Triple Layered Carrot Cake with Orange Cheese Frosting

Has it ever happened to you to see a recipe or a dish made somewhere, whether online, on TV or in a restaurant, and to desperately want to make it at home? Well, this is the story behind this recipe. Jo Pratt made it on Perfect… and it hit me immediately because, let’s be honest, it’s very impressive. A carrot cake on three layers of thick sponge with a creamy zesty filling and caramelised pecans on top? I’m very easy to convince. The thing is, it took me an entire afternoon scavenging the Internet to actually find the recipe. As always, I only vaguely remembered where and when I’d seen it and the world wide web is full of carrot cake recipes. Anyway, this is a very indulgent, spicy and comforting one, which promises to be a showstopper if you have people for dinner or simply as a centerpiece.

A couple of recommendations. First of all, grate your carrots by hand using a grater. I’m all for simplicity in the kitchen, but if you use a food processor it means you’ll have more washing up to do and your carrots will also end up being more damp and wet. Stick to the old method, trust me. Secondly, this recipe is highly customisable. In fact, the one below is not the original one you can find online. If you don’t like the caramel on top (my partner didn’t), then simply swap it for toasted pecans/walnuts/hazelnuts or choose a topping of your choice. You can also change the spices in the cake. My best friend will probably try and replicate this in Italy, where you can’t get allspice: you can use clove instead. Lastly, weigh your carrots before you peel them and average by excess. If you end up with more carrots than necessary it’s not the end of the world.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 300ml flavourless vegetable oil (sunflower, not olive oil)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 345 wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each of ground ginger, allspice and ground clove
  • 150g sultanas
  • 400g carrots, grated
  • 50g desiccated coconut

Ingredients (for the orange cheese frosting)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp orange essence or liqueur

Ingredients (for the pecan topping)

  • 100g pecans
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 75g caster sugar

Method

  1. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl or a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs, light brown sugar, golden syrup and oil together for a good 5 minutes on high speed, until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
  3. In a bowl, mix all of the other ingredients together. Once the egg and sugar mixture is ready, fold in the rest of the ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Don’t be over concerned about knocking the air out. The cake contains plenty of raising agents anyway and the sponges will turn out just fine.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly in the three tins, smooth out the top surface, then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check with a skewer for doneness before removing the sponges and allowing them to cool completely on a cake rack.
  5. While the sponges are cooling, make the caramelised pecans. Toss the nuts with the sugar and the allspice in a shallow non-stick pan, then place over high heat and cook, tossing frequently, until the sugar has caramelised. Tumble on a tray lined with oil baking parchment or a silicone mat, then leave to cool completely. When cold, use a knife to break the brittle into rough pieces.
  6. Wait until the sponges are ready to assemble to make the orange cheese frosting. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, add the softened butter, the cream cheese and the orange zest, then beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until creamy and combined. Add the icing sugar in two batches, mixing carefully on medium speed to incorporate it all. You can add the honey in between the two batches, but make sure you do add the orange essence or liqueur then. Give the mixture a final beating to make it into a smooth, creamy and fluffy icing.
  7. To assemble the cake, position the first of your sponges upside down on your cake board or serving platter, the cover the flat surface only with a third of the orange cheese frosting. Repeat with the two remaining sponges and the rest of the icing, then top with the caramelised pecans.

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Chelsea Buns

There’s something about yeasted doughs which puts me off them. I don’t know whether it’s the fact they need time to rise or whether it’s simply that sometimes they seem not be working quite right. I am also terribly scared they might not cook in the middle, something I don’t fear when baking a cake. I also think I don’t make enough of them, so I started this week by making these and a loaf of yummy bread. I need to start facing my (unfounded) fears, so better be practicing. Needless to say, it’s important to knead these breads by hand as much as possible. Therefore, I usually start the mixture in a freestanding mixer, but tip it out once it’s combined and knead it by hand. I also don’t flour the surface when possible, neither I drench it in olive oil. Rather, I leave it plain. I read in a really good book that by doing so you increase the friction of the dough on the work surface, which in turn means it kneads better.

