Cocchini

This is something that my mum always used to make when I was a kid and, to my knowledge, still makes. In a nutshell, these are simple coconut meringues which you can drizzle with some melted chocolate (as in the picture below) or leave plain, like my mum does. Don’t ask me why, but hers turn out a lot smaller and less meringue-y. In fact, rather like biscuits. Even following the recipe step by step, my cocchini always look like meringues, which, in the end, I quite like.

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Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 250g desiccated coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius.
  2. Line a big oven tray with baking parchment.
  3. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. 
  4. Gradually add the vanilla extract and caster sugar, whisking all the time so as to obtain a glossy and stiff meringue.
  5. Slowly and carefully fold in the coconut. The mixture will be really stiff, but that is absolutely fine.
  6. Using a teaspoon and a tablespoon, dollop roughly equal amounts of the meringue on the lined tray.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Check the meringues, they are ready before they start to colour.
  8. IMPORTANT!! Leave the door of the oven slightly ajar, so as to allow an even bake and to let the steam out.
  9. Once ready, take them out of the oven and allow to cool.
  10. If you want, drizzle some chocolate on top or leave plain.
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Cheese & Chorizo Muffins

I have to thank Paula from Spoons’n’Spades for this wonderful recipe. I had seen many recipes for chorizo muffins, but this one was extremely enticing. As with all muffins, combine the dry and wet ingredients separately, then mix them together but don’t over mix or you’ll get a very flat muffin. Sprinkle some thyme on top of these for added colour and flavour.

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Ingredients

  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 80g butter, diced
  • 100g chorizo, diced
  • 200g mature cheddar, coarsely grated
  • 6-8 thyme sprigs, leaves only
  • 1 egg
  • 250ml milk

Method

  1. Grease and line a muffin tray or use muffin cases.
  2. Add the flour and the paprika to a bowl and rub in the butter until well combined.
  3. Stir in the cheese, thyme and chorizo.
  4. Beat the egg with the milk and stir that one in too.
  5. Bake at 190 degree Celsius for about 20 minutes.

Tips

  • Instead of cheddar, you can try and use Red Leicester for added oomph and a nice finishing colour (which, incidentally, matches the chorizo!)

Marbled Lemon Squares

I will be honest, I made the lemon curd of the previous post because I wanted to make these. Think of them as a lemony and cheesecakey (is that even a word?) kind of brownies. The assembling bit is more or less the same of a cheesecake, and the flavour is as well. Very moreish, these will disappear in a flash! Recipe, again, from The Great British Bake Off: The Showstoppers book.

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Ingredients

  • 200g ginger biscuits
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 500g full-fat cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
  • about 225g lemon curd (use homemade if you can)

Method

  1. Line and grease a square or rectangular brownie tin (approximately 25 x 25cm).
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  3. To make the base, put the biscuits and the butter in a food processor and blitz until you get a sandy consistency. Alternatively, put the biscuits in a bag, seal it and bash them with a rolling pin (very therapeutic), then mix in the butter.
  4. Bake the base for 10 minutes, then take out of the oven and leave to cool for 15. You can leave the oven on or turn it off while you get started with the cheesecake filling.
  5. To make the cheesecake mixture, put the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and eggs into a large bowl and beat them until creamy and combined. You can do this by hand, no need to waste electricity 🙂
  6. Once the base has cooled down, pour the cheesecake mixture over it and spread it evenly.
  7. Dollop the lemon curd on the surface – quite randomly – and then use a cocktail stick (a skewer, a knife or even a teaspoon will do) to swirl it around and obtain a marbled effect. Don’t overdo it, though, as you want to keep some of the big lumps of lemon curd.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until just set. Remember to turn on the oven again if you switched it off before.
  9. Leave to cool in the tin. To extract it, run a round bladed knife all around the edges, then cut into squares.

Tips

  • The recipe says to cook it for 25 minutes, but I’ve opted for slightly more on here simply because when I checked mine after that time it was still wobbly and, I feared, uncooked. Feel free to take it out of the oven slightly before.
  • Keep this dessert in the fridge as it will melt/go weird if left outside. Needless to say, the earlier you eat it, the better.

How to: Lemon Curd

Making your own lemon curd is very easy and, let’s face it, the finished product is bound to taste a lot better than the shop-bought varieties. The recipe is from The Great British Bake Off: The Showstoppers book, which has kind of become my new baking bible. Take your time and don’t rush things, the result is guaranteed to be good. One last note: I do apologise for the “steamy” quality of the pictures, I realised too late my phone camera lens was dirty…

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter, diced
  • 225g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest and juice of 3 medium unwaxed lemons
  • 3 large free-range eggs, at room temperature, beaten

Method 

Put the butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice into a heatproof bowl. Set over a pan of just simmering water and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture is completely melted and smooth.

