Sunday, 8 April 2018

Coffee and cardamom cake

This cake came about with a need to provide cake for a cocktail party, which turned into a desire to produce a cake version of an espresso martini (although things took a bit of a turn when I started researching, especially when I read a James Martin recipe) and the need to provide a fiesta of buttercream.

It turned out really well. It's very delicate in flavour and the cardamom makes it incredibly fragrant. It's well balanced, not too sweet, and very long on the palette. It leaves you with a very satisfying hit of cake.

I was toying with making a white chocolate and coffee ganache for the top, or perhaps serving with a chocolate sauce (which would make it more of a dessert) but I think both of these would be over-powering. You could forgo the icing on the side, as well (but that depends on your predilection for buttercream...)

It's especially good with a cup of coffee the day are after baking. On to the recipe...

Coffee and cardamom cake:

8oz butter, softened
8oz caster sugar
4 eggs
3tbsp strong coffee
Cardamom seeds, ground from 10 pods
8oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
2oz ground almonds
Coffee liqueur
For the buttercream - this is enough to cover the sides:
9oz butter, softened
18oz icing sugar
Coffee/coffee liqueur, to taste, approx 6tbsp
Chocolate, to decorate

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale.
2. Beat in the eggs, one by one.
3. Stir in the coffee and ground cardamom seeds.
4. Fold in the flour, baking powder and ground almond.
5. Split the cake mix between two greased and lined 8" cake pans, and bake at 180° for 25 mins (or until done).
6. While the sponges are cooling, make the butter cream.
7. Beat the butter, icing sugar and coffee together until smooth, adding coffee/liqueur to taste.
8. Once the cake are cool, split each cake in twain and drizzle with your choice of coffee liqueur.
9. Slather each cake with buttercream and stack.
10. Cover the top and sides with butter cream (if wanted) and decorate with grated coffee.
11. Grab a fresh mug of coffee or shake up an espresso martini, sit back and enjoy a slice.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Chestnut chocolate torte

Now anyone that knows me, must know that I think the chestnut is massively underused during the festive season on our fair isle. So, when a friend of mine was leaving for New Zealand, it seemed to me that a fitting farewell cake might be some kind of brownie laced with chestnuts. After reading rave reviews of those from Dan Lepard, they were promptly produced and enjoyed. But that was just the start.

It started me wondering if some kind of chocolate chestnut torte might be in order...

Turns out I was right. The dense brownie base is a perfect foil for a light mousse topping united by the subtle flavour of chestnut. This is a really deep (I think that's the effect of the chestnut puree)rich torte which has a long chocolate flavour which the booze gives a very gentle kick. The chestnuts in the brownie base give textural contrast to the light delicate mousse to sit atop. It's not too sweet. It's a simply beautiful balance.

I'd like to try this with chestnut flour, to see what that adds. You could also get away with twice as much mousse if you wanted. I probably would...

Chocolate Chestnut Torte

For the brownie base:
100g cooked chestnuts, chopped roughly
100g dark soft brown sugar
50ml bourbon/rum/brandy (your choice) 
1tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, separated
100g butter
100g dark chocolate
35g plain flour
15g cocoa
1/4tsp salt
100g chestnut puree
1tbsp double cream
For the mousse topping:
250g mascapone
300ml double cream
200g chestnut puree
50ml Bailey's Irish cream
Icing sugar (to taste)
To decorate:
Icing sugar
Grated chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and grease and line a 9" round baking tin.
2. Mix the chestnut pieces, 50g of the sugar and the alcohol in a bowl.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain marie.
4. Meanwhile, whip the egg white until stiff. Gradually add in the remaining sugar to create a meringue.
5. Beat in the egg yolks.
6. Slacken the the chestnut puree with the double cream and beat into the melted butter and chocolate along with the salt.
7. Sieve in the flour and cocoa.
8. Fold in the meringue.
9. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until barely set in the middle. Leave to cool.
10. Once cooled remove from the tin and put on a serving plate. Replace the wall of the tin over the base to allow you to build the torte.
11. Whip the cream to light peaks with the Bailey's and icing sugar.
12. Beat the mascapone and chestnut puree, then mix with the Bailey's cream.
13. Cover the brownie base with the mousse and leave to set for a few hours.
14. Once set, unmould and decorate with icing sugar, cocoa and grated chocolate.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Lemon Drizzle cake


I took my first proper cake into work today: a lemon drizzle. This was the same cake as I did for a wedding a couple of years ago, (I never quite managed to blog that one...) so I was reasonably confident but you never quite know. It did seem to go down quite well though.

