Sunday, 17 August 2014

Choc-a-holic birthday cake

I was at a birthday gathering today at the Leather Bottle in Earlsfield for which I provided an impromptu cake. When I say impromptu, I mean that I offered to bring cake only yesterday afternoon...

Now the birthday boy is a big chocolate fan, so it was obvious what sort of cake to make, the only question was how to make it a stand-out birthday cake? Embellishment with an assortment of chocolate-based biscuits and sweets seemed to be an appropriate answer

It was an 8" chocolate Victoria sponge with a dark chocolate ganache filling, covered in chocolate butter cream and encircled by white and milk chocolate Cadbury Fingers. The cake was then topped with four different types of chocolate confections:
  1. Minty Aero balls;
  2. Peanut M&Ms;
  3. Smarties; and my favourite
  4. "The Danger Quarter" - Revels!
I'm always a bit worried in situations like these*, when there seems to be a high level of expectation, that people will be disappointed. Thankfully I don't think they were.

*This definitely wasn't made any more stressful by running out of enough Fingers four fifths of the way through decorating the cake on a Sunday morning when the only local shop that sells white chocolate Fingers doesn't open until 11am and you are supposed to be at the event at noon...

Monday, 11 August 2014


Last month at the Canary Wharf summer Lunch Market, whilst I was buying an empanada, I spotted some rather intriguing sandwich biscuits. These turned out to be "alfajores": shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche and lightly dusted with dessicated coconut. Apparently these little treats are eaten all over South America not just Argentina (although that may be where the originated).

Clearly as I am not one to turn down a new sweet treat, I had to have one. And glad I was that I did. Melt in the mouth shortbread with a rich caramel filling. What's not to like? A very satisfying little treat. I an quite understand how they are devoured all over an entire continent. The real question is just why have I never had one before?

It also became quickly apparent, that these would be perfect for (what is quickly becoming) my regular fortnightly work cakes.  

Finding recipe was pretty easy. Finding a jar of dulce de leche was more taxing. Now, I know that I could have taken the condensed milk route, but I wanted something more "authentic". I eventually tracked down jar of Merchant Gormet Dulce de Leche from Asda(!).

These turned out rather well. Given how very short the biscuit dough was I had my doubts but the were ill-founded. The biscuits were crazily short and had that smooth melt-in-the-mouth quality that cornflour brings. The lime in the biscuits perfectly offset the richness of the caramel. The caramel itself provides a very long finish. I could have been slightly more generous with my caramel, but I was worried about running out before I made all the sandwiches.

Recipe for Alfajores (adapted from Cooking with Books)

200g plain flour
300g cornflour
1/2tsp baking powder
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 medium egg yolks
1tbsp vanilla extract
Fresh lime zest
Juice from 1 lime
A jar of Dulce de leche
Dessicated coconut, toasted

1. Sift the flour, cornstarch and baking powder together and set aside.
2. Cream the (very) soft butter and sugar together until pale.
3. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, lime juice and zest.
4. Add all the dry ingredients at once and mix until completely incorporated.
NB The dough is VERY dry (resulting in a very short cookie). However, add a dessert spoon of water at a time to ensure the dough fully comes together. DO NOT work the dough as you'll develop the gluten and make the biscuits tougher.
5. Form the dough into a fat disc, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30mins.
6. On a floured board, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time. Aim for about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into 2" circles.
7. Place the dough circles on a lined and greased baking tray. They can be placed close together as the biscuits will not spread.
8. Bake for at 160°C for10-12 minutes. (Don't let them brown.) Cool.
9. Meanwhile in a dry pad gently toast the coconut until lightly browned. Set aside and cool.
10. Once both biscuits and coconut are cool, it's time to assemble. Slather dulce de leche on the underside of a biscuit and sandwich using another biscuit.
11. In a wide bowl take 2dsp caramel and mix in 2tsp of water to lightly slacken the caramel. Roll the biscuits in the runny caramel sauce and then the shredded coconut.
12. Try not to eat them all at once...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Picnic in Regent's Park: Picnic loaf and raspberry & white chocolate cake

K organised a picnic in Regent's Park today as part of her birthday celebrations. Given it was a bring your own affair and a fair-sized gang was expected, I thought I'd take "big" things to share.

