Oreo Brownies

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

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

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Ingredients

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

Method

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

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Crostata all’Olio d’Oliva

If you want to be pedant, this is nothing more than a simple jam tart. You can fill it with the preserve of your choice too (I used my grandma’s apricot jam, which is sweet, treacly and very moreish if compared to those diluted and bright orange replicas you find in shops). What’s peculiar about it is the use of olive oil instead of butter in the shortcrust pastry. This has two immediate consequences. First of all, you don’t need to rub butter in the pastry or chill it before rolling it out. Then, you get very nice and subtle fruity notes provided for by the olive oil, but still retain all that crumbliness and crisp so typical of butter-based shortcrust tarts. Here I used some very good and dense Sicilian olive oil I brought directly from Italy, but a good olive oil would be just as good.

The rationale behind it is that in the old times, in Tuscan homes, butter was relatively unknown and considered too costly and stodgy to be used in food. On the other hand, olive oil was the staple of the local diet and used abundantly in both sweet and savoury dishes. This recipe is from the La Vialla estate, a farm and wine paradise located in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. The recipe also featured in the September issue of the delicious. magazine. I have slightly adapted it while making it.

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Ingredients

  • 80ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 350g plain flour
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp Marsala wine
  • 350g of your favourite jam
  • icing sugar (optional)

Method

  1. Grease and flour a 23cm fluted tart tin, then set aside. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, golden caster sugar and baking powder. Measure out the olive oil in a jug, then add the eggs and the Marsala. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl, then add the lemon zest. Mix using a wooden spoon until just combined, then use your hands to bring the pastry together.
  3. Take a third of the pastry and reserve it for the top. Gather the rest of it in a ball and put it on a heavily floured work surface (the pastry will stick because of the oil). Roll it out to a circle the thickness of a pound coin, then line the greased and floured tin. Ensure the pastry fits snugly in the tin, then prick the base with a fork.
  4. Spread the jam in an even layer on the pastry shell.
  5. Now take the reserved pastry and roll that out to the thickness of a pound coin. Using a very sharp knife, cut long strips of pastry, then lace them on top of the jam. Make sure to trim to edges once all done.
  6. Bake the tart in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes. Keep an eye on it and cover it with foil it starts browning too soon.
  7. Once baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly in the tin, then remove from the tin and serve. Dust with icing sugar if you wish.

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Peschine – Boozy Pastry Peaches

It all began when my mother gave me an Italian pastry recipe book which contained this childhood classic (well, mine at least). These are small shortcrust biscuits sandwiched together with pastry cream, then rolled in a dark red liqueur and granulated sugar. The result is a peach-looking like biscuit, very boozy and finger lickin’ good. I remember going to the pastry shop as a kid and asking my mother to buy me one of these, only to devour it in a few seconds. Not that I showed any alcoholic obsessions from an early age (the alcohol content is minimal if compared to other desserts), but more because of the deep red colour and the intense flavour these biscuits have. Just divine.

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According to tradition, these should be made using two liqueurs. First, Maraschino, a Dalmatian liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries, is added to the dough. As I didn’t have it, I used Cognac instead. These little beauties are then rolled in Alchermes, an Italian alcoholic concoction prepared with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Alchermes is renowned for its deep scarlet red colour, obtained with the addition of Kermes, a parasitic insect. When it came out the liqueur was prepared with insects, sales dropped and people refused to use it. As a result, modern preparations prefer vegetable colourings instead. I bought mine in Italy, but you should be able to buy it online or in specialist shops. Also, the filling can traditionally be either pastry cream or its chocolate version. I stipulated in favour of the second one, mostly because that’s the way I have always had them.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp Cognac
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of one lemon

Ingredients (for the filling and decoration)

  • about 450g pastry cream and/or chocolate pastry cream
  • about 200ml Alchermes
  • 200g granulated sugar

