Monday, December 31, 2012

Decadent Chocolate Cake

I always feel a slight sense of relief when Christmas and New Year are over.  It means I can do what I want to do, in my own time, no deadlines.  Just relax.  That is what I intend to do.

I promised you chocolate cake, so here it is.  This has been my birthday chocolate cake for as long as I have been in New Zealand.  Until this year, I haven’t made it for about three years as I have been elsewhere on the day.  It’s dark, it’s moist, it’s rich – a real celebration of a cake. Oh and it's easy too.

Thank you for being with me this year and may the year ahead be what you would wish for.

Decadent chocolate cake 

1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 cup hot water
250g butter, chopped into large chunks
200g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Whittaker’s 72% Cocoa Dark Ghana)
2 cups caster sugar
1½ cups self-raising flour
¼ cup cocoa
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Ganache Topping

¾ cup cream
175g good quality dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 150ºC.  Lightly grease a 25cm springform cake pan and line the base and sides with baking paper. 

Place coffee and water in a saucepan and add the butter.  Stir over a low heat until the butter has melted. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. 

Add the caster sugar and stir until smooth and the sugar is incorporated.   Remove the mix from the saucepan and transfer into a cake-mixing bowl. 

Sift the flour and cocoa together and beat with an electric beater into the mixture until just incorporated.  Beat in the eggs and then the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake at 150ºC for 1½ hours or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Stand for 5 minutes before removing to a cake rack.  I normally invert the cake as invariably the bottom is smoother and will therefore ice better. 

When completely cold, place a tray or plate under the cake rack to collect the excess ganache.  Use this to patch any bare bits on the side (or chill and eat later!). 

The cake can be frozen by wrapping, once cold, in a layer of cling film and then a layer of tin foil.  While frozen it is easier to trim off any rough bits or flatten the top.

Ganache Topping

Heat the cream until almost boiling.  Stir in the chocolate until melted and the mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly. 

Pour over the cake allowing the ganache to dribble down the sides of the cake evenly.  Cool and set. 

Do not touch the topping as it will leave a fingermark.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ottolenghi's roasted vegetables with tahini dressing, za'atar and pine nuts

For me, birthdays are definitely something to be celebrated.  As one gets older though, the celebration is a double-edged sword.  Whilst I’m happy to celebrate the occasion, I’m not so fond of acknowledging (or should I say ignoring?) some of the other physical or mental aspects that come with another year.  But whilst I breathe and remain in good health, I have something to celebrate, so I will. 

I was planning on sharing my birthday cake with you (the recipe that is, the cake is all but gone) but running two chocolate posts consecutively at this time of year seemed like over indulgence, even to me.  So here’s one of the dishes served at my birthday lunch last Sunday (yes, I was almost a Christmas baby). 

If you’re very lucky (like me) you may just have received Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi as a Christmas present (mine was a birthday gift). 

Although I had a small box of za’atar spice, it was past the sniff-by test.  So I quickly threw some spices and herbs together using this Internet recipe  as inspiration.  It’s worth making fresh as the smell and taste is far superior than the bought blend.  I had no fresh oregano so substituted fresh thyme, which I finely chopped and added to the spices.  Coincidentally that same night, I watched Jamie Oliver’s American road trip programme.  Jamie was in New York making za’atar with an Egyptian chef and I noticed the ingredients differed slightly again.  That made me feel better.

Inhaling the spice gave me a real zing so I was not at all surprised when the dish turned out to be my favourite of the day.  I just loved that the tahini dressing, za’atar and toasted pine nuts not only made the roasted vegetables look exotic, they tasted sensational too.  And this is just the first recipe I’ve tried.  More please...

I served the pine nuts on the side as my daughter has a nut allergy.

For the recipe, click this link to the original recipe on The Guardian website.  

One last thought – I can’t believe I’m writing a blog post on Christmas Day.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

If there’s one thing to raise the hackles of my daughter, it is my habit of breaking into song at the mention of a few trigger words.  My father did this to me, so I know how it feels.  That doesn’t stop me.  It’s a hard habit to break. The latest trigger word was cherry.   Making the most of what may be a short supply cherry season,  I surprised myself (and probably the fruit shop owner) by buying a whole box of cherries.  That’s when I started singing (not in the shop, you understand) the Cherry Ripe song from a version of Alice in WonderlandAlice is taken to another world in the story and without too much exaggeration so will you when you indulge in these.  

I imagine you’re already in food overload (I know I am) but try not to resist this gooey, rich brownie studded with a sweet and juicy cherry. 

I can’t envisage you'd want to leave the cherries out, but just in case you do, this brownie will still taste good.  

Be warned though, this is the fabulous fudgy kind of brownie, not the “cakey” type (which I so loathe) so you don’t want to leave it lying around when it’s warm.  I keep mine in the fridge (being summer here).  It really is the kind of brownie you'll want to make again and again, with or without cherries.

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

200gms butter, melted
¾ cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 cups caster sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces ¼ inch  (0.635cm)
fresh cherries, stalk and pip removed*

*A wee note on the cherries – I haven’t given quantities as it will depend on what size you cut the brownies.  I cut mine into small squares and squidged a cherry in each portion.  Use a cherry pitter to remove the pip, otherwise cut around half of each cherry with a small, sharp knife, twist gently to detach one half and remove the pip from the other half.  You now have 2 halves of a cherry to make a whole (who said I wasn’t good at Maths?). 

