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.

IMAG1519

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!

IMAG1520

IMAG1525

Advertisement

Summer Berries and Custard Tart

In case you hadn’t noticed, summer has begun! And yes, you would be excused for not realising seeing as I am currently writing this blog post in my flat and when I cast my gaze outside the weather is simply horrible. Truth be told, we had some nice weather recently, although I keep on repeating myself I shouldn’t be expecting too much from the North of the UK. Anyway, despite the weather and what not, we should still celebrate the beginning of summer. In my opinion, nothing beats a dessert with an abundance of sweet and ripe berries.

This recipe is freely inspired from one which appeared in a summer issue of the Feel Good Good magazine. I like keeping old magazines, I stack them on my shelves in chronological order (I have a bit of an OCD, I’ll have you know) and use them as reference material when I am stuck for ideas or need pointers to prepare my weekly shopping list. I used blueberries and raspberries in this tart, but you can swap these for any other berries you might like. Also, I kept the custard quite plain, but you could look into flavouring it with lemon, orange… you get the gist. This tart is best served slightly chilled, so the custard will not risk oozing out everywhere.

IMAG1269

Ingredients (for the sweet shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tbsp cold water

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 35g custard powder (or cornflour/flour)
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 300ml full fat milk
  • 200ml double cream

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 250g blueberries
  • 150g raspberries
  • 2 tbsp berry jam (I used cherry and berries)
  • 1/2 lemon, zest only
  • some mint leaves (optional)

Method

  1. Start by making the pastry. You can do this in a food processor, but for such a small amount I usually tend to avoid using the heavy machinery and rely on my hands and a glass bowl. Pour in the flour, icing sugar, salt and butter, then use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour mixture, stopping only when you get to a sandy consistency and the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
  2. Pour in the yolk mixture, keeping about 1 tsp back. Use a knife to move the mixture around and start to combine it, then use your hands to bring the pastry together. Only add the remaining yolk and water mixture if the pastry looks too wet. Use the pastry block to clean the bowl and soak up all of the crumbs, then shape into a flat square (easier to roll if using a long rectangular tin like I did), wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, move on to the custard. In a saucepan over a medium heat, mix the milk with the vanilla bean paste, then bring to a gentle simmer. In a glass bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder (or cornstarch/flour). Whisk these ingredients together until the mixture is free of lumps, then remove the milk from the heat and gently pour into the yolk mixture, stirring constantly.
  4. Pour the liquid custard back into the pan and place it over a medium-to-low heat, stirring constantly. Use a balloon whisk or a wooden spoon to judge the consistency of the custard – it is ready when it easily covers the back of a spoon and it has thickened considerably. Pour into a heatproof bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool before putting it into the fridge to set completely.
  5. Back to the pastry. Remove it from the fridge and unwrap it. Dust your surface and rolling pin with some flour, then roll the pastry out to a large rectangle to match the tin (mine is 9.5 x 32cm). Gently lift the pastry and lay it in the fluted tin, pressing it down to make it adhere to the case. Trim the excess pastry with a knife, then go around the edge and gently press the pastry upwards to make it fall into place, keep the fluted edge and make the pastry stretch a little above the edges. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
  6. Once the time has elapsed, preheat the oven to 160°C and place a flat baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up. Remove the pastry case from the fridge, use a fork to prick the base at regular intervals, then line the inside of the tin with baking parchment and cover with baking beans, pressing them down and ensuring they cover the whole surface evenly. Blind bake the pastry case for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans and baking parchment and bake for another 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and feels cooked to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  7. To finish the custard, remove it from the fridge. Whip the cream to soft peaks in another bowl, then gently fold it in the custard, mixing well to ensure there are no lumps. Put the mixture back in the fridge until it is time to use it.
  8. To assemble the tart, pour the custard mixture into the pastry case until it fills it completely. Wash the berries, then scatter them on top the way you prefer. Warm the chosen jam in a small saucepan until it becomes liquid, then drizzle it on top. I like to fill any raspberries too. Scatter with the lemon zest and arrange the mint leaves on top. For an extra touch of sweetness, you could also dust the tart with some icing sugar (optional). Enjoy!

IMAG1271

IMAG1268

IMAG1272

Semi Tropeziennes with Orange Custard and Strawberries

Today please allow me to take you to France, as French is the inspiration behind this dessert – at least on paper. This recipe comes from Amuse Bouche, a wonderful French baking blog I regularly follow and turn to for new ideas. In all frankness, if her recipe already couldn’t be called a ‘Tropezienne’, I’m guessing my even less canonical version is something purists would turn up their noses to. By definition, a ‘Tarte Tropezienne’ is a soft and indulgent brioche bun topped with sugar crystals and encasing a mixture of two creams (crème patissière and French butter cream). As is usually the case, the French are very proud of the origin of this dessert. You can read all about it on the Tarte Tropezienne’s official website.

