Wednesday 31 March 2010

Chocolate Simnel Cake

This is my somewhat alternative interpretation of a Simnel Cake. There's no fruit involved. Just chocolate. Lots of chocolate. It's a dark beauty.

I saw a recipe for Chocolate, Orange and Almond Simnel Cake in April's Good Food and this all built from there. I've made their chocolate marzipan recipe but the rest is different - I've added in coffee instead of orange and used a different cake recipe.

I wasn't expecting huge amounts from the chocolate marzipan. I thought it would be nice - after all, how could a blend of sugar, almonds, cocoa and egg be bad - but I wasn't expecting explosions. We got them. Seriously, please make this. It's fantastic. Whoever came up with this recipe in the Good Food team is a genius.

A few minutes after tasting some, my mum declared:

"It's sort of like a food orgasm, isn't it?"

I was going to simply place a thin disk of marzipan on top and in the middle. I wanted to use truffles instead of marzipan balls on top. Then I became blinded by love of the marzipan and decided to simply totally enrobe the cake with the marzipan and use it for the balls. I was going for indulgence, so why not spread the love down the sides of the cake.

With such a rich and heavy marzipan, I wanted to make a cake that had a deep chocolate flavour but wasn't too dense. I found what I was looking for in Nigella Lawson's ridiculously simple Traditional Chocolate Cake recipe in her big book Feast. It's a great recipe - you just chuck everything in the food processor and you get a lovely light but very tasty cake for all your not so hard work. Indulge yourself with the spare time you're not spending creaming and folding!

I switched the vanilla in the recipe for coffee - I wanted the bitterness and extra flavour to bounce off the chocolate.

To sandwich it all together I made a bitter chocolate ganache with some 85% chocolate, more coffee, the rest of the sour cream and a good dollop of the truly indulgent double cream I was raving about with the Tians. It compliments the sweet marzipan and brings everything together.

I'm really pleased with the way it came together. It's a great change from the normal fruit cake and the marzipan is truly wonderful. It's probably a bit too dark and bitter for little children or people who don't like that kind of thing but using a sweeter filling would sort that out.  You could just use a sweeter dark chocolate or milk chocolate in the ganache, or find another frosting that you like.

We had it for pudding last night with chopped pears and creme fraiche - I can't recommend the combination highly enough.

Chocolate Simnel Cake
(Marzipan from April 2010 issue of Good Food, Cake from Nigella Lawson's Feast )

For the chocolate marzipan:
85g golden caster sugar
100g icing sugar
200g whole almonds
50g dark cocoa powder
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

As I prefer grinding almonds myself, I put the almonds in my food processor and blasted them till fine. If using already ground almonds, just put those in the processor. Add the sugars and cocoa and blend to mix well. Beat the egg and egg yolk together and then add to the processor and blend until it comes together. Scoop out onto a piece of clingfilm and then wrap it up and place in the fridge. Keeps for a week in the fridge if you want to make it ahead (though I couldn't guarantee that it won't all be nibbled away by then...)

For the cake:
200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g cocoa powder
175g unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tbsp instant coffee
150 ml sour cream

Take the butter and sour cream out of the fridge (and the eggs, too, if you keep them there). Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease two sandwich tins (8"/20cm). Put the instant coffee in a mug/bowl and pour 1 tbsp of boiling water over the top and stir well. When the butter etc is room temperature, simply weigh everything out and put it all in a food processor. Blend until a you have a smooth batter. Measure out into the two tins and smooth. Put into the oven for around 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and turning out. When cool place into the fridge to make them easier to split/work with. If you don't have much time, just pop them in the freezer for a 5 minutes.

For the ganache:
100g dark chocolate (I used 85%)
2 tsp instant coffee
60 ml double cream
40 ml sour cream

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Heat the double cream and sour cream together in a small saucepan until nearly boiling then pour over the chocolate, ensuring all the pieces are submerged. Leave for two or three minutes before beating until smooth and glossy. Mix the instant coffee in a bowl with a tsp of boiling water then beat into the ganache.

To assemble:
Split each of the cakes into two (I also trimmed them down to a smaller circumference as I wanted a taller-looking cake).  Sandwich all the layers with the ganache. Put into the fridge and take out the marzipan. Cut an end off and form 11 small balls from it, rolling them in your hands. Put them to one side. Either dust the surface liberally with cocoa powder or sandwich the marzipan between two big sheets of cling film before rolling it out into a big circle. Use a piece of string to check it's big enough. Get the cake out of the fridge and remove one side of the cling film. Place the centre of the marzipan circle over the cake and smooth down. Fold down over the sides and cut off any excess. Stick the balls of marzipan on top and dust with cocoa powder.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Poires au Chocolat turns one with a Pear and Chocolate Loaf

A year ago today I opened Poires au Chocolat and posted for the very first time about a Lemon Curd Cake. My relationship with blogging since then has been a little turbulent - at first, even being without a kitchen at university couldn't stop the outpour of words and photos. But then as my university year ended and other things started to happen, I stopped posting.  I didn't stop cooking but I was stuck for words. I would bring up a new post and stare at the blank screen with a sharp pang of regret as the words clogged somewhere within.

