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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Chocolate Mousse Cake (GF)

I made this back in December for my Christmas party, but I somehow forgot to post about it. I don’t necessarily think you can only make this at Christmas. Yes, it’s a stunning centrepiece and during the holidays we tend to exaggerate a little bit, but I feel you don’t need a special occasion and that every day is fit for chocolate cake. Despite looking rather impressive, this mousse cake is quite easy to whip up (and quite literally too). The mousse itself does not contain gelatine but sets thanks to the cocoa solids in the chocolate. I have to say I was a little bit skeptical at first, but it works. If you want to, you can add some gelatine just to be sure, otherwise the cake will hold even 3 hours after it has been taken out of the fridge. Quite amazing if you ask me.

The raspberries on the top are not compulsory and you could just serve the cake on its own. However, I agree you need a touch of colour on top of such a big mountain of chocolate, and what’s more festive than some red berries? As for the golden sparkle… well, I think you can really go all out under Christmas, don’t you think? The recipe is Mary Berry’s, so it’s foolproof, but I have made it gluten-free by substituting the plain flour with half the amount of gluten-free flour and adding some ground almonds to give it body. I have left the brandy out, however, as I feel you don’t necessarily need it. The ground almonds make the sponge very moist already.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50g gluten-free plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the mousse & decoration)

  • 300g dark chocolate (no more than 50% cocoa solids)
  • 450ml double cream
  • 225g fresh raspberries
  • edible glitter (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm round srpingform tin and line the bottom and the sides with baking parchment. Leave some extra paper hanging over the top because the cake tin will be filled with the mousse.
  2. To make the chocolate cake, measure the cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk together until it forms a thick paste. Add the rest of the dry ingredients followed by the eggs and butter, then beat well with an electric whisk to combine.
  3. Smooth the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  4. To prepare the mousse, start by roughly breaking up the chocolate and putting it in a large bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water. Ensure the bowl doesn’t touch the water or your chocolate may seize. gently melt the chocolate by stirring it frequently, then set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In another bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form, then gently fold in the chocolate until no streaks are left and you have a homogeneous mixture.
  6. When the cake has cooled (and while it is still in the tin), gently pour the chocolate mousse over the cake and use a palette knife to level the top. Cover the cake with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set (best done overnight).
  7. To decorate the cake, gently peel off the parchment from the sides of the cake once you have removed the outer ring of the tin, then carefully remove the round of baking parchment under the cake, slide the whole dessert onto a serving platter and decorate with raspberries and/or glitter. Enjoy!

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Fennel Ratatouille

Winter has been particularly cold this year. Despite the heating being on full, I still find myself desperately wanting soothing and comforting food which can warm your cockles, and nothing beats a good bowl of ratatouille. This French vegetable stew (which comes in many shapes and sizes) is mostly prepared in autumn when vegetables are plentiful and cheap. However, I feel the same could apply to winter. Feel free to play with the recipe and add whatever you have knocking about in the kitchen: carrots, potatoes, celery, turnips and even pulses such as chickpeas all make for wonderful additions.

I found this version with fennel here and I thought it would be a good alternative to the classic recipe. If you are not keen on the liquorice-like flavour of fennel, then leave it out (alongside the dill) and it will be just as amazing. When it comes to the passata, please choose a plain and chunky one, there’s no need to go for the one with basil, garlic or the like and you are never quite sure what it actually contains. Finally, I served this with a nice and soft rye bread I made on the day, but please feel free to have any kind of crusty bread (a good rustic bloomer would be perfect) to complement this heavenly and oh so good dish.

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Ingredients

  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 large red peppers
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 1kg courgettes
  • 2 onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 x 400g chopped tinned tomatoes
  • 600ml tomato passata
  • chopped fresh dill (optional)
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Start by prepping the vegetables. Cut the aubergines in approximately 3cm chunks, then set aside. Slice the courgettes in thick rounds and put in a bowl. Remove the stems and the core from the fennel bulbs, then slice roughly and add to the courgettes. Peel, halve and finely slice the onions, then roughly chop the garlic.
  2. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, then tumble in the aubergine cubes and fry until golden, turning occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a plate lined with kitchen paper, then set aside.
  3. Add some more oil, then fry the peppers for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl.
  4. Add some more oil and pan fry the courgette rounds and the fennel slices for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and add to the peppers.
  5. Drizzle some more olive oil in the same pan and add the onions over a medium to low heat, gently sweating them for about 10 minutes, until they turn a nice golden brown. Add the garlic and fry for another 3 minutes, then return all of the vegetables to the pan (ensure it is big enough), add the tinned tomatoes, the passata, some seasoning and gently simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes, stirring now and then. Stir in the chopped dill (if using), add some more seasoning (if needed) and serve alongside some crusty bread. Enjoy!

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Pear and Pecan Cake (GF, Vegan)

Who said a vegan and gluten-free cake cannot be beautiful and flavoursome at the same time? True, if you come from a Victoria sponge cake-like mentality, like me, picturing something which doesn’t include flour, butter and eggs and expecting it to deliver on different levels might be a bit of a stretch, but believe me, this cake does it. I was a bit skeptical at first, mostly because I tend to find gluten-free cakes are slightly crumblier than their traditional counterparts. Needless to say, it is the gluten which keeps them together and lends softness and the traditional spongy structure to the cake. Once you remove that, your cake might end up being slightly on the crumblier and drier side.

Or so I thought. Using nuts in the sponge is a perfect way to counteract the lack of eggs and butter. Nuts are rich in natural oils and they add extra depth of flavour, which clearly gives you an advantage straight away. As for the pears on top, I would suggest going for a pink or more colourful variety, but simply because I like my food to be very colourful and I feel this cake can be perceived and very autumnal with its brown shades. Even so, it’s delicious, so I very much suggest you give it a try.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 100g pecan nuts
  • 200g gluten free plain flour
  • 115g granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 200ml gluten-free soya milk
  • 75ml rapeseed oil
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 2 unwaxed pears, halved, cored and sliced
  • 25g caster sugar
  • juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 25g vegan and gluten-free margarine
  • 25g pecan nut halves

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 23cm round, springform cake tin with gluten-free and vegan margarine.
  2. Divide the 100g pecan nuts in two equal portions. Chop one portion very finely (no need to use a food processor for this) and put them in the prepared cake tin, then tip it so that the chopped nuts stick to the greased base and sides of the tin. Tip any spare nuts out into a bowl.
  3. Put the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir together. Chop the remaining pecans roughly and stir them into the dry ingredients alongside any of the leftover finely chopped pecans.
  4. Put the soya milk into a measuring jug and add the oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and quickly mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin completely before turning it out.
  6. To make the topping, place the pears in the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon juice, then dot with margarine. Bake for 30 minutes at the same temperature as before (ensure you have left your oven on), basting every 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
  7. Decorate the cake by overlapping the pear slices in a circle around the edge and then fill the gap in the centre with the pecan halves. Enjoy!

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