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

Galettes Bretonnes

Sometimes, when I feel like pottering away in the kitchen but making a whole cake sounds like a gargantuan challenge (not to mention most of the times there is already one staring back at me on the window sill), I prefer to make something quick, easy and intriguing. Biscuits or brownies are my choice of preference and these make no exception. In French, ‘galette’ has a plethora of meanings. To quote Monique from Miel & Ricotta,

‘Galette’ is the fourth most popular word in French. Liberté, egalité, fraternité and galette. In France, round things are referred to as ‘galette’. The famous cpes are called ‘galettes’, as are frangipane tortes, waffles, a piece of bread and these biscuits. Then you move away from food and you discover that some cushions are called ‘galettes’, a vinyl is a ‘galette’ and the word also indicates the weigh of a dose of crack (now that you know this, you can be confident next time you order some). The spare wheel on cars is a ‘galette’, money is referred to as ‘galette’ and if you fall down while skying, then you also made a ‘galette.’

I love these biscuits as they could be considered a salty version of standard shortbread, and yet they are much more than that. First of all, the dough is quite sticky and needs swift hands to work it due to the higher ratio of egg and butter to flour. Then, the addition of both sugar and salt really lifts the flavour as the saltiness tingles your tongue and makes more akin to a sweet cracker. Lastly, the shiny coating on top provides an extra layer of texture when you bite into them. In a word, moreish.

20140518_095303

Ingredients

  • 60g caster sugar (golden or plain)
  • 100g softened salted butter (preferably Guérande) OR unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk + 1 tsb double cream (for the coating)

Method

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn out onto a work surface and briefly knead to incorporate all of the ingredients. Be quick as the dough will be sticky. When done, shape into a ball, flatten it to a disc and warp in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment to approximately 4mm thick, then remove the top one and use a 6-7cm fluted cookie cutter to stamp out as many shapes as you can, without removing the biscuits. Cover the stamped dough with the other baking parchment sheet and return to the fridge for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure the dough firms up, so it will be easier to remove the cookies before baking.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, then remove the cookies from the stamped dough and arrange on top. Considering you will need to re-roll the dough and chill it in between stamping and moving the biscuits to the lined baking tray, you might want to either wait to bake them all together or use smaller trays and alternate baking with chilling.
  5. Once you are set to bake, pre-heat the oven to 210C.
  6. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk and the double cream. Use a knife to create a criss-cross pattern on the cold cookies, then use a brush to cover them in the yolk mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Enjoy!

20140518_095224

20140518_095154

Haddock with Courgette and Spinach Gratin

I strongly feel we don’t eat enough fish. Actually, let me rephrase that. Every self-respecting foodie and environmentalist knows world fish stocks are plummeting due to unsustainable farming/fishing and excessive consumption. However, I agree with Delia Smith when she says the British don’t eat enough fish – despite living on an island – because they are scared of cooking it. I love fish. To me, a bowl of home-made fish soup can be the perfect ending to a stressful and manic day. A good fish baked in a salt crust is simply divine. However, my partner is more oriented towards meat and doesn’t like fish which tastes of, well, fish (duh!): this means we don’t eat as much sea products in my household as I would like to. I do compensate with sushi and sashimi whenever I can, but I have also came to the conclusion that if I manage to make the flavour of the fish very interesting and enrich it with other tones, then my partner will love it too.

This recipe started as a celeriac gratin on one of the BBC Good Food magazine but I changed it to courgettes as I couldn’t find it in my local supermarket and it definitely works. Choose a flaky white fish for this, for instance haddock or cod, as you will need a meaty fish to counteract the creaminess of the vegetables. The fish is poached rather than roasted, which keeps it really moist and succulent. A sprinkle of paprika on top will enhance the flavour of the dish and provide a colourful touch. In addition, despite the presence of cream, this dish is not as heavy as it might look like, so don’t feel guilty to indulge and have second helpings!

