Saturday, 28 August 2010

Pistachio and Orange Blossom Cake


When I saw this cake in Bake & Decorate, it was only a matter of time before I set to with a gusto and a wooden spoon.  The cake sounded so delicious and really interesting with the combination of those delicate flavours.  It just needed a bit of time to get hold of some  pistachios.  As I'm now addicted to using yogurt in my cakes and have been lucky enough to receive another fridge load of TOTAL Greek yogurt, some of that was going in no matter what.  As I was hoping for the green of the pistachios to come out in the cake, I used caster sugar rather than my normal dark brown.  I also had some green tea and white chocolate ganache left over from the green tea cupcakes I'd made the previous week and it needed using up.  I thus decided to use this rather than the mascarpone and orange topping described in the book - although this did sound rather good.

This is what I did:
  • Roasted 100g pistachios (unsalted) in the oven at 180C for about 5 mins.  Left to cool then ground in a coffee grinder.
  • Creamed 150g unsalted butter together with 180g caster sugar and the finely grated zest of an orange until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in 4 duck eggs.
  • Sifted in 70g flour (50g white spelt and 20g coconut), 1.5 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.
  • Mixed in 2 tbsp TOTAL Greek yogurt.
  • Folded in the pistachios, 70g ground almonds and 2 tsp orange flower water.
  • Spooned into a 21 cm cake thingie and baked for 35 mins at 180C (gas4).
  • Meanwhile simmered the juice from the orange with 20g granulated sugar for about 5 minutes until syrupy.  Allowed to cool a little then added 1 tbsp orange flour water.
  • Pricked cake all over with a cocktail stick as soon as it was out of the oven and poured syrup over.
  • Left to cool, then spread the white chocolate and green tea topping over the cake.
  • Scattered a few coarsly ground pistachios over the top.
I was really pleased with the result and thought it quite delicious as well as unusual.  It wasn't as green as I'd hoped, but the sponge was dense and moist with a pleasant firmness.  It had a Middle Eastern quality that reminded me of my days in Egypt, although Levantine confections are usually much sweeter.  Rather unexpectedly, I thought the green tea topping worked well with the pistachio and orange blossom as all were quite subtle flavours.  I keep hearing about the wonders of mascarpone so I will be using it next time.  CT reckoned it was the nearest thing to pistachio kulfi in cake form.  That is a compliment indeed as he loves pistachio kulfi.  He also said, tucking into his third slice, that you would be hard pressed to buy a cake this good - luckily he doesn't have to.

I am going to have to go cold turkey on the blogging front as I'm just off to Ghent in Belgium for a week.  This is another work conference, but as I don't really know Belgium at all I am taking the opportunity to stay an extra couple of days to explore Ghent.  Unusually, CT is accompanying me as one of his root friends lives nearby and he can enjoy comparing notes and swapping seeds and tubers.  Thanks to VegBoxBoy I go armed with a list of chocolatiers to visit whilst I'm there, so my withdrawal symptoms shouldn't be too severe.  I've also been advised not to miss out on the famous Belgian beer whilst we're there.  Look forward to catching up when I get back.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Chocolate Chip Apple Crumble


I had a few windfalls that were in need of eating quickly and with the weather being rather autumnal, a crumble seemed like a jolly good idea.  I've been toying with the idea of making a crumble using chocolate for some time, but really wasn't sure about the concept.  However, I thought I'd give it a try this time - so I did.
  • Using my hands, rubbed 6oz wholemeal spelt with 2oz butter until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
  • Stirred in 3oz demerara sugar, 1 heaped tsp cinnamon, 2oz chopped walnuts and 50g chopped 70% dark chocolate.
  • Peeled, cored and sliced 5 medium sized apples and put these into a greased ovenproof dish along with a tbsp of demerara sugar and a small glass of water.
  • Covered with the crumble topping and baked for 30 mins at 180C.
We were so eager to get stuck into the crumble when it came out of the oven, that I forgot to take a picture - it did look quite delicious.  Despite my initial scepticism, I can report that the addition of chocolate did in fact work and indeed added to the overall comfort factor.  The crunchy nuts made a good contrast to the soft apple and melting chocolate. The pieces of melted chocolate had not merged with the whole, but retained their individuality giving intermittent chocolate hits. It was different but still good at room temperature the next day.  I will most certainly be using chocolate in crumbles again.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

