Sunday, 31 July 2011

Brûléed French Toast


After a lot of dawdling and changing my mind, I've changed the layout of Poires au Chocolat. My main motivation for the change was to be able to enlarge my photos. I'm quite shocked at how much better they look. I've also changed my header to a cleaner design and updated my sidebar.

It feels bizarre but good - I haven't changed anything significantly since I started in March 2009. Going back through each post changing the sizes was quite a trip down memory lane.

I'd love to hear what you think of the new look - do comment/tweet/email me with your opinions.


The moment I saw this recipe on Baked Bree I knew I had to try it. I've never eaten much French toast in any form so it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out and find out what the fuss was about. 

I also can't resist anything that involves using my blow torch. 

I scaled down the recipe so it served two - it makes a perfect special breakfast. I served it with a few blackberries but to be honest we ate them separately. You can skip the brûlée if you don't have a blow torch or can't be bothered (though it definitely adds a certain pizzazz). 

I think I finally understand the fuss about French toast: this was both crispy and soft, creamy and spicy, rich and light. It has gorgeous balance. 

Brûléed French Toast
(adapted from Baked Bree, here)

1 egg
2 tbsp (30ml) whole milk
3 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
10g unsalted butter
4 medium slices of bread, preferably brioche or similar
4 tsp icing sugar

In a shallow dish whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Place 5g of the butter into a medium frying pan and set over a medium-high heat until the butter has melted and is beginning to foam. Dip two of the bread slices into the egg mix, making sure that the bread is fully wet on both sides, then place them into the hot pan. Cook until browned then flip over and brown the other side. Place onto a warm plate. Repeat with the other 5g of butter and 2 slices of bread. When all four slices are cooked, dust through a sieve with a teaspoon of icing sugar each. Use a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar. 

(Serves 2)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

No-Icing Birthday Cake

For the past few weeks, my three little cousins have been staying with us in Verbier. As I think I've mentioned before, my uncle has been staying here for several months, partly due to the fact that he broke a vertebrae in his neck recently while mountain biking (he's recovering well, though stuck in a big neck brace). So my cousins came out to see him and enjoy the mountains. 

It just so happened that my cousin Sam turned six yesterday. So I made cake. Obviously. 

Sam's mum told me that he wanted a motorbike cake. I asked my uncle exactly what sort of motorbike we were talking about. I don't know anything about motorbikes and I didn't want to get the wrong type.  So we found a photo of his favourite (this Honda, to be precise) and I used that as my base. 

Sam also doesn't like icing, especially the fondant or royal icing used for so many novelty birthday cakes. I don't blame him - I'm don't really like them either. So instead I filled his chocolate cake with whipped cream and homemade raspberry jam and topped it with more whipped cream. Unfortunately my cream over whipped a bit in the second I looked away, but it still tasted good. 

We hosted a little party for family and a few friends. There were balloons and the biggest birthday card I've ever seen:

I haven't written out a recipe as this was simply the cake recipe from this post made twice (once for each layer) and baked a 9" tin, soaked with a little vanilla syrup and then sandwiched together with whipped cream and raspberry jam. I made the decoration made in the same way as the Beautiful and Damned cake but kept it flat. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Honeybee Chocolate Cake

The honeybees on this cake aren't exactly biologically correct. Nigella, their inventor, describes them as 'Disneyfied'. I have to admit I picked this cake because they're cute. 

I also chose this cake because I'm addicted to honey at the moment. I go through eating phases, particularly at breakfast. I am firmly in the runny-honey-and-local-butter-on-thick-white-bread-preferably-brioche phase. 

I love this recipe. You take sweet butter and cream it with my favourite light brown sugar. You pour in a golden stream of runny honey. You pour in a molten river of dark chocolate. It's beautiful to watch. 

The final result balances the two flavours of chocolate and honey perfectly. Instead of getting separate chocolate notes and honey notes, they seem to merge. The cake is dense and rich, especially when combined with the glaze (a fascinating water and honey based ganache). I wasn't sure how much I would like this cake but I have to admit it has totally won me over. 

The only problem? 

Both times I have made it a little circular crater has appeared bang in the middle of the cake. The first time I had opened the door a bit early so I presumed it was because of that. Then I made it again today. At the same point as before - 30 minutes in - the cake was beautifully risen and domed when I looked through the door. Yet once again when I looked at 40 minutes (this time having not opened the door), the cake had sunk down an inch and had a crater in the middle.  

