Raspberry and Chocolate Meringue Kisses

Wow, what a week this has been. I am known as someone very fiddly at times, who can hardly sit down and just do nothing. After all, my partner complains that I always wake up very early at weekends to do things. Truth is, I can’t just keep still. Anyway, this week came to climax with the latest YTI event, where we met some of the translation agencies working in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Very interesting, especially as each presentation was followed by Q&A session which provided plenty of useful pointers. As you might know, I am a practising translator and interpreter, so events like this really provide you with useful contacts and pointers. You might also be interested to know that, after a couple of weeks of real sunshine, the weather has now gone back to the bleak and grey British standard one. Very disappointing, it’s like we completely skipped summer and went straight for autumn.

Anyway, if you want to keep summer at your doorstep (or, rather, in your kitchen), please try these. Raspberries are not only used to sandwich the two halves, but are also used in the meringues themselves. The result is a chewier and more caramelised meringue, with plenty of flavour. Add chocolate, cream and more raspberries and you get a very summery dessert. The name is quite evocative, if you think about it. It makes me think of the Italian Baci di Dama biscuits. However, these are bigger and more satisfying, if you like meringues. Making meringues is not as fiddly as you might think. In fact, these are pretty straightforward. The recipe comes from one of my many Food & Travel magazines.

20140622_181050

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 200g raspberries, crushed to a coarse pulp with a fork
  • 175g dark chocolate
  • 500ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp amaretto
  • 1 tbsp cherry or raspberry liqueur

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Line two baking trays with baking parchment (or Silkopad mats, perfect for meringues).
  2. Whisk the egg whites in the squeaky clean bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and frothy. Slowly and gradually, add the caster sugar, whisking on high speed until it has dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and vinegar, then dust the cornflour onto the surface and add half of the crushed raspberries. Gently fold these ingredients in until fully combined, trying not to deflate the meringue.
  4. Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain round nozzle, then pipe 3-4cm peaked rounds onto the baking parchment. Bake for 1 hour, swapping the trays halfway through baking. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool in the oven for another hour, then remove and cool completely.
  5. While the meringues are cooling, chop up the chocolate very finely and place it into a heatproof bowl. Heat 250ml double cream in a saucepan, then take it off the heat before it reaches boiling point. Pour onto the chocolate, add the amaretto, let it stand for a good 3 minutes, then mix to combine. Place the chocolate ganache in the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes, mixing occasionally, until it has thickened. Transfer the ganache to a piping bag (no nozzle needed).
  6. Mix the remaining crushed raspberries with the cherry/raspberry liqueur. Whip the remaining cream, then gently fold in the berries. Also transfer to a piping bag.
  7. To assemble the kisses, pipe a layer of chocolate ganache onto the flat side of one half, followed by a layer of raspberry cream. Sandwich together with the other meringue half, then set aside. Place in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes, then serve.

20140622_181119

20140622_181057

Advertisement

Pork, Apricot and Pistachio Pies

Today marked the first days in weeks with a tiny bit of rain here in Leeds. One of my friends on Facebook even said today was the last day of summer and that the weather from now on would have been typically British. I hope she’s wrong. And not just because I want to enjoy more sunshine but, also, because otherwise when would you enjoy recipes such as the one below? If you’re planning a picnic, then this is the perfect stand-by recipe that will save your day. It only requires a handful of ingredients, you can use already made puff pastry (I did, shortcuts are allowed every now and then) and you get 12 lovely little pies out of one go.

Pork pies, as I am sure you will be aware, come in all shapes and sizes. Originally created in regions of the UK famous for rearing pigs, pork pies are supposed to be handmade, a bit wonky and very flavoursome. Don’t buy pork pies from the supermarkets, make them. The traditional pork pies are made with hot water crust pastry which, in my opinion, is the hardest to master. These use puff pastry instead, which provides a nice and crumbly factor to the outer crust. Also, if traditionally pies are filled with either minced or chopped pork and sealed with jelly, these contain minced pork, juicy apricots and crunchy pistachios. No jelly was harmed (or involved) during the making of these pies – I’m not a massive fan of jelly anyway! The recipe is adapted from the BBC Good Food magazine.

