Thursday 29 April 2010

Triple Layer Chocolate Tarts

A few days ago, I was pondering a gift for my friend's birthday. I wanted to make her something special to go with some lovely narcissi and an amusing card we had bought for her. 

I had some spare chocolate pastry cream from the Gooey Chocolate Meringue Stack so I was contemplating how I could incorporate this into my gift. I didn't want to give her a big cake but a few smaller things, like cupcakes. The pastry cream is quite runny so I felt it would be a bit annoying on top of cupcakes, and I didn't think it would bake well as a filling inside cakes and it seemed a shame to not do something special with it.

In the end, I decided that little tarts were just the thing.  I could make little chocolate pastry cases, paint them with melted chocolate to stop the pastry cream making them soggy, and fill them with that delicious   cream. It almost reminds me of very very thick yummy hot chocolate.  

On top of this, I decided to put some white chocolate ganache, for a bit of a colour change and a different flavour. I was a little worried it would sink but when I piped it on and then smoothed it over it was fine. On top of this, to seal it all in, I poured melted chocolate and then let them set in the fridge. 

The result was yummy, if a little messy to eat (as one of my friends found out, when trying to eat one standing up in my kitchen - needless to say, the floor needed mopping afterwards). They're not too sweet - the pastry and dark chocolate counteract the sweeter pastry cream and ganache. Still, the small portion size is good as it comes together to be really quite rich. 

Happy Birthday to B - you'll always be my bow!

Triple Layer Chocolate Tarts
(Chocolate Pastry Cream from Nigella Lawson's Domestic Goddess)

For the pastry cases:
85g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
50g cold butter
1 tbsp caster sugar
cold water to bind
20g dark chocolate

Place the butter in the freezer while weighing out the flour, cocoa and sugar into a food processor, then chop it roughly and add it too. Blend until totally incorporated. Slowly add a very small amounts of cold water into the processor until it comes together into a ball. Wrap the ball in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out on a floured surface into a rectangle then cut out circles that fit into a muffin tin. Press these circles into the tin and scrape off the tops so they are even. Insert a cupcake/muffin case into the pastry cases and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 20 minutes then remove the cases and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Melt the dark chocolate then brush the cases with it once they have cooled slightly. Then take out of the cases and let them cool out on a wire rack. 

For the chocolate pastry cream:
3 egg yolks 
50g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp plain flour
150ml milk
150ml double cream
50g good quality dark chocolate
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together, then add the flour and cocoa and beat well to incorporate. Warm the cream and milk in a small saucepan then add half to the egg mixture, beating well with a whisk as you go.  Return to the rest of the milk/cream mixture in the pan and whisk again. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly until it thickens. Take off the heat and remove to a bowl to cool, topping with greased baking parchment to stop a skin forming. Don't put it in the fridge.

For the white chocolate ganache:
50g white chocolate 
75 ml double cream

Chop up the white chocolate and put it into a small bowl. Heat the cream until nearly boiling and then pour over the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes then beat in until smooth and leave to cool slightly.

To assemble:
50g dark chocolate

Spoon the pastry cream into the painted pastry cases until they are about half full. Pipe or spread the white chocolate ganache over this and place in the fridge for five minutes. Melt the dark chocolate then pour it over each case, making sure it reaches every edge. Put into the fridge for 20 minutes or so until the chocolate sets on top. 

(Makes six)

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Cranberry, Orange and Acacia Honey Steamed Pudding

Being British, I probably should have made a steamed pudding before. I did have it on my to-bake list but it didn't get crossed off until it became April's challenge for the Daring Bakers. Conversely, I wanted to make it before I came back to Britain, and as a result, I couldn't find the suet we were asked to use if possible. Instead, I adapted two butter based recipes for my purposes...

Looking at all the treacle and golden syrup puddings, I decided that it was a shame that honey didn't seem to be used (I'm quite sure that people used to make - and still do make - honey steamed puddings, but I couldn't find a recipe).

As a result I decided that I should use up one of the little pots of swiss honey we buy each summer at the market. They have an uncanny ability to split slightly and cause a small flood of honey in the cupboard, which meant that the pot of Acacia honey had been sitting in my mum's special hot chocolate mug for several months. To free her mug and to create an excuse to buy some more this summer, I used the remainder of that pot up. We still have several nearly dead ones that we don't have the heart to throw out, as you can see above.

To complement this gorgeous honey flavour, I decided to add soaked dried cranberries for a bit of a sharp kick and some lovely colour. For the first time it seems that they have started stocking dried cranberries in the supermarket at home (YES, cranberry sauce with the turkey at Christmas!) and so I wanted to try baking with them.  Before I used them, I soaked them overnight in some of the honey and the juice of an orange.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I then added some of the cranberry soaking juice to an additional few tablespoons of honey in the bottom of my pudding bowl. For the pudding itself I made the butter based pudding then added the cranberries and some orange rind and steamed it in Mum's big old le creuset vegetable steamer.

