Spices really are the spice of life, or at least they are in my world. I find it hard to imagine not having a ready supply of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, vanilla and chilli, all spices I use on a regular basis in my baking and cooking. Cumin, coriander and turmeric are firm favourites too, but I have many other spices stuffed away in my cupboard. It is these, other less used spices that can be a bit of a problem. Spices are expensive and once ground, they don’t have a very long shelf life. Ideally, for real freshness and flavour, I would grind all of my spices as I need them, but this just isn’t practical; I’m usually in a hurry and often can’t grind them as finely as I’d like. This results in having to throw some of my precious spices away as they just become to old to use.
Holy Lama have come up with an ingenious solution to this dilemma – spice extracts, or as they like to call them Spice Drops. These are highly concentrated extracts which have a shelf life of three years. Priced at around £3 a bottle, these could cost considerably less than buying whole or ready ground spices over the same time period. The extracts come in little 5 ml bottles with droppers for precise and easy measures. Although the spice drops work well in baking, it is recommended that they are added at the end of cooking where possible to keep the flavours vibrant. As regular readers will know, I like my products to be as natural as possible. The extracts are held in caster oil, which is fine, but I was a little concerned to see it was hydrogenated oil and wonder why this is necessary. However, they are ethically made in Kerala, South India. The company website states it offers fair wages to its staff and fair prices to it’s farmers. Most of the staff are women and many of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sustainability is important so the factory’s carbon footprint is deliberately low. Holy Lama is a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers. All that counts for a lot.
The range is quite large and include spice blends as well as individual spices. There are a number of kits containing a collection of relevant spices. I had my eye on the Baker’s Spice Drop Kit, a collection of five spices: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla. However I was only sent a bottle of cinnamon and one of tulsi to try out.
As soon as I unwrapped the outer layer of protective plastic from the cinnamon bottle I nearly swooned with the wonderful scent that emanated from it. I adore cinnamon and if forced into a corner, would probably name it as my favourite spice. One drop is meant to be the equivalent of ½ a teaspoon of the ground spice. I tried a tiny drop neat and it was very strong – not something I’d recommend. I tried it out to good effect in my Spicy Orange and Chocolate Easter Bundt. I used one drop only, hoping to get just a hint of cinnamon and it worked perfectly.
The tulsi I was a little more unsure about. CT and I drink quite a bit of tulsi tea and are accustomed to the flavour. Holy basil, as it’s also known, has a very distinctive taste and although I was keen to try it with chocolate I wasn’t at all sure it would work. I decided to use it first in a cup of hot chocolate, a rich dark drinking chocolate I am currently reviewing. The directions say one drop for every 200ml of liquid or more to taste. I had 250ml of liquid and used only one drop and it was very powerful. I’m not sure I shall be taking to tulsi hot chocolate as a regular drink, but it did sort of work. Like coffee and tea, it has similar bitter notes which marry well together. It was, however, too strong and I was left with a powerful tulsi taste in my mouth for a long time afterwards. So for this extract, I would suggest, proceed with caution.
Thanks to Holy Lama for the spice extracts. There was no requirement to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
With Easter fast approaching and any number of Easter bakes and posts to write, time was running out for this month’s Random Recipes. Now it just so happens that RR has joined forces with the new round of AlphaBakes and it has been decided to start at the very beginning this time, with the letter A. Using my usual Eat Your Books method of selection I came out with the book Pasties by Lindsey Bareham. I must confess at this point that I felt a bit jittery. I may well come from the Land of Pasties, but my pasty making skills lean towards the imperfect end of the spectrum. I was hoping the book would fail to provide me with a suitable recipe, but in this I was foiled. A recipe for plum pasties with almond cream leapt up from the index and my heart skipped a beat.
OK, no need to panic. In my usual style, I would adapt the recipe. My mother had made a recent delivery of some rhubarb from her garden (for some reason our plot seems incapable of growing any), so I would substitute that for the plums. I would add some grated white chocolate to the pastry, some orange zest to the almond cream and most importantly of all I was going to make one large pie, not six individual pasties – I really just didn’t have the time to faff around. My concession to the pasty would be to crimp the edges of the pie in true pasty style – hence the name pasty pie.
This is how I made:
Rhubarb and Almond Cream Pasty Pie
- Cut 150g cold unsalted butter into 250g flour (half wholemeal, half white) with a knife then rubbed it between my fingers until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
- Grated in 20g white chocolate.
- Mixed in 2 tbsp Greek yogurt and 1 tbsp water with a knife, then brought the mixture together with my hands to form a ball. Covered with a plastic bag and placed in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Creamed 100g unsalted butter with 100g cardamom (caster) sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in 1 tsp powdered orange rind (or zest of an orange).
