Weekend bake: Lavolio Easter egg nest cakes with pineapple, toasted coconut and rum buttercream

When you’re a grown up, Easter just isn’t as much FUN. And a little bit of me hates admitting that. There’s something about being a child and knowing that there’s a time of year when you are legitimately allowed to gorge yourself silly on chocolate with no repercussions (unless you grew up with a dentist for a father like me and had to suffer through the disapproving glances and constant, terrifying threat of egg confiscation). Somewhere along the way though, when you get old enough to have your own money and have thrown off the shackles of the pocket money dictatorship, the anticipation of events like Easter loose their potency.

Which is why you have to find some other way of getting excited about it. And what’s more exciting than a poorly concealed triple pack of Cadbury’s and or Nestle £1.99 egg specials waiting to be discovered in the garden? Actual grown up, decadent Easter treats made for adults whose discerning tummies no longer crave the sugar high that comes from wolfing down four creme eggs and most of a KitKat Chunky egg (you know, the ones that come with those god-awful mugs that invariably end up lurking at the back of an office kitchen cupboard coated in inedible tea stains).

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Grown up little morsels of deliciousness like Lavolio’s mini Easter eggs. Created by former banker Lavinia Davolio, who quit her job to set up a bespoke chocolate company, these sugary bites are made by hand coating roasted almonds in layers of white, dark and hazelnut chocolate before spinning them in a pristine shell of sugar. It’s safe to say that when Bake with Maria, the baking school who taught me all about gluten and sent me on a culinary odyssey to Tuscany, posted me a tin of these eggs and asked me to come up with a cupcake recipe using them for Easter, I was pretty pleased.

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The below recipe is my tropical take on Easter nest cupcakes and is made with adults in mind…which basically means it has a tasty glug of booze in it and a sweet surprise hidden inside each cake. Enjoy!
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Lavolio Easter egg nest cakes with pineapple, toasted coconut and rum buttercream

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Makes 12

Ingredients

125g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
1⁄4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 tbsp coconut milk
Lavolio Easter eggs

For the syrup
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 ripe pineapple, cored and sliced into chunks
pinch chilli flakes
200ml water

For the buttercream
250g salted butter (you need salt here to offset the sweetness. If you only have unsalted, beat in a good pinch of Maldon sea salt along with the sugar)
250g icing sugar
2 tbsp good rum – I used Bajan Estate Barbadian rum

For the decoration
1/2 ripe pineapple
50g shredded toasted coconut (if you can’t find any, buy some fresh coconut, slice thinly and roast in the oven along with the pineapple)
Lavolio Easter eggs

Method
  • Slice the stalk and leaves from your pineapple and cut off all the hard rind and the ‘eyes’. Halve it horizontally and turn one half into slim slivers using a mandolin slicer – be extra careful here, I nearly lost a thumb to my mandolin when I wasn’t paying attention!
  • Lay the rounds of sliced pineapple onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and leave to dry out into an oven set to 100 degrees C for around 1-2 hours. Peel the dried pineapple from the parchment and set aside to cool and harden.
  • Put the syrup ingredients into a saucepan along with any leftover pineapple juice from the mandolin and simmer on a low heat until the pineapple chunks have broken down and you’ve got a sticky, sweet reduced syrup – about 20 minutes.
  • Make the cupcakes by creaming together the soft butter and eggs in an electric mixer. Add the coconut milk and beat for a further 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of your mixer and beat for another 30 seconds.
  • Fill cupcake cases 2⁄3 full of the cake mixture and drop one or two mini Lavolio Easter eggs in to each cupcake. Pop into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake skewer comes out clean. When they are hot out of the oven, spoon a teaspoon of the pineapple syrup over each cake and let it soak in.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make a start on the rum buttercream. Beat together the butter, icing sugar and rum and set aside until your cakes are completely cool.
  • Decorate by smearing over a generous amount of buttercream using a small palette knife (don’t worry about making it smooth – you want your cakes to look a little rustic) and top with two mini Lavolio Easter eggs. Arrange shards of dried pineapple and toasted coconut around the eggs to make a nest.

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Explore the upcoming classes at Bake with Maria’s school here, their private events here, and find out about their annual culinary holiday to Tuscany, here.
Find out where you can locate Lavolio’s chocolate shop, here.
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The French goats cheese challenge part 2: Beetroot, apple & French goats cheese tart with a cauliflower, walnut & cumin crust

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Wandering around the supermarket on Sunday, I was embarrassingly delighted to see the first harvest of cox apples had landed. When I was small, my mum used to take me and my brother to a little pick your own farm called Cuckoo’s Corner for the start of Autumn. We’d run wild there, through the orchards of gnarled, stubby apple trees, kicking up the newly-fallen leaves and sinking our milk teeth into the tawny skins of crispy fresh apples snatched straight from the low-hanging branches.

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So I didn’t take much convincing to use some of these red-tinged fruit in my second recipe for the Easy Cheesy Chèvre French goats cheese challenge; this time using the more punchy-flavoured Crottin de Chavignol, which is made from the raw milk of Alpine goats and is the most famous of all the Loire Valley goats cheeses.

“Creamy French goats cheese combined with beetroot, caramelised red onions and a hint of cumin is a warming ode to Autumn.”

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Recently I’ve been experimenting with using cauliflower instead of flour for things like pizza bases and pastry. It might not be as firm or crispy as ordinary shortcrust, but it’s gluten free, packed with nutrients and goes beautifully with an added edge of toasted nuts or spices.

