Blood Orange & Pomegranate Cake

At least in the UK, February marks the beginning of the blood orange craze. While the availability window for this wonderfully sweet fruit is quite extended, lasting from late December well into May, the UK market seems to be pushing it only throughout February, meaning you won’t easily find blood oranges once you’re past that deadline. And 2016 is a leap year, which means even less days at your disposal. Therefore, better to make the most of it while it lasts. The idea behind this recipe comes from the BBC Good Food magazine, where it appeared as ‘Blood orange, blossom and pomegranate cake‘. As I usually do, I fiddled around with the recipe and this is my variation on the theme.

I find that using both sugar and honey in a cake batter makes the final result much denser and less light than it would normally be. Therefore, in my recipe I swapped honey with the same amount of light brown sugar, which still provides sweetness but also lends that slight caramel-y taste. Also, as I could not come across pomegranates and did not want to have to tour shops and markets (my life tends to be pretty hectic nowadays), I used pomegranate juice instead. This cake will keep quite well and, as a matter of fact, the taste will intensify as the days go by. It’s a very easy recipe and you all know I have a soft spot for upside-down cakes!

IMAG2226_1

Ingredients

  • 6 blood oranges, 3 whole, juice of 3
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g light brown sugar + 2 tbsp
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 140g full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 100ml pomegranate juice
  • dried rose petals (optional)

Method

  1. Place one of the whole oranges in a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 40 minutes. Drain and allow the fruit to cool down. Once cold, slice it in half to remove any pips, then whiz in a food processor until you have a smooth paste/purée.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  3. Grease the base and sides and line the base of a 23cm round springform tin with baking parchment. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp light brown sugar onto the base.
  4. Slice the remaining two whole oranges into very thin slices, then arrange them on the base of the tin, following the pattern you most like. This will be the top of your cake once it’s finished.
  5. To make the batter, cream the butter, the remaining light brown sugar and 200g of the golden caster sugar in a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then slowly add the eggs, flour, baking powder, ground almonds and yogurt. Mix well until combined, then pour in the puréed orange and mix it in with a rubber spatula, trying not to deflate the mixture too much.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin, onto the orange slices, and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool almost completely before removing it from the tin.
  7. In the meantime, place the orange juice, pomegranate juice and the 100g remaining sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then cook until reduced to a lovely syrup. Don’t be tempted to leave this and go about the house as it may overflow. Once ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Once you are ready, remove the cake from the tin, place a dish over the top (which really is the base) and flip the cake upside down. Gently peel off the base of the tin and the parchment paper, then drizzle the reddish syrup all over the cake, using a brush or a rubber spatula to spread it over. Save the remaining syrup to serve the cake with. Sprinkle some dried rose petals on top (optional), decorate with a few more blood orange slices, serve and enjoy!

IMAG2227

IMAG2228

Advertisement

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

Pistachio Blood Orange Baklava Cake

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

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

IMAG0690

Ingredients (for the cake)

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

Ingredients (for the blood orange syrup)

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

Ingredients (for the baklava layers)

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

Ingredient (to decorate the cake)

  • 200g pistachios, finely ground

Method

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

IMAG0695

IMAG0693

IMAG0696

A very moreish Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake. Ok, I’ll say it again: chocolate cake. Honestly, I think a post about this should have no further introduction. What’s not been said about chocolate cake? And, most importantly, what’s not to like? To those of you do not like chocolate (and I know there’s plenty out there, my best friend’s boyfriend, to give you an example), I offer my deepest condolences. I recently watched an episode of The Taste – the new cooking TV reality show with Nigella in the judge panel – about comfort food. Well, for me, nothing evokes the image of comfort better than a big slice of dark, intense and creamy chocolate cake. Not even a bowl of pasta. Such a pity that no-one on the show actually prepared one.

Anyway, back to this cake. I always like to try out new recipes and this is no exception. The recipe for the cake comes from the Add a Pinch blog, which labels it “The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe {Ever}” (I reduced the amount of sugar if compared to the original). I decided to put my own frosting on it as I wasn’t impressed with the one which came with the cake. On that note, I also hope the quantities got a bit lost in translation, otherwise eeek! 340g of butter! I also did not like the fact there was no chocolate in a chocolate cake. Cocoa powder, yes, but no chocolate. That’s why my chocolate solid frosting has some good quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate in it. The cake is moist and crumbly, but utterly delicious. Maybe not the best chocolate cake ever, but a good contender for the title.

