Angel Tears Cake

Believe it or not, this seems to be a quite a famous cake on the Russian social media. I hardly found any occurrences in Italian or English, which sort of surprised me. As it happens, I recently started to follow a food and recipe community on Vkontakte (ВКонтакте), the Russian equivalent of Facebook. This appeared in the news feed and I decided to give it a try mostly, to be perfectly honest, because the name intrigued me. More than a cake, this is a vanilla cheesecake topped by a nice layer of meringue.

The consistency of the biscuit-like base, combined with the middle, cheesy layer and the meringue on top is simply divine. Calling it heavenly would probably push it a little bit, but it still is a delicious and not overly sweet cake. The angel tears which give its iconic name to the cake are the small caramel drops which form on the surface of the meringue as it cools, making it look like a very sweet and compassionate angel was moved to tears by this simple yet elaborate cake. As you can see below, my ‘tears’ didn’t come out as well as I had hoped, but you can find more examples of the cake here.

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Ingredients (for the biscuit base)

  • 140g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 80g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 30g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg

Ingredients (for the cheesecake layer)

  • 500g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 100g soured cream, at room temperature
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the meringue topping)

  • 3 egg whites
  • 5 tbsp caster sugar

Method

  1. Start by making the base. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and bicarbonate of soda. Add the cubed butter and use your fingertips to work the fat into the flour. Crack the egg into the mixture and combine it to make a pliable, but not wet, dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  2. Once the dough is ready, roll it out to to line the base of a 23cm springform tin, then chill it for another 20 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  3. To make the cheesecake filling, mix all of the ingredients and combine thoroughly. Spread the cheesecake filling over the pastry base, then bake the cheesecake for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through but with a slight wobble in the centre.
  4. Remove the cheesecake from the oven to cool slightly, but leave the oven on. In the meantime, prepare the meringue by whisking the egg whites on high speed and slowly, but gradually, adding the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time. You are aiming for soft peaks, so don’t overbeat the meringue.
  5. Use a rubber spatula to spread it over the top of the cheesecake layer, then put back into the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden on top. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and leave the cake to cool on the rack inside the oven for at least 50 minutes. The meringue layer will deflate, but this is normal. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. The longer it stands, the more ‘tears’ will appear on the surface.

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Passion Fruit and Chocolate Layer Cake

This Easter has literally flown by. In fact, this whole year has been like that so far. At some point last year I decided I would make hot cross buns this year for Easter, a resolution I did not stick to for lack of time. I indulged in different types of Easter cupcakes, including some with coconut and white chocolate which I took to our favourite café, where we usually spend Sunday mornings slowly waking up to the sight of a salmon and cream cheese omelette (for me) and a full English breakfast (for my partner). It might sound odd to some of you to bring food to a restaurant, but I did because most of the time I end up with more food (read: cake) than we can eat and the girls there are so nice it was a pleasure to give something back. By the way, the place is called Moments, check it out on TripAdvisor!

The recipe for this cake comes from Jo Wheatley, the winner of the second edition of the GGBO. The chocolate sponge is a fail-proof recipe as it’s very easy and can be used as a base for thousands of desserts. The icing, with the addition of passion fruit juice, gains a certain tangy and fruity note which marries the sweet indulgence of the cake. The pulp and seeds of the passion fruits are not wasted either, as they get drizzled on top (maybe more than I did). Top with some chocolate eggs for a more Easter treat, if you wish. Otherwise, plain is just fine. Serve with a strong cup of tea and enjoy!

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 270g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 200ml soured cream, at room temperature
  • 50g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract

Ingredients (for the butter icing)

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 150g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 very ripe passion fruits
  • about 10 coloured chocolate eggs (optional)