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Grease a 20x30cm sponge roll tin and line with baking paper.

Place the melted butter, sifted cocoa powder, sugar, salt, eggs and vanilla in a cake mixing bowl and whisk on a low to medium speed until light in colour - about 5 minutes. 

Sift in the plain flour and add the chopped pieces of chocolate and gently fold to combine.

Pour the mixture into the baking tin.  Take two halves of a cherry to make a whole cherry.  Roughly work out how large you want each brownie portion.  Take 2 halves of a cherry (to make a whole) and push into the middle of  each bite.  

Bake for 50-55 minutes.  The brownie should be coming away from the sides of the tin but will still be soft in the middle. 

Leave to cool completely in the tin.  When cold, cut into portions.  If you find it too sticky to cut, use a jug of hot water to dip your knife into after each slice (like they do with ice cream scoops).  Dry the knife before cutting again.  It will cut cleaner without all the goo attached.

Dust with icing sugar to finish.

Like this?  Try my Plum and Chocolate Slice based on a cherry and chocolate slice recipe.

Plum (or cherry) chocolate slice

I'm submitting this to Sweet New Zealand, hosted in December by Lydia from Lydia Bakes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Blinis with Smoked Salmon and a Crème Fraiche Topping

No Christmas cards done.  Well, not strictly true.  I have posted those for overseas.  Same with presents, they’re hopefully winging their way to Scotland too.  So, just the cards and presents for people here then.

I’m beginning to feel like an ostrich, head in sand, in Christmas denial.  Not like me, I’m normally more organized.  I am ready with excuses about work being super busy and things going on way more important than Christmas, but there’s nothing to excuse me for, is there really?  I’m not late for anything yet and things will work out smoothly after all, won’t they?

I did think of this daft idea of putting myself under further pressure with a 12 Days of Christmas scenario where I would post 12 days in a row with Christmas nibbles, food gifts, etc., - anything that said Christmas and food – but I’ve pulled the reins in on that one (sorry about the pun).  I now give you the shortcut version, which roughly involves posting when and if I can.

First up for those in a rush are these easily assembled mini bites (I’m going to call them blinis), spread with a dollop of crème fraiche (with a bit of a bite) and topped with smoked salmon.  Sprinkled with snipped chives and a few snow dust grinds of lemon and dill salt, they look very festive.  If I’d had the time I would have made the blinis but I didn’t and used these mini hotcakes from the local supermarket.  They are open to all manner of interpretations and toppings.  There was no fresh dill in store so I used chives to finish.  The lemon and dill salt comes from a local supplier of a range of flavoured rock salts but you can substitute if you wish by adding grated lemon peel and fresh chopped herbs to some ground rock salt.

I took these to our Christmas book club where they were well received.  So far, so good.

Blinis with Smoked Salmon and a Crème Fraiche Topping

Recipe makes 16 blinis

16 mini hotcakes or blinis (I used 16 out of a pack of 24)
5 tablespoons Crème Fraiche
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
100g smoked salmon
fresh chives or dill to garnish
lemon and dill rock salt (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the creme fraiche and horseradish sauce together.  Drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto each blini and place them on a serving plate or platter.

Top each blini with a twist of smoked salmon and garnish with tiny snips of chives and a couple of grinds of rock salt over the hotcakes and plate.  To finish, place two long thin whole chives in a diagonal cross on top of the blinis.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Strawberry season


Unless strawberries are very sweet and juicy, I'm not so taken with them in their natural state.   I just have to enhance them with sugar or vanilla syrup or cream, such is my wont (and sweet tooth).    Here's a couple of things I've done recently whilst we are in strawberry season.  The second is more of a what to do with just the wrong side of fresh strawberries assembly than a recipe - great for breakfast though.

Strawberry, rhubarb and vanilla crumble


2 punnets of strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 bunch of rhubarb, washed and chopped into 2.5cm (1-inch) slices
zest and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla syrup* (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence)
1/3 cup brown sugar (use less or more according to taste and sweetness of fruit)

Crumble topping

1 cup (120g) plain flour
1 cup (140g) brown sugar
1 cup (100g) porridge oats
100g butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)

Place the strawberries, rhubarb, orange zest and juice, vanilla syrup or essence and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix to combine.  Pour into a medium sized baking dish.

For the topping, place the flour and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the porridge oats and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Pour in the melted butter and pulse just to combine.

Distribute the topping evenly over the filling and bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the rhubarb is cooked.

Serve with cream or custard.

Sweet strawberry yoghurt muesli 

Simply soak the strawberries, preferably overnight, in the juice and zest of an orange (just enough to coat the fruit) and a teaspoon of vanilla syrup* (or a couple of drops of vanilla essence).  In the morning, put a layer of muesli (see my recipe here) or cereal in a glass or bowl, top with a layer of yoghurt and finish off with the strawberries.  (I zap the strawberries in the microwave for about 10 seconds just to take the chill off before using).

*In both recipes, I used Equagold's Tahitian Vanilla Syrup - another of those divine products given to us at the Food Blogger' Conference.