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

Fraisier Cake

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

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

20140710_175626

Ingredients (for the génoise sponge)

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

Ingredients (for the crème mousseline)

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

Ingredients (for the lemon syrup)

  • 75g caster sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

Ingredients (to assemble)

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

Method

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

20140710_175603

20140710_175637

20140710_175615

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!

20140413_144029

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.

20140413_143918

20140413_144037

20140413_144049

Custard Tarts

In my attempt to try and give a go to all desserts and bake-related goods, I decided to go for a very traditional British recipe: the custard tart. Very few of you might know, indeed, that custard tarts

have a long history in Britain, and were served at the Medieval table where they were know as doucets or darioles. Henry IV had a doucet at his coronation banquet in 1399. Doucets could include meat ingredients such as pork mince or beef marrow, but they were always filled with a sweet custard. The Medieval cook may have used almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Almond milk was a rather expensive alternative, but suited the wealthy whom consumed it on ‘fast’ days, when rich dairy products were not permitted. Almond milk was an infusion of blanched, ground almonds and either syrup, water, or water and wine. (from Baking for Britain)

The recipe below is Paul Hollywood’s and was given to the GBBO bakers this year as a technical challenge. I found the pastry too wet to work with, so I strongly advise you to check whether it is dry enough and, in case, add a tad bit more of flour. This will save you having to heavily dust your work surface with flour to roll it out.

Also, please make this by hand. It’s not a huge quantity, but sweet pastries should be made by hand and not in a food processor (or in a freestanding mixer) in order not to develop the gluten in the flour. If you want to, you could mix the flour and the butter in the food processor, but please make sure the following steps are done by hand.

Last note. I have halved the quantities indicated for the custard. Using a normal 12-hole muffin tin I had more than half of the custard leftover…

20131116_141556

Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 165g plain flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 120g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 350ml full-fat milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 45g caster sugar
  • ground nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the pastry, stir the flour and ground almonds together in a large bowl, then add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Break in the egg and work it into the mixture with your fingers, bringing it together to form a soft dough.
  2. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Flatten with your fingers to a disc and wrap in cling film. Leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  4. Roll out the sweet pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Using an 11cm fluted cutter, cut out twelve discs and line the muffin tray moulds with the pastry circle.
  5. For the custard filling, warm the milk in a saucepan, and beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale and creamy. Pour the milk onto the egg yolk mixture and stir well, creating little bubbles. Transfer the custard mixture into a pouring jug with a lip, then fill each of the tart cases. Sprinkle a small pinch of ground nutmeg into the middle of each tart.
  6. Bake the tarts in the oven for about 25 minutes – turn the temperature down to 180C for the final 10 minutes. You are looking for a very slight dome on the custard, indicating that it is baked. If the custard domes too much this indicates that you have over-cooked the custard, it will have boiled, and will sink back down leaving a big dip. If this does happen you can help rescue it by removing the tarts from the oven immediately and placing the tin in cold water on a cold surface. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes and then carefully remove from the moulds. The base of the tarts should be perfectly baked through, without having over-cooked the custard filling.

20131116_141604

20131116_140821

20131116_140813

Danish Pastries with Fruit

I have only recently noticed that a book my mum gave me last time I went back home to Italy is indeed a manual for patisserie. Wahou! Come think of it, that explains why it contained so many pastry recipes… Anyway, this is one of the first ones and it looked grand on paper. I decided to give it a try because, after all, what’s life without a challenge? It took me two days to complete, but only because I wanted to make sure the dough was given plenty of chilling & resting time in the fridge after each turn.

The overall concept behind it is puff pastry (of course!). You layer a yeasted dough with butter and fold it over and over again, more or less as you would do to make croissants. The only very tricky part (I would say) is probably creating the 8-shaped spirals, which take a bit of practice. Your first ones might come out a bit out of shape, but insist and you’ll get there. As you can see from the pictures below, mine were not all equal, but I like to think that adds to the charm of the whole thing not being industrially made. Last point, the fruit: choose fruits which is in season! The original recipe had kiwis, strawberries, grapes and apricots, but I decided to use some of the glorious British berries instead.

