Tag Archives: Chocolate

A Fine Farewell, or Chocolate Cake for Many Celebrations

image

Don’t worry, today’s post is not one in the gourmet camping series! Although it is probably possible, cooking a light and airy cake over a barbecue is well beyond my ken!

I made this cake for a leaving party for a friend from work. Knowing that I would be away at Easter, I have kept this post for now to share. It was a fitting farewell cake, but you can easily dress this with buttercream and mini eggs to make a lovely cake for Easter, or any springtide celebration.

This cake also made the most of some extra buttermilk I had in the fridge, after making pancakes. I don’t use buttermilk much, so it would have gone to waste, but actually, this makes for a lovely moist cake, but that isn’t too sweet. Despite the amount of desserts and custards I have posted on ediblethings, I don’t have a sweet tooth. I prefer fruity desserts over chocolate ones, but there are times when only a chocolate cake will do. And if you are like me, then this is the chocolate cake for you.

I am also not the biggest fan of buttercream, so I used whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles to decorate the cake. In the Netherlands, they have chocolate sprinkles for breakfast, or lunch on bread,  but they are just as good on a cake.

If you wanted to indulge a bit more, you could make a chocolate ganache, adorn the cake with jelly orange and lemon slices (the kind that always appear at Christmas), or even make your own chocolate truffles, and chocolate shavings to go over the ganache.

If you prefer fruit, make the ganache, or a chocolate buttercream and then cover the cake in raspberries or cherries. It’s your celebration, after all!

However you choose to decorate it, this is the perfect celebration cake. And what better way to celebrate anything at springtime than with chocolate? So, I am sending a very Happy Easter, and all other spring and rebirth festivals to you all!

Recipe: Chocolate Celebration Cake

This recipe is enough for two cakes to use as a sandwich. Of course, you can halve the recipe if you only want one tier, but that isn’t too celebratory, is it now?

Ingredients

For the cakes:
250 g butter
400 g plain flour
100 g cocoa
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
400 g raw sugar or 420 g caster sugar
450 ml buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the sandwich:
2 tbsp of fruit preserve – I used pink grapefruit curd, but a jam would work as well
250 ml double cream, whipped until stiff
Chocolate sprinkles to cover

Method

Grease two 20 cm cake tins. For some reason, my two allegedly 20 cm cake tins are 19 and 21 cm respectively, which goes to show you that you should buy your cake tins as pairs from the same place, but never mind. Line the bottom with greaseproof paper. If you only have shallow tins, line the sides, and allow the paper to extend a fair bit over the tin. These cakes rise quite a lot.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Gently melt the butter and set aside to cool.

The only time you will hear me extolling the virtues of sifting anything is when cocoa is involved. Obviously, this is one of those times. While you are at it, bung the flour and bicarb through the seive too. Make sure they ennd up in your largest mixing bowl.

Add the sugar to the mixing bowl and stir thoroughly. Make a small well in the floury stuff in the bowl.

Combine the melted butter, buttermilk, beaten egg, and the vanilla in a measuring jug. Pour this into the well you just made, and whisk in with an electric hand whisk, until the batter is creamy and smooth.

Divide the batter between the two cake tins and put them in the oven for 45 mins, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. You may need to swap the two cakes on their respective shelves with about 10 minutes cooking time left, to ensure even cooking.

Remove from the oven and leave aside in the tins until it won’t completely burn you when you handle it. Remove the cakes from the tins and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Once cold, place one cake flat side up on a serving plate, and spread over the preserve evenly. Cover this with a third of the cream, the sandwich the two cakes together, flat side to flat side.

Cover the top of the cake with the remaining cream, and then sprinkle over the sprinkles.

Best served to celebrate – even the fact that it is Saturday.

9 Comments

Filed under Feast

Thinking Outside the Box

Foodie Penpals Parcel October

Brain Box

It’s Foodie Penpals time again. This will be my last box for a little while, but I look forward to joining in again in the New Year. I will continue to look around for other people’s updates, and blog posts. I really enjoy the scheme, and getting a box of food is like a little Christmas each month. And I have “met” some lovely people too. As always, thanks to Carol Ann of Rock Salt, who organises this so well each month Europe.

This month, I was paired with two readers again. I sent a parcel to Kelly, but unfortunately her parcel seems to be languishing in the sorting office. We are trying to sort this out now, and I hope that she will soon be able to do a guest post about her parcel. As usual, I sent her a few typically Dutch items, so I hope that she likes them, when they eventually get delivered!

I received my parcel this month from Ruth. She is a busy student, so it was especially nice for her to take time out of her first week back at uni to get me some things. Ruth was thinking outside the box both in the fact that some of the items were not edible (though still very much food related), and because this month, I didn’t get a box, but the items came in a bubble wrap bag. Great idea, and it should save a bit in postage. Of course, I have popped all the bubbles saved the bag for another  occasion. Ahem!

