Heaven and Hell Cake

Heaven and Hell Meringue Cake

Wotchers!

This week’s recipe is a variation on a meringue cake, where sponge and meringue are baked at the same time, on top of one another, and then sandwiched together with any of a range of fillings.

The first meringue cake I ever saw was a glorious chocolate-hazelnut-raspberry flavoured one by Miranda Gore Brown on Season 1 of The Great British Bake Off.

I discovered this German version in a rather roundabout way, on a Croatian cooking site. Loving both the name (Himmel und Hölle Kuchen) and the striking appearance, I decided to try my hand at it, since there was suitable fruit in the freezer and I needed some space for this year’s harvest. It’s a cake of contrasts – my favourite kind of cake: sharp, red fruit in jelly, smooth sweetened cream, crunchy meringue and moist sponge. Delightful!

I didn’t actually get as far as the fruit, initially, because the sponge and the meringue required a bit of work: the original sponge was too dry and the meringue went soggy within an hour. So I opted for recipes that I have more faith in, viz: the cream cake recipe of a few weeks ago, and a French meringue recipe from a professional French patisserie site. One of these days I shall compile a chart of how various sugar and egg-white ratios perform with the different meringue methods but, as a famous Braavosi once said, not today.

ANYHOO….

With the cake and meringue sorted, I could turn my attention to the fillings. The name Heaven and Hell comes (I’m assuming) from the contrast between the red ‘hell’ of the fruit and the white ‘heaven’ of the cream. The red fruit is a mixture of raspberries and redcurrants and is set with gelatine. The white cream was originally a sweet Chantilly, but for the above cake design, I felt it needed something a little more robust, so I’ve substituted a variation I used to fill my mille feuilles in the GBBO.

Which reminds me – the above cake design – don’t. I decided to make the cake/meringue as a tray bake and then cut and constructed it in a rectangular, spring-form tin. It makes for an elegant slice, but, on reflection, it would have been much less complicated to use two sandwich tins and then construct in a regular spring-form tin. Additionally, you’d only have to pipe one layer of meringue ‘kisses’ for the top layer, and make the second layer just smooth meringue, thus allowing the cakes to get into the oven more quickly. So I highly recommend that course of action.

Although the red and the white form a great contrast, I think an equally great combination would be blackberries and blackcurrants – one which I shall be trying shortly – and this time in round tins!

Heaven and Hell Cake

There are four elements to this cake: sponge, meringue, fruit filling, cream filling. Once all four elements are ready, the cake can be constructed. The slightly tricky part is the meringue mixture and the cake mixture need to be ready at the same time. Whilst practicing, I made the cake first, then the meringue, but I think for future reference, making the meringue first might be the better way to go, hence the following recipe order.

French Meringue

150g egg whites
20 g caster sugar
125 g caster sugar
125 g icing sugar

  • Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peaks.
  • Add the 20g caster sugar and whisk until firm.
  • Mix the remaining sugars together and gradually add to the egg-whites.
  • Whisk until firm, at least 5 minutes.
  • Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain tip.
  • Set aside while you mix the cake.

Vanilla Cream Cake

150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder

1tsp vanilla extract

  •  Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line 2 sandwich tins with baking parchment – the size can be small – 20cm – for an impressively tall final cake, or up to 24cm for a lower-level affair.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and vanilla and whisk in.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the rest of the ingredients
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the baking tins. Smooth over.
  • Pipe meringue ‘kisses’ onto the top of the cake mixture in one tin, and pipe an even layer of meringue over the cake mixture in the other tin.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake is risen and cooked and the meringue lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Red Fruit Filling
150ml redcurrant juice [1]
450g fresh raspberries
sugar to taste
1 sachet powdered or 4 leaves gelatine

  • Put the juice and 300g of the raspberries into a pan and warm gently over a medium-low heat, mashing the raspberries into the juice.
  • Taste and add enough sugar to take the edge from the sharpness.
  • Soak the leaves of gelatine and then add to the pan, or sprinkle over the powdered gelatine and stir until dissolved. NB The quantities given normally set a whole pint of liquid, and you might therefore think it a bit excessive. The reason behind this is that gelatine isn’t overly fond of acidic mixtures, so a little extra concentration is helpful in encouraging it to set up properly.
  • Set aside to cool.

