Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bruce Bogtrotter's Choco Strawberry Cake

Last Saturday was my sister Florence's 19th Birthday. For some Birthday cake inspiration I turned to the Smitten Kitchen and decided to bake the Double Chocolate Layer Cake.

I changed the recipe slightly - in between each of the four (count em!) layers of chocolate sponge I spread a thin layer of my home made strawberry jam then a layer of thinly sliced fresh strawberries followed by a layer of chocolate ganache.

I stacked the cake up and covered the whole thing with more chocolate ganache and decorated with fresh strawberries. This cake totally exceeded my expectations - maybe it's the coffee that goes into the sponge cake or the double cream in the ganache icing or the dark dark chocolate, this cake is pretty special. It's deliciously rich and feels more like eating chocolate than cake but the fresh fruit balances it and adds a juicy freshness.

Florence likened it to Bruce Bogtrotter's cake in the Roald Dahl's Matilda - I think this is a very apt description!

Quentin Blake illustration source here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Spring Break

Hi there! I'm back from a fantastic week away with the girls. We visited Albufeira in Portugal and Seville in Spain. It's taken me a couple of days to get out of holiday mode - while we were away someone wisely said that a holiday is a time to practice living and you should try to take some of what you practice back into your every day life. If that's the case then I plan to bring back mid morning coffees with Portuguese Pasteis De Natas and some amazing tapas suppers into my life. Although we ate and drank our way around both cities and walked from morning until night, I can't remember when I've felt so well rested and refreshed.

I would like to share a few of my pictures from Portugal first of all, along with a couple of tips for anyone thinking about travelling to the region...

Above: The main beach in Albufeira and the quieter 'Golden Steps', a mere 4 Euro taxi ride away.

We travelled to Albufeira, a prime tourist destination in the Algarve region of Portugal. The main attraction was the coastline, beaches, restaurants and markets - though if you fancy raving the night away in an Irish pup Albufeira seems to cater to that too. We stayed in a villa so were able to shop at local markets and bring back our own fresh pastries, fruit and fish to cook as well as enjoying a glass of red (or three) up on our roof terrace.

The coastline of Portugal is beautiful, very similar to Cornwall with yellow sandy beaches and rugged cliffs. We spent our days walking along the coastline seeking out quiet beaches, sunbathing, reading, cooking and eating, time well spent if you ask me.

Above: Scenes from the market.

We felt our way around the bars and restaurants by asking local shopkeepers where they like to eat. The proprietor that served me my first Pasties De Nata of the trip (much more on this to come) pointed us in the direction of a fantastic seafood restaurant (sadly name forgotten!) where I had what were possibly the best garlic prawns of my life. We stayed well past closing, chatting to the owner and asked him where he bought his fish. He pointed us in the direction of the market he frequents and we went the next morning, picking up some fish to cook for supper that night. Another recommendation led us to a small, traditional restaurant O Manjar where I had a succulent fillet steak the size of my face for around 16 Euros.


If you're planning a visit I would recommend staying off the beaten track and seeking out small, local restaurants and shops. If you're self catering then a trip to the market is well worth a visit! Stock up on seafood, cured meats, olives, local honey and fresh fruit.

Tomorrow - more!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

See you in a week!

Just a quick post to say goodbye before I head off to Portugal for a week! In about 10 minutes I'll be heading off to meet my girlfriends for a week of very last minute fun in the sun. Hopefully I'll return with a bit of a tan, some great photos and some new culinary inspiration!

Photo of Portugal via Pinterest.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Croque Monsieur Cups...

Good morning and Happy Easter! Today felt like the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe that I've had my eye on for a while. These are Rachel Khoo's Croque Monsieur cups which were featured on the first episode of The Little Paris Kitchen (you can watch it on iplayer here). I love Rachel's style of cookery - paring everything down to the basic components and keeping it simple.

This recipe puts a different spin on a French classic and somehow makes it lighter and more modern. Instead of a heavy sandwich dripping with melted cheese and bechamel sauce, you have a crispy little cup just big enough to hold an egg, some ham, a little bechamel sauce and some grilled gruyere cheese.