So next time I think I'm going to try a slightly larger tin - probably a 20cm - and see if that helps (I've indicated this in the recipe below, but for reference I used a 6" tin here). I halved the recipe but usually that doesn't cause problems. If you'd like, you can double the recipe back up and use a 23cm tin as in the original. 

To rescue the situation this time I decided to insert a 'marzipan surprise' and turn the cake over. Nobody minded my little trick. That's the best thing about many baking 'disasters' - outside of our perfectionist world, nobody could care less as long as it's delicious. 

Honeybee Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)

For the cake:
50g dark chocolate, chopped
135g light brown sugar
115g butter, at room temperature
60ml runny honey
1 egg
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
125ml boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm/9" tin. Melt the chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of simmering water then leave to cool. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or with a handheld whisk). Pour in the honey and whisk to combine. Add the egg and a tablespoon of the flour and combine throughly. Scrape in the cooled melted chocolate and whip again to combine.  Sift the rest of the flour, the bicarbonate of soda and the cocoa powder into the bowl and whisk again. Slowly add the boiling water to the mix with the speed on low, pausing every few moments to let it combine into a smooth liquid. Pour into the prepared tin and place into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes until springy on top. Cool on a wire rack in its tin until totally cold. 

For the glaze:
30ml water
60ml runny honey
90g dark chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp icing sugar

Place the water and honey into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate has melted and the glaze is smooth. Sieve the icing sugar over the top and whisk in. 

To assemble:
5 small pieces of marzipan (about 20g)
10 flaked almonds (+ a few spares)

Line your serving plate with four strips of baking parchment to form a square. Turn the cake out of the tin and place in the middle of the strips. Brush any loose crumbs off the cake. Spoon a few tablespoons of the glaze into the middle of the cake and use a small palette knife (or similar) to spread the glaze down the sides off the cake. Keep adding the glaze and spreading it until the sides are complete. Add extra to create a smooth top. Leave to set while you make the bees. Shape the marzipan into little oblong bodies, then press two flaked almonds into each one at an angle to create the wings. Use a toothpick and the remaining glaze to draw three stripes and some eyes onto each bee.  When ready position the bees onto the top of the cake. Very carefully remove the strips of parchment paper and remove any little drips with a damp cloth. 

(Serves 8-10)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Raspberry Pavlova Ice Cream


On Thursday I received some incredible news. I got my degree results and I am the proud recipient of a first class degree! Everything seemed to slot into place in my exams. It feels like such an amazing end to my time at Oxford.

I struggled a lot at times and I have to thank my incredible tutors for pulling me through and believing in me. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to study in such a fantastic academic environment - it has been a true education.

As I mentioned in my post about the Big Feastival, some of the best things I tasted there were ices. One of the ones that particularly made an impression on me was a divine raspberry pavlova ice cream.  I immediately decided I had to try and recreate it. 

The night before I made this we had some friends around to dinner and we made meringues for pudding, two of which I saved to make this. They were really fluffy in the middle and chewy and crisp on the outside. I know there are a lot of people who think meringues should be crisp and dry all the way through but I quite like mine to have a bit of pavlova squish, especially when they're being served with whipped cream, fresh fruit and custard.  Crumbled up they also worked perfectly in this ice cream. 

The contrast of the sharp raspberry sauce, creamy ice cream and crunchy and chewy pieces of meringue is an absolute delight. I think this might be the best ice cream I've made.


Raspberry Pavlova Ice Cream
(base adapted from David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop)

For the base:
500ml double cream
250ml whole milk
115g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
6 egg yolks

Place 250ml of the cream into a medium bowl and set a fine sieve over the top. Create an ice bath. Put the milk, sugar, vanilla paste, salt and 250ml of the cream into a medium saucepan. Put over a medium heat and bring to a simmer.  In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks together. Pour some of the hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly. Return to the pan and whisk to combine. Stir until the mixture reaches custard consistency then remove from the heat and pour through the sieve into a bowl. Put the bowl into the ice bath and cool to room temperature. Put into the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

For the additions:
200g raspberries
20g caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 meringue nests

Place the raspberries in a dish and sprinkle with the sugar and juice. Leave for an hour or so to macerate. Meanwhile break the meringue nests up into small chunks. Optionally then toast these chunks in the oven for five minutes at 150C. Press the raspberries through a fine sieve until only the seeds remain. Churn the base according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Sprinkle a handful of meringue chunks over the bottom of a 1.5ltr tub, followed by a few spoonfuls of the raspberry sauce. Scoop 1/3 of the ice cream into the tub and spread out. Top with more meringue chunks and sauce. Keep layering until you reach the top. Add the final chunks and more sauce then swirl the whole tub briefly with a skewer. Work quickly so it doesn't melt and get into the freezer quickly. Freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Serve with any remaining raspberry sauce. 

