Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

I will be honest with you: I hate frying. It stinks the place up, it’s a mess to clean up afterwards and even back home in Italy my mum used to make a big fuss out of it by segregating herself in the kitchen, window wide open, so that the smell would not permeate the rest of the house. That said, sometimes you just can’t escape it. And, as we say in Italy, everything tastes good as long as it’s fried, even a shoe. Therefore, this time I was prepared. I opened the window, put the extractor fan on maximum and managed to cook these beauties without smoking the place up or turning my kitchen into an oil bath.

I will not go over the history of the Scoth egg. It’s not Scottish, as we all know it, and this article by the Guardian provides both an historical and a cultural overview of this culinary invention. The one below is a meat-free take as per the latest edition of the Good Food magazine. They called it Falafel Scotch Egg, I think ‘vegetarian’ hits the spot a lot better. I also played a little bit with the quantities in the original recipe, so the ones below are the quantities I used. These are very easy to make. I’d say you can get them done and cooked in less than an hour. If you wanted to, you could swap large eggs for quail eggs, for instance, or smaller ones – this way you’d get more mouthful-friendly Scotch eggs and you could also serve a larger crowd. I like how green they look when you cut through them, I think it gives them a whole new dimension.

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Ingredients

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 400g can of chickpeas, drained
  • 50g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 200g breadcrumbs + 25g
  • 5 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 2L vegetable oil, for frying
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Put 7 eggs in a pan of cold water, then bring to the boil and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain about half of the water left, then put it in a sink under cold running water until the pan in full again. Drain the eggs, then leave them in the pan and fill it with cold water again. Set aside to cool completely. Once cooled, peel the eggs.
  2. Put the oil, chopped onions and garlic in a frying pan and cook over medium heat just until the vegetables start to turn golden. At this point, add the spices and cook for a further 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.
  3. Tip the onion and garlic mixture into a food processor and pulse a few times to make a coarse paste, then add the chickpeas, coriander leaves, the remaining egg, the flour, the large quantity of breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Pulse together adding a couple of tablespoons to loosen the mixture a little bit until you get a vibrant green paste which can be moulded easily.
  4. To cover each egg, roll it in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour with some salt and pepper, then dust the excess off and take about 3 walnut-sized pieces of the green filling. Flatten it on your hand, then gently place the egg in the middle and use both of your hands to close the filling around each egg, making sure there are no gaps and the filling is even all around the egg. Roll each egg with the filling outside between your palms to smooth the surface, then set aside.
  5. In the meantime, heat the oil in a saucepan big enough to accommodate two eggs at a time. The oil will be ready when a cube of bread plunged in it browns in a few seconds.
  6. Once all of the eggs have been covered with the vegetarian mixture, place the remaining breadcrumbs and the sesame seeds in a shallow plate, then quickly roll the Scotch eggs in it.
  7. Fry two eggs at a time. They won’t need long, about 3 minutes maximum. Drain on plenty of kitchen paper, then season with a pinch of salt and serve with mustard and/or pickles. Enjoy!

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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…

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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.

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Sunflower Bread (Pain Tournesol/Pan Girasol)

I originally found the recipe for this stunning bread on a French food blog called Paprikas, but, as it turns out, in order to trace the original recipe I had to go through 3 French, 2 Spanish and 3 Romanian baking blogs only to end up in a cul-de-sac. Despite my Indiana Jones-like Internet adventure, it’s amazing how recipes travel throughout the world and are shared by people who love baking. It’s also interesting to see that the recipe I followed (by Sylvie here) is different from the one published on Paprikas as it contains eggs. The result is a more brioche-like texture, richer in taste and which lends itself to brunch and breakfast alike.

Contrary to what you might think, this bread is quite easy to make. As it was my first attempt, I did not take pictures to make a step by step guide, but you can find plenty of instructions on the two blogs I posted a link for, not to mention on all of the other ones the recipe was taken from! I will attempt to describe the procedure in words, but please do refer to the photo guides as they are immensely helpful. Last thing: as I said, I chose the version with eggs. If you don’t want to use them in your bread, feel free to swap them for an equal amount of lukewarm milk and water – or water for a plainer dough.