This also gave me an opportunity to finally make a picnic loaf, which I have been wanting to make for an age (most probably inspired by James Martin on Saturday Kitchen). Basically you hollow out a whole loaf of bread and fill it with tasty stuff, so each slice (and indeed bite) is an explosion of tastes.

As it was a birthday celebration, I was compelled to make a birthday cake so went for a seasonal raspberry and white chocolate affair.

The picnic loaf lived up to expectation. It was stuffed with layers of chilli red onion marmalade, avocado, mozzarella, griddled chicken thigh, and tomato. It was immensely satisfying with each mouthful including a little but savoury, sweet, bitter, salty and sour: a completely rounded flavour profile. The variety of fresh vegetables made sure it wasn't too heavy.

The picture is of one I made the next day with feta instead of mozzarella, grated carrot and an attempt at giardiniera. This goes to show the flexibility of the recipe. Equally as epic as the first. 

These are known as "pan bagnat" in Nice or as "muffaletta" in New Orleans. Both much more romantic terms than the prosaic "picnic loaf". 

The cake was a success despite my worries of transporting it on the Tube and the searing afternoon sunshine which K had somehow managed to conjure up. The sponge was very moist with a delicate crumb. The lemon and raspberry offset the rich sweetness of the white chocolate buttercream very well.

The cake not only went down well, with practically everyone hoovering up a slice, but also acted as a strong bartering tool in the cake for wine scheme K had set up resulting in a rather smart glass of fleurie for me. Given the sunshine and the general relaxed nature of the afternoon, I completely forgot to take a picture of a slice until the sun had done its work and the cake was a little past its best. It turns out butter cream melts when placed in direct sunshine for hours on end. Who knew?

I tried a crazy two ingredient buttercream for the white chocolate icing. As easy as it was to make, I think it probably needs some icing sugar to keep it stable.

Recipe for a Picnic Loaf

1 ripe avocado
Lime juice
Red onion marmalade
3 chicken thighs
Beef tomato, thinly sliced
Mozzarella, sliced
Loaf of bread

1. Take the skin off the chicken thighs and de-bone. Sandwich between two layers of cling film and batter out.
2. Oil and season the chicken and cook on a griddle. Allow to cool.
3. Peel, de-stone and slice the avocado. Douse gently in lime juice to and tang and prevent discolouration.
4. Cut the top off the loaf of bread and hollow out the inside leaving a layer below the crust of approximately 1/2". You can also scoop a little of the bread from the lid.
5. Generously spread onion marmalade on the bottom of the loaf
NOTE: You can make this yourself. Or just buy. I made mine with four thinly sliced red onion, a finely diced red chilli (seeds removed) and soft brown sugar. Simply throw in a pan with a slug of olive oil and leave over very low heat until the onions are tender and caramelised. Finish with a glug of balsamic vinegar.
6. Layer up the ingredients until the loaf is full, not forgetting to season each layer liberally. I think my layers were: avocado, tomato, chicken, tomato, mozzarella, avocado.
7. Slather the lid with more onion marmalade and press back on the filled loaf.
8. Tightly wrap the loaf in cling film (you may need three or four layers).
9. Place the loaf on a tray, put another tray on top, weigh down and leave. An hour will do but overnight will result in an even more compressed loaf which will be easier to slice.

For the second loaf, I ran out of onion marmalade so made a quick giardiniera, which went amazingly well.

Stick celery, peeled and finely sliced 
1tbsp capers, rinsed
Garlic clove, crushed, 3tbsp olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp dried chives
(You should also add 100g green olives (stuffed with pimento, ideally) and shallots would be better than the chives. I had neither of these in the cupboard so went without) 

Method:  Mix and leave to mingle!

