Sunday, October 8, 2017

Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – quite a character!

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First published in August 2010

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help over the summer, and I cannot get one of the characters out of my mind. Appearing almost as often as the main protagonist, Minnie’s Caramel Cake seems to be a huge part of the story. It made me hungry every time I picked up the book.
I’ve tried to find a definitive recipe for Caramel Cake, but – like Irish stew – it appears to be one of those recipes that no matter what version you use, you’ll set someone’s tongue a-tutting.
Soooooo, I’m not going to try and recreate a Caramel Cake. I am going to make a Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – hazelnut sponge cake, with a layer of creamy Nutella filling, slip in some crushed meringue, add a layer of caramel, another layer of Nutella/meringue filling. Top this sugar-fest with more caramel - the filling doubles as frosting.  You’ll need a sugar thermometer for the caramel topping.

For 10 generous slices you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C


For the Cake Batter
200g butter, softened
180g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
150mls fresh milk
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
330g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
50g toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Method

·     First, butter and base-line two 23cm sandwich tins.
·     In a large mixing bowl (or food mixer) beat together the soft butter and sugar until fluffy and paler in colour.
·     In a jug, mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
·     In another bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
·     Slowly add about a quarter of the egg mixture to the butter, beating continuously until combined. Then, add about a quarter of the flour mixture. Continue beating while you add alternate lots of egg and flour to the butter mixture until both have been used up.
·     Finally, add in the toasted hazelnuts and mix until just combined.
·     Divide the mixture between the two buttered, base-lined sandwich tins and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Prod lightly with a finger. The sponges should spring back. If not, give them another 5 minutes or so and test again.
·     Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.
While the cakes are baking, make the fillings...
For the Creamy Nutella Filling
240g cream cheese
130g Nutella
220g icing sugar, sifted
2 single-portion ready-made meringues, crushed into pea-sized bits
·     Place the cream cheese, Nutella, and icing sugar in a mixing bowl and with your hand-held blender set to low, beat together until combined in a smooth mixture. The meringue comes in later...

For the Caramel Filling and Topping
330g sugar
250mls milk
30g black treacle
50g Kerrygold butter
8 tablespoons condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·     Place the sugar, milk and treacle in a saucepan and stir together over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Turn up the heat a little, stirring continuously, until the mixture is bubbling and has reached the ‘soft ball’ mark on your sugar thermometer (116°C or 240°F). Don’t worry if the milk separates. It will all come together in the end.
·     As soon as it has reached the ‘soft ball’ stage, remove it from the heat and add the butter, letting it melt. Stir the melted butter into the mixture – it will seem like this is never going to happen at first, but persist! When the butter has vanished into the mixture, stir in the condensed milk and vanilla extract.
·     Leave the mixture to get cold, beating occasionally to break up the surface crust that forms as it cools.

Assemble when the cakes and the frosting are cold
·     Split each of the cakes and fill both with the Nutella mixture. Sprinkle the filling with crushed meringue before joining the cake halves together again.
·     Pour a generous layer of caramel on top of one cake and stack the other cake on top.
·     Pour the rest of the caramel over the stacked cakes, smoothing with a palate knife. Ensure that the sides are covered.
·     At this stage it looks very brown so I coat the sides with chopped toasted hazelnuts (that makes it triple hazelnut!) or desiccated coconut and drizzle the top with dark chocolate which sets hard and makes a lovely contrast to the soft caramel. You may have other decorating ideas. Either way, prepare for a sugar rush.

Tip
Use ready-made caramel or Dulche de Leche in place of the caramel frosting if you want to save yourself a bit of stirring.
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sensational Scotch Eggs - originally from London... Gasp!

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Fortnum & Mason claim to have invented the Scotch egg, and have been selling it since 1738. However they may have been inspired by Nargisi kofta – a dish from the much earlier and more exotic setting of the Mogul Empire. Whatever their origins, Scotch Eggs were one of the few nice eggy things I got to cook at school and I have been addicted to them ever since. They are best consumed on the day they are made, otherwise the crust loses its crunchiness – and then, what’s the point?! These contain bacon to make them extra delicious and succulent. 

For 4 sensational Scotch eggs, you will need...
... a deep fat fryer

6 eggs (4 to boil, 2 to use in the coating)
400g good quality plain sausage meat

1 small onion, finely chopped
100g bacon lardons, (or rashers) finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp whole grain mustard (or strong Dijon / English mustard if you prefer)
60g flour
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little butter or sunflower oil for frying the onion and bacon
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Place 4 of the eggs in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 6 minutes (for a just-set egg - or longer if you prefer them done a bit more), then carefully drain away the boiling water and cover the eggs with cold water, changing it once as it becomes warm with the heat of the eggs. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onion in a little butter or sunflower oil until softened (about 12 minutes) and beginning to turn golden around the edges. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool completely. Next fry the bacon, and add to the cooling onion.