I took 4 x slices of bread and cut off the crusts (though I must admit I couldn't quite face using sliced white bread like Rachel does, I settled for some wholegrain Vogel's instead). I then flattened them with a rolling pin before brushing them with melted butter and folding them carefully into a muffin tin. I then tore up some strips of roast ham and tucked them into the bottom of the cups before cracking an egg on top. I used Rachel's tip of not putting in all the egg white to leave room for the sauce. I whipped up a quick bechamel (with plenty of black pepper and grated nutmeg) and spooned this on top, followed by some crumbled gruyere cheese. I grilled them for about 10 minutes before carefully lifting them out of the muffin tin.

These are quick, easy and delicious. They also really feel like a treat which is perfect for Easter Sunday!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

I spotted this recipe by Dan Lepard on the Guardian's website a couple of weeks ago and have been dreaming about these hot crossed buns ever since. They're deliciously light and squidgy with a sugary, spicy glaze.

Who says you can only eat them on good Friday? We'll be enjoying them for breakfast and at tea time across the whole Bank Holiday weekend!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Carrot cake with buttercream roses...

Last weekend whilst Ciaran was cycling through the rolling hills of Scotland I had the house to myself and decided to enlist Anna, my baking partner in crime, into round two of our cake decorating adventures (if you missed our first attempt at a two tier celebration cake you can see the results here).

First we whipped up a carrot cake using a recipe from one of my favourite baking books - The Great British Book Of Baking (made to accompany the TV series The Great British Bake Off). The cake is springy and moist and might be my favourite carrot cake recipe so far. I tend to go heavy on the spices...

Ingredients for the cake...

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
225g soft light brown sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 an unwaxed orange
100g walnut pieces
3 medium free range eggs, beaten
150ml sunflower oil
250g carrots (about 3 tasty carrots)

Ingredients for the cream cheese icing...

200g full fat cream cheese
50g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 an unwaxed orange
2 teaspoons orange juice

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Sift the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, orange zest and nuts followed by the beaten eggs, sunflower oil and grated carrots. When thoroughly combined, divide the mixture between the prepared tins and spread it out evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

To make the icing, beat together all the ingredients until very smooth and creamy. Pop the icing in the fridge for a few minutes if its very warm so that it's firm enough to spread. Spread almost half the mixture onto one of the cakes and sandwich the two together, spread the rest over the top and you're ready to decorate!

We decided to try our hand at making buttercream roses - they look so delicate and pretty and are a lovely way to decorate a cake without having to resort to fondant icing.

To make buttercream roses you will need...

200g unsalted butter, very soft but not melted
400g icing sugar sifted
Couple of drops of natural food colouring
Piping bag fitted with a petal tip (this looks a bit like a crescent moon on an angle with one end more rounded than the other)

Place the butter and icing sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on a fairly high speed until light and fluffy. Whilst the mixture is beating add the food colouring a tiny drop at a time - be careful not to add too much or this will change the consistency of the butter cream. If you find that you've got the colour as dark as you want but the mixture is still too dry you could add a tiny drizzle of milk but proceed with caution as the mixture will turn to liquid very quickly!

It took a bit of practice to get the butter cream to the correct consistency - it needs to squeeze easily from the piping bag but be stiff enough to hold it's shape and not slide off the skewer. If in doubt make it a bit too stiff as it will quickly warm up in your hands as you work with it.

The technique for making the roses looks hard but is really easy! It's definitely something that needs to be seen rather than read about, I checked out the following video on youtube before giving it a go myself...

Once we had made a few roses we were happy with we dotted them on the top of the cake. I think they look really pretty against the cream coloured icing but you don't have to restrict yourself to just making a few - why not make a whole load and cover the entire cake with an abundance of pretty flowers. You could even make them in different pastel colours so it looks like a bouquet!

You can purchase the Great British Book of Baking via Amazon here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Here comes the sun...

What a sunny few days we've had! According to the Metro we can expect snow in Scotland and parts of England from tomorrow but on this bright and breezy afternoon I just can't believe it. What new clothes will you be treating yourself to this Spring? I'm finding myself drawn to everything coral and orange at the moment - lovely bright sorbet shades. Here's a few bits and pieces currently on my wish list...

I've got lots of sweet treats to share with you this week as we approach Easter so watch this space.