South West Food Bloggers Meet Up


Last weekend the South West Food Bloggers finally got together and had their first meeting.  Fat Lemons in Totnes was the venue and it just so happens to be the cafe of choice for CT and I whenever we go there.  It's a lovely little vegetarian cafe which is tucked behind the main shopping street in Ticklemore Lane and is thus generally quieter than other Totnes eateries - this alone gets multiple ticks from me. As well as good simple food at reasonable prices, it has a good selection of loose leaf teas including three choices of white tea for me - hoorrah!  There is a good range of seating option: you can sit upstairs, downstairs, outside, under a leafy arbour or under a protective awning just in case it rains (which it did whilst we were there this time).  Unfortunately I made a very poor job of taking any worthy photographs, so do go and have a look at the far nicer ones they have on their website.

We love going to Totnes and one day I will get around to doing a more extensive post about it.  CT decided he would accompany me so that he could do a spot of botanising along the river Dart.  We took the train, which was possibly a mistake given that it was prime holiday season and a relaxing journey we did not get - either way.  We arrived in plenty of time to take a walk up to the Hall Gardens at Dartington before I was due to meet up with fellow bloggers.  These gardens are worth a post in their own right as they are one of my all time favourite gardens, so I shall say no more about it now.  We also managed to have lunch at Fat Lemons before the meet up.   The food has a Middle Eastern slant and we went for a meze platter to share which was most delicious, especially the spanakopita.

In the end only three of us made it, Grazing Kate, The Burb and I.  However, we did have a surprise guest who accompanied The Burb and this more than made up for the lack of foodie bloggers.  Sarah G has a keen interest in social media and gave us some great tips on how to "grow our readership".  One of the results of this is that after years of resistance, I have finally joined Facebook.  I'm still trying to find my way around this new environment, so please do drop me a friendly comment (or whatever it is one does on Facebook) to make me feel that it is not all in vain.  Another result is a Twitter list I've started for SW food bloggers and another one for SW food producers - neither of which have many people on them at the moment, but please do let me know if there is anyone you think should be on there.

As we chatted away, I supped on a pot of Bai Mu Dan and indulged in a chocolate brownie - how could I not?  Hopefully this little jolly will be repeated at regular intervals.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Chocolate and Courgette Cupcakes - Vegan

I always find cooking vegan cakes a challenge as I am rather wedded to my butter and eggs and now yogurt.  I was surprised to find, however, that I enjoyed the vegan cake I made last year for my annual birthday cake ritual at work. Good as it was though, I didn't feel I could bake the same cake again this year. Having been inspired by Brownieville Girl's courgette cupcakes  and given that we are getting masses of said items down at the plot, courgettes were an obvious choice as principal ingredient. I created a hybrid using the sponge from the black bottom cupcakes I made earlier in the year. A few other tweaks such as substituting ground almonds for some of the flour, adding cinnamon and varying the quantities made it into something completely different of course.

This is what I did:
  • Sifted 150g flour (white & wholemeal), 50g ground almonds, 20g cocoa (should have been 40g but annoyingly that's all I had in the house), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl.
  • Made a well in the centre and mixed in 40 ml sunflower oil, 1.5 tsp cider vinegar and 180g water.
  • Added 180g grated courgette and mixed well.
  • Spooned mixture into 12 cupcake cases (I wasn't sure how well these would rise, but 10 cases would probably have been better.
  • Baked at 180C for 20 minutes then turned on to a rack to cool.
  • Melted 100g 70% chocolate (I used Divine given the unsurety of G&B's possible dairy content in their dark chocolate) with 2 tbsp date syrup and 2 tbsp water.
  • Stirred well and spread this on top of the cupcakes.
These turned out slightly more puddingy than cakey, but were nonetheless very good.  They were certainly appreciated by more than just my vegan colleague at work. No-one guessed that there were courgettes in the cake, though I suspect that they had a hand in giving the cake its moist (or was that stodgy?) quality.  I've made a chocolate and date syrup topping before to good effect.  Despite replacing the butter with water this time around, I was pleased with how well it worked and will be using this again..