20130728_145300

Ingredients (for the starter)

  • 100ml lukewarm whole milk
  • 150g strong flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 350g strong flour
  • 100g lukewarm whole milk
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients (for the butter filling)

  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 25g strong flour

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • granulated sugar
  • apricot jam
  • 400g firm custard (I made my own)
  • mixed fruit

Method

  1. To prepare your starter, melt the dried yest into the lukewarm milk, then pour that in a small bowl and add the flour. Bring together to make a small dough ball, then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
  2. Once that is ready, sift the flour and the salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or you can use a normal bowl and knead by hand). Turn the mixer on low speed and use the hook attachment to mix in the egg, egg yolk and caster sugar.
  3. Slowly pour in the lukewarm milk and the starter, then increase the speed to medium and knead until fully combined. Now add the butter and keep on kneading until fully incorporated and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl (approximately 10 minutes or 20-25 by hand). Tip the dough in a bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare your butter. In a bowl, mix the softened unsalted butter with the flour, then spread that on a piece of clingfilm, wrap tightly and use a rolling pin to roll out to a rectangle about 20x30cm and 1/2cm thick. Put in the fridge to chill and firm up.
  5. When the dough has risen, chill it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, then tip it out on a floured work surface, deflate it and roll it out to a rectangle. Take the butter sheet out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm and place in the middle of the dough. Ensure the dough rectangle is bigger than the butter sheet. Fold the edges of the dough over the butter sheet, then pinch together to seal.
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 60x30cm long rectangle, ensuring to press evenly on the butter so it spreads within the dough. Fold a third of the dough at the top and at the bottom towards the centre of the dough, then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Repeat this folding technique another 3 times (4 turns in total), much in the same way as you would do with puff pastry. If you are a novice to puff pastry, please have a look at the very detailed tutorial from Emma, someone who is definitely more technical than me.
  8. Once the pastry has been chilled thoroughly after the fourth turn, take it out the fridge and roll it out to a big rectangle, about 50x30cm. It should be slightly less thick than a pound coin.
  9. Using a floured and very sharp knife, cut 1.5cm along the longer side of the pastry, then roll them in pairs to create a braid. Shape each braid into an 8, tucking the excess pastry underneath. Put each braid on a lined baking tray.
  10. Leave the 8-shaped pastry braids to rise until doubled in size, then put in the fridge to chill until firm.
  11. In the meantime, clean and slice (if necessary) your fruit, then set aside. Towards the end of the chilling time, preheat your oven to 190C.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the cream, then set aside. Dollop some custard into each hole of the 8-shaped braids, then brush the braids with the egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes until golden and well puffed up.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool almost completely on a wire rack. In the meantime, melt some apricot jam in a saucepan, then arrange your fruit of choice on the custard bits and brush the apricot jam on the whole Danish pastry to keep everything in place. Serve warm or cold.

20130728_134226

 

20130728_131549

 

20130728_145253

Peach & Frangipane Tart

The perfect dessert to serve at the end of a meal or for breakfast (which is what I made it for), this tart is both delicate and delicious. It comprises two main parts: a sweet shortcrust pastry and a frangipane custard, which is a traditional custard flavoured with ground almonds. From start to finish it merely took me one and a half hour to make it and bake it, and that includes chilling times!

The original recipe also asked for a long rectangular fluted tin (approximately 12 x 35cm), but the same tart would look just as good in a round one.

