Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Almond Financiers

I made these as a gift the night before I left Switzerland, all those days ago. After waiting for my internet to be installed back in Oxford I've now got a nasty bug that's slowing me down. I have lots of work to do but all I want to do is curl up on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a cheesy film. That's the reason you've only seen little non-recipe posts in the past few days. 

These are great - tiny, tasty and I can persuade myself they're healthy. I made eight little ones in my mini muffin tin and then boxed them up. 

Plus they have brown butter. That can only be a good thing. 

I found this recipe in a wonderful little French pastry book I found in the post office in Verbier. I couldn't believe I'd found a gem in such an unlikely place! I scaled the recipe down - you need a pair of electric scales for this. 

Almond Financiers
(adapted from Mini Pâtisseries Maison' by Orathay Souksisavanh and Vania Nikolcic)

1 egg white (about 33g)
38g icing sugar
33g unsalted butter
13g ground almonds
13g plain flour
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
8 whole almonds

Preheat the oven to 210C. In a small saucepan, brown the butter until the foam subsides and you have dark specks. Put in the fridge while you do the rest. Sieve the flour, almonds and icing sugar into a bowl.  Add the egg white and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the brown butter and beat to combine. Pour into moulds/tin and top each one with an almond. Bake for 10 -12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. 

(Makes 8)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Very exciting news!

A few months ago, I entered a recipe competition. To be specific, I entered the Maltesers Competition with Lorraine Pascale over at MyDish. Weirdly, I had already created a recipe for the competition before I knew it existed: my Malteser Layer Cake.  It has malt sponge, dark chocolate ganache and is decorated with halved maltesers.

Then, much to my surprise, a few weeks ago I received a call. I won!

Yesterday, I received this BEAUTY in the post.

Not only do I get that gorgeous (and it has to be said - sexy) mixer, but my cake is also going to be sold at Lorraine Pascal's Ella's Bakehouse in Covent Garden for a day (not sure which yet) with the proceeds going to my choice of charity. I think I'm getting some Maltesers products too...

For my charity, I chose Guide Dogs. As someone with fairly bad sight that can thankfully be treated with contact lenses, losing my sight is one of my worst nightmares. Whenever I am without glasses or contacts I want to cling on to anybody I know and trust - the world feels so alien, even at home or somewhere very familiar. As a big dog lover too, I can see why having a guide dog would fulfill this purpose beautifully.  I don't know if much money will be raised, but that's my thoughts anyway.

So all in all, just a post to say thank you to Maltesers, Carol at MyDish, Lorraine Pascale and finally Sarah at Maison Cupcake, where I found out about the competition.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A pudding from my pen...

I still don't have internet in my lovely little house, so I haven't been able to update in the last few days. I'm using library internet right now (I feel very naughty). Normal programming will resume soon.

Do you remember my Melted Heart Chocolate Fondants? Well, there's this great blog called Recipe Look where all the recipes are sent in as drawings or 'visual recipes'. It's epic. Anyway, I did one for the fondants which you can see in small below - I suggest you pop over there and have a look at the big version!

Monday, 20 September 2010


Here, as promised, is a post all about the gelato I ate in Italy (see: A trip to Italy...).

When I spent a month traveling around Italy during my gap year, I ate a lot of gelato. We ate at least one cone a day. This was a bit greedy, I'll admit, and my waistline gave away my indulgences. 

Yet as a result, I've tried a fair few flavours and a fair few gelaterias. By far my favourite was a little coffee bar in Florence where I had an astounding cone of amaretti and bacio. B, the friend I was travelling with, had more bacio with some wonderful raspberry. You only have to look at my big cheesy grin below to know how excited I was (this photo also makes me aawwwh at how young I look).

Hence when we thought I might go to Italy, Florence was where I wanted to head. Never mind the beautiful city, it had the gelato!

As we headed into Florence, I was getting a bit nervous. I hadn't written down the location when I had been there last and I was going on a vague memory of where it was. I was worried it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. I was worried it wouldn't live up to my expectations or my mum's, after all my rhapsodizing. 

I had nothing to worry about. I found it easily. It was just as spectacular as I remembered. I had a cone of  creme caramel and black chocolate. The creme caramel was lovely and smooth, if the least inspiring of a great bunch. The black chocolate was jaw dropping. Absolutely stunning.  Just look below. 

Mum had a cone of the reliably great bacio with some mango. Another big grin!

After we had finished, we went and did a bit of sightseeing. A few hours later, another scoop seemed impossible to resist. 

...and so we returned. Mum had some coffee gelato after the choice became too much and it was closest. As a non-coffee drinker, the espresso flavour was a bit strong for her. I thought it was pretty fabulous. Italian coffee and gelato all in one = winner. 