I decided to tweak the original recipe a little bit: I changed the amount of flour used in the brioche dough and added some orange zest to it, modified the custard recipe by using some citrus zest and changed the fruit to strawberries. Also, somewhat unorthodoxly, I opted for custard powder in the custard as opposed to plain cornflour. You see, I think custard powder lends a golden yellow hue to the finished product which I really love and, despite trying more than once, I am still to achieve the same intense colour by using just cornflour. As for the strawberries, use small ones. I was lucky enough to find them in one of my local shops. However, any small berry would do, really, although maybe opt for a red one wherever possible to keep the dramatic contrast with the golden brioche and filling.

IMAG1128

Ingredients (for 6 small brioche buns)

  • 125ml whole milk
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 375g strong bread flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • zest of 1 1/2 oranges
  • demerara sugar, to sprinkle on top (optional)
  • milk, to brush on top

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 300ml whole milk
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 tbsp custard powder
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 250g mini strawberries, washed and hulled
  • icing sugar (optional)

Method

  1. To make the brioche dough, scald the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat, but don’t let it come to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In a glass/small bowl, combine the yeast with a teaspoon of the golden caster sugar. Transfer the flour, salt, egg, remaining sugar, zest and butter in the bowl of a freestanding food mixer.
  2. Add 4 tbsp of the warm milk to the yeast and sugar mixture, then allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the mixture is frothy. Add this and the remaining milk to the rest of the ingredients, then use the hook attachment to combine them until they form a soft and pliable dough which comes away from the sides of the bowl. Shape the dough to a ball, then transfer it to a large oiled/buttered bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  3. In the meantime, make the custard. Add the lemon and orange zest to the milk, then pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium heat. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, custard powder and sugar. It will be a fairly stiff mixture, but don’t worry. Add some of the warmed milk to loosen it up, then slowly pour in the remaining hot milk over the egg mixture, whisking constantly to ensure there are no lumps. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and put it back on the hob, whisking constantly. Don’t be tempted to increase the heat or it might scramble the eggs. The custard powder will stabilize the mixture but it will also thicken it quite quickly, so ensure you keep on whisking or you will end up with large lumps.
  4. Once the mixture has thickened enough to easily cover the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and add the butter (cubed), whisking constantly to melt it. Transfer the custard to a shallow bowl, cover with clingfilm to avoid creating a skin on top and allow to cool before transferring to the fridge to set completely.
  5. Once the brioche dough has proven, remove from the bowl and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Shape into a long log, then cut into 6 equal pieces (8 is also possible, but they’ll end up being very small). To shape each brioche bun, use your hands as if they were small cages, gently press them on the brioche buns and roll them around to ensure they are perfectly smooth and have no bumps. Gently transfer to 2 lined trays (3 each), ensuring the brioches have enough room to expand during proving and baking. Cover with oiled clingfilm and allow to prove for another hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly brush the risen buns with some milk, sprinkle with the demerara sugar (optional), then bake the brioche for 20 minutes or until hollow to the sound when tapped underneath. Allow to cool completely before you proceed with the next step.
  7. To assemble the semi Tropeziennes, use a serrated knife to cut each bun in half horizontally, then arrange the mini straberries on the cut side so that they are equally spaced and there is some room in between them. Transfer the custard to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe some custard in the gaps between the mini strawberries and put a large dollop in the middle. Arrange the remaining brioche half on top, dust liberally with icing sugar and serve. Enjoy!

IMAG1127

IMAG1130

Pistachio Blood Orange Baklava Cake

Recently, I have become slightly obsessed with pistachios. I am not sure whether it’s because of their glorious green hue and the vibrancy they add to any bake or whether it’s just a fad, but I find myself using them more and more. That’s how I came across this cake, which I found on Instagram – the original recipe can be found here. As it happens, more or less at the same time I finally managed to get my hands on some blood oranges, which I had been looking for. They remind me of when I was a child and we used to find them very easily in supermarkets. Their deep orange/red flesh is also a very welcome change to the usual lighter oranges you tend to find in the UK, not to mention they have a slightly richer flavour, which I really like.

Therefore, I decided to combine it all into one (massive) dessert. Needless to say, I had no idea it was going to be the biggest cake I had ever baked. And still, it is delicious. I also like the gem-like drops of ruby red on the top, which really add to the overall colour scheme of the cake. You will also find that the cake, weirdly enough, does not contain any flour. Rather, the bulk is provided by breadcrumbs. If this sounds too odd and exotic for you, then feel free to substitute with an equal amount of flour, wholemeal preferably. The process to make this cake may sound very long and complicated, but believe me it is perfectly manageable, provided you are somewhat good at multitasking. Otherwise, don’t worry and take your time, it will still be delicious!