Bacon makes everything better
When the onion and bacon have cooled, place the meat, cumin, herbs, and mustard in a bowl and mix well – hands are best (I keep a box of disposable food-quality gloves handy for jobs like this). Divide the mixture into four equal portions – approximately 120g each if you want to weigh them out.



Shell the eggs – my preferred way is to crack the shell, then slip a teaspoon beneath the shell and carefully work it off.

Line up 3 bowls or shallow dishes (I find pie dishes are great for this job). Put the flour into the first dish with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. In the second dish, beat the remaining two eggs together with a pinch of salt. Tip the breadcrumbs into the third dish. Lay a sheet of cling film over a chopping board and place one of the sausage meat portions on top. Cover with another sheet of cling film, then either pat with your hands or roll with a rolling pin until the meat forms a patty big enough to wrap an egg. Repeat with the remaining portions of sausage meat until you have four more or less identical patties. This helps keep the blanket of sausage meat an even consistency.
Coax the meat around the egg, thinking Rugby! not football for the shape
Now, take one of the hard-boiled eggs, dust it with the seasoned flour, then place it in the centre of a patty. Encase the egg in the sausage meat, coaxing it around the egg until it covers it evenly. (Think  rugby rather than football for the shape). Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Now begins the ‘sheep dip’ (Tip: If you use just one hand to do the dipping, it makes life a bit easier).
Flour...

Egg...

Breadcrumbs...
Dust the sausage-covered eggs with flour, drench them with beaten egg, then cover them with breadcrumbs, pressing gently to ensure maximum coverage. Return the breadcrumbed eggs to the egg bath, completely drenching them again, then return them to the breadcrumb dish, and once again, give them a generous coating, pressing gently to ensure maximum adherence. Every crumb you can manage to stick to the eggs is one more morsel of crunchiness.


Fill your deep fat fryer to the recommended level with sunflower oil. Heat the oil to 170°C and carefully add the eggs. Cook until deep golden brown, approaching the colour of David Dickenson (about 7 minutes) turning occasionally. Remove from the hot oil and rest them on kitchen towel for a few minutes before serving. Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.

Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cider Can Chicken with roasted onions – undignified, but delicious!

Pin It First published 21/8/12
On the booze - literally!
If you are a fan of roast chicken but haven’t yet tried this method, you are in for a real treat.

It is probably one of the most undignified ways of cooking a chicken but it’s a stunner - and perfect in the oven or on the BBQ.  As the cider evaporates, fragrant steam permeates the flesh, keeping it juicy and flavouring it with garlic and whatever herbs you decide to use. I’ve used thyme today but rosemary is good too. Any cider that is left in the can after roasting gets tipped into the roasting tin to blend with the chicken juices for a lazy gravy. Couldn’t be simpler.  

Cider seems only to come in cans of 500mls in Ireland. Use a clean empty 330ml soda or beer can for this dish as they are the ideal size.

To feed four, you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 180˚C (see BBQ note at the end)

100mls of cider
a generous bunch of fresh thyme (or about 6 sprigs of rosemary)
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 x 1.5kg oven-ready chicken (free-range if your budget allows)
1 teaspoon sea salt
25g butter, melted and cooled
3 onions, peeled, keeping as much of the root intact as possible.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt

1.                  First, make sure the oven shelves are arranged to accommodate a chicken being cooked upright. Using a tin opener, cut the top off a 330ml aluminium beverage can. Handle with care – the cut edge can be very sharp. Pour the cider into the can. Add the sliced garlic and some of the fresh thyme. Place the can in a roasting dish.
2.                  Rub the chicken with the salt, and anoint with the melted butter. Keeping the can upright, insert it into the cavity of the chicken. Use the chicken legs to help balance it upright in the roasting tin. Poke any remaining thyme into the neck of the chicken.

