Friday, June 29, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes with Chocolate Honey Truffle Frosting – get in touch with your dark side!

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I approach cooking from two very different angles:

The instinctive approach: Most of the time I am driven by a not-too-distant hunger/sugar craving and by what is currently available in the fridge/cupboard. In this instance, I think with my tastebuds - a la Accidental Paella – and it usually works out.

The theoretical approach: Sometimes, however, I think the flavours through consciously and carefully before going near the kitchen. I give consideration to the textures. I make sure I have all the ingredients before I start cooking. For example...

... In my head, almond sponge infused with sour cherry liqueur, topped with a swirl of boozy white chocolate ganache and a fat juicy cherry sounds rather good.

Here’s how that looked in my mind’s eye...
I have a vivid imagination... unfortunately the reality was "Meh!"

 My taste-tester’s verdict: “Meh!”
I had to agree. Can you imagine Sandra Dee swigging from a naggin of vodka? – This was the cupcake equivalent. It was trying to be naughty but didn’t quite succeed and certainly wasn’t WTC*.
I needed to get in touch with my dark (chocolate) side. I ditched the liqueur in favour of black cherry conserve in a chocolate sponge mixture. I went for the sharpness of crème fraîche in the truffle frosting, tempered just a hint of honey. They turned out light as a cloud, with sticky cherry bits and you’d sell your grandmother for the truffle frosting.
Taste-tester’s verdict: “Grrmmmwah!” which translates roughly as “Can’t speak. Eating.”
The frosting is best made the day before (so you don’t have to hang about waiting for it to cool)
*Worth The Calories

For 12 large cupcakes you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake papers

For the chocolate cherry cake batter

150g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
50g dark Muscovado sugar (or any dark brown sugar)
3 eggs, beaten
125g plain flour
40g cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), sifted to remove any lumps
100g good quality cherry conserve (you want chunky bits of fruit)

1                    In a mixing bowl, beat the butter together with the sugars until smoothly blended – 3 to 5 minutes with an electric mixer gets the right texture. Add in the beaten egg in about four lots, mixing well between additions so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. (Don’t fret if it does, it still tastes the same but won’t be quite as light in texture.)
2                    Sprinkle in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda and continue beating just until these dry ingredients are incorporated into the mixture.
3                    Lightly fold in the cherry conserve. You don’t want to incorporate it; you just want it running through the mixture in rich veins of luscious cherry-ness.
4                    Divide the batter between the 12 cupcake papers and transfer to the preheated oven.
5                    Bake for 18 – 20 minutes or until risen and evenly golden.
6                    Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Leave to cool completely before adding the frosting.
For the chocolate honey truffle frosting
200g good quality dark chocolate (70% coco solids), broken into pieces
1 tablespoon of honey (I used a honey with a floral note which sang through)
200g crème fraîche

1                    Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the honey.
2                    Place the crème fraîche in a saucepan over a medium heat until it is just simmering at the edges.  Immediately pour over the chocolate and leave to sit for about 3 minutes. (This helps the chocolate meld with the cream more easily).  Then stir gently until the chocolate is incorporated into the cream in a smooth shiny mixture. Cover with clingfilm, letting it sit right on the surface of the ganache and refrigerate until needed.

Worth The Calories!

3                    To frost the cupcakes, remove the ganache mixture from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (I’m talking Irish room temperature - roughly 20°C) and whisk with an electric mixer for a minute or two until light and paler in colour. Spread over the surface of the cupcakes with a spatula or get fancy and pipe swirls of the mixture over the surface and top with a fat juicy cherry. Recommended dose: 1, taken with a cup of coffee (or 2, if you’re having a particularly bad day). 

Note: If the mixture looks grainy and oily it has ‘split’. Don’t panic! Simply whisk with an electric mixer and after a minute or two it should come together in a smooth silky mix.
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cornish Pasties – well Cornish-ish anyway !

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If you are from Cornwall, shut your eyes and block your ears for I am about to commit sacrilege. First though, here’s a little bit about the Cornish pastry, the traditional fare of Cornish tin miners. It is simply a half-moon-shaped savoury pastry containing diced beef skirt, onion, turnip (swede), potato, maybe some parsley, and little else. In some places there was a tradition of putting the initials of the owner on the pasty so that in mines where an oven was provided, the miner could pick out his own pasty from the hoards.

The Cornish pasty has recently been given Protected Geographical Status, meaning only pasties made in Cornwall and containing only the traditional ingredients can be called Cornish pasties.

As my humble pasty is not made in Cornwall, it is only Corn-ish.  These Corn-ish pasties went down a storm at a picnic last weekend. As they cannot be truly Cornish I didn’t feel so bad about going off-piste with ingredients like sweet potato and chorizo. I’ve used a mixture of meats because that’s what was in the fridge. You could use all beef mince if you prefer.

For 10 one-person pasties you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 175°C at step 4
500g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
150g butter, chilled and grated
175mls iced water 

1                    Place the flour, salt and grated butter in a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour. This simply means taking pinches of the mixure and rubbing it between thumb and fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (or use your stand mixer). Mix in just enough of the iced water to bring the pastry together in a ball – you may not need all the water. Cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate until needed.

250g minced beef
150g finely diced veal
75g onion, finely chopped
75g potato, finely diced
75g sweet potato, finely diced
25g chorizo, finely diced (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon fine table salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Egg wash
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a pinch of salt

2                    Place all the filling ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and mix together until the vegetables and herbs are well distributed throughout the meat.
3                    To assemble the pasties, roll out the pasty to about 3mm thick. Stamp out 13cm circles (5 inches). I don’t have a pastry cutter this size so I use a small bowl as a template, resting it on the pastry and cutting around it with a sharp knife.
4                    Pile approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture on one half of each pastry round, leaving a margin of at least 1cm at the edge. Fold the other half of the pastry over the filling and press the edges together.
5                    Either crimp the edges of the pastry together using a fork, or try this crimping technique: Stand the pastry up so that the joined edges are at the top. Starting at one end, clamp the pastry join between a thumb and forefinger and twist it through 180 degrees, then using the other hand, hold this twist in place while with the other hand you move along the top of the pastry, a thumbs-width at a time, pinching and twisting. Tuck both ends under to seal the pastry.

Cheap therapy: Pinch and twist. Repeat.

6                    Place the prepared pasties on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Brush lightly with egg wash and transfer to the preheated oven.
7                    Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. If like me you are rushing out the door to a picnic, wrap the hot pastries loosely in a clean tea towel – they’ll get soggy if you seal them in aluminium foil or cling wrap. Otherwise place them on a cooling rack and leave them to cool. They also freeze beautifully. 

Corn-ish pasties - ok who wants to fight over the last two?

If life is too short to take the time to fill and crimp 10 individual pasties, you could always supersize them and make four large ones instead, for sharing. The larger ones need about 50 minutes in the oven.
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