Liskeard, amazingly, has an annual arts festival, the Vital Spark. The driving force behind this festival is Lois Taylor, a very talented local dance artist. I say it is an annual festival, but 2012 was only it’s 2nd year and a very successful one it proved to be. One of the many events was an afternoon book swap organised by our excellent local bookshop. To make it even more convivial, I was asked to provide cake. Cake and books combined? It doesn’t get much better than that and I was easily persuaded.
Of course the big questions were what to make and how much to make? I had no idea how many people might turn up to this event – might be two (my wonderful mother and lovely friend who very kindly came along to make tea) or twenty or a lot more?
After much dithering, I went for six bakes, trying to get a good contrast in flavour, size, colour and texture as well as a gluten free offering just in case.
Jean had a good tip on her blog Baking in Franglais; in her experience, Coffee & Walnut was always the most popular cake for this type of thing. So, I made a large coffee & walnut cake using my go to recipe from Gaia’s Kitchen by Julia Ponsonby. Jean was absolutely right, this was the first one that people went for and the first one to disappear. I was told by a reputed coffee & walnut cake aficionado that it was a very “good” one.
Next in popularity were the Matcha & White Chocolate Cupcakes that I’ve already posted about. I wanted something unusual that might become a talking point. I managed it with these: what is matcha? What is the green colour? Green tea in a cake? Luckily, people were not only intrigued enough to try them but thought they were delicious too – phew!
The gluten free contribution was a chocolate & raspberry polenta cake and I shall be posting about this at a later date. I am so glad I made it as there was indeed someone there who was gluten intolerant and she was absolutely thrilled to be catered for, stating that she normally just had to watch others eat cake and there was never anything for her.
French honey & marmalade cakes also made an appearance. I’ve become a real fan of these Nonnettes, since I first made them at the end of last year. They are egg free and totally delicious. This time I omitted the white chocolate, as I did feel some sort of chocolate balance was in order! And they were still delicious.
Brownies just had to make an appearance. As my all time chocolate cake favourite, no cake event is complete without them. This time it was peanut butter brownies and I shall be posting about them at a later date.
Lastly, but by no means least, were lemon and poppy seed cake slices – the same ones that I had made back in October last year for the very same friend who runs the bookshop.
The turn out was somewhere between thirty and forty people in the end. It was a hugely enjoyable experience and most of the cake disappeared which was highly gratifying. In fact I was beginning to worry that CT wasn’t going to benefit at all, but with five pieces left, my pride was in tact and CTs belly assuaged. It was lovely to get such good feedback from the participants who all seemed to have a very enjoyable time of it.
When asked if I’d like to review a copy of the Baked & Delicious Spring Special, I was more than a little surprised. Last I heard, Baked & Delicioius had ceased publication after issue #5. I had a note to this effect accompanying this issue, which is one of four that I won last spring. However, whatever happened last year, they are now back in business. I’m a complete sucker for any baking magazines and also a fan of silicone bakeware, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity of getting hold of a copy and finding out what the “extra special” silicone surprise was going to be.
The copy duly arrived and with it two chocolate moulds for varying sizes of chicks, rabbits and little Easter eggs. Despite my ongoing issues with tempering chocolate, I was really pleased with these moulds. One day I will master tempering and then there will be no stopping me and everyone will be getting chocolate Easter eggs – Easter or no Easter.
The chocolate Easter cake on the front cover looked most enticing and I very nearly made it straight away. But I had a fridge full of apple and lemon curd which needed using up, so I ended up making an apple and lemon curd cake instead. I did, however, use the moulds to make little white chocolate chicks to decorate the cake with. They weren’t an unalloyed success as I had my usual problem melting the chocolate successfully, so I couldn’t pour or drizzle the chocolate into the moulds as directed in the B&D issue. I sort of pressed it in using a spoon and palette knife. I was then too impatient to wait for the chocolate to set properly, so the first few I pressed out were not, err, very well defined.
Other Easter goodies to bake include Greek Easter bread, Russian kulich, Polish peanut & chocolate mazurek and baked chocolate creams. I was rather taken by Torta alla Pasqualina, a spectacular looking Italian vegetarian pie containing spinach, ricotta and whole eggs baked in pastry.
