Thursday, 28 July 2011

Chocolate Victoria Sandwich with Apricot Curd Buttercream

Once again, another birthday has passed me by and in the age old tradition, it was time to make cakes for work. Keen to use more of the apricot curd, I thought I'd make a Victoria Sandwich similar to the lime curd one I made a couple of months ago. With one of my colleagues being vegan, I needed to make something a bit different too and that will follow in a later post.

This is what I did:
  • Creamed 225g unsalted butter with 225g cardamom sugar until pale & fluffy.
  • Beat in 3 duck eggs one by one.
  • Sifted in 200g flour (50g wholemeal & 150g white), 25g cocoa, 1 rounded tsp baking powder and a pinch of bicarb of soda.
  • Stirred in 1 heaped tbsp home made Creme Fraiche (I usually use yogurt).
  • Spooned into two 22cm sandwich moulds and baked for 25 minutes at 180C until risen and firm to the touch.
  • Left to cool for 10 minutes then turned out onto wire racks to cool completely.
  • Stacked together with a piece of greaseproof paper between and placed a tin over the top for the night.
  • In the morning, unstacked the cakes, only to find that part of one of them had stuck to the paper - oh well holes in the top of the cake it was to be!
  • In the morning, creamed 50g of unsalted butter with 100g icing sugar until very light and fluffy.
  • Beat in 3 heaped tbsp of apricot curd.
  • Spread this over one of the cakes and put the other on top.
  • Dusted with icing sugar.
This went down a storm at work, with many commenting on how much they enjoyed the apricot curd filling and no-one commenting on the top. CT felt rather left out, but I did inform him that he does pretty well most of the time and his birthday is fast approaching.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Chestnut Cream Meringue Cake - Forever Nigella 7

Well I haven't managed to enter the Forever Nigella Event, the brain child of Sarah from Maison Cupcake, for a couple of months, so I thought it was about time I did. The theme this month chosen by Arthi at Soul Curry is Iced Dreams. I don't have an ice-cream maker. Making it by hand conjures up not so fond memories of lots of beating, in and out of the freezer and then ending up with ice crystals anyway. So the idea of ice-cream didn't really appeal. However, looking through my trusted copy of How to Be a Domestic Goddess, I came across a recipe for Chestnut Ice-Cream Meringue Cake and no churning was needed. Lush, rich and sumptuous, this seemed a very apt dessert for a Nigella challenge. As it happened, when I went to put the finished cake in the freezer, I realised I had no room anyway. That was fine, it went into the fridge instead and became a chilled cake, which, luckily for me is permitted. As usual, I ended up doing something a little different to the actual recipe: first off, I only made half the amount - I didn't want to make it too sweet so used less sugar than stated, I added a bit of cocoa and used creme fraiche rather than cream. I also used cardamom sugar so omitted the vanilla.

This is what I did:
  • Whisked 3 egg whites until the soft peak stage.
  • Gradually whisked in 120g of cardamom sugar (caster sugar) until the mixture was stiff.
  • Whisked in 1 tbsp cocoa.
  • Stirred in 1 tsp cider vinegar.
  • Lined 2 baking trays with baking parchment and drew 3 saucer sized circles - about 15 cm (which spread to about 17 cm when cooked) on the parchment, only just managing to squeeze two onto one sheet.
  • Divided the mixture between the three circles and spread to fill them.
  • Baked at 150C for 30 minutes then turned the oven down to 100C for a further 35 minutes. 
  • Turned the oven off and left in until cold.
  • Beat 1/2 a can of sweetened chestnut puree (about 220g) with 2 tbsp of rum and 40g icing sugar until smooth.
  • Stirred in 300ml creme fraiche (home made).
  • Placed a meringue circle on a plate and spread with 1/3 of the chestnut cream.
  • Topped this with another meringue circle and spread with another 1/3 of the cream.
  • Topped with the final meringue and spread the last 1/3 of cream over the top.
  • Shaved about 10g of 35% milk chocolate over the top to decorate.
  • Placed in the fridge to set and chill (about 4 hours).
The finished cake tasted heady and ambrosial with the tropical rum flavour very much to the fore. It was rich and creamy. This made a good contrast to the crunchy meringue layers. CT summed it up with one word - delicious! Sliced into eight pieces, one slice was certainly enough. There was one downside though, as illustrated in this picture: after the first slice the crunch disappeared from the meringues as the moist mixture was slowly absorbed. I guess this wouldn't have happened if I'd been able to freeze it as instructed. Served immediately as a dinner party dessert, this would have been superb.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Apricot and Almond Chocolate Tart - We Should Cocoa 11