Method

  1. Line two (or three) baking trays with baking parchment. Do not turn the oven on now as the pastry needs to chill.
  2. Using a freestanding mixer (or your hands), cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix that in.
  3. Mix the flour with the raising agents, then sift those in and work them into the mixture, ensuring not to overwork it. Add the liqueur and the lemon zest, then work those in too. Gather the dough into a ball.
  4. Dust your working surface with a good amount of flour, then place your dough in the middle and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin. Use a 4cm round cutter to cut shapes, then roll each one into a ball and place on the prepared baking tray. Keep on re-rolling your pastry trimmings to make as many nugget-sized pastry balls as possible. Also ensure you have an even number as you will need to sandwich them. Transfer each baking tray to the fridge to firm up before baking. You will need approximately 20-30 minutes.
  5. Towards the end of the baking time, pre-heat your oven to 180C, then bake each biscuit batch for 15 minutes. Do not overbake to give them a deep golden colour as they will be too hard afterwards. Remove each batch from the fridge and leave on a wire rack to cool down and firm up.
  6. Once cooled, use a knife to slightly carve the peach halves. This will ensure more cream can be used to fill them and keep the two halves together.
  7. When you are ready to assemble, place the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl, the liqueur in another and have the pastry cream at hand with a teaspoon. In an assembly line sort of way, fill the two halves with some pastry cream, then join them on the flat side to make them stick. Dunk them briefly in the Alchermes (you don’t want them to become too soggy), then roll them in the granulated sugar. Transfer them to an empty plate and, should you feel particularly artistic, decorate each one with a small mint leaf.

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3 Liqueur Cupcakes

These were the lucky outcome of a small experiment in the kitchen. It all started when I set off to make the Espresso & Brandy cupcakes from here. I soon realized, however, that I did not want to have to make some coffee just to use 1 tablespoon (especially as I have a 6 cup caffettiera). Instead of using coffee, I thought, why not use a coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua? Unfortunately (or luckily?), my liqueur cabinet is always adequately stocked. Not that I sneak downstairs when my partner is fast asleep and drink in the solitude of the night, but I do keep a good assortment of booze for baking and cooking. You would be amazed at how many uses a bottle of brandy can lend itself to. Anyway, I decided to slightly change the frosting recipe too, thinking 5 tablespoons of liqueur would have made it exceedingly runny. Therefore, I decided to match the flavour of the cupcake by adding some Kahlua, followed by some Brandy (the only one in the original recipe) and, weirdly enough, some Malibu (a coconut flavoured liqueur). The result was a deep success, with my partner (who doesn’t like sweet things) even declaring the icing reminded him of ice-cream. Yippee!

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Ingredients (for the cupcakes)

  • 185g unsalted butter, softened
  • 185g golden caster sugar
  • 185g self-raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua

Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp Kahlua
  • 1 tbsp Brandy
  • 1 tbsp Malibu
  • cocoa powder, optional

Method

  1. First of all, line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases and pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, then slowly add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Incorporate the flour and the salt, then pour in the liqueur and beat well until very smooth and pale.
  4. Divide the batter between the paper cases (I used an icre-cream scoop), then bake for 35 minutes, until the sponges spring back when lightly pressed.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the icing. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter with the cream cheese, then slowly add the icing sugar and use a rubber spatula to mix that in with the butter and cheese mixture.
  7. Using the paddle attachment, beat the icing on high speed until very light and fluffy, then gradually add the liqueurs, mixing well after each addition.
  8. Transfer to a piping bag with a star nozzle attached and, once the cupcakes are cooled, pipe big swirls on the top surface, trying not to break the flow and to pipe moving from the outsides to the insides. Dust with some cocoa powder if you want to.

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Water (eggless & milkless) Brioches

When you have been baking for a while, simple recipes are simply not enough. As a confident baker, you turn towards more complicated and challenging ways of making bread, cakes etc. That’s why when I stumbled upon this recipe twice on Italian food blogs, La Tarte Maison and Trattoria da Martina, I decided to give it a try. The concept behind it is very interesting. If normally a brioche is made with eggs, milk and flour, to make these small brioche (bun-size ones) you ditch the eggs and the milk in favour of water. The fat component (traditionally butter) can either be provided by lard, butter (ditto) or, in my case, oil. Martina from La Tarte Maison jokingly said that when this recipe came out on the web, her blogger friends and herself managed to try all ‘3 shades of fat’ in making it. I decided to use oil and the result is a very soft and moreish texture.

Making these is very easy and you will be better off kneading the dough by hand rather than in a freestanding mixer. It is easier to incorporate the oil by hand – if you do it in a freestanding mixer, the dough just floats in the oil and does not absorb it. However, I still put my dough in the mixer to knead for a couple of minutes once the oil had been worked in and this made it extra soft and pliable. The dough also needs to be rested in the fridge: this also makes it easier to work with it afterwards.