Cream Filling
200ml double cream
200g cream cheese
200g low-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar to taste

  • Put the creams, cheese and extract into a bowl and whisk together until firm.
  • Add icing sugar to sweeten. It won’t need much – 2-3 tablespoons is about right.
  • Set aside.

To assemble the cake

  • If available, line the spring-form tin you’re using to construct the cake with food-grade acetate around the edge. This will allow the fillings to form clearly defined layers and not smudge when you remove the cake from the tin for serving. Alternatively, use clingfilm, and cover the whole of the bottom/sides.
  • Lay the cake with the flattened meringue into the bottom. There are two options available: meringue up or meringue down. Meringue up makes it easier to move/serve, meringue down might be more aesthetically pleasing, being a mirror of the top meringue/cake layer. You also need to bear in mind the effect the fruit layer will have on either the meringue or the sponge.
  • Once the fruit mixture has cooled a little, it will start to thicken. Fold in the remaining raspberries, trying to keep them as whole as possible, then spread in an even layer over the bottom sponge/meringue layer.
  • Put the cream mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe a thick line of cream all around the edge of the cake tin, then fill in the middle. Strictly speaking, the piping bag isn’t compulsory, but I find it’s the best way of getting the filling nice and even around the edge.
  • Place the top layer of sponge and meringue on top of the cream and press gently.
  • Chill in the fridge until the gelatine has completely set.
  • When set, remove the cake from the tin and place onto your serving dish. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve.

 

[1] I thawed 400g of redcurrants and then sieved the softened berries. It doesn’t need to be all juice – a mixture of pulp and juice is fine, just so the gelatine has something to dissolve into.


Russian Zupfkuchen

Russian ZupfkuchenWotchers!

Bit of a quirky recipe this week, since Russian Zupfkuchen is actually a German dessert and practically unknown in Russia. Many thanks to Florian Fischer (@MaddingKraut on Twitter) my official German culinary attaché, for his help and advice.

OK, if I was pressed, I’d say it was a little like a baked cheesecake, but before any cheesecake-haters run screaming for the hills, let me assure you that it’s textures and flavours are so much lighter and fresher than a traditional, say, New York Cheesecake. Don’t get me wrong, a New York style cheesecake can be an absolute delight, but no-one can deny that it’s incredibly rich and filling and a little on the heavy side.

This Russian Zupfkuchen has a crisp, intensely chocolatey biscuit-like crumb and topping, surrounding a light, almost melt-in-the-mouth, creamy filling, delicately flavoured with vanilla. The real star of the piece, however, is Quark, an acid-set soft cheese, very common in many north-European and Slavic countries.

It is available in supermarkets in the UK, at around £1.00 for 250g and is naturally fat-free. After mixing with eggs, sugar, flavouring and a little cream, during baking it puffs up like a soufflé, gently settling back as it cools. Once chilled, the result is light, creamy without being cloying, and a wonderful contrast between the softly-set filling and the richness of the pastry.

Which brings me to the single slight downside to this recipe – the pastry. It tastes incredible – SO crisp, SO friable and SO richly flavoured  – and is a bit of a devil to work with. Once made, you need to chill it for several hours, rather than the more usual 30 minutes, and it softens very quickly, so lining the baking tin can become a rather drawn-out affair if the day is warm, as it needs to keep going back into the fridge/freezer to firm up almost every few minutes.

Which is why, gentle reader, the picture at the top of this post aint lookin’ too purdy. And I did try my best, several times. I suspect my mistake was trying to make the pastry too thin that was my downfall. If you fancy an easier alternative, try the chocolate pastry from The Midnight Meringue instead.