Mini Tabasco

Teeny Tabasco

Ruth sent me some really cool things. Not least of which were these cute little Tabasco bottles. They stand about 3 cm tall, but of course, they punch far above their weight in the flavour department. Tabasco with cheese on toast is A Thing, you know.

Rococo Bee Bar Organic Milk Chocolate

A Treat for Me and The Bees

This is a lovely little sweet treat. Apparently, they are called Bee Bars because Rococo uses a bee pattern on their chocolate moulds. I am an inveterate nibbler of chocolate, and can happily make a bar last a month. Much to the Big Guy’s consternation. He feels that chocolate should be consumed all at once. I have hidden this, so I can nibble in peace.

Seaweed Snack

A Crisp Alternative

I received some healthy snacks. I think that Ruth has been reading my latest efforts to eat better, but with lower calories. These Seaweed thins fit the bill perfectly, especially for those times when you know that only a salty snack will do.

Fruit Snacks

Fruit Fooled

In keeping with the healthy theme, I also got some fruit leather and flavoured raisins. I suppose that these are the same as soaking rum in raisins, or similar. I am looking forward to adding the pineapple raisins to my next batch of muesli. I think the orange ones will go well in mince pies and has given me an idea for a slightly different mincemeat, so I may do a little bit of experimenting, so that I have some ready for my annual mince pie and mulled wine party.

Sparklers, Stencils, Spatula

Fun with Food

Last, but not least, I also got some cake sparklers, and a packet of Christmas stencils, both of which will also be a big hit at the mince pie party. And this lovely little gingerbread spatula. It is traditional at this time of year to make parkin, especially for Bonfire Night. We don’t get a Bonfire Night over here, but there is definitely something about autumn that makes you crave ginger and warmer spices. I have a parkin in a tin, developing that lovely sticky richness. Now I am inspired to make some ginger bread biscuits too.

Thanks again Ruth, a really good parcel, and one from which I have also got a bit of inspiration.

Do you fancy joining in? It’s fun, and interesting to see other people’s choices of food.If you do fancy it, here are a few details:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

9 Comments

Filed under Feast

A Box Where Sweets Compacted Lie

Foodie Penpal August

Choc Full

“Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,

A box, where sweets compacted lie”

From Vertue by George Herbert

I thought that the title this month was appropriate for both the parcel that I sent, and the one that I received, as you can see from the photo above, which was jam-packed with goodies, and a recipe for a sweet treat!

This month, I was matched with Emma, and was to receive a parcel from Abbie, neither of whom have a blog (…yet, I believe at least one of them will be joining us soon 🙂 ), but you can go and check out Emma’s gorgeous cakey Facebook page, and you can see what amazing things Abbie has found on Twitter.

Contents of August Foodie Parcel

A Box of Sweets, Unconsolidated

Abbie was very clever with her box, as well as stuffing it to the gills. And it arrived in 3 days between her tweeting to say she’d sent it, and me receiving it. This is an absolute record.

Swedish Biscuits, Manuka Honey, Butterscothch Chocolate

Some Compacted Sweets

For ages, I was thinking that the chocolate was a new brand called M. I am an idiot, and have just realised that it comes from that famous supermarket. Salted butterscotch chocolate, it is delicious, and you would be right in thinking that I have started this one already.

There is a small pot of manuka honey, which I am dying to try. Abbie also thought of the Big Guy, giving him some Swedish ginger thins. This is the first time we have had something that he can reminisce over, and I think I may not see many of these.

Smoked Maldon Salts, Rice Crackers, Ras El Hanout

Compacted Savouries

This wasn’t just a sweet box, though. I also got savoury goodies. I rubbed the Ras el Hanout on a lamb cutlet, and ate it as part of a meal filled with temptations. The rice crackers will make a great snack, but I have an idea that they will also make a really tasty crust for fish, so I think that will be an experiment that I will be making soon. I have heard of smoked salt, but never tried it. It is actually great, bringing a subtle smokiness to dishes. I am not usually a fan of salting things, but have been getting more into it, as I have had quite a few gifts of salt lately.

Tinkerbell Peppers

A Fairy Plate

It was Abbie who sent me the Tinkerbell peppers. She wrote a little card, to say that she had these every day in Ibiza. This was also the first of two recipes she sent me, along with the ingredients. This is genius, and I wish I’d thought of it myself! Abbie suggested that I grill the peppers, and serve them with a sprinkling of the salt. I took most of her advice, but this is what I did with them in the end.

Rocky Road

Can you Tell What it is Yet?

