December 8, 2017

CHOCOLATE AND CHESTNUT FONDANT

chocolate and chestnut fondant2

You would be entitled to wonder why I have reeled out this picture of a cake decorated with Easter eggs only a few weeks before Christmas.

The answer is simple.  This is most definitely a Christmassy recipe and I had it bookmarked to try for the festive season a couple of years ago.  But, as so often happens, I was overtaken by events and the idea to make the cake was put on the back burner and ultimately forgotten.  Then, I remembered it when I was hunting for a recipe for a chocolate dessert cake the following Easter.  Chocolate and Easter are best friends and as I already had the tin of chestnut cream – so why not!

chocolate and chestnut fondant1chocolate and chestnut fondant1aThe recipe comes from one of my favourite blogs called “Life’s a Feast” and you can see the original here.  It made one of those intensely rich, squidgy chocolate dessert cakes, extra delicious due to the inclusion of chestnut purée, a very traditional ingredient in France at this time of year.

chocolate and chestnut fondant

It tasted glorious.  Imagine it covered in a snowy blanket of icing sugar and decorated with a sprig of holly instead of Easter eggs and it would be perfect for a Christmas or New Year dinner!  As suggested in the original recipe, it might also be even more delicious if a little orange liqueur or even rum was added.

(And yes, those are Daisy’s little paws getting dangerously close to it in the picture!  She suddenly appeared on the table from nowhere and her paws landed just as I snapped.  In case you’re wondering about that as well….no, she didn’t!)

Ingredients

200g dark chocolate, I used Green and Black’s 70%

160g unsalted butter

3 large eggs

1 500g tin of chestnut spread or crème de marrons

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Butter and line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Melt the butter and sugar together, either in a microwave or a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Set aside to cool.

Put the eggs in a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk.  Add the chestnut cream and whisk in. 

Next whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture until well blended, then the flour.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes.  The surface will be cracked and the cake puffed up and just set.

Cool in the tin and serve dusted liberally with icing sugar.  Decorate with seasonal decorations!  You can serve with cream or ice cream, red berries, or just as it is.

Serves 8.

November 27, 2017

TURKEY, LEEK AND MUSHROOM HOTPOT FOR ONE

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot

Nick returned to France recently, to close up the house for the winter.  That sounds awfully grand, I think, but in reality it means to tidy the garden, put the geraniums in the barn, turn off the water, cover the furniture with dust sheets and set the heating to come on if it gets below a certain temperature over the winter.  This all takes time, especially the gardening bit, and we had no time to do it before we did our dash back to the UK to move house.  We ummed and ahhed about whether we needed to make the trip and could manage without – trust the house to look after itself over the winter – but in the end we decided that one of us should go and we’re glad that we did.  We now have peace of mind that we have done as much as we can to help the house survive the worst of the winter without us.

So with Nick in France I found myself cooking for one, dog and cat sitting, for nearly a week.  Also trying to lose weight.  Cooking for one is something I have always found a real challenge.  In my younger days I went through a “Guinness and cornflakes” phase where I simply could not be bothered to cook at all.  I survived and got away with it, presumably because I was younger and more active.  These days I no longer play squash and dread to think what a couple of bottles of Guinness could do for my waistline.  So, with healthy eating in mind I wondered what I could make with the turkey mini breast fillets I had bought and the veg in my fridge.

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot2

I had some leeks and mushrooms and part of a bag of spinach.  With a bit of internet research I turned up this recipe on the Sainsbury’s website and adapted it for just one person.  I used a method from my Philadelphia Cheese cookbook to make a sauce instead of using packet white sauce as per the recipe.

chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot3chicken, leek and mushroom hotpot4

It was very tasty, quick and easy to do and I would do it again for myself or for two or more people.  I had mine with some positively virtuous green veg.

Ingredients

two or three turkey (or chicken) mini fillets, depending on size and appetite.

1 small leek, washed, trimmed and thickly sliced

4-5 chestnut mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced

a small handful of spinach leaves

4-5 small potatoes, washed or scrubbed

2 tbsp low fat cream cheese

2 tbsp milk

Calorie controlled butter or oil cooking spray

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan.

Put the potatoes into a pan of boiling water and cook until tender.