Recipe for Raspberry and White Chocolate Cake

4 eggs
8oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
8oz butter
8oz caster sugar
1oz ground almonds
100ml raspberry purée (from ~150g raspberries)
Zest of one lemon
Juice half a lemon
For the buttercream:
212g white chocolate
281g butter
A few raspberries, crushed
To decorate:
White chocolate buttons, ~150g

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale.
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, alternating with a spoon of sieved flour (to prevent curdling).
3. Beat in the lemon juice, zest and raspberry purée. Stir in the ground almonds.
4. Sieve the plain flour and baking powder together and fold into the batter.
5. Divide the batter between two lined and greased 8" round cake tins.
6. Bake at 180°C for approximately 25mins. Bake until a skewer comes out clean.
7. To make the butter cream, melt the butter and white chocolate together in a pan over a low heat until melted.
8. Allow to cool then refrigerate until solid.
9. Put the solidified mixture into a bowl and then beat until fluffy and light.
10. To put the cake together, spread approximately a quarter of the icing on top of one of the cakes. Then spread over some crushed raspberries. Sandwich the cakes together.
11. Thinly ice the cake all over (the crumb layer) and refrigerate until set.
12. Spread the remainder of the icing over the cake, again refrigerate to set
13. To decorate, insert buttons vertically around the rim of the cake then carefully place raspberries to fill the top. Use more buttons to decorate the sides of the cake.

Friday, 4 July 2014

All American 4th July

I had my first Edible Experience tonight care of a Monkey and Molasses pop-up:
Deep South (London) hospitality, good ole home style cooking, three lip smacking courses and a pitcher of homemade spiked Tennessee sweet tea to lighten the mood!

Come on down to Blue Mountain Cafe in Penge to celebrate the 4th of July with us Southern Style. Think cornbread, Southern fried chicken....there'll be mountains of food and plenty of Mississippi charm to keep everyone entertained all night....we might even throw a banjo or two in to the mix!

Well I do declare, all this for just £25 and BYOB too!
K was convinced to join me by the delight of a night in Penge. We had a sweet tea to kick the evening off which was a welcome beverage on a warm summer's evening. It put me in the mood for some Long Island ice-tea, but we made do with a nice bottle of red that K had brought along.

The food started with creamed corn and ham hock with a pineapple and chilli chutney and a Parmesan crisp. The corn was incredibly sweet but the ham and Parmesan served as suitable foils. The chilli offering a pleasant kick.

The main event was fried chicken, mac 'n' cheese, collard greens with chilli, and corn bread with onion and jalapeno. The chicken was phenomenally crisp and yet succulent. Simply superb. The macaroni cheese was bit dry for me but that's just my taste; I like it saucy! The collard greens were good (I think they were spring greens, but I could be very wrong) and were a welcome vegetable side. The corn bread was very sweet and dense. The onions and jalapeno went some way to making it more enticing, but ultimately it proved too much for both me and K.

The pudding was sweet potato pie with key lime cream. The best thing about this was the cream. Unfortunately the pie was just a one-note blandness of sweet potato with a bit too much cinnamon. The cream helped invigorate things but neither of us had the enthusiasm to finish our generous slices.

The food did seem to represent what I know of deep South cooking. Plenty of carbs and plenty of sugar. However, the execution was excellent.  The Cafe had bags of character and despite packing the tables in the atmosphere was friendly and hospitable. I'd definitely go back to sample some of the Monkey and Molasses magic.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Everyday sausage salad

Sausages. Great aren't they? Not considered during the summer apart from when cremated barbecued, and stuck in a soft roll.

Turns out they make a mighty fine addition to a salad.

Tonight's dinner was a rough and ready "everyday" salad. Little effort, big reward. A varied flavour profile and contrasting textures with every forkful giving something different. Soft and salty halloumi, crisp meaty sausages, tangy tomatoes and peppery crisp watercress. Is this a summer re-birth for the humble banger?

