Sunday, 28 February 2010

Classic Tiramisu and Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Tiramisu

I was very excited when I discovered this month's Daring Bakers challenge - I already knew I loved Tiramisu and the recipe is full of things I hadn't made before like Ladyfingers, Zabaglione, Mascarpone and Tiramisu itself. 

This month has been a real adventure. Just the number of days I spent making various elements and playing around with things was amazing - my flatmates thought it was hilarious. I ended doing silly things like buying expresso and hazelnut syrup from a coffee shop in town and then having to buy a bottle of water from Boots (which I then emptied out) and a little pot so I could transport them home without it spilling out of the cups. To make the mini classic tiramisu above I ended up sawing the top off a Pringles tube and covering it in cling film before spending hours trying to make the little ladyfingers stand up properly and then once it was finally assembled having to get it in the freezer asap before it all spilled out.  It's been worth it though - I've enjoyed every minute and they're delicious. 

I'm having to post late as I ran out of time before a big squash match yesterday and hadn't finished writing - which is a bit silly as I finished about a week ago. Ah well. Better late than never!

I wanted to try something a little different as well as a classic version. I wanted to contrast all this lovely soft creamy texture with a bit of crunch - my first thought was honeycomb.  I decided to try and make a little box out of the honeycomb to surround the tiramisu, so I made four little boxes out of baking parchment - one for each side. I forgot that once you've added the bicarb all hell sets loose and there's no way I was going to get a thin layer. Oh dear. It also had a funny aftertaste so the honeycomb plan was set aside.

Instead I decided to make a hazelnut praline to add to the ladyfinger layers to give crunch and a lovely caramel flavour. I also bought two shots of hazelnut syrup to dip my chocolate ladyfingers into. I have to admit that nutella might have crossed my mind with a chocolate-hazelnut combination.  It turns out it was a wonderful idea - the hazelnut complements the coffee in the cream beautifully. The praline inside slightly melted into the cream which both looked lovely and tasted divine. The nuts and a little praline stayed crisp for the contrast. I was really pleased with how it all came together.

One of the most exciting elements of the challenge was making our own ladyfinger/savoiardi biscuits. I've never made them before and was amazed at how easy they are to make at home - definitely not going to be buying them again! I've never piped a mixture like this before so t took a few goes to get it right but by my second batch it was okay. I did a first full batch which gave me the slightly dodgy ones below which I used for the middles.  Then I decided to do another one egg batch to get it just perfect and play with it a bit - so I piped thin strips (as above) to encircle my mini tiramisu and made a few circles to see if that would work.  After that I made the chocolate ones for the Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Tiramisu - see the changes at the bottom. 

Ladyfingers/ Savoiardi Biscuits

3 eggs, separated
75g sugar (I used caster)
95g plain flour
2 tbsp cornflour
50g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350C and line lightly greased sheets with baking parchment. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks then start to add the caster sugar spoon by spoon, beating in between, until all is incorporated and you have smooth and glossy peaks. Beat the egg yolks together before dribbling over the meringue and folding in lightly. Sift the flour over the top and fold in lightly until just incorporated. Fill a piping bag with the batter and pipe into strips of about 5" by 3/4" (or any shape desired).  Sift half of the icing sugar over the shapes then leave for five minutes - it should sink in and glisten as above. Sift the other half over before trying to gently remove the excess sugar by lifting the sheet and shaking (be careful!). Bake for ten minutes or until puffy and light golden brown. Allow to cool on sheet before removing to wire rack. Store in an airtight container until needed. 

The next new component we had to make was our own marscapone cheese (above, with the pastry cream and zabaglione). I've never done any cheesemaking before so it was another new adventure. A lot of daring bakers seemed to have trouble with it but I was lucky and it seemed to come out perfectly - until I moved it to the back of the fridge the day after and half of the bowl froze! It went quite funny but I was able to salvage enough of the non-frozen half to make the tiramisu - you can see bits were a little grainy in the picture above.