20140220_194553

Ingredients

  • 500-600g white flaky fish fillets, such as haddock or cod, cut into 4 portions
  • 300g fresh spinach
  • 2 courgettes, thickly sliced
  • 200ml double cream
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • butter (for greasing)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C and butter a large gratin dish.
  2. Tip the spinach in a colander and sit in the sink. Slowly pour a kettle of boiling water on the leaves and wilt them, then run under cold water to cool them down. Squeeze any excess water out of the leaves with your hands and set aside.
  3. Tip the courgette slices, spinach and cream in the gratin dish. Season and toss everything together. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the vegetables from the oven, then lay the fish pieces on top of them. Sprinkle with the paprika and season with salt and pepper, then cover with the foil again and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve while hot.

20140220_194843

20140220_194607

Paris Brest version Conticini

Philippe Conticini is an award-winning French master of patisserie. A creative genius, the New York times once wrote that “Every time you feel you’ve figured out what he’s thinking, he is way ahead of you.” In the 80s, he revolutionized patisserie by using salt and spices, but other inventions include the pastries in glasses (the so-called verrines) and the de-contextualization of desserts from horizontal to vertical (think millefeuilles, to give you a for instance). A constant innovator, he is always on the lookout to recreate traditional French dessert with a modern and own twist, such as this Paris Brest. This pastry dessert was created in 1981 to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. It comprises a wheel-shaped ring made of choux pastry which is usually filled with cream and praliné, a hazelnut paste.

Conticini’s revolutionary idea was to keep the choux and the praliné components of the dessert, but to turn a wheel into a chain of choux buns, which get extra crunch and texture from the addition of craquelin, a sugary and buttery paste added on top of the choux buns before they are baked to create an even layer of crunchy goodness. The craquelin, in addition to adding texture to the pastry, also ensures an even rise. This recipe was also featured in the finale of the French edition of the GBBO (Le meilleur patissier). I suppose you can buy good quality praliné either online or from specialist shops, but I decided to make my own. Alternatively, you can use any hazelnut paste/spread (Nutella, to name one), but remember those also contain cocoa powder and plenty of other fats – not that this ever scared me. Making your own praliné is extremely easy and only requires the help of a sturdy food processor. The sugar and the natural oils contained in the nuts will do the rest. Last but not least, if you understand French, you can have a look at the tutorial for this recipe here. Hope you enjoy it!

20140201_154536

HOW TO MAKE HOME-MADE PRALINÉ

20140201_105734

Ingredients

  • 125g hazelnuts
  • 125g almonds with the skin on
  • 165g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 45g water

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 165C. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and roast for 20 minutes. Roasting the nuts ensures a deeper flavour and allows to remove their papery skins.
  2. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Take the hazelnuts only and place them inside a towel, then wrap it around them and gently rub them together for a good 2 minutes. This will allow you to remove and detach their skins, which will be left in the towel. Alternatively, take the hazelnuts in your hands and rub them or do it one by one. Either way, discard the skins and put the now peeled hazelnuts together with the almonds.
  3. Pour the sugar, vanilla bean paste and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture boils. Boil it until it reach 120C (use a sugar thermometer).
  4. Remove from the heat and add the nuts, then use a wooden spoon to mix them in. The sugar syrup will seize and crystallize – don’t worry, this is normal. Put the pan back on the heat over a very low heat and leave the sugar to melt again until it turns a dark amber colour.
  5. Remove from the heat and pour the caramel and nuts onto a baking tray lined with oiled baking parchment or a silicon mat. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a food processor equipped with the blade attachment, then process it until it first turns into a sugary powder and then, little by little, it starts to clump together. Keep on processing until you obtain a fairly smooth paste, then remove from the food processor and transfer to a bowl. If the mixture looks too brittle and powdery at first, keep on processing. The nuts will start to yield their natural oil which will turn the powder into a paste.

20140201_111326

HOW TO MAKE THE PARIS BREST VERSION CONTICINI

First of all, we start with the craquelin.