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Remove the pan from the heat and strain the eggs into the mixture.

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As you can see, the sieve is necessary as it holds back bits of egg white which were not incorporated into the rest of the eggs. Discard what’s left in the sieve.

Stir well, then set the bowl over the pan of simmering water again and stir constantly until the mixture becomes thick and opaque. Take your time, don’t be tempted to turn up the heat because the egg will cook and scramble. The lemon curd is ready when you can draw a clear path with your finger on the back of the wooden spoon.

Lift the bowl from the pan and transfer the lemon curd into a shallow bowl or a sterilised jar.

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Leave to cool, then either cover with clingfilm or put the lid on and keep in the fridge.

This recipe makes about 560g worth of lemon curd.

Tips

  • Why not trying making curd with other fruit? I hear limes are really good too and you can make it with virtually all the citrus fruits, such as orange, clementines, satsumas… I also found online a very inviting and delicious mango curd recipe, will definitely give that one a try!
  • Other than being exceedingly good on toast, lemon curd can be used in a variety of desserts and cakes. I have used it on some Marbled Lemon Squares (recipe to follow), but what about making some small shortcrust pastry tartlets and filling them with some lemon curd topped with some fresh fruit? The possibilities are endless!

Mars Bars Muffins

Someone from work today emailed me about the recipe for these wonderful muffins. If you like chocolate and caramel, no point in trying to make the perfect cupcake with home-made caramel sauce (although that also gives pure satisfaction). Rather, chop some Mars bars and make these wonderful muffins!

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Ingredients

  • 175g soft unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 6 Mars bars, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml milk

Method

  1. Cream the butter and sugar in a big bowl until you get a soft and pale fluffy mixture.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. add the vanilla essence and beat that in too.
  4. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together in a bowl, then add t the mixture and stir that in with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour in the milk and mix into the batter.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degree Celsius and grease and line a 12-muffin hole tray or use muffin cases (I usually go for the latter).
  7. Add the chopped Mars bars to the mixture and give one final stir, then divide the mixture evenly and bake for about 15 minutes.
  8. Take out of the oven and leave to cool before tasting it or you’ll burn your tongue!

Tips

  • Don’t overfill the muffin cases as the mixture will rise quite a lot in the oven and you risk overflowing the tray.

Pea & Bacon Quiche

This quiche (or tart, according to how you want to call it) is extremely easy to make and is very colourful as well. The pea provides for a nice tart green layer between the golden pastry and the also golden filling on top. And it’s so tasty and yummy you’ll want to make this again and again! Please make your own pastry. It’s so easy and straightforward it doesn’t make sense to buy it from a supermarket. But then again, should you feel lazy, I’ll just turn a blind eye to it. Last thing, please also read the Tips section as it contains very useful information!

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Ingredients

  • about 500g homemade rich shortcrust pastry OR a 500g block of shop-bought shortcrust pastry
  • 250g frozen peas
  • 12 basil leaves, plus extra for decoration
  • 300ml double cream
  • 250g unsmoked bacon rashers
  • 4 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • salt
  • pepper

Method

  1. Make your own pastry and roll out until large enough to cover a 26cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Make sure the pastry is fit into the tin. Leave the excess pastry overhanging from the sides and pop in the fridge to chill out for about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, get started on the pea puree. Boil the peas in salted water for about 5 minutes (or until just tender)., then drain and add to a blender together with the basil leaves, 3 tbsp of cream, salt and pepper. Blitz until smooth. If needed, add one tbsp of water at a time to loosen the puree up.
  3. Put the pea puree back into the pan where you boiled them before and reduce until very creamy and thick in consistency. Take off the heat.
  4. Slice the bacon into strips and dry-fry in a pan until golden and starting to turn crisp. Take off the pan and, using a knife, chop finely. Add to the puree and mix well. Season and leave to rest.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree Celsius and put a baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge and fill with baking beans to blind bake (see tip below). Put the tin on the pre-heated baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the baking parchment and the beans and bake for another 12 minutes until golden.
  7. Meanwhile, in a bowl, beat the eggs with the cream and the Parmesan, then season with salt and pepper.
  8. Take the pastry case out of the oven and brush delicately with the egg white. Put back in for another 5 minutes.
  9. Take it out for the last time and pop the pea and bacon puree in the bottom, spreading it around so as to form an uniform layer. Pour into the cream and egg filling, then put back into the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and, using a sharp knife, trim off the excess pastry, then leave to cool for 10-15 minutes. Serve with some basil leaves scattered on top.