Meanwhile, cut the turkey into bite sized pieces and brown in a frying pan which has been sprayed with a few squirts of cooking spray.  Remove from the pan and put into an individual sized pie dish or other deep baking dish.

Brown the mushroom pieces in the pan, then remove and put into the dish along with the leeks and the washed spinach.  Season with salt and pepper.

Mix the cream cheese and milk together to make a small quantity of sauce and spoon over the meat and veg.

Thickly slice the potatoes and arrange over the top of the filling.  Spray with a few squirts of the cooking spray and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and bubbling at the edges.

Serves one person.  Can be multiplied up easily for two or more people.

November 14, 2017

APPLE CAKE and the case of the wrong tin.

Apple cake

A bit of an ugly duckling.

I would have to agree that this is not the most good looking cake I have included in the blog, but I plead mitigating circumstances.

In early September we moved house and only three days later fled back to France to enjoy what was left of the nice weather.  Three weeks after that we returned to the UK to begin organising the process of doing up our new house, which is a 1960’s bungalow in dire need of modernisation and a bit of TLC.  The kitchen is probably not very old and although it looked good in the agent’s photos in reality it most definitely is not, being cheap and badly fitted.

Apple cake9e

The boiler was so old that the plumber laughed and took pictures to show his mates.  The first job was to replace it and all the radiators, which ended up being a major upheaval and the plumbing equivalent of a re-wiring.  This has left us with a workable but not very pretty kitchen which is difficult to keep clean.

Apple cake9d

Apple cake7

It does at least function, although I miss my dishwasher and have renewed respect for my mum who cooked for four of us and washed up by hand every single day.  I now have the sandpaper hands that she had at my age.  A new dishwasher will come with a new kitchen in late November – not a moment too soon!

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The top oven, untouched and not as clean as it looks.  Ugh.

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The oven, bright and sparkling without its layers of grease.

The double oven/grill was filthy.  I don’t mind too much cleaning layers of my own muck off an oven, given the right products, but cleaning other people’s is a step too far.  Yes, that is a layer of grease in the bottom of the grill compartment.  I was all for leaving it exactly as it was and using just the hob and our camping stove until our new kitchen was installed, but after a week or so I realised that I could not survive without an oven for at least two months so decided to tackle it.

I used a product called “Oven Mate” which is a fairly evil and vicious gel that you paint on the cold oven surfaces and shelves and wipe off three hours later.  It did a fantastic job of cleaning the oven but I’m afraid I chickened out of doing the top oven/grill.  Whilst it pains me to leave it like that – it’s like having an ogre lurking in the kitchen, waiting to bite me if I accidentally open the wrong door – I simply can’t bear the prospect of cleaning it. 

Apple cake8Apple cake9

Because we are waiting for a new kitchen most of our kitchen stuff is still in boxes piled up in the dining room.  There seems little point in unpacking it all and putting it away only to have to empty the cupboards again in a few weeks’ time.

Just to digress slightly, I am thrilled to have a dining room, having not had one since living in the old Edwardian flat I rented in Headingley, Leeds, in 1971.  That had a proper dining room, with parquet floor, picture rails and a fine fireplace.  After that I had either a “through lounge” arrangement or a dining kitchen.  This new dining room would originally have been the front bedroom until the upstairs was added to the bungalow, but it’s a good size and we have great plans for it.

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And so I come to the reason for having a rather untidy looking cake.  It was my dad’s and Nick’s birthdays on consecutive days and a cake of some sort was called for.  After weeks of rummaging through packing boxes to find essential items, I was fed up with the chaos and on opening a box marked “cake tins”  picked up the first tin I found inside and thought it would do fine for the apple cake recipe.  If I had used a regular tin it would have been fine, as you can see, but with this tin the cake is meant to be turned upside down to reveal the fancy shape on top and that’s where things went pear shaped.

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I possibly could have turned it back the other way up but thought there was a risk that it might fall apart completely so decided to slather it in a good sprinkling of icing sugar instead.

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As well as not using the right tin, I also didn’t use the right ingredients.  The recipe called for almond essence but I had no idea where mine might be.  In rummaging I spotted the jar of mixed spice so used that instead along with the zest of an orange, which I had seen in another recipe and sounded like a nice idea.