Russian Zupfkuchen

For the pastry:

200g plain flour
50g cornflour
120g icing sugar
170g butter
1 large egg
50g cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
2 tsp baking powder

For the filling:

140g icing sugar
3 large eggs
seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or vanilla extract to taste
500g quark
2tbs cornflour
1 pinch salt
175ml double cream
60g unsalted butter, melted

  •  Put all of the ingredients for the pastry into a food processor and blitz.
  • The mixture will eventually come together into a very soft paste.
  • Tip out, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours.
  • Remove 1/4 of the dough and put it in the freezer to chill
  • Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake tin with parchment.
  • Roll out the remaining chilled pastry to between 5-10mm and use it to line the cake tin.
  • Chill the lined tin in the fridge while the filling is made.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Whisk the eggs and the icing sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Stir in the quark, vanilla, salt and cornflour.
  • Whisk the double cream until thickened and stir though, together with the melted and cooled butter.
  • When everything is smoothly mixed, pour into the prepared baking tin. It will rise during baking, so don’t fill the pastry case too full.
  • Take the remaining pastry from the freezer and grate it, coarsely, over the surface of the filling.
  • Bake for 1 hour. Turn the tin around after 30 minutes to help bake evenly.
  • Cool completely. Cover with foil, then chill in the fridge.
  • Remove from the tin and cut into portions when chilled.

Retro Tarts

Three sweet tarts

Dark Butterscotch (back left), Toffee (back right) and Gypsy Tart (front)

Wotchers!

Despite the above picture, this post is really all about pastry. Sweet, shortcrust pastry.

Some time ago *waves hand vaguely* I introduced you to an all-butter pastry which I had adapted from an old Victorian commercial baker’s book. The crust for my Cheese and Potato Pies has about 25% cornflour, which makes it fantastically silky-smooth to handle and which also bakes beautifully crisp and dry.

The recipe this week is for a sweet version, also from the same baking handbook: slightly different flour/butter proportions and enriched with the yolk of an egg, it is both more crisp and more delicate than the savoury version and a perfect foil for the three sweet fillings I’ve lined up for you, because I thought it rather a cheek to give you just a pastry recipe this week and let you get on with it. Plus I couldn’t get a lump of pastry to look tempting all by itself, so here we are.

The fillings are very much variations on a theme of dark muscovado sugar and I’m really pleased with the three differing flavours that resulted. The Butterscotch is really dark and very much a ‘grown-up’ flavour – you could even add a slosh of real scotch to ramp it up to dinner-party level. The Toffee is very child-friendly in flavour – almost mild – and a real comfort food. The Gypsy Tart is a 2-ingredient classic that harks back to memories of school dinners. There are many recipes for the filling ‘out there’, most of which generally have too high a proportion of sugar and too much milk, resulting in gigantic pies of tooth-aching sweetness. This version makes for a light and frothy filling with just the right balance of flavour and sweetness. It is the only one of the three that needs any further cooking once poured into the pre-baked pastry shell, but at just 20 minutes in a cool oven, these too are ready in a flash.

I’ve left all three unadorned, but you could add embellishment if you like – unsweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche rather than more sweetness in a chantilly or buttercream, is my recommendation. A smattering of chocolate sprinkles for the toffee tart, perhaps? Your call.

slices

Dark Butterscotch (left), Toffee (middle), Gypsy Tart (right)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

This quantity makes enough for one large tart or 4-8 individual tarts.

170g plain flour
56g cornflour
125g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
1 large yolk

ice water to mix

  •  Put the flours, butter, sugar and yolk into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Roll out thinly and line your greased tart tin. If making smaller tarts, cut the pastry into 4 and roll out individually.
  • Leave the excess pastry hanging over the side of the tin/s and chill in the fridge for another 30 minutes. The pastry will shrink as it chills and then you can trim the excess. If you trim it first, the pastry will shrink down inside your tart cases, probably unevenly, and your pastry cases won’t have a nice finish.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180ºC Fan.
  • Prick the bottom of the tart/s with a fork to prevent blistering, line with baking parchment and fill with beans/rice/beads.
  • Bake for 10 minutes for small tarts, 12-14 minutes for a large tart.
  • Remove the parchment and beans and bake for a further 3 minutes for small tarts, 5-8 minutes for a large tart, until fully baked.
  • Allow to cool.