Plus, fewer calories from butter means you can eat more or it, right?

Beetroot, apple & French goats cheese tart with a cauliflower, walnut & cumin crust

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Ingredients

2 rounds of Crottin de Chavignol
2 cox apples
4 bulbs of beetroot
3 dsp balsamic vinegar
2 large red onions
1 dsp caster sugar

for the base
1 large cauliflower
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp cumin
100g walnuts

Method
  • Start by baking the raw beetroot. Wrap each bulb in tin foil and put on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for around two hours until they are soft and their skin peels off easily. Leave to cool for a bit before you slide the skins off and wear gloves as they’ll stain your fingers pink for days.
  • Next, make the caramelised red onions by slicing thinly and putting into a saucepan with the sugar, three dessert spoons of balsamic vinegar and 150ml of water. Cook on a low heat until the water has dissolved and the onions are soft and sticky.
  • To make the base, remove the leaves and cut the core from the cauliflower and blitz in a food processor to a breadcrumb consistency. Cover and cook in the microwave on high for six minutes then carefully tip it out onto a clean tea towel to cool.
  • Put the walnuts and cumin in a saucepan and gently toast for five minutes before blitzing to crumbs in the food processor.
  • Cauliflower holds a lot of water, this quick trick from BBC Good Food helps to squeeze most of it out so you can avoid the dreaded soggy bottom on your tart: when the cauliflower has cooled, gather the corners of the tea towel together and twist over the sink to squeeze as much water from the veg as possible.
  • Mix the drained cauliflower with the nuts and cumin crush and beat in the eggs. Push the mixture over the base and unto the edges of a 12-inch tart tin with a palette knife and bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes until it’s turned a golden, biscuitty shade.
  • Spoon over the cooked red onions and then slice your apple and beetroot into segments, arranging over the top with slices of Crottin de Chavignol.
  • Put the tart back into the oven for around 20 minutes until the apple is soft and the goats cheese is bubbling. You can spoon over a simple balsamic glaze to finish if you like – just heat balsamic vinegar with a spoonful of brown sugar in a pan until it turns thick and glossy like treacle. Serve with any leftover caramelised red onions.

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Weekend bake: Pear, vanilla and thyme shortbread tartlets

In between spending an embarrassingly long amount of time on YouTube scratching my latest (and strangest to date) music itch and hauling myself out of bed at 4am to go to Billingsgate Fish Market (it involved wine, which’ll be explained later) I unearthed some mini tart tins that my friend gave to me an age ago and decided it was probably about time I made use of them.

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And, since they’re perfectly in season – and happen to go with the glut of leftover vanilla pods and bunches of thyme that I rescued (possible stole) from a recent food shoot – a pear tart just seemed like the right thing to do.

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Call it Sunday laziness, but after knocking up some crème pâtissière, the inclination to make puff or even short crust pastry deserted me. So, instead of all-butter pastry, I opted for and all-butter shortbread; a sweet, crumbly biscuit alternative that’s actually perfect for little tarts like this as it has a firm structure and moulds itself like pliant play dough into tins.

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Pear, vanilla & thyme shortbread tartlets

Makes Four mini tarts with enough shortbread left over to make around 12 extra biscuits for mid-weeks snacking

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Ingredients

for the base
250g salted butter
110g caster sugar
360g plain flour

for the filling
8 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
50g plain flour
4 tsp cornflour
560ml full cream milk

for the top
2 ripe pears
4 tsp lemon curd
caramelised pistachios to scatter (optional)

Method
  • Grease your mini tins with butter and heat the oven to 180 C
  • Make your shortbread by creaming the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy
  • Add the flour and mix until it becomes a thickish paste. if it’s a little crumbly, don’t panic, it’ll some together when you roll it out
  • Tip your mix into cling film and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to roll. Shortbread is a tricky thing sometimes as because it has a high butter content, it can start to melt and become oily if you don’t keep it in the fridge. Also, the more you work shortbread, the tougher it becomes, so try not to handle it too much
  • Make the crème pâtissière by whipping together your egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale and a little frothy
  • Add the cornflour and plain flour and beat until smooth
  • Put the milk, a split vanilla pod and a few sprigs of thyme into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. When it’s bubbling, pour through a strainer (to keep the thyme twigs and pod separate) over the egg and sugar, whipping all the time
  • Then, simply pour the mixture back into the saucepan and bring it back to the boil, stirring all the time until it’s thick and cooked through. It’ll need to cool before it goes into the tarts, so just cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until you need it
  • Roll out your cooled shortbread between two sheets of baking parchment so the rolling pin doesn’t stick and gently fold over your tart tins, pushing it into the mould with your fingers. Don’t worry if the shortbread spills over the sides, you can neaten up the edges once they’re baked
  • Prick the bases with a fork to stop to them rising and put the tart cases into the preheated oven for around 10-15 mins until the shortbread is lightly burnished
  • Peel, core and slice your pears into thin slivers that you can layer as petals while the tart cases cook
  • Remove the tarts from the oven and leave to cool. They’ll need to be completely cold before you add in the crème pâtissière and decorate or they’ll melt the creme

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  • When they’re cool, fill them in the case as they’ll be less fragile. Just spoon in a generous amount of crème pât and top with sliced pears. For a little but of colour, heat a few teaspoons of lemon curd in the microwave and spoon over the pears. you can also scatter on caramelised pistachios for added crunch

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Carefully lever the tarts out of the cases and serve with a cup of tea and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling extra greedy.