It was such fun having a week off, I made all sorts of things I wouldn't normally have had time to do. When Chele announced apricots as this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, I knew straight away what I wanted to make. CT loves almond tarts. It just seemed mean not to make him one when I had a bit of additional time - one that included chocolate and apricots of course! But then I came across apricot curd and had to make that just in case. Oh dilemma, so many things I could do with that and chocolate. But in the end CT won out - I've never made him an almond tart before and it is his birthday this month. I made no attempt to find a recipe for this and made it up as I went along. I used my new found love, cardamom sugar (caster sugar infused with cardamom pods), for both the chocolate pastry and the almond filling. In a cunning move to double the apricot factor in this tart, I thought I'd get some Amaretto in there too, as this is made with apricot kernels. So, this is what I did:
  • Rubbed 100g salted butter with 50g cardamom sugar, 140g flour (1/2 spelt, 1/2 white) and 40g cocoa between fingertips until no large lumps remained.
  • Mixed in just over 1/2 a beaten duck egg (leaving the rest for the filling) and bought the mixture together into a ball.
  • Placed in the fridge whilst getting on with the filling.
  • Creamed 100g unsalted butter with 100g cardamom sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the remaining egg plus 1 other.
  • Sieved in 100g ground almonds, 25g flour and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.
  • Stirred in 2 tbsp amaretto
  • Rolled out the pastry to line a 23cm greased loose bottom tart tin, then put back into the fridge for a few minutes.
  • Stoned and cut 4 large apricots into quarters.
  • Spooned filling into pastry case and pushed apricots into the filling.
  • Baked for 20 minutes at 180C on the top shelf.
  • Brushed some syrup (marrow and ginger jam that hadn't set properly, but melted apricot jam would be even better) over the tart.
  • Scattered with flaked almonds.
  • Placed back on the top shelf of the oven for 8 minutes, until all golden and set.
  • Left to cool before removing from the tart case.
CT was suitably impressed and I had to put the tart under lock and key. It had a lovely contrast of flavours with the chocolate pastry, almondy filling and sharp fruity bursts of apricots.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Apricot Curd and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Having just made apricot curd, I was keen to start using it in some baking. With a week of annual leave, it seemed like a good time to have some friends over for tea. At about the same time, I had also been sent a cupcake stand to review. So, apricot curd cupcakes it just had to be. Along with these I made some goats cheese and orach muffins based on a Rachel Demuth recipe from Green Seasons and some cinnamon and chocolate buns (recipe to follow). After spending some time mulling over how I was going to use the apricot curd in cupcakes, I eventually decided to base it on the raspberry and white chocolate ones I made for the first We Should Cocoa; these were a great success. Having recently fallen in love with cardamom sugar, the brainchild of Vanessa Kimbell, I substituted that for the vanilla sugar.

This is what I did:

  • Melted 125g unsalted butter with 50g white chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of hot water.
  • Stirred in 150g cardamom sugar.
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs.
  • Sifted in 180g flour (80g wholemeal, 80g white, 20g coconut) and 1 tsp baking powder.
  • Stirred in 70g 0% fat Greek yogurt and 50 ml water.
  • Spooned roughly half the batter into 12 cupcake cases.
  • Placed a tsp of apricot curd on top of the batter the spooned in the remaining batter.
  • Baked for 22 minutes at 180C.
  • Turned onto a rack to cool.
  • Stirred 4 tbsp of apricot curd into 125g of mascarpone and mixed until fully incorporated.
  • Spread over the cooled cupcake cases and decorated with orange stars.

As luck would have it, the weather was set to be fair, so I took the opportunity to have a tea party down at the field. Our plot is looking really good at the moment, with the vegetable beds full and flowers blooming everywhere. Chairs were kindly brought along by friends as well as cups and a flask of tea. With 13 of us, aptly a bakers dozen, we had just enough chairs and just enough food. What with good weather and good company, I can't think of a better way to spend time with friends.

Although this could very easily be an entry for this month's We Should Cocoa, I have something else in mind for that.