The recipes are interesting, the instructions are clear and the photographs are good, but at £8.99 for eight recipes, it does seem a trifle expensive; I guess it just depends how much you want those Easter chocolate moulds!
Baked & Delicious are running an Easter baking competition on their facebook page. The prize of a professional cupcake and chocolate martini making masterclass sounds quite enticing, but as it is based in London, it won’t be suitable for everyone.
When Dom of Belleau Kitchen asked me to pick a number for his always exciting Random Recipes challenge, I was away from home and unable to follow his exact instructions – that’s my excuse anyway. So instead of counting my books, I picked my lucky number 17 instead. It seems that any blame for what you get sits on my shoulders this month – nice one Dom!
As Dom had honoured me by getting to pick the special number, I thought I really ought to try and do this challenge without cheating. NOT, I hasten to add, that I normally cheat; I’ve just interpreted the challenge to refer to my chocolate cook books only. But not this time, I was going to be intrepid and include all of my many cookbooks scattered around the house, open a page randomly and then take the first chocolate recipe that followed from the page I landed on. If, I reasoned, I got a book that had, god forbid, no chocolate recipes, I would move on to the next book.
Hoist by my own petard. No. 17 for me was Low-Carb Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown. Being a bit of a carb junkie, this book has been languishing on my shelves for many years largely unused. And what I got was something that sounded really quite strange – chocolate marzipan cheesecake. It doesn’t seem like an obvious match made in heaven, but I love marzipan, I love cheesecake, so why not?
CT also loves cheesecake and as he is going through a particularly tough time of it, I was hoping that this would be a welcome treat for him.
Reading through the recipe, I was rather dubious about a couple of things, both revolving around a loose-based cake tin. As some of you know, I’m a big fan of silcone moulds which has really made baking life sooooo much easier. I used to be put off by having to line tins, it just seemed one step too far. Now I don’t even think about it – not very often anyway. Cheesecake I felt really couldn’t be done in a silicone mould so I’d have to chance it using the stated tin. Firstly it didn’t say anything about greasing or lining the tin, so I hoped that only greasing it would be OK. Secondly, I was worried that the butter would just melt and leak out all over the oven. I did prepare for this eventuality by putting the tin on a baking tray just in case.
This is how I made my first ever baked cheesecake:
- Melted 50g unsalted butter in a medium sized pan.
- Added 100g ground almonds, 2 tbsp Rapadura (my chosen sweetener), a pinch of Himalayan pink salt and a couple of drops of almond extract.
- Mixed together than pressed down into a buttered 20″ round loose-based cake tin.
- Placed in the fridge to set.
- Melted 150g Green&Black’s dark 72% cooks’ chocolate in a bowl over hot water and left to cool a little.
- Threw 250g mascarpone, 250g cream cheese, 2 duck eggs and 6 level tbsp of Rapadura (my chosen sweetener) into a bowl and beat with electric beaters until all combined.
- Beat in the melted chocolate.
- Spooned the mixture over the marzipan and levelled the top.
- Baked at 150C for 50 minutes.
I was quite right, the butter leaked out all over the baking sheet. The top also cracked, not nice delicate cracks, but great fissures that really didn’t look very attractive. But it did come out of the tin without sticking too much and it was really quite delicious, in fact very delicious. The filling was smooth, creamy and comfortingly chocolatey. The base was chewy, slightly almondy and really rather nice. The two made for quite a delightful contrast and certainly didn’t detract from each other’s flavours. CT was very well pleased with it and it kept him going for some time.
And as this is the month of mad March baking and contains Marzipan and Mascarpone as main ingredients I am also submitting this to the second ever Alpha Bakes where the letter is M. This is hosted by Caroline Makes this month, but alternates with Ros of The more than occasional baker.
So? Two large milk chocolate egg halves wrapped in thick gold foil and contained in an attractive boutique style box that was somewhat reminiscent of a hat box, I thought. One egg half was covered with a rocky road mixture of crispy puffed rice, cookies and chocolate chunks and the other half with a layer of caramel chocolate. These were enough to satisfy the most voracious of chocolate appetites. The chocolate is the standard house 40%, which although sweeter than I like, is still way ahead of most of the high street chocolate available.
