Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

Happy 2016, people! I really hope this turns out to be a very good one. Judging from the first few weeks, you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to think so, but here’s hoping! A lot has happened over the last few weeks, most notably I went back home to Italy for the Christmas/New Year holidays. It was great to be back and to pretty much devote my entire time to stuffing my face with great food and doing very little else. I also took advantage of my traveller’s nature to visit a few new places (Turin, just to name one) and to try the local cuisine in Venice.

Next week I will be in London for work. Needless to say, I will take advantage of my convenient location to try out a few places, namely Honey & Co. and Jose Pizarro‘s tapas restaurant. I cannot emphasise enough how obsessed I am at the moment with Middle Eastern cuisine. After having tried a few recipes off Persiana, Sabrina Ghayour’s latest book, I finally landed on Honey & Co.’s baking book, a true revelation. Below you will find my twist on their recipe for gooey and soft chocolate and pistachio cookies, although I strongly suggest you give their other creations I go!

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Ingredients

  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 55g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g light brown soft sugar
  • 65g strong bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • about 150g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Make sure the water in the pan is gently simmering or the chocolate may seize and become grainy. Once melted, remove from the double boiler and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In the meantime, whisk the eggs and the light brown soft sugar together in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. You want the mixture to double in volume and to fall back on itself like a ribbon when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a rubber spatula.
  3. In a bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients, then gently fold in the mixture and combine until there are no flour streaks visible. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes or until you can easily handle the mixture. You could also refrigerate it, but you may need to bring it back to to room temperature if you cool it too much.
  4. Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Pour the roughly chopped pistachios in a shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  5. Divide the cookie dough into 12 and, using your hands, roll the pieces into balls, then drop them into the chopped pistachios and gently roll them around until they are completely covered. Arrange them on the prepared baking trays, allowing plenty of space in between for the cookies to expand while baking. Repeat until you have used all of the mixture.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes in the centre of the oven (you may need to do one tray at a time), so that they firm up on the edges but stay nice and chewy in the middle. Remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before attempting to lift the cookies. Enjoy!

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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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Basil and Chocolate Cake

There seem to be plenty of cakes on my blog recently. And yes, that is pretty much a faithful representation of my baking efforts, at least when I am stressed. In my opinion, there is nothing more soothing and relaxing than baking, assembling and eating a moist slice of cake. Few other things even come close and, frankly, very few beat it (pasta and chocolate are very close contenders). Quite recently, I had a very fun baking session with one of my friends, Valentina, who came round to make gluten- and lactose-free pizza. I might have to give that one a second go as the person it was originally intended for was actually ill the following day, so Vale probably had to eat it all. It came out very nice, though!

For one reason or the other, I ended up with a small pot of basil. If you know me, you might remember I had tried to keep one of these small plants a while back, which didn’t end well (for the basil). Therefore, why not make the most of it while it lasted? I decided to remake my basil butter cream. It received mixed reviews last time, but I thought that pairing it up with a dark and moist chocolate cake was probably a better option. And yes, it was. May I present you a 4-tiered chocolate cake with alternating chocolate ganache and basil butter cream, all topped by more of that green pale icing and some aptly positioned basil leaves?

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Ingredients (for the chocolate cake)

  • 227g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 118g cocoa powder
  • 473ml water, recently boiled from a kettle
  • 344g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (for the sugar syrup)

  • 236ml water
  • 200g caster sugar

Ingredients (for the basil butter cream)

  • 355ml whole milk
  • 75ml double cream
  • about 100g fresh basil leaves
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 40g plain flour
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • green food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 150ml double cream
  • 75g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 75g milk chocolate