- Beat in a duck egg (or large hen’s egg).
- Stirred in 100g ground almonds.
- Washed, trimmed and chopped 350g of rhubarb into smallish pieces.
- Divided the pastry into two portions, one slightly larger than the other.
- Rolled the larger portion out into a round to cover a deep 20 cm pie dish.
- Covered the pastry bottom with the rhubarb, then covered the rhubarb with the almond cream.
- Rolled out the smaller piece of pastry to cover the top of the pie.
- Crimped the edges together, brushed on a little beaten egg mixed with milk and sprinkled about a dessertspoon of cardamom (caster) sugar over the top.
- Baked at 200C for 15 minutes, then turned the oven down to 180C for a further 20 minutes until the top was nicely browned.
So how did it all work out? It was pure heaven and although you couldn’t expect an angel to bring this down from on high during Lent, it sent CT and I into raptures. It was a truly indulgent dessert. I’ve not made pastry with white chocolate and yogurt before, but I will most certainly be doing it again. The rhubarb cut through the rich creamy filling and it all hung together very nicely.
It just so happened that I’d recently had delivery of a bag of Rodda’s goodies which I’d won in their #crownyourpuds competition for my Chocolate Pots. So to crown my rhubarb and almond cream pasty pie, sat a dollop of Cornish clotted cream. Show me a pudding that isn’t improved by clotted cream and I’ll eat it, quipped CT – a man after my own heart.
So this Rhubarb and Almond Cream Pasty Pie is my entry to the joint Random Recipes and Alphabakes challenge with A for Almond. Dom of Belleau Kitchen, Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes have put their heads together this month and come up with this fun and clever challenge.
As everything is made from scratch, I’m sending this off to Javelin Warrior for his Made with Love Mondays.
Well I am pleased to report that the chocolate Easter bundt cake I made for friends on Good Friday, made it up to Dartmoor in one piece. The day was wonderfully sunny and I have no wish to complain about that. But I was concerned that the heat in the car would cause the chocolate to melt and the Easter eggs to slide off the top. I insulated the cake as best I could with blankets and all was well. We had it for tea, sitting out in the garden and it was glorious, all of it – the garden, the sun, the view, the company and the cake.
Gosh, it’s nearly Easter and I haven’t yet posted a cake recipe. What is going on you may well ask? I’m not sure, but it obviously needs to be remedied fast. Luckily, I have just made this rather special spicy chocolate and orange Easter bundt cake to take to some friends we are staying with tonight. In fact I’ve baked another set of Easter cakes for some friends we are visiting for lunch tomorrow, lemon and nettle cakes. It’s been all go here in the Chocolate Log Blog Kitchen this morning.
We’re just off out now. Recipes to follow later in the week.
I wish you all a Very Happy Easter Holiday.
Easter will very soon be upon us, so I thought I’d better not lose any more time in highlighting the Easter eggs that have come my way this season.
During my early days as a student in London, I was befriended by a girl about town; her tastes were rather more sophisticated than a country girl up from Cornwall (my travels to exotic climes and years as an au pair in Switzerland notwithstanding). One of the stylish shops she introduced me to was Thorntons in Marylebone High Street, an area full of upmarket independent retailers not far from our place of study. As students, we couldn’t really afford the extravagant prices charged back then, but we would occasionally treat ourselves to just one Viennese or Champagne truffle each from their Continental range. Sometimes, we got lucky and were able to purchase a big slab of their milk chocolate at a bargain price – milk chocolate that for some reason had not made it through the quality checks. I was in heaven. Thorntons has moved on since then and is now a well known high street brand. I too have moved on in my chocolate journey since those heady days, but the fondness for Thorntons remains.
This flight of nostalgia was brought on when I was sent a large Thorntons Continental Luxury Easter Egg to review. The egg itself was huge and it came with a box of 18 classic chocolates from the Continental range. The box design was elegant and I was really taken by the impressionistic, slightly retro, spirograph-inspired design on the egg itself. On opening the box, a rush of cocoa aromas emerged that I found to be quite intoxicating; this is by no means found with all chocolate. The egg is rich and creamy with a slight astringent note that gives it a fully rounded chocolatey flavour.
These days, I prefer my chocolates with less sugar rather than more and these Continentals do err towards the sweet side, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. I was pleased to see that my old friend, the Viennese truffle was represented and although the old champagne truffle I remembered was not, there was a ganache au marc de champagne, which was very nice indeed and left a pleasantly warm glow as it travelled from mouth to tummy. The other classic I remembered of old was the Diplomat, which was another firm favourite – it seems we may have treated ourselves rather more than I at first remembered! Cappuccino truffles were never a favourite as I’m not a fan of coffee flavoured chocolates and there were two of these in the box. Luckily CT is rather partial, so he did get a bit of a look in. In fact the egg, combined with the chocolates kept us both happy for several days, as it should weighing in at 500g. Normally £24.99, I’ve just noticed it’s currently up for an absolute bargain at £14.99.