20140610_200223

Ingredients

  • 500g puff pastry
  • 450g pork mince
  • 100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 50g pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin quite generously or line with strips of baking parchment to facilitate removing the pies later on.
  2. Set aside a quarter of the pastry for the lid, then roll the remaining pastry on a lightly floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin. Cut out 12 x 12cm circles and use them to line the muffin tin holes. You might need to re-roll the pastry, just remember not to clump it together as you would do with shortcrust, but to layer the trimmings and roll them together to keep the layers intact. You’ll need the pastry to come higher than the edge of each tin hole.
  3. Roll out the quarter of pastry you set aside to the same thickness, then use a sharp knife to cut 0.5cm strips. Arrange these on a tray. Chill the cases and the strips while you prepare the filling.
  4. In a bowl, combine the pork mince, apricots, fennel seeds, nutmeg, pistachios and a lot of seasoning. Mix with your hands until fully combined.
  5. Remove the cases from the fridge, then use a spoon to pack the meat firmly into each tin case. Use the strips to create a lattice pattern on the top of each pie, press the strips onto the extra pastry hanging out of each tin, then use a cookie cutter slightly larger than the hole in the tin to cut the excess pastry off. Crimp by hand or with a fork. Chill again for another 15 minutes. In the meantime, place a flat baking tray in the oven to heat up.
  6. Remove the pies from the fridge and brush the pies with the egg, then place onto the heated baking tray. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. These are best enjoyed cold or at room temperature.

20140610_200156

20140610_200207

20140610_200144

20140610_182433

Raspberry Caramel Ombre Cake

In my book, summer = colour and fruit. You might have noticed quite a lot of fruit-related posts, recently. The thing is the sunshine and the delicate warmth on my skin reminds me of my childhood, when I used to go to the seaside. There, on the scorching beach, my grandma would give me the sweetest and juiciest apricots you will ever find. And yes, I can stipulate memories are more vivid in taste than actual reality. When basked in the light, all colours turns deeper and more intense, which is exactly why baking with fruit gives a visual pleasure as well, and not one to underestimate. After all, we eat first with our eyes and if they are happy, chances are our tummies won’t be disappointed.

This cake uses ombre icing, which I have dealt with before. If you want more background knowledge on the topic, go here. Being a caramel cake, it would be desirable to tinge your icing a light brown. If you, like me, don’t have such colouring paste and would like to avoid having to buy one just for the occasion, some yellow with a tiny bit of orange is also really good. Alternatively, you can leave it plain. The icing already contains some caramel, which lends it its toffee-like amber colour anyway. Use locally sourced raspberries, if you can. We all know the ones grown abroad don’t taste anything like the real thing because they have piled up mile after mile when being transported (which also increases their carbon footprint). As a rule of thumb, smell them. If you can smell the perfume of ripe berries, then go for them. Otherwise, use a different fruit (strawberries or blueberries would also be excellent in this). The recipe comes from the July issue of the BBC Good Food magazine (with a few amendments).

20140618_230250

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 400g unsalted butter, softened
  • 400g soft light brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 395g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 200g raspberries, washed
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the icing and filling)

  • 397g can caramel (Carnation is fine)
  • 300g full-fat cream cheese
  • 140g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 100g raspberries, washed
  • pink, yellow and orange food colouring