When making it, it seems like it's more drizzle than cake, so to say it's a moist slice, is an understatement. As someone in the team rightly pointed out though, that's the point! It's still retains a pretty good structure. The different drizzles, I think, give maximum penetration and using different types of sugars gives pleasing textural differences. Oh and it's unashamedly lemony!

Lemon drizzle cake recipe

200g caster sugar
4 eggs
150ml sour cream
Zest 1 lemon
60ml lemon juice
150ml oil
200g plain flour
1.5tsp baking powder
0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
Drizzle 1:
4tbsp icing sugar
45ml lemon juice
Drizzle 2: 
70ml lemon juice
Zest 1 lemon
80g demerara sugar
NB: One lemon has about 30ml juice

1. Line and grease an 8" cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
3. Add the sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice and oil. Whisk together.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarb and fold in.
(NB. The batter will seem very liquid, but don't worry it'll be OK)
5. Bake for 45 minutes at 180°C
6. Whilst the cake is baking make the two drizzles by simply mixing together the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved.
7. Once the cake is baked, use a skewer to make holes all over the cake. 
8. Brush on drizzle 1 all over the top of the cake using a pastry brush.
9. Brush on drizzle 2, waiting for each stroke to be absorbed before adding more. This'll take some time.
(NB. It'll seem that there's no way the cake will take that much moisture - it will) 
10. Leave to cool. Unmould and devour.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Celeriac soup with smoked haddock and leeks

One of the perks of working at home is the ability to make lunch in a full kitchen. Sometimes, I might take that just a tad too far. This might have been one of those times.

I had some celeriac in the fridge and I have been trying to eat more fish recently, so there was some  haddock too. Consequently I came up with this mongrel of a recipe, but it's tasty. Very tasty.

It's not too fishy, but the flakes of white fish under the earthy creamy soup are great combination. The cheesy crouton even works as well. (I'm normally a staunch advocate of the "no fish with cheese" rule). The crispy chorizo and pumpkin seeds for a garnish worked remarkably well too.

Altogether this was a meal born of opportunity but was perfectly fitting for a cold winter's day.

Celeriac soup with haddock and leeks

~300g Smoked haddock, boned removed, skin on
~500ml milk
Bay leaves
1 leek, finely sliced
Celeriac, peeled and cut into large dice
Bunch parsley, roughly chopped, stalks reserved
Optional crouton and garnish:
Slice of bread
Strong cheddar, grated
Slices of chorizo, large dice
Pumpkin seeds

1. Put the haddock skin up into a frying pan and use enough milk to just cover. Add bay leaves and peppercorns.
2. Bring the milk to a gentle simmer. Take the pan of the heat. Turn the fish over and cover. Leave for 20minutes.
3. Meanwhile, sweat the leeks in a generous knob of butter over a gently heat until soft. (I find a pinch of sat and use of lid works well).
4. Remove half the leeks from the pan and reserve, if you want to make the crouton.
5. Add the celeriac to the leeks and fry briefly to add a bit of colour.
6. Drain the milk from the haddock and add to the celeriac and leeks. Top up with water, if required. Add the parsley stalks.
7. Bring tot eh boil and simmer until the celeriac is soft, ~15min.
8. Remove the parsley stalks and blitz the soup until smooth. Add more water/milk until it reaches your required consistency. 
9. Put the soup in a pan and the chopped parsley leaves and keep warm. Season to taste (I'd suggest being aggressive with the pepper)
10. To make the garnish, dry fry the chorizo and pumpkin until the meat is crisp and the pumpkin seeds "popped"
11. To make the croutons, toast the bread and smother with leeks. Cover generously with cheese and grill to melting perfection.
11. To serve, put flakes of the haddock in the bottom of the serving dish and cover with the soup. Scatter over some chorizo and pumpkin seeds and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Pecan Squares

A few weekends ago I wanted to make a cake version of a pecan pie for work colleague so I was inspired to make pecan squares from The Great Big Cookie Book (Walden, H., 1999). They weren't too bad but as they were double baked the shortbread was too crisp and the whole thing just too brittle. The lemon in the shortbread was inspired though.