Mascarpone Cheese
(Makes 340g of cheese)

500ml double cream
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Bring one inch of water to boil in a medium saucepan then reduce the heat to medium so the water is simmering. Pour the cream into a metal bowl and suspend over the saucepan. Use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature and heat until it hits 87C (190F) or if you don't have a thermometer until small bubbles start trying to push up to the surface. This takes about 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and continue to stir until it thickens to a custard like consistency and covers the back of a spoon thickly. There should be clear streaks as you stir - mine had to cool down a little before this happened. Leave to cool for 20 minutes. Line a sieve with several layers or cheesecloth or a clean tea towel and place it over a bowl. Transfer to the sieve. Be patient and don't squeeze it or touch it. When totally cool cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge. Leave to firm up overnight or for 24 hours. It should firm up beautifully. Keep in the fridge and use within 3-4 days. 

Along with the mascarpone we also had to make a pastry cream, zabaglione and whipped cream to create the lovely filling. The pastry cream recipe in wonderful - it'll definitely be my new go-to. I'd never made zabaglione before - I'm not sure it came out quite right - it tasted amazing but was very dark and thick (you can see in the picture two above). I didn't add any sugar to the whipped cream as it seemed sweet enough as it was. 


2 large egg yolks
50g caster sugar
60ml expresso coffee (or port or marsala wine)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Heat an inch of water in a saucepan (or in a double boiler). In a metal bowl mix together all the ingredients and whisk till smooth. Put the bowl on top of the saucepan making sure it doesn't touch and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until it resembles a thick custard. Let it cool to room temperature before covering and putting in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Pastry Cream

55g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
175ml whole milk

Mix together the sugar, flour, zest and vanilla in a medium sized saucepan. Add the egg and half the milk and whisk until smooth. Place over a low heat and cook, stirring constantly. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, continuing to stir. After about 12 minutes the mixture should be thick and smooth with no lumps and beginning to bubble. Sieve if desired. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature before covering and chilling in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight. 

Classic Tiramisu

1 portion zabaglione
1 portion pastry cream
75g mascarpone
235ml double cream
470ml brewed expresso
50g caster sugar
36 savoiardi/ladyfingers (or as many/few as desired)
Cocoa powder to dust (and I used chocolate shavings)

Have a the serving dish(es) of you choice ready. Mix together the expresso and sugar and leave to one side. Whip the double cream to stiff peaks and set aside. In a large bowl beat the mascarpone until smooth before adding the zabaglione and pastry cream and blending until just combined. (I had to beat mine till smooth otherwise there would have been lumps of mascarpone). Fold in the whipped cream.  Working quickly start dipping the ladyfingers in the expresso mix, only leaving them in for a second or two (I only did one side, but I think I would do both another time) before immediately laying them in the bottom of the intended dish. You can break them in two to create an even layer. Spoon a layer of the cream mixture over the top (work out what proportion of the ladyfingers you've used and use a similar proportion of the cream mix). Repeat until you've finished, leaving a creamy layer on top. Cover carefully with cling film and pop in the fridge overnight.  To serve remove the cling film and dust with cocoa powder and any other decoration. 

Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Tiramisu

For the chocolate ladyfingers:  As above but replace 30g of the flour with cocoa powder and sift it in with the flour. I found it slightly harder to fold in. 

For the hazelnut praline: Remove the skins from 70g of whole hazelnuts then chop roughly. Toast in the oven for a few minutes until lightly browned. Prepare a baking sheet with a square of baking parchment. Make a caramel with 70g white caster sugar and when a deep golden brown tip the nuts in and stir well before tipping out onto the sheet to cool. 

To assemble: Roughly chop the praline (I reserved a chunk of the praline to top one of the glasses). As above, except dip the chocolate ladyfingers into hazelnut syrup (I bought two shots a coffee shop). On top of each ladyfinger layer, sprinkle some of the praline. Top with more crushed praline or a chunk. 

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Peanut Butter Biscuits

When I think of peanut butter, the first thing that comes to my mind is the film Meet Joe Black and Brad Pitt's wonderful expression as he takes that perfectly peaked spoonful and puts it in his mouth. It's a lovely thought that one of the most striking experiences to someone in a body for the first time was a certain taste. There is a wonderful innocence as he discovers the world through every sense but it is the peanut butter that stays with me. 

Taste memories can be as clear as pictures and just as powerful: the old Jamaican lady in the film says "take that nice picture you got in your head home with you, but don't be fooled. We lonely here mostly too. If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us" - I would imagine Joe Black's pictures include the taste of peanut butter.  I know some of my most treasured memories revolve around flavours and come to life every time I taste them again, blossoming out before my eyes. 