I was really pleased with the cupcake stand, supplied by Find Me A Gift. It's a four tier steel stand which takes up to 23 cupcakes or muffins. The stand can take any sized cupcake and you could dispense with one of the middle layers if you had fewer items to display. Twenty three seemed like a good number as this is two standard bakes of twelve cupcakes, which leaves one left over to be .... errr.... tested beforehand! The cakes all sat well on the stand where they had sunken holders. The only one I was concerned about was the very top one which relied on balance alone. Even though there was a fair breeze outside, not a single cake was blown off - not even the top one. I thought it made for a good display and showed off my cupcakes well. One step nearer to my pop up tea room!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Apricot and Cardamom Curd

Another post which isn't a chocolate one - yet! It will be used for a future chocolate recipe though. Apricots are the ingredient chosen by Chele for this month's We Should Cocoa. Don't you just love the colour of apricots? I certainly do. When I saw a recipe for Apricot Curd over at Home Baked, it seemed like a useful thing to have to hand. Not that I have yet decided what I'm going to make - several ideas are still circulating in my mind. I used a slightly different method to Hannah as I'd heard whisking the lemon juice into the eggs helped to "cook" the eggs, so wanted to do that bit first. I also used a little less sugar as I don't like things too sweet and the sugar I used was cardamom sugar - an idea I got from hearing about Vanessa Kimbell's book Prepped.

This is what I did:
  • Simmered 4 large stoned and chopped apricots (225g) in a splash of water for about 10 minutes until soft.
  • Grated the zest from an organic lemon and squeezed out the juice.
  • Whisked this together with 2 duck eggs in a bowl large enough to sit on a pan of simmering water.
  • Placed the bowl on the pan and whisked in 200g cardamom sugar.
  • Added the apricots and continued to whisk.
  • Whisked occasionally until the mixture was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Strained through a sieve (there were a few hard threads in the apricots which would have given an unpleasant texture).
  • Poured into 3 small sterilised jars.
This tasted divine - creamy apricot with a refreshing zing, what's not to like? It set better than the lime curd and had a firmer texture. Since writing the above, I've used it in some cupcakes which will feature in a later post.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Chocolate Chip Mousse - Random Recipe 6

After having failed in my attempts to persuade Green & Black's to give me a copy of their new chocolate cookbook, Ultimate, to review, I took the hump and refused to buy it. Luckily, CT realised the error of my ways and bought it for me for my birthday. As I've only had it a few days, it is my current favourite chocolate cookbook sitting in pride of place on my bedside table. So, with Dom's Random Recipe challenge this month to draw something from your favourite cookbook, this is the one it had to be. CT did the usual honours, closed his eyes and opened the book at Marbled Mousse. Oh no, mousse! Although I love the taste and texture of mousse, I'm always rather wary of making it due to the raw eggs. Hey ho, it's what Dom had decreed; so despite a temptation to cheat and get CT to alight on a different recipe, my Honest John persona came to the fore - Dom, please note my halo here! As there were only two of us, I halved the quantities given in the recipe.

This is how I did it:
  • Melted 65g 85% dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water, then left to cool.
  • Attempted to melt 50g white chocolate in a similar way - is it just me or is it G&B chocolate that refuses to melt properly?
  • Whisked 2 duck egg yolks and 40g caster sugar with electric beaters for about 5 minutes until pale and thick.
  • Whisked 200g double cream until thick.
  • Whisked the 2 leftover whites until stiff.
  • Deviated from the recipe by removing 1/2 of the yolk mixture and whisking in the soft but not melted white chocolate.
  • Folded in 1/2 of the cream, then half of the egg white.
  • Folded in the remaining cream followed by egg white into the egg yolk mixture that hadn't had the white chocolate added.
  • Folded in the the dark chocolate. My guess is at this point I should have had a nice dark chocolate mousse. What actually happened was the chocolate started reforming as I stirred, so it was really a chocolate chip mousse.
  • Lightly folded the two mousses together, although it was hard to see the difference in colour because of the choc chip factor mentioned above.
  • Spooned into three large wine glasses.
  • Decorated with dark chocolate shavings.
If you are not into washing up, this is not a dessert to take on lightly; five bowls were used in the making of this mousse (six if you include the one on my scales) and a saucepan. The process would have been somewhat simpler if the white chocolate had melted as I wouldn't have needed to divide the mixture until after I'd added the cream and egg whites. However, despite my qualms, the mousse tasted fantastic and had a real air of luxury about it - not too sweet and with an unexpected (and unintended!) but perfectly pleasant texture. Perhaps not the airiest of mousses due to the double cream, but it was much lighter than say a fool or even a syllabub. This amount would have easily filled 4 small wine glasses. On reflection, this would have been a better bet and would have lasted us two days; as it was, there didn't seem much point hanging on to just one lone pudding! We both discovered we were scraping our spoons around the glass to get the last vestiges into our mouths - that must surely be a good sign.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Chocolate from the East India Company

When the East India Company contacted me recently, I was very excited. What, THE East India Company? Surely not? Not the one I studied in history at school, the one that played such a large part in building the British Empire, bringing tea and spices to the British table and at one time employing 1/3 of the British workforce? Surely, that couldn't still be going?