She also sent me the recipe and ingredients to make up her Guilty Pleasure. She has given me permission to reproduce the recipe on ediblethings, so I will let you know about this next week.

Thank you so much for this parcel Abbie, not only has it been an inspiration for future boxes, and fantastic recipes, but I dread to think how much it must have cost you to post this little treasure trove. I am amazed!

Thanks also to the lovely Carol Anne of This is Rock Salt, who hosts and organises us European penpals. This is no mean feat, I can tell you.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

2 Comments

Filed under Feast

Very Suisse!

Meringue Suisse

A Swedish Childhood Dessert

As you will know when I got my Foodie Parcel last month, I was very excited to receive a broken meringue as part of a lovely package.  I promised Teresa that I would blog the recipe for Meringue Suisse, which I knew I was going to make as soon as I saw the broken meringue.

This is a dessert that the Big Guy had often in his childhood. In Sweden. I am not really sure where the Swiss thing came from, although I could probably surmise something about Swiss chocolate, or the fact that it resembles the Matterhorn or something.

This time, I made the basic recipe, and used good quality vanilla ice cream from the shop. As with most simple recipes, the better quality the ingredients, the better the final dish will be. Teresa’s meringue and chocolate were both of such quality that I didn’t want to mess around with the recipe too much.

The basic recipe I give here is pretty simple, but you can play around with it, if you like. Try adding soft fruits (the Big Guy’s family add bananas, but I’ll be having none of that!). You can make it fancy by making your own ice cream or meringue, or you could even make praline or do a bit of sugar work. Crumbled amaretti biscuits could also be a very good topping.

What other toppings or additions would you choose?

Recipe: Meringue Suisse

Ingredients

Good quality vanilla ice cream

1-2 tsp slivered almonds

60 g dark chocolate, broken into chunks

15o ml whipping cream (to be used in 2 parts)

Knob of butter

1 meringue, broken into pieces

Method

Remove the ice cream from the freezer, so it can soften to a scoopable consistency.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan. You will need to watch them carefully, and stir them often, as they catch easily. Once they are a nice golden colour on both sides, remove from the pan, to prevent them from cooking any further.

Combine the chocolate, 50 ml of the cream and the butter in a saucepan. Cook over a very low heat until the chocolate has melted. Don’t stir it at this stage.

Meanwhile, whip up the remaining cream to soft peaks.

Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir the sauce well to combine it. It may look a little grainy at first. Don’t worry, keep stirring it and it will become a smooth and glossy sauce. Allow to cool slightly, so that it does not melt the ice cream immediately.

Scoop enough ice cream for two people into a bowl, and combine with the meringue. You will need to have reasonably soft ice cream for this. Put the ice cream and meringue mix into serving bowls and top with the whipped cream.

Pour over the chocolate sauce and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. The chocolate sauce should go a wonderfully fudgey texture when it hits the cold of the ice cream.

This is a very easy dessert, but one that looks and tastes impressive. The only question is how will you top yours?

Leave a comment

Filed under Feast

Cracked in the Box

Foodie Penpals July Box

A Box of Treats

It’s that time again when I can reveal my matches for Foodie Penpals. I have to say, I really am enjoying this, from deciding what to send out, and trying to make that as tailored as possible to my penpal; to receiving my own box and thinking about some great recipes to make with the contents.

This month, I was matched with Kay at KayTeasCakes and I got a parcel from Teresa from Rockspring Crafts.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I have just heard from Kay that her parcel has not arrived. I am away at the moment, and don’t have a tracking number, although I am trying to sort something out. I am really sorry that there has been this problem for Kay, but if I have to I will recreate her parcel and send it to her as soon as I get home. In the worst case scenario, Kay will get two parcels next month, but I hope that her parcel will arrive soon. Please go and cheer Kay up by marvelling at the beautiful cakes that she makes for her stall in Harringay, or even popping along and buying some if you are in the area.

I was very lucky to be matched with Teresa this month. She was also kind enough to notice that I am an expat, and ask me if there was anything I needed from home. I am really appreciating these offers from my penpals, it is nice that people think that there will be things I am missing.

Teresa sent me a lovely box of goodies, some of which have really got me thinking. She obviously had a good time finding me unique items.  An added bonus is that she is a fellow Westcountry person, so, it has been great to get products from almost home!

Firstly, was a lovely lamb, with garlic, fennel and chilli recipe. I love lamb, and we can get very good Texel lamb here, so I know this is going to be a winner. There was also some pineapple and papaya. I make my own muesli (mostly because too many shop-bought mueslis have unwelcome banana chips in), and this has already featured as a very tasty addition. I am thinking of doing some baked goods with the rest soon. Of course, I shall blog it when I do. Also included was some onion salt. I have never used flavoured salts before, but this is a great addition to salad dressings, and I am sure it will be in many more things to come.