It was delicious.  Definitely my favourite apple cake so far.  The original recipe comes from Jo Wheatley, a GBBO winner of a few years ago and is called “Auntie Helen’s Apple Cake”.  You can see it here.

Apple cake4

It was packed full of apples and I thought the spice and orange variation worked really well.  Next time I might use one less apple (maybe mine were a little too big) to make the cake more stable but it was lovely.  Definitely one to do again – but using the right tin next time!

Apple cake9f

Digressing ever so slightly again, I served it on my new cake stand which was a bargain purchase recently from Tesco.  I have a huge collection of cake stands (I simply dare not confess exactly how many but suffice it to say more than any person can ever need) and really didn’t need another.  However, I liked the slogan on this one, things in the world being so wrong at the moment, so when they were reduced eventually to £3, I swooped.

Ingredients

125g caster sugar

125g soft margarine or spreadable butter

185g self raising flour

4 small eating apples, peeled and sliced (I would use three next time)

3 eggs, beaten

40ml double cream

1 tsp mixed spice

zest of 1 orange

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150°fan.  Grease and line the bottom of a 23cm round springform tin.

Cream together the fat and sugar using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift and fold in the flour and spice, along with the orange zest and cream.

Stir through the apple slices until well coated in the batter.  Transfer to the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and done.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  Sprinkle liberally with icing sugar and serve warm with cream or ice cream, or cold.

Cuts into 8 – 10 delicious slices.

October 29, 2017

STICKY TOFFEE LOAF CAKE and a good reason for not baking.

sticky toffee pudding cake

There will not be as much baking going on in this house over the next few weeks, or even months.  The reason being – I am on a diet.  A quest to lose the more than two stone I have gained since I retired, preferably by the time we return to France next spring.

The excess weight did not arrive overnight, it was a gradual thing, the result of the constant availability of food, eating a meal instead of just a sandwich at lunchtime, and possibly an overly enthusiastic interest in all things cake.  The last half stone has appeared since we lost our dog Lulu last summer and, with 2016 being my personal annus horribilis, no doubt a bit of comfort eating as well.

I have lost weight successfully before on various eating plans, the most successful being a calorie counting regime.  I accept that an increased activity level would help matters, but it would be hard to fit in any visits to the gym at the moment, what with doing up our new UK house and – keeping an eye on our new puppy, Hugo.  We have a lot of plates spinning and are only just keeping ourselves sane – you can read more about it here if you like.  We can hardly be described as inactive, compared to those who might sit in front of a computer or a TV all day, and it’s good to see that the first half stone has already disappeared.

However, I still have plenty of cakes and other bakes to write about, in fact a backlog of baking posts that should keep me going for quite a while.  It will actually be nice to bring the blog up to date so that all those bakes don’t just disappear forever into the mists of time.

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Nick made this cake for the last CCC meeting.  I had made it myself (and blogged about it) a while ago and when I looked it up it turns out that that was three years ago – how time flies!  I remembered that it was a delicious cake, full of spice and just right for early autumn, with its dates and pecans.  You can read about it here.

sticky toffee pudding cake3sticky toffee pudding cake2

Autumn arrived unusually early in our little corner of France.  Considering that the cake club meeting was on 27th September, looking at the photos you would think that it was a month later.  September is usually a glorious month in the Loire Valley, warm and sunny, with all the joys of summery days without the baking heat of say July and August.  This year September was disappointing, cool and showery.  (Apparently October has been better – but we were not there to enjoy it, sadly.)

It was definitely a “mists and mellow fruitfulness” kind of day when Nick baked his cake and I had to take the cake outside to get enough light to take its picture.

sticky toffee pudding cake4

The cake is made to a Delia Smith recipe – Nick is very much a fan of Delia – and rightly so.  I can’t recall having too many failures with any of her recipes.

This time we decided that we liked the rustic look of the cake without its icing so decided not to ice it.  That was a good decision I think.  Sometimes an icing is called for but on this occasion the cake was perfectly delicious without it.  (For those who like the intense sweetness of a sticky toffee pudding, the icing would satisfy the need.)