On that note, maybe I should make some madeleines...

I think my favourite time for these biscuits is with a glass of milk or cup of tea in a quick break from work. They're deep, intense and yet light. They're also very easy to throw together - I knocked this batch up in about half an hour this afternoon with things from the cupboards. 

As I didn't have any demerara sugar, I decided to change it up a bit and use golden caster with a little cinnamon. The finished biscuits tasted a little like snickerdoodles (or at least, like the snickerdoodles I made in the summer) but with an intense depth of flavour from the the peanut butter - it really comes through as the second wave of flavour hits. 

They have a lovely texture - it's almost like a cake, but crumbly and crisp in a different way and definitely not dense and chewy like a cookie.  I call them biscuits out of habit but they're not crisp all the way through. 

Peanut Butter Biscuits
(I think the recipe is Delia in origin - I only have a family copy)

110g peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, up to you)
75g butter at room temperature
110g soft brown sugar
175 plain flour
1 egg
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
demerara/ golden caster sugar and (optional) a sprinkle of cinnamon to top

Preheat oven to 180C and lightly grease a baking tray. To use a food processor, simply blend all ingredients except the sugar/cinnamon. If using a mixer/by hand, beat the butter and sugar together first and then beat in the rest of the ingredients (especially if your butter isn't very soft). Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the demerara/golden caster sugar onto a plate and optionally sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top (I reckon I used maybe 1/4 tsp, maybe a bit more). Then shape balls out of the dough (I made mine walnut sized) and squish them into the sugar to make discs. Turn them over and place onto the baking tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on the sheet for five minutes before removing to a wire rack. I recommend eating at least one while still warm. 

Makes about 15. 

Friday, 12 February 2010

Sticky Cinnamon Buns

Some days you just need some carbohydrates slathered in butter, sugar and spices. Yesterday my flatmate and I were having a distressing day. I find baking the best solace so headed to the cookery books and came up with these:  my flatmate was on a carb binge and I was craving sugar - these ticked every box.  I halved the recipe for our own safety and made mini rolls instead.

I first made these five years ago when an old friend and I were sitting around on Valentines day moping about being 15 and single.  Well, she was moping - I've never found Valentines day particularly problematic. Still, these buns are wonderful and put smiles on both of our faces and it seemed appropriate with Valentines coming up again (and amusing when I realised these three look like a heart...).

They're not very hard to make - just reassuringly complicated.  They're perfect for that afternoon when you want to busy your hands, not think about anything, just knead some sticky dough and watch it rise. They filled our apartment with the warm scent of yeast followed by an amazing fug of caramelized sugar and cinnamon when they were baking. It's a truly comforting smell.

They're so good that to be able to photograph them this morning I had to smuggle away three buns from the hungry hands last night in a piece of foil...

Sticky Cinnamon Buns
(Based on a recipe in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

For the dough:
300g flour
50g sugar
pinch of salt
12g of easy blend yeast or 23g fresh yeast
50g butter
200ml milk
1 egg

Sift together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together into a bowl. Measure out the milk then add the egg and beat in. Melt the butter and whisk into the milk mixture. Stir into the flour mixture until it combines. Mine was very sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and springy - as it was so sticky I got the dough everywhere but it did come together and get quite elastic after kneading. Put into a lightly buttered/oiled (with a heavily flavoured oil) and cover tightly with clingfilm. Place in a warm place and leave it to rise for about half an hour.  (I also wrapped mine in a tea towel).

Preheat the oven to 230C. Take a spare third of the dough (I overdid this and ended up with a thick bottom and small rolls) and roll out to a rectangle that fits into your tin, which should be lined bottom and sides with baking parchment (I used a 23 x 15cm brownie tin).  Roll out the rest of the dough on a floured surface, attempting to get a rectangle - I rolled mine quite thin, to about 40 x 20 cm, but less would work.

For the filling:
75g soft unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
milk/beaten egg to glaze

Beat the butter, sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Spread the rectangle with the filling, trying to get a fairly even cover. I had some spare so I also spread some on top of the dough in the tin - I liked the way this made the bottom extra sticky. Roll the rectangle up from the longest side, to create a big sausage.  Cut the roll into 2-3cm slices then arrange them in the tin, swirls facing upwards. They'll puff up so don't worry if there are gaps.  Brush them with egg or with milk. Wrap the tin and baking parchment up in clingfilm and put back in the warm place for about 20-30 minutes or until they're puffy.