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • a few basil leaves

Method

  1. If you can, start with the basil butter cream the day before. Heat the milk and double cream in a saucepan, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and tumble in the basil leaves. Decant to a glass bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool completely. Transfer to the fridge and leave to infuse for a few hours (but best overnight).
  2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two tall 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl, then whisk together until fully combined.
  4. Pour the cocoa powder into a jug, then add the water and whisk until fully combined and there are no big cocoa lumps. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream your butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 10 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add your eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the sides to ensure the mixture is fully combined.
  6. Now start adding the dry ingredients and the warm cocoa mixture alternatively, making sure not to overbeat the mixture or the cake will be tough. Divide your batter evenly between the two cake tins, then bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, testing the cakes for doneness with a skewer. If it comes out clean, they are ready.
  7. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before unmoulding from the tins.
  8. Make the sugar syrup. Pour the sugar and water in a saucepan, then heat and mix until fully dissolved. No need to bring this to the boil. Decant to a jug/tall glass and allow to cool completely before using.
  9. To continue with the butter cream, strain the infused milk and cream into a saucepan, squeezing the basil leaves to extract as much juice as possible. Add the flour and sugar, then mix well to combine. Cook over a medium heat, mixing regularly, until the mixture has thickened to cover the back of a spoon and there are no more lumps. Pour into a shallow dish, cover the surface with clingfilm and allow to cool completely.
  10. Once the ‘basil custard’ has cooled, transfer it to the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the food colouring, if using, then slowly add the room temperature butter in small pieces, mixing well after each addition to ensure there are no lumps. If the butter cream does not whip up, transfer to the fridge for a few minutes, then carry on beating it. Continue until you have added all of the butter and the butter cream is light and fluffy (and pale green).
  11. To make the chocolate ganache, roughly chop the chocolate in small chunks, then transfer to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it reaches simmering point, then pour onto the chocolate and mix well to combine. Set aside and allow to cool to firm up to a spreading consistency.
  12. Remove the cakes from the tins, then slice them in half using a serrated knife (for a total of 4 sponges). Soak the sponges in the sugar syrup and use a pastry brush to liberally spread it on the surface of the cakes. Set aside to allow the sugar syrup to soak in before you move on to the following stage. You will have some leftover syrup.
  13. Start by placing one chocolate sponge on your cake board/platter, then place half of the chocolate ganache onto it and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Top with a second chocolate sponge layer, then place a big dollop of the basil butter cream on top and use a spatula to spread that around in an even layer. Continue with the third and fourth chocolate sponge layer, then use the remaining butter cream to cover the top and the sides of the cake. If you want, you can apply a crumb coat first, have that firm up, then continue with the remaining butter cream. I personally did not deem that necessary. Also, I thought a few chocolate crumbs make the cake look quite rustic, so why not. Use a big spatula to smooth the top and sides of the cake, then create some waves in the butter cream on the top of the cake. Top with the basil leaves, serve and enjoy!

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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.

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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!

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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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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Sour Cream Frosting

As terrible as it may sound (I can already see the expression of pure horror depicted on your faces), this is actually a recipe derived and passed down from the time when nations were at war, food supplies were scarce and people had to be inventive. If we don’t consider the commercial recipes readily available on our supermarket shelves, mayonnaise mostly comprises egg yolks and oil, which provide the necessary fats to this cake without having to use any added butter. And yes, while it’s extremely easy to simply grab a jar of mayonnaise, if you want to be perfectly sure your cake doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals or unwanted salt/vinegar/pepper (you name it, it’s probably there), then you should make your own mayonnaise.

That said, a commercial variety would do just fine. This recipe comes from the Serious Eats food blog, which in turn derived the sour cream frosting from another blog. I have amended the frosting recipe anyway, but what follows is merely the translation (from US measurements) of the above recipe. This cake is moist, soft and crumbly and will keep for quite a long time without drying out. The frosting is rich and luscious and, contrary to what you might think, is really tastes of chocolate and is not excessively sweet.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 3 large eggs
  • 340g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 90g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 315ml recently boiled water
  • 312ml mayonnaise

Ingredients (for the frosting)

  • 430g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp espresso coffee
  • 560ml sour cream, at room temperature
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150ml golden syrup
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract

Method

  1. Start by greasing and lining the bottom of 2 x 20cm deep cake pans with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk on high speed for at least 5 minutes until the mixture is pale, foamy and has doubled in volume.
  3. Switch the attachment to the palette/leaf one, add the mayonnaise and vanilla extract and combine thoroughly.
  4. In a bowl, sift the flour, raising agents, cocoa powder and salt, then add it to the wet ingredients. Combine thoroughly on low speed, scraping the bottom of the bowl from time to time. The mixture will be fudgy and rich at this point.
  5. Last, slowly pour in the water with the motor running and ensure the mixture is evenly combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to disperse the ingredients. The mixture will be very runny, but this is normal.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the two tins and bake for about 30 minutes. Check with a skewer the sponges are cooked through, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the frosting, melt the chocolate and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a gentle heat, then add the espresso, whisk together and set aside to cool slightly.
  8. In a bowl, combine the sour cream, chocolate extract and golden syrup, then add to the melted chocolate (now at room temperature) and gently whisk to combine. The frosting will turn a lighter shade of brown and will be very soft and whipped.
  9. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. This will slightly harden the frosting and make it easier to spread. If the icing gets too hard, remove from the fridge and leave at room temperature to soften again.
  10. To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled sponges onto the plate/serving dish of your choice, then spread approximately one third of the frosting on top, making sure to get right to the edges. Dollop another third of the icing on top and spread that evenly, then gently ease the remaining frosting around the sides and spread using a palette knife to ensure a smooth finish. I have decorated the cake on top by scraping the icing in a whirlwind-like pattern and placing a chocolate in the middle, but you can choose to keep the cake very plain.
  11. Just a suggestion: this cake is delicious with a cup of fruit tea and some cream poured on top. Enjoy!