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C. Line and grease a 20cm springform tin with high sides.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat the butter and caster sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.
  3. In a bowl, mix the flour, raising agents and cocoa powder. Add half the dry mixture to the the egg mixture and fold in using a large metal spoon or a rubber spatula.
  4. In another bowl, mix the soured cream with the cream cheese and the chocolate extract, then add half to the cake and fold that in. Repeat the process with the remaining flour and sour cream mixtures, then mix until smooth.
  5. Pour into the cake tin. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. To make the icing, beat the butter and the cream cheese until softly whipped using a freestanding mixer, then slowly add the icing sugar and mix until fully combined. Halve the passion fruits, then sieve the juice, reserving the pulp and seeds. Add the juice to the icing and mix until smooth.
  7. To assemble the cake, slice it in three layers using a serrated knife. Place the first cake layer onto your serving dish or cake stand, then transfer the icing to a piping bag fitted with a big plain nozzle and start piping small drops onto each cake layer. You can do it in rings starting from the outside or in lines, totally up to you. Top with the second one and repeat, until you have covered the top layer too. If you’re running out of icing, just spread some in the middle of the top layer – you will cover this with the chocolate eggs, so it doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect.
  8. Place the chocolate eggs in the middle of the top layer, then drizzle the reserved passion fruit pulp and seeds on top of the cake. Enjoy!

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Vegetable Cheesy Tart

Finally (you might think), a savoury recipe! I get the idea to some people I come across as someone who merely feeds off dessert. Let me assure you, that is not the case. It’s widely renowned that I have a (massive) sweet tooth and, to be perfectly honest, desserts appeal to me a lot more than a chicken breast – this sounds wrong on so many levels, but I’ll just carry on. Come think of it, I have two punnets of blueberries in the fridge which I NEED to use. Will have to come up with something quick. Now, back to this recipe. The inspiration comes from Giallo Zafferano, the Italian equivalent, if you want, of the BBC Good Food website. This tart features on the website under the name of ‘Italian rustic tart/pie’ and has a fancy lattice pattern on top. I modified the recipe to suit my needs, but if you want the lattice on top, then by all means do make it.

The filling is encased by a very cheesy crust, made with Parmigiano Reggiano. Please don’t get Parmesan cheese, that tastes nothing like the real thing. I chose a good mature cheddar for the filling, which marries the ricotta and the vegetables beautifully. I also added an egg to the filling to make it set more, you’ll see when you cut it that it is crumbly as it is already. Last note, I added some dried herbs, namely oregano and sage, to boost the earthy and rustic feeling of the tart – once again, if you have fresh herbs, then don’t be scared to use them. The quantities indicated below make enough pastry and filling to line two tins. Depending on how deep your tins are, I managed to make two tarts using a deep 20cm fluted tin and a 10x25cm rectangular fluted tin.

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Ingredients (for the cheese shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 400g plain flour
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 4-5 tbsp water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • 200g carrots, finely diced
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced
  • 350g asparagus
  • 400g ricotta
  • 100g mature cheddar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 100g black olives, drained and sliced
  • olive oil
  • pepper

Method

  1. To make the shortcrust pastry, tip the flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor and process until thoroughly blended and the consistency of bread crumbs. If you prefer, you can also do this by hand by rubbing the flour and cheese mixture into the butter. With the motor running, slowly start adding the water, one tablespoon at a time. Check your pastry before adding more as it will start to clump together when it’s ready.
  2. Tip it out of the food processor and gently knead for a couple of minutes to bring the whole pastry together. Shape in a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 1 hour to relax.
  3. In the meantime, start making the filling. Blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Slice in rounds, then set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  4. Ensure the courgettes and carrots are finely diced, then tip them in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and the garlic, then gently cook over a medium heat until still crunchy but slightly softened. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the peas and the asparagus, then season with pepper and some salt (be stingy with salt as there is more cheese coming later). Set aside.
  5. Drain the ricotta in a sieve to get rid of the excessive moisture. Dice the mature cheddar cheese finely, then add them to the ricotta together with the egg, herbs, milk, olive slices and some pepper. Mix together, then add to the cooled vegetable mixture.
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge, then roll out half to line a 20cm fluted tart tin. Make sure you push the pastry into the edges, then roll a rolling pin over the top to cut off the excessive pastry and use your fingers to push the pastry slightly above the edge of the tin. This way, when the pastry cooks, it will shrink back to the level of the tin and you won’t end up with no pastry left. Small note: I usually chill the pastry case for another 30 minutes once I rolled out the pastry and before I blind bake it. This ensures the pastry doesn’t shrink as much as you give the gluten in the pastry time to relax again in the oven.
  7. Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork, then blind bake it using the required beans/weighs for 20 minutes. Remove the beans/weighs and return to the oven for another 7 minutes, to cook the base.
  8. Spread enough filling into the pastry case to reach the edges, then bake for a further hour. Keep an eye on the tart and check it regularly to ensure the top is not burning. When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a serving dish.