After a smattering of posts in the second half of last year, 2010 brought a new enthusiasm and the words have started to flow once again. I joined the Daring Bakers and felt the comfort of community while pushing my boundaries in the kitchen.  I've started to get more and more comments and visits and every one is heartening and brightens my day. I've fallen in love with blogging again.

I promised in that very first post that I would leave my rhaposodizing about pears and chocolate till a later date. In the end I never quite got around to posting about this cake - the cake that started it all. 

This was the first recipe I created that really worked - my first 'eureka' moment. I can remember it very clearly, standing in our little kitchen and eating the first bite. I was so proud of myself. This blog is named after that moment. 

Since that day I've adapted a few things, but it is the same cake at heart. It's a wonderful combination of sweet, soft chunks of pear that nudge against the tender crumb of the bittersweet dark chocolate which melds with the cake that encases them both. It's a simple cake, but a beautiful one. 

Unfortunately, as you have probably already noticed, this loaf sank in the middle. I forgot to put a sheet of tin foil over the cake before placing it in the oven, and so I had to open it up after ten minutes to salvage the top and low and behold, it sank like the Titanic. It still tasted wonderful so I decided it wasn't the end of the world. I know the recipe is reliable when you don't give it a good blast of Alpine air mid-bake.

I also have something to admit. This year has been a year in which I've found out a lot more about myself, found love and found a new dream: when I finish my degree and leave Oxford next June, I want to train as a pastry chef. 

I've known for a few months but I find it hard to tell anyone, to let my precious dreams out of their cocoon. It felt like my ambition was a delicate bubble - I didn't want to give anybody an opportunity to burst something so important to me. Sometimes I worry that telling someone is like claiming some kind of superiority, a talent. I don't like the feeling that everything I make might be scrutinized to see if it is 'good enough'. Yet I've come to realise that I have to accept my perfectionism and allow that I'm no chef yet - I have so much to learn and that's okay. I'm at the beginning of the path and everyone has to start somewhere. 

But I don't want to hide my dreams for another moment - this is my passion.  

*** I have updated this recipe - see this post if you want to make the cake (I've kept this one up for nostalgic reasons) ***

Pear and Chocolate Loaf
(A Poires au Chocolat recipe)

125g butter
50g light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
2 eggs
135g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 ripe pear 
60g dark chocolate (I use at least 70%)

Preheat the oven to 190C. Roughly chop the chocolate. Peel the pear and chop it into small chunks, trying to save any juice in a small bowl. Dry out the pears on a few sheets of kitchen towel. Weigh out the flour into a biggish bowl. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs together separately. Add a little bit of egg and a teaspoon of the flour and beat well. Repeat until all of the egg is incorporated. Add the baking powder, dried pears and chocolate to the flour bowl and toss until the pears are coated in flour. Tip this mixture on top of the creamed butter and sugar and fold until incorporated. Fold in any remaining pear juice gently. Spoon into a lined loaf tin and level off. Cover with a sheet of foil and put into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil quickly. Bake for another 5-10 minutes until golden brown and springy. Rest for 5 minutes in the tin before removing to a wire cooling rack. Do try a slice while it's still warm.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Blood Orange and Rosemary Tian

Like many others, I came to this challenge with no idea what an 'orange tian' was. It turned out to be a lovely dessert - crisp, shortbread-esque pate sablee smoothed with homemade marmalade, smoothed over with scented whipped cream and topped by orange segments seeped in caramel. 

Despite having never tasted an orange tian before, I decided to play with the flavours. I swapped in blood oranges instead of 'blonde' oranges (as they call them here in Switzerland) as I simply cannot resist their flavour and I thought they would look stunning in the dessert. 

I also decided to be 'daring' and incorporate rosemary. I absolutely love rosemary, but I usually only use it in savoury dishes. I had a hunch it would work well in the cream layer of the dessert. And so my mum walked in on me standing in the kitchen alternately delicately chewing a leaf of rosemary and a segment of blood orange. 