(Makes just over a litre)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Tiramisu with Macerated Summer Fruits


Yesterday we took a little day trip down into Italy. My uncle Tim has been staying with us in Verbier recently and he decided to take us for lunch at a little place just over the Grand St Bernard Pass as a thank you. It was such a lovely day. We went on two walks with the dogs - one before lunch up at the top of the pass among all the mountain flowers and rocks and then a second afterwards in the green and grassy valley.

We ate a delicious lunch of local dried meats and a variety of pastas. Afterwards I introduced mum and Tim to affogato, one of my favourite light puddings (it's a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream or gelato drowned in an espresso - the perfect creamy end to a heavy meal).

Our trip to Italy brings me nicely to one of my favourite desserts: tiramisu. I made tiramisu for the Daring Bakers before but the recipe was very complicated and slightly too sweet (though I loved making my own marscarpone and savoiardi). Mum was given this recipe on a piece of paper by a lady in Italy last autumn. It has made tiramisu a regular fixture in our house. My uncle Tim has become a little bit obsessed by it and so mum has been making it on overdrive. It's surprisingly addictive.

I made it for my birthday BBQ a few weeks ago and for the first time paired it with a bowl of macerated strawberries and raspberries. A whole new level. I tried the combination for a second time last weekend for a dinner party we were bringing dessert to and it had great reviews again. It's a fabulous recipe I'm sure I will keep on making it regularly for many years to come.


Tiramisu with Macerated Summer Fruits
(exact recipe source unknown)

For the tiramisu:
4 eggs
150g caster sugar
400g marscarpone
350g spongefingers/savoiardi 
300ml strong coffee such as espresso
cocoa powder for dusting

Separate the eggs and place the yolks and caster sugar into a mixer. Whip until pale and thick - the whisk should leave a trail when lifted. In a separate big mixing bowl, beat the marscarpone until smooth. Add 1/3 of the yolk mix and fold until combined to loosen. Add the rest and fold until smooth. Wash the mixer bowl and dry carefully, then whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a third into the marscarpone mix, then finally fold the rest in.  Briefly dip each spongefinger into the coffee then place into the bottom of a big serving dish. Keep going until you have a full layer over the bottom. Spoon over half of the marscarpone mix. Make another layer of spongefingers then finally spread the rest of the marscarpone mix over the top. Put in the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Just before you serve dust the top liberally with cocoa powder. 

For the macerated summer fruits:
200g raspberries
200g strawberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Place the raspberries in a medium sized serving bowl. Slice the strawberries and add them. Sprinkle over the sugar and lemon juice and lightly stir. Leave for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. 

(Serves 8-10)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Crunchy and Creamy Dark Chocolate with Raspberries

Last Sunday I went to the Big Feastival on Clapham Common, London. Jamie Oliver masterminded this weekend of food and music with all profits going to charity.

My favourite tastes of the day were both sweet ices - a delicate pistachio gelato and later a fantastic creamy raspberry pavlova ice cream with tangy raspberry coulis. I'm going to have a go at recreating both sometime this summer

I also saw some great demonstrations by Giorgio Locatelli, Matt Tebbutt, Rachel Allen, Willie Harcourt-Cooze, Gennaro Contaldo, Jay Rayner and, of course, Jamie Oliver himself. I learnt a lot and they were all engaging and amusing to watch.


 While I was there I picked up a copy of the cookbook they produced to go with the Feastival. It has a great collection of recipes from some of the participating chefs. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to try this recipe by John Murray of Vinoteca. I haven't made many multi-component desserts so this seemed like a good challenge. 

If it helps this was the order I made it in: the ganache and creamy chocolate, which went in the fridge to cool. I made the coconut crunch mix and then the crumble while it chilled. I took the creamy chocolate out of the fridge to come to room temp. Then I baked the coconut crunch, turned the oven up and baked the crumble. Finally I assembled it.   

The balance of this dessert is great - so many contrasting and complementary textures and flavours. The raspberry cuts through the rich chocolate and the various crunches from the coconut and almond round it out. It's an exciting dessert to eat. 

Crunchy and Creamy Dark Chocolate with Raspberries
(adapted from John Murray's recipe in The Big Feastival Cook Book)

For the raspberry ganache:
50g fresh raspberries
50g quality white chocolate

Chop the white chocolate up into small chunks and place in a small bowl. Press the raspberries through a fine sieve into a small saucepan until you only have the seeds remaining. Scrape down the bottom of the sieve so you don't loose any juices. Heat the raspberry juices until boiling. Take off the heat, wait 30 seconds, then pour over the white chocolate. Stir until smooth then cover and place in the fridge. 

