Friday, 25 June 2010

Blueberry, Rose and White Chocolate Cake


I was so impressed with the labna and strawberries that we'd made at the Vegetarian Cookery School, that I tried to recreate it the day after we arrived home from Bath. I thought it would make a great cake filling, I just needed a cake for it to go in. It had to be a white chocolate cake, it just seemed a bit more summery somehow, so again thinking of last years strawberry & white chocolate cake, I cobbled something together - ha ha. Unfortunately, I couldn't get hold of any strawberries, or even raspberries so it became labna with blueberries instead.

Some preparation is needed in advance to make the labna as well as the rose and mint syrup required to marinade the fruit, but it is very easy.

This is what I did to make:

Blueberry, Rose and White Chocolate Cake

  • The night before making the cake, I emptied a 500g pot of yogurt (I used Yeo Valley) into a muslin cloth and hung it up over a jug to drain for the night. I did this by using an elastic band to tie the cloth at the top and then hanging it from one of kitchen cupboard door handles and leaving a jug underneath to catch the whey..
  • The next day, I turned the yogurt, now labna, into a bowl and gave it a good stir (vanilla seeds were meant to be added at this point, but I didn't have any and had used vanilla sugar in the syrup and in the cake). I kept the whey that had drained into the jug to use in the cake (I always keep any whey as it is really useful for all sorts of things).
  • Made the syrup by simmering 100g vanilla sugar with 100ml water for about 10 minutes until slightly syrupy. I then added a couple of sprigs of spearmint (you can use whichever type of mint you like) and 1 tbsp rose water. Left this to infuse for 3 hours (the longer the better).
  • Poured syrup over a 250g of blueberries (original recipe states 500g strawberries) and left to infuse for another hour.
  • Drained off about half of the syrup and added the remainder to the labna and stirred well.
  • Melted 200g unsalted butter in a pan with 100g white chocolate (G&B) and 175g vanilla sugar and gave it all a good stir.
  • Sifted 200g flour (spelt - wholemeal and white) and buckwheat)) into a large bowl with 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of Himalayan salt.
  • Made a well in the centre and poured in the butter mixture.
  • Stirred well then beat in 2 large eggs - no duck eggs to be had!
  • Added 1 tbsp rose water and 50g of whey and mixed until all incorporated.
  • Divided mixture between 2 21 cm round cake thingies and baked for 20 mins at 180C.
  • Spooned some of the reserved syrup over both cakes whilst still hot.
  • Left to cool then sandwiched with the labna, managing to crack the top as I did so - hey ho! Dusted with some rose icing sugar I had left over from some Turkish delight and decorated with a few blueberries and a sprig of mint.

The labna and fruit is a delicious pudding in its own right, but as in this case also makes an excellent cake filling. I've never used whey in a cake before, but thought I'd try it out as I've had such success using yogurt recently. It worked well, giving a moist sponge that melted in the mouth yet somehow managed to be crumbly at the same time. Although a little on the sweet side, it was totally delicious. CT reckoned it was a good summer cake, light and moreish, Moorish even - with the taste of rose conjuring up images of eastern potentates - his excuse for such flights of fancy is that his blood sugar level was rather low at the time of tasting. The remaining bit of syrup I didn't use in the cake made a very nice drink with ice, water and a sprig of mint. The only thing missing from this were friends to share it with and the location - it should have been eaten down at our plot with the sun shining instead of in our house with the rain speckling the windows (hard to believe it now, I know).

Saturday, 19 June 2010

More Tea Chocolates



I recently received another box of tea chocolates from Matcha Chocolat, this time the Jade Collection. The selections available vary according to season, starting with the Emperor's Selection available from March to May, this one from June to August and the Lotus Selection, September to November. I hope the yawning gap between Christmas and Easter will be filled in due course. I like these chocolates.

I got another chance to practice delayed gratification, as their arrival coincided with flat camera batteries AGAIN. As the batteries were charging, I consoled myself by taking the lid off the very attractive box and feasting my eyes and nose with the wonderful aromas and the exquisite presentation.


Liquid Jade - Presented as an attractive white chocolate dome with swirls of green running through, this contained a rich dark chocolate ganache that contrasted well with the sweet white chocolate casing. If you've tried matcha tea, you will recognise the taste immediately. It has a robust character, leaving a slightly bitter taste lingering on the tongue - a refreshing sensation. There is also an almost savoury umami quality about it. This was a strong contender for best in the box for me.


Strawberry Summer - Fruity dark chocolate with a delicate strawberry flavour. The subtle tea and dark chocolate notes followed through soon after. Its smooth ganache made an interesting in the mouth contrast to the hard chocolate casing. Although, the chocolate was dark, CT thought it had quite a creamy texture.