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I was very excited when I noticed that the recipe included making marmalade. I haven't made any jams since I used to as a child with my Grandma. Now I think back to it, I'm not quite sure why I was often left in charge of a big pot of boiling sugar, standing on my little stool by the Aga with a very long spoon. Still, it's one of my most treasured memories of my Grandma. 

The resulting marmalade is really very tasty. I was worried that the pith would still be bitter despite the multiple blanchings, but it mellowed out in the end product. I decided to try and not use pectin and try to use pips instead. Unfortunately my oranges didn't have any pips, but I found a lemon in the fridge and used those instead, tied in a little square of muslin. It firmed up beautifully. 

Another new element was the pate sablee (my accents don't seem to be working, so excuse the lack of them). It's the richest of the french pastry crusts and really very tasty. The method was unusual too - you have to beat the egg yolk and sugar till pale and creamy before adding it to the ice cold butter and flour. I think it would be quite lovely just as biscuits. 

Happily my mum had some old crumpet moulds (which, believe me, are going to be used for their original purpose soon) which I could use as moulds and to cut out rounds of the pastry. I managed to have a bit of a baby-swap with the pastry - I took out the remaining pastry from my Roasted Rhubarb Tarts and used that instead of the sablee! I did think they looked different to others I had seen on the forum but it wasn't till the next day when I spotted my pate sablee dough still waiting patiently in the fridge that I realised my mistake. 

For my tians I used our absolute favourite cream in the world, which stars above. It's unbelievably thick and decadent and has a wonderful flavour that I can never put my finger on. It added a lovely richness to the dessert. On another note, I've always loved the Italian for double cream - doesn't doppia panna create the image of thick, luscious cream dropping off a spoon?

I submerged my spring of rosemary in a sea of the beautiful thick cream and heated it gently to infuse it with the flavour of the herb. It then sat in the fridge overnight before being whipped. When I took it out this morning, I was slightly worried - the cream had set slightly oddly and had small lumps. It seemed to come together when whipped, however. I added a little extra plain whipped cream to smooth it out. I don't think I got quite as much volume on the rosemary cream.  

After having learnt to segment an orange (who knew it was so easy?!) I made my caramel. I was glad that it wasn't my first time making a dry caramel - it's definitely something to get used to and the orange juice really made it foam up.  The orange segements then seeped in half the caramel overnight. When it came to drying them out on kitchen paper I realised we had run out, so they had to make do with coffee filters...

I also found I had to split some of the fatter segments in two to get a nice even layer when placing them in the bottom of the moulds. 

I really enjoyed assembling the tians, with the different layers.  I used the tip off the forums of grating down the edges of the pate sablee to fit the moulds where it had spread during cooking. Amazingly they also easily popped out of the moulds - I just flipped them over onto the plate, peeled off the square of parchment and eased them out. 

They're really tasty - my mum went to try one bite and ending up eating an entire tian. She then spent five minutes going 'MMMMMNN', describing the aftertaste in detail and occasionally saying 'delicious' at random. A success, I feel!

Blood Orange and Rosemary Tian
(Makes four tiny tians and lots of marmalade!)

I don't have time to type all the recipes out today, apart from my changes, but you can find everything you need on the Daring Kitchen website  - just scroll down a little and it'll be there.

My changes - I made half measures of everything except the marmalade. I didn't use pectin in my marmalade, just put some pips in some fabric and heated it for slightly longer. I swapped in blood oranges for the segments and caramel. For the rosemary cream I gently heated the 3/4 of the cream with a sprig of rosemary then left it to seep overnight in the fridge before whipping the rosemary cream and then adding the gelatine. I then beat the remaining 1/4 of the cream and folded that in. 

Monday 22 March 2010

Roasted Rhubarb Tarts

Rhubarb and custard. How could you possibly resist? It's just one of those combinations.

This idea came from wanting to elaborate on the traditional stewed rhubarb and custard. Crumble seemed too obvious. Then vanilla custard mutated into vanilla pastry cream, a pastry tart case appeared, and I learned to roast rhubarb...

I found these sticks of rhubarb in our local supermarket and couldn't help but buy some. They looked so fresh and had that wonderful iridescent pink glow. 

My grandma used to grow rhubarb in her fruit cage - on the left as you walked in you could see the great green umbrellas sprouting out of the glass cupboard with little snippets of red peaking through. We always used to lightly stew rhubarb and eat it with homemade custard. Simple but quite lovely. 

I had never roasted rhubarb before. It's wonderful - it keeps its shape and the flavour is incredible. As you don't add any water, the taste isn't muted or diluted. You just add sugar, which caramelises slightly and creates a wonderful bright pink syrupy sauce. I used soft brown sugar to add to that intense flavour (and because, in case you haven't noticed, I have a penchant for using soft brown sugar in just about anything).