Ingredients

  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or even by hand in a normal bowl), mix the unsalted butter with the rest of the ingredients to obtain a smooth dough-like consistency, then remove from the bowl and place between two sheets of baking parchment.
  2. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to 3mm thick. Remove the top baking parchment sheet and use a 3-4cm round cutter to impress round shapes on top of the craquelin, then cover with the second sheet of baking parchment and put in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

20140201_141806

Then, we move on to the crème mousseline au praliné

Ingredients

  • 250ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 10g plain flour
  • 10g corn flour
  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 75g praliné

Method

  1. Sift the flour and the cornstarch together.
  2. In a bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, then add the flour mixture and mix that in too.
  3. In a saucepan, combine the milk and the vanilla bean paste, then bring the milk to the boil. While still mixing, trickle the milk into the egg yolk mixture, then combine and transfer back on to the heat.
  4. Mix with a balloon whisk for about one minute, by which point the mixture will have thickened nicely. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a shallow tray, then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to cool completely.
  5. Once your custard has completely cooled, cream the butter with a whisk or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then add the praliné and, tablespoon by tablespoon, the custard. Mix over medium speed until the mixture is combined and fluffy.
  6. Transfer to a piping bag with a plain round nozzle.

Last, but not least, let’s make the choux buns.

Ingredients

  • 125g water
  • 80g plain flour
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 2g salt
  • 2g caster sugar
  • 125g whole eggs, lightly beaten (measure without the shells!)

Method

  1. In a saucepan, combine the water, salt, sugar and butter, then bring the mixture to the boil but ensure the butter has completely melted.
  2. Take the pan off the heat, then add the flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon to combine the mixture, which will look like a messy lump. That is normal. Put back over medium heat and dry the mixture by beating it with the wooden spoon until the mixture come well together into a big ball and it leaves a slight layer of dough at the bottom. Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with a paddle attachment.
  3. Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then start beating it on medium speed. Slowly start adding the eggs two tablespoons at the time and wait until the mixture is fully combined before adding the next lot. Once you have used all of the eggs, the mixture should be thoroughly combined and it should create a trail once you lift the beater. Also, if you were to draw a line in the middle, the mixture should keep the line and not close on itself very quickly.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line a big baking tray with parchment.
  6. Use the piping bag to pipe 4 blobs of choux pastry on the parchment where the 4 corners of a 20cm square should be. Turn the baking parchment 90 degrees and repeat the process, piping in the middle of the already piped blobs. Use the rest of the mixture to fill the buns if they look small, they should be approximately 4cm in diameter, all equal and touching.
  7. Remove the craquelin sheet from the freezer and detach the rounds you had pre-cut. Arrange on the piped choux buns, then transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

20140201_141813

To assemble and fill the Paris Brest

Use a serrated knife to cut the crown-shaped choux buns in halves, making sure not to damage the circular structure. Remove the top and set aside.

In a bowl, combine 100g praliné with 50g double cream. I also added 1 tbsp Nutella, but that was a personal choice more than anything else. Transfer this mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.

Now, pipe a good dollop of the crème mousseline inside each choux bun, then top with one eighth of the praliné and top with more crème mousseline. Cover the crown with the top, then dust in icing sugar and serve. Best eaten on the same day.

20140201_154443

 

20140201_154434

 

20140201_154748

Chestnut and Cream Saint-Honoré

If you are feeling a bit French, why not trying this extremely delicious cake? From a technical point of view, this is slightly difficult as it combines two types of pastry (puff and choux) and requires good piping skills, not to mention being able to make custard. Traditionally, a Saint-Honoré cake comprises a round base of crispy puff pastry topped with a wreath of choux buns and caramel and is decorated with piped chantilly or chiboust cream. The cake bears the name of the patron of patissiers, Honoré, although it wasn’t the latter to create this pastry masterpiece: rather, the cake was conceived by the genius mind of Monsieur Chiboust, a baker and patissier who had his shop on rue du Fauburg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The original gateaux Saint-Honoré was however very different from its contemporary version, comprising a croissant-like dough topped either by custard or whipped cream. 

It wasn’t until the Julien brothers, great patissiers at the time, changed the base to a pate brisée and added the choux wreath on top. This not only was a breakthrough achievement at the time, but it also allowed the brothers to market a higher volume of Saint-Honoré cakes as the gateaux could be filled well in advance and it would still hold its structure. The ones made in the atelier run by Chiboust, on the other hand, had to be filled upon request and right before being sold or the pastry would have gone very soggy and damp. The cake underwent further changes, which established the use of puff pastry in the base and of caramel to both stick the choux buns on top and provide added flavour. Modern patissiers have given free rein to their imagination and the traditional round cake can now be found in all shapes and sizes. The cream on top is also piped in a characteristic shape, so much that you can buy a special nozzle (see here).