Weekend bake: Cherry and chocolate ganache cake with edible trees

I decided a few weeks ago that it had been far too long since I’d done a proper bake and, since this notion coincided with the realisation that I’d missed not one, but two work colleague’s birthdays, a tuesday evening seemed like the perfect time to go a bit mental in the kitchen with an elaborate mid-week bake.

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The remit for this beast of a cake was ‘chocolate’ and what better foil for rich chocolate than ripe, fresh in-season cherries. Once you start with dark chocolate and cherries, the path to edible trees is obvious…well, it was to me anyway. The only downside was that the night I was making this monstrosity, the cake wizzkids on Bake Off were constructing edible forests of their own, which makes mine look like a poor copout. Or perhaps a poor coppice?!

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Anyway, as daunting as this cake looks, it’s actually all rather easy to do, even the ganache, which is one of the simplest things you can do with chocolate.

And you’ll need a LOT of chocolate for this cake (because chocolate makes everything that much better) and will need to prepare for just a smidge of mess in your kitchen.

When my flatmates came to investigate how the baking was progressing they found me stumbling around the kitchen, picking my way through the piles of used bowls and sad little shrivelled piping bags in some sort of post-apocolypitic fondant battleground.

Apparently I was brandishing a spoon, my face smeared with chocolate like warpaint and squawking “S’NOT READY YET!” Although by that point of the evening, I’d inhaled a lot of icing sugar dust and things had all got a bit hazy. The moral of the story is that this cake will take a bit of time, which definitely makes it a weekend bake and not a post-work, pre-bed sugar-laden extravaganza.

But it’s definitely worth a stroll down to the woods today to make it.

Cherry and chocolate ganache cake with edible trees and pistachio brittle

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There might seem like a lot of ingredients for this recipe, but you need to make a lot of sponge to get enough height to be able to stand the trees around the edge. This recipe is as easy-to-make as they come and uses real butter – unbeatable for dense, rich cakes – combined with extra-fine sponge flour, which you can find in most supermarkets.

for the cake
170g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
170g softened butter
170g golden caster sugar
3 eggs

for the decorations

white chocolate ganache
200g white chocolate, chopped finely
300ml double cream

dark chocolate ganache
200g dark chocolate
300ml double cream

pistachio brittle
50g pistachios
100g golden caster sugar

chocolate trees
100g dark or milk chocolate
50g pistachios

600g cherries

Method

  • Always start with your chocolate work as these will take the longest to set. I didn’t temper the chocolate for this recipe so it didn’t have much of a glossy sheen when it dried, but if you’d like to find out how to make tempered chocolate, just head to my chocolate bark recipe.
  • Split your 600g of cherries in half. Try to pick out the ones that still have their stems attached, double stemmed cherries are even better as these will sit on top of your cake prettily and are easier to dip in chocolate.
  • Melt 100g of dark chocolate over a bain marie or gently in the microwave and dip your stemmed cherries into it, leaving them to dry on some baking paper.

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  • Next, chop 50g of pistachios to make leaves for the chocolate trees. You can leave some whole if you like – they’ll make bigger, more impressive leaves.
  • Melt a further 100g of either dark or milk chocolate and quickly pour it into a piping bag, squeezing it all the way down to the nozzle, before roughly piping out the shape of a tree trunk and branches onto greaseproof paper. You can draw a shape with pencil before you pipe if you like, but I think these trees look better a little more abstract.

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  • I made a mixture of piped and freehand trees, which you make by smearing chocolate on greaseproof paper with the back of a spoon. The key is making sure that you get a thick enough layer on the trunk and canopy/branches so that it will be strong enough to support the crushed pistachios and won’t snap when you stand them against the cake.
  • While the chocolate is still melted, sprinkle over the pistachios to make leafy treetops. Set aside to cool and harden.

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  • Cook the cream in a heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat on the stove. The key is to take the cream off the stove when it’s just about to boil and you can see tiny bubbles bursting at the sides of the pan. Quickly pour it over the chopped chocolate and stir furiously. As it cools, the mixture will start to get thick and glossy.
  • Repeat with the dark chocolate.
  • As a general rule of thumb, when it’s thick and glossy it makes wonderfully drippy, pourable icing for cakes; when it cools a little more, it’ll be more like a rich buttercream and, if you let it go completely cold, it turns into a moussey sort of fudgy icing that’s perfect for smoothing over a cake with a palette knife. For this, I wanted the thickest kind, so I left my ganaches to cool completely before I used them to decorate the cake.
  • Make the cake while the chocolate ganaches and decorations cool down. Start by setting your oven to 170 degrees centigrade and greasing and lining two 8-inch cake tins.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and then gradually add in the eggs, beating well after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder then start to add these dry ingredients to the butter and egg mix, gently folding the mixture with a large metal spoon.
  • When it’s all mixed together, divide it between the two cake tins and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes or until the cakes have risen and are cooked all the way through (you can test it with a skewer if you aren’t sure – stick the skewer into the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean then it’s cooked, if it’s coated in mixture then it needs longer in the oven) and leave them to cool for at least 20 minutes before you try to turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the pistachio brittle by letting the sugar melt in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat until it’s turned into a golden caramel and is completely liquid. Scatter the remaining pistachios over some greaseproof paper and pour the molten sugar over them and leave to harden. If you have any caramel left, you can drizzle it over your treetops.