It kept really well for several days.  Chunks of it sustained us on our long, twelve hour journey back to Derbyshire from the Loire.  The last few pieces kept us going and our spirits up when we faced the first tranche of building work on our new house in the UK.

You can see the original recipe with the iced version here.

Ingredients

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

110g chopped dates

50g pecan nuts, chopped

110g Flora Buttery (or similar, such as Lurpak Spreadable)

50g black treacle

175g golden syrup

150ml milk

2 eggs, beaten

225g plain flour

Method

Preheat the oven to 150˚ C / 130˚ fan / gas mk 2.  Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment or use a paper liner.

Put the butter, treacle and syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat and melt them together.  (Warming the tin of treacle in a saucepan of hot water will help to make it easier to measure out.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, mix in the milk then the beaten eggs.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarb, whisking in gradually until smooth.  Add the nuts and about two thirds of the dates, mix well and pour into the tin.  Drop the remaining dates onto the top of the cake and push them in a bit with a skewer.

Bake on a low shelf for 1½ hours to 1 hour 50 minutes until done, risen and cracked on the top.  Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cuts into 10-12 slices, depending on how thick you like you slices of cake.

October 20, 2017

CHOCOLATE, ALMOND AND AMARETTI CAKE

chocolate amaretti cake

This is one of those very rich, fudgy chocolate torte kind of cakes.  The kind where you can really only manage one small slice although you would dearly like to eat another!

chocolate amaretti cake3

It’s a Rachel Allen recipe from her “Food for living” book.  I have waxed lyrical about her recipes before and this is another one that I would highly recommend.  It appears in several places on the internet, one of which is here.  I have adapted it slightly to use ground almonds instead of flaked almonds because that’s what I had in the house.

chocolate amaretti cake2

I have made several cakes of this kind before, using various recipes, but this is my favourite so far.  A lot of them are way too rich for me, the intensity of the chocolate being more than I can take.  For me, this one is just right, dense and squidgy without being too rich and sickly.

Amaretti biscuits can sometimes be hard to find in the shops, both in France and the UK, if you’re looking for them at the wrong time of year.  I have bought them before in both Aldi and the Co-op at a sensible price and with the amaretti season (Christmas) coming up, it should soon be easy to get some more.  I shall stock up as they usually keep for ages and it’s really annoying when I see a recipe that uses amaretti biscuits that I would like to try, I have none in the cupboard and can’t buy them anywhere because it’s the middle of May!

chocolate amaretti cake4

This cake would be great for a dinner party or buffet table dessert.  It’s incredibly easy to make, is perfectly delicious and can be made the day before needed.  In fact this one kept really well for several days in an airtight tin.  It needs no embellishment other than a dusting of icing sugar and some berries on the side if you like.

Ingredients

150g 70% dark chocolate, melted

50g amaretti biscuits

100g ground almonds

175g caster sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

100g butter, cubed

4 eggs

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and base line a 20cm round springform cake tin.

Put the amaretti biscuits in a food processor with the sugar and orange zest.  Process until finely ground and slightly gritty.

Add the ground almonds and process briefly to combine.  Blend in the butter and eggs, then the chocolate, until smooth and well combined.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake is puffed up and slightly cracked around the edges.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack or plate to cool completely.

The top will have cracks which can be disguised with a nice dusting of icing sugar or cocoa powder!

Serves 8-10.

October 15, 2017

APPLE AND GINGER MUFFINS

apple and ginger muffins

I don’t make muffins too often, in fact not often enough.  When I made these muffins for a CCC “anything goes” event, I had quite forgotten how nice muffins can be.

The “anything goes” theme is one where members can bake anything they like, not just cake, which made a nice change and it was fun to see what people thought of to bring.  There were sausage rolls, quiche, meringues, eclairs, flapjacks and madeleines.  And of course my muffins. 