IMAG0690

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 360g panko breadcrumbs
  • 260g roasted pistachios
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (freshly grated) nutmeg
  • 8 large eggs
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 226g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Ingredients (for the blood orange syrup)

  • 5 blood oranges, zest and juice
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 2 large oranges, juice only

Ingredients (for the baklava layers)

  • 150g unsalted butter, melted (you might need more)
  • 3 x packets of 6 filo pastry sheets
  • 100g pistachios, roasted and ground

Ingredient (to decorate the cake)

  • 200g pistachios, finely ground

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line the base and grease the sides of 2 x 20cm cake tins. Ensure the tins are quite tall on the sides or the cake will overflow.
  2. In a food processor, add the panko crumbs, pistachios, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg, then process until finely ground. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer, add the eggs and the sugar, then whisk on high speed until the mixture has at least doubled in volume and falls back on itself by creating a ribbon when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the ground nut mixture and the melted butter. Do not overbeat the mixture or you will deflate it.
  4. Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins, then bake for 25-30 minutes. Check whether the cakes are cooked through by inserting a skewer in the middle and ensuring it comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely. Leave the oven on.
  5. To make the baklava layers, use a 20cm round cake tin base as a template to cut the filo layers into circles. You will need 2 x 8 layers for each baklava ‘cake’, so 32 in total.
  6. Line the inside of a 20cm cake tin with some baking parchment, then start assembling the baklava layer. Place a sheet of filo in the tin, then gently and liberally brush with butter. Top with another layer of filo and brush with butter again, repeating until you have used 8 circles of filo pastry. Brush the 8th layer with butter too, then sprinkle a good amount of the ground pistachios, enough to cover the pastry sheet. Repeat the process by covering with a circle of filo, brushing with butter, etc. You will need to add 8 more layers. As before, brush the top (16th) layer with butter too, then only gently sprinkle with pistachios. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the baklava is golden brown on the top and cooked all the way through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Repeat the whole process one more time to create another 16-layer baklava.
  7. To make the blood orange syrup, pour the blood orange juice (only) and sugar into a saucepan, then add the zest and honey. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then gently simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the mixture has a syrup-like consistency. Remove from the heat, pour into a jug through a strainer (to get rid of the zest) and add the rosewater. Leave to cool completely.
  8. To assemble the cakes, brush the two thick layers with the juice from the two large oranges, making sure the cake absorbs the juice. Then, place the ground pistachios into a large tray and flatten out to an even layer. Brush the cake layers with the blood orange syrup, making sure the sides are also generously covered. Holding the cake sponges vertically, gently roll them into the ground pistachios to cover the sides, then lay them flat onto a cake stand/board/plate.
  9. Top with the least attractive of the baklava layers, then generously drizzle with the blood orange syrup. Repeat the same process with the second sponge and baklava layer, then gently sprinkle the whole cake with the remaining ground pistachio.
  10. This is completely optional, but you could also use the pastry scraps to create small triangles to put on the top. Just brush them with butter, sprinkle them with pistachios and bake for 25 minutes until golden, then place on top of the last baklava layer, drizzle with the syrup and sprinkle with pistachios. Enjoy!

IMAG0695

IMAG0693

IMAG0696

White Chocolate and Persimmon Tarts

Persimmons are also called Sharon fruit and they have a slightly honeyed and sweet taste. Their texture can vary from very firm (similar to an apple) to very soft, depending on how ripe they are. On top of being very flavoursome, they contain a good amount of beta carotene, vitamin C and potassium – an all round good fruit, as you can see. I remember my dad eating them when I was a kid. He would scoop them out from their skins with a spoon and eat the slightly stringy and supple flesh. I never really understood their charm until I found a feature on them in the BBC Food magazine, which is where the recipe below comes from (although slightly amended).

If you follow this blog, then you’ll also know I am very partial to pastry. In order to make these (I got at least 12 out of the quantities below), you’ll need small tart tins. However, if you don’t have them, don’t worry, just line a big tart tin instead. You will need to bake the custard for longer, then you can still decorate the top with persimmon slices. I kept the pastry very thin because I don’t like filling my mouth with pastry and compromising on the filling, but I shall leave that decision to you. Please allow plenty of chilling time in between baking the pastry to ensure it doesn’t shrink in the oven.

IMAG0622

Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 150g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-2 tbsp icy cold water
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 400ml double cream
  • 300g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 large eggs

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 75ml water
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 persimmons, finely sliced
  • 3 tbsp pistachios, finely chopped

Method

  1. You can make the pastry by hand or in a food processor. If you opt for the latter, just whiz the dry ingredients with the butter first until you get a sandy consistency, then add the egg and the water (if necessary) and pulse until the pastry comes together. If you are doing it by hand, like I did, put the dry ingredients in a large bowl and combine, then add the chilled and cubed butter and use your fingertips to mix it in the dry mixture until you have a sandy consistency. Crack the egg in and use a round bladed knife to mix that in, adding the water 1 teaspoon at a time to ensure the pastry comes together but is not too wet. Tumble on a work surface and briefly knead the pastry, shape it into a ball and wrap it in clingfilm. Gently squash the pastry and transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.
  2. Roll out the pastry to the thickness of slightly less than a pound coin, then line the small tart tins. I only have 4 so had to do this in batches. Trim the edges with a sharp knife, then gently press the edges of the pastry upwards so as to make it adhere to the fluted indentations on the sides. Prick the base with a fork, then chill the pastry cases in their tins for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C and place a baking sheet to warm up.
  3. Line the inside of the pastry cases with baking parchment, then fill with baking beans. Blind bake the pastry cases for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 5 minutes, until fully cooked. Set aside to cool completely and repeat with the remaining pastry until you have 12 pastry shells.
  4. To make the filling, pour the cream into a saucepan and heat it up until boiling point. Place the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl, then pour the hot cream onto it and stir to dissolve. Add the vanilla bean paste and leave aside to cool slightly. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  5. Add the eggs to the cream and chocolate mixture, then pour into a big jug (it will make your life easier when you need to fill the pastry cases). Lay the pastry cases onto a baking tray, then fill with the chocolate custard but leave approximately 5mm at the top. Bake for 11 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.
  6. To prepare the topping, melt the sugar and vanilla bean paste in the water in a saucepan over high heat, then bring to the boil and let it bubble for 5 minutes until the mixture is syrupy. In the meantime, lay the persimmon slices onto silicon mats or baking parchment, then remove the hot syrup from the heat and use a pastry brush to gently coat the fruit slices. Allow to cool completely.
  7. To assemble the tarts, delicately place a glazed persimmon slice onto each tart, then sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Enjoy!