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Grease and line two deep 20cm cake tins with baking parchment.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt over high heat with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Add the flour and baking powder, vanilla bean paste and milk. Mix to combine, then use a spatula to gently fold in the raspberries.
  4. Divide the mixture between the two tins, spread it evenly and bake for 50-55 minutes. Check with a skewer the sponges are cooked through, then remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove from the tins.
  5. To make the icing, put 1 tbsp of the caramel in a large bowl with the cream cheese and butter, then mix well to combine. Slowly add the icing sugar in batches and mix that in. Be careful not to overmix the icing or it will go runny.
  6. When your cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to split each sponge in half, then set the first half on the cake board or platter. Spread about a third of the caramel on top, then dot some of the strawberries. Cover with another sponge and repeat the process until you have run out of caramel, sponges and raspberries.
  7. Using roughly a third of the icing, spread a thin layer all over the top and side of the cake. This will act as a crumb barrier and will avoid spoiling the icing later. Don’t worry too much about making it perfectly smooth. Put the iced cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  8. Divide the remaining icing in two, putting about a third in another bowl. Add the pink food colouring to the latter and tinge the icing a deep pink. Use the other food colouring to tinge the bigger batch of icing a golden caramel colour.
  9. Once the crumb layer has hardened a little, remove the cake from the fridge and use a palette knife to spread the pink icing on the side of the cake, reaching only halfway through to the top. Clean your palette knife and use the golden icing to cover the top and the remaining space on the sides of the cake, until it meets with the pink icing. The sides will look a bit weird at this stage, with a pink stripe at the bottom and a golden one at the top.
  10. Clean your palette knife once again and gently swipe the icing upwards, through the pink into the golden caramel one, in order to blend the colours together. You can mix it as much as you like. Smooth the top as well, if you want.
  11. Before serving, chill the cake for at least 30 minutes. This will harden the icing a little.

I am sorry there isn’t a picture of the sliced cake, but I gave this to my partner to take to work! That’s why I took my picture with the recipe in the magazine in the background, just to give you an idea.

20140618_230400

20140618_230309

20140618_230319

Swirly Vegetable Tart

I have seen this tart before on a couple of occasions, but I think I got the final push in making it from a couple of pictures posted on some Russian social media. There, it was referred to as ‘harmony’ vegetable pie or, maybe, using a similarly evocative and pompous name. Now, seeing as we are not in the 80’s anymore, disco balls are not the latest fad and fashionistas have (finally, I must say) given up on flared trousers, my version will simply be called swirly vegetable tart. That’s all it is, really, no bells and whistles. The hardest thing about this tart is arranging the slices of vegetables, the most satisfactory one – at least for me – was cutting through it, to see the even layers of colour. Pure bliss.

You will need vegetable which are roughly of the same size. This can prove difficult as sometimes you can only find tiny carrots and gargantuan courgettes. That said, anyway, some slices are bound to be thinner/larger than others, but simply because in order to obtain equal slices you would need to only use the core of, say, 10 carrots and just as many courgettes. A bit of a waste if you ask me. Use a vegetable peeler rather than attempting the slicing with a knife: not only is it faster and cleaner, but you will also get thinner slices and these will cook faster. The filling contains, guess what, Greek yogurt! I am so passionate about it I would eat it on its own. I believe it lends a certain acidity and tang to the final product, but if you’re feeling over-conscious or you don’t like the stuff, feel free to swap it for sour cream, double cream or cream cheese.

20140606_181746

Ingredients

  • 500g homemade shortcrust pastry
  • 2 large courgettes
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 5 large eggs
  • 100g Greek yogurt
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. My suggestion is that you start slicing the vegetables only once the tart crust is blind baking, otherwise they might dry out too much and won’t stick together when you try to layer them. Therefore, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Roll out to the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin, then use to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. Press with your fingers in the indentations to ensure the pastry falls into place, then run the rolling pin over the edge to remove the excess pastry. Use your fingers to gently ease the pastry slightly higher than the tin, then cover with clingfilm and chill for a good 30 minutes.
  3. Blind bake the pastry case with beans/rice/weights for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans/rice/weights and bake for another 15 minutes, until dry and crisp.
  4. In the meantime, use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons from the carrots and courgettes, then set them aside. You don’t have to keep on working on one side only, feel free to turn your vegetable as you are peeling. In the case of the courgettes, this will ensure there are slices with plenty of green on.
  5. When the pastry case is ready, start laying the vegetable slices inside and vertically, leaning them on the pastry case. Needless to say, it’s easier if you build them towards the centre. It will take a while and it might look like you’re building layer after layer and not going anywhere, but stick with it. If you run out of vegetable slices when you reach the middle of the pastry case, use peppers or some herbs to decorate the hole.
  6. In a jug or a bowl, mix the eggs with the Greek yogurt and some seasoning, then gently pour onto the tart, ensuring the egg mixture fills all of the gaps in between the vegetable slices and evens out on the top. Bake the tart for 40 minutes, until golden on top. Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature, then enjoy!

