Weekend bake: Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

Did you know that the ancient greeks invented the cheesecake? They even served small cheesecakes to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. and if that isn’t a ringing endorsement to consume them for health reasons then I don’t know what is.

We might have been a bit late to the party by the time it rocked Western Europe’s world in 1000 A.D. but we quickly made up for it by making it one of our best-loved desserts.

A fat wedge of cheesecake is one of my guilty pleasures too, which is why I decided to make one with a Valentine’s Day-apprporiate version for this most sappy of weekends using a very special ingredient…no, definitely not love, although I am unashamedly in love with the product in question: French goats cheese.

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When the lovely folk at Easy Chèvre sent me a cool bag full of goats cheese, I’ll admit, pudding didn’t automatically spring to my mind. But, after my experiments with ice cream in the last recipe challenge and after tasting the fluffy cloud of whipped fresh goats cheese with it’s salty sweet tang and sharp, lemony edge, all I could think about was how deliciously it would whip into a cheesecake.

My champagne & raspberry cheesecake with a brown butter shortbread base is an insanely rich and delicious dish to make for a weekend treat, as well a brilliant way to finish a meal – especially on Valentine’s Day, when the thought of shelling out cash to sit elbow to elbow with a bunch of strangers eating a reduced version of a restaurant menu for double the usual price seems less than appealing.

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Instead of more traditional ginger or digestive biscuits, I’ve opted for shortbread enriched with brown butter and crushed roasted hazelnuts to bring out the mellow edge of the fresh goats cheese and offset the sharp, citrus sweetness of raspberries and champagne.

Valentine’s champagne, raspberry & French goats cheesecake

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Ingredients

200g goats cheese
500g raspberries
1 bottle of champagne (you’ll only need two glasses but if you’re like me you’ll want to drink the rest of the bottle while cooking)
300g shortbread biscuits
100g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
125g unsalted butter
500g marscapone
75g icing sugar
4tsp caster sugar
half a lemon

Method

  • Start by cracking the champagne (obviously)! Halve 160g of raspberries and put into a bowl and then pour over a glass of champagne to cover the fruit and leave to stew until they’ve turned the liquid a pretty blushing pink. You can add a teaspoon of caster sugar along with the bubbles too, but I prefer to keep my berries tart to offset the sweetness of the cheesecake.
  • Grease and line a 7-inch fluted tart case with baking parchment. Then blitz the shortbread biscuits in a processor until you have a rough crumb consistency. Pour into a bowl with the roasted and chopped hazelnuts.
  • Heat your butter in a small pan on the stove until it bubbles and turns a delicious golden brown – this will add a lovely richness to your biscuit base and enhance the nutty flavour that the hazelnuts give. Pour over the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix before flattening into the base of your tart tin, ensuring you press right down into the edges. Pop the tin into the fridge to keep cool and firm up until you want to fill it.
  • Cream together the French goats cheese and the marscapone with the icing sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Take your chilled cheesecake base out of the fridge and arrange your champagne-soaked raspberry halves in concentric circles on the biscuit base (drink the marinating liquid if you feel inclined) and then carefully top with the creamy cheese mixture using a pallet knife to spread the topping over the fruit without crushing it.

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  • Put it back in the fridge to cool and set while you make a raspberry sauce to finish. Blitz the remaining raspberries in a processor with another glass of champagne and two or three teaspoons of caster sugar to taste. Pour the raspberry puree into a saucepan and gently heat until it’s reduced to the consistency of soft caramel. You’ll need to keep stirring the mix as those champagne bubbles make it a little volatile (I learned the hard way how difficult it is to clean pink foam off the stove top).
  • Finish by pouring the raspberry sauce into a squeeze bottle or syringe or, if you don’t have one in your kitchen (I didn’t) just dip the handle of a spoon into the puree. Take out your cheesecake and gently drop spots of the sauce in concentric circles on the top. As a rough guide, they should be about the size of a 5p coin and about an inch and a half away from each other.

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  • Then, carefully trail a skewer through the dots, dragging as you go around the cheesecake to create the effect of dripping hearts.

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  • Paint a few more hearts onto plates to serve with glasses of leftover champagne and the rest of the raspberry sauce to pour.

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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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Happy Valentine’s Day: Tinder Photo Fails

Valentine’s Day. Bah Humbug. No, not really, I don’t actually mind Valentine’s Day. Not being able to get into a bar as they’ve all been converted in ‘bijoux’ dining venues with tables so close together that you’re practically whispering sweet nothings into a total stranger’s ear and the forced gift giving and once-a-year flower requirements I’m not so keen on, but the overall sentiment of the day is lovely.

It’s also a time of year (along with New Year’s Day) that singles flood dating sites, full of firm convictions that they absolutely, adamantly WILL NOT be alone at this time next year.

2014-01-12 00.46.38I’ve been on a few dating sites in the last couple of years and have found the whole experience vaguely depressing. There’s the hopeful email from the man old enough to be your father, the barely literate ones full of winking emoticons and ‘mega lolz’. There’s the lovely chap who in person turns out to be a bit full on and calls you three times the following day asking if you want to meet his mum. There are also the downright offensive propositions, usually sent by people who think a photo taken in a toilet of a washboard stomach is an appropriate substitute for their face or that a pic of their car is better at describing them than a head shot could ever be…to be fair those men are probably right on the money.

My strangest email was from a guy who opened with this: “I read a survey that says 95% of women sing in the shower. The other 5% masturbate, which one are you.” Oh stop it you Casanova you.