Another recent supermarket cannot-resist buy was this pâte de vanille. Apparently each coffee spoon is the equivalent to a vanilla bean - and it certainly adds plenty of speckly vanilla seeds. I tried tasting some and it seems quite sugar-heavy but that wasn't a problem here. I'm looking forward to trying it in other things as it performed so well here.

And so these little tarts came together - a plain but lovely tart case, a thick vanilla pastry cream and a pile of the glorious roasted rhubarb. The syrupy juices intermingle with the cream. I almost can't describe - it's just glorious. Do try making them for yourselves - or at least try roasting rhubarb. I can't believe I never had before. 

Roasted Rhubarb

250g rhubarb (approx two sticks)
50g soft brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C. Chop the rhubarb up into 1 cm pieces. Tip into a roasting tray with the sugar and toss until evenly coated and in a single layer. Cover with foil and pop into the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove the foil and put back into the oven for another five minutes. Leave to cool. Can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

Saturday 20 March 2010

My Version of Nigella's Clementine Cake

I love almond and citrus cakes. Just a look at my recipes list will confirm this. I first made this infamous cake with the requisite clementines a few years ago and we all loved it. I remember taking the last half of that cake to a New Year's Eve party and being quite miserable to watch the last few slices dissapear as the clock counted down. 

This time I decided to chop and change it a bit - mainly by using blood oranges. The result is really quite delicious - dense, damp, with that wonderful blood orange taste and the most incredible texture on the tongue. 

The first time I tried to make my changed version was on Mothers' Day - I had been plotting about it for ages and I knew my mum would love the idea. But then it wouldn't have been a typical Mothers' Day without me nearly destroying her kitchen: I left the oranges boiling in their water too long - they boiled dry and ruined the pan there were in, getting a bit scorched themselves, as you can see above! Bit of a whoops moment. I made another cake for her but failed to get proper photos, and then followed with my Sticky Toffee Pudding Volcanoes

And so I set about making it again yesterday. I changed a few things around from the original recipe: I used the blood oranges instead of clementines, I substituted soft brown sugar for some of the caster sugar, and I added an additional fresh orange. I couldn't make up the right weight with whole oranges so I decided to add a peeled orange to the pulp later, which was about right - it brightened the pulp up and I think contributed to being able to taste the distinct blood orange tinge in the final cake.  

Thankfully this time it went well. I have to admit to having a few doubts when I tasted the mixture, but not to fear, it tastes lovely.  I nearly burnt it but thankfully it held out - helped by the extensive wrapping and foiling needed to protect any cake in my mum's oven as you can see above.... (She's getting the kitchen re-done soon so the oven will stop tormenting me soon, I can't wait.)

Unfortunately the blood oranges I used weren't very bloody so it doesn't have the lovely pink colour I was hoping for. It does have that lovely taste, however. I would love to see what it would look like with some of the incredible ruby blood oranges that seem to be popping up on various blogs.

I'm sure you could use another chocolate to top the cake - I just love the Green and Black's Maya Gold. Any good dark chocolate would work, but the delicate orange and spice flavour in the Maya Gold sets the cake off beautifully. I watched Chocolat last night and it seemed perfect to be using Maya Gold today! That film is pure chocolate porn - totally fabulous. My mum and I now skip through the bits with the nasty Count and just watch the chocolate and Johnny Depp - much more interesting!

My Version of Nigella's Clementine Cake
(Adapted from Nigella's recipe in Green and Black's recipe book, Unwrapped)

For the cake:
2 blood oranges (or 4-5 clementines, 2 normal oranges etc) weighing about 325g
1 additional blood orange, peeled
6 eggs
125g caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
250g ground almonds (I used half/half skin on/blanched)
1 heaped tsp baking powder

Put the oranges into a saucepan whole and cover with water. Pop a lid on and heat for two hours - it should just boiling. Remove the oranges and let them cool a little before halving and removing any pips. Put into a food processor with the additional peeled orange and blend to a smooth pulp. 

Preheat the oven to 190C. Butter and fully line a 20cm tin. Beat all the eggs together in a big mixing bowl/standing mixer. Add the sugars, almonds and baking powder (you might need to use a sift to get any big lumps out and then replace the bigger almond bits). Mix well. Add the orange pulp and mix again. Transfer to a fully lined tin and put into the oven for 1 hr. You will probably need to cover it with foil to stop the top burning after 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin. 