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Ingredients

  • 760g strong bread flour
  • 250ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs, slightly beaten
  • 125ml olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g sachet of instant yeast
  • 50g butter, melted, to assemble the layers
  • poppy, pumpkin and sesame seeds, to decorate
  • about 15ml whole milk, to brush on top

Method

  1. Start by making the dough. Please be aware you will be working with a lot of flour and the complete dough will weigh approximately 1.2 kg. I used the big glass bowl of my KitchenAid to mix the ingredients together and then kneaded the dough by hand. If you are planning to do this by hand, then have plenty of room available.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding fitted with the hook attachment add the flour, sugar, salt and yeast (remember to put the salt and the yeast in two opposite corners). In a jug, combine the oil and milk. Start the mixer and slowly begin to add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, starting with the eggs. Depending on the type of flour you are using, you might find you won’t need all of the milk & oil mixture or, conversely, you might find the dough is too dry and needs more moisture (that was my case). Should that be the case, please feel free to either add some lukewarm water or not to use the whole milk & oil mixture.
  3. Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, turn out the mixture on a working surface (don’t flour it!) and knead until the dough is silky smooth, elastic and pliable. Transfer to a big bowl (no need to oil it as it contains oil already), cover with clingfilm and let it prove for about 1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, line a big square/round tin (I used a pizza one) and melt your butter.
  5. First phase of the assembling: Once the dough has proved, weigh it and divide it in two equal parts. Set aside one and shape the other one in a long sausage (this will make it easier to portion it). Divide the dough into five equal pieces, then roll out 4 of them to rounds approximately 20cm wide and keep the 5th one aside. Start creating the big flower by placing one of the 20cm rounds in the middle of the tin. Brush it with butter, then top with the second one. Repeat until you have used all 4 of them, then brush the last one with butter.
  6. Now take the 5th piece of dough and roll that out to a slightly bigger round, approximately 22cm wide. You want this to cover the other ones once placed on top. When ready, place it on top of the small pile but don’t brush it with butter.
  7. Now take a sharp knife and cut a star-shaped cross on top of the dough all the way through the pile of rounds. Be careful not to reach out to the edges as you want to keep about half a cm all around. Now take the triangular pieces of dough and turn them inside out, pushing them slightly away from the center. There you go, this is the outer layer of your sunflower.
  8. Second phase of the assembling: Remember the big piece of dough we set aside at the beginning? Take that and divide it into 6 equal parts. Set two aside and work with 4. Repeat as before, this time rolling the pieces out to 16cm rounds. Again, stack them one on top of the other inside the outer ring and glue them together with the melted butter. Roll out the fifth piece of dough to a slightly bigger round and place it on top of the smaller pile. Don’t brush it with butter.
  9. Using the knife, cut the same star shaped pattern on top of the smaller pile and turn the triangular ‘petals’ inside out.
  10. Now take the 6th piece of dough and shape it into a ball, then place it in the middle of the flower composition to complete it. Cover the whole flower in clingfilm and leave to prove for at least 1 hour or until there are no more gaps between the layers and it has increased in size by about 1/3.
  11. Brush the proved flower with milk, which will give it a nice shine and deep brown colour. Sprinkle the middle with pumpkin seeds and the outer layer with poppy seeds – but you can also opt for a more personal decoration!
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 200C, then bake the flower for about 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 180C and baking for a further 30 minutes. If you notice your flower is browning too much or too fast, cover it with some foil.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack before serving it.

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Fried Peppers with Cheese

This is a traditional Bulgarian recipe (or so I have been told), very easy to prepare but full of flavour. It is usually served as a starter or as a light snack, but you can easily turn this into a main dish. Use red peppers for best flavour and a nice chromatic contrast with the filling, yellow is fine too. I wouldn’t use green, but then again it’s completely up to you.

I decided to serve this with a nice and fresh salad made with leftovers. Seeing as you only need half a block of feta for the filling, I used the rest for the salad, added some sweetcorn I had in the fridge and pepped it all up with paprika, black pepper, some oil and some coriander.