Reminds me of Killiney Beach - brrrrrr
3.                  Place in the preheated oven and roast for an hour (or until cooked through - pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear you are good to go.)
4.                  To prepare the onions, cut each into 6 wedges making sure each wedge has a little bit of root – this helps keep them intact while cooking. Toss them in the olive oil and sprinkle with the pinch of salt. When the chicken has been cooking for half an hour, add the onion wedges to the roasting tin.
5.                  After the cooking time has elapsed, carefully remove the chicken from the oven and cut the skin between the leg joint and the body. If it is still pink, return the chicken to the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until there is no pink remaining.
6.                  Lay the chicken on its back so that any remaining cider spills into the roasting dish and mingles with the chicken juices. Carefully spoon or pour off the liquid into a small saucepan. Cover the chicken and let it ‘relax’ in a warm place for about 10 minutes. This ‘relaxing’ allows the juices which have boiled up to the surface of the meat to redistribute themselves, resulting in a more tender, succulent bird.
7.                  While the chicken is relaxing, gently simmer the saucepan of cider and chicken juices to concentrate the flavour. Transfer to a gravy boat just before serving.

Note: you could substitute beer or white wine for the cider. You could use chicken stock or unsweetened apple juice if you prefer an alcohol-free version.

To BBQ - Prepare the cider can as in step 1. Remove any excess fat from the chicken.  Prepare as in step 2 above but omit the butter and then carefully place the chicken upright on the BBQ and close the lid, taking care not to tip the bird over. Cook for about an hour or until cooked through (as in step 3), checking regularly to make sure it is not burning. Remove very carefully, remembering that there could still be boiling liquid in the cider can, and allow to rest in a warm place before serving.
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Friday, May 5, 2017

White Chocolate and Raspberry Paris-Brest - they're wheel-y wheel-y delicious!

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Who doesn’t, at some stage, have lonely egg yolks languishing in their fridge. There they sit, dreaming of a better life, (cue violins) until one day the fridge door opens... light floods in... and their crusted remains are consigned to the bin. Awwwwww...


"I coulda been a contender. I coulda been been somebody..." Eggy Malloy, On the Waterfront
The talented and lovely Jill Colonna, author of Mad About Macarons le book, and le blog (and now Teatime in Paris) threw down the gauntlet of the egg yolk challenge and I happily accepted an invitation to guest post on what was then the first anniversary of Alchemy, back in 2011. 
The egg yolk challenge was a great idea because we've all had a bowl of forlorn egg yolks sitting in the fridge at some point. Having been parted from their whites – who have gone on to star as Magnificent Macarons, Marvellous Meringues, or Superb Soufflés – the poor old yolk tends to be forgotten.
Egg yolks can achieve greatness too. After all, Botticelli painted The Birth of Venus using egg yolk-based paint. While Botticelli provided a feast for the eyes, here is something you can actually get your teeth into.  Gateau Paris-Brest is a delectable choux pastry, named after the famous Paris – Brest bicycle race. The shape represents a wheel. Here it is in miniature, my Summery version with raspberries and white chocolate pastry cream.

L'inspiration - a velo at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (which I always read as 'dessert'...)
For 10 – 12 gorgeous little pastries you will need…
Pastry Cream (crème pâtissière)
300mls fresh milk
50g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
15g plain flour
15g cornflour
4 egg yolks
50g good quality white chocolate, chopped

Heat the milk in a medium saucepan until just simmering.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with the vanilla extract and sugar until thick and paler in colour. Add in the salt, plain flour and cornflour and whisk until incorporated.

Slowly add the simmering milk to the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time (never add cold eggs to hot liquid unless you want scrambled eggs). Mix well and return the liquid to the saucepan. Continue to whisk over a low heat until the liquid has become a thick custard. This will take about 3 or 4 minutes. Make sure not to boil the custard or it will become grainy and may scramble. The custard is thick enough when it coats the back of a wooden spoon and a finger pulled though this coating leaves a clean trail.

Add in the white chocolate and stir until it has melted into the custard.
Transfer to a bowl and cover with cling film, making sure the cling film makes contact with the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until ready to use. This can be prepared ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Egg yolks – in the right company – are capable of greatness too


Choux Pastries
150mls water
50g butter
70g strong white flour/plain flour
A pinch of fine salt
2 eggs beaten
25g flaked almonds

You will also need a punnet of fresh raspberries

when you are ready to bake the choux wheels.

Heat the water and butter together in a medium saucepan until the butter has melted and the liquid is simmering

Carefully tip the flour and salt into the liquid in one go. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a soft ball of paste and no dry flour remains. Spread the ball of paste over the bottom of the saucepan and leave to cool to room temperature.

