Tuesday 27 March 2012

Spiced Cocoa Nib Chocolate Cakes

These little cakes try to pretend they're muffins or simple treats - but they're not.

They're deeply laced with dark muscovado and quality cocoa. Their hearts are soaked with spiced syrup, pushing them into the league of squishy brownies and chocolate fondants. They're topped with crunchy, slightly bitter cocoa nibs.

Each bite needs the cradle of a spoon.

The spices in the soaking syrup are totally up for adaptation. I replaced the chili powder with some fresh ginger, added vanilla, used powdered cinnamon instead of sticks and so on. It needs to stand up to the powerful flavour of the muscovado, so make sure you give it some punch.


After thinking for weeks that I had to keep this piece of news deathly quiet, I realised a few days ago that I only needed to keep the image secret, so...

I'm very excited to say that I'm one of the finalists for the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2012! My image is shortlisted in Food Portraiture and will be displayed in the free exhibition at the Mall Galleries from 25-29th April. I still can't believe it!

Spiced Cocoa Nib Chocolate Cakes
(adapted from Paul A Young's Adventures with Chocolate)

For the cakes:
55g plain flour
35g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
110g dark brown muscovado sugar
95g unsalted butter, soft
1 egg
45ml double cream
40ml water
25g cocoa nibs

For the syrup:
75g caster sugar
75ml water
1/2 vanilla pod, or 1 once scraped out
1/2 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp ground
1cm width of fresh ginger, cut into rounds
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Prepare a muffin tin with six cases - I scrunched up squares of baking paper as Paul suggested. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. In a stand mixer cream the sugar and butter together until creamy. Add the egg and beat well to combine. Add the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix to combine - it will be a stiff mixture. Finally add the cream and water in two additions, mixing well between each one. Divide the mixture between the cases. Sprinkle with the cocoa nibs.

Bake for 14-18 minutes, checking to see if they're done at 14. They should be lightly domed and spring back to the touch of your finger in the centre.

Once the cakes are in the oven, make the syrup. Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for a few minutes then take off the heat and leave to infuse. When the cakes are out of the oven, brush them with plenty of syrup while they're still hot. Keep feeding them as it disappears. Best served barely warm.

(Makes 6)

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

When I decided to leave Cordon Bleu early, I erased the marks on May and June. I created two fresh, blank pages.

Just before I made my final choice, I compared diaries with mum. She discovered a chunk of holiday sandwiched between the winter and summer seasons. So we decided to go on a trip.

California quickly established itself as the destination.

So you'll find us on a flight to Los Angeles at the beginning of May. Seven weeks later, we fly out of San Francisco. At the moment there's no fixed route or timetable - just a scribbled list of places to eat, people to meet, sights to see and a general direction for our little rented campervan.

Have you got any must-not-miss suggestions? We'll eat almost anything as long as it's not very spicy (and I have an irrational dislike of anchovies).

One of the places that I want to visit in California is Chez Panisse. I've had one of their signature recipes - this almond tart - bookmarked for years. It seemed like the perfect time to finally give it a go. It's an unusual recipe - you press the room temperature pastry into the tin with your hands. At the start it looks like it'll never be even and neat (see above...) but it does smooth out in the end.

The result is a crumbly, buttery, almost shortbread-esque bottom layer of the tart. The filling - described beautifully in the book as "creamy-and-russet caramel" - perfectly tightropes the line between chewy and gooey. It surpassed my high expectations.

There's no need for cutlery, cream or fruit. This is something to eat with your hands. It would be perfect for a spring picnic - the pastry might delicately crumble around the edges but otherwise it travels well.

You can find the recipe in Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsay Shere. It's such a pretty book, sprinkled with Wayne Thiebaud illustrations. You can also find a slightly different version of the recipe on David Lebovitz's site. I used both to make this tart.

A few notes on the recipe:

1/ You can play with the dough quite a bit when you're lining the tin. As mentioned, keep a bit of extra pastry at room temperature and smear over any tiny holes/cracks after baking - be careful to not press too hard as it'll crumble. I totally froze my shell after I'd lined it - you don't need to blind bake, just put it straight in the oven. Keep in mind that it won't cook the second time so the pastry needs to be well cooked.

2/ I didn't have any almond essence so I didn't use any in the pastry or filling. It was still absolutely lovely.

3/ Be careful how much filling you pour in - mine bubbled up and over when I put it in the oven. I still had a little leftover. Lindsay mentions leaving the filling for 15 minutes before filling the shell and baking - I was in a hurry so didn't. The leftover bit thickened quite a lot in that time so it might make a difference.

