Monday, 28 December 2009

Gingerbread Squares

I had always thought that gingerbread meant gingerbread men. I don't think I've had once for years, but I remember them as being rather hard and bland little fellows. This caught my eye when I was trawling for stuffing recipes, and realised I was wrong - this type of gingerbread is full of delicious flavours and very damp and sticky.

Then I read on and found that it was asking me to use not just one, but two different jars of syrup (including the ever elusive black treacle!) to create it - I could hardly contain my childish excitement. There's just something about spooning liquid sugar into saucepans that reverts me back into a little girl (along with falling snow, tickles and too many other things to admit to...). But then, I've raved about golden syrup before (see Ginger Oats for more). I'm also in the midst of a bit of a fresh ginger obsession, so the idea of grating some of that in didn't harm.

I slightly overcooked this - my mum's oven has become decidedly angry over the past six months and seems to want to scorch everything within its grasp. It was still lovely, just not quite as damp as expected. You can definitely taste the influence of the fresh ginger - though it's not overpowering - creating a harmony with the spices while the strong treacle backs it all up. I wouldn't say it particularly reminded me of Christmas but it was perfect with a cup of tea - and worked a dream as crumbs in some mincemeat soufflé-esque puddings I made.

(From Nigella Christmas. Makes about 20 squares.)

150g butter
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle or molasses
125g dark muscavado sugar
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in 2 tbsp of warm water
250ml full milk
2 eggs, beaten
300g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170° C and line a tin (approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm or I made mine in a circular tin of a similar size) with foil or baking parchment (if using foil, grease it too).

In a saucepan, melt the butter over a lowish heat along with the sugar, syrup, treacle, fresh and ground gingers, cinnamon and cloves. (I found that spooning the syrup into a cup or bowl was the only way to contain it while weighing - though it took a fair amount of spatula work to get it all out again!). Take off the heat, and add the milk, eggs and dissolved bicarbonate of soda in its water. Measure the flour into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until well mixed. It will be a very liquid batter, so don’t worry. This is part of what makes it sticky later.

Pour it into a prepared tin and bake for 45-60 minutes until well risen and firm on top. Try not to overcook, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway will carry on cooking as it cools. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the gingerbread cool in the tin before cutting into 20 squares, or however you wish to slice it. Dust with icing sugar if desired.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake

I first made this chocolate cheesecake about five months ago when I was in Cornwall on a weekend break from university. I was baking up Pear and Caramel Cakes and Cherry Cheesecake among other things, but this was the biggest hit when I took it back to Oxford. Like the Cherry Cheesecake, I had to transport this frozen back to college - hence the frosty sheen. For some reason - saving it up for last and best perhaps - it has been lurking in the back of my mind waiting to be posted about ever since.

I recently made this again for our Parenting Dinner. At my college - like most Oxford colleges - we have a parenting scheme where two older students get 'married' and look after two 'babies' or freshers come the beginning of their first term. At the end of freshers week we get together and provide a dinner in our flats. This was one of two puddings, along with a Lemon Meringue Pie (the normally nicely behaved meringue had a bit of a tantrum, as did I over it - but the cheesecake came through and behaved in a very elegant manner).

When I was planning this I wanted to have a very creamy feel but to stop it getting too rich or heavy. I found that whipping the cream meant that it ended up quite light, and the lime cuts through any excess richness. I love mascapone in these kind of desserts, so I used that as a base. Do remember that it will have raw egg as it isn't cooked.

I don't know if the gelatine really makes a massive improvement - the first time I made this I didn't add any and it was lovely. Though it is quite squishy. The second time I did add it and it kept its shape better, but I don't know that I really prefer it. I think the egg might keep some of the shape - I'm not sure.

Chocolate Cheesecake
(Serves about 8-10)

For the base:
125g digestive or oat-based biscuits
50g butter

Put the biscuits into a plastic food bag and then crush them with a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a small saucepan then mix in the crushed biscuits, making sure they're evenly coated. Press into a 8"/20cm round loose based tin and put into the fridge.