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Ingredients

  • 4 long peppers
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • olive oil
  • 100g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chilli powder

Method

  1. Cut the peppers in halves, scoop out the seeds and the white core, then place under a preheated grill, skin side uppermost. Cook until the skin is charred and blackened. Place them on a plate, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steam for about 10 minutes.
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully peel away the skin from the peppers.
  3. In a bowl, mix together 1 egg, the feta, parsley and chilli powder. Divide evenly among the pepper slices.
  4. Reshape the peppers to look whole. Prepare two shallow bowls, one with the remaining egg slightly beaten and the other one with the seasoned flour. Dip the whole peppers in the beaten egg, then in the flour. You can create a double coating if you want to.
  5. Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, then gently fry the peppers on both sides for about 4 minutes a side. Drain them on kitchen paper before serving them.

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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.

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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.

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S-Rust-a-fusi

This biscuit recipe is inspired from the ‘scroccafusi’ one, a particular confectionery they make in the Marche region over the Carnival period. Traditionally, these biscuits should be boiled first and only then baked, although there seems to exist different schools of thought on the matter. Also, the name itself, meaning ‘spaccadenti’ (tooth-breakers) is only used in a specific part of the Marche region and, faithful to a wide regional variety, these biscuits have different name within the same area. According to the lore, if a foreigner or a future relative were to enter the kitchen while these biscuits were being made, the lady of the house needed to spit on the floor three times and trace a good luck symbol with her foot to banish the evil spirits.

Needless to say, this is a very personal interpretation of the recipe (and with no saliva spillage involved). Their weird name explains itself by how similar these biscuits are to baby rusts, small dry cakes used in the United Kingdom during the teething period to comfort toddlers. They are dense and yet rewarding, with a subtle almond and caramel taste. Traditionally, these biscuits should have been made with a dash of liquor, possibly Mistrà, a wine and anise liquor typical of the Marche region. The addition of Marsala, a fortified wine, works just as good. Also, quite remarkably, these biscuits do not need any fat or butter at all, which definitely explains their weird texture. They are also very easy to make, so you definitely have no excuses whatsoever.

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Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 230g golden caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp Marsala
  • 5 tbsp ground almonds

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, put the whole eggs and the sugar, then use the paddle attachment to beat them until foamy and increased in volume by at least 1/3.
  2. Slowly add the flour (in two batches), the Marsala and the ground almonds, until your mixture is still liquid, but very dense and thick.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two (or three) baking trays with parchment.
  4. Fill a bowl with some water and keep it next to you, then regularly wet your hands, let the excess water fall back in the bowl and take nugget-sized chunks of the mixture from the bowl, turning them round in your hands and then putting them on the baking tray. Repeat with the whole mixture. (The water here prevents the mixture from sticking to your hands). Leave some space between the blobs of mixture as the biscuits will expand in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

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Chocolate & Mascarpone Cake

The idea from this beautifully rich cake comes from this post in the La Tarte Maison blog by Marina. Her creation is in turn derived from another food blogger’s chocolate cake, which you can find here. Independently from whomever first thought this recipe up, however, please make sure to try this cake. I added my own personal touch by mixing some leftover dulce de leche in the filling and the result is amazing.

It’s a 3-layered chocolate sponge cake with a mascarpone, cream cheese and dulce de leche filling, covered by a thick chocolate ganache and decorated with chocolate roses on top. The measurements you will find below for the chocolate ganache may sound a bit over the top, but believe me you will thank me when you have a bit of leftover ganache as you will need quite a lot to ice the entire cake and make the roses too. It is also a very big cake, therefore it is perfect for a celebration or a birthday.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 375g plain flour, sifted
  • 4 large eggs
  • 125g cocoa
  • 500ml water, freshly boiled
  • 500g golden caster sugar
  • 250g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 250g full-fat cream cheese
  • 30g dulce de leche
  • 50g icing sugar

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 650g dark chocolate
  • 400ml double cream
  • 50g apricot jam