I served my pudding with an orange infused custard, which was lovely. I think mine somehow sunk when I had a peek to see if it was done with about 15 minutes to go - it wasn't done and when it was, it was pretty solid instead of spongey. The flavours were nice but I think I should probably try a different recipe another time.

Friday 23 April 2010

Gooey Chocolate Meringue Stack

This is pure sugar and chocolate indulgence. Just think about it: thick dusty discs of chewy but soft chocolate meringue sandwiched with smooth chocolate pastry cream made with double cream and lots of melted dark chocolate.  

I don't have a proper cake plate at the moment in Oxford, so I decided to improvise with a random selection of objects from my room: Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, a tiny collection of Tennyson's poetry my great-grandfather gave my great-grandmother for Christmas in 1910 and a Tiffany's box. 

One thing I do now have here is a shiny new Magimix 5200. It's gorgeous and I've become unhealthily attached to it in the 72 hours we've had together.  So far it's made perfect pizza dough, pancake batter and whizzed my tomato pizza topping. I wasn't entirely convinced that it could really whip whites into a glossy meringue - surely I needed something that actually looked like a whisk. But no, the meringue I whisked in my Magimix today was the best I think I've ever made. Magic!

I was very pleasantly surprised by the pastry cream recipe - it tastes fabulous. Mine turned out a little thin but I just needed to keep it on the heat a little longer. I'll definitely make it again (or indeed, use the bit I have left), maybe to fill eclairs or profiteroles...

I made a few changes to Nigella's recipe: I halved it, I didn't use the cream on the top meringue or sprinkle it with nuts and I had to use balsamic vinegar in the meringue (which was surprisingly good). 

This dessert is definitely more than the sum of its parts. I would suggest leaving half an hour or so between assembling and serving to let everything intermingle and 'mature' much like a macaron... 

Gooey Chocolate Meringue Stack
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Domestic Goddess)

For meringue layers:
3 egg whites
150g golden caster
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vinegar/lemon juice

Preheat oven to 140C. Draw three circles with a radius of 7cm on parchment paper and place on baking sheets. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, then very gradually add the caster sugar till you have a thick glossy meringue. Sift the cocoa powder over the top and add the vinegar/lemon then fold in until homogenous.  Divide the meringue between the three circles and spread them out evenly. Put into the oven for 45 minutes before turning the oven off and leaving them in there to cool. Kept in an airtight tin separated by parchment they will keep for a week or so. 

For the chocolate pastry cream:
3 egg yolks 
50g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp plain flour
150ml milk
150ml double cream
50g good quality dark chocolate, very finely chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together, then add the flour and cocoa and beat well to incorporate. Warm the cream and milk in a small saucepan then add half to the egg mixture, beating well with a whisk as you go.  Return to the rest of the milk/cream mixture in the pan and whisk again. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly until it thickens. Take off the heat and stir in the chocolate and vanilla essence. Once combined, remove to a bowl to cool, topping with greased baking parchment to stop a skin forming. Don't put it in the fridge.

To assemble:
When the pastry cream is cool, put one of the meringue layers onto the serving plate. Smear the top with pastry cream - I used about a third. Top with the next layer and squish slightly. Top with more pastry cream and then the final layer. Nigella smears the top too and adds nuts, but I decided to keep it plain. I would try to eat it the day it's served.

Serves about 5-6.  

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Rosé Poached Pears

When I was three, my mum ran a chalet in Verbier, cooking and cleaning and helping out the guests. One of the desserts she used to serve was pears poached in red wine. I'm not quite sure how I remember this - perhaps one of those things you're told so many times you can't tell what is memory and what is the story - but I thought they were beautiful. And, as we know, I love pears.

Rather than use red wine, I decided to use rosé. Partly because I thought the pears might go a pretty pink, partly because I don't like drinking red wine, and partly because that's what we had sitting in the fridge. (I do hope nobody is going to come and claim it as theirs as I don't have a clue why it was there...). Another time I think I will boil it a bit first as it was a bit too strongly alcoholic for my taste and such a low heat doesn't burn any off.

I'm not particularly pleased with the photos for this post - the light was acting up. I still wanted to share the recipe, though, so here they are. I do like how you can see the three windows of my sitting room in the glass and reflected onto the tablecloth in the photo above. 

I served these with a few tablespoons of greek yogurt mixed with a bit of sugar and cinnamon which was lovely. Mascarpone would also be nice, or just double cream.

