Archive for November, 2011

I have been asked to make a birthday cake and it is for an unusual client who has lost his sense of taste and smell. Therefore, it has to look amazing! No pressure there then…

When making a cake flavour is absolutely the most important thing for me, and whilst I like to make my cake look good too I usually do this with fruit, or cut out a patterned template to dust icing sugar over. Buttercream is usually my limit but this is to be a special, celebration cake so I’ve decided basic buttercream just won’t cut it. Royal icing? Not my forte (yet), mainly due to my own dislike of the sickly stuff which in my opinion ruins a perfectly decent cake – though I will be perfecting it on the Christmas cake (yum) this year after covering it with marzipan (eurgh). Not to mention, no doubt, all the practice I will get at Leiths.

It is to be a chocolate cake so I’m going for a chocolate extravaganza. The edges of the cake will be decorated with chocolate panels which I made this weekend after a dash to Lakeland to purchase a decent size palette knife and a digital thermometer so I could temper my chocolate properly. This is my first attempt at tempering chocolate and I am pretty pleased with the result.

If melting chocolate to line moulds, for coating, or making chocolate shapes it is essential to temper it to avoid a dull appearance and ‘blooms’ (white blotches) when it hardens. When melted chocolate hardens the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure and type of structure is determined by the temperature at which they formed. Tempering changes the alignment of molecules in chocolate so the desired type of cocoa butter crystals remain unmelted in the chocolate.

How to temper dark chocolate

Firstly, use a good quality chocolate

Chop the chocolate into small pieces (about 1 cm). Reserve 20%

Half fill a saucepan with water and heat until it simmers. Set a heatproof bowl containing 80% of the chocolate above very gently simmering water. Make sure it does not touch the water. Even the tiniest amount of liquid or steam can cause chocolate to seize and whilst it may be possible to rescue it by adding a little oil and reheating it, it will not be possible to temper it.

Stir the chocolate until it melts and reaches a temperature of 45 degrees (43 degrees for milk and white chocolate). Remove from the heat and cool to 27 degrees (25-26 degrees for milk or white) by adding the remaining 20% of chocolate. Stir constantly. This process is called ‘seeding’. – I found the chocolate took quite a long time to drop to this temperature so helped it out by transferring it to a cool bowl and continued to stir to keep the temperature even.

Reheat the cooled chocolate to 31 degrees (27 degrees for milk or white). Do not let it exceed 33 degrees or you will need to reheat it to 45 degrees and start the process again as I had to do as the temperature rocketed far quicker than I was anticipating when I placed it above the water. Do not allow the chocolate to overheat or it will seize.

To test if the chocolate has tempered successfully, dip the back of a teaspoon into the chocolate, tap of the excess and allow to stand for 5 minutes. It should harden and be shiny. If not, repeat the tempering process.

Once tempered keep at 31 degress by placing the bowl in a roasting tin half filled with lukewarm water.

To make chocolate panels

I did not have any acetate so borrowed this technique from Mandy Mortimer of What the Fruitcake?!, which uses baking paper. However, whilst it worked perfectly on the upside, the underside does not have the same shine, so I think it is worth investing in acetate.

To cover the sides of a 9 inch cake I used 250g of 70% dark chocolate to make 10x 4cm panels.

1. Drawn a 20 x 40cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper. Extend the lines so you know where to cut once the template has been covered in tempered chocolate.

2. Mark lines every 4cm along the longest sides and 10cm on the shortest.

3. Reverse the paper and tape it to the worktop or baking sheet.

4. Pour the tempered chocolate on to the template and spread evenly with a palette knife. It will start to harden quickly.

5. While the chocolate is still tacky, cut out the panels using a sharp knife

6. Once completely hardened, use or store in an airtight container between sheets of greaseproof paper.

To create a pattern, drizzle or pipe tempered chocolate of a different colour over the chocolate slab. Continue from step 5.

To embed the design into the slab as I have done, drizzle or pipe your design on to the baking paper. I used 50g tempered milk chocolate. Allow to harden and continue from step 4.

I will be posting the finished cake in a few days time.

Cooking for engineers – Tempering Chocolate
Leiths Techniques Bible
What the Fruitcake?! – Chocolate shards


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Perfect Porridge

Porridge, king of the winter breakfast – filling, wholesome and insulating. Yet, a divider of people. No two recipes are the same. Do you add salt or sugar? Do you make is with milk, water, or a bit of both? Cook it for 5 or 30 minutes?

Whilst I get a little annoyed at his style of delivery I must admit a liking for many of Nigel Slater’s recipes and it was while catching up on an episode of Simple Cooking last week that I learnt how to make my perfect porridge. Not from Nigel Slater himself, but from Ian Bishop, a world porridge making champion!

I love porridge. When I was little it was a treat always and only made by my dad who adds a touch of nutmeg. I’ve always used a mixture of water and milk but this recipe uses water only and it is just as creamy if not more so. I never added salt -apparently a Scots thing – those that do, say that adding salt at the correct time is very important, yet a bit of internet research shows that few agree when this is. As instructed by Ian Bishop I added salt to my porridge when it began to boil and I do think it helps to bring out the flavour of the oats.

Both my dad and I always insist on topping our porridge with some cold milk. The contrast between steaming hot porridge and cool milk seems to bring out the creaminess of both the porridge and the milk and I love the texture the porridge takes on when the milk is added. This was not lost on Nigel or the porridge champion.