Consequently I had another go this weekend, changing the caramel to mirror that from a millionaire's shortbread. These were, I think, much better. The shortbread held together and the topping felt much more luxurious and comforting. Salt in the caramel offset the sweetness although the flavour of the maple syrup didn't really come through. A small square 2" is more than enough to give you a sugar hit be that as a pick-me-up at for threeses at work or

If I made them again I'd probably slightly reduce the amount of caramel (or increase the amount of pecans halves) to showcase the nuts a little more. I'm not quite sure how to increase the maple syrup factor though; a drizzle, maybe? 

Clearly further experiments are required. However, if you want to give this work in progress a go, here's the recipe.

Pecan squares (makes about 20)

For the shortbread:
7oz plain flour
4oz caster sugar
2oz pecans, toasted, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
Zest 1 lemon
Pinch salt
For the caramel:
150g butter
397g condensed milk
100g soft dark brown sugar
50g maple syrup
1/2 - 1tsp sea salt
400g pecan halves, toasted

1. Line and grease a 30 x 20 cm shallow baking tin (a swiss roll tin) and pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
(While the oven is heating up you might as well toast your nuts, having spread them on a large baking sheet. Just be sure to watch them like a hawk and check them every few minutes. The last thing you want is burnt nuts.)
2. Sift the salt and flour into a bowl and mix with the caster sugar.
3. Rub the butter into the flour to create breadcrumbs. Stir in the pecan pieces and lemon zest.
NB Steps 2 and 3 can be done by pulsing in a food processor
4. Add the egg and bring the mixture together, with a very gentle quick knead on a floured surface.
5. Press into the tin and chill for 30 mins.
NB The mix may be very sticky so be careful.
6. After 30min fork the biscuit all over and bake for 20min until golden. Once baked leave to cool.
7. While the biscuit base is cooling, make the caramel topping.
8. In a heavy bottomed pan place the sugar, condensed milk and butter. Slowly bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
9. Stir in the salt and maple syrup. Mix in the pecans and cover thoroughly.
10. Pour the caramel-pecan mix over the shortbread and try to distribute evenly. Leave to set.
11. Once cool, cut into squares using a large heavy knife.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017



If you are a pork fan this recipe may have a significant impact on your life


I had some unexpected time this evening and with a spare avocado on my hands (as you do) had decided I needed guacamole. My freezer held some cider braised pulled pork which floated my boat but was just not appropriate with guac.

Consequently, I decided to go "full Mexican" and bought a pork shoulder (as you do) to make carnitas. Clearly a very restrained mid-week meal...

Holy moly, I'm glad I did. This pork was so unbelievably tasty, I must have eaten at least as much as I put on the plate just whilst I was plating. It was so tender yet with a real bite and a caramelised exterior all combining to burst into a beautiful mouthful of porky goodness. It was just immense. Utterly delicious. 

On top of that it was ridiculously easy to make and far far quicker than I had imagined.

To have with the carnitas, I had the aforementioned guac, crackling chunks from the shoulder skin, some re-fried beans and feta, all atop a tortilla. I realise I could have made a burrito roll but this seemed more refined.

Seriously, carnitas vs. pulled pork is now a very close contest. You need to try this out.

Carnitas (recipe taken from Williams-Snoma "Mexican")

~1.5kg boneless pork shoulder
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Strips of zest from one orange
180 ml orange juice
2tsp sea salt
Oil, if required

1. Trim the fat from the pork and put in a wide heavy saucepan.
2. Cut the shoulder into 1" strips and then cut in to chunks ~1"x2".
3. Add the pork cubes to the pan with the garlic, orange zest, orange juice and salt. The meat should be in a single layer, if possible.
4. Add enough water to barely cover the meat and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
5. Reduce to a medium-low heat, cover partially and cook for ~1hour until the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
6. If the pork isn't quite tender, add a bit more water and continue cooking.
7. Once the pork is tender and the liquid has evaporated, remove the orange zest and garlic cloves (if possible) then brown the meat in the fat (adding more if required).

Monday, 19 June 2017

Nut and caramel cake

This was a cake-based penance. Somehow I was not informed of an impending colleague's birthday thus failed to provide a cake at a suitable moment. Although there wasn't a great burden of expectation (fortunately), I still felt I had failed so to make up for it I offered to make a bespoke cake. I created this based on the direction of:
I love nuts ... and I love anything fudgy/caramely/toffee ...