This recipe is a contemporary twist on the classic: the caramel is completely absent and the filling is a mixture of both whipped chantilly cream and sweet chestnut puree, and was featured in the December issue of the Yummy Magazine. Try and come across the sweetened variety which is sold in cans. I could only put my hands on a can of the unsweetened variety, which I then mixed with half a small can of evaporated milk and two tablespoon of icing sugar.

20131231_131238_LLS

Ingredients (for the custard to be used in the choux buns)

  • 330ml whole milk
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 40g plain flour
  • 1 tsp cognac
  • 80g cream cheese, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the chestnut icing)

  • 15g condensed milk
  • 35g double cream
  • 65g chestnut puree
  • 1 tsp dark rum
  • 1 gelatine sheet

Ingredients (for the choux pastry)

  • 125ml whole milk
  • 125ml water
  • 110g unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 140g plain flour
  • 4 medium eggs

Ingredients (for the chantilly cream)

  • 250g double cream
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry (approximately 30x30cm)
  • 200g sweetened chestnut puree

Method

Start by preparing the custard to fill the choux buns. In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil, then remove from the heat. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and the flour in a large bow. Don’t worry if the mixture clumps together, keep on whisking to combine the ingredients as evenly as possible. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel, then add the milk in a stream and keep on whisking the mixture. Transfer it back into the saucepan, then put on a low heat and whisk gently with a balloon whisk until thickened. Make sure to scrape every bit of flour from the bottom of the saucepan. Take off the heat and transfer to a bowl. Add the liqueur and cover the surface with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming, then leave to cool.

Next, move on to the chestnut icing. Soak the gelatine leaf in a bowl of cold water. Mix all of the other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Take the mixture off the heat, then remove the gelatine from the water, squeeze out excessive water and add to the pan. Combine together, then transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and chill.

Now you can start preparing the choux pastry. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, then add the flour all at once and use a wooden spoon to combine. The mixture will be clumpy and gluey, but that is fine. Put back on the heat and use the wooden spoon to move the pastry around the pan. This is to dry out excessive moisture and ensure a crisper result later. After 2-3 minutes, the pastry should be ready. Transfer to a big bowl and leave to cool slightly.

In the meantime, roll out your puff pastry to a 30x30cm rectangle (if you’re not using a ready rolled sheet) or lay your puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Using a plate or a cake tin bottom for guidance, mark a 20cm circle in the middle of the pastry, use a sharp knife to cut around it and remove the trimmings, leaving you with a perfect circle. Chill until needed.
Back to the choux pastry. Start adding the eggs one at a time and use your wooden spoon to mix each eggs completely in before adding the following one. The original recipe called for 5 eggs, but I only used 4. The mixture will look like a complete disaster each time you add an egg, but don’t despair and keep on mixing it. Personally, I do this by hand as it allows me to control the thickness and the look of the pastry, but feel free to bang everything in a freestanding mixer or to use an electric whisk. Your pastry will be ready to pipe when if you run your finger in the middle, the two sides remain separate. Another way to check is to take a spoonful of pastry with the wooden spoon and to lift that above the bowl: the pastry should slowly start to flow down, creating a long drape stretching from the spoon.

Transfer the pastry to a piping bag equipped with a plain nozzle. Remove your sheet of puff pastry from the fridge and line two more baking trays with parchment. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

Now, pipe a circle of choux on top of the puff pastry leaving a 1cm gap from the edge. Once that is done, pipe another circle inside the one you have just made, then a third one on the junction between the two (see picture below). Use the leftover pastry to pipe 2cm rounds on the baking trays. These will be the choux buns on top.

20131231_110350_LLS

20131231_110529

Bake the puff + choux pastry base for about 25 minutes, then lower the oven to 160C and bake for a further 20 minutes. This will ensure the pastry puffs up and then bakes all the way through. Reserve the same treatment to the individual choux buns, but reduce the baking time to 20 and 15 minutes respectively. I also took them out after the last bake, pricked their bases with a knife and returned them to the oven for another 10 minutes, but you don’t have to do that. I just wanted to ensure they were crisp all the way through.