For the filling:
250g mascapone
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g dark chocolate
225ml cream
1 lime
1/2 sheet gelatine (if desired - check instructions on the packet with the amount)

Beat the mascapone, sugar, eggs and vanilla together. Split into two bowls, putting 1/3 of the mixture into one and the remaining 2/3 into the other. Melt the chocolate, let it cool, then fold into the 1/3 bowl. To the 2/3 bowl add the juice of the lime, then whip the cream and fold it in too. Make up the gelatine according to instructions and fold into the 2/3 bowl. Pour the contents of the 2/3 bowl into the tin, then swirl in the chocolate 1/3. My swirling technique isn't all that - I just put blobs around the place and then run a knife through. Pop into the fridge and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Raspberry Tarts

Home grown raspberries are like nothing else. They're at their best if picked straight off the bush and naughtily eaten, but they always retain their truly superior flavour until their mouldy demise. I actually managed to keep my paws off these for two days - a record, perhaps.

I wanted to make some little tarts with them - a little like the ones I wrote about buying in Oxford - but without the thin cake layer and jelly on top.

I had a bit of a pastry disaster with these. I've been making a lot of pastry recently - particulary shortcrust - and pulled out all my new cooling tricks and so on to create the best tasting dough I think I've made so far. I popped circles of the pastry into four muffin indents. I got excited by the little pleats they had made all by themselves just by folding in. So I popped them in the oven and starting faffing about with the ends of the pastry making strips and so on. Five minutes later I realised the complete lack of blind baking going on. So I took them out, propped the sides back up, put in some cases and ceramic baking beans and tried again. They turned out okay (definitely edible!) but perhaps not the perfection I was expecting from the dough.

I also wasn't entirely happy with the crème pâtissière recipe I used. I think I'll try another when I make it again but I've included it and my changes anyway. Usually I find Nigella faultless, so I was a bit surprised - but the colder Aga plate was rather cold, and my technique was probably wrong - I feel I should have beaten the eggs and sugar more.

Still, despite the various problems, they were really lovely. The raspberries could have made anything shine and the dark chocolate really complemented the sweet custard.

Raspberry Tarts
Makes about 4

Edit: I've removed the recipes as I'm not happy with them and don't want you to try them and be disappointed. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

A return with Lemon Surprise Cupcakes in hand

I haven't posted here in months. It hasn't been through lack of cooking since my holidays started - I think I've spent more time cooking in the past few months than ever before, but for some reason, posting here just didn't feel right. I suppose part of it could be that I've been making much more savory food than before, and that's never seemed newsworthy. I did try a few times - I uploaded photos, wrote out the titles, but I never managed to put words to it, to actually post. I tried again a week or so ago, after coming home from seeing Julie and Julia.

But then yesterday two things happened: I came down to Cornwall, where I went to have a break from uni and cook exciting things for this blog in May; and I got the first comment for ages... and this commenter had actually made one of the recipes!

I made these cupcakes yesterday. They don't look anything special - perhaps I should jolly them up with some icing sugar or icing, but I love them as they are. The tops are slightly crispy, the cake is fluffy and moist and it's all undercut by sharp lemon filling. I had this jar of lemon filling left from a Lemon Meringue Pie I made a few days ago which needed using. So I decided to riff upon an old recipe for Chocolate surprises with a square of chocolate hidden in the cake, and put a spoonful of the filling in.

I didn't have any extra lemons with me (or any cupcake cases so they're all folded into muffin cases!) so I added the filling to the cake mix as well, which gave them a lovely subtle flavour. The filling I used was from Angela Nilsen's fantastic Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie recipe. A simpler curd would also work (such as the one I made in this recipe), if you're not making a Lemon Meringue Pie soon!

Lemon Surprise Cupcakes
(only makes 4, but is easily doubled/multiplied up)

70g butter
70g golden caster
1 egg
70g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp lemon curd/filling plus another 4tsp for filling

Cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Add the egg with a tbsp of flour and beat in quickly. Sift in the rest of the flour and baking powder and mix till combined. Add the curd and stir in.