Chelsea Buns, which date back to the 18th century, are a great example of British baking. A sweet dough is rolled out and then filled with dried fruits (usually currants). Then you roll it all up (much in the way as a Swiss roll), cut it into portions and bake it. This recipe is Paul Hollywood’s, although I ended up tweaking it slightly because 1) I didn’t have all of the ingredients and 2) I forgot to add the egg. Personally, I think it makes the whole thing lighter. I incorporated the missing apricots with dried prunes and I have to say it worked really well. I gave them to my partner to take to work and they went down a storm (he says). Also, rather than drowning the baked buns in jam and icing, I decided to simply drizzle some on top, thus making it look a lot nicer than the mess Mr Hollywood makes on TV and, probably, slightly less sweet.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g fast-action dried yeast
  • 300ml milk
  • 40g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients (for the filling and to finish)

  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 100g sultanas
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • 50g dried prunes, chopped
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam

Method

  1. Put the flour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (equipped with the hook attachment). Add the salt and the yest, taking care to put them in opposite corners.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and the butter until the latter melts and the mixture is lukewarm. If you heat the milk too much, don’t worry! Fill your sink with about 2cm of cold water, then plunge the base of your saucepan (taking care not to let the water get into the saucepan) and leave to cool slightly.
  3. Add the liquid to the flour mixture and start the engine of the mixer on low. Leave it to knead until it forms a soft dough, then tip out onto a non floured surface and knead by hand for a good 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, then tip into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour at room temperature or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough to its original size, then turn out onto a working surface. Roll out the dough to a rectangle about 40cm long and 5mm thick. Place it horizontally in front of you, that is with the longest side horizontal and facing you.
  6. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the orange zest from 1 orange over it, followed by the cinnamon, brown sugar and fruits.
  7. Tack down the long side of the rectangle nearest to you (that is, press it onto the working surface with your fingers so it sticks to it) and begin rolling from the opposite side towards you. Try and keep it as tight as possible. Once completely rolled, use a scraper or a knife to untack the pieces attached to the work surface.
  8. Line a rectangular baking tray with some baking parchment, then cut the log into 10 pieces, about 4cm wide (you’ll see only 9 in the picture!).
  9. Place the pieces cut side up and leave a little space in between them as they will expand. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for another 30 minutes at room temperature.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 190C, then bake the buns for 30 minutes, until nice and golden on top. If you see them turning too brown during baking, cover the tin with some foil and keep on baking.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the jam with a splash of water in a small saucepan, then brush liberally over the top with a pastry brush.
  12. In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with 1 tbsp cold water and the remaining orange zest (add more water if you see the mixture is too thick), then use a spoon to drizzle the icing on the buns. Leave to cool completely (if you can resist!).

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Pistachio Cups with Berries and Yogurt

The inspiration for this recipe comes from Sugar and Spice: Sweets and Treats from Around the World by Gaitrich Pagrach-Chandra. This was the Christmas present from a very good friend and I have already successfully tried a couple of things off this wonderful book. These, in particular, are presented in the book with a mango shrikhand as the filling. However, after trying them that way and deeming them too sweet, I slightly adapted the recipe and topped them with an apricot half instead, much to the delight of my workmates in the office.

This time, I decided to shake things a little bit. Using yogurt as a filling is a great idea, especially because it’s not as fat as double cream and if you use extra thick Greek yogurt then you can play with textures too. In this case, I swirled it with a homemade berry compote and piped it in the pistachio cups. On that note, I had never thought about changing the way I make pastry. This is a real revelation to me: the addition of nuts to the shells makes them extremely crispy and crunchy, not to mention they pack a punch in terms of flavour! Shame the pistachios’ emerald green colour does not come through after baking, but one cannot ask for too much I guess. Try the pastry with different nuts too and be creative with the filling. This recipe is extremely versatile!