Foodie Penpal Cayenne Pepper and Nutmeg

Spice and More Spice Make all Things Nice

These spices will certainly come in handy. Spices form an essential part of my store cupboard, and I use both cayenne and nutmeg regularly. I have already grated a bit of nutmeg into some rogue nettles that popped up in my broad bean patch. I wasn’t about to let them go to waste, so I cooked them like spinach, and added butter and nutmeg after I had squeezed out all of the moisture. I love this way of eating nettles, and definitely recommend that you give it a go. They are also fantastic as a spinach substitute in curries and greek dishes, like spanakopita.

Foodie Penpals One Shot Garlic and Marmite Cheese

New For Teresa and Me

Teresa says that she enjoys finding a few new items to include in her foodie parcel. This time it was One Shot Garlic and Marmite Cheese. Originally there were three of these moreish little cheeses, but I think everybody gets one item that doesn’t make it as far as the photo, and this may have been mine this time. Ahem!

Foodie Penpals Meringue and Chocolate

The Makings of a Great Dessert

Teresa took a chance and sent me a meringue. Unfortunately, this was the cracked in the box that I refer to in the title. However, I am really pleased, because the two of these ingredients are the basis of a great dessert that I first had in Sweden. It is called Meringue Suisse, and I will make and blog that soon. It requires broken meringue, and I am lazy, so the Foodie Parcel has saved me a job.

A Hand Made Mug Rug

A Hand Made Mug Rug

To help pack things together, Teresa included a mug-rug that she made herself. . I am always in awe of people that can make their own things. I did roughly six weeks of needlework at school, and the teacher made me unpick and re-sew everything that I ever made. I caught her out once, when I just returned to my seat, and didn’t unpick nor re-sew anything, returning for her approval a little later, and she passed it. I found that really discouraging though, and have never attempted to make things with textiles again.

I really love my mug rug. Teresa makes them from scraps leftover from quilting and other projects that you can see on her blog, and of course, I love leftovers! She says that the idea is to have something bigger than a coaster & smaller than a placemat to hold a cuppa with space a couple of biscuits or treats. And look, that is exactly right.

Mug Rug, Tea and Biscuits

My Mug Rug in Action

Thank you so much Teresa, for such lovely treats, and to Carol Anne for organising Foodie Penpals in Europe.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

4 Comments

Filed under Feast

Birthday Brownies

Choc and Orange Brownie

A Birthday Treat

The other day was the Big Guy’s birthday. He loves chocolate, and I had some extraordinarily good chocolate with orange pieces that was given to me by my Foodie Penpal. I had been saving that chocolate for a special occasion, and what better than to make a birthday cake?

JD Gross Premium Equador Chocolate

Fit for a Birthday Brownie

I decided that a Brownie would be right up the Big Guy’s street. And that I would use the extraordinarily good chocolate as the chocolate chips inside. I used JD Gross Finest Chocolate Ecuador. It has very good candied orange in it, the pieces are still chewy, and spike the chocolate throughout. I boosted the orangey hit with a tablespoon of marmalade, but you can just use the marmalade if you can’t find the chocolate. Or you could use some chopped candied peel, if you prefer.

The first and last recipe for making brownies that I learned came originally from Nigel Slater. I just adjust the things I add, but always use this method and it has never let me down. If you make this you will understand why I go back to it time after time.

Recipe: Chocolate Orange Brownies

Ingredients

200 g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces

300 g golden, unrefined sugar

250 g butter

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tbsp marmalade

60 g plain Flour

60 g cocoa powder

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

100 g JD Gross Finest chocolate, very roughly chopped

100 g almonds, roughly chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a tin with baking paper. I use my roasting tray for this, and it is the perfect size. A largish square cake tin will also be fine.

Make a bain marie from a saucepan, with a little boiling water in the base (not more than 3 cm deep) and a bowl over the top. Don’t let the water touch the bowl. On a low heat, melt the chocolate in the bain marie. Don’t stir it too much, just let it sit, or you risk it going grainy. If there are floaty lumps of chocolate , just push them under the molten bits, and they’ll soon melt.

While the chocolate melts, start beating the butter and sugar together. I have a hand-held electric whisk. The butter & sugar must be softer than a gentle whisper, so I’d recommend this as a minimum, unless you are Geoff Capes.

What the butter & Sugar should look like for the birthday brownie

Pale and interesting

Keep going until the butter and sugar is almost as pale as consumptive Victorian. Please don’t skimp, because you are incorporating air, and it will help produce the most amazing consistency when you eat it later.

As soon as the chocolate has melted, add the marmalade. Once this has just melted, remove the bowl from the bain marie and leave it aside to cool a little.