I was also surprised by how little time it took to cook compared with what I have been doing, which makes this a quick, easy and insulating breakfast for a cold day.

This recipe uses 1 part oats to 3 parts water. I always make my porridge using the same glass instead of weighing out the ingredients. This makes it even quicker to make when you are bleary eyed in the morning. However, I’ve added measurements according to the glass I use below.

Perfect Porridge (based on a recipe by Ian Bishop)

Serves 2

75 g porridge oats
500 ml cold water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp honey
2 tsp of your favourite jam
cold milk

Pour the oats and water into a small pan and heat gently. As the porridge reaches boiling point and starts to ‘blurp’ add the salt. Gently stir for 5 minutes and it is ready.

Pour into 2 bowls, sprinkle over the cinnamon, a teaspoon each of honey and jam, and top with a little cold milk.

The amount of cinnamon, honey and jam suit my tastes though this tends to vary from morning to morning. Experiment according to your tastes. Play with flavours, omit the jam, add nutmeg instead of cinnamon, one of my favourites and definitely a healthier start to the day is sultanas and mashed banana. Top with a fruit compote, use brown sugar or golden syrup instead of honey. Breakfast will never be boring.

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When I found out about the Tea Time Treats challenge hosted by Lavender and Lovage and What Kate Baked I had to enter. This months challenge is hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage.

The theme is ‘bonfire’ and ‘ginger’ which immediately conjured up images of flames in my head. I just had to think about how I could create an edible bonfire.

I have always loved bonfire night. The whizz, bang, pop of the fireworks, the oohs and ahhs of the crowd, the way the smoke drifts across the sky and the smell of gunpowder. It’s one of my favouritist smells… ever! After the excitement of the firework show comes the rush to the bonfire to warm your hands and feet. Then the rapid retreat as your face stings with the heat.

I always associate butternut squash soup with bonfire night so this challenge presented the perfect opportunity to create a bonfire themed tea time treat using butternut squash which I’ve been wanting to do for a while. The colours are perfect. Butternut squash cake, pumpkin pie and pumpkin meringue pie were considered before I settled on cheesecake. But while the colour was ideal, how was I going to make it look like a bonfire?

I started by cutting flame shapes in very thinly slice butternut squash and edging the tin with it so that is cooked as the cheesecake baked.

When I took it out of the oven the tops had chared a little and started to curl which looked really effective. The areas of squash that touched the cheesecake however, had not coloured but while you could omit this stage, I still think it adds to the overall effect.

I decided more flames were needed and I wanted them to be crisper, adding a further texture. Caramelised slices of butternut squash worked really well as the colours developed giving a mottled effect reminiscent of flames. Smaller flames were gently pressed into the edge of the cheesecake and larger ones were arranged on top in the middle. I’m pretty pleased with the effect, not so with the photography. The cheesecake had been burning away at us for over 24 hours at that point so it was a case of gobble first, think later.

It was delicious! You would not necessarily be able to identify the presence of butternut squash but it adds its own unique rich sweetness, almost like caramel without being too sweet. It was complemented perfectly by the warm spices. My testers gave it 10 out of 10 and have demanded I make it again.

I accidently picked up a tub of light cream cheese as well as one of full fat so ended up using 300g of light and 150g full-fat to no detriment, so you can feel slightly healthy eating this cheesecake. Well that’s what I told myself as I went back for my third slice.

Serves 8 – 12 (honest)

200g ginger biscuits
50g butter, melted
350g butternut squash which should yield 155g pureed (or use tinned pumpkin puree) plus extra for ‘flames’
2 tbsp double cream
450g cream cheese
1 egg
1 egg yolk
8 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
pinch ground ginger
pinch ground cloves

Heat the oven to 18o degrees. Chop the bottom end of the butternut squash off, cut into quarters and remove the seeds. Lay flesh side down in a roasting tin. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Grease an 8 inch springform tin with butter. Line the bottom and sides with baking paper.

Place the ginger biscuits in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin until they resemble breadcrumbs. Pour into a bowl and mix with the melted butter until it all comes together. Press the biscuit crumbs into the tin base and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes and leave to cool.

Turn the oven down to 150 degrees.

Peel the skin away from the butternut squash flesh. You need 155g of the the flesh. Puree in a liquidiser with the double cream.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and stir in the icing sugar and spices. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk until fully incorporated. Add the puree. Taste and add more sugar or spices as necessary.

Optional: Brush the baking paper that lines the sides of the tin with butter using a pastry brush. Gently press half of the smaller flames (for method see below) around the edges of the tin so that they go all the way round.

Pour the cream cheese mixture into the tin and bake in the lower half of the oven for 30-40 minutes until it is set. Leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven. This is to stop the top from cracking. Chill overnight in the fridge.

30 minutes before serving, remove the cheesecake from the fridge. Remove from the tin and very gently peel away the baking paper. Gently press the small caramelised flames on to the sides so that they overlap. Make a bonfire with the larger flames in the middle of the cheesecake.

To make the flames:
Heat the oven to 110 degrees. Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, slice the stem end of the butternut squash very thinly. Using a small knife cut 10 -12 large flames about 5cm wide at the base and 8cm high. Cut some smaller flame shapes about 2cm wide at the base and 4cm high. You will need enough to go around the tin twice – about 6 slices depending on the size of your squash. Half of the small flames are used to line the tin.

Place the large flames and the remaining small flames on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Sprinkle generously with caster sugar and bake for 1 hour.

Leave to cool on a wire rack and transfer to an airtight container.

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