China Rose - As a big fan of rose flavoured anything, but especially rose chocolate, I was delighted to see these in the box. I got a fragrant waft of rose as soon as I picked this one up. The rose became even stronger as I bit into the beautiful shiny dome of milk chocolate. What I got was a wonderful mouthful of smooth rose ganache which melted slowly on the tongue with a definite rose flavour. As the ganache and chocolate melted in my mouth, the more subtle flavour of the black Gong Fu tea came through. I loved the blend of flavours in this one and would have been more than happy to have an entire box of them. My mind was suddenly filled with images of Edwardian ladies in large hats sitting down to tea on the lawn with the summery air scented with roses. CT thinks these should be a catagory C drug as they are almost certainly addictive. He reckoned it would be easy to gorge on a dozen of them and then feel sick, but content. This one did get my best in the box vote.

Sencha - This was the one I found hardest to bite into because of the wonderful gold design on the top of these square white chocolates. When bitten into, it was a delightful surprise to discover that the ganache was green. Sadly, the look of this one was the best part for me. It smelt and tasted very strongly of green tea - not green tea that is fragrant and lightly brewed, but tea that has been left in the pot too long. The bitter taste lasted a long time after all physical traces had long been swallowed. CT, on the other hand really liked this one as it reminded him of sitting in a kaiten sushi bar in Tsukuba, Japan eating far too much and drinking copious amounts of green tea.


Masala Chai - This was as good as I had remembered it from the Emperor's Selection and I was very pleased to experience the wonderful spicy flavour of chai once again. The cardamom in particular came through in the ganache and the slice of crystallised ginger complements the whole very well.

This would make an excellent gift both for chocolate connoisseurs and tea lovers alike. Even if you don't like tea but have an open and enquiring mind I'm sure you will enjoy this new world of flavours. We would certainly not be averse to trying another box or ten.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Rhubarb & Orange Chocolate Cake


Since I started this blog, my friends seem to have had a lot of "significant" birthdays. Is this just a weird coincidence or is it because I'm more aware of these things now I'm doing my blog and always seem to have cakes on the brain - rhetorical question! Last year we went to a 30th, a 40th, a 50th, a 60th and a 70th birthday party - I thought that was rather unusual. A couple of weeks ago, we were off to the 2nd 60th birthday party this year. Part of the celebrations included painting a mural on a barn wall - what a lovely idea! Unfortunately, the rather wet weather we experienced prevented this happening. I suspected the planned bbq wouldn't be going ahead either and to be honest it wasn't a rip roaring success. Luckily there was still plenty of delicious food to be had in the house. So, with some rhubarb to use up, another rhubarb and chocolate cake is what I made. This time my inspiration came from the orange and strawberry cake that I made last year.

This is what I did:
  • Melted 100g dark orange spicy chocolate.
  • Creamed 175g unsalted butter with 200g dark brown sugar.
  • Beat in 3 duck eggs, the chocolate and the grated zest of one orange.
  • Sifted in 225g flour (100g wholemeal, 100g white 25g quinoa), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 1 tbsp cocoa and a pinch of salt.
  • Mixed together along with 50g water and 100g Greek yogurt.
  • Divided mixture between 2 x 21 cm sandwich thingies and baked at 180C for 30 mins.
  • Stewed 700g of cleaned and chopped rhubarb with 2 tbsp of water until most of the water had evaporated and the mixture was thickish. Left to cool.
  • Added 1 tbsp orange liqueur.
  • Whipped 250ml double cream into peaks, then folded into rhubarb mixture.
  • Sandwiched the cakes with the cream (I did have a substantial amount left over which we had over the following couple of days with strawberries - yum), then dusted the top of the cake with icing sugar.
Despite the wretched weather, the party was a lively and fun affair. Amazingly, or possibly not, given it was a birthday, one large table was completely laden with cakes. Spoilt for choice was an understatement. I was rather perturbed, wondering who would go for my relatively plain looking cake but hey, I need not have worried. It seems I have a following and those in the know homed straight in on my cake. I'm glad to say they were not disappointed. This was a great tasting cake. The sponge was even better than the one I had used for the strawberry cake and the rhubarb orange cream was gorgeous and complemented the chocolate really well.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Fun, But No Buns in Bath


Oh, we had such a good time in Bath. Great food of course, excellent company, fantastic weather and what a beautiful city Bath is. Lovely Regency architecture with that warm honey coloured Cotswold stone and an abundance of trees and parks everywhere. I don't think we were anywhere (and we did have a good walk around) that didn't have something green and growing to look at. We timed our trip quite accidentally to coincide with the Bath Festival, so caught snatches of arias coming over the walls and street theatre everywhere. We even went to the circus. There were so many highlights in our brief one and a half day sojourn, it's difficult to know which ones to include. So here are a few of them.



The three of us, our guide (an ex-resident of Bath), CT and myself had a relatively peaceful train journey up to Bath on Thursday morning then made our way to our host's house. He has the biggest collection of books I've ever seen extending, as it does, over every available surface including the stairs. A guided tour, occupied us on Thursday afternoon, which turned out to be very hot.