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Birthday Cakes Extravaganza

Another post which is a little tardy in surfacing.

It was that time of year again and as custom requires, I was due to bring in cakes for my work colleagues. I try to do something different each year, this is what I managed last year. For the vegan at work, I made Vegan Chocolate and Courgette Cupcakes, which I will post about shortly. One of my newly acquired birthday items was Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns, a book I became aware of through reading Oxslip's eclectic blog. Once seen, it was only a matter of time before I got my sticky mitts on it.  From this book I made a Lemon Crunch Cake and the Family Chocolate Cake.

This is how I managed to bungle the Chocolate Cake:
  • Poured 140ml of just off the boil water over 100g 70% dark chocolate and left to melt.
  • Creamed 175g unsalted butter with 275g muscovado sugar for ages until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in 3 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla essence.
  • Stirred the chocolate until smooth then added this to the cake mixture along with 2 large tablespoons of TOTAL Greek yogurt (which I'd substituted for buttermilk).
  • Sifted in 200g flour (half wholemeal and half white) with 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp bicarb of soda and folded into the batter.
  • At this point I should have added 100g of ground almonds, but stupidly I forgot - how extremely annoying!
  • Spooned into two 21cm cake thingies and baked at 180C for 30 mins.
  • Melted 100g 70% dark chocolate with 40g unsalted butter.
  • Stirred in 1 tbsp golden syrup and 2 tbsp muscovado sugar.
  • Whisked in 150ml double cream until mixture was thick enough to use.
  • Spread half the mixture onto one cake, topped with the other cake and the rest of the icing.
  • Decorated with minstrels
How could I forgot the almonds?  Really, I couldn't believe it.  Luckily, the cake was still totally delicious.  Both cakes were really good and it made a nice change to make (and eat) a non-chocolatey cake - sshh, don't want to disabuse anyone of my chocoholic credentials. They were wolfed down by work colleagues and the chocolate cake was even pronounced by one as the best cake they had ever tasted - I can't ask for more than that......  Although I can't help wondering how much better it might have been with the almonds.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Chocolate and Blackcurrant Roulade

My posts have got a bit out of sync lately and I actually made this a month ago.

Hey ho, the picture I had in my head before making this roll, was very different to the one it actually turned out to be! You've heard of Eton Mess, now look as the mess I made. After the last one I attempted, I tried to be more careful, but it turned out to be even more of a disaster than the first one. I was impressed by the Jam Roll Celia made recently, which looked so good and so perfectly formed. When my mother turned up with a bowl of blackcurrants from her garden I knew exactly what I wanted to make with them. I had thought maybe the Christmas roulade didn't roll well because it was too thick, so I made a different recipe and used less ingredients to make a thinner version - that was the plan anyway! The sponge actually rose really well and turned out to be nearly as thick as my first attempt.

This is what I did
  • Simmered 250g blackcurrants and 50g natural granulated sugar in 100ml water until soft.
  • Mixed 1 tbsp arrowroot in a little water and stirred into the blackcurrants then left to cool.
  • Whipped 150ml double cream until peaks formed.
  • Folded cream into blackcurrants.
  • Meanwhile, melted 100g 70% dark chocolate in a bowl over the cooking blackcurrants.
  • Whisked 4 eggs with 100g vanilla sugar until pale and very thick.
  • Added 15ml of just boiled water and continued to whisk until incorporated.
  • Folded in the chocolate.
  • Folded in 75g white spelt flour.
  • Poured mixture into a lined Swiss roll tin and baked at 200C for 8 minutes.
  • From here on in, things started to go wrong. Decided it might be better to roll up the sponge whilst still warm so turned it out onto a baking sheet sprinkled with caster sugar and rolled up. Left until cool.
  • Unrolled the sponge which promptly proceeded to break up.
  • Covered the inside with the blackcurrant cream then tried to re-roll. It didn't like this treatment at all and broke up big time.
  • Lifted it onto a plate in order to take a photograph where not only did it break up some more but the filling squidged out from all sides.
  • Took a photo of the gory mess anyway.
Luckily, despite the less than perfect roll, it tasted pretty damn good. CT and I tucked into it not long after it my rolling fiasco and pronounced it delicious. The sponge fragments had soaked up the blackcurrant cream and the fruity hit was strong. The big question is, do I bother trying to do one of these rolls again or do I just give up now?