The pears completely refused to stand upright and look pretty. Holding them up isn't very practical, annoyingly. 

The pears have a lovely softness when poached - they're so tender. The spoon just slices through. I've done these without wine at all before - I just poached them in a sugar syrup with extra spices, which is a really lovely non-alcoholic option. 

Rosé Poached Pears

(Recipe removed as I no longer trust it to work for you)

Monday 19 April 2010

Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Biscuits

When I was younger we used to eat biscuits called Boasters. These are the closest approximation to my memory I've made. Having googled them, it doesn't look like they had hazelnuts, but I swear I remember the taste. The clearest memory I have of eating them is when my mum and I were driving out to Verbier for the winter season when I was thirteen. We stopped at a petrol station in England, just off a roundabout, and bought a pack of Boasters. I always wanted one more than I was allowed.

We always have biscuits on the long, fifteen hour drive. When we drive back the other way from Switzerland we always buy a pack of dark chocolate Petit Beurre from a particular petrol station in France. Creatures of habit. I amuse myself by taking pictures out of the window.

I'm not entirely sure what drew me to the idea of making these today. Perhaps because it's not such a gorgeous day. After a little run of stunning summer days it's overcast today (volcanic ash, perhaps? Heh) but the flowers are still blossoming and the warmth of summer is still hanging in the air. I can look at the photos from the past few days and believe the sun is still shining.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad I made them. They're slightly soft in the middle, crunchy on the outsides and speckled with the distinctive tone of the hazelnuts among the chocolate. Perfect with a cup of tea and a chat.

I'm glad I bought nice milk chocolate to make these - I used the lovely Green and Blacks milk chocolate. I ate a little too much of the chocolate left over...

This was originally a recipe for white chocolate and pecan cookies in the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I switched round the nuts and chocolate and made a few other changes including halving the recipe.  I quite like having a few slightly bitter slips of skin on my hazelnuts so I didn't totally rub the skins off.

Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Biscuits
(Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

125g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft brown sugar
50g golden caster sugar
1 egg
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g milk chocolate
50g whole hazelnuts

Toast the nuts and rub to remove most of the skins. Chop the nuts and chocolate roughly. Cream the butter and sugars together. Beat the egg in throughly. Sift in the flours and beat until it comes together. Stir in the nuts and chocolate. Get a rectangle of cling film out and scoop half of the mixture onto it. Shape it into a rough cylinder, about 3 cm across. Wrap up with the cling film and give it a roll to smooth it out. Repeat with the other half. Put both into the freezer for a few hours.

Heat the oven to 170C. Take out one or both of the cylinders (they keep in the freezer). Slice them up into 1-2 cm rounds. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving space for them to expand. Put into the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Strawberry Meringue Cake

In the past few days I've really been craving light summer food. I wanted strawberries and cream and cake and meringue and cotton dresses swishing in the summer breeze around my bare legs. This ticked all the boxes. (Well, to be precise, the weather ticked the last one). I remembered this cake from Nigella's Forever Summer and thought it would be perfect for today. I didn't have the book as it's at home but I found the recipe online at Not Quite Nigella.

These strawberries were half price and looked beautiful - how could I resist? I also couldn't resist these beautiful flowers from my favourite flower shop in the Covered Market. Little things like buying flowers for our flat really make a difference to me - I adore having fresh flowers around to brighten my day. Even though we now have blossom blooming outside our window...

Today I also picked up my new lens - a F2.8/50mm macro. I haven't entirely sussed it out but I'm very pleased so far. It's very different from my kit lens.  I've had a lovely day messing around with it and baking this cake. (I did some work for my essay too, I promise).

The first slice I had was wonderful - the cake itself was still slightly warm and incredibly light and moist. The crunch of the meringue against the soft cake and creamy filling provides a wonderful texture. And, of course, the strawberries are perfect in the middle of cream and sugar. Ever other slice has been yummy too, but that first slice really made an impression.

I had to halve this recipe for my own safety - none of the usual suspects are around to help me eat it, and this isn't the type of cake you can sit and look at without eating. Trust me. This halved recipe hasn't lasted long...

As usual, I made a few little changes. I didn't have any flaked almonds so I kept the tops simple. I also didn't want the cake to be overly sweet, so I added a little greek yogurt to the whipped cream to take the edge off it and complement the meringue.

Strawberry Meringue Cake
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer)

For the cake:
50g unsalted butter
50g golden caster sugar
2 egg yolks
62g plain flour
12g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line the base and grease the sides of a 5" round loose bottom tin. Cream the butter and sugar together then add the egg yolks one by one, beating well in between. Sift the flour, baking powder and cornflour over the top and fold in (mine was really quite dry). Add the milk and vanilla and fold to combine. Spread half of the mixture evenly in the bottom of the tin and reserve the other half.