20140606_182042

20140606_181758

Mango Cheesecake

This is a cheesecake of the non-bake variety. As you might know, I’m not a big fan of the thing but, were I asked to choose between a baked and a non-bake cheesecake, I would probably opt for the first. It is hard work and sometimes it involves a water bath, but the satisfaction and creaminess is second to none. Non-bake cheesecakes, however, have their advantages. First of all, no baking or cooking is involved at all (apart from melting the gelatine and the butter) and they can happily set during the night in the fridge, while you attend to more important business (i.e. sleeping).

This recipe also comes from the latest issue of the Yummy Magazine and, as usual, I have amended it to suit my taste. I didn’t want the cheesecake to be too sweet and it needed to be creamy enough, so I have reduced the amount of sugar required and increased the Greek yogurt instead. When it comes to the latter, I will never tire of saying that you need a very firm one. Not only does it account for a better texture in the end, but it also tastes better and is better suited to final result which need a firmer stand. Use ripe mangoes for this recipe, this will ensure they taste better and have a deeper colour. If you buy them unripe, just put them on your windowsill next to some bananas and they will be ready in less than a day.

20140608_135629

Ingredients (for the cheesecake)

  • 180g digestive biscuits
  • 80g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 ripe mangoes
  • 2 limes
  • 4 gelatine leaves
  • 300g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 200g Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar

Ingredients (for the mango sauce)

  • 1 ripe mango
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

Method

  1. Line the bottom and the sides of a 20cm sprinform tin with clingfilm (or baking parchment, if you prefer).
  2. Put the biscuit in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin (or your fists, it is a very good workout) until they are fine crumbs. Add to the melted butter and stir to combine. Press the now wet sand-like mixture into the bottom of the springform tin, making sure to distribute the biscuit crumbs in an even layer. Chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
  3. In the meantime, soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water.
  4. Peel and stone the mangoes, then whizz them in a food processor with the juice of the limes and the sugar until thoroughly combined and creamy. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and Greek yogurt. Mix well to obtain a smooth consistency, then add the processed mango.
  5. In a small saucepan, gently heat 4 tablespoons of water, then remove the gelatine, squeeze out the excess water and the leaves to the hot pan. Mix well to combine, then pour in the cheesecake mixture. Mix well.
  6. Pour the cheesecake mix onto the chilled biscuit base, then use a spatula to ensure the top is smooth. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours (or overnight).
  7. To make the mango sauce, peel and stone the mango, then process it with the lime juice and the sugar. Decant to a small jug and drizzle the slices of cheesecake before serving them. Enjoy!

20140608_135648

20140608_135704

Sachertorte Cookies

If you were wondering what had happened to me, I do apologise. Last week was the real week from hell, where I had to juggle so many things I have no idea how I managed to make it until Sunday. And yes, for once Sunday was an actual day of rest, much to my partner’s surprise. Usually you would find me buzzing around the kitchen or the flat, or maybe pushing my partner out of bed to go somewhere. This time, I just wanted to chill out. This week looks like it might be slightly quieter, which is good as I can resume my gym duties. Last week was also the last time this year (I think) I was summoned at the University to mark some of the interpreting exams. A pleasure and an extremely interesting experience, as usual, it proved to be the perfect even to bring some of these wonderful cookies.