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Tips

  • MAKE YOUR OWN PASTRY: It’s dead easy and will save you plenty of money in the long term. I swear by Eric Lanlard’s recipe for rich shortcrust, which is very easy to make both by hand and in a food processor.
  • BLIND BAKE YOUR PASTRY: It’s so important when making a quiche or a pie to blind bake your own pastry as this will ensure a nice and crusty bottom.
  • BRUSH WITH EGG WHITE: This is fundamental to ensure the pastry case is insulated and made waterproof. The puree is really liquid and full of moisture, if you don’t protect your pastry case the pastry will go soggy (on that note, if you look carefully, you can see mine has in the middle. That is because I didn’t brush the pastry case with egg white).
  • TRIM THE OVERHANGING PASTRY OFF: Very easy to make, provided you keep the knife tilted to a 45 degree angle.

Sachertorte

As I understand it, there are different versions of this cake, mostly due to its popularity and the several schools of thought there exists with regards to baking and desserts making. This is my version. Rather, it’s my interpretation of the cake my mum used to make when I was a kid. When clearly she couldn’t be bothered to go through the hassle of making it herself, we used to buy it from Lidl, which I have to admit sells a very good Sachertorte, although the chocolate on top is more of a hard and crispy shell. My cake, on the other hand, is a two tier chocolate paradise smothered in a glossy and deep ganache. Very easy to make, please ensure you beat the eggs and the butter thoroughly as this will ensure plenty of air is incorporated in the cake and result in  better rise.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 150g flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • about 150g of apricot jam

Method (for the cake)

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside and let it cool.
  2. Line and grease two 20cm diameter round loose-bottomed tins.
  3. Cream the butter with half of the sugar. Pour in the melted chocolate, then add the egg yolks one by one, beating well after each addition.
  4. In another bowl, whisk the 5 egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then add the remaining sugar and keep on whisking until fluffy and glossy.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan oven).
  6. Fold in the meringue into the chocolate mixture with a big metal spoon alternating it with some of the flour (combined with the baking powder). That is, add a spoonful of meringue, mix that into the batter, then add one spoonful of flour, mix that into the batter and so on until you have used both.
  7. Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes. Check with a skewer that the cake is cooked through before taking them out from the oven and allowing to cool on a racking.
  8. Once the two layers have cooled down, remove them from the tins and stack them. Use the jam to glue the two layers together.

Ingredients (for the ganache)

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g double cream

Method (for the ganache)

  1. Break up the chocolate and put it in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Warm up the cream in a saucepan, then pour it onto the chocolate and let it stand for a few minutes.
  3. Mix well to melt all of the chocolate and let it cool.
  4. Pour on the cake and tilt the cake in order to let it spread on its own. Do not use a spatula or any other tools to spread the ganache as this will ruin the glossy finish.

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Red Prawn and Mango Curry

Let’s start the curry series with one of my favourite Nigella recipes. Of all the mains I prepare, this tops my partner’s charts. This curry is warming, soothing, tasty and colourful, not to mention extremely easy to make. The recipe can also be easily adapted to include different vegetables. If you want to, you can also ditch the prawns altogether and make it into a nice vegetable ones by bulking it up with some potatoes. The quantities I am reporting below are slightly different from Nigella’s as they work better for me, but feel free to play with the recipe as you please.

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Ingredients

  • 1 spring onion, sliced OR 1 small onion, finely chopped – and I’ve also used a couple of shallots when I had some!
  • red Thai curry paste, to taste – I usually use 3 tbsp and then end up complaining it’s too hot!
  • 1 x 400ml coconut milk can
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • 200g frozen king prawns – makes about 20 prawns
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cubed OR 1 sweet potato and 1 butternut squash, all cubed
  • 1 mango, diced
  • coriander, chopped
  • oil
  • lime juice
  • 2 tsp fish sauce

Method

  1. Heat some oil in a pan (I use my Le Creuset big one or a big stew pan) and fry the spring onion slices, then add the curry paste and fry until fragrant.
  2. Whisk in the stock, coconut milk and fish sauce, then bring to the boil
  3. Add the orange vegetables (be it sweet potatoes, butternut squash or a mixture of the two) and simmer, partially covered, for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Tumble the prawns under running cold water to shake off the excess ice and then add them to the pan together with 1 tbsp of lime juice. Cook until pink, then add the diced mango and cook for another 2 minutes.
  5. Serve with some plain basmati rice and scatter with some chopped coriander (see serving suggestion below!)

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Warm Salad with Pears and Balsamic dressing

A very simple dish which is both comforting and delicious, this salad is a creation by Lorraine Pascale, a chef I started to follow recently. Make it when you want a quick salad and still don’t want to give up the idea of having something warm to eat.

