Thursday, 29 April 2010

Latest Editions to my Chocolate Bookshelf


I am very easily seduced into buying cookery books, so find it best just not to look at them. However, a few weeks ago, I foolishly ended up one rainy lunchtime browsing through the cookery section of a bookshop. This was definatily not a good thing for my purse! I came across a fabulous book by Paul A Young and fell in love with it on the spot. I have since found out, of course, that he is a well known and respected choclatier in London dabbling in the more exotic and innovative end of things. Whilst I was umming and aahing over this one, I noticed a little chocolate book by the Tanner brothers and as they are local, how could I not do my local food supporters bit? I'd also long had Willie's much feted book on my wanted list, so why not go for broke I thought? I thus ended up with not one but three new books about cooking with chocolate.

Adventures with chocolate / Paul A Young
According to the front cover, this contains 80 sensational recipes and I have to say they are certainly unusual recipes. A true chocolate alchemist, Paul is not shy of trying out some very strange chocolate combinations. The book itself is a joy to handle, it is beautifully presented and darkly redolent of alchemy and mystery. He starts off with what you would expect from any good chocolate book: how to buy, taste and identify chocolate; two methods for tempering; moulding; also storing and how to make a basic truffle and ganache. More unusually, he goes on to talk about experimentation, making tea powders to decorate truffles and which flavours go best with what sort of chocolate: Madagascan goes particularly well with tangy flavours such as lemongrass and passionfruit whereas Ecuadorean is more suited to fresh coconut or garden mint - apparently! So let me give you a flavour of some of the more exotic recipes contained within: wasabi and green apple ganache, chocolate, ginger and cardamom teabread, sweet thyme and sugar-cane muffins, blackcurrant and liquorice truffles, honey-cured bacon, Stilton and chocolate sandwich, salted black olive bars, chocolate martini, goat's cheese and lemon ganache. There are some wonderfully delicious sounding recipes in this book which I haven't mentioned, so I hope this hasn't put you off.

For chocolate lovers: from truffles to tiramisu / The Tanner Brothers
The Tanner brothers are a local phenomenon - as well as appearing on various TV cookery programmes (apparently), they have two restaurants in Plymouth. Tanners is a classy restaurant set in the Prysten House, the oldest surviving domestic building in Plymouth (1498). Their second restaurant, the Barbican Kitchen, is housed in the Plymouth Gin Distillery, another historic building in Plymouth where the Pilgrim Fathers are said to have spent their last night before sailing in the Mayflower (CT wonders what they were doing drinking gin). The book is only 64 pages, but has recipes for hot and cold puddings, ice cream, cakes, pastries, petit fours and drinks. If this hadn't been of local interest, I probably wouldn't have bought it, but it does have some unusual recipes as well as some more traditional ones. White chocolate and chilli ice cream, chocolate and Devon blue cheese tart and chocolate tuiles are some that jumped out at me. The photographs are rather lush. It also has a section on tempering and making chocolate decorations.

Willie's chocolate factory cookbook / Willie Harcourt-Cooze
Need I say more? I've browsed through this every time I enter a bookshop and have read about it on other blogs. Even though I don't have a television and missed his Channel 4 series, his reputation is hard to avoid. Be prepared for some heavy duty reading as a considerable proportion of his book with its 223 pages describes his adventures in Venezuela and Devon in pursuit of the best quality cocoa. This included buying a cocoa farm in the Cloud Mountains of Venezuela and setting up his own chocolate factory in Devon. His collection of recipes includes both sweet and savoury dishes. As a vegetarian I didn't take much notice of the meat dishes in the savoury section, but the cocoa dressing for Puy lentils sounded good as did the porcini & chocolate risotto. Some time ago I bought one of Willie's blocks of 100% cocoa, but have hardly dared use it for more than grating over a couple of dishes as it is fiendishly expensive. Now I have bought the book, I think I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and make something soon - probably his Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake as I have heard so much about it!

So, you may wonder, why haven't I made anything from any of them yet? Suffice it to say, it usually takes me a while to savour and get to know new things a bit before I feel comfortable with them. I have been planning to make Paul's cocoa nib biscuits as a first off, but as many of his recipes involve tempering chocolate it could take me some time to give them a go. I've got plenty of books giving instructions on how to do this and advice from various bloggers but I still feel rather nervous of trying it "all by myself" - I'm not really sure why. I think it's like the bread course, I just needed something to give me a kick start - unfortunately I haven't heard of any chocolate courses down in this part of the world.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Chocolate Yogurt Cake & A Pizza Party

An invitation to a Pizza party is not something we are likely to turn down, but when combined with the pizzas being baked in a pizza oven made by the host's very own hands, resistance is futile. Indeed this party was a double celebration, a birthday and a christening - if that's what you call a baptism of fire for a pizza oven. Dough and toppings were already provided. All we had to do was roll out the dough to the size and shape we wanted and select our preferred toppings from a myriad of choices. as well as the usual range we were also offered wild garlic and steamed nettles. I had to have some of the latter, of course, so I have now eaten my very first nettle pizza! The oven was fantastic, and although it had to be fired up a couple of times during the evening, it managed to bake well over 40 pizzas. The photograph comes courtesy of the builder herself. Here's how the oven was made - do have a look.