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Passion Fruit and Chocolate Layer Cake

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

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

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Ingredients (for the cake)

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

Ingredients (for the butter icing)

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

Method

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

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Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat

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

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

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Ingredients (for the choux buns)

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

Ingredients (for the chocolate pastry cream)

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

Ingredients (for the icing and butter icing)

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

Method

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

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Red Velvet Melting Moments

I have to be honest with you: there’s not much red going on in these and neither is there any velvet. The recipe is from Edd Kimber, the first winner of the GBBO series, who states he decided to combine two of the main classics: melting moments and red velvet. The thing is, these remind me more of whoopie pies and, as I said at the beginning, the red hue does not come through once baked, possibly because these are too dark. That said, they are very nice and I have had quite the positive feedback from these, including my hairdresser, who is usually subjected to pictures of my creations but had never got a chance to taste them herself.

The decoration on top is highly optional. I do like the ridges as they add an extra dimension and I had eyed this type of cookies a while ago, so wanted to give them a try. The filling is a standard cream cheese one, but feel free to use your favourite butter icing recipe instead or substitute that for an equal amount of jam, for instance. The original recipe also called for lemon extract in the filling, but I decided to ditch that and keep it nice and simple instead. A gentle dust of icing sugar at the end would probably increase the dramatic effect.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • red food colouring
  • 225g plain flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 30g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the cream cheese frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 50g full-fat cream cheese

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment.
  2. To make the dough, put the butter and vanilla into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then beat on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add enough colouring to tinge it a deep red, then sift the remaining biscuit ingredients into the bowl and mix until it comes together to form an uniform dough. Add the milk if you see the mixture is too dry.
  3. Using your hands, roll the dough into small balls (even number!) and place them onto the prepared baking trays, leaving some space in between them. Dip a fork in plain flour, shake the excess off, then press it lightly onto each of the biscuits, leaving an indent and pressing the biscuits a little flatter.
  4. Transfer the trays to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I like to give them an extra 5 minutes in the freezer right before I bake them.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
  6. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the filling, cream the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until just combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then pipe a good dollop onto half of the biscuits and sandwich with the remaining ones.

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Chocolate Layer Cake

The umpteenth chocolate cake, I know. But what can you do? Chocolate has such a soothing appeal to it, when I see a new way of using it, I’m all over it. I had planned to make this as we were supposed to have my partner’s nephew round for dinner. When that plan fell through as he had a football match the following day, I still decided to make it. A chocolate cake is the perfect ending to a busy week, especially if it’s a very rich one. Also, please use good quality chocolate, both white and dark. It makes a real difference to the cake and I found cheaper ones do not blend well with the cake mixture.

The sponges contain chocolate and the ganache is, well, a chocolate one. As if that wasn’t enough, I topped the cake with some chocolate Maltesers! The original recipe asked for white ones (and they would, indeed, provide for a more dramatic effect), but as I couldn’t find them, I settled down for standard dark ones. You could, however, prefer to use different candies or, in fact, omit them altogether. The cake is very rich as it is, you might want to keep the calories within a reasonable limit – not that this has ever bothered me. Also, the original recipe stated to halve both sponges, but I preferred to keep the dark chocolate one as a big lump because I thought it came out a bit on the thin side.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 175g golden sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 195g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp very strong coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the decoration and the ganache)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 50g white chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 small bag of Maltesers, to decorate

Method

  1. Separately melt the white and the dark chocolate for the cake mixture in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Once both mixtures are fluid, set them apart.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line and grease two 20cm sandwich tins.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat on high speed until fluffy and creamy. Slowly add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl. Finally add the flour, baking powder and the milk and beat until you get an even mixture.
  4. Divide the mixture into two. Add the dark chocolate and the coffee to one and the white chocolate and vanilla extract to the other. Fold the extra ingredients in with ample and gentle movements, then tip each mixture into a cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until fully cooked. Check with a skewer if the sponges are done, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the chocolate ganache. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat until small bubbles start appearing on the surface, then remove from the heat and tumble the finely chopped chocolate in. Swirl the pan to roughly mix the cream and the chocolate, then let it stand for a couple of minutes before finally combining the mixture with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency. This might take a while, so you could also put it in the fridge, but keep on stirring and checking the mixture every 5 minutes to avoid it seizing or becoming too hard.
  6. On a work surface, cut the vanilla and white chocolate sponge in half, then set one of the two halves upside down on a cake stand. Top with about a third of the dark chocolate ganache, then cover with the chocolate sponge. Spread the second third of the ganache on top, then top with the last vanilla sponge and use the remaining ganache to cover the top of the cake.
  7. Transfer the melted white chocolate to a piping bag, then use it to zigzag it the top of the cake. Be creative and use as much as you want, then top with the Maltesers or your favourite candies/chocolates. Enjoy!

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