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Ingredients

  • 250g strong bread flour
  • 125ml water, at room temperature
  • 1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
  • 70g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 30ml vegetable oil
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), pour the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest, then add the water and mix it all together for 8-10 minutes on low speed.
  2. Once all of the ingredients have been thoroughly incorporated, tip the dough on a clean work surface and spread it out a bit. Pour some oil in (adding a teaspoon at the time is the best way forward), then knead that in, ensuring the oil if fully absorbed. If needed, put the oily dough back in the bowl of the freestanding mixer to knead a little bit more.
  3. Once all of the oil has been slowly worked in (it will take you about 30 minutes by hand), transfer the dough back into the bowl of the freestanding mixer and knead for another 10 minutes – the mixture should be shiny, elastic and smooth and come away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Transfer the dough in a bowl or a plastic container, then cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm environment until doubled (an hour should be enough). Punch the dough down, cover tightly with clingfilm and put the dough to rest in the fridge for 3 hours.
  5. Once the dough has been properly chilled and rested, remove from the fridge and tip onto a work surface. Use your hands to roll the dough into a long sausage, then cut it into 8 equal pieces using a small knife.
  6. Line a baking tray with some parchment paper, then use your hands to slightly roll each small piece into a ball and place them on the baking tray, well spaced. To give you an idea – I saw Paul Hollywood doing it on TV once – put your hand, finger down, in the shape of a cage around the dough, then roll each small piece until it’s completely round and resembles a small ball.
  7. Turn your oven on to 50C, cover the tray with a towel and put the small uncooked brioches to rise again in the oven (don’t worry, they won’t cook) for about 40 minutes. They should more or less double in size.
  8. Turn the temperature of the oven up to 180C, remove the towel and bake the small brioches for 15 minutes. They will be well browned when cooked.
  9. Remove from the oven, let them cool down slightly, then dust with icing sugar before serving.

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Sirloin Steaks with a Guinness Sauce

This is hardly a recipe. Consider it more like a suggestion to enjoy a good sirloin steak. And if it comes from someone who is not a massive meat lover, then it must be at least decent (overestimation here!). The sauce is very easy to prepare and you are free to cook the steaks to your liking. I have served this with a good buttery mash, but some greens would be just as good.

We bought out meat from Donald Russell and we are extremely satisfied. The meat is very good quality, lean and it cooks to perfection.

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Ingredients

  • 2 good quality sirloin steaks
  • 1 x bottle of Guinness (or any stout)
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • mashed potatoes or greens, to serve

Method

  1. Put the stout, sugar and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan over a medium heat and heat until bubbling. Leave on the heat to reduce until the sauce has become a thick liquid. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the mash as you like or lightly poach the greens and keep them warm.
  3. When the sauce is ready, gently oil and season the steaks on both sides, then sear in a very hot pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side. Adjust the cooking time according to your preference.
  4. Plate the dish and drizzle the warm sauce on top. Serve with some chopped parsley.

Toscakaka (Tosca Cake)

When I’m stressed, sad or just generally feeling a bit down, I bake a cake. I found it has some very deep therapeutic effects on me and it instantly calms me down. And by cake I do not mean one of those fancy and intricate layered-sponge-cum-mousse masterworks a proficient patissier would find hard to pull off, but, rather, a very simple and traditional cake which looks hearty and warming. That’s when I laid my eyes on this Scandinavian cake, which I found on the Poires au Chocolat blog. I have in fact merely followed Emma’s take on it (the original recipe is in the Scandilicious Baking recipe book by Signe Johanson), although I opted for golden caster sugar rather than simple caster and used beurre noisette instead of standard butter.

This is a caramel sponge cake topped with a very soft and moreish almond layer. The name sounds very weird to Italian ears as ‘cacca’ is the equivalent of ‘poo’, and I find it very hard to associate it with baking. However, as it turns out, ‘kaka‘ is Swedish for ‘cake’ – incidentally (and very interestingly), the word ‘cake’ comes from the Old Norse kaka (Merriam Webster). As for ‘Tosca‘ , opinions vary: some believe the cake was inspired by Puccini’s opera, while others believe it comes from the almond cakes made in Tuscany (Toscana in Italian). Nevertheless, the cake is based on a standard genoise-inspired sponge and the caramel-like topping seeps into the cake as it bakes, creating a thick layer at the top which is generously sodden in butter and sugar. The almonds on the top soften while baking, creating an enjoyably tender caramel layer on top (you won’t break your teeth on this one!).