Butterscotch filling

170g unsalted butter
170g dark muscovado sugar
35g plain flour
100ml milk

  • Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, stirring.
  • Make a paste of the flour with a little of the milk, then stir in the rest of the milk.
  • Pour this milk mixture into the butter mixture and whisk vigorously.
  • Continue whisking until the mixture comes to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring, to ‘cook out’ the taste of the flour. The mixture will thicken.
  • Remove from the heat. Add a little extra milk – or scotch! – if it seems too thick, then pour into the bake pastry case/s and allow to cool.

Toffee filling

Warm the golden syrup before measuring it out, it will be much easier to pour accurately.

100g butter
40g plain flour
250ml milk
60g dark muscovado sugar
100g golden syrup

chocolate sprinkles (optional)

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Whisk until frothed and starting to darken.
  • Warm the milk and sugar together and pour into the butter mixture, whisking briskly.
  • Keep stirring over the heat until the mixture thickens, then remove from the heat and stir in the golden syrup.
  • If the mixture seems too thick, add a little extra milk to loosen it.
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, pour into the pastry shells and set aside to cool.
  • Scatter over the chocolate sprinkles, if using, before serving.

Gypsy Tart filling

1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk
120g dark muscovado sugar

  • Chill the tin of evaporated milk in the fridge overnight. Do not skip this step. It will not whip up to its frothy perfection unless the milk is thoroughly chilled.
  • Get rid of all the lumps in the sugar by pounding it in a pestle and mortar. Work a little at a time rather than trying to get the whole batch lump-free in one go. It’ll give you something to do while the milk chills.
  • Put the sugar and the chilled milk into a bowl and whisk for AT LEAST ten minutes. You want the sugar to dissolve and the milk to increase in volume and become light and frothy, like half-whipped double cream. You can test whether the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the mixture between finger and thumb – it should not feel grainy at all. If you have a stand mixer and a balloon whisk attachment, this might take a little less time, but not much.
  • Preheat the oven to 120°C – NO FAN
  • Pour your mousse-like mixture into your pre-baked pastry case/s. It will not rise much in baking, so you can fill them pretty full.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the filling has set: no wobble when gently shaken.
  • Set aside to cool.

Caramel Apple Crumble Tart

Caramel Apple Crumble Tart

Wotchers!

Here’s a recipe I came up with for a charity a couple of years ago. Seeing as the weather has been a bit on the brisk side lately, I thought it would be the ideal treat to enjoy all snug and cosy on a Sunday afternoon. Or at 11pm, straight from the fridge. Your call.

It’s a tart of contrasts: crumbly pastry, crunchy oats, rich caramel and sharp apples. I love it!

And with a tin of caramel in the cupboard, it comes together in just a few minutes.

Probably gone is as many, too.

Short and sweet. Like this post.

To the recipe!

Caramel Apple Crumble Tart

Pastry
112g plain flour
30g cornflour
40g icing sugar
70g butter
zest of ½ lemon
1 large egg
egg-whites for glazing

Filling
30g butter
3 Bramley Apples
1 tin homemade Banoffi Pie filling (method here) or 1 x 397g tin of Carnation Caramel

Crumble
20g butter
20g lard
20g Demerera sugar
60g plain flour
Pinch of salt
40g steel rolled oats