4/ Getting it out of the tin is a pain. Mine didn't stick on the base (as happened to Adam) but as the filling flowed over, the sides stuck. I used a knife to push the sides away from the tin while it was still soft then pulled the tin off when it had firmed up a bit more. It didn't look pretty and crumbled a lot but hey - still tasted good!

Thursday 15 March 2012

Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie

As I swept this pie out of the oven and placed it upon the wire rack with a flourish, mum happened to walk by.

"Is that it?"

A few hours after her skeptical remark, she was softly moaning as she ate a thick slice. This is quite a pie.

Helen has been staying with us for the past few weeks. While peering over my shoulder at these pictures, she started crooning in a M&S voice.

"This is not just pecan pie....this is Poires au Chocolat Pecan Pie..."

(I have to note at this point - before you start thinking I've branded this pie - that the truly genius idea of adding three types of ginger and bourbon to a pecan pie is Allison Kave's, not mine. I did switch up a a few things but she definitely deserves a lot of credit for the recipe.)

The first time I made this I took it to Oxford. My friend Sam was having a birthday pub crawl. I carried it (along with a chocolate ganache tart) from 'spoons to the goth pub, from Far From the Madding Crowd to the Eagle & Child... and so on, from breakfast to supper time.

At that point we cracked open the bag and dug in, eating off napkins and spreading crumbs everywhere.

I learnt three things that day. One, though it did help it keep shape en route, pie dishes are pretty heavy. Two, due to the extremely chilly day, it was very cold when we ate this - it's much better slightly warm. Three, this is an absolute winner of a recipe.

You could serve it with a little scoop of ice cream (I tried a slice with some vanilla) but, to be honest, it's so good on its own that anything else - ice cream, cream, creme fraiche - only dilutes the flavour.

And so, in reply to my mum - yes, this is it.

It is punchy, deep and nuanced. It stands on its own. It is crunchy, silky smooth and flaky pastry all in one bite. It is softly sweet, spicy, nutty, fragrant and many other good things. It needs no more introduction...

Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie
(Filling adapted from Allison Kave of First Prize Pies's recipe in Remedy Quarterly Issue 7, pastry adapted from Michel Roux's Pastry)

For the pastry:*
250g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt, finely ground
1 tsp caster sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp cold water or milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g unsalted butter, cold and cubed

For the filling:
200g pecans
100g dark brown sugar
80g light brown sugar
3 eggs
135ml maple syrup
2 tbsp bourbon
a globe of stem ginger, finely chopped + 1 tbsp of the syrup
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt

Sieve the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg, water/milk and vanilla together. Place the cubed butter into the flour bowl and rub the butter into the flour until it resembles wet sand. Add the egg mix in one go and mix with a knife. Pull together with your hands. Tip onto a surface and squish with the palm of your hand a few times to combine. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out 2/3 of the pastry into a big circle of about 3-4mm thickness. Lightly grease the pie dish then line with the pastry. Crimp the edges if you want. Don't prick the base. Return to the fridge to chill while you make the filling (or for up to 24 hours, wrapped in clingfilm).

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F. Tip the pecans onto a oven tray and place into the oven. Toast for a few minutes until they smell wonderful and look slightly darker. In a big bowl combine the sugars, eggs, maple syrup, bourbon, three types of ginger and salt together. Add the slightly cooled pecans and stir. Pour into the tart case.

Bake for 15 minutes at 220C/450F, then reduce the heat to 180C/350F and bake for a further 15-20 minutes. You may need to cover the top of the pie with foil to stop it browning/burning too much. The pie will have risen and cracked but will fall and settle when it cools. Best served slightly warm.

(Serves 10-12)

*This recipe makes about a 1/3 more than you need. You could use it for another tart or - as it's not a sweet pastry - for a savoury recipe. Or you could run a lattice over the pie - but I would worry that it would stop the gorgeous crust forming.

Updated 31/08/15: cooking times.

Friday 9 March 2012

Chelsea Buns

Chelsea buns have been on my 'To Make' list for ages.

They're a very British bun - invented in London, at the Bun House in Chelsea, in the 18th century. A Chelsea bun is essentially a bit like a cinnamon bun - soft enriched bread stuffed with butter, brown sugar, warm spices and orange-infused dried fruit. They're also highly addictive, just like their cinnamon cousin.