Leave the base and the choux buns to cool completely before moving on to the next stage. 
Either use a spoon or a piping bag to spread a layer of the sweetened chestnut puree on the base of the cake, inside the choux pastry circle. Transfer the custard to a bowl, then add the cream cheese and mix that in. Spoon it into a piping bag with a plain nozzle, then make a hole at the base of each choux bun and pipe the custard inside the buns. Leave them upside down for the time being if the custard is too runny.

Whip the double cream until it holds soft peaks, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Transfer this chantilly to a piping bag with a star or Saint-Honoré nozzle and pipe on top of the chestnut puree layer. You can be as artistic as you like. Make sure to lightly cover the rim of the choux pastry circle with the cream as this will help the choux buns stick to it.

Now, glue each choux bun on the rim of the choux pastry circle, then top with the chestnut icing and keep chilled until ready to serve.

20131231_131054_LLS

Fondant Fancies

If you are British, love the UK and its culture or have spent some time here, you will be familiar with fondant fancies. These pale, pastel-coloured little cakes are quite popular as an afternoon tea-time treat and go really well with a cup of tea. They were also one of the technical challenges on the GBBO, just to give you an idea. The difficult bit is balancing the different stages. First you have to make the cake, then put the marzipan on top, cut it into squares, cover them with butter cream and finally smother them in fondant icing. One really good thing about them is that you don’t have to stick to the recipe you’ll find below (which is Mary Berry’s), but you could just as easily custom them by changing the flavours and the colours – I did it.

Allow plenty of chilling time once the small squares have been covered in butter cream and make sure your fondant icing is liquid enough but still hold its shape, or smothering the fancies will be your worst nightmare. Also, you can buy fondant icing in supermarket, but it comes in solid blocks. You’ll need some electric beaters or a very sturdy wooden spoon (and some good muscles!) to mix some water in and turn it into a smooth liquid. As I said, there are a few steps in the process, but don’t let that frighten you as the result is outstanding. I have made these cakes twice already and they have been a roaring success both times.

20131205_114235

Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 225g self raising flour OR 220g plain flour + 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda + 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 225g soft unsalted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 lemon, grated zest only

Ingredients (for the assembly and decoration)

  • 250g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g sifted icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp sieved apricot jam
  • 200g marzipan
  • 1 kg fondant icing
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • food colouring (optional)
  • flavouring (optional)
  • water

Method

  • Start by lining a 20cm square cake tin with some baking parchment and buttering the sides. Pre-heat your oven to 160C.
  • Make the cake batter by creaming the butter and sugar together, then adding the eggs and last the flour and lemon zest. You’ll get a soft and spongy mixture which needs to be transferred to the cake tin. Level the top as you would normally do, then use your spatula/preferred implement to push some of the batter from the centre of the cake towards the edges and the corners. This will avoid the cake rising too much in the middle and you having to trim off most of the sponge to obtain equal cubes.
  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes and check for doneness with a toothpick or a metal skewer.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the cake tin for approximately 20 minutes, then turn out to a wire rack, flip it upside down (put a cloth between the cake and the wire rack) and leave it to cool completely.
  • Now, at this point, I suggest you wrap the cooled cake in clingfilm and put it in the fridge overnight. This will ensure that the cake stays moist, the flavour develops and it’s easier to cut the following day. If you want to do it all in one day, then give it a good hour in the fridge or, if you want, half an hour in the freezer.
  • While the cake is chilling, you can make the butter cream. Put the softened butter in a big bowl and use an electric whisk to make it all nice and fluffy. Start adding the sieved icing sugar a little at a time, making sure the sugar is fully incorporated in the butter before adding any more. Keep your beaters still, then turn your bowl with your other hand to beat the mixture evenly. I have a KitchenAid, but I still prefer to do this with a good old electric whisk. Mix in all of the sugar, then put to one side. If you want, you can add a couple of drops of flavouring.
  • When the cake has thoroughly chilled/cooled down, it’s time to add the marzipan topping. Dust a working surface heavily with icing sugar, then roll out the marzipan to a slightly bigger square than your cake base. Use that as a template. Once you have rolled out the marzipan enough, position your cake tin on the marzipan and use a sharp knife to cut alongside the edges. This will ensure a snug fit on top of your cake.
  • Now take your cake and keep the base on the top as this will always be a more even surface. Brush the apricot jam on top, then use your cake tin base to transfer the marzipan on the cake and press lightly to make it adhere to the jam. Leave to stand for about 15 to 20 minutes, then arm yourself with a ruler!
  • Now, we want cakes which are 4x4cm, so perfect cubes. If you have used a 20cm tin, you should be able to get 5 per each side for a total of 25. My tin is slightly bigger, so I always have to trim the edges (which is good as I obtain a smoother finish). Use your ruler to make marks every 4cm, then take a dry very sharp knife and use it to cut alongside the marks and obtain first big slices of cake, then small cubes. Your finished product should look like this:

20131201_131735

  • Once you have cut them all, it’s time to start applying the butter cream. Arm yourself with some patience now as this can be very stressing! Save about 70g butter cream and put that in a piping bag – this will be used for the small dot on top. Take a snife/palette/spatula and use it to apply an even coating of butter cream on the sides of the cake. Don’t put it on top (where the marzipan is) or on the bottom but cover the sides only. Don’t panic if it looks messy or is really rough as you can smooth it out later.
  • Once you have done the sides of the cakes, snip the end off your piping bag and squeeze a small blob of butter cream on top of each one. The end result, once again, should look like this:

20131201_140624

 

  • Now, you can either attempt to smooth the butter cream while it’s soft or you can refrigerate the cakes and do it later. I tend to go for the second option or I’ll probably end crying in a corner, covered in butter cream and screaming for help. Little exaggeration there, but I find chilling the cakes now (1 hour in the fridge will be enough), then dipping a spatula knife in some warm water, drying it with a towel and using that to smooth the surface works a lot better.
  • Once you have smoothed them all out, it’s time to ice them. Cut your fondant icing in fairly small cubes, then put them in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and start adding water a couple of tablespoon at a time. Once you have reached the consistency you like, add a couple of drops of food colouring (or paste) and mix that well in to obtain a pale coloured icing. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Now, arm yourself of a fork, a wire rack and a large surface. Place some baking parchment on the work surface so as to catch the dripping icing (and chocolate later). Use the fork to stab each cake from the bottom, but make sure you go in at an angle. This way will be much easier to drop them on the wire rack. Dip each cake in the icing, swirl it around and use your finger to ease any excess icing off the little cakes, then put each cake base facing down on to the wire rack. Leave there to solidify for a good 3 hours or overnight, if possible. Don’t put them in the fridge or they will lose their shine.
  • Once the cakes have all hardened, drizzle the chocolate on top and leave that to harden too. I like to serve them in white muffin paper cases, I think it adds a bit of wow factor. Enjoy!

20131205_114255

 

20131205_114317

Piernik – a Polish Christmas Cake

Piernik means ‘gingerbread’ in Polish. Traditionally, this Christmas sweet is made not in the form of a cake but, rather, as a very dense and spicy bread. This is then layered with plum jam and left to ferment for a few weeks, so that the flavours have time to develop. Not wanting to wait weeks before trying it (and considering I already have a boozy British Christmas cake slowly maturing away in the spare room), I decided to opt for Edd Kimber’s cake adaptation of this recipe, which is just as good. I hope Polish traditionalists won’t hate me!

This cake is made with the melting method, which involves melting the fat and the sugar over a low heat in a pan and then, once cooled, combining them with the other ingredients. Usually, cakes made this way result in a moister, darker and softer crumb, much in the same way as my Guinness Cake. Another word of advice: do let the ganache set a little before trying to pour it over the cake. You do want to end up with a nicely thick chocolate layer on top, so the ganache needs to be firm enough to adhere to the cake surface when poured over. Also, you can try and experiment with different flavours of honey. Personally, I combined standard clear honey with a darker and woodier brown honey.