Method

  1. First, butter and line a 26cm springform tin. Then, move on to prepare the sponge.
  2. Boil the kettle and measure out 500ml water, then mix the cocoa powder in and leave the resulting mixture to cool before proceeding any further.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a bowl, if you are doing it by hand), combine the butter and the sugar until you get a sandy texture, then mix in the eggs and the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine the flour with the rising agents.
  4. Mix for a good 5 minutes at medium speed or until the mixture looks pale and fluffy. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 170C.
  5. Reduce the speed to slow, add half of the flour mixture then, as soon as that has been folded in, pour in the whole of the chocolate water mixture and fold well. Finally, add the rest of the flour mixture. Your batter should be fluffy and dark but not too heavy.
  6. Pour the mixture in the prepared tin, then bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Check whether the cake is ready with a skewer, then remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Ideally, once cooled you should transfer the sponge to the fridge and leave to set and harden overnight. However, if you are in a rush, just let it cool down at room temperature until stone cold, then move on to the next step.
  7. Using a serrated knife (or a really sharp one), slice the cake in three horizontally. Lay each layer on a piece of baking parchment and set aside while you prepare the filling.
  8. Mix the mascarpone with the cream cheese and the dulce de leche until you get a very smooth mixture.
  9. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream with the icing sugar until it gets very stiff, then carefully and slowly fold that into the cream cheese and mascarpone mixture. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  10. Once that is done, you can start assembling the cake.
  11. Choose the least good looking cake layer and put that on the cake board/stand you will build your cake on. Use your best looking one for the top layer. Remove the filling from the fridge.
  12. Transfer half of the filling to a piping bag without nozzle, then snip the end off and carefully pipe on top of the first layer so as to cover it all (I did this in concentric circles starting from the outer one). Cover with the other sponge layer and repeat the procedure, using the rest of the filling. Cover with the last and third sponge layer.
  13. In a pan, gently warm the apricot jam, then spread it on top of the cake. This will prevent the ganache from being absorbed by the cake sponge and will guarantee a smooth finish as it will hold the cake crumbs together.
  14. Put the cake in the fridge and leave to rest for at least 1 hour.
  15. Last step, the ganache. Break up the chocolate and roughly chop it, then transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Pour the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  16. Remove the cream from the heat and gently pour on to the chopped chocolate, then leave to stand for 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to combine it and to ensure all of the chocolate melts with the cream. Keep on stirring until the mixture is a dark brown colour and perfectly smooth. Leave on the side until cooled down.
  17. Once cool, put in the fridge to harden up for 10 minutes, then remove the cake and the ganache from the fridge and get ready to ice.
  18. Use a spatula to spoon about half of the ganache on the top and sides of the cake. Aim for a very smooth finish. Try and be quick as the ganache will harden in no time, especially if spread very thinly. Transfer the remaining ganache to a piping bag equipped with a star nozzle.
  19. Pipe small roses on top of the cake, then fill in any gaps with small stars. To pipe roses, make sure you hold the piping bag slightly above your cake, then pipe small swirls starting from the inside and slowly building on the outside. By being slightly away from the surface to be iced, you ensure the icing falls back on itself and gently turns, creating a small rose. You can pipe the roses in a circle and then fill the circle with more roses or opt for a more adventurous design.
  20. Dust the cake with some icing sugar for a more dramatic effect (optional). Put the cake back in the fridge for an hour before serving it.

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Midsummer Night’s Dream Cake

I made this cake yesterday evening by freely adapting a recipe found in the July issue of the BBC Good Food Magazine. Janine from Worcester had submitted her recipe for a Blueberry & pistachio cake with cardamon cream which looked really nice and seeing as I had all the necessary ingredients, I decided to give it a go. Her cardamom cream soon turned out to be a nightmare (too watery and not cardamomy enough anyway), so I opted for a much more secured cream cheese frosting enriched with pistachio. She also used ground pistachio in the sponge (posh!), but as I didn’t have them already ground and my food processor was in the dishwasher after having slaved the whole afternoon to make breadcrumbs, I went for ground almonds instead.