20140127_074111

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 88g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 235ml hot coffee
  • 235ml whole milk
  • 118ml vegetable oil
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Ingredients (for the chocolate frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp creme de cacao blanc (or any other chocolate liqueur)

Method

  1. Start by greasing and lining 2 x 20cm round cake tin. Don’t use a springform tin here or the mixture will ooze out (it’s very liquid!). Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), sift the flour, raising agents, cocoa powder and sugar, then mix together.
  3. In a small jug, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla extract and paste and vegetable oil. Pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix over low to medium speed until fully combined.
  4. Slowly add the hot coffee and beat on medium to high speed for a good couple of minutes to incorporate as much air as possible. Divide the mixture equally between the two cake tins and bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Check that the sponges are cooked through with a skewer, then remove from the oven and set on a wire rack. Remove from the tin after 10 minutes and leave to cool completely.
  6. Right before you are ready to ice the cake, prepare your icing.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer combine the softened butter and the icing sugar, mixing well with the paddle attachment to combine. Add the milk to obtain a creamy consistency, then slowly pour in the melted chocolate and beat over high speed until light and fluffy. Lastly, add the chocolate liqueur and mix that in too.
  7. Transfer about half of the chocolate icing to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then spread the rest on one of the sponges, which you should have positioned on your cake stand. Sandwich with the other sponge, then use the icing in the piping bag to pipe small stars or rosettes on top. Work quickly as the chocolate will harden in no time. Dust the cake with some icing sugar and drizzle over any remaining melted dark chocolate (I had about a tablespoon left in the bottom of the bowl), then apply to face and enjoy.

20140127_074128

 

20140127_074144

 

20140127_074252

Baci di Alassio

Do you have your boarding card? Have you packed your suitcase? Perfect. So let’s fly to Liguria, a coastal region of north-western Italy which is probably known for pesto, Genoa and the aquarium. Very few do know that these region is also well known – at least in my country – for these sweet little ‘kisses’, as the name goes, which come from Alassio, a city on the western coast of the region. Lore states that they were invented in the ’20s by Rinaldo Balzola, the then patissier of the House of Savoy, who modified the traditional recipe for Baci di Dama. The biscuits then became very popular, so much that by the end of the ’50s, every single bakery in the region had their own version. What with the authentic recipe being a jealously guarded secret, the different interpretations all differ because of the quantities and the ingredients used.

These Baci are oval-shaped and composed by two biscuit halves, which are then sandwiched together with a whipped ganache. The biscuits are made with hazelnuts (possibly from Piedmont), sugar, cocoa, egg whites, flour, butter, vanilla and aromas. The ganache is ‘whipped’ because the quantities of cream and chocolate are 1.5:1, which allows to whip the ganache and make it into a mousse-like consistency. The recipe below is one of the many adaptations available and I found it in an Italian recipe book about biscuits. I modified the recipe slightly and adapted the cooking times. Traditionally these biscuits are left to dry out overnight or for at least 12 hours. If you want to skip this step, like I did, follow the recipe below. Otherwise, increase the temperature to 200C and bake for only 12 minutes.

20140105_202512_LLS

Ingredients

  • 150g ground almonds
  • 100g ground hazelnuts
  • 375g icing sugar, sifted
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 30g honey
  • 35g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 90g egg whites, at room temperature
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa content)
  • 150ml double cream

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment and set aside. Equip a piping bag with a star nozzle and also set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), combine the ground nuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder. Add the egg whites and use the paddle attachment to mix the ingredients together. Once you have a homogeneous mixture, add the butter and the honey and keep on mixing until thoroughly combined.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. It will be firm, so no panic there. Squeeze out little mounds or rose-shaped mounds on the baking parchment, then transfer to the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  5. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check the biscuits: if you see any dark wet bits, return to the oven for a further 5 minutes at 150C.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. In the meantime, start with the ganache.
  7. Finely chop the dark chocolate either by hand or in a food processor. In a saucepan, bring the double cream to the boil, then remove from the heat and pour onto the chocolate. Use a whisk to mix the cream in and allow the chocolate to melt completely. Set aside and cool slightly but keep on mixing to avoid the mixture separating.
  8. When you are ready to assemble, either use a freestanding mixer of electric whisk (I did it by hand) to whisk the ganache. You’ll need a good 10 minutes and the result should be a light and mousse-like chocolate ganache. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
  9. Use the ganache to sandwich two biscuit halves together by squeezing some on one biscuit and topping this with another half. Repeat until you have used all of the biscuits, then transfer to the fridge to firm them up.