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  • Prepare the remaining half of your cherries. These will be going inside the centre of your cake, so you just need to halve them and remove their stones.
  • When the cakes are cool, place one dome side down on a large plate (putting it dome-side down means you’ve got a flat surface to decorate) and smother it with the white ganache. Arrange cherry halves all over the white ganache and then cover those with more dollops of ganache.
  • Carefully place the second cake dome side down on top and, using a palette knife, cover the whole cake – top and sides – with the dark chocolate ganache.
  • Arrange your chocolate dipped cherries on top of the cake along with any spare cherry halves that didn’t make it into the inside of the cake. Smash the pistachio brittle into little chunks and chuck these at random on the top of the cake too. If you have bigger pieces left you can use them to decorate around the bottom of the cake between the trees.
  • Oh so very very carefully peel your chocolate trees from the greaseproof paper and carefully stick them to the outside of the cake. If they snap or branches come off, glue them back on using any leftover ganache.

You should now have a monstrously large, uber chocolatey cake to show off and to scoff. One final word of warning, this is possibly the messiest cake in the world, never attempt to eat it without napkins…unless you’re an animal like me, in which case I can thoroughly recommend going face first.

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If you aren’t a fan of dark chocolate, this would work just as well with milk chocolate, and you can always use different nuts and fruit to decorate if pistachios aren’t your cup of tea – I think this would be lovely with blackberries and hazelnuts come Autumn.

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Weekend bake: plum and frangipane tart

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I never liked plums much growing up. They seemed like a sad, sour cousin of the much sweeter and more tempting cherries that you would only really eat under duress (or in times of cherry famine). I never particularly liked the marzipan-flavoured denseness of frangipane either, mainly because an almond slice was the last thing I remember eating before my family – excluding my iron-gutted father – came down with food poisoning at Club Med in Morocco when I was eight and was only able to stomach crackers and laughing cow cheese for the rest of the trip.

As a grownup, I’ve started to appreciate that uniquely sharp-sweet, almost fizzy tang that only plums have and have come to my senses about the true glory of a proper slice of fruit tart bubbling over with golden-brown, fluffy frangipane. We’re now coming into peak British plum season so it seemed the perfect time to showcase one of the plum’s more unusual varieties: the redgage.

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I’ve found this particular plum variety, which is a smaller, sweeter, pinker version of a traditional red plum, embarrassingly fascinating. Mainly because I made it my mission to track some down to feature for my weekly editor’s pick at work, but also because they’re notoriously difficult to find. Marks & Spencer are the only place you can pick these little ruby beauties up this summer, and only for a limited time.

Redgages are so exclusive to M&S, in fact, that they’ve trademarked their name. Bitchin’. But I won’t go on too much, as I’ve already probably bored the nation silly rambling on about them on Style & Living, but suffice to say, as soon as I tried them all I could think about was putting them into some sort of dessert.

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No pudding is quite as good at showing off a ripe soft fruit like a traditional tart and this easy-peasy recipe for shortcrust pastry filled with pillowy mounds of almond and vanilla and studded with juicy redgages is as good as Sunday afternoon tea gets.

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Ingredients

for the pastry
185g (plus extra for dusting) plain four
85g cold diced salted butter
35g caster sugar
1 egg

for the filling
12 redgages (you can use normal plums if you can’t track any down)
1 vanilla pod
85g ground almonds
85g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
85g soft, salted butter

Method

  • Start by washing, drying and halving your redgages, carefully removing the stones.

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  • Make your pastry by rubbing the flour and butter together by hand until the mixture has reached a breadcrumb consistency. Then stir through the sugar and egg to bind the dough.
  • When it’s just holding together, tip it onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out until it’s about 2cm thin. Don;t overwork the party or it will become tough. If the butter starts to melt in the heat of the kitchen, wrap it in cling film and pop it into the fridge for 10 mins to cool down again.
  • Gently drape the dough over a 12-inch fluted tart tin and prick with a fork all over to stop it rising. The pastry in this tart is so thin that you don’t have to blind bake it first to ensure a crispy base.

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  • Make the filling for the tart by creaming the butter and the sugar and mixing through the found almonds, eggs and the scrapings from your vanilla pod.

“Sprinkling extra ground almonds on the cooked pastry base before adding fruit helps to absorb extra moisture.” – Mary Berry

  • Sprinkle a handful of ground almonds over the base of your tart before smoothing over the frangipane with a pallet knife.
  • Push the redgage halves into the frangipane and blob any leftover mix around the fruit.

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  • Bake in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade for around 30-45 minutes until it’s golden brown and serve with a cup of tea and a blob of cream.

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Lazy Sunday heaven.

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Baking Gluten Savvy Bread with Maria

For a long time now, gluten has beeen seen as the foodie devil incarnate, so I went along to a healthy bread class with Bake with Maria on behalf of Foodepedia to see if I could learn to be gluten savvy instead of gluten scared.

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“So, before we start, does everyone know exactly what gluten is?”

This seemingly innocuous question was asked by Maria Mayerhofer, the baking genius behind Bake with Maria, who is out to get Londoners baking and making, one beautifully executed cookery class at a time.

I stumbled up the residential steps to Maria’s Baking Lab on the edge of South Hampstead in the dark one rainy evening last week, utterly convinced I was in the wrong place until I spotted a doorway filled with light and, on closer inspection, emitting the encouraging smell of freshly baked cake.