To create the cupcakes, put a heaped spoonful of cake mix into each case, then make a little well in the middle. Spoon in a tsp of curd into the wells of each. Top with the rest of the mix, pushing it down to the sides to cover the curd. Bake for 20 minutes or until browned.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Coffee and Walnut cake was my late grandmother's favourite: every year my mum and I would make one for her birthday. I can't quite separate it from her. She taught me a lot about cooking - not only many fun and exciting things - but also how much hard work can go into creating food. She (and her many helpers) organised a massive fruit and vegtable garden with literally acres of produce that had to be planted, tended, picked and then often blanched and frozen or made into jams and preserves. Not to say she didn't also show me how cooking could be a pleasure - but the reality of creating so much from scratch couldn't be rose-washed.

I spent at least a day a week at their house when I was little, helping out - but mainly eating. My favourite haunt had to be the fruit cage in summer - raspberries, loganberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrents, blackberries and so much more would fall off into my little hands.

And so this is Delia's stalwart recipe that came out at least once a year to much appreciation. It doesn't really need playing with in my opinion - it's always wonderful. For this version I made double the mixture to make a four layer cake in four tins, rather than splitting two - I love the crunchy edges in contrast to the smooth mousseline. Which is also why I didn't cut them off to make a 'prettier' cake.

*** Please use this updated recipe instead of this one to make this cake. I've left the one here because I think it's fun to see the difference in my recipe writing... ***

Coffee and Walnut Cake
(From Delia Smith's Book of Cakes)

For the cake:
110g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
110g butter at room temperature
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g walnuts, finely chopped
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 tbsp boiling water

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line two 7" sponge tins. Mix the coffee with the boiling water to form an essence. Cream the butter and sugar and then add eggs, beaten, slowly with the occasional spoon of flour. Fold in the coffee essence and walnuts. Transfer to tins and bake for thirty minutes.

For the mousseline:
150g butter
60g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water.

Put the 4 tbsp of water and sugar in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil - make sure sugar has dissolved before it boils. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until it forms a thread. The temp should be between 103C and 105C. Whisk the egg yolks in a stand mixer, then pour the sugar syrup over the eggs in a steady stream as you keep whisking. Then whisk the butter in bit by bit until it is smooth and fluffy. Whisk in the dissolved coffee.

To assemble spread the mousseline between the cakes and over the top and decorate with walnut halves.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Summer Fruit and White Chocolate Layer Cake

Last week my mum's friend, Alice, celebrated her 40th birthday. She had a lovely party at a nearby village pub, especially as we could spill out into the sunshine to catch the last rays on the village green to the beat of her bongo-drumming friends with a pint of cider. It was really rather idyllic.

A few weeks ago I heard that she wasn't going to have a cake, so I jumped at the opportunity and offered my services. I wanted to branch out from my normal chocolate birthday cake and make a summery, light version. In the end I created this, a mish-mash of various recipes and luck - but it came out beautifully. I tried a new buttermilk sponge recipe, which I ended up not overly happy with as it ended up a bit heavy, but that's easily rectified by reverting to my trustworthy old recipe, which I've put below. The recipe seemed to overcomplicate everything yet not improve upon a simple recipe.

I bought myself some beautiful new square cake tins, in 6" and 9", when I was in London and I couldn't wait to try them out. They're amazing - though I think I overfilled them and so the mix didn't rise evenly - or maybe I'll just blame it on the recipe! Still, the square is great - it's really fun to work with a new shape.

I played with the white chocolate ganache mixture I used for mum's birthday cake, upping the white chocolate in the ratio to thicken it. I was intending to use that as the icing, but it ended up so yellow from the lovely white chocolate and I didn't have enough, so I decided to improvise a buttercream. I didn't really have a recipe, as the two books I have with me don't really have one, and I didn't have internet access. Luckily it came out nicely, though I still stand by my feeling that buttercream is too sweet. I think it might be rather weird to have chucked in lime juice, vanilla and the ganache, but it felt right at the time and seemed to work! As a result of it all being rather hurried and adding icing sugar etc till I felt it was right/tasted good, I don't think the recipe below is exactly what I used - you would have to go on your own instincts there.