If your butter and sugar is not quite ready, go back and whisk it some more. You need it to be almost runny, but not actually runny, there won’t be a lot of air in that, but trust me, you’ll know because it gets very creamy.

Sieve together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. This is also supposed to incorporate air, but I often don’t bother with just flour. I have never tested this, by baking one with and one without sifting, but I also don’t get flat cakes, either. However, when cocoa is involved, I always sift it, because cocoa can get a bit lumpy, and it will make your cake feel gritty, until you bit through a lump and get raw cocoa in your mouth.

Incorporate the beaten egg into the butter and sugar, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well mixed before adding more. You can also increase the speed at which you beat each time you add some egg.

Fold in the melted chocolate, chopped chocolate and nuts, using a metal spoon. You don’t want to knock all the air you took ages adding, so only mix until the moment there is no more pale butter streaks.

Fold in the flour and cocoa, and again, only mix until you see no more flour. Be gentle, this is time spent with your cake batter, not a sprint race.

Pour your batter into the prepared cake tin, and use a spatula to get the sticky bits from the bowl. Or if it is your Big Guy’s birthday, you can also let him take the rest of it with a spoon, or his finger.

Smooth the top of the batter in the tin, and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. The cake will sink slightly in the middle, this is perfectly acceptable (I’m not Mary Berry), and is because of the rich, gooey consistency.

Pierce the centre of the brownies with a skewer. In this recipe, unlike many cakes, you want the skewer to be a bit sticky. It should not have any raw cake mixture on it though. Again, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the difference is obvious. If it is not quite done, bung it back in the oven, but beware that the difference between raw cake mix and sticky is small, so it should take less than 5 minutes, check it after 3.

If you are going to eat this warm, and it really is tempting, leave at least an hour after it comes out of the oven, or it will be too liquid. These brownies solidify a bit as they cool. Divide them into 12 brownies after the hour.

Rich Choc & Orange Brownies

Everything a Good Brownie Should Be

The brownies are gooey and rich as a warm dessert, for sure. But they really are very, very good served cold, because they have that perfect combination of the crisp shell and rich, soft centre, studded with the nuts and chunks of that extraordinary chocolate.

Eat them on their own, if you must, but they are better with cream or a good vanilla ice cream.

These brownies also keep well in an airtight container, and remain moist and fudgey.

Leave a comment

Filed under Feast

A Box of Delight

Foodie Pen Pal Parcel

Full of Western Promise

Exactly two Fridays ago, I had to chase the postie down the road for this. My doorbell is broken. He didn’t knock the door, instead shoving one of those really irritating “we-called-when-you-were-out-now-you’ll-have-to-schlep-to-a-post-office-across-town” cards through the door. Luckily for me, I had been waiting in for this, so I was able to spring into action when I heard the letterbox.

This my first Foodie Penpal Parcel. I had been seeing people all over Twitter talk about this, but thought that it was probably only for people in the same country. I was glad to discover that Carol Anne at Rock Salt had taken the idea from Lean Green Bean and was coordinating this blog swap for the whole of Europe. I am really glad it is so inclusive. There are also groups across a lot of the World, so you can probably find one and join in. You don’t even need to have your own blog; readers are welcome too, and many of the penpals will be happy to host a guest post on their site for readers to write about what they got.

I was matched with LoopyLou, and got The Lone Gourmet as the person to send me a parcel. Such a coincidence that both my matches were called Louise, and one also used to live in the Netherlands. I’m not sure if these matches are planned or random, but I enjoyed the synchronicity of it all, anyway.

I got a little carried away with the weight on my parcel, then realised it would have cost a King’s ransom to post from over here (this is a great tip for next time; jars are really heavy). I was heading back to the UK for Mum’s birthday, so I decided to post it over there. Through a series of coincidences and holidays, my parcel ended up being hand-delivered by my sister, and finally ended up in Lou’s greenhouse at the beginning of this week, in good time for the reveal day, but probably not in time for her to have used any of the ingredients. If you want to see what I got for Lou, head over to her blog.

Foodie Pen Pal Parcel Contents

So Many Possibilities!

Louise at the Lone Gourmet was very kind and sent me things that she knows I can’t get over here. It was a real taste of home. A lot of thought went into this, and I’m really grateful to her for taking the time to source some typical English fayre.

Firstly, I got some Earl Grey tea. Of course, you can buy what the Dutch call Earl Grey over here, but every British expat knows that you can’t get a good builder’s-strength cuppa in continental Europe, and so tea is always something on the list of things that you ask other people to bring over when they come. I also love the packaging for this product – it comes in a paper cup which you can use to hold your precious brew. I love this idea. Multiple-use packaging really appeals to the Womble in me.