To top:
50g Green and Blacks Maya Gold or another orange spiced chocolate - or just dark chocolate

Melt the chocolate and dribble over the cake. I like to eat a slice while it's still melted... The cake is best left till the next day before eating.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Little Pistachio and Orange Blossom Water Cakes

For me, spring is all about perfumes. I recognise the turning of the season by the delicate scents it brings. The first snowdrops are a winter flower - a simple green and white and lacking in scent. When the narcissi and hyacinths start arriving - then spring is 'in the air'. I always try to get a potted hyacinth for my room at this time of year but this time I made do with some cut stems. The scent perfumed our entire flat. 

Spring is also about the first colours - the first green grass breaking through from beneath the snow, the regeneration of tiny new leaves.  The yellow of the daffodils, the purple of the crocuses, the blue of the hyacinths. There's something so bright about spring colours - they're so fresh and new. A yellow daffodil is definitely bright, not the mellow gold of the sunflower in summer. 

 I came back to Switzerland to stay with my mum for the holidays a few days ago and she's filled our flat with spring flowers and bulbs from IKEA. Without buying them you miss the spring entirely until the snow melts and the tiny flowers break out on the mountain side. At the end of April the valley fills with bright yellow dandelions - we used to drive away after winter among carpeted fields. 

In this way, pistachios remind me of spring: delicately but intensely scented with that lovely pale waxy green. Orange blossom water has a similarly springlike smell - like my hyacinth, it fills the room. They seemed like the perfect combination to put together to make little cakes in my new moulds. 

I bought my bag of shelled pistachios in Oxford before I left. They were pretty expensive and so grinding them up felt quite scary - whatever I made had to work with my crushed gold.

I put together a planned recipe - I couldn't find anything online or in my books. The batter tasted good and smelled pretty great too. But then I baked them and realised I had totally miscalculated how much flour I would need to balance out the oiliness of the nuts. They came out chewy on top and greasy on the bottom and didn't de-mould properly. With a quarter of my precious pistachios gone I felt quite upset and annoyed at myself.

Then I decided I wasn't going to be defeated. So I started over again with a half-batch of my adapted recipe so as to not use too many extra nuts and thankfully the second time they came out beautifully. They have that wonderful scent of both the nuts and orange blossom water and the texture is lovely. They're somehow both plain and intensely exotic. 

I reckon they would be nice with a bit of icing too - but I like them with just a sprinkling of icing sugar. 

Little Pistachio and Orange Blossom Water Cakes

110g butter
40g soft brown sugar
70g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g whole blanched almonds
50g whole shelled pistachios
110g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 170C. Put the nuts into a food processor and blend till fine but with a few slightly bigger lumps. In a mixer cream the butter and sugar. Add an egg with a few tablespoons of the flour and blend, followed by the other egg and some more flour.  Sieve in the rest of the flour and the baking powder then add in the ground nuts and the orange blossom water. Fold in till combined. Divide between the moulds and and bake for about 15 minutes or until browned on top and cooked through. Leave to cool in the moulds for five minutes then pop out. Dust with icing sugar to serve. 

Makes about 10.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding Volcanoes

I first made these for my Mum last Mothers' Day. This year I made them again for pudding and they were very nice - but not stunning.  I've always like Sticky Toffee Puddings - they're reliably good pub puddings - but they've never really blown me away. 

Today I decided to re-photograph one of the remaining cakes as I hadn't got what I wanted on the night. So I made up another batch of sauce but this time I added a new touch  -  a little ground ginger. I tasted some and immediately went to find mum to force a spoonful into her mouth as it was so lovely, but I still wasn't 100% sure it would work with the puddings. So I brushed and poured it over and started taking photos. The dogs and Mum were all hovering close by, waiting for me to finish - and I have to admit, I really wanted to just quit and and discover how it all came together. 

When I finally finished we attacked. I had to do a little happy dance around the flat. The ginger takes the pudding to another level - every flavour is enhanced. It's also totally addictive - despite having just eaten tea we ate the whole thing (including the spare sauce) in about two minutes flat. 

I named these volcanoes because of the way they puffed up and broke the surface when they baked. I had decided that instead of making squares cut from a tray, I would use individual dessert tins.  I popped them in the oven with a little trepidation as to how they would turn out. Turns out it's a good thing I quite like the rustic, uneven look... 

Still, it turned out to be for the best as it meant I could fill the middles with ginger butterscotch 'lava' which then soaked through the sponge and that's definitely a good thing.  Look at the final photo and you'll see what I mean!

I dedicate these to my Mum, for being absolutely wonderful and for teaching me to follow my intuition and sprinkle a little ginger into something on a whim.  

Edit: My new and improved recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding is here.