Well, lots of question marks, so a bit of digging was required. The answer? Not quite; the original company, founded in 1600 by Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth 1 was dissolved in 1874. Indian entrepreneur Sanjiv Mehta managed to buy the name in 2005 and has recently relaunched the brand by opening his first shop in London's Mayfair in 2010. The company has an online store too and specialises in fine foods with chocolate featuring as one of the products offered.

The two bars I was sent to review came in sumptuous and exotic packaging - a reminder of the Raj. The flavours were exotic too.

Cinnamon Leaf (30%) - sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, cinnamon oil, vanilla.
This had an aromatic spicy smell and a nice snap when broken. It was very smooth, but not particularly creamy. CT thought it stayed solid in the mouth for an unusually long time before melting. It had an unusual but delicious flavour - the leaf being quite different to the usual cinnamon bark. The flavour could best be described as a mix of cloves and cinnamon. Overall, this was quite refreshing and the taste lingered on long after the chocolate has disappeared.

Nutmeg (30%) - sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, nutmeg oil, vanilla.
The aroma was again spicy but hard to identify. Biting into it, however, nutmeg surged across our palates. It's a powerful, but pleasant taste, that persists long on the tongue. One small square has as much nutmeg as the average rice pudding thought CT, but it did combine well with chocolate.

I really enjoyed these bars, partly because of the historical association but mostly because of the flavours. Subtle they are not, so best avoided by those who prefer a more delicately flavoured bar. They are also quite low in cocoa, only 30% and way too sweet for my taste. Disappointingly, there was no mention of where the chocolate had come from. At £5 a go, these 80g bars are not cheap, but they would make a good present for a lover of spicy chocolate.

Friday, 8 July 2011

White Chocolate Halva Flapjacks

Before we got to tuck into the matcha cake of my previous post, we had the enviable task of spending a few hours having fun on a mostly deserted Cornish beach. Despite being a local lass, I had never been to this beach before so it was a particularly exciting adventure. Down the long, winding and sometimes steep cliff path we went, with no sight of the beach or the group of friends we were there to meet. Was this beach a piece of fiction made up to give us an added adventure? The views were fantastic though and CT was botanising and enjoying the coastal flora. At last, around a corner, we spotted a hidden gem - a large and virtually empty beach. Apparently when the tide is in, there is no beach, but our more knowledgeable friends had timed our visit for maximum benefit. Despite the threat of rain, we remained dry and for a couple of hours we even enjoyed blue skies and sunshine.


As we don't get to have picnics on special beaches very often, I thought something other than my normal work rye sourdough sandwiches was called for. So I pulled out the stops and made some milk bread rolls, inspired by Joanna of Zeb Bakes but actually using Andrew Whitley's recipe in Bread Matters. But what for pudding? Something for all to share, but something that was not too heavy to carry and would travel well. I didn't wonder for too long. I'd recently seen Dan's wonderful recipe for Halva Flapjacks, first on Suelle's blog Mainly Baking and then on Foodycat. It appealed straight away and I reckoned would be just perfect for a beach party. The theory is that using tahini means the butter content of normal flapjacks can be reduced. Well this maybe so, but I don't think anyone could kid themselves these were healthy snacks. Even less so with my adaptation to include white chocolate!

  • Melted 100g of unsalted butter with 50g brown sugar and 200g condensed milk in a large pan.
  • Took off the heat and added 50g chopped white chocolate and left to melt.
  • Added 75g tahini and 50g honey and stirred until all incorporated.
  • Stirred in 100g chopped dates, 100g chopped walnuts and 20g sesame seeds.
  • Worked in 225g rolled oats.
  • Packed the mixture into a 9" square mould and scattered a few more sesame seeds over the top.
  • Baked for 20 minutes at 180C until golden.
  • Left to cool, then cut into 16 squares.