As I had stood choosing my first scoops, the fig had caught my eye. I adore figs. My second go around had to be it. It was so delicate and just... words keep on failing me. 

I love gelato. I love food. 

So there you have it: my favourite so far. I can't in any way claim to be an expert on Florence's gelaterias or indeed gelato itself, but I couldn't help but share.

Gelateria Perseo, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze. 
It's in the corner by Chanel, diagonal from the copy of David. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Brown Butter Wholemeal Crêpes

In our house, crêpes or pancakes are staple I'm-hungry-and-tired-and-want-pudding items. This batter doesn't need resting and only takes a few minutes to make. Last night we wanted something sweet after some delicious mackerel from the market we went to and these seemed like a great idea. Usually we make them with all plain flour when we're making sweet pancakes but wholemeal is a nice change especially if you're filling them with more than sugar and lemon.

As I was melting the butter to stir into the batter, I left it a moment longer than normal and it started foaming. I decided to keep going into brown butter and see what happened. I'm very pleased I did. The gorgeous nutty flavour works really well with the flavour of the wholemeal - it would also add something extra to plain flour ones.

I filled them with sliced white nectarines, homemade vanilla ice cream and lashings of maple syrup. Absolutely gorgeous. I had to make them again this afternoon to photograph them and I promise last night wasn't a fluke.

Brown Butter Wholemeal Crêpes
(adapted from Delia's Complete Cookery Course)

25g butter
60g wholemeal flour
50g plain flour
2 eggs
200ml milk
50ml water

Put the butter in a medium frying pan and cook the butter until the foam has subsided and there are little brown bits floating. Leave to cool while you make the batter. Sift the flours into a big bowl. Make a well in the middle and crack one egg into it. Whisk into the flour, then add another egg and whisk in. Slowly add the milk then water, working in the flour from the sides. Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the browned butter.  When you're ready to make them, use a little butter to grease the frying pan and wait until the pan is starting to smoke, then turn the heat down a little bit. Pour a small amount of batter into the pan and swirl. Flip when browned and then when ready, take out of the pan. You can keep them warm if you like, or just eat as and when they're ready.

(Makes about 12-14, depending on size etc.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A trip to Italy...

I'm back from the little jaunt down to Italy. This isn't a real post as I've just come back, but a little collection of photos of food and places. I have another post about gelato to come, though I'll bake something nice before that. 

For the first two nights, we stayed in a little village in the Mugello valley up above Florence. Above is one of the churches in the village. The drive was a bit longer than we'd hoped - about 6 hours. 

I had no idea how big and gorgeous the hills are up there. The trees are absolutely gorgeous and very different from the trees in the mountains where mum lives in Switzerland. 

The little village - Palazzuolo sul Senio - had a little fruit stall that came one morning. We bought some fantastic little plums, the first donut peaches I've ever seen and some huge yellow peaches. 

On the very first morning, mum fell down some stairs and twisted her ankle. As a result Arthur and I went to go off and explore on our own, leaving Silver and mum to relax. We wandered along a road by the river and after restraining Arthur from 'playing' with the ducks, we found a little bridge and this glorious little glade above.

Despite the lush green of the scene, the river belied the changing seasons as autumn leaves swirled about in the water.  

All I need to say about the food at the little place we were staying at is that they served six types of homemade bread with dinner and that we got cakes like this for breakfast, along with fresh figs, eggs, cheese and so on. One morning we had that seriously thick Italian hot chocolate too. 

On the first morning, we had the peach one in the first photo, which was gorgeous. The second day there  was another cake (alongside more of the peach cake) which had beautiful pale orange segments. Mum and I presumed these were apricots. 

We were wrong - it was melon. 

I had never thought about baking with melon. It was intriguing - very soft and fragrant. The taste of the lovely orange melon (I'm not quite sure what variety it was) seemed enhanced. I'm definitely going to keep it in mind. 

The next day we headed off through the hills to spend a day in Florence. This is where the gelato I spoke of earlier comes in. Of all the Italian cities I've been to, Florence is my favourite. There's something about the place that just speaks to me.  

Silver was much admired in Italy. Normally it's bouncy Arthur with his excessive cuteness that gets the attention, but apparently the Italians go for a slightly more elegant dog.  She was very happy to pose for the photos and receive the pats and praise. 

That night we drove up to another place in Piedmont, in between Milan and Turin. It was in the middle of grape country - they were everywhere. Even though we have a lot of vines in our valleys in Switzerland, the vines there are quite spectacular. 

This morning we woke up and decided to go home via a little town market. I love Italian markets - I've never seen anything like it in another country. So much fruit and vegetables and cheeses and and fish and meats.  We bought several bags full of goodies. 

In the end we sat in the car eating these gorgeous grapes as we drove home. Instead of going through the Grand St Bernard tunnel, we went over the pass. It's insane - so dramatic. It's amazing what lies just around the corner from our home. 