It's a triple threat: two layers of pistachio cake sandwiching a walnut cake, held together by a maple and pecan cheese icing and smothered in a caramel buttercream doused liberally with assorted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios).

I spent ages searching Soho for pistachio paste as I really wanted a green cake. Unfortunately it was all in vein as I just can't find it, anywhere (not even in Italian delis!). If I ever do find it, I will definitely be repeating this cake.

Both the cake recipes are quite unconventional and when they came out of the oven I wasn't that confident with how the bakes had gone. I was really quite worried how this was going to turn out. I needn't have been. All the parts came together remarkably well and complemented each other. The different cake textures came together. The light fragrant flavour of the pistachios was a good counterpoint to the heavier walnut (the lemon providing a delightful, gentle, refreshing zing). The various icings complimented the nuts giving a really rounded flavour: neither too sweet nor too bitter. After a while in the fridge it actually cut remarkably well. On top of that it's actually one of my better looking cakes. And the recipient was very happy with it.

Ridiculously I only managed a quick slice before rushing downstairs to an event and when I came back it was all gone. I was quite disappointed. Both in missing out on cake and not being able to do a more thorough set of tasting notes. Oh well. 

On to the recipe. Be warned: it's not short.

Nut and caramel cake recipe

Pistachio cake (adapted from a Ruby Tandoh recipe):
200g pistachio
250ml sunflower or almond oil
250g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
100g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Walnut cake (from a Jeremy Lee recipe):
350g walnuts, shelled and peeled
4 large eggs, separated
225g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra
The finely grated zest of 1 lemon
50g unsalted butter, melted and kept just warm
Pecan maple cream
50g pecans, toasted and chopped
250g mascapone cheese
~60g maple syrup
50g icing sugar
Double cream, if required
Caramel buttercream
100g caster sugar
50ml water
30g butter, cubed
60ml double cream (or replace half with 30ml milk)
150g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
To decorate:
~200g assorted nut, toasted and chopped (I used 50g each of pecans, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. 
2. For the pistachio cakes, grease two 8" round cake tins.
3. Using a food processor, blitz the pistachios until finely ground. Beat the oil with the caster sugar, vanilla extract and eggs to create a batter. In a separate bowl, combine the pistachio, flour, baking powder and salt, then lightly fold it into the batter.
4. Divide the batter between the two tins, level the tops and bake for 25 minutes, or until the cakes are just beginning to shrink from the sides of the tins and a knife inserted into their centres comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins before removing.
5. For the walnut cake, line an 8" cake tin with parchment.
6. Grind the walnuts quite finely, retaining a little of their texture.
7. Put the egg yolks and sugar into a mixer, beating until pale and greatly increased in volume. Take your time here as the lighter and silkier the mixture, the better the resulting cake.
8. Beat the egg whites in another bowl until peaked and stiff. Add the extra 1 tbsp of caster sugar, continuing to beat until stiff once more.
9. Partially fold the nuts and zest into the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Add one‑third of the beaten whites, mix well, then stir in the remainder. Add the melted butter and mix gently. Swiftly decant the batter into the prepared cake tin.
10. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through, ensuring this by inserting a sharp knife into the middle. If clean when removed, then the cake is done. Rest upon a rack until cool.
11. For the pecan maple cream, beat the mascapone until soft then beat in the maple syrup and icing sugar. This is a balancing act between sweetness and flavour - adjust the proportions of each until you are happy. Add a splash of cream to change the texture to your taste. Stir in the pecans. Firm in the fridge.
12. Level off all the cakes and sandwich together with half the maple pecan cream: pistachio, walnut, pistachio.
13. The butter cream is flavoured with a fresh caramel. To make the caramel put the water and sugar in a pan and heat over a medium heat until it reaches a light golden brown.
14. Add the butter, whisking until melted and combined. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool.
15. Beat the butter until soft and then beat in the icing sugar. Finally beat in the cooled caramel. Again change the amount of icing sugar to taste. Firm in the fridge.
16. To finish the cake. Apply a thin crumb layer of the butter cream all over the cake and refrigerate.
17. Liberally apply the rest of the butter cream to the cake and then press the nuts in to decorate.
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