IMAG0625

IMAG0624

IMAG0626

 

Smoky Pea, Cheese and Prosciutto Quiche

I love it when I manage to source Italian ingredients from my local supermarkets. Although I normally shop at Morrison’s (mostly because it is the biggest in town), I sometimes like to browse the shelves at M&S for new and intriguing ingredients. Don’t ask me why, but they seem to very interested in widening the range of food they have on offer. Also, they import quite a lot from Italy. True, the majority of the food you find there is overpriced (£6 for 100g of Gianduiotti, seriously?!?) and please be aware most of these goods are specifically packaged and manufactured for exporting purposes. That said, they seem to be pretty much on the ball in terms of sourcing new ingredients, such as new varieties of oranges, etc.

It was in one of my latest trips to this wonderland that I found a close equivalent to speck. I have talked about this ingredient in previous posts, mostly complaining because I could not find it here. Well, now I can (happy me!). True, it is called ‘smoked prosciutto’ and it’s not the original one, but being as close as it gets, that will do. This is a recipe which I improvised to make good use of it – and what better way than to use it in a quiche? The traditional Quiche Lorraine, after all, also includes lardons, so why not stay more or less on the same theme? I added peas and smoked cheese because I think they work well together, but asparagus or cherry tomatoes would also taste nice.

IMAG0549

Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, fridge-cold
  • 50g lard, fridge cold
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks (keep one of the whites)
  • 200ml double cream
  • 100ml creme fraiche
  • 2 x 83g smoked prosciutto packets
  • 50g smoked cheese, finely grated
  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry, put the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Cube the fat (butter and lard) and add it to the flour mixture, then use your fingertips to rub the fat into the flour until you get a breadcrumb consistency. Don’t overwork the fact or the pastry will be tough, but don’t leave big lumps of fat in the mixture either.
  2. Now add the water. I normally add 4 tbsp icy cold water to the mixture and it works fine every time, but start with 3 and take it from there. Use a round bladed knife to mix the water into the flour mixture and to bring the mixture together. Switch to your hand to briefly work the pastry into a big ball. You are looking for the pastry to be fairly dry and not excessively wet.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, gently press it down so it turns into a rough square and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. After this time has elapsed, remove the pastry from the fridge and use a rolling pin slightly dusted in flour to roll out the pastry on your work surface. Please ensure to lightly flour the rolling pin and the work surface. Don’t flour the pastry or you’ll compromise the balance between flour, fat and water. Roll out the pastry to a round big enough to line a 20cm fluted round tart tin. Gently press the pastry in place and ensure it closely adheres to the fluted edges, then use a knife or run your rolling pin onto the tin to cut the excess pastry overhanging. Working with your fingers, gently press the pastry upwards on the fluted edge so that the pastry comes approximately 2-3mm over the edge of the tin. This way, when you bake it, the pastry has room to shrink.
  5. Prick the tart base with a fork, then chill the pastry case for at least 30 minutes to relax the pastry.
  6. Move on to the filling. If you’re using frozen peas, gently poach them in simmering salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside. In a large frying pan set over high heat, fry approximately half the smoked prosciutto slices until crisp, then set aside to cool. Chop then finely, then combine with the peas and the grated cheese. In a bowl, mix the eggs, egg yolks, double cream and creme fraiche with a pinch of salt and pepper. Go easy with the salt as the prosciutto and the cheese are already quite salted. Combine with the peas, cheese and chopped prosciutto, then set aside.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Slide a flat baking tray in the oven to warm up. Line the pastry case with baking parchment, then fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, then bake for another 10 minutes until the base is fully cooked.
  8. Use a pastry brush to lightly cover the cooked base of the pastry with the egg white, then return to the oven for 3 minutes to cook. This layer will make the pastry waterproof, ensure you get a nice crispy bottom and insulate the pastry from the wet filling.
  9. Lower the oven temperature to 180C. Remove the cooked base from the oven and arrange half of the uncooked slices of smoked prosciutto on the bottom so that they evenly cover it. Pour in the filling, then arrange the remaining slices on top in a pattern you fancy. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown on top and fully cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before removing from the tart case. Slice and enjoy!