Each egg half contained 6 filled milk chocolates making a total of 12 unique treats; some had familiar fillings and some I’d never tried before. They were mostly themed around caramel and praline with the odd truffle to ring the changes.
I particularly enjoyed the Billionaires Shortbread which was a lovely mix of caramel, cookie pieces and praline. The Choc Chip Cookie was also fun: milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts and pieces of dark chocolate cookies scattered throughout.
The Caramel Praline with pecan nuts was really delicious. It was slightly crunchy with a wonderful taste of pecans and caramel ending up with a strong hit of praline. I’m not quite sure why Dizzy Praline was so named, but it had a lovely rich hazelnut flavour and was not as sweet as some of the others. An Orange Praline was most enjoyable with a nice balance of orange to hazelnut.
I was thrilled to see three liquid caramels, two of which were my favourite salted caramels, one in a milk chocolate shell and one in a dark one – mmmm.
As well as a solid milk chocolate bunny, there was a really cute little chick (which I had thought was an owl until I read the description). I was still happy to bite its head off and was very glad I did as it contained crushed caramel pieces and Maldon sea salt – another big yum!
Now to the burning question. Are those shells properly thick? Weeelllll! In parts is the answer. The edges were really thick and excitingly, I found them quite difficult to break. Some of the middle was also very thick, but some of it was really quite thin. I’ve taken a picture of a broken half so you can see. But I wasn’t disappointed, the shell was a lot thicker than most and would have been difficult to eat if it had been as thick as the outer edge all the way through.
Something green for We Should Cocoa, Chele stated! Err, well, OK. After last month’s testing challenge, why not have another one? Only when I thought about it, it wasn’t that difficult after all. It has been a while since I last used matcha (powdered Japanese green tea) in a cake and here I was presented with the perfect opportunity to use it again. In fact I had a whole load of cakes to make and wanted different colours, textures, flavours and sizes, so matcha cupcakes would be perfect – or so I hoped! A bit of a left of field choice perhaps, but I thought they were worth the risk. More on why I needed so many cakes in a later post.
The cakes were based on my Green Tea & White Chocolate Cupcake recipe but using matcha powder rather than green tea leaves this time. The icing was something altogether different.
This is what I did:
- Melted 50g white chocolate over a pan of hot water.
- Creamed 80g unsalted butter with 125g vanilla sugar.
- Beat in the chocolate.
- Beat in a duck egg.
- Sifted in 125g flour (half wholemeal, half white), a scant tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp bicarb of soda and 2 tsp matcha powder.
- Stirred in 3 tbsp sour cream.
- Spooned mixture into 12 cupcake cases and baked at 180C for 20 minutes.
- Melted 50g white chocolate over a pan of hot water & left to cool.
- Creamed 80g unsalted butter with 160g icing sugar until very soft.
- Added 2 tsp matcha powder and creamed some more.
- Beat in the chocolate.
- Beat in 2 tbsp double cream.
- Spooned onto the cupcakes and topped with a while chocolate button.
Well, I don’t want to crow, but these proved to be a sensation. The cakes were soft, moist and delicious and the white chocolate buttercream was to die for. Along with the Coffee & Walnut cake, these proved to be the most popular item. I did have to do a fair amount of explaining what this matcha thing was all about though!
Just in case your stuck for green ideas, how about a spinach cake? Here is a slice of Turkish spinach cake I tried at Truro market last year.
An elegantly presented little package arrived through the post the day before Mother’s Day. I was very tempted to save it to give to my mother, but I had promised to review the chocolates, so the job just had to be done by me – it’s a hard life!
The quality of ingredients are key to really good chocolates and Nicky uses single origin and plantation chocolate. She also uses local produce, such as cream butter and honey, wherever possible; this makes them doubly appealing to me. Last year Nicky won Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards for her fennel and ginger truffle.
Ginger hit me straight away with this one. Lovely smooth and creamy ginger ganache with toffee notes. Covered in rich dark chocolate, this was rich, spicy warming and delicious. I wondered if it contained a touch of chilli, as it left a lovely warm feeling in my mouth and back of my throat long after I’d finished. I could have quite happily consumed a box full of these. I am now wondering if this may in fact be the award winning fennel & ginger and I just missed the fennel?