20140105_202547_LLS

 

20140105_202625_LLS

Banana Bread

The BBC Good Food magazine has had a ‘healthy makeover’ section for a while now. I have always overlooked it and ignored because, let’s be frank, life without full fat cream cheese, butter and double cream really has no meaning. However, having ended up with some really ripe bananas (the black skin type ones, to be precise), I decided to give this recipe a go. After all, you can’t always turn down things in life.

I was lucky enough to find some authentic Greek yogurt in my local supermarket. The brand is FAGE and it’s the hardest and creamiest I have seen so far. It also tastes really good and it’s marketed (with a caption in Italian, weirdly enough) to be the real thing. Good enough for me. I also took a turn for the worse (or the fat, if you prefer) by substituting the walnuts in the original recipe with some chocolate chips. The mixture here is dense enough to hold them in place, so they won’t sink to the bottom but spread evenly throughout the cake. The pictures below I’m afraid don’t do the cake enough justice, but it really is delicious and the chocolate chips add just that extra flavour.

20140102_202912_LLS

Ingredients

  • 2 very ripe bananas, preferably with black skins
  • 1/2 lemon, zest only
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g plain flour
  • 50g plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 25g butter, diced
  • 85g light brown sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate chips
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 100g full-fat natural yogurt
  • 3 tbsp rapeseed (or flavourless vegetable) olive oil

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a loaf tin (about 1kg) with baking parchment.
  2. Peel the bananas, break them in pieces and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, mix both the flours with the raising agents and ground almonds. Add the sugar, then tumble in the butter and rub it in with the tip of your fingers.
  4. In a jug, mix the yogurt with the eggs and the rapeseed oil, then add it to the rest of the mixture. Don’t worry if it looks too dry as the mixture is a bit on the stiff side, but keep on mixing (but don’t overmix!). Last addition, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour the mixture in the loaf tin and level it out. Bake for 45 minutes, but check with a skewer whether the cake is done.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.

20140102_203113_LLS

 

20140102_203028_LLS

Chocolate Fruit Cake

This gorgeously rich and dark Christmas cake could only be the result of Nigella’s mind. And so it is! This is that time of year when they are showing her Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen show on TV and all of the lights, the friends, the food and the festive atmosphere make you want to start pottering about in the kitchen. This cake, in particular, described as dark, moist and squidgy (it’s the prunes, says Nigella), caught my attention because you can (and have) to decorate the top yourself. So why not indulge in some chocolate-cum-glitter fun?

I have to say, the addition of cocoa powder to an otherwise fairly standard fruit cake is new on my table too, but it really works. Rather than steeping the dried fruit in brandy, sherry or other festive liqueurs, this recipe calls for slow and relaxing stirring over the hob. The heat will infuse the fruit with the coffee liqueur – graciously counteracted by the dark treacly sugar and the honey – to do in 10 minutes what normally would take months. Genius, pure genius. A little word of warning, if I may. Please line the tin as instructed, making sure there the baking parchment is twice as high as the cake tin itself. This will help protect the cake and avoid any possible burning. Also, keep an eye on this one. I baked it for 2 hours exactly, but the top was already starting to look a bit scorched…

20131127_101837

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 350g soft dried prunes, chopped
  • 250g raisins
  • 125g currants
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g dark muscovado sugar
  • 175g honey
  • 125ml coffee liqueur (I used Kahlua)
  • 2 oranges, zest and juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/s tsp bicarbonate of soda

Ingredients (for the decoration – my version)

  • 3 tbsp of apricot jam, warmed through with 1 tsp water and sieved
  • chocolate stars (MilkyWay)
  • soft gold pearls
  • white shimmer pearls
  • Cadbury minstrels
  • gold and silver glitter
  • white chocolate chips