I hope you like it. I do. It’s a very visual cake and it somehow reminds me of autumn. Maybe because of the pistachio speckled blueberries on top, which look a bit like fallen leaves on the ground. The green on top set against the dark blueberry background also reminds me of the moss on the side of a tree… I was toying with the idea of calling this Fairy Cake, but then I decided to opt for a much more evocative name, possibly because the colours and the textures of this cake somehow remind me of this wonderful screen adaptation of the Shakespearean play.

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Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 225 golden caster sugar
  • 175g butter, melted and cooled
  • 200g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 85g ground almonds, sifted
  • 50g blueberries

Ingredients (for the filling and the decoration)

  • 400g icing sugar
  • 100g butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 60g pistachios, finely chopped
  • 250g blueberries

Method

  1. Start by preparing 2 x 20cm sandwich cake tins. Line the bottom with baking parchment and butter the sides and the parchment, then pour 1 tsp caster sugar and 1 tsp flour in each and swirl them around to evenly coat the inside of the tins.
  2. Put the eggs and the sugar in a heatproof bowl, then use an electric whisk to briefly combine them. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and continue to whisk until the mixture is very pale, thick and has at least doubled in volume. To test when your mixture is ready, try and lift the whisks from the bowl. The mixture should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon-like trail. (You can do with a normal balloon whisk, but be prepared to whisk for ages)
  3. Remove the bowl from the surface and continue beating for about 2 minutes or until the bowl is cool to to the touch.
  4. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  5. Now take the melted and cooled butter and start trickling it around the edge of the bowl, whisking on full speed all along. Pause every once in a while to incorporate all of the butter. Once the butter has been fully incorporated, remove the whisks and use a metal spoon or a rubber spatula.
  6. Fold in the flour and ground almonds with very long and delicate movements, so as to knock out of the mixture as little air as possible. Last, also fold in the blueberries.
  7. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins and bake for 30 minutes. Check the sponges are cooked by using a skewer.
  8. Once cooked, remove from the oven and set over a wire rack to cool, then unmould and leave to cool completely.
  9. While the sponges cool, move on to the icing. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the softened butter and the icing sugar using the paddle attachment until you get a sandy-like consistency.
  10. Start adding the milk one tablespoon at the time and increase the speed until the mixture is fully blended and very creamy. Increase the speed again to very high and beat for about 2 minutes, until very fluffy and pale white. (Again, you can do this with a balloon whisk)
  11. Mix in half of the finely chopped pistachios, then start layering your cake.
  12. Arrange one of the sponges on a cake stand/board, then top with 2/3 of the icing, spreading it evenly. Arrange the other sponge on top, then spread the remaining icing on top of the cake. Cover the top with blueberries and use the leftover ones to create a pearl-necklace-like decoration around the cake by pushing then in the hole created between the two sponges. Dust with the rest of the chopped pistachios and serve.

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Mint Pan di Spagna Cake

Today I discovered a very interesting food blog written in a beautiful, artistic and very sophisticated Italian (and I do love a well-written piece, being a linguist myself). The blog is called Fragole a merenda (strawberries for breakfast) and that’s where I got the inspiration for this cake from.

As documented by other foodie websites I refer to, pan di Spagna was originally called Pâte Génoise, Genoise sponge. Does it ring a bell now? If you are interested in a bit of history, it all dates back to the 18th century, when Italian chef Giobatta Cabona prepared an incredibly light and soft cake during a trip to Spain with the Italian ambassador. The cake was a roaring success and it was named pan di Spagna (literally, bread/pastry of Spain) in honour of the Spanish court, who hosted the chef and the ambassador during their trip. If the original recipe asked for all the ingredients to be mixed over a pan of simmering water in order to make the eggs increase five-fold, the modern version only relies on a good whisk and plenty of air incorporated in the mixture.

There are two ways of preparing pan di Spagna. In the first one, the flour is added only at the end of the preparation and slowly and gently folded in so as to knock out as little air as possible. According to the second one, you should instead alternate flour and egg whites. This prevents the air in the egg whites to be knocked out right at the end when the flour is added. Also, by adding the flour a little at a time you ensure it is fully incorporated by the time all of the egg whites are added, which gives you a spongier and more delicate result. I used the second one, and you can check out the recipe I used on here (in Italian), although I used one less egg than indicated.