A cross between fudge and flapjacks, these were a very sweet and sticky but delicious treat. Those middle eastern flavours of dates, sesame and honey worked really well together and the nuts were plentiful giving a lovely crunch to the texture. Luckily, I remembered to take some photos before we polished them all off. The party ended with a flapjack powered Frisbee session before clambering back up the cliffs and home for tea.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Triple Layer Matcha Chocolate Cake

It was a special occasion, a friend's significant birthday, so a very special cake was called for. Since trying my matcha battenberg and hearing how many health benefits are attributed to matcha, my friend has been interested in acquiring some. Because of the elaborate process required to make matcha, it is not a cheap product to buy. So when Vitalife sent me a packet of cooking grade matcha to play with, I was delighted. I also thought using it to make a cake for said friend was the way to go. That was as far as I'd got in my thinking until I saw the very large birthday cake Dom recently made. He'd used chocolate cigarillos to edge his cake and it was an idea I was happy to pinch. To be fair, I had already decided a while back I would try decorating a cake this way after having seen Lorraine Pascale do it, but then I forgot about it - as I do. Dom reminded me with a vengeance and was also gracious enough to give me a link to the site where he obtained his cigarillos. That's how a box of very fragile chocolate tubes arrived in the post. Tantalisingly, I could smell the chocolate emanating from the box as soon as I opened it - something I take to be a sign of good chocolate. Many of them were broken, which was a bit sad, but I had been warned on their website that this was a strong possibility. So not losing heart, I thought I'd use the broken bits to go on top of the cake. However, it wasn't until they came that I registered their length - a massive 10 cm - ouch!

Well, I did want to make this cake particularly memorable, so the answer I reasoned was to make a triple layer cake and hope that would be high enough. Now, what to use to fill and coat it? I put a lot of thought into this one and changed my mind along the way. I was looking for contrast against the dark cigarillos. At one point I thought I'd use a matcha buttercream to coat the cake with; green looks quite striking contrasted against dark brown. On reflection though, I thought too much matcha would be overpowering, especially for people who may not have had it before, so I scratched that one. In the end I decided to go for a dark chocolate ganache to fill the layers and a light chocolate buttercream to coat the outside ending up with three contrasting colours. I've never made three layers before, so it was with a certain excitement that I set to with the following recipe.
  • Creamed 375g unsalted butter with 375g caster sugar with difficulty; the house was cold and it was hard to warm the butter, but I got to the light and fluffy stage in the end.
  • Beat in 4 large duck eggs, one at a time, adding a little of the flour mixture after each one.
  • Sieved in 375g flour (1/2 wholemeal, 1/2 white), 2 tsp baking powder and 2 heaped tbsp of cooking grade matcha and stirred it gently in.
  • Stirred in 250g of Greek yogurt.
  • Spooned 1/3 into a 22cm cake mould and 1/3 into another, but had to wait for these to cook before I could bake the final 1/3.
  • Baked at 180C for 30 minutes. Left to cool for about 5 minutes then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Wrapped each cake up in greaseproof paper and covered with a tin as I wanted to do the icing and decorations on the day.
  • Brought 100ml double cream to the boil in a pan.
  • Took off the heat and added 100g 85% dark chocolate, 25g unsalted butter and 1 tbsp honey.
  • Left for 5 minutes for all to melt.
  • Stirred carefully until all incorporated then spread 1/2 on top of one cake, placed another on top of that and spread the rest of the ganache over this.
  • Stacked the final cake on top of this leaving it unadorned for the moment.
  • Left to set.
  • Creamed 125g unsalted butter with 250g icing sugar and a heaped tbsp of cocoa until pale and creamy.
  • Beat in 125ml of mascarpone.
  • Spread this over the top and sides of the cake.
  • Placed the cigarillos vertically around the edge of the cake.
  • Stuck some of the broken cigarillo shards into the top.
Overall, I was pleased with how the cake turned out, but I was not as thrilled as I might have been. When cooking two of the cakes together in the oven, I'd tried to be clever and swap their shelf position over half way through cooking - big mistake; the cakes didn't rise properly. You can see the difference in the picture - the cake cooked on its own was fine. This of course meant the cake wasn't as tall as I'd envisaged it, so after all that, the cigarillos were still a bit too high.

Anyway, though I say it myself, the cake looked pretty splendid and I think everyone was impressed with it. The birthday girl was certainly pleased.

In all honesty, I couldn't tell the difference between the cooking grade matcha and the drinking grade matcha I'd previously used from Vitalife. Not in terms of baking anyway, so I would strongly recommend buying cooking grade as it is less expensive.

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