When the paste has cooled, add in the beaten egg a little at a time, whisking well between additions. An electric whisk is best for this job. You want a smooth glossy soft paste that will hold its shape so check the mixture as you go along as you may not need to add all the egg.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (fan oven).  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe circles of the mixture (approximately 8cm/3 inches in diameter) onto a lightly buttered baking tray, leaving 5cm/2 inches between circles. Scatter the tops of the circles with almond flakes and transfer to the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until evenly golden brown. Remove from the oven and poke 2 horizontal slits in the side of each pastry to release some steam. Return to the oven for a further 2 minutes before removing to cool on a wire rack.

Assemble the little pastries just before serving: slice them in half horizontally. Beat the cooled pastry cream until smooth. For a really decadent touch, I sometimes stir a tablespoon of mandarin brandy into the pastry cream at this stage. Pipe onto the lower half of the pastry wheel and add fresh raspberries. Replace the top and dust with icing sugar.

These little pastries are perfect snack as you cycle from Paris to Brest, or perhaps keep a few beside your easel for energy as you paint a Renaissance masterpiece – using egg-yolk-based paint of course!


We taste wheel-y wheel-y delicious!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

St Clement's Marmalade - and an "alternative fact"

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find and replace
Who can hear the word ‘marmalade’ without tartan and bagpipes making an appearance in their brain?  Och, sure isn’t marmalade as Scottish as wee Bonnie Prince Charlie... as shortbread... as Irn-Bru, and Whisky without the ‘e’ ...  isn’t it? Hmmm.

Well, while there is a tale about a storm-battered ship, a load of sea-sick oranges and an enterprising couple named James and Janet Keiller, it appears that Dundee’s claim to be the birthplace of marmalade might be an “alternative fact”. 

It turns out that there are several recipes in archives around England that pre-date the Keiller’s 1797 marmalade factory by almost a century. However, even before that, various mermeladas were being made across Europe, (although not necessarily containing oranges) and even the Romans were known to partake of marmelo - preserved quince, pounded and mixed with honey. The Bonnie Prince himself was born in Rome so perhaps he knew a thing or two about marmalade long before it made an appearance in Dundee. 

A Spanish friend gave me the rough method for this marmalade. It’s all about proportions and once you stick to the proportions - and as long as the fruit contains enough pectin to set the marmalade - the citrus fruit content and any flavourings you choose to add are up to you. Seville oranges have a very high pectin content.  If I’m using any other orange, I include the juice of 2 lemons  to increase the pectin content. 

Because the St Clement's Marmalade recipe below contains both Seville oranges, and lemons, there is no need to add any extra lemon juice. Why is orange and lemon marmalade called St Clement's? Apparently citrus fruits used to be offloaded on the wharves of the Thames within the sound of the bells of St Clement's church in Eastcheap. 'Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement's.'

This marmalade doesn’t store for more than a few months outside the fridge due to the relatively low sugar content so I like to make small amounts that can be eaten quickly.

It is ready to eat straight away but the flavours develop wonderfully after a few weeks.
What this magical marmalade tastes like!

For 5 x 360g jars of magical marmalade you will need
1.5kg Seville oranges or a mixture of citrus fruits, untreated if possible
(I used 4 Seville oranges, 2 lemons and the rest eating oranges)

Approximately 1kg caster sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

You will also need:
A piece of muslin cloth / cheese cloth to enclose all pips and any stray pith
A plate or shallow bowl to catch any juices as you cut up the fruit
A jam pan (Maslin pan) or a large heavy bottomed pot
A ½ litre measuring jug (or equivalent) and a weighing scales
A sugar thermometer
Sterilised jam jars* (I used 5 recycled Bonne Maman jars – they take 360g each, or about 12oz)
Jam pot covers - they normally come in a packet which includes waxed discs, cellophane discs, elastic bands and labels
A jam funnel makes life a lot easier

Method
First wash the fruit, then place in a jam pan or a large pot and cover with water. If necessary, place a heatproof plate on top of the fruit to weigh it down to keep it submerged in the water. Bring the pan to the boil and leave it to simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the fruit is easily pierced with a fork. Leave to cool.


There's nothing like a hot bath to soften the skin...

Once cool, drain away the water and taking each piece of fruit in turn, halve it across the middle. Using a fork, rake out any pips, and any tough white membrane snagged by the fork, placing them in the muslin cloth. This will provide the pectin that will set your marmalade. 



Using a fork, rake out any pips, placing them in the muslin cloth

Using a sharp knife, slice each piece of fruit into shreds as thin or as thick as you like and tip into a large bowl along with any juices that have escaped. When you have finished preparing the fruit, you will need to measure it and add sugar in a ratio of 5:4. Put away the calculator! It’s simple.