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Ingredients (for the pastry cups)

  • 100g pistachios, very finely ground (but almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc. are also good choices)
  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g chilled butter, cubed
  • scant 2 tbsp beaten egg

Method 

  1. If using a food processor to grind the nuts, add the dry ingredients to the nuts and pulse again until well combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. If doing it by hand, mix the dry ingredients before rubbing in the butter with your fingertips until you get the same texture.
  3. Add enough beaten egg to moisten the dry ingredients and knead lightly in the bowl to form a dough. Use the egg sparingly, as there is not much flour to absorb it.
  4. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill until it firms up enough to roll.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out to the thickness of just under 3mm, then cut out 12 circles with a plain 10cm cutter, re-rolling the trimmings as necessary.
  7. Line the muffin tin neatly with the pastry, pressing it against the sides and ensuring that it comes all the way to the top of each cavity. Chill again for 30 minutes or put in the freezer for about 7 minutes.
  8. Place a paper case on top of each pastry shell and fill with baking beans, dried beans or rice. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the paper cases and weights and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through. Twist the pastry shells free after a few minutes and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  9. Store in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a few days, or freeze for up to a month.

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Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 300g blueberries
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 2 tbsp Chambord
  • 1/2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 75g sugar
  • 300g thick Greek yogurt
  • 30g pistachios, finely chopped

Method

  1. First prepare the berry compote. Put the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan and cook with the lid on for about 20 minutes over low heat. You want the blueberries to burst completely and the juice at the bottom of the saucepan to become dark red.
  2. Remove the lid and add the Chambord and the redcurrant jelly, then mix well to combine and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  3. Pass the compote through a fine sieve and use a spoon or a rubber spatula to extract as much juice as possible from the blueberries. Return the liquid to the saucepan.
  4. Mix the cornflour with 1/2 tbsp water, then add to the berry juice. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then transfer to a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Chill until needed.
  5. Retrieve the baked pistachio cups and, using a teaspoon, spread some white chocolate on the inside. Ensure to cover well the sides too, as the chocolate will prevent the yogurt from seeping into the pastry and making it soggy once assembled. Set aside until cooled and completely set.
  6. Once your compote is thoroughly chilled, pour it into a big bowl, then dollop the Greek yogurt on top. With a few swift movements, roughly mix the two together, although you do want to clearly see the two ingredients and a few streaks are more than welcome. Transfer the whole mixture to a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  7. Gently pipe some filling inside each pistachio cups. You can choose to go for a fancy design or keep it simple, that’s up to you. As you haven’t mixed the berry compote and the yogurt completely, you will obtain a nice swirled and speckled effect.
  8. Top with some chopped pistachios and refrigerate until needed.

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Fondant Fancies

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

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

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Ingredients (for the sponge)

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

Ingredients (for the assembly and decoration)

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

Method

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

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

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

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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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Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion and Caraway Seed Tart

The peculiar thing about this tart is the presence of caraway seeds in the filling. Otherwise, this would be only a (still delicious) caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart. The combination of caraway seeds, balsamic vinegar and the natural sugars contained in the onions is just scrummy. The onion are slowly cooked and reduced down to a jam consistency, which also provides an added texture for the tart. Balsamic vinegar adds a sharp edge to the onion marmalade, which is in turn offset by the goat’s cheese. The spice seems to be bringing all the ingredients together. The recipe comes from an episode of The Incredible Spice Men, a TV series where two Indian chefs demonstrate how incorporating spices in your daily meals can be both easy and tasty. I have to say I am not a particular fan of this series, but this recipe stuck into my mind as I love balsamic vinegar and I was curious to try adding caraway seeds (I spice I had never cooked with before) to the ensemble.

The spices should be ground, possibly in a mortal. Use a coffee grinder if you don’t have one, or use them whole if you do not happen to own any of the above. Remember, however, to toast them before using them as the heat from a dry pan helps release the natural oils contained in the seeds and increases their aroma. As for the pastry, please feel free to use your favourite pastry recipe here. The one I used is the one as per original recipe, where the addition of lard to the usual butter & flour mixture provides for extra crumbliness. Last note, I have reduced the amount of sugar used in the onion marmalade as I thought the overall result was a bit too sweet.