I froze the cake layers for a few hours while I made the icings, which made them much easier to deal with. When it came to assembling it, I smeared a little ganache onto the middle of the cake board to help secure it, then placed strips of baking parchment around the edges to keep it free from icing. I used a big serrated knife to cut the frozen layers in half, then proceeded to sandwich it all together.

For the fillings between layers I first spread a thick layer of the white chocolate ganache, then arranged the strawberry slices and blueberries on top, before spreading a layer of whipped cream on top. Between the two halves I just used the ganache, and then used the ganache again to fill in the gaps and give a first crumb coat - see below. I then properly crumb coated and topped the whole thing with the buttercream and more fruit.

Summer Fruit and White Chocolate Layer Cake

For the cakes (6"/9"):
110g/275g butter
110g/275g caster sugar
2/5 eggs
110g/275g flour
1/2.5 heaped tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 170C. Line/grease and flour tins. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add eggs one at a time with a tablespoonful of flour, beating well between each addition. Fold in the rest of the flour and baking powder until combined. If needed, add a little hot water. Pour into the tin and spread out evenly. Bake for about 25-30 mins, though the 9" may need longer, or until they are golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

For the ganache:
300g (best quality) white chocolate
150ml double cream
150ml creme fraiche

Heat the cream and creme fraiche in a saucepan until nearly boiling. Meanwhile break the chocolate into a bowl. Take the cream mix off the heat and pour onto the chocolate. Make sure all the chocolate is submerged then leave for a few minutes before stirring until thickened and smooth. Leave to thicken in the fridge.

For the buttercream:
250g unsalted butter
500g icing sugar
2 tbsp white chocolate ganache, above
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp lime juice

Beat butter in mixer until paler, then add the icing sugar and beat until fluffy. Add in the ganache and beat well, followed by the lime juice and vanilla. Leave to set slightly in the fridge before using.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Spinach Omelette

Spinach omelette is for me one of those family dishes that you've grown up with, and somewhere in the years and years of making it, it's origins or the subtle changes in method are lost. It's a failsafe, the dish you come home from university to, a 'home' dish you won't get anywhere else. It's one of those things that most people, on it being described are a little unsure, but when they actually taste it are usually converted.

It's never quite the same when it's not cooked on an Aga. All the family houses - my grandparents, the houses in Cornwall, the houses I grew up in, my aunts and uncles and so on - have Agas (except our Swiss flat). It took me a few years to realise people cooked on 'normal' stoves! There's something incredibly homey and lovely about the Aga - perhaps it radiates with the warmth.

We had all the beautiful fresh vegetables from the farm shop I mentioned in Bacon, Red Pepper and Mushroom Spaghetti. My favourite thing we got from there was the fresh eggs - we used to have over 40 hens when we lived in Devon and one of the things I miss most is really fresh farm eggs, with that rich orange yolk you can't find in the shops.

The house had one of my Grandmother's old spinning whisks - as demonstrated by my mum above. I used to love playing with them as a child in big tubs of soapy water creating havoc. They're pretty effective - if you don't have an electric whisk, it makes much lighter work of whipping cream and things than just a bulb whisk.

Spinach Omelette
(serves 2)

3 eggs
50g cheese (I used cheddar, but we often use gruyere)
250g spinach
dash of milk
chunk of butter
salt and pepper

Melt a chunk of butter in a frying pan, then toss in the spinach. Wait until in beds down before removing it to a warm dish. Meanwhile beat the eggs with the milk and salt and pepper and grate the cheese. Add a little more butter to the pan, then tip in the egg mix. Leave for minute before scattering in the grated cheese. Leave for another minute then arrange the spinach (without any spare juices) on top. Cook to your preference for omelette - I like mine nearly cooked through - then fold in half and serve hot.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Rowing and Lemon & Almond Cake

I've just realised I haven't posted in longer than usual, life has been so manic I hadn't really thought about it. It was the big rowing regatta of the year for most of last week - Summer Eights- and so I had a lot of training before the event and then spent all of the race days chilling at the river cheering my college on or actually rowing myself. Unfortunately we didn't do as well as we had hoped, but it was still a fantastic four days I'm sure I'll remember for the rest of my life.