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Caramelised Apple Tarts

For the past two weeks, I've been in London doing some work experience for my favourite food magazine, delicious.. I had a lovely time - they're a great bunch of people - and learnt a lot about the food business. 

 I scheduled a few posts so hopefully there wasn't too much of a gaping hole. I'm sorry if I haven't replied to any messages or comments.  I have to apologise for the quality of the photography in the posts about my mum's book party - it was rushed and badly lit. I didn't really realise how bad it was until I came back and saw the posts.

I'm now off to Italy for a few days on holiday with my mum before I head back to Oxford next week. We only really decided to go this morning, so I haven't got any written posts up my sleeve. When I get back I'll get baking - I've missed the kitchen a lot - and maybe share some pictures and stories of my Italian adventures. 

Meanwhile, here's a little experiment I did before I left. The moment we got the microplane, below, I decided I wanted to try making an apple tart with it. It makes such even thin slices. I bought some gorgeous little local apples at the market to make it with. They're just as I remember the apples from my grandparents trees when I was little - full of flavour.  

In the beginning I was planning to bake my tarts, but then I thought of something a little different. I lightly poached the apple slices in a cinnamon sugar syrup, then arranged them in little sweet pastry cases, sprinkled with sugar and blasted them with my blow torch. 

Poaching the apple slices worked really well. They were soft and delicate instead of drying out in the oven. 

To get a proper caramel topping, you need to use a fair amount of sugar. Because of this (and using a sugar syrup to poach them in) I'm going to use cooking apples or at least green apples next time as it made it a bit too sweet. Though the  tiny strips of skin looked gorgeous, they did get in the way when eating it. To get that edge with the peel I might try making the sugar syrup red with some red wine or similar. I think another time I might add an almond or cream base to each case to add a little something else too. 

These definitely have a bit more development to do, but I wanted to share the experiment with you. I've written it down as I originally did it below, without any changes. 

Caramelised Apple Tarts

For the pastry:
50g plain flour
25g cold butter
1 tsp sugar
cold water to bind

Rub the cold butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Add the cold water a little at a time, bringing it together with a blunt knife. When it forms a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the freezer for at least half an hour. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut out into two big circles. Lightly place into a suitable tin. Chill for another half an hour or so. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line with baking parchment and baking beans, then place in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the baking parchment and beans. Put back in the oven until golden brown and cooked through, about another 10-15 minutes. 

For the apple filling:
3-4 small apples
250ml water
50g sugar plus extra to sprinkle
1/2 cinnamon quill
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Put all the ingredients except the apples into a medium pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Halve the apples and take out the core using a melon baller. Using a microplane (or a knife), slice the apples very thinly. Put them into the sugar syrup, cover with a circle of baking parchment and a small plate and put on a low simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. Using tweezers or something similar, take some of the slightly less perfect slices out and line the bottom of the cases with them. Then take the other slices and arrange in a rosette pattern on the top. Sprinkle with sugar and use a blow torch to caramelise.

(Makes two tarts)

Friday, 10 September 2010


I have to warn you: these are dangerous baked goods. 

Please do not make my mistake of making a batch when there are only two of you to eat them. 

You will eat them all. 

Mum and I are very good at portion control. We'll have a slice of something, a bite of this, just one biscuit. We both exercise a lot and try to keep a healthy diet despite my baking. We usually have one square of chocolate with our bedtime cup of tea - never more. 

Because of this, I thought it would be fine to make a batch of deep fried gorgeous choux-like pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar and dipped into what is essentially dark chocolate ganache. Absolutely fine. It was my first time deep frying - simply an experiment. 

I'm afraid not. We ate every single one. Mum even ate the last few when they were cold and slightly limp. Oh dear. Then we didn't manage to eat any supper (unheard of in our house) because we were so stuffed. We're not proud. 

The problem: they're just so good. Addictive. Moreish. How can you possibly resist?  

I first came across churros in my Spanish GCSE class: our teacher couldn't stop mentioning them. Then we went on a trip to Barcelona (such a gorgeous city) and actually ate them. They were wonderful, but not quite as spectacular as I was expecting. I reckon they weren't that fresh because just out of the pan these are better than I had imagined. 

When I had finished with my spices (cinnamon, star anise, vanilla) from the Spiced Caramel and Pear Bundt Cake, I put them in a jar of sugar to infuse. I used this sugar with extra cinnamon to toss these in. When you open the jar, the smell is fantastic. 

I don't mean in any way to dissuade you from making these. They're amazing. Just get a big group of friends over and enjoy - they would be a perfect fun dessert or tea time snack. They're traditionally eaten for breakfast but I don't think I can cope with that. Bravo to you if your stomach can take it!