As I walked into the teeny tiny kitchen and work space, I was immediately offered a raspberry financier and some still warm, buttered banana bread and, eyeing it suspiciously, asked if it was gluten free. A mistake, because Maria and her team don’t do gluten free, they do gluten smart, which is why I was there, to take part in a Gluten Savvy Bread Class.

Gluten, a protein composite found in wheat and grains, has had it hard these past few years. Accused of upsetting stomachs from New York to London, it’s been relegated to the unpopular food ranks alongside fat and, more recently, sugar – fat might be getting an invite back to polite dining society; the foodie jury is still out on that one. Today, gluten has almost become a dirty word, uttered by filthy bread cravers whose only socially acceptable outlet is spending £4 on an artisan sourdough loaf, which is the only sort of ‘healthy’ bread, obviously.

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I’ve heard countless people, from housemates to co workers proudly announce that they’re giving up gluten or claiming that they couldn’t possibly eat it as it makes them feel bloated as they cradle their tummies protectively. Now, real gluten allergies are no laughing matter. Coeliac disease is a terrible affliction and means sufferers can’t stand even a trace of gluten, from its presence in soy sauce to ale. Tom from Shipton Mill thinks he knows why people associate that bloated feeling with bread: it’s the quality of bread you’re eating.

At the time he said this he was encouraging me and a bunch of food writers to squeeze a bog standard sliced white loaf back into dough pellets like we all did as kids, while pointing out that these loaves, which he called ‘water standing up’, are mass produced, barely proved and full of additives and preservatives that are far more likely to cause irritation than actual gluten ever is.

Gluten free loaves didn’t get off easy either, as Tom pointed out that bread should have four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt) while gluten free loaves often have closer to 13, with everything from sugar to starch, stabilisers and flavourings added to the original mix to keep it tasting and feeling like, well, bread.

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And so began our gluten education, or should I say re-education at the hands of Maria and master baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, the author of How to Make Bread, who walked us all through the astonishingly simple process of baking fresh, delicious breads at home.

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As well as explaining how spelt (which, incidentally hasn’t really altered for the past 6,000 years) is more easily digested by the body yet still contains gluten and showing us how to roll the perfect seeded baguette, Hadjiandreou showed us how to do a gluten wash – submerging raw dough in water and squeezing it until you’re left with a stringy residue – on different types of bread dough to see just how much gluten they actually contain.

And that’s exactly what the classes at Bake with Maria aim to do: to practically show you the joy of baking and serve it alongside a side order of specialist knowledge. As an added bonus you get to eat everything you make at the end of the class, which for us meant loaves hot from the oven and dripping with butter and Maria’s homemade hummus and beetroot dip and a warm baguette to carry home on the tube, much to the olfactory envy of fellow passengers.

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As we were sent home, each clutching our baguettes and beaming with a shared sense of gluten epiphany, there wasn’t one of us that didn’t believe what Maria had been saying to us all along: that healthy, very much gluten FULL loaves are quick and easy and incredibly cheap to make at home and everyone should be doing it.

 Visit www.bakewithmaria.com to see all upcoming pastry, bread and cake classes and for more information on prices.

Original piece written for the wonderful Foodepedia.co.uk and can be read here.

Weekend bake: Valentine’s Day pomegranate, yoghurt and rose cake

Instead of the usual bah humbug post for Valentine’s Day, this year I thought I would do something a little more productive and bake a pink-tinged, vaguely Valentine’s themed cake.

This fragrant, almost-Middle Eastern little cake is a dense, fruity bake that combines crushed cardamom and yoghurt instead of butter with ground almonds and my favourite fruit of the moment: pomegranate.
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In fact, given the option, I think I would eat pomegranate with every meal at the moment, which is why it’s lucky that this super fruit goes with everything from salad to red meat as well as sugary puds.

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It also means that I get to use one of my new favourite baking ingredients – Nielson Massey Rose Water. I adore the smell of roses and, when used with extreme caution in cooking, their delicate, floral flavour is utterly intoxicating. Just opening this bottle flooded my kitchen with the smell of fresh laundry and English gardens in the  summertime.

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I decorated this cake with crystallised rose petals, which are one of the easiest and prettiest cake decorations I know. These delicate little sugared flowers look like something from a fairytale, but are deceptively easy to make and will keep for weeks if you store them in an airtight tub. The first time I made a batch to top some cupcakes, my friends spent the whole time ignoring the cakes and picking off the petals, devouring them like sweets.

Valentine’s Day also means that there are plenty of single roses to be nabbed at the shops, which is handy as you don’t need a whole bunch to make crystallised petals. A single rose will make lots of edible decorations, so if you’ve been lucky enough to get some this Valentine’s, why not knock some up for afternoon tea today.

DSC_5331Ingredients

for the cake
4 cardamom pods
125g ground almonds
125g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g caster sugar
150g greek yogurt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
the seeds from half a pomegranate

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for the icing
few drops of rose water
few drops of pink food colouring
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp water

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for the crystallised rose petals
petals from one rose (pink or red looks prettiest)
1 egg white
50g caster sugar

Method

  • Crush the cardamom pods (throw away the tough husks) and bash the fragrant seeds in a pestle and mortar until they break up. Drop them into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and caster sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.
  • Beat the yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence together with a fork and drop into the dry ingredients, mixing well until you’ve got a thick, paste-like texture.