IMAG0548

IMAG0550

IMAG0547

Cream and Praline Choux with Blueberry Swirl

Christmas is in what, 2 days? And although I do have some Christmas recipes to share, I decided to first give you this one, which I am particularly proud of. But before I proceed, please allow me to apologise for my long absence – I now realise it has been over a month. Work at university has kept me busy enough and, although I carried on baking and cooking as usual, I really didn’t have the strength or the time to sit down at my computer and type away. Also, what with a Christmas party to organise, cookies to bake for my partner (so that he could give them to his bosses at work) and more festive fun to be had, writing about baking after having baked the whole day didn’t appear as appealing as you could imagine.

I made these for my Christmas party last Friday and I took inspiration from this picture. I loved the lilac swirl on these perfect choux buns and I believe the blueberry complements the whole creation beautifully. Despite looking complicated, these are by no means difficult to pull off, provided you follow the instructions below. I decided to personalise the pastry cream filling with some ground hazelnuts and crushed amaretti biscuits, but you could as well leave it plain (or use liqueur). Also, I used gelatine to set the pastry cream and make it more suitable for piping. If you’re allergic, you could just cook your pastry cream for longer and make it thicker.

IMAG0494

Ingredients (for the choux buns)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 175ml water
  • 75g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs

Ingredients (for the craquelin)

  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the pastry cream)

  • 350ml whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tsp cornflour/custard powder
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 gelatine sheets
  • 75g hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and ground to a fine paste
  • 5 crunchy amaretti biscuits, crushed

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 350ml double cream
  • 175g blueberry jam
  • 50g blueberries

Method

  1. Start by making the craquelin. This is a sugary paste which, once positioned onto the choux buns before baking, ensures an equal rise and a sugary crunchy crust. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), beat the softened butter until creamy, then add the other ingredients and combine until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. Turn off the mixer (or stop beating with a wooden spoon) and use your hands to bring the mixture together to a cohesive ball.
  2. Lay a sheet of baking parchment onto your work surface, position the craquelin ball on it, then cover with another sheet of baking parchment and use a rolling pin to flatten the paste to the thickness of half a pound coin (approximately 3mm). Remove the top parchment, then use a 3cm round cookie cutter to stamp as many circles as you can onto the paste sheet and press enough to make sure the small ‘cookies’ are well indented. Cover again with the top parchment, transfer onto a flat baking sheet and put in the freezer to harden for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Next, make the pastry cream. Heat up the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean paste and soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water. In the meantime, combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour (or custard powder if you want to make it more yellow) in a big bowl and whisk together to combine until light and paler in colour. Don’t boil the milk, but take it to a gentle simmer, then slowly pour it into the egg mixture while whisking all the time to avoid scrambling the eggs. Pour the whole mixture back into the pan and place on a medium-to-low hob, stirring constantly, until thickened. You want the pastry cream to cover the back of the spoon and leave a trail when whisked/mixed in the saucepan. Don’t be tempted to increase the temperature or you will scramble the eggs.
  4. Once your custard is made, transfer to a bowl/shallow baking dish. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove the excess water, then whisk those in, followed by the room temperature butter, until fully dissolved. Press a sheet of clingfilm onto the top of the custard and leave to cool at room temperature before transferring to the fridge to cool completely.
  5. To make the choux pastry, heat the water and the butter in a saucepan. Again, just until simmering point and just long enough to melt the butter. Take the pan off the heat, then add the salt and the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine and get rid of all of the lumps, then put back onto the heat. The mixture will look curdled and one big lumpy mess, but that is fine. Beat it with the spoon for about 2-3 minutes. This will ensure the pastry is dried out and absorbs the eggs later. To check your pastry is of the right consistency, try tilting your pan as if you were to ‘pour’ the pastry out. If the pastry sticks together in a big lump, then it’s ready. Transfer to a big bowl and spread it out with the spoon, then leave to cool.
  6. Heat the oven to 200C and line two small trays or one big one with parchment.
  7. You don’t want to add the eggs until the pastry has cooled to at least body temperature, otherwise they will scramble. Keep the eggs in a jug/bowl and lightly whisk/beat them together. Keep your wooden spoon at hand and start adding the beaten egg little by little (here’s why a small jug is handy), then beat the mixture together until fully combined. The pastry will look like it’s breaking into small lumps at first, but don’t give up and carry on. You will see the pastry gets slightly slacker with each egg addition. Keep on adding a little bit of the egg at a time and fully mixing that in before adding some more (you might not need to use it all) until the pastry becomes a shiny dough that just falls off the spoon when slightly shaken. Some French pastry chefs say to spoon some pastry and tilt the spoon towards the bowl: if the pastry/dough falls into the bowl and leaves a triangle-shaped trail onto the spoon, then it’s ready. Others say to check whether the spoon leaves a trail in the dough while mixing. I honestly use the triangle method. I also find it’s better to have the pastry slightly on the dry side, otherwise if it’s too wet the choux buns will flatten during baking.
  8. Transfer the choux pastry to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe 3cm blobs onto the baking sheet(s). I managed to get exactly 13 on each small tray. Make sure you leave plenty of room in between the choux mounds as they will rise during baking. Remove the craquelin sheet from the freezer and gently peel off the small discs, then place one on top of each choux mound and gently press them in place. Bake the choux buns for a good 30 minutes and NEVER open the oven, otherwise you will deflate the buns. The choux buns need to be slightly dark in colour and should not have light or pale cracks/wrinkles on them.
  9. Remove the choux buns from the oven and leave them to cool slightly. I normally sacrifice one by cutting it in half and checking it is well baked inside – if it’s not, they go back in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool completely.
  10. Gently heat the blueberry jam in a small saucepan until melted, then press through a sieve to get rid of any bits/seeds. Allow the sieved jam to cool completely.
  11. Whip the double cream until soft peaks from. Don’t overwhip it or it will be very hard to pipe and it won’t look as nice. Mix half of the whipped cream with the pastry cream (which should have completely set), then add the ground hazelnuts and crushed amaretti biscuits. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a big plain nozzle. Mix the remaining cream with the now cooled blueberry jam, which will tinge the cream a lovely lilac, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
  12. To assemble the cakes, take the choux buns and use a serrated knife to cut a 3cm round hole at the top, through the craquelin. Discard the tops you have removed. Pipe the pastry cream inside each choux bun, right until the top. Now take the lilac cream and pipe a nice swirl on top of each filled choux bun, then place a blueberry in the middle. Serve and enjoy!