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Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat

We Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a joy to watch, both for the eyes and the senses. The meekness of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, located somewhere in the Alps and ravaged by war and poverty, is set against the grandeur of the equally fictional Grand Budapest Hotel, the place to be if you had some cash back in the 1900s. The plot follows the misadventures of Gustave, the first ever concierge of the popular hotel, as he trains the future owner of the hotel, Zero, who starts his career as a bellboy. The cast is exceptional, with Ralph Fiennes playing the leading role and rendering a magnificent (and very camp) Monsieur Gustave. The film also features its own pastry, local pastry chef Mendel’s Courtesan au Chocolat which, much in the same way as the rest of movie, is the result of a very vivid imagination.

The dessert, which looks very similar to a religieuse, consists of three choux buns filled with chocolate pastry cream, decorated with pastel-coloured icing sugar and butter cream and topped with a coffee bean. If you are interested in what is claimed to be the original recipe, here is an article fully dedicated to it. It looks impressive and, believe me, it is. As complicated as it might look, however, it isn’t. Once you have made your choux buns and have filled them, it’s just a simple assembling job. The recipe below is my take on Mendel’s Courtesan. I started off by following the recipe in the article above, then decided to make it my own. The quantities below make 6 whole desserts, plus you’ll have extra choux buns in case some of them don’t come out as planned. The whole recipe takes about 2 hours to make (although I suggest you make the pastry cream the night before), so don’t panic and get baking!

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Ingredients (for the choux buns)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 175ml water
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the chocolate pastry cream)

  • 300ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 60g golden caster sugar
  • 25g dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp corn flour
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 sheet of gelatine

Ingredients (for the icing and butter icing)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar, for the butter icing
  • 2 tsp whole milk
  • 500ml double cream
  • 3 x 100g icing sugar, one for each colour + extra milk
  • violet, pink, green and blue food colouring

Method

  1. To make the choux buns, start by putting the water, salt and butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Melt the butter and bring to the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. It will look like a lumpy mess, but that is perfectly fine.
  2. Put the saucepan back over a low heat and slowly dry out the lump of pastry with a wooden spoon. Keep on cooking the pastry until it easily comes off the sides of the pan and it forms a cohesive lump of dough. Transfer to a big glass bowl and leave to cool slightly. Pre-heat the oven to 200C and line two baking trays.
  3. Once the dough has cooled to slightly below body temperature, start adding the eggs, beating them into the pastry one by one with a wooden spoon. Be confident the pastry will eventually come together and keep on beating with the spoon. The consistency you are looking for is soft but holding, so that if forms a beak when it falls off the spoon.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe mounds in three sizes. As a guide, the bigger ones should be about 5-6cm in diameter and about 3 in height, then you will need some medium ones and some small ones. Use all of the choux dough you have and remember you need at least 6 buns per size. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven, make a small indentation on the bottom of the choux buns with a sharp knife and put them back in for another 5 minutes to dry out. Leave to cool on the side.
  5. To make the chocolate pastry cream, slowly heat the milk in a saucepan with the dark chocolate pieces. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, flour, corn flour and cocoa powder until pale and frothy. When the milk has come to a boil, slowly pour it onto the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan, then heat over a medium heat to cook the flour off. Keep on whisking as the mixture will thicken very quickly.
  6. In the meantime, soak the gelatine leaf in a bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes, then add it to the cooked pastry cream. Whisk until smooth. At this point, you can also add liqueur or chocolate flavouring, if you like. Cover the pastry cream with a sheet of clingfilm and leave to cool completely on the side.
  7. To assemble the dessert, make some butter icing by mixing the softened butter with the icing sugar. Add the milk to soften the mixture, then beat until fluffy and pale. Divide the mixture in two, then add the blue food colouring to one half. Transfer the two mixtures, the white and the blue one, into two piping bags fitted with a small star nozzle.
  8. In three bowls, make the icing mixtures to decorate the choux buns. Mix each batch of icing sugar with 2-3 tsp milk and the pink, violet and green food colouring. You are aiming for a thick but glossy paste to cover the choux buns, but try not to make too liquid or it will run off the buns. Whip the double cream with 2 tbsp icing sugar and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle. Using a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle, pipe the chocolate pastry cream in the middle buns, then pipe the whipped cream in the big and small ones. Now you are ready to assemble.
  9. To assemble the courtesans, dip the biggest buns in the pink icing paste, the medium ones in the green one and the small ones in the violet mixture. Position the biggest choux buns on a serving plate, then pipe a small mound of plain butter icing on top. Place the medium choux bun onto the bigger one, using the butter icing to stick them together. Repeat by piping some more plain butter icing on top of the medium bun, then position the small one on top.
  10. Use the blue butter icing to cover the joints by piping small star-shaped collars all around the base of each bun, when it joins the following one. Pipe the remaining double cream in a star-shaped pattern at the base of the biggest choux bun. Leave to harden slightly, then serve and enjoy.