20131118_072914

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 300g honey
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 365g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 3 large eggs

Ingredients (for the filling and the ganache)

  • 250g plum jam
  • 225ml double cream
  • 140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 3 tbsp clear honey

Method

  1. Grease and line the base of a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. In a saucepan, put the butter, honey and sugars, then cook over a medium heat until fully melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 140C.
  4. Sieve all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them together.
  5. Once the butter mixture has cooled, whisk in the eggs, then pour that into the flour and spice mixture and mix until fully combine. Careful not to overmix the mixture of you will end up with a dry cake. Pour into the cake tin and cook for about 1 hour. Check whether the cake is done with a skewer, then remove from the oven and let it cool completely.
  6. In the meantime, prepare your ganache by putting the chocolate, honey and cream into a saucepan and melting over medium heat, mixing to combine the ingredients together. Remove from the heat and let it cool and slightly thicken. Mix it from time to time.
  7. Once the sponges have cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the cake into three equal layers. Position the bottom layer on your a wire rack, then spread half of the jam on. Top with the second layer and cover that with the rest of the jam, then position the remaining layer on top.
  8. Put a sheet of baking parchment/foil under the wire rack, so that it collects any extra ganache which will drop off the cake. Once the chocolate ganache has reached a slightly denser consistency, pour that over the cake and let it completely drip down the sides, so that the whole cake is covered. Leave to cool and harden.
  9. When ready, use a palette knife to transfer the cake onto a serving dish/platter.

20131118_073110

Chocolate Chess Cake

Remember last season of the GBBO when they asked them to make hidden design cakes on their very first episode? This is where this cake comes from. If you’re feeling overindulgent and wants to faff about in the kitchen a bit, then this is the right dessert for you. It might look complicated, but really it is just a matter of piping circles of cake batter and then assembling it all together. As easy as pie – or cake, you choose.

The name obviously derives from the effect you get once you cut into it, although I have to say it looks astonishing even whole. I used Cadbury flakes for the decoration on top as I still don’t know how to temper chocolate (but will make up for it soon!), but feel free to use all sorts of decoration. Whatever you do, please use a decent white chocolate here. I am now a convert of Black’s as their white chocolate contains real vanilla beans and tastes amazing. I tried it in an apricot and white chocolate tray bake and it was delicious.

20130929_083020

Ingredients (for the sponge mixture)

  • 350g unsalted butter, softened
  • 350g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp creme de cacao blanc liqueur
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 350g self raising flour (or about 330g plain flour with the addition of bicarb and baking powder)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the white chocolate ganache)

  • 175g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 125ml whipping cream
  • 50g unsalted butter

Ingredients (for the dark chocolate ganache)

  • 300g dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 1 packet of Cadbury flakes

Method

  1. Line and grease 3 x 20cm Victoria sponge round cake tins. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Make up the sponge mixture by creaming the butter and the sugar together, then slowly adding the eggs one tablespoon at a time and adding a bit of flour if you see the mixture curdling. If it does curdle, don’t worry. Just add the rest of the flour in and give it a good beating (a freestanding mixer is best for this) to obtain a creamy and smooth consistence. Add the cacao liqueur and slowly fold in the rest of the flour.
  3. Transfer half of the  mixture (yes, I weighed it) to another bowl. Sift the cocoa into it, then add 2 tbsp milk. Mix to combine.
  4. Add the rest of the milk (2 tbsp) to the rest of the ‘white’ mixture, then also mix to combine.
  5. Now, transfer each mixture into a piping bag fitted with no tube, then snip off the ends of both piping bags and get ready.
  6. Starting with the chocolate mixture, pipe a ring around the edges of one of the tins, then grab the plain mixture and pipe another smaller ring just inside that one. Continue alternating the chocolate and the vanilla mixture until you have covered the whole bottom of the cake tin. Ensure the rings are touching when you pipe them. Repeat the process for the second cake tin, but invert the order of chocolate and plain mixture for the third one.
  7. Bake the sponges for 25 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, let them cool slightly, then invert onto a wire rack and let them cool completely.
  8. In the meantime, make the white chocolate ganache by melting the butter in the cream over a low heat, then folding in the white chocolate and stirring until smooth. Also make the dark chocolate ganache by heating the cream up in a saucepan, then transferring it into the bowl with the chocolate. Let it stand for a couple of minutes, then stir to melt the chocolate and let it cool.
  9. To assemble your cake, set one of the sponges with the outer chocolate ring upside down on a cake stand/platter, then top with half of the cooled white chocolate ganache. Top with the outer plain ring, then spread the rest of the white chocolate ganache. Cover with the last chocolate outer ring sponge. Cover the top and the sides with the dark chocolate ganache, ensuring the surface is smooth. Crumble the flakes on top of the cake. Slice for a dramatic effect.