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  • Halve a pomegranate and pick out all the fruit from one half, making sure you remove all the little bits of membrane and pith. Gently stir the juicy seeds through your cake mix before plopping it into a greased cake tin. I used a ring tin as it makes such a pretty shape, but you can use any tin you have handy – this cake doesn’t rise much so don’t worry if the mixture is near the top!
  • Pop into a preheated oven at 180 degrees for around 30 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when pushed through the middle.
  • While the cake cools – you should wait ten or so minute before you try to prise it out of the tin – make the crystallised rose petals by gently washing and drying them before brushing with egg white and dipping them into the caster sugar until they are completely coated.
  • Lay the sugared petals out on a lined baking tray. These will dry on their own if you leave them in a warm, dry place, but if you’re in a hurry, which I always am, you can put them into the cooling oven after the cake – they should dry out and go hard and shiny in about 10 minutes.
  • To make the icing, simply sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and drop in the water, mixing until you have a rich, glossy mixture that coats the back of a spoon. If it isn’t thick enough you can add more icing sugar. Add in a few drops each of the pink food colouring (beetroot-based, natural mixtures are best) and the rose water – be very careful with the rose water as a little goes a long way and too many drops will leave your icing tasting a bit like potpourri!
  • When the cake is completely cool, put the cooling rack on a tray (this icing will drip everywhere) and drizzle the icing all over before finishing with the crystallised rose petals and serving with tea or a big cup of turkish coffee.

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Saint & Sinner: prawn courgette linguini with mango, avocado salad and cinnamon buns with ultimate hot chocolate

I can’t be good all the time when it comes to food. My brain just simply isn’t programmed that way. I can eat healthily for a meal or even for a day, but before long all the dairy-free, gluten free, vegan or veggie treats in the world just can’t cut it.

I’m a fan of balance – to indulge some times and cut back at others – which is why I’m embarking on a new series of recipes that give the concept of my weekend bakes a different angle by pairing them with better for you meals to cook alongside them.

Saint & Sinner isn’t about depriving yourself when you really want a treat. It’s also not about forcing in fatty meal after fatty snack; it’s about meeting somewhere in the middle, where one plate is perfectly good for you and one…well, not so much.

It’s food of two halves: one healthy, balanced and angelic and one that satisfies my darker, devilish foodie side that craves fat, sugar and gloriously guilty eating.

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My first duo combines a fresh, antioxidant boosting veggie and fruit packed main course that takes mere minutes to knock up but keeps you full and happy for hours with a decadent afternoon or evening snack that is guaranteed to satisfy your sugar cravings.

I hope you like eating them as much as I did! P.S. Don’t forget to make the buns first – you can knock the salad and linguini up while they bake and fill your house with the smell of hot butter, burnt sugar and cinnamon.

Spicy prawn courgette linguini with mango, avocado and pomegranate salad (serves two)

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This recipe uses my favourite kitchen gadget – the spiralizer, which I’m pretty sure everyone must have by now. I actually cheated a bit and used a julienne peeler for this recipe, which works just as well in a pinch.

for the linguini

155-200g fresh king prawns
2 large garlic cloves or 3 small cloves
1-2 red chillies
2 medium courgettes
small bunch of coriander
2 tbsp olive oil

for the salad

1 ripe avocado
1 ripe mango
the seeds from half a pomegranate
1 bag of washed baby spinach
2 tbsp olive oil
half a lemon

Method
  • Pop the washed spinach into a big serving bowl and then peel and slice your mango and avocado into slim pieces. Drop these over the spinach and shake over the pomegranate seeds. If you have a ripe pomegranate, the seeds should fall out of their shell with a few firm taps on the base with a knife handle.

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  • Make a simple dressing for this zingy salad by squeezing what’s left of the mango’s flesh around the stone over a cup, trying not to drop in too much of the leftover fruit as you squeeze the juice out. Glug in the olive oil followed by the juice from half a lemon and salt and pepper to taste. Add more lemon or more mango juice until you have a lovely sharp and sweet edge and then simply pour over the salad.
  • Peel and crush or grate the garlic into a heavy bottomed frying pan with the olive oil on a low heat. Finely chop the red chilli and add to the pan when the garlic starts to sizzle. Season with a good pinch of sea salt and a few twists of black pepper.

I like my food with a little kick so I always leave in the membrane and the seeds of my chillies, but you can leave them out if you have a particularly hot one. You can test the heat by holding the cut chilli on your lip. If it starts to tingle you’ve got a mildly spicy one. If it starts to burn then you’ve got a scorcher!

  • Grab your spiralizer or your specially adapted grater and turn your courgettes into green linguini. Skinny strands of courgette like this will need practically no cooking – they’re even delicious raw with just a squeeze of lemon and a shake of pepper. If you over do them all the water they hold will just spill out and dilute your dish.
  • Drop the cooked prawns into the sizzling pan and let them warm through for a minute before you pour in your courgette linguini. Turn the linguini so it gets coated in all that garlicky, oily goodness and leave to get tender. This should take about another minute.
  • Roughly chop a handful of fresh coriander before plating up your steaming linguini and prawns. Finish with a splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a scattering of the herbs over the top.

Iced cinnamon buns and my ultimate hot chocolate

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I have been searching for the perfect cinnamon bun recipe for years, and while the sinfully delicious ones they serve at Nordic Bakery hit the spot, there’s nothing quite like baking your own and devouring them when they’re still warm from the oven and the icing is just dribbling down the sides in glossy streaks.