My exams are also now looming large with only two weeks to go, so I think posting may be a little sparse, despite still having lots of things left to post about from Cornwall.

Though I think my real problem is trying to work out how to stop myself eating like I'm still rowing for a couple of hours a day...

Summer Eights is a fantastic event - it's a bumps race, which is only practised at Oxford, Cambridge and Eton. In short, we have to catch and 'bump' (usually literally) the boat ahead over a 2km course, rather than racing side by side or in time trials.

It makes for a great spectator sport and is great fun to race in - nothing keeps you going like seeing the crew behind you start gaining on you or hearing the cox shout that you're close to bumping. It's a big event - about 1500 rowers from all the different colleges take part, and there's meant to be something ridiculous like 15,000 spectators.

When you're getting very close to catching the boat ahead, tradition is to call a 'kill', where the pressure is increased and you put everything into it (you both drop out when a bump occurs, so you can really push yourself) to catch them. We were joking about thinking of new calls, and among the favourites were 'smash' and 'bash'. So when I decided to make a cake for the crew while I was in Cornwall, it seemed inevitable that it needed icing with 'Kill, Smash, Bash, Bump!'.

I had asked the girls before I left what type of cake was desired, and lemon came out top. I wanted to make something quite damp and dense with almond, rather than something lighter like the Lemon Curd Layer Cake I've made before. I didn't want to just ice it with sugar and juice, so I made up some lemon curd. In the end I added some lime juice to the curd, too, to sharpen it up.

Everyone seemed very happy with it - it was damp but not too heavy, and the curd stayed up really well while travelling. The addition of the juice to the top icing meant most of it sank into the cake, but that gave a firm top and the white chocolate writing sat better on that than it would have in the curd.

Lemon and Almond Cake
(adapted from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

For the cake:
225g butter
175g golden caster sugar
50g light brown muscavado sugar
4 eggs
100g plain flour
175g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of a lemon

Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F. Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy and white. Add an egg with a tablespoon of flour and beat to combine. Repeat with the other eggs. Fold in the rest of the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and zest. Then fold in the lemon juice, before turning out into lined tins. Bake for 25-3o mins or until golden, risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. I then left the cake layers overnight to let the flavours mingle, wrapped up in tinfoil, but you could use them straightaway.

For the curd:
juice and rind of a lemon
75g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
50g butter

Put the rind and sugar into a heatproof bowl that fits over a saucepan. Fill the saucepan with an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile beat the eggs then stir in the lemon juice. Chop the butter up into small pieces. Pour the egg mixture into the sugar and rind bowl, add the butter and set over the heat. Stir until it thickens fully - it goes through a first stage then thickens again to a more jelly like consistency. Set to cool.

To assemble spread the bottom half of the cake with the curd, then place the other layer on the top. I then stirred the juice of a lime into the rest of the curd and topped the cake with that, but it would still be good without the lime, just less sharp. I then melted a couple of squares of white chocolate and as I didn't have a piping bag, cut the corner out of a plastic food bag and piped the writing on with that.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Pear and Caramel Cakes

The day before I went down to Cornwall I was brainstorming what I wanted to make. I had a nice list, took in some requests (cheesecake, chocolate, chocolate cheesecake, cake), and went to bed content.

Then, as I was lying there, I started dreaming up a new cake. I think it may have spawned from a favourite pear and chocolate crumble I make (favourite combination strikes again!), as I sometimes cook the pears in sugary, spice laden water before putting it all together if they're not ripe enough. I wanted the idea of lacings of caramel with the pear tender to bite. I thought I could mix half the caramel into the batter and swirl in the rest of the caramel, with the pears in. I got rather overexcited by the idea, so jumped out of bed and went to scrawl it down.

I wanted to make a loaf cake out of the mix, but when I got down there, we didn't have any decent baking equipment in the cupboard. On our trip to the supermarket I scouted out some normal cake tins for the cheesecake and cake, but alas - no loaf tin. I settled for some muffin tins - I knew the cake tins would be full of cheesecake and it just felt wrong to make it like that somehow!