I also got a sachet of organic tikka masala mix, the most classic of the curry dishes for the British palate. It has a chicken recipe on the back, which I intend to try. But, I do think that this also has potential as a spice rub for white fish. I am going to halve the mixture, and do a little experimentation with this.

Saddleworth Cheese Co. Lancashire Cheese

Coronation Cheese

Louise got me some lovely Lancashire Cheese, which is quite local to her. The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that it has a picture of a moustachioed Martin Platt from Coronation Street on the front. Apparently, like Blur’s Alex James, this is what he did when he left the Street, although I gather he is much less of a bore about it all. It’s a good cheese – a crumbly texture and slightly sharp.

Snacks from my Penpal

Testing, 1,2..

I had a snack of a little to test it when I opened the box (well, it would have been rude not to really), and then I used it in a tart with probably the last asparagus of the season. I will blog the recipe for this in the next couple of days.

JD Gross Dark Chocolate with Orange Pieces

Testing Will Power

Finally, I got some extraordinarily good chocolate. I have managed to stick to only having eaten a single square so far, since I needed to open it to take a picture (honest, Gov), but I have had to hide it from the Big Guy. I think that this should be saved for a special chocolate mousse or something else that will do it justice.

Thank you so much Louise, for this wonderful box, and to Carol Anne for organising this lovely treat.

It has been so nice to browse through the two penpal blogs, find other new blogs, and get to know my penpals, not to mention the fun I’ve had thinking about the box I was going to send, and the ingredients that I received.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

7 Comments

Filed under Feast

Cherry Cripes – My First Guest Post

Cherry Cripes

Cherry Cripes, a Bit Like the Cadbury's Version, Only Available Outside of Australia

I was offered my first ever guest post recently by my friend who has had to pop back to her native Australia. I have been thinking of trying to recreate a chocolate bar that I fell in love with there, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so.  Please go and have a look at her blog, she is funny and a great cook as well. Add to the fact that she was a quarter finalist in Masterchef, then you know that her food is worth checking out. She blogs at Average Baker. She is being modest, she is not at all average – in either cooking or in blogging.

Anyway, it turns out that getting Cherry Ripes right, especially before the cherry season is upon us, is pretty difficult, and took me several attempts. It would also not have been possible if it weren’t for Divalicious, who recently did a post on homemade “Bounty” bars, and this really helped me out with the right texture and taste for the bars. I have linked to Diva before, for the delicious aubergine, tomato and sumac salad that she does. In case you weren’t aware, she has changed her blog name to Divalicious Recipes in the City, so now she can be found here.

I may have another go at these little bars, using real cherries and cherry compote, when I can get hold of them, but for now, this is my best attempt at Cherry Cripes, and you can read all about it here. Please do have a look, and let me know what you think. Yes, even my Aussie friends….!

8 Comments

Filed under Feast

Southern Cross Buns

Southern Cross Buns

One a Dollar, Two a Dollar…

I have been searching around for ingredients for an Easter dinner for my friends. These are mostly the same friends who came for the International Christmas Dinner, so I wanted something that would encompass all of our traditions, as well as a nod to the Dutch. Some of these recipes will appear here in the coming days, as they are much less specific to Easter, but this one couldn’t be delayed.

One of the traditions that I found out about was the Australian one. For friends from the Southern Hemisphere, Easter heralds the start of autumn, and thus is naturally a little less about rebirth and rejuvenation, even though they  do continue to keep many of the same traditions as us in the North (hint: eggs and chocolate feature in all Easter traditions, as far as I can tell).

According to this website, there are a few key differences. Anyone who has seen an episode of Border Security will know that Australians are none too keen on letting in non-native animals, due to the havoc that they wreak. It is no surprise then, that they have replaced the Easter Bunny with the much more native Bilby. However, my chocolate work needs a lot more practice, and it is certainly not up to making small chocolate marsupials without a mould.

So, I was very happy when I saw the fact that the Aussies have taken the hot cross bun, and made their own version. With chocolate.

I had already decided to make traditional Hot Cross Buns for dessert. Strictly speaking, they are served on Good Friday, but as it is my tradition to break the rules for international dinners, I am going to serve them for Easter Sunday itself. And I get to do two kinds. We will serve them toasted, to be smeared with butter moulded in the shape of a lamb, which is a Dutch tradition.

Boterschaap

Aw Look, a Butter Lamb! We Named Him Wonky

I made the British buns using the recipe from the River Cottage Bread Book, by Daniel Stevens. Then, I adapted it to make what I am calling Southern Cross Buns, which I think are good for any occasion, and you can keep the cross, since they are named after the Australian flag.

And I photographed the steps for you.