I first made the hot chocolate that completes my naughty recipe for pudding heaven for a bonfire night party at my flat. My housemates and I were experimenting with different boozy concoctions that could be transported in flasks when we braved the rain and wind to watch the fireworks. We made hot buttered rum, warm spiced cider and this deep, rich pan of pure calorific gorgeousness that has become infamous among my friends.

I experimented a little with the spices and alcohol, but this is the best it has ever got and, for nights in with a film or a book or for a post dinner treat, a mug of this creamy, unctuous drink can’t be beaten.

for the buns

500g strong white bread flour
8g dried yeast
pinch salt
75g caster sugar
75g soft butter
1 beaten egg
300ml warm milk

for the filling

100g softened butter
100g light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

for the icing

7 tsp icing sugar
3 tsp water

for the ultimate hot chocolate (makes two small cups or one massive mug)

1 pint semi-skimmed milk
100g 75% dark chocolate
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
good glug of Amaretto liqueur (optional)

Method

These buns use a similar recipe for enriched dough that I used for making Rosca de Reyes cake. Enriched doughs are a little harder to work with than traditional bread mixes, but are worth it in the end.

  • Put the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl, taking care to put the salt and the yeast at different sides of the bowl, as the salt will kill the yeast.
  • Push and rub the softened butter through the flour mix with your hands until it feels a bit like breadcrumbs.
  • Add the warm milk, a few glugs at a time to the dry ingredients along with the beaten egg.
  • Mix with your hands. The mixture will feel gloopy and wet at the start but if you keep working it you’ll feel the gluten building up as it stretches and becomes more like play doh.
  • When the dough becomes elastic and is peeling cleanly from the side of the bowl and from your hands, tip it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for around ten minutes. Try to resist the temptation to keep adding flour; this is an enriched dough and is inherently a little looser than traditional bread dough. If you’re unable to pummel the sticky mixture into submission at the start then use a stretch and push motion to work the dough.
  • When the dough is springy and you can stretch it without breaking it, chuck it back into the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or greased Clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour.
  • Meanwhile, mix the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon for the filling in a bowl until it turns into a soft, ginger-coloured paste (try to resist easting it – I struggle with this)
  • After the dough has risen, knock it back with a good kneading for five minutes before rolling it on a lightly-floured surface into a rough rectangle shape. The dough will try to spring back and clench up but you should be able to get it about 1cm thick.
  • Spread the soft butter and sugar mixture all over the rectangle of dough and then gently start rolling the dough up from one end until it meets the other. Try to keep it quite tight so you get the maximum number of cinnamon spirals in there. When all you’ve got left is a big dough sausage, slice it into discs about an inch thick and tuck next to each other in a greased and lined baking tin. I used a circular free form tin so my dough discs looked like a spiral of flowers snuggled up inside.
  • Cover with a tea towel and put back in a warm place for a second prove. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • When the buns have risen up and spring back when you poke them, heat your oven to 190C and pop them in for around 25-30 minutes, until they’re a burnished golden brown. They will stick together as they grown and bake, this just means you have to tear them apart when you’re ready to eat them.
  • When the buns are out of the oven, leave them to cool on a wire rack while you smash up the dark chocolate and drop into a saucepan with the milk and heaped teaspoons of the nutmeg and cinnamon. Heat this on a low heat, stirring all the time until the chocolate as melted and the mixture is smooth, steaming and dark.
  • Mix the icing sugar and water into a paste in a bowl or glass – you can drizzle this over the buns when they’ve cooled from the oven.

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Weekend Bake: Sage, Walnut and Sweet Potato Bread

I was looking around for a savoury sweet potato bread for ages this morning, something that would offset the sugary, toffee-like  consistency of the potatoes with a more lunchtime friendly flavour. I found recipe after recipe for sweet bread with pecans, cinnamon, honey, raisons and even a carrot-cake style cream cheese icing, but nothing that could pass as a savoury version, so there really was nothing for it; I’d have to create my own.

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This bread is a dense, sweet and filling loaf that uses spelt flour, so happens to be easier on wheat intolerant tummies. I added chopped walnuts and the last of my summer tricolour sage that I delicately plucked (ahem, yanked) from my window box to give it deliciously warm, nutty flavour that counteracts the perfumed sweetness of the orange potato flesh.

This bread is perfect served warm from the oven, sliced into thick slices and slathered in butter or served alongside winter vegetable soup and it also freezes perfectly. It’s the ideal autumnal loaf!

Don’t throw away the skins from the roasted sweet potatoes. Instead, drizzle them with olive oil, sea salt flakes and chilli flakes and bake them to make tasty little crisps. They’re a great snack on their own or are lovely when sprinkled on soups.

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Ingredients

300g spelt flour
1-2tbs olive oil
good pinch of sea salt
100ml warm water
7g fast acting yeast
500g sweet potato flesh
50g chopped walnuts
small bunch of sage, washed and chopped

Method

  • Roast the sweet potatoes in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees centigrade for about 30 minutes until soft. I used three of varying sizes to get the 500g I needed. Scoop the cooked flesh out and let it cool on a plate.
  • Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the salt and yeast at opposite sides of the bowl add glug in the oil and warm water. Mix this around with a wooden spoon before dropping in the sweet potatoes.
  • You can mix this with your hands but this is an extremely wet and gloopy dough so using an electric mixer is a little easier. If you do decide to knead it by hand, drop it onto a lightly floured surface and make sure you have a dough card to hand as it helps to scoop the mix up and around.
  • Knead or mix for around 20 minutes to help build up the gluten strands before plopping back into the bowl and covering with a tea towel. Leave to rise for around an hour in a warm place. This loaf mix won’t ever get very big as it will be held back by the sweet potato and heavy spelt flour, but a little proving stops this loaf from being too stodgy.