IMAG0496

 

IMAG0495

Russian Salad Cups

In Russia, they prepare a wonderful starter called ‘Olivier salad’ (Салат Оливье), which comprises many ingredients, but is usually made up of diced boiled eggs, carrots, potatoes, chicken/ham, olives and dressed with mayonnaise. In Italy, this is obviously known as a ‘Russian salad’ (insalata russa), although it does appear that the original recipe might in fact have been French. Without going into too much controversy here (especially now, when the geopolitical situation in Europe and the ties with Russia are not exactly the friendliest of all times), let me just tell you that a good Oliver salad is a dish from heaven. Although typically served as a starter, I could eat easily this by the tablespoon as a main as well. I remember, when I used to live in Kaliningrad, eating tonnes of it. Good times.

Anyway, reminiscence over, I also wanted to tell you I got a new book while I was in Italy. It’s called Piccola pasticceria salata (Small savoury pastries) by Luca Montersino, a world-renowned pastry chef who is extremely famous in my home country for his innovative take on sweet (and savoury) dishes.  The book is a real compendium of flavours and experiments, which I always admire in the kitchen. One of his ideas was to give a new spin to this classical dish by making small bite-sized portions and topping them with a chicken and prawn nugget. Even though I have amended the original recipe to suit my taste and equipment, these are simply divine. A must try.

IMAG0011[2]

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g carrots (1 small carrot)
  • 100g potatoes (1/2 medium potato)
  • 60g frozen peas
  • 50g tinned tuna (1/2 tin)
  • 30g gherkins (approx. 6 small ones)
  • 80g mayonnaise
  • 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Ingredients (for the nuggets)

  • 150g cooked prawns, deveined and tail removed
  • 80g chicken breast
  • 80g breadcrumbs
  • 30g egg white (more or less the egg white of a large egg)
  • salt and pepper

Ingredients

  • 250g shortcrust pastry
  • 80g mayonnaise, to assemble

Method

  1. First of all, you need to make your shortcrust cups. I used this 24-hole morsel set, which gives me 2.5cm pastry cups. Broadly speaking, you need to blind bake your cups and let them cool completely before you fill them, so please ensure the base is crispy. Lay each tin hole with a disc of pastry slightly larger than the hole, in order to ensure the pastry covers all the way to the edge of the tin. Line with baking parchment or foil, fill with baking beans, then bake in a 180C oven for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, then bake for another 7-10 minutes until crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  2. To make the filling, peel the carrot and potato, then dice them very finely. You are free to adapt the size of the diced vegetable to the size of your cups. With mine being very small, I wanted them to be very finely chopped so as to be sure they would fit inside the pastry cups. Add the chopped carrot and potato to a pan of boiling water, then blanch for about 3-4 minutes, until the vegetables are just starting to cook. Add the peas, cook for a further 2 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water (or, even better, add to a bowl with iced water to stop the cooking). Drain and set aside.
  3. Finely dice the gherkins and the tuna as well, then add to a bowl together with the boiled vegetables, the mayonnaise, the Worcestershire sauce and some seasoning. Mix to combine, then set aside.
  4. To make the nuggets, add all of the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until the mixture holds together and is thoroughly minced. Shape the mixture into small balls/nuggets (mine were more or less the size of a hazelnut), then fry in very hot oil until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper, then get ready to assemble.
  5. To assemble the tartlets, fill the cups with the Olivier salad until the top. Do not overfill them or you won’t be able to position the nugget on top. In a bowl, mix the reserved mayonnaise with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe a small ring of mayonnaise on the top of each tartlet, then position a nugget on top. Best served at room temperature.