Recipe: Southern Cross Buns

Ingredients

For the Bun:

250 g strong white bread flour (plus some for dusting)

250 g plain white flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

125 ml warm water

125 ml warm milk

1 sachet dried yeast (7 g)

10 g salt

50 g caster Sugar

1 egg

70 g plain chocolate chips

30 g candied peel (orange only if possible)

Zest of ½ orange, grated

6 green cardamom pods

For the Cross:

75 g plain white flour

100 ml water

For the Glaze:

1 tbsp apricot jam

1 tbsp water

Method

You may remember that I made my own candied peel. This is not compulsory, but it does make it a lot easier to use only the orange peel for this recipe. If you have (or wish to make) your own candied peel, chop it finely before you start the rest of the steps.

Extracting cardamom seeds from the pods

Remove the Seeds from the Cardamom Pods

Also lightly crush the cardamom pods to release the black seeds inside, and grind these to a coarse powder with a pestle and mortar.

Sieve together the flours and the cocoa. I usually skip the sifting step in a recipe, but this will help prevent the cocoa from forming lumps.Mix together with the sugar, salt and yeast

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

Make a Well in the Centre of the Dry Ingredients

I found that mixing boiling water from the kettle, and cold milk from the fridge, the resulting liquid was warm, but not too hot for the yeast. You can use a food mixer with a dough hook for this recipe, but I am gadget-averse, so I had to do it with my hands. whichever way you choose, the dough is fairly sticky. Pour the liquid into the well, and mix.

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

After Mixing in the Milk & Water

Once it looks a bit like this, add the butter and the egg. This is when it gets sticky. Mix it well, so that you cannot see lumps of butter in the mixture anymore.

The mixture will get a little smoother

The mixture will get a little smoother

Then add the chocolate, candied peel and the ground cardamom. Knead this in well.

When it loos like this, cover it and leave it to prove

When it looks like this, cover it and leave it to prove

Try and leave it somewhere warm. It should take about an hour. I left it a bit longer, because I was busy with getting a lamb cooked, and other things. It was fine, and still rose nicely. Knock back – by punching the air out of it.

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

Cut the dough into eight equal(ish) pieces

I got the proportions mostly right when I cut it. Only one was smaller than the rest. Make it easier on yourself by cutting the dough in half, roughly shaping each half into a thick sausage which you cut in half, then half again. It should be fine, if the sausage doesn’t taper too much.

Shape each piece of dough into a round. The following steps are straight from the River Cottage book, but they work really well, so they are the steps you need. Put the flat side of the dough on a lightly floured counter.

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Bring a piece of the dough into the centre and press lightly

Each time that you do this, turn the dough a little, then repeat. Do this until all the dough is folded into the middle, and press firmly. Flip it over onto the other side. If you are not that confident in working sticky dough, like me, then you will probably want to flour the work surface again a little bit. More confident bakers work focaccia, which is a much wetter dough, so you will probably be fine. I found that I didn’t need to flour the buns later, because they were fine after I floured the surface.

The next bit is difficult to describe. You need to stretch the top of the bun, while tightening the pinch at the bottom. To do this, you need to flatten your hands, place the heel of one hand against one side of the roll, and the fingers of your other hand on the other side.

Step one of turning the bun

Step 1: flatten your hands at either side of the bun

Next you need to move your hands in opposite directions, and bring them together under the bun, so that it spins. This will stretch the top of the dough.

Step Two: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

Step 2: Spin the bun, by moving hands in opposite directions

You will end up with your hands in the opposite configuration to that in which you started.

Step Three: how your hands end up

Step 3: how your hands end up

Do this little move three times per bun. Then put it on a board, and dust it lightly with flour, if you didn’t do it on the work surface.

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Place them on a lightly floured board and leave to prove for another half an hour

Preheat the oven to 200°C

While the  buns are proving, mix up the flour and water, with a whisk. This will form your cross. I think the paste needs to be fairly thick. If you get the thickness right, I don’t think you need the amount of flour I have given here. I think mine was too thin, because the contrast on the ordinary bun was not good enough, so I didn’t get a cross. The contrast between the chocolate buns was much better, due to their brown colour. However, for you I have upped the ratio of flour to water. My advice would be to start with 50 g flour, and very slowly add the water, until you get a thick batter. it should leave ribbons when you pour it from a spoon, not run off.

Once you have a good consistency for the paste, and the buns have proved, then you need to make the cross. Transfer the buns to a baking sheet. Put the flour paste into a sandwich bag (or piping bag, if you have all the fancy equipment) and snip off a really small corner – be careful, the piped line is much bigger than the hole appears. Pipe the paste over the bun in a straight line, then again, at right angles to the first.

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand

The piping bit is tricky, and needs a fairly steady hand.

I have to admit to a few drips where there should be none. They wiped off easily enough, but I had a thin paste. It is best to be as careful as you can.