Slice each piece of fruit into shreds as thin or as thick as you like

Take your measuring jug and fill it to the 500ml mark with the prepared fruit. Tip back into the jam pan or into a large heavy bottomed pot. Continue measuring until you have accounted for all the fruit.



For every 500ml of prepared fruit, add 400g of caster sugar

Now, for every 500ml of prepared fruit, add 400g of caster sugar to the pan. (I ended up with 1250mls of prepared fruit on this occasion. So, I added exactly 1kg of sugar to the pan.)


Make a little purse of the pips, wrapping them in the muslin or cheese cloth and tying the neck securely with string.  Tie the string to the handle of the pan so that the package is suspended in the mixture. Bring the pan slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Pips and stray pulp ready to be packaged.

Once the sugar has dissolved, let the mixture come to a rapid (or rolling) boil, allowing it to bubble for between 8 and 10 minutes – stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure it isn’t burning on the bottom - then pop your sugar thermometer into the jam pan and wait for the temperature to hit 220°F/221°F for a nicely set marmalade. Below that, it tends to be too runny. At 222°F you’ll get a pretty solid set. At 223°F it starts to darken and become bitter. After that, you are heading into toffee territory.


A rapid or rolling boil full of bursting bubbles

You could also try the famous wrinkle test – pop a metal dish or heatproof saucer in the freezer while you are boiling the marmalade. After 10 minutes take the marmalade off the heat and drop a spoonful of the marmalade onto the cold surface, and as soon as it is cool enough to touch, push gently with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, the marmalade will set. If not, continue boiling for another minute and test again with a fresh teaspoon of the mixture. Repeat until you can see the wrinkles appear.

I prefer to rely on the thermometer as this test gives me wrinkles.

Once the marmalade has reached setting point, stir in the vanilla extract and remove the pan from the heat. (If you prefer, you could stir in 100mls of whiskey to the pan at this stage) Take the muslin bag out of the marmalade (carefully – it’s very, very hot!) and as soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out any remaining pectin-rich juices and stir into the marmalade. Let the marmalade sit for a total of 15 minutes. This ensures that the fruit will be distributed evenly throughout the preserve when you transfer it to the jars.

Carefully transfer to the sterilised jars –it is still piping hot. A jam funnel makes life much easier and helps keep the jars drip free. Press waxed jam discs against the surface of the marmalade then seal with cellophane covers, or use Le Parfait ''kiln-clip’’ jars.

A jam funnel makes life much easier and helps keep the jars drip free
 
Store in a cool dark place for a couple of months or keep in the fridge.

*Sterilise your jam jars by putting them through the dishwasher on whatever cycle you use to wash glasses, or do as my mum does and wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse and allow to dry in your oven at 100°C (or 212°F). Pin It

Sunday, January 29, 2017

White Chocolate and Cranberry Oatmeal Blondies – drizzle forecast ...

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I woke up this morning to a grey sky and a steady drizzle of rain. (If only Trump would share that trick that makes it stop raining on just him...) There is only one thing to shift me from this ill humour. Bring on the mood-enhancing white chocolate cranberry blondies...


These sweet treats are not quite as wicked as they sound. They contain oatmeal and dried fruit so that makes them practically breakfast. The recommended dosage for mood enhancement is two, with decent coffee.
The moggy isn't liking the rain either
For approximately 16 delicious ‘blondies’ you will need...
... to butter and base-line a 23cm square cake tin and to pre-heat your oven to 170°C
150g rolled oats (oatmeal flakes)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
100g butter
50g crunchy peanut butter
50g cream cheese
175g Demerara sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
75g dried cranberries

75g white chocolate for topping (optional)

Cranberries: "We're not just for Christmas you know!"
Method
First place the rolled oats and baking powder in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth ‘flour’.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar, beating the mixture until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Then mix in the oatmeal ‘flour’.
Finally, stir in the chopped white chocolate and cranberries. Mix until just combined.
Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes until evenly golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the remaining white chocolate and drizzle over or simply leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares.
These are good slightly warm but even better if left go completely cold, so that the chocolate solidifies back into chunks. They’ll keep for up to a week (yeah right!) if sealed in an airtight container or cling wrap.



My lazy woman’s way to melt chocolate: snap the chocolate into squares and place in a Ziploc bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Half-fill a 1 pint measuring jug with boiling water, then carefully place the sealed bag in the water making sure the chocolate is submerged. Leave for a couple of minutes until the chocolate has melted. Remove the bag from the water and pat dry. Snip off a small corner of the bag and gently squeeze the liquid chocolate over the blondies.

[adapted from post first published 5 May 2011]
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