For the creamy dark chocolate:
1 egg yolk
10g demerara sugar (or soft brown)
65ml double cream
60g quality dark chocolate

Chop the chocolate up and place in a small bowl to one side. Whisk the yolk and the sugar together in another small bowl and set aside. Place the double cream in a small saucepan and heat until just starting to boil and then take off the heat. Pour a small amount into the egg bowl, whisking as you go. Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk to combine. Put back over a medium heat and use a spatula to stir and scrape down the mixture until it has a custard consistency. Pour over the dark chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy. Put in the fridge until 1 hour before you want to serve. 

For the coconut crunch:
25g caster sugar
15g unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp milk
15g dessicated coconut, lightly toasted and cooled
1/2 tbsp plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy. Stir in the milk then fold in the coconut and flour. Place into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes, meanwhile preheating the oven to 150C. Spread the mixture into circles or teardrops of about 3mm thickness - it should make 8. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Set onto a wire rack to cool until needed. 

For the chocolate crumble:
20g demerara sugar
20g unsalted butter, at room temperature
20g ground almonds
17g plain flour
1/2 tsp cocoa powder

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Fold the almonds, flour and cocoa in. Roll into a log, wrap in cling film and place into the freezer for 30 minutes. When nearly ready to serve grate the log onto a lined baking tray. Spread out and bake for 8-12 minutes. Leave to cool for 5 minutes. 

To assemble:
16 - 20 fresh raspberries 
handful flaked almonds, toasted

Divide the raspberry ganache into four and spread into four ramekins or small glass bowls. Sprinkle over 1/4 of the crumble, followed by 4-5 raspberries. Heat one or two spoons (whichever you are more comfortable with) in some hot water, then create four quenelles from the room temperature creamy dark chocolate mix. As you go place each one on top of the raspberries. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top and place one or two coconut crunches on top or to the side. 

(Serves 4)

Monday, 4 July 2011

Guinness Chocolate Cake


A few weeks ago, my friend Dave had his 21st birthday. As it was during exam period, it was left semi-uncelebrated. So on Saturday we decided to do a bit of a belated celebration. So I made cake. Obviously.

Dave is Northern Irish. Dave likes Guinness. So when I saw this cake while browsing the archives of Design*Sponge (love love love the site) made by the fabulous Katie of What Katie Ate it reminded me of the Nigella original and I had to make it for him.

On Friday night we all went to a white tie ball - the Trinity College Commemeration Ball. It was my last ball at Oxford and I have to say it was by far the best. The food was great (we had oysters, eton mess, falafel wraps, noodles, hog roast, breakfast baps at 4am etc etc), the champagne and cocktails were flowing all night, the music and fairground rides gave constant entertainment and we didn't get home until 6am when the sun had fully risen. I slept for four hours (after taking my vintage 1950's full length red velvet gown with proper petticoats off - love it) and then started making this cake. 

The smell of the Guinness made me feel a bit nauseous as the cocktails started to wear off. 

Despite my lack of sleep, the cake came together easily. It's very rich and dense but doesn't have an overwhelming taste of Guinness. The fluffy and slightly tangy icing contrasts beautifully. All in all, it's a great recipe.  

Chocolate Guinness Cake
(adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)

For the cake:
250ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter
75g best quality cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
140ml sour cream
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line and grease a 23cm/9" springform tin (or a angel food cake tin of about 10").  Pour the Guinness into a large pan and put over a medium heat. Add the butter and cocoa and whisk until the butter has melted and the mixture is combined. Turn off the heat. Scrape down the sides as you go. Whisk in the sugar. Beat the eggs, sour cream and vanilla together in a medium bowl then whisk them into the mixture. Finally whisk in the flour and bicarb. Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes - you want a skewer to come out with damp crumbs, not totally clean but not with raw mixture. Place onto a cooling rack and leave to cool. 

For the icing:
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
75ml double cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks. Transfer it out of the bowl into a medium sized bowl, scraping the mixer bowl down. Put the cream cheese into the mixer bowl and whisk until smooth. Gradually add the icing sugar, scraping down as you go. Beat until smooth and lump-free. Finally transfer the whipped cream back into the mixer bowl and fold in. Smooth over the top of the cooled cake, leaving the sides free to create the idea of a pint of guinness. 

(Makes about 14-16 slices)

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