Aside from the fact that Mum loves them, I kept on hearing about them in relation to Fitzbillies, the Cambridge institution famous for its signature Chelsea buns. It was recently saved from closure by Tim Hayward (a food writer who runs the wonderful Fire & Knives) and his wife, Al. You can read the story
here - it all started with a tweet! I haven't tasted their buns yet, but when I next find myself in tabland I'll definitely seek a few one out.

So I felt I had to try my hand at making some. Apart from anything else, I seem to be obsessed with dried fruit and spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger - at the moment. If you're not on a dried fruit kick, you could always make Super Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls...

I decided to adapt Peter Reinhart's recipe for cinnamon buns - his recipes always seem to give amazing results. The bread itself came out very soft, fluffy and full of flavour. I rolled it chunky and thick as it seems to help the bread be light instead of getting a bit leathery. I only used sultanas as that's what I had on hand - but raisins, currants or a mixture would be just as good.

Chelsea buns are traditionally square - a fact I conveniently forgot until they had already risen to full puffy glory and couldn't be touched for fear of squishing. If you arrange them in a square grid I imagine they would expand to fill the shape.

I actually love how irregular these are - all odd shapes and ungainly limbs. They're perfect in their imperfection, homemade to the core of each swirl.

Chelsea Buns
(Dough adapted from the cinnamon rolls in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, filling inspired by Delia's Book of Cakes)

For the dough:
80g granulated sugar
70g unsalted butter
5g (1 tsp) fine sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
400g white bread flour plus extra for dusting/adjusting
250ml milk, at room temperature
16g fresh yeast (crumbled) or 2 tsp instant yeast
a little flavourless oil

For the filling:
100g sultanas/raisins/currants
1/2 orange, juice and zest
75g unsalted butter, soft
75g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of fine sea salt

For the glaze:
30g caster sugar
1.5 tbsp water
strip of orange rind

To start the dough, cream the sugar, butter, salt and zest together with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Scrape down the sides then add the egg and combine. Add the flour, yeast and 200ml of the milk (you may need more to adjust the dough, but start with 200). Combine on a low speed until the dough comes together. If it is very wet, add a bit more flour. If dry, add more milk (keep in mind that some moisture will be absorbed during kneading).

Change to the dough hook then knead for 10 minutes (about 15 by hand, but it will be very sticky for hand kneading). By the end it should be smooth, silky and tacky - not too sticky - to the touch. Take a little ball out of the mix and do a windowpane test (with floured fingers stretch the ball outwards, smoothing it thinner and thinner. If you can make it thin enough to see your fingers through the dough without it ripping then it's ready - but this does take practice!).

Lightly oil a big bowl (your mixer bowl will be fine, it doesn't need to be cleaned) and place the dough inside, turning it so it is oiled all over. Cling film the top and leave to rise for 1hr30-2hrs until doubled. Sit the dried fruit in a bowl with the juice of the half orange and leave to steep, stirring occasionally if you're nearby.

When the dough is nearly ready, cream the butter, brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt together. Tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled table and punch down. Roll out into a fairly thick and even rectangle of about 45 by 22cm (18" by 9"). Spread the rectangle with the buttery mix. Drain off any excess orange juice from the fruit then sprinkle them evenly over the rectangle. Tightly roll the dough up from the long edge, moving along the bottom, then zigzagging from side to side. Finish with the seam on the bottom.

Use a sharp knife to slice the dough log into 12-16 pieces (I had 13 - a baker's dozen!). Place onto a lined baking sheet, leaving 1-2cm in between each round. Loosely cover with cling film then leave to rise at room temperature for 75-90 minutes or until the buns have puffed up to fill the gaps and nearly doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown - in some of the thicker sections you might also get a hollow noise when tapped. While they're baking combine the sugar, water and rind together and heat until clear. Leave to infuse then when the buns are fresh out of the oven, brush the syrup over the tops. Leave to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then remove to a rack.

(Makes 12-16 buns)

Monday 5 March 2012

Remedy Quarterly & Tarte aux Noix

I came across Remedy Quarterly on Design Sponge last summer.

Remedy is an independent ad-free food magazine run by the lovely Kelly Carámbula of eatmakeread. It's filled with stories, memories, recipes and little interviews. It's a great read and has cheered up many a miserable tube ride. I've made several of the recipes - these Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies were adapted from there.