  • Make the pastry:
    • Put all of the pastry ingredients except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Whisk the egg, then gradually add to the mixture while the motor is running until the mixture comes together in a ball.
    • Tip out the pastry and knead a little until smooth.
    • Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
    • Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed tart tin.
    • Roll the pastry out thinly, about 5mm.
    • Line the tart tin with the pastry, easing it gently into the sides of the tin. Do not trim the excess pastry, but let it hang over the sides of the tin.
    • Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
    • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
    • Remove the tart tin from the fridge and prick the base of the pastry with a fork, to prevent blistering.
    • Line the tin with parchment and pour in some baking beads/beans/rice.
    • Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the tin from the oven and lift out the parchment paper and its contents.
    • Return the tin to the oven for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to finish baking. If the edges of the pastry seem to be browning too much, cover them with foil.
    • Brush the inside of the pastry with whisked egg white and return to the oven for three minutes to dry. Set aside.
  • Make the crumble:
    • Put the butter, lard, sugar and flour into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
    • Tip the mixture into a bowl and stir in the oats and salt. Set aside.
  • Make the filling:
    • Peel the apples and cut each into 8 slices.
    • Remove the core and chop each slice into chunks – about 5-6 per slice.
    • Melt the butter in a pan.
    • Add the chunks of apple and cook gently over a moderate heat until the apples have softened and any juice has evaporated. NB Bramley apples WILL reach a point where they just collapse in a pile of fluff if you cook them fully. You need to stop before this happens. They will continue cooking in the oven, so don’t worry about making them soft, it’s making sure the excess juice evaporates that is important here, otherwise you’ll get soggy pockets of apple in your tart.
    • Add the caramel and stir gently until thoroughly combined and warmed through.
  • Assemble the tart:
    • Pour the caramel and apple filling into the pastry shell and smooth over.
    • Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.
    • If you’ve not already done so, cover the edges of the tart with foil to prevent them from becoming too brown.
    • Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumble topping is crisp and golden.
    • Cool in the tin for ten minutes.
    • Trim the pastry edges neatly with a sharp, serrated knife, then carefully remove the tart from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
    • Serve warm or chilled, with cream.

Drowned Doughnuts

Drowned Doughnuts

Wotchers!

Welcome to the first post of 2015. Yes, I know I’m a bit slow out of the gate and that January is almost half over, but I’ve got several plates spinning just now *she says, enigmatically* so it’s all going to be a bit ad lib for the next few months, I’m afraid. Bear with.

As a reward for your patience, I have a delicious treat for you to try this week – drowned doughnuts!

Not drowned in gooey stuff, for as you can see from the picture, the most they can boast is a light dusting of caster sugar. The ‘drowned’ relates to the method of making the dough – unusual and bizarre and so ‘out there’ it’s practically left the solar system. But it works. And it’s delicious. And so incredibly light and delicate you won’t believe.

“I can’t believe it!” you’ll cry, as you jam yet another vanilla-scented pillow into your mouth (little finger crooked, of course – we’re not ANIMALS here).

For once this dough is mixed, you cover it lightly with a cloth – or plastic, your choice – and drop it into a bucket of cold water.

Yes. Drop it into water. For real.

It’ll sit at the bottom until the yeast has worked its magic sufficiently, whereupon it will rise like a……*stares blankly into the middle distance for a while* ………. well, a very risey thing, and float on the surface. That’s when you know it’s ready.

None of this tip-toeing around, nervously chewing your lip and wondering

“Is it done yet?”

“Why isn’t it done yet?”

“Is it in a draft?”

“Shall I poke it now? “

“Maybe it’s too hot!”

“Did I kill the yeast?”

“I think I killed the yeast!”

“What about poking it now?”

“Did I poke it too much?”

“Why isn’t it done yet??”

No, none of that palaver here – just weigh, mix, wrap and *splash!*

There’s lots you can do with this dough – and we’ll be coming back to it in a few weeks (although do remind me, because you know what I’m like for getting distracted!), but as an introduction I’d like you to enjoy it elegant simplicity.

If you need any further convincing of the high esteem in which I hold this recipe, let me just say I thought it worthy of using a vanilla pod. In a dough! *lets that sink in*

Drowned Doughnuts

1 sachet easy-blend fast action yeast
200 g unsalted butter
400 g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 heaped tbs caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 ml milk
1 large egg