In case you’re not a big fan of cakes or you don’t feel confident enough to bake one, this recipe is perfect for you. You can get (more or less) the same flavour of a big Sachertorte in a tiny mouthful. This cookie has crunch, provided by the biscuit base, topped by a soft and gooey heart (the apricot jam), encased by a crisp and melt-in-the-mouth chocolate layer. One bite and you will be converted. The recipe comes from one of my many Italian baking books, called The Tastiest Biscuits in the World – a promise just from the name. You don’t have to go all bakery like me and try and make these of the same size or use a piping bag to distribute the jam. I believe homemade if the way to go, I just can’t help to use some of the tools I have in the kitchen!

20140604_075052

Ingredients

  • 300g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 160g apricot jam
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened (for the glaze)

Method

  1. Line two to three baking trays with parchment, then set aside.
  2. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, then beat with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then beat briefly until incorporated.
  3. Pour in the dry ingredients (flour, salt and cocoa powder), then mix briefly until the mixture comes together. It shouldn’t be either too sticky or too hard.
  4. Transfer the bowl onto your working surface, then use your hands to take walnut-sized amounts of the dough. Roll them between your hands to make them into a ball, then place them slightly apart onto the baking sheet and press your finger into the middle to make an indentation. If you suffer from a (completely made up and very) mild form of OCD like I do, you can use a measuring spoon to make the balls all equal. I used a 1/2 tablespoon measuring spoon.
  5. Put the trays in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  6. Bake each batch for 15 minutes or until slightly hard to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. Transfer the apricot jam to a piping bag, then snip off the end. You can do this with a couple of teaspoons, but I would make a mess. Fill the indentation in each cookie with the jam, then set aside. You should have enough to fill them all.
  8. In the meantime, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then set aside to cool slightly. The chocolate shouldn’t be too fluid or it will run away when drizzled. Once ready, use a tablespoon to drizzle some of the chocolate on the cookies. Make a criss-cross pattern if you want, but any way is fine. The aim is to encase the apricot jam in a layer of chocolate, so try and not to overdo it! Leave to cool and harden, then enjoy!

20140604_075128

20140604_075121

20140604_075019

Courgette & Cheese Cupcakes

Sometimes, I believe making a bit of effort to present your own food makes all the difference. Look at these, for instance They are simply cheesy courgette cupcakes, but the decoration, I think, makes them look like something you would find in a top-class bakery. And yet, these are dead easy to make. Spoiler alert: the recipe was inspired by that featured in a past issue of the Yummy Magazine, although I have completely changed all of the quantities and added some stuff, so this is my version – the original recipe did not even feature courgettes in the cupcakes, which I thought was a massive mistake. Mint and courgette (especially together with feta) are a match which simply works. If you’re not a big fan of mint, then try and substitute it with basil, although you will loose the freshness and the bite provided by the mint.

This is a very original idea for canapes to serve before a meal. As you can see from the pictures, I served these alongside some sandwiches and some stuffed cherry tomatoes and, needless to say, they went down a storm. I also like the fact you can make extremely tasty entrees without resorting to the classic (and stodgy) sausage rolls. And let’s not forget these are vegetarian friendly! In the recipe, I used rapeseed oil as I believe that provides an extra golden hue I love, but feel free to use any vegetable oil instead. Don’t even think of using extra virgin here – the heat of the oven would destroy its flavour.

20140607_175509

Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 100ml sour cream
  • 60g Gruyere, grated
  • 125g grated courgettes
  • 50g feta, cut into very small cubes
  • 1 tsp dried mint

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 100g full-fat cream cheese
  • 100ml double cream
  • fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 courgette, boiled until tender

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin with some butter, then set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the cupcakes by try not to overmix (use a spatula or a spoon instead).
  3. Spoon into the muffin tin and fill the holes about 3/4 to the top. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and springy. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
  4. To decorate the cupcakes, run a small knife around the sides of each hole to remove the cupcakes.
  5. In a bowl, whisk the cream cheese and double cream. You won’t need to do this for a long time as the cheese will make the cream whip faster. Try not to overwhip the mixture, you are looking for a smooth and soft consistency. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then pipe a small dollop on each cupcake.
  6. Decorate with half a slice of the boiled courgette and a mint leaf (optional). Enjoy!

20140607_175446

20140607_175440

20140607_175432