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 75ml buttermilk
  • 75g beurre noisette (see below)
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Ingredients (for the almond topping)

  • 150g flaked almonds
  • 125g butter
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract (my addition)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 160C and line and butter a 23cm round cake tin, preferably with a removable bottom or springform.
  2. If you prefer, you can toast the almond flakes either in the oven for about 10 minutes or on the hob in dry a frying pan, then set aside.
  3. To make your beurre noisette, melt unsalted butter in a saucepan, then increase the heat to medium until the mixture starts foaming and bubbling up. Leave to bubble away until it turns a dark caramel colour, by which point it will be done. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla together on high for 5 minutes, until the mixture is a pale and very thick. While it whisks, sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together.
  5. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture over the egg bowl, then gently fold in with a large spatula. Drizzle half of the buttermilk over the top and fold in. Repeat with the next 1/3 of flour, the rest of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. Finally drizzle half of the butter over the top, fold in, then repeat with the remaining butter. Be gentle but thorough, scraping the bottom and ensuring all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  6. Transfer to the tin, then tap on the counter once to remove any big air bubbles. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden and set (check for doneness with a skewer).
  7. Start making the topping 10-15 minutes before the cake is due to be ready. Mix all of the ingredients in a saucepan and stir as the butter melts. Keep on stirring over a medium heat. The mixture will bubble and slightly thicken. Remove from the heat.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and set over a wire rack. Pour the caramel and almond topping over the cake, then spread with a palette knife right until the edges. Increase the oven temperature to 200C, then put the cake back in for another 10 minutes, until the top is bubbling.
  9. Remove from the oven, leave to stand for 3 minutes, then use a palette knife or a round bladed knife to run alongside the edges of the tin and to release the cake and the topping. Remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

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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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Red Wine Meringues

I don’t like meringues. They tend to be too sweet and it is a bit too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have a massive sweet tooth, but eating sugar on its own – albeit in a very delicate and artistic shape – is not my cup of tea. The same applies to pavlovas, which are in the end a massive meringue with cream and fruit on top. Anyway, I found this recipe in the Eat the Love blog, where Irvin uses it to make his Honey Lemon Olive Oil Whole Wheat red Wine Italian Meringue Coffee Cake with Dark Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnuts. Before moving any further, let us a wait a second while I rest my fingers after having typed such a big title.

Thank you. I made the cake (with a few amendments) and it turned out nice, but what struck me was the use a of a red wine Italian meringue, which Irvin then combined with cream cheese to create the filling. Pure genius. For those of you who don’t know, an Italian meringue is achieved by whisking egg whites and then, while whisking on high speed, pouring in a scolding hot sugary syrup. This achieves one main advantage: it cooks the egg whites, thus stabilizing the meringue and making it easier to work with as it will not deflate. So far I had made Italian meringue with a simple sugar syrup, but using wine (or indeed, any other liquid come think of it), is just awesome. The meringue retains much of the red wine scent and aroma (and colour!), creating a unique dessert. Please note that I do not have a sugar thermometer, so I cannot provide you with an exact temperature the syrup should be removed from the heat at. I have been doing it by pure instinct and it has worked wonders so far – in fact, twice today only!

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Ingredients

  • 125ml dry red wine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg white (about 45g), at room temperature
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch of salt

Method

  1. Start by measuring out the cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of your freestanding mixer. If you are doing the meringue with a hand-held electric whisk, then pour the ingredients in a bowl. I strongly advise you NOT to do this by hand as it would be a painstakingly exhausting exercise, not to mention you wouldn’t achieve the desired effect.
  2. In a saucepan, warm up the wine and sugar over a high heat. You are aiming for a rolling boil which spreads all over the surface of the wine mixture.
  3. In the meantime, pour in the egg whites in the bowl and turn on the freestanding mixer on a high speed, until the egg white is all frothy and starts whipping up into soft peaks.
  4. When the wine mixture comes to a rolling boil, leave it to boil for exactly one minute, then take off the heat and immediately pour the wine mixture into a jug or a container which makes it easier to pour it.
  5. Now, keep your freestanding mixer on high speed and slowly but steadily pour the wine down the sides of the bowl. You will see the meringue gradually changing colour and becoming pale purple. It will also increase in volume and become glossier. This is due to the combined action of the heat and the sugar. Pour in all of the liquid.
  6. Keep on whisking on high speed. If you touch the sides of the bowl, you will notice they are hot. You will need to keep on whisking until the temperature of the mixture comes down to room temperature. You will also notice that the mixture fluffs up and increases in volume even more as the mixer keeps on whisking it up. Turn off the engine of the mixer once the mixture has cooled down.
  7. You have now created your Italian meringue mixture. As I said, the meringue is already cooked, but you will still need to bake it to create a meringue. Therefore, transfer the mixture to a piping bag (with or without nozzle) and pipe on lined baking trays. I found that dusting them in icing sugar prior to piping the meringues prevent them to stick to the baking parchment. Bake at 110C for 1 hour, then remove from the oven, let cool to room temperature, remove from the baking parchment and serve.

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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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