IMAG0013[1]

IMAG0012[1]

IMAG0010[1]

Fraisier Cake

In French, ‘fraise’ means ‘strawberry’. That said, this is probably the only thing we know for sure about this cake – and the fact it is delicious, ça va sans dire. Its origin, unlike many classical pastries and cakes, is very much shrouded in mystery. You will come across several variations on the subjects which are not just limited to the overall shape (round, square or rectangular), but also to the number of sponge layers and to the decoration on the top. There are, however, some features which need to be present in a Fraisier cake. First of all, the sponge layers are made of a very light génoise, which is not your conventional Victoria sponge but, rather, a much lighter and fluffier sponge. Then, the filling needs to be crème mousseline, a very thick and buttery pastry cream. Last but not least, there needs to be some marzipan somewhere.

The version below is the same one as made on the GBBO by Mary Berry. I chose it because I had always wanted to give it a try and it is easier than you might think. Just some advice: the cream for the filling really needs to be thick as it will hold the strawberries and sponges together. Therefore, ensure you cook it long enough and that the custard is quite thick (but not lumpy) when you are making it. Choose some strawberries which are more or less of the same height, otherwise you will end up with a wonky cake. Not nice. Contrary to what you might think (or what the recipe says), you don’t need acetate to compose the cake. I used some baking parchment and the result was just as good. Final word of advice: please ensure your cake is thoroughly chilled – best overnight – before unmoulding it.

20140710_175626

Ingredients (for the génoise sponge)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted but cooled

Ingredients (for the crème mousseline)

  • 600ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 4 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
  • 180g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp brandy/kirsch
  • 100g cornflour
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed

Ingredients (for the lemon syrup)

  • 75g caster sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

Ingredients (to assemble)

  • about 600g medium strawberries
  • 200g marzipan (white or yellow)
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted over bain marie

Method

  1. Roll the marzipan out onto a worktop slightly dusted with icing sugar, then use the bottom of a 23cm springform tin to cut a circle. Slide onto a baking tray and chill until needed. Grease and line the tin with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. First things first, start with the génoise sponge. There are two ways to do this. Traditionally, a génoise sponge is whisked over a pan of simmering water to help the eggs become more voluminous. However, if you are using a freestanding mixer (KitchenAid or Kenwood), you can simply beat them on very high speed on there and you will get the same effect. Choose what suits you better depending on the equipment you have:
    • If you are doing it with a freestanding mixer (my choice), put the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the machine and whisk over high speed for a good 5 minutes, until the mixture is pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, stop the machine and lift the whisk attachment from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8.
    • If you are doing it without a freestanding mixer, put the eggs and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (but don’t let the water touch the base of the bowl!). Using a hand-held mixer, whisk the mixture until pale, light, fluffy and has at least doubled in volume. To check that the mixture is at the right stage, lift the beaters from the bowl. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon-like way and you should be able to write a figure of 8. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture has cooled down to room temperature.
  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Sift 2/3 of the flour over the egg mixture, then gently fold in with a rubber spatula or a big metal spoon. You don’t want to add all of the flour at the same time because you risk forming flour pockets. Adding it little by little ensures an even distribution within the sponge. Add the remaining flour and also fold in, ensuring you scrape the bottom of the bowl. Trickle in the melted butter and gently fold in that too. Try and beat the mixture as little as possible to avoid deflating it. I had to make my sponge all over again because my first génoise was very flat.
  4. Gently transfer the sponge mixture to the prepared tin. If you notice any flour pockets while pouring the mixture, quickly fold that in with the spatula/spoon. Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale golden and the sponge shrinks away from the sides. Set aside to cool in the tin while you carry on with the custard. Once completely cooled, remove the sponge from the tin and wash the latter.
  5. Now, on to the crème mousseline. Bring the milk and the vanilla bean paste (but you can also use a vanilla pod) to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In the meantime, combine the sugar and cornflour in a large bowl, then whisk briefly to combine. This ensures the cornflour won’t go lumpy. Add the eggs and egg yolk, then whisk to combine. Set the bowl over a towel (to avoid it wobbling), then gently trickle the milk while gently whisking. Transfer the whole mixture back to the saucepan you have used to warm the milk and put over medium heat. Keep on whisking/stirring to avoid it going lumpy and/or sticking to the bottom. Cook until very thick (it could take up to 10-15 minutes), then remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Add the liqueur. Transfer to a shallow dish and cover with clingfilm to avoid a skin forming on top. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
  6. To make the lemon syrup, put the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, then heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. Cut about 12 strawberries in halves (but prepare some more just to be on the safe side), then cut the remaining one in quarters but keep some for the decoration on top.
  7. When you are ready to assemble the cake, gently oil the sides of the springform tin and line with baking parchment (alternatively, you can use an acetate strip). Slice the cake in half horizontally to make two thin even discs. Set one sponge directly cut side up on the bottom of the tin, then brush liberally with the lemon syrup. Arrange the halved strawberries cut side outwards onto the sponge disc and ensure the pointed end is on top. Try to squeeze them as tightly close as possible.
  8. Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe a spiral over the sponge base in the tin to cover it completely. Pipe between the strawberries to fill in all of the gaps. Spread the quartered strawberries over the crème mousseline, then pipe another spiral of crème on top of the berries and use a palette knife to smooth it.
  9. Set the other sponge disc on top (cut side down), then brush with the rest of the lemon syrup. Gently press the sponge layer down onto the crème so that the assembled cake is firmly pressed against the sides of the tin. Retrieve the marzipan disc from the fridge and lay on top of the cake, then chill the whole thing for at least 6 hours, better overnight.
  10. To decorate the top, melt the chocolate over bain marie. I used a mixture of white and dark chocolate, but you can choose to opt for one or the other. When melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and allow to cool, then transfer to a piping bag with a plain tip. Onto a sheet of baking parchment, pipe some chocolate decorations, then transfer to the fridge to firm up.
  11. Once the cake has thoroughly been chilled, remove it from the fridge and gently ease it out of the tin. Remove the baking parchment, then transfer it onto a serving platter/cake stand. Arrange the chocolate decorations and the remaining strawberries on top, then serve straight away. If you’re not eating it until later, keep the cake chilled. Enjoy!