Then I got home and started baking and realised that while we had three sets of scales - none of them really worked. We have a beautiful set of balance scales at home and some digital ones for backup/tiny amounts so I was really unused to them being so inaccurate. So some of my measurements were a little off, but hopefully I managed to gauge the amounts properly for the recipe.

I decided to use a very basic cupcake/plain cake mix I use as a starting point as my base, then add in the caramel. I had never actually made caramel before, so I did some research and found David Lebovitz's great articles on How to Make the Perfect Caramel and Ten Tips for Making Caramel. So I nervously poured some golden caster sugar into a big pan - read a little more and realised this was a bad idea - and swiftly tipped the golden caster out and replaced it with white. It got a little stuck to the spoon and I did get some crispy bits in it, as you can see below, but they were pretty yummy so I wasn't complaining.

I stopped it with some cream - perhaps a second too early, but it was still nice and not too underdone. Perhaps a little less would have made the liquid more solid? I know I'll be experimenting with this for years to come.

With all the caramel, the mixture came out pretty thin - next time I would definitely reduce the cream in the caramel and perhaps up the flour? I had too much mix for the muffin tins, so I put the rest in a handy quiche tin. I was a little worried at how sweet the mix was, but when cooked it mellowed out. I might still reduce the sugar in the cake another time.

They came out tasting lovely - if looking a little odd in their muffin environment, a loaf setting would definitely suit them better. I left the one that ended up in the quiche tin at home with Mum and she raved about it - which reinforces the idea it would be better in a bigger setting. They're sweet, but not overpoweringly so, with a slightly nutty taste, and the pear was perfect.

Definitely some room for improvement, but I'm very excited by how good they were.

Pear and Caramel Cakes

Edit: I've removed the recipe as I'm not happy with it and don't want you to try it and be disappointed. I'm working on a new version.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Bacon, Red Pepper and Mushroom Spaghetti

I don't often feel like a 'normal' savoury meal deserves a post. After all, however often we bake, it's not a necessity, it's not sustenance, it's something special. Baking doesn't feel everyday, even if it is done everyday.

This dish isn't something fancy, it's not a big palaver of a dinner party dish, but it's everyday. It tastes wonderful, don't get me wrong, but it's just... normal.

Close to the house in Cornwall there's this little farm stall with an honesty box just off the lane. They sell all their fresh veg along with eggs, some cakes, kindling etc etc. I miss fresh farm veg a lot in Verbier, as we have to buy supermarket stuff, at least in winter. Even onions are just so much better like this.

It doesn't need dressing up - I always feel the mark of amazing veg is that I would happy eat a plate of it on its own, with nothing but a little butter and salt and pepper. Perhaps not the onions, though!

This is a lovely, light spaghetti, though it feels fairly indulgently creamy. It's great to have some English bacon for a change - the thick smoked slabs of meat that are so different from Swiss bacon.

I adore red peppers, too - I used to devour whole peppers as a small child. I have no time for the green ones, though - only red, yellow, orange. Sunny colours! This was one of those lovely long ones which taste like bell peppers but look like chili- I think some people call them Italian sweet peppers?

I don't have a hugely detailed recipe - it's so simple anyway, it would be silly to get over-accurate on it.

Bacon, Red Pepper and Mushroom Spaghetti
(Serves 2)

1 onion
1 sweet pepper
3 rashers of thick bacon
3/4 big mushrooms
handful of parsley
100ml creme fraiche
100g spaghetti

Put the spaghetti on to cook according to the packet instructions. Soften the chopped onion with a little olive oil in a frying pan on a fairly high heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook for a minute or two before turning the heat down a little and adding the chopped mushroom and pepper. Heat until the mushrooms look wilted and cooked and the bacon is cooked through. Drain the spaghetti. Stir in the creme fraiche and parsley until the creme fraiche takes on a darker colour from mixing in and melts a bit, then toss the spaghetti into the saucepan, mix and plate up.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Cherry Cheesecake

Don't worry, what's above isn't my idea of a cheesecake - it's the inspiration for one!