Walking past the Abbey, CT noticed Minerva, a chocolate shop - a chocolate shop? What could we do? We had to go in of course. Lots of good looking chocolates displaying Gallic elegance which, with the aid of the price tags, we managed to resist. One side of the shop was given over to the art of the chocolatier. We stayed in to sample the ice-cream, and naturally we all chose a wicked extra rich chocolate one, the perfect antidote to the sweltering weather.


Whilst walking along the river Avon, we noticed a whole row of Tulip trees all in flower. CT, lacking a picture of these in his collection, took the opportunity of acquiring one. We came across a few Norway Maples which were also noteworthy, resplendent in their bunches of winged seeds.



After a quick rest in the shade of the our host's garden, we set off for Demuths Vegetarian Restaurant where we were to meet up with some of our guide's friends. The meal was a delight, we were all six of us more than satisfied, even though only two of us were vegetarians. It was a real luxury for me to have such a wide choice of dishes.


So to the main event on Friday - a day at the Vegetarian Cookery School learning how to make Middle Eastern mezze. Wow, was this an enjoyable course! The school is actually in Rachel Demuth's house, four floors overlooking Bath with wonderful views from every window and a delightful garden. One floor has been converted into a large kitchen where there was plenty of room for the ten of us on the course, the two chefs and a washer up. I had to feel sorry for the washer up, who spent most of the day just doing that. The used teaspoons alone must have been in the hundreds as we kept tasting our way through the day - a little more sumac, no perhaps some lemon or maybe another pinch of salt..... I later learnt that she was Rachel's daughter earning some extra pocket money. We did nothing but cook and eat all day. We were welcomed on arrival with Baklava and Kunafa pastries. We then proceeded to make:
  • Almond & Orange Blossom Fruit Pastries, which we ate as a mid-morning snack in the living room.
  • Dukkah, Lebanese Thyme Flat Bread, Corander Butterbean Hummus, Baba Ghanoush and Muhammara Dip which we ate in the kitchen at lunchtime.
  • Falafal and Tahini Dip which we ate in the garden along with a glass of prosecco to toast the chefs, washer upper, us and one of the participants whose 85th birthday it was.
  • Imman Bayaldi, Tabouleh, and Sumac Courgettes with Haloumi which we ate as the grand finale in the dining room and drank with the same zesty white wine that we had imbibed at the restaurant the night before.
  • Labna with Rose and Mint Strawberries and Thyme and Almond Honeycomb, which was our very last course.

Completely stuffed is what we were by the end of the day. Despite all of the very yummy food that we made, the two highlights for me were how to use a knife properly and how to cut an onion without crying. I was also delighted to discover sumac and pomegranate molasses and get an idea of how to use them. I am now saving up to go on another of the many courses that are offered.

CT enjoyed his day watching street entertainment and then sleeping under a tree at the botanical gardens - botanising indeed!

It was then off to see Tabu, performed by No Fit State Circus. This was an amazing and unexpected performance where incredible acrobatic feats were performed right under our noses.

The following morning we made our weary but satisfied way back to Cornwall expressing our intentions to return for a longer visit to include a dip in the hot baths which we'd heard so much about.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Spicy Chocolate & Prune Gingerbread


Summer finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and cooking, especially cakes, suddenly didn't seem quite so appealing. I had, however, a Transition meeting to attend that Monday evening where we were all meant to bring along some food to share. So despite the heat on Sunday, I made a cake - a prune cake from Unwrapped - it sounded rather yummy and smelled wonderful.

This is what I did:
  • Melted 125g unsalted butter together with, 100g Maya Gold, 2 tbsp treacle and 3oz muscovado sugar in a pan.
  • Sifted 175g flour (half wholemeal, half white), 1 tsp bicarb of soda, 2 tsp ground ginger & 1 tsp cinnamon into a bowl.
  • Snipped 125g pitted prunes into pieces and tossed in flour.
  • Made a well in the centre, poured in chocolate mixture and stirred.
  • Beat in 1 duck egg.
  • Stirred in 100g Greek yogurt and 50g water (recipe stated 150g buttermilk).
  • Poured into a 2lb loaf thingie and baked at 160C for 50 mins.
The whole house smelt really good for ages, so I forgave the cake for the hot kitchen its creation had engendered. This cake was wonderful - a fine texture and really smooth in the mouth. It was light, moist, not too sweet and well flavoured without being overly spicy. It also kept really well. I know this because we got to take the remaining quarter home. I put it in a tin, then forgot about it until last night - it was not only entirely edible, but even more delicious.

I'm off to Bath with CT and a friend this morning for a couple of days. I hardly know Bath at all, so am looking forward to taking in the sights. However, this is not a simple sightseeing tour, but a much anticipated day spent with Rachel Demuth at her vegetarian cookery school where we will be making Middle Eastern mezze. Meanwhile CT will wander the streets in search of anything interesting in the botanical line.

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