Thursday, 28 April 2011

Amaretto Easter Cupcakes and Crystallised Flowers

There were so many influences here, I've rather lost track of them all. Kath started me off with her crystallised violets. It all came flooding back, how I used to crystallise primroses every Easter when I was young. I haven't done it for many years, but with Easter fast approaching, some holiday, a bit of nostalgia and with enthusiasm renewed, I wanted to try these again. Then I saw the recipe for Paul A Young's Simnel Brownies and I knew I would be making those in the not too distant future. But, having set my mind on using flowers, brownies didn't seem quite the thing. They would, in fact, have been an ideal entry for the April We Should Cocoa, but I already had the Battenberg in mind for that. However, the simnel idea stuck - hummm, cupcakes would make a good show for crystallised flowers. I could add marzipan in the middle and maybe use some raisins. OK, what to soak the raisins in? Well, that was a no brainer, with the almond marzipan theme, it had to be amaretto. I then saw Carl's lovely hidden hearts, which made me think, rather than just adding chunks of marzipan, I could roll it out and use a smallish cutter to fit the cupcakes exactly. Dan Lepard also played his part, by piping crosses onto some of his Easter cupcakes. Peggy of Fake It 'Til You Make It very kindly sent me a wadge of disposable piping bags after I broke the reusable one I got for Christmas on the very first attempt - making macaroons. So thanks to Peggy, I thought I'd try Dan's crosses.

So, this is what I actually did:
  • Went to the local art shop to buy myself a paintbrush.
  • Beat a duck egg white (leftover from making marzipan) briefly in a small bowl.
  • Put a couple of spoonfuls of caster sugar in another small bowl.
  • Gathered some primroses, a violet and a pansy from my garden (not many violets or pansy's and didn't want to denude the plants) - it's important that if using flowers they are clean, ie have not been sprayed or been where dogs or motorised vehicles could have polluted them.
  • Held the flowers by the stem and painted the tops and undersides with egg white.
  • As soon as flower had been painted, dipped it in the sugar and sprinkled more over as needed with a teaspoon. Shook off the access then laid them down on a tray lined with baking paper to dry, cutting off the stem as I did so.
  • Left to dry over night, then put into an airtight tin until ready to use.
  • Soaked 60g raisins in 2 tbsp amaretto overnight.
  • Melted 100g 85% dark chocolate
  • Creamed 125g unsalted butter with 125g molasses sugar until pale and fluffy (the weather being so warm, I had no problems with hard butter for a change).
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs.
  • Sieved in 125g flour (1/2 wholemeal spelt, 1/2 white), 1 heaped tbsp cocoa, a pinch of Himalayan pink salt and 1 tsp baking powder.
  • Stirred in about 1/3 of the melted chocolate and 1 tbsp Greek yogurt (0% fat).
  • Mixed in the raisins and ameretto.
  • Spooned half the mixture into 12 cupcake cases.
  • Rolled out about 150g marzipan and used a 5cm circular cutter to stamp out rounds.
  • Placed circles over the cupcake mixture, then covered with the remaining mixture.
  • Baked at 180C for 17 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.
  • Added about 50g unsalted butter to the remaining melted chocolate.
  • Beat in 50g icing sugar until all smooth and incorporated.
  • Stirred in 2 tbsp amaretto.
  • Attempted to pipe crosses onto the cakes, but only managed one before my nozzle fell out of the bag.
  • Gave up on that idea and spread on with a palate knife.
  • Placed a crystallised flower in the top of each cake.
These featured at another Easter tea eaten in a Cornish garden as well as on the Easter platters. The primroses were delicious, they had a very subtle but distinctive floral taste as well as a rather unexpected crunch. As a flavour combination, these ingredients worked really well together. The amaretto just enhanced the marzipan flavour and the alcohol soaked raisins added another level of richness with the chocolate bringing it all together very nicely. The cakes were moist and truffle like and rather filling - nothing wrong with that of course. The chocolate topping gave yet another dimension and unusually for me, was just the right consistency. The piping I have yet to master.