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Triple Layered Carrot Cake with Orange Cheese Frosting

Has it ever happened to you to see a recipe or a dish made somewhere, whether online, on TV or in a restaurant, and to desperately want to make it at home? Well, this is the story behind this recipe. Jo Pratt made it on Perfect… and it hit me immediately because, let’s be honest, it’s very impressive. A carrot cake on three layers of thick sponge with a creamy zesty filling and caramelised pecans on top? I’m very easy to convince. The thing is, it took me an entire afternoon scavenging the Internet to actually find the recipe. As always, I only vaguely remembered where and when I’d seen it and the world wide web is full of carrot cake recipes. Anyway, this is a very indulgent, spicy and comforting one, which promises to be a showstopper if you have people for dinner or simply as a centerpiece.

A couple of recommendations. First of all, grate your carrots by hand using a grater. I’m all for simplicity in the kitchen, but if you use a food processor it means you’ll have more washing up to do and your carrots will also end up being more damp and wet. Stick to the old method, trust me. Secondly, this recipe is highly customisable. In fact, the one below is not the original one you can find online. If you don’t like the caramel on top (my partner didn’t), then simply swap it for toasted pecans/walnuts/hazelnuts or choose a topping of your choice. You can also change the spices in the cake. My best friend will probably try and replicate this in Italy, where you can’t get allspice: you can use clove instead. Lastly, weigh your carrots before you peel them and average by excess. If you end up with more carrots than necessary it’s not the end of the world.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 300ml flavourless vegetable oil (sunflower, not olive oil)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 345 wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each of ground ginger, allspice and ground clove
  • 150g sultanas
  • 400g carrots, grated
  • 50g desiccated coconut

Ingredients (for the orange cheese frosting)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp orange essence or liqueur

Ingredients (for the pecan topping)

  • 100g pecans
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 75g caster sugar

Method

  1. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl or a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs, light brown sugar, golden syrup and oil together for a good 5 minutes on high speed, until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
  3. In a bowl, mix all of the other ingredients together. Once the egg and sugar mixture is ready, fold in the rest of the ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Don’t be over concerned about knocking the air out. The cake contains plenty of raising agents anyway and the sponges will turn out just fine.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly in the three tins, smooth out the top surface, then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check with a skewer for doneness before removing the sponges and allowing them to cool completely on a cake rack.
  5. While the sponges are cooling, make the caramelised pecans. Toss the nuts with the sugar and the allspice in a shallow non-stick pan, then place over high heat and cook, tossing frequently, until the sugar has caramelised. Tumble on a tray lined with oil baking parchment or a silicone mat, then leave to cool completely. When cold, use a knife to break the brittle into rough pieces.
  6. Wait until the sponges are ready to assemble to make the orange cheese frosting. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, add the softened butter, the cream cheese and the orange zest, then beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until creamy and combined. Add the icing sugar in two batches, mixing carefully on medium speed to incorporate it all. You can add the honey in between the two batches, but make sure you do add the orange essence or liqueur then. Give the mixture a final beating to make it into a smooth, creamy and fluffy icing.
  7. To assemble the cake, position the first of your sponges upside down on your cake board or serving platter, the cover the flat surface only with a third of the orange cheese frosting. Repeat with the two remaining sponges and the rest of the icing, then top with the caramelised pecans.

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