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Ingredients (for the shortcrust pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g chilled butter, cubed
  • 75g chilled lard, cubed

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 800g red onions, finely sliced
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 80ml balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g soft goat’s cheese

Method

  1. To make the pastry, you can either put the chilled fats in a bowl and add the flour with a pinch of salt, then rub the butter and lard in or you can whiz the three ingredients in a food processor. Once the dry ingredients have been combined, slowly work in 4-6 tbsp of icy cold water to bring the pastry together. Knead it until smooth, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for 20 minutes.
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge, turn it onto a slightly floured surface and roll it out to a circle big enough to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. Gently press the pastry into the creases, then use the prongs of a fork to prick the base, cover it in clingfilm and chill for a further 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, get started with the onion marmalade. Heat a large frying pan and add a drizzle of olive oil and the unsalted butter. Stir in the onions, season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Sprinkle in the sugar and stir again, ensuring the sugar melts with the heat and mixes with the onions. Cook the onions for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions have released their juices.
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 190C, then remove the pastry case from the fridge and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchments and beans and set the pastry case aside.
  5. Increase the heat under the pan with the onions and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices have reduced. Add the caraway seeds and follow with the balsamic vinegar, then leave on the heat for another 3-4 minutes for it to go back to a jam consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 200C.
  6. To complete the filling, beat the eggs and the cream in a jug or bowl. Mix in the onion marmalade, then pour into the pastry case. Arrange the goat’s cheese slices on top, then bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is set and browned on top. Remove from the oven and garnish with some chopped parsley.

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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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Peach & Frangipane Tart

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

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

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

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

Ingredients (for the frangipane custard and decoration)

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

Method

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

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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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Cappuccino Eclairs

I think we all need to experiment and try things in life. My obsession being creating the perfect éclair (and croissant, bun, loaf of bread and so forth), I decided to take a standard recipe and try adding my own twist to it. I had been in the kitchen the whole morning to make pastry delicacies for a housewarming party of a friend of ours (task I thoroughly enjoyed) and making some homemade éclairs looked like the perfect ending to a baking marathon.

Now, all I did was adding some espresso powder to a homemade custard and voilà! the perfect coffee custard was born. As for the decoration, I really wanted to try and make some royal icing, so that I made. Piping it was, well, interesting. I think this kind of icing is probably more suitable for dunking and/or spreading. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, royal icing is a type of icing made from raw egg whites, lemon juice and icing sugar. The definitely superior amount of icing sugar in the mixture lends the hardness and pliability to the icing, which really looks like a suppler version of marzipan. You can pipe it very easily, provided you loosen the mixture up by adding some more egg white or food colouring.

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Ingredients

  • 1 quantity of choux pastry
  • 1 quantity of homemade custard cream
  • 200g double cream
  • 2 tsp instant espresso coffee powder (I used Nescafé Azera)
  • 3 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 quantity of royal icing
  • cocoa powder, to dust (optional)

Method

  1. Pipe your éclairs on your prepared baking trays and bake according to your favourite recipe. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely at room temperature.
  2. Once you remove your custard from the heat and transfer it to a bowl to chill it, mix in the espresso powder and the sugar. Gently fold the ingredients in until the mixture darkens in colour. Cover with clingfilm and leave to cool at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge until thoroughly chilled.
  3. Once the custard has nicely set and is properly chilled, in a separate bowl whip the double cream until stiff peaks form, then fold in the custard. This will be your cappuccino custard to fill the éclairs.
  4. When the éclairs have cooled down completely, use a small knife to make two holes on the bottom of each one (these will be used to fill them).
  5. Fill a piping bag with a small nozzle with the cappuccino custard, then pipe in the éclairs using the two small holes. Do not overfill them or the custard will ooze out. Turn upside down and prepare to ice them.
  6. Transfer the royal icing to another piping bag equipped with a half star nozzle (you are more than welcome to choose your own icing implement), then pipe three parallel stripes on top of each éclair and finish with a diagonal one.
  7. Arrange the small buns on a tray, then lightly dust with cocoa powder using a small sieve, serve and enjoy.

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