I am entering these for Julia Parsons annual Easter Cake Bake - a mouth watering feast for the eye, if ever there was one. You can see all the entries there from previous years, although this year's round up has yet to be posted. In fact you still have three days left to enter if you feel so inspired. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Easter Nests - Random Recipe 3

When Dom set this month's Random Recipe Challenge to cook something out of the first cookbook we ever owned, I was quite excited. I remembered the book well, but haven't looked at it for more years than I care to remember. It resides at my Mother's along with many of my old books, so I couldn't get my hands on it immediately. Finally, I got it. My learn to cook book: a children's book for the kitchen by Ursula Sedgwick. On the inside cover, an inscription which reminded me it was given to me for Christmas when I was eight years old by my Great Aunt Doris and Uncle Alf, both still alive in their 90s. Leafing through it, I was amazed at what a good book it was and that I had made pretty much everything in it. Having just had problems making my own marzipan with the Battenberg I made a couple of days ago, it made me laugh to see a recipe for Marzipan Dates which included making your own marzipan. And, I remember doing it. At the back of the book, it has a really useful table showing how many tablespoons of various ingredients weigh an ounce and the fact that 3 halfpennies weigh 1/2 an ounce. Half pennies? I'm not sure I can still remember them.


My slight concern that there might not be any chocolate recipes in the book was immediately banished; it did seem rather unlikely that a children's cookbook, even from the 70s, would fail to include any chocolate recipes. It contained three: chocolate mousse, crispy crackolates and chocolate drops. Crispy Crackolates it was. They would be just perfect for Easter as little nests that I could drop some eggs into. Easter eggs for CT sorted - hee hee!
  • Melted 1oz unsalted butter in a pan with 1oz unbleached granulated sugar and 1 tbsp golden syrup.
  • Mixed in 1oz cocoa.
  • Added 1oz cornflakes and stirred until all covered with chocolate mixture.
  • Spooned into 5 piles and tried to form them into some semblance of a nest.
  • Left to set, then placed a few sugar coated chocolate eggs in the middle.
The nests worked really well, very chocolatey and not too sweet but slightly sticky. The stickiness was advantageous as it helped the eggs to stay put in the nest.

Thank you Dom for reuniting me with such an old friend and for allowing me to make such a quick and easy recipe.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Happy Easter & Eggs

Rather late in the day now, but I wanted to say Happy Easter before it's too late and hope that everyone is enjoying the holiday. We are just off to my mother's for another Easter tea where we will be sampling some of her excellent simnel cake.

Here are two Easter platters I prepared, one for my mother and one for CT. If anyone's interested in finding out more about what's on them, there will be a posts appearing in the next week or so.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Chocolate and Matcha Battenberg - We Should Cocoa 8

It's rare for me to post something so close to the day I've actually made it, as I seem to have a permanent backlog, but this one has jumped the queue as time is running out. I've been admiring Battenberg cakes I've seen on various blog sites for a while, but I've managed to ignore the urge to make one until now. To be honest, I was a little nervous and suspected it might be beyond my capabilities. With this month's We Should Cocoa challenge being marzipan, it seemed like I should stop wimping out and give this rather gorgeous looking retro cake a try. Of course, I wasn't interested in making the traditional pink and yellow version, oh no, I wanted something a little different and it had to contain chocolate of course. I'm also a fan of using matcha with chocolate, so decided to use up the last of the Vitalife matcha sample I was sent a few months ago. As my base I used the recipe from Fiona Cairns' Bake & Decorate. As it was for We Should Cocoa and also for an Easter tea with friends, I thought I ought to make my own marzipan.  I had a look at the ingredients on some commercial marzipan and that sealed the deal for me: only 24% almonds compared to my 60%, the rest of it was sugar. In the back of my mind, however, I had a vague memory of struggling with my last attempt at marzipan which was crumbly and difficult to roll.

