. A true foodie experience.

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Ingredients

  • 340g slightly stale rustic-style bread
  • 1kg vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 6-8 thin slices of serrano ham
  • 100g black olives, halved
  • 2 x tins of tuna in brine, drained

Method

  1. Start by preparing the tomatoes, which will need to be skinned. In order to do so, bring a large pan of water to the boil over a high heat. Score a cross at the bottom and at the top of each tomato, then plunge them in the boiling water for about 40 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander, refresh under cold running water (or place into a bowl with water and ice), then peel. The skin will easily come off.
  2. Quarter the tomatoes, scoop out the seeds into a sieve set over a bowl, roughly chop the flesh and add to the bowl of a liquidiser. Rub the juices from the seeds through the sieve, then add to the liquidiser. Discard the seeds.
  3. Break the bread into a bowl and sprinkle with 250ml cold water. Leave for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic cloves to the liquidiser and blend until smooth. Squeeze as much water as you can from the bread, then add to the liquidiser and blend again. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil, vinegar and a pinch of salt. Pour into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill for a minimum of 2 hours.
  5. Before serving, put the eggs in a saucepan filled with cold water, then bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, then cover with cold water. Peel the eggs and cut them into small pieces.
  6. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the serrano ham slices and cook until crisped up, turning them halfway through. Set aside to drain on kitchen paper, then roughly chop.
  7. To serve, ladle the tomato soup into chilled bowls, then top with some of the olives, tuna, hard-boiled eggs and ham. Finally, drizzle with some more extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of pepper. Enjoy!

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