As I was hoping this was a fruit puree with a rich deep pink colour. I thought at first it was raspberry, probably because of the colour. I then started doubting myself and thought it tasted more like blackberry. Either way it was delicious and I would have been happy to have had several more.
This domed milk chocolate shell with white and dark marbled across contained what tasted like cardamom & hazelnut praline. The flavour of cardamom was delicate but very much present and combined well with the sweet milk chocolate. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but this too was really delicious.
Covered in dark chocolate and coated with cocoa, this was a dark chocolate ganache through and through. It was good; it had bitter notes and wasn’t too sweet, but somehow it just wasn’t quite as rich as I would have expected. I wouldn’t, however, say no to a box of these either.
This shiny chocolate dome looked to have a piece of crystallised ginger on top. Could this be another ginger I wondered? It was. Less rich and sweeter than the first it was still very gingery. It did not have the distinctive warmth of the first, which sort of confirms my suspicion of chilli. I liked the fact there were two different type of ginger chocolates in the box, for I am a fan – one for the more sweet toothed and one for the, err, more discerning palate!
A dark chocolate shell dusted in cocoa and containing this Cornish seasalt caramel. It was utter bliss. Beautiful smooth caramel which flooded my mouth with salty sweetness. This is another gold award winner and no wonder; the balance of salt to sweet was just right and the dark chocolate offset the sweet caramel wonderfully. Much as I loved the first three chocolates I tried, for me this was the best of the box.
This box of chocolates were a lovely mix of flavours, textures & shapes and were deeply satisfying. All six chocolates disappeared rather too quickly, but the taste of ginger, caramel and chocolate lingered on for quite some time making for a doubly great taste experience.
As well as filled chocolates Nicky also makes bars, cakes and amazing chocolate sculptures. You don’t have to be down in Cornwall to taste these chocolates however; they are available to buy online.
After the success I had with substituting white chocolate for lard in Dan’s tea cakes, I was keen to try something similar with scones. I don’t like my scones too sweet as the usual addition of jam or honey make them quite sweet enough. So, so my reasoning went like this: if I substitute white chocolate for some of the butter and add a little bit more for sweetness, then can I also omit the sugar?
This is what I did:
- Finely grated 1.5 oz white chocolate (G&B) using my brilliant chocolate grater.
- Put this into a large bowl.
- Added 8oz flour (2oz wholemeal, 6oz white), 1 tsp cream of tarter and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of Himalayan pink salt.
- Rubbed 1oz unsalted butter into the flour mixture until all incorporated.
- Made a well in the centre and added 1/4 pt of sour milk.
- Gradually stirred in the flour using a knife until the mixture formed a ball of dough.
- Rolled this out on a floured board to what I thought at the time was 3/4 inch but was in fact more like 1/2 inch!
- Placed on a lined baking tray & baked on the top shelf of the oven at 190C for 13 minutes.
The scones were light, just the right side of sweet and tasted delicious with a slight flavour of vanilla and white chocolate. They were soft on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside and were just as good on day two as on day one. I shall definitely be making these again. Topped with jam and cream and a nice pot of tea, they really hit the spot mid-afternoon. Although, actually, they were also rather good with passionfruit curd – more on that later.
This post starts with a sincere apology to Ben Vear, the author of Make your own organic ice-cream. Ben sent me his book to review in December! My excuse? Well I made some very delicious ice-cream following Ben’s instructions, but partly because I’m ill equipped for ice-cream making and don’t have a scoop and partly because of light issues, the photographs I took look more like something a dog served up on the pavement! The one you see is the best of the bunch.
However, I am biting the bullet now as this excellent book deserves a mention and although it might not look up to much, the ice-cream I made from it was delicious.
Ben Vear of Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream is a firm believer in good quality food. He is particularly passionate about sourcing local and organic ingredients wherever possible which is reflected in the full title of his book make your own organic ice cream using home-grown and local produce. This alone made the book immediately appealing to me.