20130929_083108

 

20130929_082954

Beef Stroganoff

Many of you might not know this, but I lived in Russia for about 6 months of my life. It was a unique experience and, had I been as food aware as I am now, I would have probably wanted to taste this dish in its homeland. Beef Stroganoff is a failry modern invention, with the recipe dating back only to the beginning of the 19th century. Even so, however, it looks like the original recipe from the Stroganoff family was little but a polished older Russian recipe. Count Pavel Stroganoff, in particular, well renowned for his love of food and entertainment at the court of Alexander III, seems to be the author of the recipe and the latter was already included in an 1871 edition of a popular Russia cookbook.

Although varied in content according to the source one decided to quote, the recipe seems to contain some staples: beef, onions, sour cream (although some versions swear by normal cream) and mustard. The addition of mushrooms meets criticism and applause alike, depending on what upbringing one might have had. The classical accompaniment, moreover, seems to be finely cut potato chips, although rice and/or noodles are also a strong favourite.

IMG_20130826_074530

Ingredients

  • 500g fillet or rump steak, trimmed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 150ml soured cream
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Method

  1. First of all, prepare the meat. Place the steaks between two sheets of oiled cling film and beat with a rolling pin to flatten and tenderize the meat. If you’re using braising or/stew steaks, skip this step. Cut the meat into thin strips, approximately 5cm long.
  2. Heat the oil and half the butter in a large and shallow frying pan, then fry the beef over a high heat for 2 minutes or until browned. Remove the strips of beef from the pan using a slotted spoon, thus leaving any juices behind.
  3. Melt the remaining butter in the pan and add the onion slices. Gently fry them for 10 minutes, until soft.
  4. Sprinkle over the flour, then stir that in. Follow with the tomato puree, mustard, lemon juice and soured cream. Return the beef to the pan and stir until combined and slightly reduced. Season with salt & pepper, then scatter over some parsley and serve.

20130826_185812

Oreo Brownies

This is a recipe from Lorraine Pascale. In one of the episode of her TV series Baking Made Easy, she confessed to a full addiction to chocolate brownies. Despite the confession being a bit over the top, who could not relate to those words? If you like chocolate, and I do, then a good chocolate brownie will bring solace and comfort in the darkest and gloomiest days of your life. What could be better, then, than adding some cream cookies to it?

The addition of Oreos (but you could as easily use any other brands – Ringo will be very good too) provides for an extra sweet touch and a creaminess a normal chocolate brownie would not cater for. It also looks drop-dead gorgeous, so what are you waiting for?

20130810_191632

 

Ingredients

  • 165g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped, 70% cocoa solids
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 165g light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 x pack of chocolate and cream biscuits (Oreos)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C and grease and line a 20cm rectangular (or square) brownie tin with some parchment paper. Experience teaches me to leave the paper a bit overhanging at the sides so that it will be easier to take the brownie out of the tin once it has cooled down.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then remove from the heat and stir in the copped chocolate. Keep on stirring until combined, the leave on the side to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks with the vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then slowly add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and meringue-like in texture.
  4. Now pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and slowly mix that in. You want to pour it from the sides so as to knock out as little air as possible. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the cocoa powder and salt, then also stir that in. Roughly break up a third of the chocolate biscuits and add them to the mixture.
  5. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin, then level it out using a spatula. Break up the rest of the biscuits and use them to dot the surface of the raw brownie, then bake for 30 minutes, until cooked on the outside but still a bit squidgy on the inside.
  6. Remove from the oven, leave to cool on a wire rack, then remove from the pan and cut into squares. If you want to, you can dust the brownies with icing sugar.

20130810_174326

 

IMG_20130817_115838