Pop into the hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until they've risen and are golden brown - they will go quite dark brown in places but that's part of the charm.  Remove them from the tin with the parchment and set on a cooling rack then start tearing them off - make sure you eat them warm, they're by far their best. You can quickly reheat them in the oven or even the microwave.

Makes about 20 mini cinnamon rolls.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing and Birthday Cakes

I love making birthday cakes. There's something really lovely about bringing a smile to a friend's face on their special day. It's beginning to be a bit of a tradition among my friends at university that I provide the cake as a present - yesterday I made my forth of this (academic) year.

I've posted about birthday cakes before - such as with the trusty Double Chocolate Birthday Cake recipe for my Mum and when I made a Summer Fruit and White Chocolate Layer Cake for my mum's friend.  This summer I used the double chocolate recipe again to make my Grandfather's 90th birthday cake. I had to use rectangular roasting tins to make it as that was all I could find big enough in his kitchen -  I hadn't brought my tins over from home.  Still, it turned out well in the end - with some trimming!

I try not to branch out too much with birthday cakes.  It would be so disappointing if the birthday boy/girl didn't like it - let alone anyone else excited for a slice.  I try not to get too over enthusiastic about very dark chocolate ganaches and cutting sugar and steer towards something a bit sweeter and crowd-pleasing. For a similar reason, the past three have been vanilla sponge - especially as one of my lovely flat mates doesn't like chocolate cake for some unfathomable reason .

However, I have experimented a little with icings and decoration. The first (above) was covered with a drippy milk chocolate ganache. Then I sandwiched the second (below)with fresh raspberries and raspberry jam and covered it with vanilla buttercream, decorated with marshmallows, Smarties and chocolate buttons. The third (no pictures, unfortunately) was a square cake cut into an 'M' shape and covered in a Snickers icing - I melted milk chocolate, a Snickers bar, a spoonful of peanut butter and some butter together then beat in double cream when it had cooled - which was seriously good!

This time I decided I wanted to make a chocolate cake. Inevitably I reached for the family recipe, as above. I wanted to do something a little different with the icing.

In September last year, my Mum and I went into London the day before a family funeral. Neither of us were very well and we were feeling quite miserable. We were driving along in South Kensington when I noticed a bakery - and not just any bakery, but The Hummingbird Bakery. And so we stopped, found a parking space and went in. I had hot chocolate (very yummy and rich) and a red velvet cupcake (I had to try one, having never before) - Mum had a carrot cake cupcake.  It was all lovely - though I have to admit, I did find them slightly too sweet after a few bites. Still, they brought a smile to our faces on that difficult day.

We stayed for about an hour chatting to a mother and son who were sat at the next table about life and baking - and how good the bakery's cookbook was. I bought Mum a copy for christmas but I obviously couldn't separate her from it when I came here, so I was very pleased to hear my flat mate also was given a copy.

It was to this book that I came back to when I was searching for a cream cheese icing like the one I had tasted. I doubled the recipe to cover the cake, cut a large amount of the icing sugar out and added a bit more cream cheese. I used this plain icing to sandwich the four layers. Then I melted some dark chocolate and let it cool before folding it into the remaining icing. This I used to crumb-coat and then ice the cake - I had quite a bit leftover in the end. I used a little melted dark chocolate to decorate.

It's iced with the 'Harbour Master' because the birthday boy created a Port Night (Monday Night is Port Night, don't you know) at college and is styled as the Harbour Master. Don't ask.

Cream Cheese Icing/Frosting
(Origins in The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

400g icing sugar
100g butter, at room temperature
300g cream cheese
big pinch of salt

Beat the butter until smooth, then add the icing sugar and beat on a very low setting (or you'll suddenly find yourself in a cloud of sugar!) until it is evenly dispersed. It didn't come together - just turned it a pale yellow. Tip in the cream cheese and salt and mix in at a low speed until it comes together, then turn the speed up and beat until light and fluffyish.

50g dark chocolate

To make the remainder chocolate flavoured (to turn the whole mix, use maybe 75-100g depending on how much of a chocolate flavour you want) melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Allow to cool till it's room temperature but still liquid, then pour into the icing and fold in evenly.