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Ingredients (for the pan di Spagna)

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 160g plain flour, sifted
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp mint extract (optional)

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 250ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp crème de menthe or other mint-flavoured liquour
  • 300g mixed berries (I used blackberries, blueberries and strawberries)

Method

  1. First of all, make sure you line, butter and flour a 23cm springform cake tin. I used a 26cm one here, but if you want your base to be thicker then reduce the diameter of the tin you are using. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Now, make the sponge. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric whisk until very pale, light and fluffy. This should take at least 5 minutes. If you are using it, you can add the mint extract.
  3. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Sift your flour on a piece of baking parchment, then pour it into a bowl.
  5. Sift (yes, again) one fourth of the flour into the yolk and sugar mixture, then whisk that in with the electric beaters.
  6. Using a rubber spatula, fold about one third of the egg whites into the floury mixture using very ample, delicate and regular movements in order not to knock any air out of the mixture.
  7. Start alternating the flour to the egg whites. Always make sure you sift your flour into the mixture and that the previous egg white or flour batch has been completely incorporated before you add anything else. The last addition should be flour.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, level the top and bake for 45 minutes, by which time the top of the cake should be golden and the cake should have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Turn the oven off but do not remove the cake. Instead, leave it inside for another 5 minutes and only then remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. This prevents the fragile cake structure from collapsing when the temperature suddenly drops.
  9. To make the topping, whip the cream to soft peaks, then add the mint liquour and mix that in.
  10. Pour on top of the cooled sponge cake, then spread it around using a palette knife and decorate with the berries. If your cake is thicker than mine, you can even cut the cake into half and fill it with more cream and berries, much in the way you would do with a Victoria sponge cake.

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Spinach and Walnut Malfatti

One of the many magazines I read (more or less) frequently is Food & Travel, mostly because it comprises my two favourite things in life. I have to admit it is slightly pompous in places and it does provide mostly insights and advice on places I probably never will go to, but looking at the pictures of green valleys and outstanding traditional and regional food does the trick for me anyway.

This is an Italian-inspired recipe. ‘Malfatti’ literally means ‘badly made’, mostly because these spinach balls will turn out very different one from the other and that is their charm. The name evokes a certain nonchalanche when preparing them which is typical Italian (or French, but that’s a different story altogether). They are very easy to make and provide instant comfort. Last note: these are served with a tomato salsa and Parmesan sprinkles. However, due to the flexible nature of malfatti (I sound like an engineer now), these will be fantastic even if you put them in a baking tray with some tomato sauce and bake them, more or less like you would do with lasagne.

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Ingredients (for the malfatti)

  • 300g spinach
  • 20g butter
  • 250g ricotta
  • 100g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 3 tbsp corn flour
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients (for the salsa)

  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped into small pieces
  • 15g parsley, roughly chopped

Ingredients (for the sprinkles)

  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 orange, zest only

Method

  1. Put the spinach in a large pan and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Add 1 tsp salt and bring to the boil, by which time the spinach will have wilted. 
  2. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain well, then squeeze out the excess water from the spinach. When done, chop finely and put on kitchen paper.
  3. Melt the butter over a low heat. Once it’s sizzling, sauté the spinach for 4 minutes, stirring often. Put in a colander and put to one side to cool completely. Put a large pan of water on to boil.
  4. Using a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. In a large bowl, combine them with the ricotta, Parmesan and corn flour. Stir in the spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the egg and the egg yolk.
  5. Scatter a baking tray with some flour and another with some oil.
  6. Mould the malfatti into small balls using your hands. Place them on the floured tray. When the water is boiling, throw in 1 tbsp salt and add some malfatti at a time to cook. Wait until the float back to the surface, pretty much like gnocchi. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Let them drain, then put them on the oiled tray.
  7. To make the salsa, warm the olive oil in a pan, then add the tomatoes and parsley. Season lightly with sea salt and  black pepper.
  8. To make the chilli Parmesan sprinkles, simply combine all three ingredients in a bowl.
  9. Serve the malfatti with some salsa e sprinkle with the chilli Parmesan.