I knew immediately that I wanted to contribute a story or two of my own. Submissions for this issue, Adventure, were open at the time. So I wrote in with a story idea based on my memories of skiing as a little girl (I spent 10 months on skis before I was 5) and the sweet treats we ate up the mountain - including Chez Simon's Apple Tart.

The recipe I wrote for the piece is for Tarte aux Noix - little pastry cases filled with toasted walnuts drenched in soft caramel. They're a delicious local speciality (they actually inspired the Salted Caramel and Walnut Coffee Bread too - note that the bakery have quite a different filling-to-pastry ratio to me!).

So I highly recommend you head over to their shop and purchase this issue - it's well worth the $7.50 - or a subscription or two. They're currently in between submission periods but keep an eye out for the next one!

PS. I'm writing this because I love Remedy (and because I want to squee with you about seeing my name in print...) not because I've been asked to/am being paid etc.

Friday 2 March 2012

Welsh Cakes

On Wednesday I found myself sat on a train with Lac Léman speeding past. A wispy mist clung to the water, clouding the horizon so the lake looked endless if you looked backwards. The mountains majestically rose in the distance, huddling around my destination.

As I sat on the train, basking in the glow of the bright sun, I was consumed with joy, brimming with possibility and hope.

I had Ben Howard's beautiful song Old Pine streaming though my headphones, these words echoing in my ears:

"We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn
We grow, grow, older still"

Writing and editing my last post swallowed an entire afternoon and evening. I finally finished at past midnight. I couldn't sleep for hours, constantly checking my phone to see if anybody had reacted yet. I woke up aching with a nasty cold and spent the rest of the weekend feeling grim and exhausted.

On Monday afternoon I watched Steve Jobs's speech on TED. I lay on the sofa, throat lozenges, DVDs, empty bowls and mugs strewn around me, and thought. If this was my last day, what would I do? The answer was resoundingly, loudly obvious. I would go to the mountains and see my family.

Writing that post drew a line underneath my choice. My heart wasn't in it any more. Your insightful comments cemented my resolve. I wasn't excited about the subject of any of the remaining practicals and the thought of the exams put me into a pointless cold sweat. I had tutoring jobs waiting for me at home. I had already chosen the path - hopping from foot to foot at the junction was only giving me sore feet.

And so I jumped. I booked a one-way flight and packed my bags.

In the midst of all of this I've tried to make three separate things this week- some little cakes, a pudding and a sorbet. Every one has been off the mark. I thought about using some of the photos for this post but I just don't feel the same way about photos of foods I didn't enjoy, even if they're of the ingredients.

So I went back to drawing board. Take Four.

I chose to make a recipe that I'm amazed I've never posted before. Mum has been making welsh cakes regularly since I was little - often for tea after school, cooked directly onto the Aga hotplates. They're comforting, easy and delicious. Mum usually makes them in a food processor but I like to feel the dough with my hands. I knew they would never fail me.

We have specific ways of eating these. I butter the top of mine then cut it into segments and like them cooked medium rare. Mum splits hers and the butters both sides before segmenting and likes them well done. We both, inexplicably, always eat them off the flat side of the knife. I took the photo below in between cooking two batches, quickly snapping it over mum's shoulder. No staging at all - just a captured moment, a shared habit in my home.

Welsh Cakes
(adapted from Delia's Book of Cakes)

225g plain white flour
75g light brown sugar (or caster)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
good grind of fresh nutmeg - about 1/4 tsp
1 clove, freshly ground
big pinch of sea salt
110g unsalted butter
75g sultanas (or raisins)
1 egg
a dash of milk, if needed
butter, to fry and serve (salted is best)

Sift the flour, sugar, baking power, spices and salt together into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until everything is even and has the texture of fine breadcrumbs - just like making pastry. Stir in the sultanas. Add the egg and bring together into a dough - adding a dash of milk if needed. Bring into a ball.

Dust a work surface with flour. Roll out the dough to about a centimeter thickness. Cut rounds out with a fluted or smooth cutter. Place onto a plate. At this point you can chill them for up to a few days - we usually eat a batch over three or so days, cooking them as we go.

Heat up the frying or griddle pan with the heaviest bottom you can find - or the hotplate of an Aga. Grease with some butter. Fry the cakes in batches (I tend to do two at a time), turning over when well browned. Try a few at various cooking times to decide how you like yours - medium rare to well done.

Serve immediately (we tend to eat them in batches as they're ready, though I hear they're also good warm or cold - ours have never got that far), slathered in butter.

(Makes about 16)