Stay in Devon
Making my own Easter eggs has always struck me as a little daunting and although every year I had plans to try, I never actually managed it. However, this year I was sent an Easter egg making kit from Stay in Devon, so the proverbial bull just had to be taken by the horns. So I did. The kit is really meant for children, so how scary could it be? It came with a chocolate mould for two eggs and two 150g bags of milk chocolate buttons from Choconchoc. It also came in a sturdy box with instructions, some sweets to make one’s very own egg heads and a paper chef’s hat. I was a little surprised at the quality of chocolate which tasted good and had 33.5% cocoa solids. I was pleased that just because the kit was aimed at children, the little ones were not being fobbed off with low quality goods. There is plenty of Easter fun to be had on the website including a photo gallery of the eggs being made or eaten and an Easter egg hunt with a £500 prize up for grabs.
The instructions were a little basic. They didn’t tell you how much chocolate to melt for starters. However, it worked and I successfully made two shiny Easter eggs. The trick it seems is to polish the moulds with a little flavourless oil – I used sunflower oil. This not only makes the eggs easier to get out of the moulds, but helps to give them a nice shine too. Basically, it was a process of melting the chocolate and adding it in layers. I swirled the chocolate around the mould, using a teaspoon to ensure all surfaces were covered, then poured the excess back into the bowl of melted chocolate, allowing it to set before doing the same again. My kitchen was cold, so it only took a few minutes before I was able to repeat the process, which I did twice more. As per the instructions, I dutifully decorated the eggs with the sweets provided. My egg heads looked like something from a B movie sic-fi romp, but hey, everything is post modern these days.
You may remember, my recent post about the Godiva competition and that I was too late to enter my Amaretto chocolate pots. Well I was also unable to take up the invite to go up to London for the award celebrations. For those interested, the finalists and their entries can be seen in this video clip. As some sort of compensation, Godiva very kindly sent me some of their chocolate: some Easter bunnies and some chocolate pops – aka mini Easter Eggs.
The eggs were wrapped in colourful silver paper and looked so good I kept them in a bowl on the sideboard for several days before tucking into them. Each colour egg had a different flavoured ganache, mousse or praline filling and was covered with either dark, milk or white chocolate, with a layer of the same running down the middle. There were nine different colours in all, including an orange covered coffee ganache, a gold covered white chocolate ganache flavoured with vanilla, a yellow white chocolate ganache flavoured with lemon and covered in dark chocolate and an 85% dark chocolate ganache.
My favourites were the pink milk chocolate speculoos mousse, the red dark chocolate raspberry mousse and the green dark chocolate praline with biscuits. The layer of chocolate running down the middle broke up the filling in an unexpected way adding extra texture and interest. We both liked the pops.
Sadly, the bunnies arrived in bits, having been crushed in the post, so I didn’t get to assess them in the looks department. To be fair, these are not normally something that is sent in the post as they are only available to buy in shops. The chocolate itself was of the milk variety and tasted a little of coconut. It was rather too sweet for CT or I to eat as it was however, so I am planning on using the bits in baking.
Cadbury’s Mini Eggs
To finish, I give you a bowl of Cadbury’s mini Easter eggs. Cadbury’s creme eggs I have known and loved as an Easter special ever since I can remember. You may or may not have seen the creme egg buns I made with them a few weeks ago – they were very nice. This is the first time I’ve come across them in mini form though. Cute with a higher ratio of chocolate to fondant filling than a regular creme egg, these are very tasty, if very sweet, mouthfuls.
The others were completely new to me in egg form: Caramel eggs, solid Dairy Milk chocolate eggs and some I got stupidly excited about when I saw them, Daim eggs. I adore the delicious bits of crunchy Scandinavian butterscotch that permeate the chocolate and was completely addicted to Dime bars as a student. The eggs come in 89g bags which gives 8 eggs, except for the Dairy Milk where you get 93g and 9 eggs.
|Mini Creme Egg Easter Bundt Cakes from Belleau Kitchen|
I have Easter recipe plans for my eggs, but in the meantime I’ll give you one you will immediately want to sink your teeth into, courtesy of Dashing Dom.
With thanks to Thorntons, Godiva, Stay in Devon and Cadbury’s for my mountain of eggs. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
Living down in the far South West, it can often be difficult to get to some of the big baking events held around the rest of the country. I have not yet managed to attend one. However, this year, everything has changed. Amidst a fanfare of excitement and incredulity, the very first Big Cake Show came to Exeter last weekend: a three day extravaganza of baking demos, workshops, competitions, book signing and shopping.