Ben starts by telling a story which captured me straight away. It tells of his grandfather starting his own ice-cream business in 1925 and how that has morphed into the successful family business that Ben works in today. Finding his grandfather’s old ice-cream recipes in a long forgotten safe at the bottom of the garden, was particularly fun. He goes on to give a brief history of ice-cream and then a little bit about the science behind it.
Starting with the basics of what equipment is needed (you don’t actually need anything special, although there are a few things that help), Ben goes on to explain how to make a good basic custard. The rest of the book then had me desperately wanting to up my ice-cream intake immediately. All of the basic flavours you’d expect are covered, but there are also chapters on spring & summer flavours, autumn flavours and winter flavours that include far more unusual ingredients. Most intriguingly for me, savoury ice-cream is also covered: Jerusalem artichoke & nutmeg ice cream anyone or perhaps you’d prefer wasabi? There are also chapters on sorbet, semifreddo, toppings and smoothies. Apart from the savoury ones, some of the recipes that had me whimpering with desire were: Green Tea Ice-cream, Crab Apple & Elderflower Ice-cream, Eton Mess Ice-cream, White Chocolate & Truffle Ice-cream and Damson & Sloe Vodka Sorbet. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. As you’d expect, the book is well illustrated with lush pictures of ice-cream throughout.
Much as I love ice cream, I hardly ever make it. Not having an ice-cream maker, I find it a bit fiddly and it usually ends up with ice crystals which makes for an unpleasant gritty texture and a big disappointment. However, this book inspired me to have another go. I’d recently seen chocolate chilli ice cream over at Farmersgirl Kitchen and with some miracle chillies harvested in January, (ripened outside down at the field in winter??????) I knew exactly which one I wanted to start with. I followed Ben’s recipe for chocolate ice-cream, but added my own chilli twist.
- Chopped 1 locoto chilli and simmered in a large pan with 200ml milk (not only organic but unpasturised too) until the chilli was soft. Not possessing a dishwasher, I didn’t need to worry about a dishwasher safe pan as Ben advises.
- Blitzed the chilli in the milk with a stick blender.
- Added 200ml double cream & put pan back on a low heat.
- Added 75g caster sugar and 100g dark chocolate (G&B 70%) & stirred until all incorporated without allowing the mixture to simmer.
- With a hand held electric beater, whisked two small egg yolks (was meant to be 1 large one) with 75g caster sugar until pale and thick.
- Poured the milk into the eggs, stirred and then poured the whole lot back into the pan.
- Left the pan on a low heat for about 10 minutes stirring much of the time until the mixture had thickened and coated the back of my wooden spoon.
- Allowed the mixture to cool, then added a dash of rum; alcahol apparently helps to make the ice-cream more scoopable.
- Placed in an old ice-cream container and placed in the freezer.
- After one hour, beat the mixture with the hand held whisk and put back in the freezer – this is to prevent ice-crystals forming.
- Carried out this process twice more, then left to freeze properly.
When I was asked if I’d be interesting in reviewing the latest selection from Matcha Chocolat, I nearly bit Katie’s arm off. I’m a big fan of Katie Christoffers and the wonderful tea based chocolates that she produces. Since she started making fresh artisan chocolates two years ago, she’s been going from strength to strength and has won several prestigious awards. From her tea theme she has gone on to develop a range of other chocolates all inspired by various fruit, flowers, herbs and spices from around the world.
I was pleased to see that although the box had changed colour, from pink to slate blue and the pattern on top had changed, it has the same feel as the design that I remembered so well. The aroma of rich chocolate that wafted up from the box when the lid was taken off was exactly as I remembered it. This Mother’s Day Selection contains both tea and non tea fillings. Each chocolate has been matched to a single origin chocolate from Venezuela, Madagascar, Sao Tome or the Caribbean. There were 16 in the box, two of each flavour and I very generously, if I may say so, shared them with CT. So, to the chocolates and in the order that we tried them:
Earl Grey – ganache made with 64% dark chocolate from Madagascar and enrobed in dark chocolate. It has an aroma and taste of strong dark chocolate with subtle notes of Earl Grey. This takes a while to come through, but also takes a while to leave. It has a slight smokiness and a citrussy note with the smooth unctuous creaminess I associate with Matcha Chocolat. Delicious.