I really couldn't turn up empty handed and this party provided the perfect excuse to make - you've guessed it - a cake!

I've used the Greek yogurt in my cakes a few times and am already finding it hard to conceive of not using it in my baking. It gives such a light consistency to the mix as well as keeping the cake nice and moist. Anyway, having come across this recipe for a butterless cake using sour cream at Cake Crumbs and Cooking, I of course thought of trying it with yogurt.

As prolonged whisking of sugar and eggs was an integral part of this recipe, I also got a chance to use my brand new Kenwood handmixer, a rather tardy Christmas present from CT (CT says give him a break, he was in hospital at the time). This is what I did:
  • Whisked 3 duck eggs with 125g dark brown sugar until thick and well incorporated (about 4 mins with electric whisk).
  • Stirred in 250ml of TOTAL full fat Greek Yogurt
  • Sifted in 115 g flour (1/2 white, 1/2 wholemeal), 1 scant tsp baking powder and 30g cocoa powder.
  • Mixed together until just incorporated then poured into a 22 cm cake thingie and baked for 35 mins at 180C.
  • Melted 30g unsalted butter with 50g 70% dark chocolate and 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • Stirred in 100g icing sugar then mixed with enough warm water to make a spreadable, but not runny icing.
  • Spread this over the cake and decorated with sugar flowers.
I found that the cake rose well then slumped gracefully to just the right level giving a nice flat top to ice. The cake was moist, spongy and delicious (that's what I was told anyway). Needless to say, we had a great time and I came home with an empty plate.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Dark Passionfruit Brownies


Having finally located some passionfruit, I went a little overboard and bought quite a few. Then they all needed using up! So I was looking to bake something else after my success with the white chocolate and passionfruit cupcakes. I had brownies on the brain at the time, so brownies it had to be. After hunting around the net, I found this recipe at Scandilicious.

Having made these some time before Easter and having stupidly lost my notes, I can't quite remember how I made them. I know I didn't use the extra egg yolk as I can never bear to have just a single egg white hanging around - what do you do with only 1 egg white? I think I might also have used 3 passionfruit!!!

Excited by such fragrant delights, I wasted no time in sinking my teeth into one. Oh no, it had a very strong chocolate hit which was great, but I found the overall experience disappointing. Dark chocolate didn't seem to go well with passionfruit and rather masked the flavour - or did it? CT loved them at first bite and thought it was a terrific combination. When I tried one again the following day I couldn't understand why I was so underwhelmed the first time around. It just goes to show, you can't always trust your own tastebuds. In fact these just got better with each passing day. They had a fudgy consistency and a velvety texture, although I found the seeds slightly annoying. If you love dark chocolate and you love passionfruit, you'll love these.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Chocolate Simnel Cake


I love marzipan, so I got very excited when I started to see Simnel cake posts appearing on the blogosphere around Mother's Day this year. This is traditionally served at Easter, although it is also associated with Mothering Sunday where servant girls were given the day off and allowed to take a cake home for their mothers. Not only do you get all that lovely marzipan on top, but you get the most delightful surprise layer of squidgy marzipan in the middle which half melts into the cake mixture as it cooks. The whole is topped off with 11 balls of this delicious almond confection. These balls are there to represent the 12 apostles, minus Judas, for reasons any Christian can explain.

Giles's post for Simple Simnel Cake was the inspiration I used to create my own chocolate version. I particularly liked this one because of the inclusion of apricots. Unfortunately, when I went to make the cake, there were no apricots to be found. Improvising madly, I ended up using dried papaya and pineapple instead. This is what I did:
  • Creamed 6oz brown sugar with 6oz unsalted butter until pale and well incorporated.
  • Beat in 3 large eggs alternately with 6oz sieved flour (4oz wholemeal spelt and 2oz coconut flour) and 1 tsp baking powder.
  • Stirred in 1 oz ground almonds, 1/2 tsp mixed spice, 2 tsp ground ginger.
  • Added 2oz dried papaya, 2oz dried pineapple, 3oz cherries (halved), 2oz raisins and 100g 70% dark chocolate (broken into small pieces).
  • Mixed in 2 large tbsp Greek yogurt (TOTAL 0% fat)
  • Spooned 1/2 of the mixture into a 22cm cake thingie, then covered this with 5oz marzipan rolled out into a round slightly smaller than the cake. Covered with remaining cake mixture.
  • Baked at 160C for 1 hour until firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (ish).
  • Allowed to cool, wrapped well in greaseproof paper and placed in a tin for a couple of weeks.
  • On the day of reckoning, rolled out 6oz marzipan into a 22cm round to cover the cake.
  • Melted 1 tbsp plum jam (didn't have any apricot) and brushed over the top of the cake. Placed the marzipan round on top of this and gently pressed into position.
  • Divided another 4oz marzipan into 11 equal lumps and rolled into balls. Placed these around the edge of the cake.
  • Brushed the whole with a beaten egg and put under the grill for mins to brown slightly. Unfortunately, like King Alfred, I managed to burn the marzipan at this point.
  • Decorated with chocolate eggs.
Foolishly I made this three weeks ahead of the event - trying to be organised and thinking that, like a Christmas cake, it would improve on keeping. Nearer the time, I realised this was only a light fruit cake with a relatively short shelf life and I started to panic. Luckily when it came to the grand unveiling at my Easter Tea, all was well. The cake was still moist and made a good impression on all that partook of it. The seemingly burnt marzipan added a lovely caramel flavour - phew! I was somewhat dubious as to how the chocolate would affect the cake, but it actually worked really well. The chocolate bits were by no means overwhelming, but they did enhance the flavour and combined particularly well with the marzipan. Now I know it works, I'm keen to try chocolate with fruit cake again.