Monday, 2 August 2010

More Bars from the Chocolate Cafe

When I heard about the new Strawberry Bar from The Chocolate Cafe, I couldn't wait to get my mitts on it and more importantly get it into my mouth.  Having really enjoyed the Chocolate Cafe's first three own brand bars back in March, I was looking forward to trying their next creations.  Another three bars duly arrived, so not only was I able to try out the strawberry but also their mint and honeycomb too.  I loved the new bold colours of the wrappers and was already a fan of their distinctive logo which went brilliantly with the new colours.

70% Premium Dark Chocolate with Mint - cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Mint Oil, Soya Lecithin, Natural Vanilla
A wonderful scent of dark chocolate and mint wafted up from this bar as soon as I picked it up and it became even stronger when I opened the wrapper.  I had to savour this for a while as I love the smell of mint.  I couldn't hold out for too long though, so I soon broke off the first piece.  It gave a very satisfying snap and then proceeded to melt gradually on my tongue.  It has a very smooth texture which gives it a sensuous quality. Not too minty, which was a big plus as far as CT was concerned as he does not likes his mint to be too strong.  The mint was a good foil for the cocoa, cooling and softening its powerful wallop.  Overall it has a harder, drier, stronger flavour and is not as sweet as the other bars, making it ideal for the adult palate. This is not a bar for gorging on, but rather to be savoured in small doses and would make an excellent after dinner mint. 8/10

Premium Milk Chocolate with Honeycomb (33.6%) - sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, glucose syrup, butterfat, water, polydextrose, salt, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.
As I have now come to expect with the Chocolate Cafe, this chocolate was silky smooth even though it had crunchy bits of honeycomb scattered throughout.  It had a creamy taste and texture although it was rather too sweet for my liking.  It does, however, have a pleasant coconutty flavour which becomes more pronounced over time as does its emollient quality.  Despite not liking my confectionary overly sweet, I do have a penchant for honeycomb and butterscotch in chocolate.  I decided to compare this to the G&B Butterscotch, which is one of my favourite bars.  They were two very different beasts indeed.   The G&B bar was richer, chunkier and not as sweet, but it was also harsher - more bitter with a coarser texture. 7/10

Strawberry Chocolate with a hint of Black Pepper (28% cocoa) - sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, freeze dried strawberry  black pepper, soya lecithin, colour E120, natural vanilla.
As soon as I opened the wrapper, I was accosted by a strong strawberry aroma; this was followed by an equally strong fruity hit as soon as I bit into it.  The chocolate was most definitely pink and although I would prefer not to have any added colouring, it was quite fun.  Following on from the strawberry, came the sense of overwhelming sweetness from the sugar, although the sharpness of the fruit does help to counter this a little.  I really liked the hint of pepper, but a hint was all it was, accenting the strawberry flavour rather than overpowering it.  Like its sister, the white chocolate bar, it is slightly cloying and leaves a  bit of a coating on the tongue.  Highly reminiscent of one of my childhood favourites, the strawberry Pink Panther Bar, I had to say I did enjoy this one.  I suspect the quality of this version is of a much higher standard though and I'm sure it would be infinitely preferable if only I had one of the old panther bars to compare it to.  However, because it is so sweet, scoffing the whole bar in one sitting would probably be a bit of a challenge.  6/10.

These bars are variations of the three originals, the dark, milk and white, but with some very noticable differences.  They all retained the underlying smoothness characteristic of the Chocolate Cafe brand.  All in all, I think these bars are rather good and at £9 for the three, they represent good value for money.  The Chocolate Cafe is a cafe I would very much like to visit and if ever I am in the vicinity of Ramsbottom I most certainly will.  However, they do a very good line on high quality and interesting chocolates that can be bought online so a visit is not essential.

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