20140710_175603

20140710_175637

20140710_175615

Roasted Ratatouille and Goat’s Cheese Tart

In my opinion, there are three main qualities to a good shortcrust pastry case: it needs to be crisp, dry and flaky. The so-called soggy bottoms are, obviously, something which is neither pleasant to the eye nor the taste. Think about it. Would you rather eat a good tart with a crumbly base or a soggy, wet and unappetizing one? I think we can all imagine what the answer would be. Over time, I have tried many different shortcrust recipes and I can finally say I have found my favourite one. Traditionally, shortcrust is made with an equal quantity of butter and lard, which lends itself to a very crisp and crumbly crust. I use all butter. It saves me having to buy an extra ingredient and the result I get is crisp and dry enough for my taste. I will share the recipe below and this is a seasoned one. It comes from a 1980s baking cookbook!

Tarts are more or less like pizza. You have the same base (crust) and you can personalize them how you want them. This is a very simple way to have your kids eat vegetables, because the cheese and the cream take the edge off the ‘all veggies’ taste. All in all, however, it is a vegetable tart, so please ensure you use the best quality ingredients for maximum flavour. The goat’s cheese is not fundamental, roasting the vegetables is. Tomatoes, especially, are full of water and juices and you need to shed some of them (put them through a bikini diet if you wish), otherwise you will end up with a soggy bottom or a tart case overflowing with water. Also make sure you season well both the vegetables and the cream filling.

20140702_183257

Ingredients (for the shortcrust pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 4 tbsp icy cold water

Ingredients (for the tart filling)

  • 1 aubergine, cut into small chunks
  • 1 courgette, thickly sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 250g cherry tomatoes on the vine
  • 300ml double cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • approximately 10-15 basil leaves
  • 150g hard goat’s cheese

Method

  1. As promised, we start with the pastry. Put the flour, salt and cold butter in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, crush the butter and mix it with the flour. Mix the flour every once in a while to evenly distribute the butter. You are aiming for a sand-like consistency and there shouldn’t be any bigger butter lumps left in the bowl.
  2. Next, pour in 3 tbsp icy cold water and initially use a butter knife to mix that in, then switch to your hand. Try to use as few movements as possible and gather the pastry together in the bowl. If the pastry is too dry, slowly add the remaining water, little by little, then mix together. If the pastry is too wet (shouldn’t be the case), add a tiny bit of flour and mix that in too. Just to make things clear, you are aiming for a slightly dry consistency. This is not a bread dough, the drier it is, the shorter and crumblier the end result will be. Keep on mixing the pastry in the bowl and use it to wipe the bowl clean. Another good tip if you realise you need some more water – but you are afraid you might add too much – is to wet your hand under cold running water, then shake the excess water off it and use that hand to mix the pastry.
  3. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and leave to cool and relax in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  4. In the meantime, get started on the filling. Heat the oven to 200C.
  5. Toss the vegetables (minus the tomatoes) together with some olive oil and some seasoning, then tumble onto a large baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes. Toss through the tomatoes, then roast for another 20 minutes, until nicely cooked. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 190C and place a flat baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  7. Now, you might need to wait to do the step before because I usually roll out the pastry, line the tin, trim the excess off, then I chill it for at least another 30 minutes before baking. That said, you could potentially prepare the pastry in advance, so let’s carry on.
  8. Prick the base of the tart with a fork, then line with baking parchment and pour some baking beans on top. Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and the baking parchment and return to the oven for another 15 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
  9. Reduce the oven to 160C, then prepare the filling by squeezing the garlic from their skins into a jug. Add some salt and use a fork to mash it and make a paste out of it. Add the cream and eggs, then briefly whisk together. Season with pepper.
  10. Put about 2/3 of the vegetables in the cooked tart case and mix in the basil leaves. Pour over the cream filling, then top with the remaining vegetables and grate the cheese on top of the tart. Bake for a further 40-50 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven, let it cool slightly, then unmould and serve. Enjoy!

20140702_183305

20140702_183356