I've kindly just been given permission to enter this for Julia's Easter Cake Bake over at A Slice of Cherry Pie, even though I'm a little on the late side - oops and thank you Julia!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Easter Tea

I haven't been around much recently and I'm away next week so thought I ought to do a quick post before I disappear again, just to remind folk I'm still around, if somewhat busy. The stack of posts I haven't yet written will have to wait until I'm back and I will then also catch up with other blogs which I have been sadly remiss in visiting.

Easter is usually a busy time trying to catch up with friends and gardening. This year we took my mother out for the day to the Garden House in Devon, which is one of our favourite gardens and one we hadn't ever seen at this time of year before. Summer is a better time for taking photographs, but it was lovely all the same. I did an Easter Tea for ten on Sunday and then our annual eleven mile Easter walk the following day - with a group of six this year. Then CT and I had a lovely few days away at Dartington Hall relaxing, eating too much and catching up with friends - we're not long back. Each of these deserves a full post of its own, especially as chocolate cakes and or puddings were consumed at various locations. But we sadly forgot to take our camera away with us and a post without pictures would not be worth the writing. I'm away to Edinburgh for a work conference next week so have the joy of two 9 hour train journeys to look forward to!

So, the Easter tea. In brief, I made a Simnel Cake, which I shall be blogging about later, Easter biscuits, some more of the white chocolate and passionfruit cupcakes, as they were such a winner. I did a different icing this time and managed not to curdle it - hoorah! One lot of cupcakes, didn't somehow seem enough, so I also made some with dark chocolate and peppermint, which I shall also blog about later. My rye sourdough bread formed the main part of the first course where I made open sandwiches of a) egg mayonnaise and b) guacamole. I also made some lovely cheese scones using more of the TOTAL yogurt as the main binding ingredient.

Unfortunately, although I managed to take a picture of the cakes, people started arriving before I could get my act together to take a picture of the Easter table and all the goodies there on - hey ho!

Luckily, having made so many things for the Big Tea, there were plenty of Easter biscuits left over for the walk the following day. The walk was really enjoyable, as it usually is and the countryside was ablaze with daffodils and primroses.

Now we're just off to spend the day digging in our plot.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

White Chocolate & Passionfruit Cupcakes


Inspired by Chele's recipe for passionfruit & white chocolate muffins over at the Chocolate Teapot, I immediately wanted to use this great sounding combination of flavours. I was unable to do so for quite a while as I couldn't find any passionfruit. Chele gave me a good tip and bingo, I found some. Last weekend we went off to visit friends "down west" as we say in my part of Cornwall. Of course, I wanted to take cake and this was an ideal opportunity to make use of the recently acquired passionfruit. This is what I did:
  • Melted 125g unsalted butter with 100g white chocolate (I used the very vanillary G&B).
  • Mixed in 125g granulated vanilla sugar (I have a vanilla pod permanently sitting in a jar of granulated sugar, but this could be substituted with 1 tsp vanilla extract).
  • Beat in 2 large eggs
  • Sifted in 150g flour (100g wholemeal and 50g buckwheat), a meagre teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda.
  • Stirred in 2 large tbsp Greek yogurt (TOTAL 0% fat) and the pulp of 2.5 passionfruits.
  • Creamed 60g unsalted butter with 75g sieved icing sugar until well incorporated.
  • Stirred in 1 tbsp yogurt (TOTAL 0% fat) and pulp from remaining 1/2 passionfruit. It all came rather unstuck at this point as the mixture curdled and I wasn't able to rescue it.
The passionfruit sponge was a total success - well formed, light and delicious, but I was sadly let down by the curdling of the butter icing. It tasted lovely, but looked more like badly cooked scrambled eggs rather than icing! The flavour of the passionfruit came out in both, however, and these were a real joy to eat. Luckily I have very forgiving friends.

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