This is how I did it:
  • Mixed 175g ground almonds with 100g icing sugar.
  • Made a well in the centre and added 1 duck egg yolk, 3 tsp lemon juice, 3 drops of almond essence and a splash of water.
  • Mixed initially with a spoon then brought together with my hands to form a ball.
  • Sifted 200g flour (1/2 wholemeal spelt and 1/2 white) into a bowl with 1 rounded tsp of baking powder.
  • Added 200g natural granulated sugar, 200g softened unsalted butter (cubed) and 3 duck eggs.
  • Beat together with a hand held mixer.
  • Added a large tbsp Greek yogurt and beat some more.
  • Spooned half of the mixture into another bowl.
  • Added 2 tsp matcha to one bowl and 3 tsp cocoa to the other bowl and mixed.
  • Spooned mixtures into a 9" (23 cm) square cake mould using a piece of upright baking paper as a divider down the middle.
  • Baked at 180C for 20 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.
  • Left to cool for 10 minutes then turned out onto a rack to cool completely.
  • Then proceeded to spend an inordinate amount of time making a mess.
  • Trimmed the cake and cut into 4 equal rectangles of 4.5 x 21 cm.
  • Warmed some of my marrow and ginger jam, which was already quite runny.
  • Brushed this over the cake pieces and "glued" them together to form a rectangle with alternate colour segments.
  • Rolled out the marzipan to a size I thought would cover the cake. This is where I really came a cropper as the marzipan just cracked and wouldn't hold together.
  • Brushed the outside of the cake rectangle with more jam and tried to wrap the pieces of marzipan around the edge.
  • Scored a criss-cross over the top of the cake to try and improve its appearance :(
  • Made these truffles with the leftover cake.
How right I was to doubt the marzipan! Still, although this cake may not have looked quite as I'd envisaged or hoped, it was most certainly delicious.  The cake was firm but moist and the two flavours complemented each other nicely (I did try the trimmings). Both the cocoa and the matcha flavours were present, but neither dominated. The marzipan may have been crumbly, but it tasted delicious. It was almondy, of course, but not overpoweringly so and certainly not overly sweet. This cake has yet to be tasted by anyone else, but I'm feeling fairly confident that it will be enjoyed later on today, crumbling and cracked marzipan notwithstanding. If it hadn't been for the We Should Cocoa challenge, I would never have made this cake. I'm not sure I'm likely to make it again, either. If I do, I'll use bought marzipan, unless someone out there can explain the arcane mysteries of successful, pliable marzipan to me.

PS Now back from moorland tea party. The Battenberg was enjoyed by all as part of a sumptuous spread.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Honey & Raisin Chocolate Flapjacks

Some old friends, who I hadn't seen in a long time were coming to visit and one of them is a flapjack fanatic. I couldn't disappoint, so flapjacks were what I made and this is how I did it:
  • Melted 5oz unsalted butter in a large pan with 2 tbsp honey.
  • Stirred in a pinch of salt (Himalayan pink)
  • Removed from the heat and added 100g dark chocolate broken into pieces (I used Co-op fair trade 46% rather than my usual G&B or Divine 70%)
  • Mixed in 10oz rolled oats, 3oz demerara sugar and 2oz raisins.
  • Pressed into a buttered 10" x 8" tin
  • Scattered my signature sesame seeds over the top and baked at 180C for 17 minutes.
  • Left to cool completely then cut into 16 pieces.
These were enjoyed as we sat in Trenant Woods overlooking the West Looe River. Surprisingly, although not fully out, there were more bluebells open on the 16th April than there were when we visited last year on 1st May.