(Adapted from Satisfied)

140ml water
55g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
60g plain flour
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
canola oil to fry
about 30g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or more, to taste)

Chop the butter up into cubes and put it in a medium saucepan with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a low boil (the butter will melt into little droplets and the water will colour). Add the flour and beat well until the it comes into a shiny ball. Take off the heat and beat for 2 more minutes. Let cool a bit then add the egg and beat again, then the vanilla and beat again. Transfer to a piping bag with a medium star tip. 

Set up some kitchen towel ready to soak up excess oil and a platter/tin with the sugar and cinnamon in. In a medium saucepan or shallow pan with high sides, heat 2-3 inches of the canola oil to 375F/190C.  Pipe a few inches of the dough into the oil, being careful with your hands and the oil. Cut it off with a knife or a finger. It will bubble and sizzle vigorously and then calm a bit and start to brown. Turn over when it seems to be fairly brown and cook until totally golden. Use a slatted spoon to remove to the kitchen towel and then the sugar/cinnamon mix. By the end I could do three or four at a time. I found it was much prettier and easier to let the dough squiggle and curl than faff about them being straight.  Try to eat while they're still hot or warm!

For the dipping sauce:
75g dark chocolate
100ml double cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar

Put the cream, cinnamon and sugar into a small pan and heat until nearly boiling. Chop the chocolate up and place it in a small bowl. Pour the cream mixture over. Leave it for a few minutes then stir until smooth. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Blackberry and Vanilla Layer Cake

For my mum's Children's Book Tea Party (see my last post for the rest of the goodies!) I decided I wanted to make a bigger cake to go into the middle, surrounded by all the bite-size other pieces. I made a makeshift stand for it out of a few teacups, a saucer and some blue-tack. 

I had a few punnets of blackberries from the market and decided that these could be the main theme to my cake. I decided to use the wonderful recipe for vanilla cake that I had used for my mum's Blueberry and Ginger birthday cake. Vanilla seemed like the perfect subtle pairing with the blackberries. 

I decided to use a similar premise to mum's birthday cake - lovely sponge, moistened with sugar syrup, layered with fruit compote, iced with a creamy icing and topped with fresh fruit. I added some icing to the layers to give it height and body - next time I think I'll beat some blackberry into that icing as well as spooning it over the cake first to give it more of a blackberry hit. 

When I was making the cake batter, I managed to screw it up. It curdled badly - I wasn't concentrating and added too much egg too quickly. It still looked curdled when I poured it into the tin. As it has such a long baking time and I was on a schedule, I was pretty worried. 

Yet when I took it out of the oven, it was perfectly golden and incredibly flat topped - I didn't in any way have to trim this cake. When I split it open, I was greeted with gorgeous golden sponge. That's why this recipe is such a keeper - it seems to turn out great results whatever you do to it.  Together with the icing and blackberries, it made for a delicious cake. 

Blackberry and Vanilla Layer Cake
(cake recipe adapted from Good Food Magazine)

For the cake:
125g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2.5 eggs*
170g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
50g full fat greek yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C for fan ovens. Grease and fully line a 6" round tin. Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and cream till pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. You may need to add a tbsp or two of flour to stop it getting slimy. Beat in the yogurt. Sift the flours over the batter and fold in - when nearly done, add the milk and vanilla. Spoon into a tin and bake for about 1 hour - 1 hr 15 or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before spiking the cake all over and pouring some syrup over, letting it sink in as evenly as possible. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

*see the guide to my recipes on the sidebar for my method for halving eggs. 

For the vanilla syrup:
50g sugar
75 ml water
1/2 a vanilla pod

Put everything in a small pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a small pot and leave to infuse. 

For the vanilla cream frosting:
50g butter
100g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g marscarpone
1 tsp pate de vanille

Slowly beat the softened butter into the icng sugar. Scrape the cream cheese and marscapone into the bowl and beat in. Add the vanilla and beat again. Put into the fridge to chill for half an hour or so before freezing. Does keep at least overnight in the fridge before using.

For the blackberry compote:
200g blackberries
1/2 vanilla pod
30g caster sugar
1 tbsp water

Scrape the vanilla pod and put both seeds and pod into a small pan. Add all the other ingredients. Heat gently until the fruit is soft - mine turned a brighter red. Squish the fruit a bit. Leave to cool and then put in a jar in the fridge. Keeps for about a week in the fridge. 

To assemble:
Split the cooled cake into three layers using a serrated knife or cake leveller. Place four strips of parchment paper on your serving plate and put one of the layers on the bottom. Spoon blackberry compote over the layer, making sure it is all covered well. Add a few tablespoons of icing and swirl in. Add the next cake layer and repeat. Add the final cake layer and use some more icing to make a crumb coat. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to set. Finally make an even coating of the icing and arrange some more fresh blackberries on top. 

(Serves about 20)