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 150C. Grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin with baking parchment, making sure to line the sides too.
  2. Place the dried fruit, orange zest and juice, sugar, honey, coffee liqueur, spices, butter and cocoa into a wide saucepan. Melt over a low heat until fully combined, then bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Once cooled slightly, add the eggs. It’s important to cool the mixture before adding the eggs or you will end up with scrambled eggs in the mixture. Not nice.
  4. Mix those in, then fold in the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and bicarb. Combine all of the ingredients together to obtain a light brown mixture. Tip that into the cake tin and bake on the lower shelf of the oven for about 2 hours.
  5. Check the cake is cooked all the way through with a skewer. This should come out clean.
  6. Place the cake on a cooling rack and leave to cool completely in its tin.
  7. Once cooled, remove from the tin, unwrap the baking parchment and sit on a cake platter/dish.
  8. Brush the whole cake with the sieved apricot jam. Decorate with the sweets and the glitter the way you want. I opted for chocolate stars and white chocolate chips on the outer edge, chocolate minstrels in the middle, pearls all around and a final scattering of silver and gold glitter. You need to be your own artist here!

20131127_101745

 

20131127_101901

Marmalade Butterflies

What’s more delicate than puff pastry? All those layers carefully folded one on top of the other and baked in the space of a second to create complicated and frail structures of pastry… The same as butterflies – beautiful, gorgeously coloured winged insects whose lifespan rarely reaches a full week and whose delicacy and frailty has inspired so many writers. So what better combination than to create butterflies made of puff pastry?

The idea behind this recipe comes from the same book I quoted in my last post, Bollería by Xavier Barriga. He makes them plain and suggests to dunk them in chocolate when cooled. Why, may I ask, not fill them with something sweet? These are, with all due respect, palmiers sliced in half and, as such, desperately need to be filled. I opted for homemade marmalade that my grandma gave me last time I was home. The orange jam was the last one of the small pots of homemade sweetness I had, so now I am back to square one… Anyway, to offset the slight tartness of marmalade I opted for some white chocolate on top, complemented by some orange and lemon zest, just to add a tad of colour and to give you a quick reminder of what’s inside. You can fill them with whatever you want, mine is just a suggestion.

20131124_214435

Ingredients

  • 500g plain flour
  • 10g salt
  • 275g icy cold water
  • 375g unsalted butter, chilled
  • golden caster sugar, to sprinkle
  • 100g marmalade
  • 25g white chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 orange, zest of
  • 1 lemon, zest of

Method

  1. Make your puff pastry by combining the flour, salt and water together until you get a soft dough, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for at least 1 hour.
  2. Beat the butter into submission as indicated in the previous recipe, then shape it into a square roughly 15cm per side. Keep it chilled. Ideally, you want your butter and your dough to be at the same temperature.
  3. Once your dough has been thoroughly chilled, take it out from the fridge and put it on a floured surface. Now you have two ways of doing this. Personally, I cut a cross on top and stretch the wedges outwards to create ear-like shapes. I then use a rolling pin to stretch these but leave the dough a bit higher – that is, non rolled out – where the bases of the ‘ears’ meet. I then put the cold butter slab on top of this small bulge and fold the dough ears on top. Then, I flip the dough the other way round and start rolling. Alternatively, you can roll your dough into a rectangle and do it as indicated in the previous post. The end result is the same, so it’s really up to you.
  4. Roll and fold your pastry for a total of 4 times, allowing plenty of chilling times after each 2.
  5. Once your pastry has been properly chilled, dust your working surface with plenty of golden caster sugar, then roll it out to a rectangle roughly 30 by 60cm. Trim the edges with a sharp knife, then spread the marmalade in an even layer on top of the pastry rectangle, leaving approximately 1 cm from all of the edges.
  6. Start rolling your palmier. Roll each side equally towards the centre, then when you get to the point where the two rolls meet, fold one on top of the other. Warp it in clingfilm and chill your ‘roll’ for one hour.
  7. Closer to the end of the chilling time, pre-heat your oven to 220C and line three baking trays with parchment.
  8. Take your pithivier out of the fridge, then use a very sharp knife to cut even 1cm slices. Cut each slice into halves but ensuring the cut doesn’t go all the way through and leaves a ‘joint’ on the closed side of the slice. To be clearer, keep the two ridges facing you while you cut the slice.
  9. Arrange the butterflies-to-be on the trays leaving plenty of space in between them as they will increase in volume. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180C and bake for a further 13 minutes, until a golden colour and thoroughly baked.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely, then use a piping bag to drizzle with the melted white chocolate and arrange the orange and lemon zest on top.