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  • After the first prove, chop the walnuts and sage and knead into the dough on a lightly floured surface for five minutes before dropping into an olive oil greased and lined loaf tin. Pop in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade for about 40 minutes to an hour, until the loaf is burnished sunset colour and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.
  • Try not to cut it when it’s too wet as the dense, almost caky mix will tear and concertina down, although I must admit, it’s quite difficult to resist this loaf when it’s ready!

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Weekend Bake: Eurovision Chocolate, Amaretto & Hazelnut Tiffin

It might be over and done and dusted for another year, but this year’s Eurovision was bloomin’ brilliant, from trampolining rappers and random anthems about china (“OPIUMMMMM”) to songs about moustaches and more pyrotechnics than a Prodigy gig. And, ladies and gents, we have a ‘wiener’ in Conchita Wurst.

I’ve had last year’s irritatingly catchy winning song stuck in my head for yonks and privately think no one has been able to beat Dana International in the stylish win stakes so far…until last night. I was thrilled, utterly THRILLED that Conchita Wurst won and not just because I’ve been obsessively watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, have had a drag party and think she looked far better in that lace fishtail dress than I ever could. I’m glad she won because a controversial comment on the  modern construct of beauty in the face of some of those eastern block countries that aren’t traditionally known for being pro-gay, pro-drag, and pro anything gender questionable is very brave. And, let’s face it she was good! It was all Bond Theme, fire and power and surprisingly everyone loved it, even some of those aforementioned countries (although I did feel a little bit sorry for the 17-year-old Russian twins who seemed to have no idea why they were being boo-ed after every point).

So, to relive the moment of triumph, here’s Conchita the firebird in all her power ballad glory

Now to the eats. This Eurovision tiffin is a no-bake, dense, chocolate cake crammed with cakey biscuits and toasted hazelnuts that uses ingredients from some of the Eurovision countries.

It combines Swiss chocolate, with their ‘row like a lion’ entry, although with their weird whistling and questionable lyrics – “Like an evil satellite, twisting the truth then leaving us alone / I am the hunter you are the prey, tonight I’m gonna eat you up” – I almost wish Belgium had gone through instead.

With hazelnuts from Spain and Turkey. Although Turkey didn’t make it through this year, Spain had a cracker with this Adele-esque number.

My home-made amaretto cake biscuits made with amaretto from Italy, although their entrant, Emma, let me down with a crap tricolour salad flag and a performance so aggressive it seemed like that uncomfortable-looking glittery dress had ridden right up and was giving her rage issues.

Lots of butter (I love Président butter, which is made from Normandy milk) from France, who, I have to admit, through the power of subtle, subliminal messaging, left me wanting nothing more than a moustache…

And good old golden syrup and apples from the United Kingdom (Tate & Lyle are actually one of the UK’s oldest brands, with founder Henry Tate introducing Britain to the sugar cube in 1875). This recipe certainly won’t help you fit into any Eurovision-ready outfits (let’s face it, it’s 90% solid fat), but, after the UK’s disappointing showing AGAIN in the scoreboards, who doesn’t feel like a bit of Eurovision come down comfort eating?

Eurovision Chocolate, Amaretto and Hazelnut Tiffin

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Ingredients for the amaretto cake biscuits
2 egg whites
100g ground almonds
100g castor sugar
good glug of amaretto liqueur, about 40 ml

Ingredients for hot amaretto apples
2 hard eating, not cooking apples like royal gala or braeburn
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
40ml amaretto

Ingredients for the Tiffin
200g milk chocolate and 100g milk chocolate for the topping
100g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
80g toasted hazelnuts, some whole, some roughly chopped
8-10 amaretto cake biscuits broken up

Method for amaretto biscuits

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  • Whisk the egg whites until they’re stiff and mix in the almonds, sugar and amaretto before spooning the soft paste into cupcake tins and bake at 170 for 20 minutes or until deep golden. Leave to cool before breaking into small chunks.
  • This recipe will give the traditionally hard biscuits a soft, chewy centre that gives the perfect contrast to the crunchy hazelnuts in the gooey tiffin.

Method for hot amaretto apples

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  • Core the apples and chop into small chunks, leaving the skin on.
  • Cook in a frying pan with the sugar, butter and amaretto until golden and caramelised and the alcohol has mostly burnt off. You can flash fry to reheat these when it’s time to serve the tiffin.

Method for tiffin

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  • Grease a tin with butter and line with baking paper.
  • Melt the 200g of chocolate with the butter and golden syrup in a glass bowl over boiling water until liquid and set aside to cool for a few minutes before stirring in the biscuit pieces and hazelnuts and pouring into the prepared tin.
  • Cover and leave this to set for half an hour in the fridge before melting the last 100g of chocolate and pouring it over the top. Pop back in the fridge to set for another hour or two before cutting into wedges and serving with the hot, buttery, amaretto apples.

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