At the start of the year I started using Tinder. Tinder is fun, it’s like a game, albeit a game that sends you a bit mad and will often leave you drunk with power, swiping the screen and sending hapless suitors mercilessly towards the ‘Nope’ side while giggling maniacally.

Tinder is simple. It loads Facebook pictures for you and sets a search area and age range and leaves you to swipe away happily. Tinder is also popular, with thousands of people on it and countless articles written about it, like this gentlemen’s guide in The Independent, or this man’s perspective in The Telegraph. But as soon as you start using Tinder is becomes patently obvious that not everyone has read the gentlemen’s guide.

It’s a rare session that you manage to use Tinder without having at least one shot of a random man’s penis. He’s clearly proud of it, good for him, I’m sure it’s a very nice, fully functioning piece of genitalia. But as a profile picture? A profile picture that has clearly come from their Facebook account? Perhaps they think they are being risqué and provocative. Perhaps it’s a comment on the aesthetic emphasis of our society and they are taking us back to the primal, animal instinct of mating. Perhaps it’s a work of avant-garde theatre, inviting the watcher to view their most private moments through a voyeuristic window. Or perhaps they’re just hoping to get laid.

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Is that a gun in your sad baggy boxers or are you just pleased to see me/a bit desperate and crap at taking pictures?

It’s not just the cock shots either, Tinder is awash with bizarre, unsettling and frankly what the fuck images. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here’s a collection of my favourite screenshots, all of which are potential dates that have popped up on my or my friend Kathrin’s mobile. Enjoy and please feel free to share your own monstrosities, or check out this web page, which does it for you on Tindercreeps.com.

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This is creepy. So if I don’t smile you’ll stand behind and force me to with some sort of cartoon Chelsea smile?

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How could any woman refuse those come to bed eyes?

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A real woodsman. Although three things bother me. Did he use his penis as fish bait, who took this picture and how much DO penguins weigh?

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I can’t help but feel sorry for the driver of the car in this image who is about to get an (admittedly cold-shrivelled) eyeful.

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Are you seriously using a picture of your wedding day to your beautiful bride on Tinder? What a catch.

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There’s nothing sexier than some kinky self-asphyxiation eh?

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What every girl looks for: a man who main skill is shooting.

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He’s that guy who takes his top off in a club. NO.

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He’s too sexy for his shirt, too sexy for his body…He isn’t.

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He wants you, and he’s going to…punch you in the face?

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Is that your newborn baby? Are you looking for a new baby mama?

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What…How…There are no words for this.

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Nothing says pick me to the ladies more than the puppet from Saw or an evil clown.

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Is there anything more attractive than an adult nappy?

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The person who took this photo would have spent their time by better calling mountain rescue.

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STOP

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TAKING

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BATHROOM SELFIES

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Yes I know you’re in Kanchanaburi stroking a de-clawed, possibly sedated ‘rescued’ big cat. No I am not impressed.

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This is, actually, to be fair this is quite funny. To the yes pile you go McCracken.

If you feel your Tinder needs some cosmetic help, The Huffington Post wrote a 10-step guide on pimping your profile, which you can read here.

*Names have been removed for modesty’s sake..although these pictures are available on Tinder and Facebook.

Punch Drunk Love Potions at Bam-Bou

“Let’s talk about love” were Susie Johns’- mystic Tarot card reader extraordinaire – first words to me as she leant across the bar, fixing me with her bright stare as shadows from the nearby candles flickered across her face. Have there ever been more terrifying words uttered?

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Fair was foul and foul was fair as I hurried through the rain and climbed the flights of dark wood stairs to The Red Bar at Bam-Bou in Fitzrovia for a night of love potions, magic and mystical intrigue.

The setting was apt: a cherry-red room the colour and richness of a geisha’s lipstick, decked in mahogany, dark leather stools and flickering candle-light. The bar manager Ladislav Piljar had brewed up a list of cocktails targeting the love-lorn and love struck of London.

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My first drink, a blood-coloured lovers’ liquor was a heady mix of Passoã, Aperol and citrusy Mandarine Napoléon that sent my head into a spiral. By the second, an alcoholic punch to the stomach of Illy coffee, Kirsch Eau De Vie and Cherry Heering, I was feeling the glow of something…albeit potentially more of booze than love.

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I approached Susie with hesitation. Paradoxically I’m rather cynical about mysticism, crystals and Tarot cards, despite fervently believing in fate, in true love and in karma. Yet curiosity will always win out and as Susie pinned me in place with her penetrating stare and softly talked me though my cards I found myself foolishly nodding along, shivers running down my neck when she mentioned something utterly personal or painfully truthful.

What did my cards say? Now that would be telling. Bam-Bou is fetauring their brand of Love Potions in both their restaurant and Red Bar throughout February and Susie will be on hand for one-on-one readings on Tuesday the 4, 11 and 18, which will include a 15-minute reading and cocktail for £25 per person.

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The Love Potions on offer are all priced at £7:

photo 1 (1)♥ Ever After Elixir – a magical mixture devised to lure proposals out of the most hardened altar dodgers (Bacardi Superior, Crème de Cacao Blanc, Velvet Falernum)

♥ Cupid’s Kiss – turn any frog into a prince (Tapatio Blanco, Kummel, Crème de Menthe)

♥ Lovers’ liquor – all roads lead to seduction “pur et dur” (Passoã, Aperol, Mandarine Napoléon)

♥ Rocket Fuel – for those who have lost the lust (Illy coffee, Kirsch Eau De Vie, Cherry Heering)

For more info and booking, head to www.bam-bou.co.uk