When in Cornwall it would be a crime against food (and a crime in most diets, but hey...) to not eat at least one tub of clotted cream. Now I know that as somebody born in Devon, I should probably be claiming that it's actually from Devon, but I always grew up eating Cornish clotted cream on my scones. I just rebelled from their silly ideas of spreading the jam on first - everybody knows it goes on second (at least in Devon they do...). When scones aren't available, Mum and I spread it onto digestive biscuits. It's nearly as good - and even in some ways better!

So I was eating one of these - the one in the top photo, in fact - with a bit of cherry jam on top, and thinking about what flavour cheesecakes I wanted to make. (I had orders from my friends at uni that cheesecake had better be in the inevitable haul of food I brought back!). One had to be chocolate - more about that later - but this little biscuit-pretending-to-be-a-scone really brought back memories of a cherry cheesecake I ate as a child at a family party. I think somebody must have brought it with them - it was shop-bought - but I can remember the sour cherries on the creamy base clear as day.

Rather than the normal digestive base I usually do I decided to branch out and use shortbread, and it was lovely - can't believe I've never experimented with the base before! I used some bought shortbread as I didn't have time to make my own. I almost want to make a whole biscuit of shortbread the size of the tin, rather than crumbling it up and mixing with butter - any ideas as to if that would work?

I wanted to use fresh cherries on top, not just preserved ones or jam. I don't think they're quite in season yet, but I found some okay ones in the supermarket. I didn't have a huller or olive pitter or anything to quickly de-stone them, so I just split them in half and twisted the stone out. I think they might look prettier that way, too.

I didn't want to do a baked cheesecake - so I played about with an old family recipe for a plain lemon cheesecake with gelatin (I have a vague inkling it may be Delia in origin). I wanted a creamier filling than normal cream cheese gives, so I went for mascapone and a bit of creme fraiche instead.

I had to take the photos when it had just come out of the freezer - I transported it back to uni frozen - so excuse the frostiness of the photos! I had a slice when it was still pretty frozen, actually, and it was really nice - maybe I should start eating it like that normally!

Cherry Cheesecake
(Serves about 8-10)

For the base:
7 sticks of shortbread (about 125g)
50g butter

Crush up the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin until crumbled and without any big lumps. Melt the butter either in a saucepan or in a microwave. Pour the crumbs into the melted butter and mix well. If it looks too greasy smash up a few more more crumbs. Lightly grease a springform/loose bottomed 20cm/8" tin. Tip the crumb mixture in and flatten down into an even layer. Pop into the fridge to harden while you make the filling.

For the filling:
250g mascapone
225g creme fraiche (I used half-fat)
1tsp vanilla essence
125g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
rind of a lemon
4 sheets gelatin (consult your packet as to how much you need)

Put all the ingredients except for the gelatine into a bowl and mix well - I put it in my mixer with a whip attached, but only till well combined. Follow the instructions to create your gelatine - mine was a chop up the sheets, put them to soak in cold water, heat slowly till dissolved type. Pour it into the mixture and stir in well. Take the base out of the fridge and pour the filling in. Put it back in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours before adding the topping.


For the topping:
200g fresh cherries, once halved and pitted
2 dessert spoons cherry jam
1 tsp muscavado sugar
juice of a lemon
1.5 tsp cornflour (or you could use more gelatine if you want a stronger set)

Hull the cherries and place in a saucepan with the jam, sugar and juice w)ith about 4 dessert spoons water and slowly heat till the cherries are soft and tender. Drain the cherries out and put to one side. (If you want to use gelatine, just mix it the remaining juice). Put the juices back in the saucepan with the cornflour and put to boil - stir until thickened. When thick mix the cherries back in and leave to cool a little. When cool but not too set, spread onto the cheesecake and return to the fridge for another hour before serving. To release from the tin, run a knife around the edge and lift out (if it's frozen, keep a cup of hot water nearby and heat the knife in it otherwise it'll just get stuck!).