2 egg whites
105g golden caster sugar

Whisk the egg whites until foamy then gradually add the sugar. Beat until you have stiff shiny peaks - this takes about 2 minutes. Spread half the meringue over the cake mix and create a few decorative peaks. Put into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave for five minutes then slide a knife around the edge and remove to a cooling rack. Clean the tin and repeat with the other half of the cake mix and meringue.

For the filling:
100 ml double cream
1 tbsp greek yogurt
small punnet of strawberries

Whip the cream until it's fairly stiff. Fold in the greek yogurt. Choose the cake half with the least attractive meringue and turn it over onto the serving plate and spread the cream mixture over the cake. Slice the strawberries and arrange them in a double layer over the cream. Top with the other half and squish slightly.

(Serves about 4)

Thursday 15 April 2010

Bite-size Eccles Cakes

Time has been ticking away at quite an alarming rate in the past few weeks. Suddenly my time here in Switzerland has come to an end and by now I should be gone (scheduled post!). It'll be sad to leave my mum, my dogs, and the mountains. I'm not sure if I'll get to bake as much as I have here either once my term starts next week.

Before I head back to Oxford, I'm going down to Cornwall.  It's probably my most treasured childhood holiday place if you discount Switzerland.  In fact, I posted about it last year here.

I thought I would celebrate going to Cornwall and make Eccles Cakes. Somehow, this turned into take two of how to combine circles of butter soaked puff pastry with lots of caramelized sugar and a scant amount of fruit.  (See Pear Tart Tatin).

The Eccles cakes I ate as a child were from a little cornish bakery. It was a glorious place, full of goodies and close to the place we always went on holiday when I was little. My favourites were the treacle tarts (more to come on them at some point in the near future), the tiny little buns called 'splits', the beef pasties (of course) and the Eccles cakes. The best bit about these Eccles cakes was the caramel that used to come out from the join on the bottom of the pastry. This was the highlight.

The bakery closed a few years ago. It felt like a whole section of my childhood shutting. It's still a bakery, but wholly inferior - it's lost the magic. We knew the serving ladies and I would sometimes peek into the big kitchen in the back in awe. Maybe that's where this all started!

And so, when it came to making these, I knew I had to be absolutely sure that there was going to be caramel involved. It might have just come from the filling itself but I decided to take no chances and put the caramel there myself. This was a bit of an experiment. Thankfully, it worked!

I made a butter-and-sugar caramel and then stirred the fruit, spices etc into it. It did clump up a bit but that was no major problem in putting them together. Then I took them out of the oven, turned them over, and voila! They're much smaller than my beloved originals, but they're awfully cute. (Oh dear, not cute food again...). I thought that all the caramel pieces would melt in the oven but it seems they were insulated - some of it melted and some remained gloriously crunchy. A very welcome surprise!

I have to admit these are not wholly traditional Eccles Cakes. If you are from Eccles, Greater Manchester, please don't take offense. I may only have just discovered that's their origin (having only ever eaten them from the Cornish bakery, I presumed they were Cornish...oops). They don't seem to sell currants in Verbier so I had to settle for raisins. I did funny things with caramel, I didn't use candied peel, I used the rest of the ready-made puff pastry and so on. I'm sorry. They're very nice, I promise.

I reckon three is the perfect number of these to eat - any more, and I feel sick. My mum disagrees.

Eccles Cakes
(Adapted from Delia Smith - see here)

35g butter
25g soft brown sugar
50g white caster sugar
100g currants/raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
rind of an orange

Weigh out the soft brown sugar, dried fruit, spices and rind together in a medium bowl and mix to combine. Put the butter (chopped into small pieces) and caster sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the butter melts and the caramel deepens in colour and thickens. Tip all of the dry ingredients into the caramel and stir quickly. Remove the the bowl. Try to separate the bigger lumps of caramel into smaller pieces when it has cooled slightly (don't worry too much, you can always chop it later).

150g puff pastry/flaky pastry
1 or 2 tbsp of milk
1 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F. Roll out the pastry to 3/4 mm thick on a floured surface. Use a small circle cookie cutter to cut rounds from the pastry. I think I got about 20 with one re-roll. Put a teaspoon-worth of the fruit mixture in the centre of the circle - I often just selected a small lump of caramel and a few raisins to make up the right amount. Using your fingers bring one side of the circle up to the middle, the work around the circle, bringing it up to the top and joining. Turn over and set aside. Repeat. Put them onto a lined baking sheet and cut two little slits in the top. Brush each one with a little milk and sprinkle a small amount of caster sugar over the top. Put into the oven and bake until golden and crisp - about 10 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 20.