20130707_120046

 

Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 100g butter, chilled and cubed

Ingredients (for the frangipane custard and decoration)

  • 70g ground almonds
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 20g plain flour
  • 30g butter, at room temperature
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 1 orange, zest of
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 x tin apricot halves in juice

Method

  1. First of all, start with the pastry. Sift the flour and icing sugar in a big bowl, then add the cubed butter and work it in using your fingertips by rubbing it with the flour and sugar. You should aim for a sandy texture. If you haven’t already, have a look at my shortcrust tutorial. Alternatively, you can put the ingredients in a food processor and whiz until combined.
  2. Crack the egg in a small bowl and lightly whisk it with a fork. Start adding it little by little to the flour and butter mixture and work that in. You might not need the whole egg. Don’t overwork your pastry but only ensure it is smooth and evenly combined. Wrap it in clingfilm, flatten it slightly and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Now move on to the custard. In a saucepan, combine the egg, egg yolks and icing sugar. Whisk the ingredients together with a balloon whisk, then sift in the flour and whisk that in too. Slowly pour in the milk, then combine the ingredients.
  4. Put the saucepan on a medium heat and keep on stirring with a balloon whisk until slightly thickened. This might take between 10 and 15 minutes. Do not be tempted to increase the heat or your eggs will scramble!
  5. Once thickened nicely, remove from the heat and stir in the ground almonds, orange zest and softened butter. Lightly scatter the top surface with some caster sugar and set aside.
  6. In the meantime, drain the apricot halves from the liquid and pat-dry on kitchen paper. I found the tins I buy yield exactly 12 apricot halves, which is perfect.
  7. When the pastry is thoroughly chilled, remove from the fridge and from the clingfilm, set between two pieces of baking parchment and start rolling out to the thickness of a pound coin. When ready, transfer to the fluted tin and press gently on the sides. Trim any excess pastry by passing the rolling pin on the tin. Chill for another 15 minutes.
  8. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and put a baking sheet in the oven to warm up.
  9. When your pastry case has hardened again, prick the base with a fork, then pour in the frangipane custard and spread it around. Arrange the apricot halves in rows of two all over the surface and lightly press into the custard. Bake for 35 minutes until slightly golden.
  10. Turn the oven down to 150C and bake for a further 15 minutes, to ensure the case is baked all the way through. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, use a pastry brush to spread the apricot jam on top. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

20130707_120026

20130707_120115

 

Double Chocolate Eclairs

Choux pastry is my new obsession. Partly because it’s so easy to make and bake and partly because it allows me to practice a great deal with my reusable piping bags and nozzles. Yesterday I made some salambos and my own version of éclairs (with mango), but today I will post you the recipe for a classic chocolate one which, contrary to tradition, is filled with a chocolate custard and not a plain one.

Also, a quick word of advice. Please experiment with choux pastry. There are different versions of the main recipe and they all come out slightly different, so settle down on one only once you have tried and tested it. For instance, these éclairs were made with the BBC Good Food recipe for choux pastry, but I have successfully baked my other éclairs (and the salambos) with a different recipe altogether.

20130327_065856

Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 4 tbsp whole milk
  • 50g unsalted butter, diced
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 4 tbsp water

Ingredients (for the custard filling)

  • 350ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 medium egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 75g dark chocolate, chopped

Ingredients (for the chocolate glaze)

  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 25g unsalted butter, diced

Method

  1. First of all, make the filling. It is a simple custard, but if you were to make the pastry before and then the filling, you would be left with pastry shells there for a while while the custard cools. Heat the milk and the vanilla until boiling point. Meanwhile, in a bowl whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and the cornflour. Add some of the milk to loosen the mixture up if it is too thick. Slowly (!!!) pour the rest of the vanilla and milk mixture over the egg yolks, stirring constantly, then once combined return the whole mixture to the pan and put on a medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened nicely. Tip into a bowl and add the chocolate. Stir well to melt all of the chocolate, then cover with clingfilm and push it down to touch the surface of the custard (this prevents a skin forming). Leave to cool.
  2. Now, on to the pastry. Heat the milk, butter and water in a pan set over a medium heat until the butter melts. Whack up the heat and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and quickly tip in the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix it in with a wooden spoon and have a good go at it. It will look like a hopeless disaster at first, but keep on mixing until the flour is combined with the other ingredients and it forms a ball-like shape. Briefly put back on the heat, stirring constantly, to cook the mixture. It is ready when it easily comes away from the sides of the pan.
  3. Transfer to a big bowl and leave to cool slightly. If you were to add the eggs now they would scramble.
  4. Add one egg at a time and beat well after each addition. For personal experience, I can tell you that it will look awful and that the pastry will divide itself into smallish lumps while you are trying to beat the eggs in. Don’t despair and keep on stirring with the wooden spoon because the lumps will come together to form a shiny, smooth dough.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, then line two baking trays with parchment. Transfer the choux pastry to a piping bag fitted with a 2cm plain nozzle and pipe 10cm strips, keeping them well spaced as they will increase in size while baking. Bake for 15 minutes, until well puffed and golden. Leave to cool on racks.
  6. For the glaze, heat the double cream, sugar and vanilla to boiling point. Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour over the cream mixture. Stand for 2-3 mins, then add the butter and stir until smooth and glossy.
  7. Once everything has cooled down and is hard enough to handle, use a serrated knife to slice the buns open, then fill one half with the chocolate custard. Cover with the other one, then spread some of the chocolate ganache on top to finish. Repeat with all of the buns.