Milk for brushing

  • Put the yeast, butter, flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl.
  • Put the sugar into a mortar or small bowl.
  • Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds to the sugar.
  • Using the pestle, or the back of a spoon, stir/grind the sugar and seeds together. This will break apart the sticky mass of vanilla seeds and help distribute them evenly throughout the dough.
  • Tip the now vanilla sugar into the flour mix.
  • Gently warm the milk to blood temperature, then whisk in the egg.
  • Gradually add the liquid to the rest of the ingredients, stirring thoroughly. It will make a soft dough. It won’t matter if you just tip all the liquid in at once and it becomes too soft to mould – just use a ziplock bag for the next stage. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
  • Wet a clean tea-towel, squeeze out the excess moisture and lay it on your worktop. Place your ball of dough into the middle. Loosely tie opposite corners of the cloth over the dough, leaving room for it to swell. If your dough is very soft, spoon it into a lightly oiled ziplock bag, squeeze out all the air and seal it shut.
  • Place (yes, I know I said ‘drop’ earlier – but I was being melodramatic! I also said bucket, but unless you’ve got clean, food-grade plastic ones, use an alternative.) the dough into a deep bowl or pan of cold water. It will sink to the bottom. Make sure there enough liquid to cover it. You can now safely leave it until it floats to the surface (about an hour).
  • Remove the dough from the water and unwrap. You might want to let it drain a little before placing it onto your floured worktop. You can use paper towels to mop up any excess water.
  • Gently pat the air out of the dough with the palm of your hand until the dough is 3cm thick.
  • Cover lightly with oiled plastic and let it rest for 15 minutes,
  • Using a 5cm plain cutter, cut out your doughnuts and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Press the cutter straight down and up again – no twisting, or your doughnuts will rise lop-sided.
  • Press any scraps of dough together and pat out again to re-use.
  • Cover the doughnuts lightly with cling film and set aside to rise for about 20 minutes while the oven heats up.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160ºC Fan.
  • Once the doughnuts have puffed up, bake for 8-10 minutes until well risen and starting to brown on the tops.
  • Remove from the oven and quickly brush with milk to keep the crust soft.
  • Cover with a cloth and allow to cool till just warm.
  • Dust with caster sugar and enjoy.

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding

Wotchers!

Final Festive Food recipe this week, and it’s fantastic!

Fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!

I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!

The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.

Mini Puddings

You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides.  You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.

I’ll be putting  up  a Festive Food Index at the weekend – suggestions from the blog over the years, including this year – on a single handy page, but apart from that, this is the final blog post this year.

Happy Holidays to all and I’ll see you in 2015!

Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding

375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast

40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
150ml cream/milk
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs

300g currants
75g raisins
60g mixed candied peel [1]
40g flaked almonds

  • Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
  • Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
  • Add the sherry or mead.
  • If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
  • Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
  • If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
  • Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake
    • a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
    • the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
  • Serve warm, with double cream.
  • For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.

[1] I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup, which I made using the recipe on the blog. Do try it!


Luxury Brownies

Luxury Brownie

Luxury Five-Layer Chocolate Brownie

Wotchers!

Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!

For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.

So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.

What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).

I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.

FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly  cream and finally, to be topped with  shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….

If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.

This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!

It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:

  • Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
  • Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
  • Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
  • Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
  • Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.

 You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.

WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down.  Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!

I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.

Luxury Brownies

Day 1

Chocolate Biscuit Base

This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.

135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
1g salt
135g flour
10g cocoa
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine [1]

  • Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
  • Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
  • Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
  • Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
  • Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
  • Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.

Rich Chocolate Brownie

100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
50g flour
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter

  • Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
  • Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
  • Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
  • Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
  • Fold in the walnuts.
  • Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
  • When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
  • Set aside to cool in the tin.

Praline Ganache
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar                   ) for the praline paste.

You CAN buy praline paste ready made[1], but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.

115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).

  • Make  the praline paste, or see footnote [1] below:
    • Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
    • Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
    • Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
    • Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
    • Leave to cool.
    • Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
    • Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
    • Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
  • Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
  • Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • Stir in the vanilla, if using.
  • Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
  • If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
  • Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set.  If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache.  Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!

400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate

  • Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
  • Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes.
  • Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
  • To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

Day 2

You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.

  • Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
  • Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
  • Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
  • Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
    • Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
    • Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
    • Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
    • Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
    • Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
    • In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
    • Put the trimmings on the side plate.
    • Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
    • Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
    • Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
    • Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
    • Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
  • Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
  • Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
  • Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.

[1] http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.