Monday, 18 April 2011

An Egg Sandwich - But Not As We Know It, Jim


Beth of Jam & Cream PR has been strutting her stuff again and thanks to her efforts, I was recently sent this rather cute 100g Praline Toasty egg sandwich from Hotel Chocolat. This is not the usual sort of thing I have for breakfast, but is more than acceptable later in the day. Needless to say, this egg sandwich was not your traditional fried egg with a bit of tomato sauce slapped between two slices of bread, no, it was two slabs of chocolate sandwiched between a praline chocolate egg - a fun and novel concept.

The slabs of chocolate turned out to be more than I had bargained for. They were in fact half Hotel Chocolat's house 40% milk chocolate and half praline chocolate which was particularly delicious. The chocolate was smooth and creamy and the white chocolate streak down the middle of the egg gave another dimension to its flavour. I was expecting the egg to be filled with praline, but actually it was hollow - it was almost a relief as the hazelnutty praline was quite rich and sweet. - just about the right volume for two people to share after a hard day's labouring.

Hotel Chocolat are currently looking for help in naming their new Easter Baby. If you'd like to help them out and be in with a chance of winning £75 worth of chocolate then go to the following link on facebook and have a go at Name our bouncing Easter baby.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Marmalade Cake for Mother's Day

Having made my first experiment using marmalade in cakes with this chocolate and marmalade cake and been won over by the result, I decided to have another go. I've had my copy of Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess for many years now and I've always skipped over her store cupboard chocolate orange cake because of the use of marmalade. Now don't get me wrong, I like marmalade - but when it's on toast. Anyhow, Mother's Day had arrived and I thought she would especially enjoy a marmalade cake - it was her marmalade after all. So, to Nigella's recipe I went. I did of course make some inevitable changes - I added yogurt for a start. I also decided to top it with some ganache as it was a special occasion.

This is how I did it:
  • Melted 125g unsalted butter in a large pan.
  • When butter nearly melted, I turned off the heat and added 100g 85% dark chocolate and left to melt for a few minutes.
  • Stirred until all incorporated and smooth.
  • Added 3 large tbsp of my mother's marmalade, having first cut up all the big bits into smaller ones.
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs and a pinch of rock salt.
  • Sifted in 150g flour (120g wholemeal spelt, 30g quinoa), 1 tsp baking powder and stirred.
  • Finally stirred in 1 tbsp Greek yogurt.
  • Spooned into a 22cm cake mould, levelled the top and baked for 35 mins at 180C
  • Left to cool for a couple of minutes then turned out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melted 100g of 70% dark chocolate with 20g unsalted butter and 1 heaped tbsp of marmalade (chunky bits removed) together over a pan of hot water.
  • Stirred together then spread over the top of the cake.
  • Decorated with orange and lemon flavoured sweets (shredded orange would have been a much better decoration and more in keeping with the 100% organic ingredients, but I had no oranges to hand).
Well, I have now been completely won over to using marmalade in my baking, this cake was delicious. Luckily my mother thought so too, although she was somewhat surprised by her marmalade coming back to her in a different form.

I'm also entering this into this month's Forever Nigella started by Sarah of Maison Cupcake, but this month hosted by Mardi at Eat, Live, Travel, Write. To tie in with the Royal Wedding and any resulting street parties, the theme is party food. Well surely cake is for sharing and any cake is good for a party.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Chilli Pie - Raw Chocolate

Rather late in the day I know, but I loved the wrapper of this so much, it took me a while to get around to eating it. It was actually a Christmas present, but it wasn't until the end of February that I decided to savour the contents. It's a shame I didn't write up about it at the time as recollections are already starting to dim.

There were a few simple ingredients, all raw: Cocoa Nibs (14.2%), Chilli (1.3%), Coconut butter, Agave nectar, Golden raisins, Lucuma powder, Carob flour, Ground almonds. The wrapper proudly states, Sugar Free, Dairy Free, Gluten Free and Guilt Free - who could resist?