20131124_214540

 

20131124_214525

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

Plum & Cream Millefeuille

The idea for this impressive dessert came to me last week, when I found a very intriguing recipe for a Chestnut, Pear & Caramel Millefeuille online. As always, I set out looking for all the ingredients in my local supermarket and, as always, I found out the fundamental one needed to complete the recipe (the chestnut puree) wasn’t there. Nor were chestnuts, either fresh or vacuumed. Therefore, considering I had already started making puff pastry (a process which I like as it is very comforting), I decided to tweak (revolutionise, more like it) the recipe and include seasonal produce, e.g. plums.

The plums are gently simmered with some additional flavours to produce a punchy and tangy puree. I love how plums tinge the puree of a dark glossy ruby red colour. I used Marsala, the Italian fortified wine, as I believe its depth contributed perfectly to the mixture, but feel free to use any other liqueur or sweet wines you might prefer. The (whipped) cream is also enriched with a pistachio praline, very easy to make. The quantities indicated here make plenty, but you can re-use it in biscuits or dust it on cakes. Finally, the decoration: I melted some dark chocolate to make hearts and used some fresh plums, sliced, to complete the decoration. However, feel free to give room to your creativity and come up with new and exciting decorations.

20131102_191107

Ingredients

  • 750g puff pastry

Ingredients (for the plum puree)

  • 400g fresh plums, stoned and halved
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp Marsala
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2 x sheets of gelatine

Ingredients (for the praline)

  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g blanched and shelled pistachios, whole

Ingredients (for the whipped cream)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 50g dark chocolate, melted and piped into heart shapes
  • icing sugar
  • 1 plum, stoned and finely sliced
  • some plum puree

Method

  1. First of all, make the puree. Place the plums, water and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat, then let it come to a gentle simmer. Cook the plums, stirring occasionally, until they have started to break a little. Add the Marsala and honey and keep on simmering until the mixture is somewhat smooth and the plums have completely disintegrated in the compote. Transfer the mixture to a blender and whiz until smooth, then return to the saucepan and keep on cooking.
  2. In a bowl, soak the gelatine leaves in some cold water for about 10 minutes. Remove them from the water and squeeze out the excess water, then drop them in the hot plum puree and melt them in. Once completely melted, transfer the puree to a small bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool at room temperature before transferring to the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours.
  3. Now, on to the different layers of the millefeuille. The quantities indicated here make enough for 4 complete slices, each made up of 3 layers. Line 4 identical baking sheets/trays with baking parchment. It is important that the trays are of the same size as you will use them in pairs to weigh on the puff pastry and control the rise in the oven.
  4. Roll out your pastry to the thickness of a pound coin or about 3mm, then trim the edges. Cut 7x13cm rectangles and lay on the baking sheets. You should aim for a total of 12. Cover each baking sheet with some clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. This ensure the gluten in the pastry has time to relax and avoids the pastry shrinking while in the oven.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 240C, then press one of the empty trays on a filled one and put in the oven for exactly 15 minutes. Remember to put some baking parchment between the top tray and the layer of puff pastry rectangles or they will stick. Once baked, remove from the oven, remove the top tray and lay the puff pastry rectangles on a wire rack to cool completely. As you can see, these will have not puffed up as gloriously as you normally would expect from this type of pastry, but that is desirable to build up the millefeuille later.
  6. To make the pistachio praline, put the nuts and the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, then let the sugar slowly melt and turn a dark brown colour. Stir occasionally and cook until the sugar has completely melted. Gently oil a sturdy baking tray, then pour the mixture over and let it cool.
  7. Once cooled, transfer to a food processor and whiz until you get fine crumbs. This is your praline.
  8. To prepare the cream, whisk all of the ingredients to soft peaks, then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
  9. Now start assembling your slice. Place one puff pastry rectangle on a plate and top with some of the plum puree. Use a spoon to spread it or transfer to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Here it’s up to you whether you want to alternate blobs of plum puree with whipped cream or whether you would like to pipe some cream alongside the edges and fill them with the compote. Once you have covered the first layer, sprinkle some of the pistachio praline on top and top with another puff pastry rectangle. repeat as before. You will need 3 x puff pastry rectangles per each millefeuille.
  10. To decorate the top, pipe some whipped cream on the corners, then drizzle them with some of the plum puree. Arrange two plum slices on the cream in one corner and the chocolate shapes on the decoration in the other corner. Dust liberally with icing sugar and sprinkle with some more pistachio praline.

20131102_172512

20131102_191120