I'll not give you a formal recipe mostly because it's just not worth it (and it'll read better as prose). Split a brace of sausages along their length and griddle until cooked with those delightful griddle marks. At the same time dry fry a few thick slices of halloumi until browned. Once the cheese is done, splash a bit of olive oil in and quickly fry some halves of tomato until lightly caramelised. That's all the cooking done. 

Chuck some salad leaves on a plate. Then tear over the halloumi, followed by some strips of sausage and then the tomato halves. Scatter over a thinly sliced spring onion and some Parmesan shavings. Drizzle over the oil form the tomato pan and then finish with some balsamic vinegar.

Just image if you used a high quality sausage or something interesting like a chorizo or merguez...

Monday, 16 June 2014

You've never seen cake go so fast...

I took cake into work for the second time today because:
  1. It was Monday;
  2. It was the start of a new Sprint with a planning meeting the "highlight" of the day; and
  3. Feedback from the last Sprint was that there hadn't been enough cake.
Over the weekend I had narrowed it down to taking in some bars (easier to portion for mass cake provision), I hadn't got much further: I was lacking inspiration to say the least. That was until I found a couple of old Olive magazine supplements and my quandary was no more.

I went with the very suitable-for-elevenses-and-seemingly-healthy blueberry crumble cakes (above) and the bury-your-sorrows-in-something-ridiculously-sweet white chocolate rocky road.

I have never seen plates of cake disappear so fast despite a simultaneous offer of Krispy Kremes! One-nil to the boy baker!

Both are ridiculously easy to make and suitably pleasing. Mind you the white choc rocky road really should only be taken in small doses otherwise that sugar-crash is gonna hurt!

I forgot to take pictures and, as we all know, I'm no food stylist. Fortunately the blueberry squares are on the Olive website and the white chocolate rocky road, just really isn't camera worthy. I'm sure your imagination can conjure up a suitable image for white chocolate, amaretti and dried cherry goodness...

Recipe for Blueberry Crumble Squares (taken from Olive)

30g pecans
125g butter, very soft
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
125g blueberries
1tbsp milk
For the crumble topping:
15g butter
50g plain flour
40g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
30g unrefined light brown sugar
3/4tsp ground cinnamon

1. To make the topping, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and stir in the nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Chill while you make the cakes.
2. Blitz the pecans in a food processor until coarsely ground. 
3. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
4. Gradually beat in the eggs
5. Sift the flour, cinnamon and a pinch of salt and fold in along with the ground pecans, blueberries and milk.
6. Pour into a lined 8" square cake tin. Sprinkle with the topping mixture.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180°C, until risen and golden. (A fine skewer inserted into a cake should come out dry with no uncooked batter stuck to it.) 
8. Cool on a wire rack. Cut the cake into 16 squares.

Recipe for White Chocolate Rocky Road (also taken from Olive)

300g, white chocolate
150g, butter
60ml double cream
100g amaretti biscuits, broken into small chunks
25g desiccated coconut, toasted
100g dried cherries and berries
50g flaked almonds, toasted


1. Melt the chocolate, butter and cream in a bain marie until melted and combined. As long as you don't over heat a good beat will bring it all together.
2. Mix all the other ingredients into the chocolate-butter mix.
3. Tip the mixture into a lined 8" square tin, cool and refrigerate until set solid.
4. Divide into 16 squares.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Grub Club

I came across Grub Club today:
Grub Club connects foodies with new and creative Chefs across London.

A Grub Club is like a restaurant but a lot more fun! We make sure that our handpicked Chefs serve up the most delicious food in often quirky spaces.

We do our best to ensure there is a communal feel to the meal, so that you get to meet some great people.

Let us take you back to a simpler time when it was easy to meet and make friends......

So yet another opportunity to go out eating and socialising. I need to get on this...
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