This was very different in texture to any other raw chocolate bars I've tried, which is probably why they've called it a pie.  There was a nice crunch of cocoa nibs and I could taste the carob - it was quite delicious. Like all delicious things, it was over far too soon. A word of warning, however: you need to be a chilli lover to enjoy this particular bar, oops pie, as it's very hot. As a chilli lover, I did.

Handmade in St Ives, Cornwall by Living Food, this bar and other flavours actually are available at our very own Taste Cornwall in Liskeard.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Rolo Cake

A friend's daughter was celebrating her 3rd birthday and I was asked to make the birthday cake. I was well chuffed, but also rather nervous - you don't really want to mess up someone else's birthday cake. Anyway, as soon as she asked me, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. The rolo cake I'd seen on Jac's Tinned Tomatoes blog, over a year ago now, had made an impression and I was waiting for the right opportunity to make it. Jac in turn had got the recipe from The Caked Crusader and it was actually hers I used. Jac tends to use US measurements and I'm not a fan of cups. I did increase the measurements a bit anyway as I was using a larger cake mould than the one specified.

Whilst shopping for the rolos, I had a bit of an unexpected dilemma. Not being in the habit of buying them, I hadn't realised they were made by Nestle - oh dear! I haven't knowingly bought anything from Nestle since I was old enough to form an opinion on such matters. Okay, I thought I'll do without the rolos and go for a large bar of Cadbury's caramel chocolate instead. As I was picking the bar up, however, I realised how ridiculous the whole thing was. Cadbury's has recently been taken over by Kraft - well, as far as I know, they are no more ethical than Nestle. For want of a better alternative, I have continued to buy Green & Black's, despite them now being owned by Kraft. So I pulled a face and bought the rolos.

This is what I did:
  • Creamed 220g unsalted butter with 220g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat in 4 duck eggs, one at a time and mixing in a spoonful of the flour between each egg.
  • Sifted in 170g flour (mostly white with a bit of wholemeal spelt), 50g cocoa and 1 large tsp baking powder.
  • Mixed in 1 large spoonful of Greek yogurt.
  • Chopped 20 rolos (2 packets) in half and stirred those in.
  • Spooned into a 22cm cake mould and baked at 180C for 40 mins until the cake was well risen and cracked on the top.
  • Turned out onto a wire rack and left to cool.
  • Creamed 100g unsalted butter together with 150g icing sugar and 2 tbsp cocoa.
  • Added a glug of toffee syrup and beat until smooth and light.
  • Spread this over the cold cake.
  • Attempted to decorate with a happy face on top of the cake using rolos and white chocolate buttons.
Luckily, I needn't have worried; the cake proved to be a huge success and was enjoyed by adults and children alike. The birthday girl showed her appreciation in the usual way. Although I wasn't there, a slice was very kindly kept back for me so that I could try it. It was moist and tasty with slightly chewy melted toffee bits in the middle. I'd be happy to have this for my birthday cake whatever my age.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Peppermint Cracknel and Coconut Chocolate

We were off to friends for dinner and a catch up after far too long a time. A few weeks earlier I had borrowed The Chocolate Cookbook by Christine France from our local library and I spotted this interesting recipe in it. The right opportunity to make it had now arrived. This is what I did:
  • Put 4oz vanilla sugar (specified granulated in the recipe) into a pan and onto a medium heat until liquified. 
  • At this point I took it straight off the heat as I've come a cropper with burnt sugar in the past and it isn't nice. It continued to cook in the pan for a little while and turned a lovely caramel colour. The recipe had stated adding 1/4 pt water with the sugar, but as a sugar thermometer was needed for this (and I don't yet have one of those), I thought my method was easier.
  • Added one drop of peppermint oil.
  • Poured this onto a piece of baking parchment and left to cool and harden.
  • Broke into bits and bashed around with the end of a rolling pin to crush as best I could.
  • Toasted 4oz desiccated coconut in a frying pan until golden - stirring all the time.
  • Melted 200g 72% dark chocolate in a pan over hot water.
  • Stirred in the coconut and peppermint pieces.
  • Poured into a silicone loaf tin and left to set.
  • Tried unsuccessfully to cut the chocolate into sticks.
  • Placed them as neatly as I could into a cellophane bag and tied them up with a bow and a label (no successful photo of that to show though).
These were meant to be chocolate sticks rather than chunks. When I tried to cut them however, they just broke any which way and were not going to be made into the delicate slim sticks I had envisaged - ho hum! Perhaps this was because my mint cracknel pieces were just too big. Despite the technical hitch, the end result was pretty good: nil points for presentation but 9 out of 10 for taste and texture. The tasting panel seemed to agree.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Chocolate and Marmalade Cream Cake