20130326_213709

20130327_065930

Banana Boston Cream Cake

Ever heard of the Hummingbird Bakery? Well, if you haven’t, then you should. I have been making their Guinness Cake for ages and it’s always a raving success. They have so many amazing and creative ideas for desserts and they have recently published their second book (which, of course, is already in my possession). It’s called Home Sweet Home and contains plenty of innovative recipes for cupcakes alongside more traditional cakes and American-inspired pies and tarts. Just delicious! This cake comes from this book, so I hope I am not breaching anyone’s copyright by posting the recipe on here. It is a banana sponge cake with a custard filling and a chocolate ganache on top. Now tell me you don’t want to eat it! The recipe involves three main steps, so I will divide ingredients and method accordingly.

20130304_220728

 

Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 125g soured cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/s tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method (for the sponge)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease and line two 20cm cake tins.
  2. Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  3. In a jug, mix together the mashed banana, soured cream and vanilla extract.
  4. In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb.
  5. With the whisk on a medium speed, pour the soured cream mixture into the creamed butter and sugar and mix well to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and mix until you have a smooth batter.
  6. Divide the batter between the two tins and bake for 25-35 minutes. Check the cakes are cooked with a skewer. The sponges should be light and bounce back when slightly pressed.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 250ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 15g plain flour
  • 15g cornflour

Method (for the custard)

  1. In a medium pan, bring the milk and vanilla extract to the boil.
  2. In a bowl, mix the yolks with the sugar, flour and cornflour until it forms a paste. You can also add a small amount of the milk to loosen the mixture up.
  3. Once the milk is ready, slowly pour it into the bowl with the eggy mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
  4. Pour it back in the pan and cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a thick custard. The process will not take more than 5 minutes. You need to keep an eye on the eggs and keep on mixing because if the heat is too high they will scramble and you will end up with a mess. If you notice the eggs start creating lumps, take the pan off the heat and whisk ferociously until the mixture is smooth again.
  5. Once cooked, pour the custard in a bowl and cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming.

Ingredients (for the ganache)

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 300ml double cream

Method (for the ganache)

  1. Pour the cream in a pan set over a medium heat and bring to the boil.
  2. Break the chocolate into smallish chunks into a bowl.
  3. Once the cream is hot, pour over the chocolate bits and leave to rest for a good couple of minutes.
  4. Mix to melt all of the chocolate.

Assembling the cake

  1. Once the sponges and the custard have cooled completely, start assembling the cake.
  2. Place one of the sponges on your cake stand or plate and pour the custard on top of it. Spread it with a palette knife and ensure the whole surface is covered. Top with other sponge layer.
  3. Wrap the cake in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to set for another 45 minutes.
  4. Once that is done, take the cake out of the fridge and peel off the clingfilm.
  5. Set the assembled cake on a wire rack standing on a baking tray and pour the ganache on top, ensuring the whole cake is covered. repeat the procedure if needed.
  6. I personally spread the ganache with a spatula, so that is why I didn’t get a shiny effect in the end.

20130305_201017