I was surprisingly excited to be invited along to The Big Cake Show and even more so when given a Golden Ticket on arrival. As well as a goodie bag and a dedicated refreshment area, this gave access to special seats right at the front of the main demonstration theatre – well worth having. Stars from the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) were there to give demos, with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood being the star attractions. On the day I attended, it was Mary in residence. I was pleased to see a number of our fabulous local chefs were much in evidence too.
My first thoughts were of astonishment at the size and busyness of the event. It took nearly an hour to make the two mile drive from the motorway to Westpoint, where the show was being held. The place was heaving. So it was very lucky that Jill from Lapin d’Or arrived just as I was being given my goody bag by Tracy, the PR and Marketing Manager. I had been hoping to meet up with her, but with no wifi and so many people, it would have been a near impossibility if we hadn’t happened to arrive at the same time.
Not having wifi and no signal either was rather annoying as there was so much of the moment I wanted to tweet and instagram. This was a marketing opportunity lost, I felt. I was especially wowed by the main cake competitions where the theme for both the junior and adult catagory was the South West. The winning cakes were fabulous, but there were so many clever and quirky cakes there I would have found it very difficult to pick winners. Here are three of the ones I found particularly appealing. You can see the complete set here.
|Mary’s Whole Lemon Cake|
On the day that I attended, Mary was showing how to make her whole lemon cake. As I’d seen this on iPlayer very recently, I watched it from afar whilst enjoying a very welcome cup of tea. Not surprisingly she was hugely popular. She was also professional, interesting and very natural, showing herself to be completely at ease in front of the crowd.
I sat down to watch two of our local chefs, Chris Tanner and Peter Gorton, making a meringue roulade and chocolate tart respectivley. Both offerings looked fantastic and I was hoping we might get to try them, but sadly not. Having learnt to spray water on the back of the meringue paper if sticking becomes an issue, I may now become emboldened to try making a meringue roulade for myself.
|Textured Rolling Pins|
Although I was there for over five hours, there was heaps I didn’t do and see. I’d would like to have seen more of the cookery demos, but there just wasn’t time. There were a huge number of exhibitors and I’d like to have had a good look around. However, most of the stalls were so crowded, it was impossible to even see what they were selling and I needed elbows sharper than mine to position myself in suitable vantage points. I did manage to make a couple of purchases however: some red dust which I subsequently used on my mother’s lavender cake and a textured rolling pin which I’m looking forward to trying out.
|Mary Berry in Chocolate!|
There were a couple of finds that were particularly interesting. The first was Choc Edge, a prototype for a 3D chocolate printer. Jill and I watched it do a couple of turns printing Mary Berry’s face onto some paper. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but I suspect it will be soon. A brave new world has arrived, but at least it’s chocolate.
The second was Caprine Capers, a chocolatier making chocolates using milk and cream from their own goat herd. Other than the goat’s cheese truffles I made, these were the first goat chocolates I’ve come across and I was very impressed. These are perfect for those with a cow’s milk intolerance and there seemed to be plenty of takers on the day.
The good folk of Caprine Capers were somewhat concerned their stocks would run out before the show had ended. Nevertheless, they kindly gave me three of their truffles to take home and try: vanilla, calvados and brandy, all enrobed in a layer of dark chocolate. Rich smooth ganache, with complex flavours, including a touch of goat, all were highly satisfying and a great antidote to mindless scoffing. Of the three, the calvados was my favourite with it’s hint of apple and warming alcohol. Both CT and I were quite enamoured. Yes, I did share – reluctantly.
I was also kindly given a couple of Fuffle bars to take home and try. Fuffle? Chatting to the creator, I discovered this was a cross between fudge and truffles. The Little Devil (his words not mine) doesn’t like crumbly fudge, so he came up with something that has the texture of a truffle and the taste and sweetness of fudge.
Handmade in Worcestershire using simple ingredients, I enjoyed both of these creamy bars: Baileys Comet and Gary’s Chocolate Orange. The chocolate and Baileys liqueur fuffle was my favourite as it really did taste of Baileys, one of my favourite tipples. It was colour coded with a green inner wrapper for its Emerald Isle provenance, I assume. The second Fuffle was perfectly pleasant, but I felt the orange rather drowned out the chocolate. This one had an orange inner wrapper – a nice touch.
All in all it was a very busy day. The South West, it seems has taken cake to its heart and the date for next year’s The Big Cake Show, has already been set. Diaries out – 20-22 March 2015.
With thanks to Tracy for the VIP pass and goody bag. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.