I've heard a lot about marmalade cakes, but for some reason or another the concept has not appealed and I have never, until now, used marmalade in my baking. However, when I saw a recipe for One-Mix Chocolate Sponge in my recently borrowed The Chocolate Cookbook by Christine France, something about the marmalade cream caught my fancy. I knew I wouldn't be able to do a one-mix method because unless we have a really hot spell, my butter is never soft enough.

This is what I did:
  • Creamed 6oz unsalted butter with 4oz caster sugar
  • Added 2 tbsp (2oz) golden syrup and creamed some more.
  • Beat in 3 duck eggs
  • Chopped a few of the thicker strands of marmalade from the two tbsp below and added these.
  • Sifted in 6oz flour (3oz wholemeal spelt, 2oz buckwheat, 1oz white), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp rock salt and 2 tbsp cocoa.
  • Stirred in with a heaped tbsp of Greek yogurt.
  • Divided between two 22cm cake moulds (should have been 18cm, but I don't have any that size) and baked for 20 mins at 180C.
  • Left to cool
  • Whisked 150ml double cream until peaks formed.
  • Stirred in 2 tbsp of my mother's marmalade.
  • Used this to sandwich the two cakes together.
  • Sifted 1 tsp icing sugar over the top.
The cake was a little flat as the moulds were too large for the amount of mixture I had, but I'm pleased to report that this cake was very nice.  It had a lovely moist, smooth soft spongy texture and the marmalade cream was a revelation. The bitterness of the marmalade was a good contrast to the sweetness of the cake, which wasn't actually as sweet as I thought it would have been with all that golden syrup in it. I will, however, add more cocoa powder or even some chocolate next time I make this, as the chocolate flavour took a back seat to the marmalade. This may partially be due to the fact that I had run out of my usual Green & Blacks cocoa and had to do an emergency dash to our local shop which only supplies Bournville. This is much paler in colour and lacks the full bodied flavour of the Green & Black's.

I am now won over by marmalade and am looking forward to baking a full on chocolate marmalade cake.

Friday, 1 April 2011

We Should Cocoa - the April Challenge

Spring  is finally here, it almost seemed to happen overnight. One day everything was looking pretty much as it has done for the last few months and suddenly daffodils were appearing everywhere and the hedges and banks were adorned with primroses and violets.

Chele's lime challenge last month will be a hard one to beat. Bloggers really took to it and came up with some excellent recipes all of which sounded totally delicious. You can see the round-up here. Once again I urge any who haven't taken a look to do so.

The big event this month is of course Easter. For me Eastertide food conjures up nostalgic memories of boiled eggs for breakfast, hot cross buns, Easter biscuits, Easter eggs of course but most of all Simnel cake. I love simnel cake, the fruit cake is nice enough, but it's the way that middle layer of marzipan oozes into the fruit that makes it so special. And then, there is all that lovely marzipan on top complete with eleven balls to represent the 12 apostles minus Judas Iscariot. You can see my less then perfect attempt from last year here. You can perhaps tell where this is going. I love marzipan so I am choosing marzipan as this month's special ingredient. You can find out how to enter the challenge here.

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