(Just in case you’re wondering, and you’re probably not, why there is a small knife with the plate of muffins, it’s because at a CCC event where everyone likes to try a small piece of everything on the table, a whole muffin is not a good idea.  Half a muffin would be more than enough if there was to be room in the tummy for all of the other delights on offer.  Those who have ever been to a CCC event will completely understand this problem!)

apple and ginger muffins2

After a pleasant hour or so of leafing through my ever growing collection of recipe books I chose a recipe from this one by Rachel Allen.  I like her recipes, have used quite a few and have never had a failure with any of them.  The recipe is actually for pear and ginger muffins but she suggests apples as an alternative. As we had several apples going begging in the fruit bowl I decided to use them.  I wondered how they would go with ginger as opposed to the more traditional cinnamon and it turned out to be a delicious combination.

apple and ginger muffins3

Thinking about it, one of the reasons that I don’t make muffins more often is that generally they don’t keep too well.  They can be slightly stale after one day and definitely bird food after two or three.

However, in the recipe it says to “whisk together until smooth” which kind of goes against the concept that “lumpy batter makes light muffins”.  (I can’t exactly remember where I read that phrase but think it might have been in a Nigella Lawson book.)  But, having every confidence in Rachel Allen’s recipes, whisk it I did, until nice and smooth.  The result was that the texture of the muffins was more like a cake than a muffin, with the added delight that they were still perfectly nice to eat several days later.  Curious.

In fact, with the quantity of mixture and the texture of the muffins it occurred to me that it might work as a bundt cake - the next time I have a surfeit of apples.  Anyway, apple and ginger is a winning combination.  Cinnamon makes me nervous as it takes only a smidgen too much of it to make a cake taste slightly soapy.  It’s not so easy to overdo the ginger and although a whole tablespoon seemed like a lot actually it was just right.

Ingredients

275g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tblsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

150ml vegetable oil

300g dessert apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice

1 tblsp demerara sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Put 15 muffin cases into two muffin tins.*

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil and whisk together until smooth.  Fold in the chopped apples.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about three quarters full.  (I use an ice cream scoop which makes it easy to get them evenly filled).  Sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  You can dust with icing sugar or ice with a water icing if you like, instead of sprinkling with demerara sugar.

*Makes 12-15 muffins, depending on how much you fill the cases. 

September 26, 2017

MINI SAUSAGE ROLLS

sausage rolls

I called on a friend recently and she was busy making little sausage rolls for a birthday party.  I hadn’t made sausage rolls for years.

sausage rolls2a

I didn’t realise you could buy sausage meat in France, but then I had never looked for it.  My friend said she finds that it can be a bit coarser than the meat you buy in the UK so she blitzes it in a food processor for sausage rolls and also adds a few bits of veg for flavour.

sausage rolls2

You can buy packs of ready made puff pastry everywhere in France an in some supermarkets they have the rectangular sheets which are ideal for sausage rolls, better than the circles of pastry which obviously need a lot of trimming,

sausage rolls3

Only a few days later we were invited to an apéro dînatoire at another friend’s house.  This is like being invited round for drinks but with extra nibbles, or, as this other friend put it, more than just a crisp.  In fact there is usually enough food to be sufficiently fed for the evening, all tasty finger food and lots of it home made.  So I decided to make a batch of mini sausage rolls to take with me.  They were delicious and disappeared fast, all forty of them!

sausage rolls4

I added some onion, tomato and red pepper to my sausage meat which everyone seemed to love.  Next time I might experiment with some other flavourings, paprika, curry powder or whatever takes my fancy on the day.

For another guide on making mini sausage rolls see the BBC Good Food website here.

Ingredients

2 packs of feuilletée rectangulaire (oblong ready rolled puff pastry)

500g pork sausage meat

1 egg, beaten

1 tomato

1 small onion

½ a red pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6.  Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Put the vegetables into a food processor and blitz briefly to chop finely.  Add the sausage meat and blitz again until smooth.

Unroll one sheet of pastry and cut lenghtwise along the centre to make two long strips.  Divide the meat into four equal parts and spoon one part along one strip of pastry to make an even sausage about an inch inside the edge.  Brush the opposite long edge with beaten egg.

Fold the nearest pastry over the meat and roll the whole thing towards the opposite edge so that a long sausage roll is formed and the join in the pastry is underneath.

Cut the roll into ten roughly equal sections, prick the tops with a fork or slash with a knife, brush liberally with egg and place slightly apart on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other half of the pastry.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown and the meat is cooked.  While the first batch is baking make the second batch.

Remove to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes 40 mini rolls.