Pink Grapefruit (Great Taste Award Winner) – ganache made with a mix of Madagascan 64% and Santo Domingo 67% dark chocolate. This uses real pink grapefruit juice and you can tell – it tastes of fruit rather than a chemical. CT has a horror of commercial citrus chocolate which makes him feel nauseous, but he was fine with this one. It has a slight bitterness associated with grapefruit pith and tastes of the fruit, but not overwhelmingly so – Katie has matched this well. I loved the appearance of this one too, with what looks like a cherry blossom motif on top.
Tonka Bean Caramel – Covered in dark 64% Venezuelan chocolate, this caramel has a butterscotch flavour with a touch of bitterness that stops it being too sweet. This one was particularly intriguing as neither of us had the foggiest what a tonka been is meant to taste like and this made it hard to identify the flavours. It was distinctive, with a slight floral tone and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. It seems most unusual to combine salted caramel with these sorts of flavours, but it works.
Passion Fruit – Venezuelan 49% milk blended with 64% Madagascan dark chocolate, this ganache is covered in milk chocolate. Although we both love the fruit, we’ve had bad experiences of passion fruit flavoured goods in the past; normally, it drowns everything else out with its artificial brashness. It was thus with some interest that we bit into this one, wondering if Katie had managed to pull it off. Yes she has; it tastes like real passionfruit rather than a real passion killer. The flavour is fruity to begin with, but difficult to identify. As it goes on, however, the passionfruit comes through with its lovely tart, aromatic quality.
Los Ancones – 67% dark chocolate ganache from the Los Ancones plantation in Santo Domingo. Wow, this packed a powerful punch with its robust, rich, strong chocolate flavour. I tasted notes of toffee, but boy did it make the taste buds zing. No elegance or gentleness here, despite the gold leaf decorating the top, its not in the least bit subtle; CT remarked it was akin to drinking strong black coffee after a heavy night out – a real theobromine hit. But oh so creamy!
Hazelnut & Cinnamon – 64% dark Venezuelan chocolate. This was the only one where we detected an aroma other than chocolate before biting into it. CT detected hazelnut, I detected cinnamon – together we got it right! There were lots of oohs, and ahhs going on with this one. Softly crunchy, the taste of hazelnut emerged first then came the cinnamon which ultimately becomes dominant – two for the price of one. It was delicious with a surprise texture, very different to the others due to its crunchy wafers. As CT, between grunts of satisfaction put it, “it’s alchemy, that’s what it is – Katie the alchemist”. Salt is also included and enhances the tastes of the others to brilliant effect.
Lavender & Vanilla – A mix of 49% Venezuelan milk and 64% dark Venezuelan. This had a strong aroma of lavender from the calyx on the top. Initially it tasted of mild mint, which was delicious if rather unexpected. We put it down to the ameliorating influence of vanilla. But when we bit into the calyx the strong bitter taste of lavender kicked in and overpowered the rest; it would have been better without it and should have come with a warning sign!
Masala Chai Caramel (Great Taste Award Winner) – Venezuelan dark chocolate housing my favourite caramel, but in a rather different form. This is beautifully and strikingly decorated with its blue swirl around one side. The liquid spiced caramel has cardamom to the fore and it just as good as I remember it – pure decadence. The ultimate comfort food reckoned CT and a couple of those after a hard day would beat any glass of wine.
They were all absolutely exquisite. They were also very satisfying, tasting of real chocolate and real things. The only quibble we had was the bit of lavender which would have been better if removed before eating. You can tell Katie is a true artisan by the good balancing of flavours and I suspect must spend a considerable time perfecting her recipes. She is a master chocolatier and richly deserves the reputation she is building up and the awards she has won. There were two that stood out for us though. CTs favourite was the Hazelnut & Cinnamon Feullantine and this was mine too – until I got to the Masala Chai Caramel, which I think topped it, just a bit!
Now I’m itching to try 1) yuzu, 2) rosemary, raisin & walnut, 3) banana and cardamom, 4) Vietnamese cinnamon, 5) chestnut & whisky 6) any others I haven’t tried 😉