Put the baking tray in the oven, and bake for between 15 and 25 minutes. Mine took nearer 25 minutes, so keep an eye on them. Like most bread-based products, they sound a little hollow when tapped on the bottom, when they are done.

While the buns are in the oven, melt the apricot jam and the water to make a glaze. Glaze them by painting the jammy liquid  over the top of each bun as they come out of the oven.

Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

Toasted Hot Cross Buns

Toasty!

Toasted is the correct way to serve these. Possibly slathered with butter from a wonky sheep.

4 Comments

Filed under Feast

World’s Easiest Chocolate Truffles

Easy Chocolate Truffles

Easy and Delicious

I have to start this post with a warning. These truffles will not last. Not because they are made from anything particularly perishable, but because people will not believe that you made them, because they are so good. This is what my party guests said to me the other day. Of course, I liked this so much; I thought I would reproduce their words.

Warnings aside, these little chocolates are at the least difficult end of the chocolatier’s scale. If you watch any TV programmes where they make desserts, the chefs will always tell you that chocolate work is demanding, exact and delicate. The only thing that is true of these very basic truffles is that you have to be exact about the amounts that you use, otherwise you will end up with the basis for a nice chocolate sauce, but it will not be thick enough for the ganache that is required. There is no heating things up to precise temperatures, as you have to when tempering chocolate; no delicate curls or swirling effects; no allowing things to set so you can complete the next stage; really none of the complex stuff that you see the likes of Eric Lanlard or Adriano Zumba would have you believe is part of every pâtissier’s daily life.

So, these little treats would not be elegant enough to grace the shelves of a Belgian chocolatier, or a Parisian Pâtissier, or even your local Thornton’s, now I mention it. But if you make them for guests, or as a present, they will go down a treat. Because they do represent something into which you have invested love, and time, anyone you make these for will be more spoilt than the guests at the ambassador’s party!

Recipe: Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

225 g of the best chocolate that you can get hold of. I think (although this is, as yet, untested) that this is the secret to these truffles. It doesn’t matter if it is plain, milk or white, just good quality.

175 ml of double cream. It is important that you measure this as accurately as you can. If your measuring jug is not accurate enough, either double the amount you make, so you need 350 ml of cream, or weigh it. Although not precise, you can use 1g to = 1 ml, just dont add all the cream at once.

Cocoa powder / icing sugar/chopped nuts for dusting.

Method

In a pan, slowly bring the cream up to boiling point (where small bubbles form around the edge of the pan) but do not allow it to boil.

Cream at boiling point

Note -bubbles, not boiling

Meanwhile chop the chocolate up into small pieces.

Finely Chopped Chocolate

The finer you can chop it, the smoother the truffles will be

Pour the warm cream into the chocolate. The cream should melt the chocolate, but it should still be pretty thick. Stir the chocolate to make sure there are no lumps. This is your ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

Ganache – cooling

You may need slightly less cream in milk and white chocolate, to form a thick ganache, so pour it in slowly. You can always add a little more cream, but you cannot take it away if you have added too much, so caution here is advisable.

Leave the ganache to cool and thicken. This will take at least 1 ½ hours, but if you wish, you can speed this up slightly by placing the bowl to sit in a sink of cold water. It is very important that you do not allow any water to get into your ganache, as this will affect the thickness and the way it sets. Do not refrigerate to speed up the cooling. This will make your ganache too hard to work with. Plus putting hot things into a fridge is not very efficient, as the fridge then has to work much harder to maintain a constant temperature.

Ganache at the right thickness

This is about the right consistency for shaping

Once you have a thick ganache, spoon out small amounts, and roll gently into balls. Try to keep your hands cold, so that you don’t melt the chocolate too much. You can do this by running them in cold water, between each ball. Alternatively, you can shape them into quenelles, by using two teaspoons to mould them. If you have a little melon baller, you could also shape them with that too.

Once you have your shaped truffles, prepare a saucer with some cocoa powder, icing sugar, or finely chopped nuts. Or have saucers with some of each if you want variety. Gently roll the truffles on the saucer until they have a fine coating of your choice.

These are the finished truffles, which you can either plate up and put out for guests, or put in a pretty box to give out as presents. I promise you, people will be really impressed.

Variations

Just like Mareike’s Mayan Chocolate Mousse, varieties are very easy to make.

Use different flavours of chocolate, although avoid any with large nuts or lumps

Spice or flavour the cream, using spices, flavoured syrups for coffee, extracts (e.g. vanilla or flower extracts – I would not use “essence” which is usually artificial) ginger, vanilla, or a little alcohol of your choice

Once the ganache is made add a little chopped dried fruit or nuts for variety

Roll in flavoured sugars to coat

5 Comments

Filed under Feast