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Ingredients

  • 1-2 bags of rocket salad/pea shoots/watercress, approximately 200g
  • 16 slices of pancetta
  • 45g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 pears, cored, peeled and quartered
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 30g toasted pine nuts
  • 200g Gorgonzola/Dolcelatte, crumbled
  • salt
  • pepper

Method

  1. Distribute the salad on a big serving plate.
  2. Put the pancetta into a medium frying pan over medium-high heat and cook until really crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
  3. Put 30g butter and the oil into the pan and reduce the heat to low. When the butter has melted, place the pears in the pan and season with salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons honey. Turn up the heat to medium and cook until the pears are lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and cook for another minute. Remove the pears from the pan, reserving any juices that may be left.
  4. Arrange the pears and pancetta on top of the salad.
  5. Put the pan back on medium heat and add the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons vinegar, mustard, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Cook briefly until the dressing is heated through. Pour the dressing over the salads, then scatter over the Gorgonzola crumbles. Serve immediately.

Tips

  • If you can’t get hold of Gorgonzola, try Stilton, but use less as it is very strong.
  • If you don’t like pears, you can try ditching them with their sauce and pan fry some peaches instead.

Jewel Box Cake

I bet you are thinking this cake must be impossible to make and that you’ll never make it to achieve a similar result. Wrong! Despite looking amazing (hence me trying it out), this cake is dead easy to make. All it is is a chocolate sponge cake decorated with raspberries. The only part which requires a bit of time (and technique) is the white chocolate ribbon. This cake was one of the showstoppers in The Great British Bake Off, a series I love. Also, as it is covered with fresh fruit, you might want to make it disappear it very soon!

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 150g white chocolate, chopped
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • raspberry jam
  • 500-600g fresh raspberries

Method (for the cake)

  1. Melt the chocolate for the sponge and leave to cool until needed.
  2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and beat until the mixture is very light in colour and fluffy in texture, scraping down the bowl from time to time.
  3. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last portion of egg. Sift the rest of the flour and the salt into the bowl and fold in using a large metal spoon.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  5. Add the cooled white chocolate and fold in until all the ingredients are completely amalgamated.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Make a small hollow in the centre so the cake will rise evenly.
  7. Bake for about one hour until golden and just firm to the touch, and a stick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. When ready, make the chocolate ribbons and bow.

Ingredients (for the ribbon and bow)

  • 150g white chocolate, broken up
  • 3 tbsps liquid glucose

Method (for the ribbon and bow)

  1. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the pan and gently stir in the liquid glucose. Leave to thicken at room temperature.
  2. Once the mixture is firm and almost set, mould it into a ball with your hands. Some brands of chocolate need to be chilled to firm up.
  3. Work and knead the mixture in your hands so it softens and becomes pliable and glossy, like modelling clay or Play-Doh. As soon as it feels smooth, shape it into a sausage.
  4. Set the sausage between two long pieces of baking paper and roll out into a long, flat sheet, then peel off the top piece of paper.
  5. To make the crossed ribbons, cut out two strips about 30 x 2.5cm using a long, sharp knife to get a straight, sharp edge. If the ribbons feel very soft, firm up in the fridge for a few minutes.
  6. Gently warm the raspberry jam until melted. Brush over the top and sides of the cake, then gently press the ribbons on to the cake — across the top and down the sides — to resemble a parcel.
  7. Then, starting with the top of the cake, press the raspberries (pointed-end up) on to the sponge in the squares between the ribbons, so the cake is covered, top and sides.
  8. From the white chocolate dough, cut out one strip about 10 x 2.5cm, two strips 11 x 2.5cm and two strips about 14 x 2.5cm.
  9. Snip triangles out of one end of the 11cm strips using scissors, then rest the strips over a small paintbrush or similar implement to create a curve; these will be the bow ends.
  10. Bend each 14cm strip into a bow loop and press the ends together. Then position the ends of the loops so they are slightly overlapping; press gently together.
  11. Peel the paper from the 10cm strip, then wrap it around the centre of the loops in a ring to hide the join; press the ends of the bow ring to seal. Put all the shaped pieces in the fridge so they can firm up a bit.
  12. Position the bow on top of the crossed ribbons on the cake, fixing in place with a dab of melted chocolate or jam. Reshape the loops and bow carefully until you are happy with them.

Tips

  • Use plenty of jam to cover the cake as it will need to hold the raspberries in shape or they’ll start to fall out.
  • I used a 23cm square tin to bake the cake in. Grease and line the tin leaving some of the baking paper on the sides so as to make it easier to get the cake out of the tin. Alternatively, you can use any of the foil tins you find in supermarkets.
  • If you want, you can substitute the raspberries with blackberries, blueberries or, even, small raspberries. Obviously, make sure to amend the jam accordingly.
  • p.s. have a look at my partner decorating the cake. If he can do it, so can you 🙂

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