Tag Archives: chocolate

The trauma of competitive baking…

A few weeks ago in a moment of spotaneous madness I entered myself into a Great Brownie Bake Off being organised by Louise from the Chocolate Consulltancy. I’d recently made a successful batch of brownie’s as blogged here and was feeling confident. I took the competition very seriously and spent Friday night diligently baking what I hoped would be my winning brownie’s (wishful thinking maybe). On Saturday morning I transported them to Look Mum No Hands in time for the 1pm deadline.

The place was packed and at this point my nerves really kicked in. But luckily Louise had lined up a whole day of chocolate based baking demonstrations, which took my mind off the competition. I watched Fred Ponnavoy, Head Chef at GU

whip up an amazing banoffee style chocolate desert…

and then a GU Pear Belle Helene, which was made up of pear poached in vanilla, layered with mascarpone cream with green cardamom, GU chocolate ganache and topped with caramelised puffed rice mmm…

At this point there was a break in demonstrations whilst the judging commenced. There were 25 brownie entrants and 11 judges…

It was all very official and the judges took it very seriously. I was intrigued by the whole process so got closer to get a better look. I made the mistake of watching the panel taste my entry…

I’d taken a bit of a risk by submitting a brownie containing pear and brazil nuts and hoped that the judges wouldn’t be brownie purists. It was a totally nerve wracking experience watching the judges cogitate and deliberate over my humble brownie and if I’m honest I don’t think my gamble paid off.

I backed off, left them to it and watched some more demonstrations including one by Edd Kimber, winner of the Great British Bake Off who made Chocolate and Banana Whoopie Pies

I also drank copious amounts of coffee and Suki Tea

At 5.45pm the winner was announced…Louise M’s brownie’s were apparently the best by far! It was a real shame that she wasn’t there to collect her prize, she’d gone home early, convinced that her brownie’s were underbaked! Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to have tasted the winning entry.

In my quest to constantly improve my baking skills I was interested to find out the feedback that my brownie’s had received from the judges so I collected my score cards and read their comments. I kind of wish I hadn’t…’cloying’, ‘too loose’, ‘textures didn’t quite work together’, ‘dominant vanilla note’ but…I’m clinging to the fact that the most common observation was along the lines that it was ‘a nice cake but not a brownie’ so I guess it’s not all bad. It was a fun day but I left feeling a little deflated and now have a renewed respect for all the entrants in my Birthday Cake Bake Off…competitive baking is a pretty traumatic experience!

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The taste of victory!

At long last Saturday 2nd October, the day I’d been eagerly awaiting since February when I started organising my birthday party, finally dawned and brought with it the most awful weather and rain of monsoon-like proportions. This most inauspicious of days saw my friends battling the elements clutching cake tins, tupperware and highly inventive home styled cake carrying devices from far and wide on public transport to take part in…

I don’t do anything by halves and with the help of my glamorous, graphic design assistant, Hannah we were all set with posters stating the rules and even official voting slips!…

You may recall that the original rules stated all entries had to be at the venue by 8pm but I started receiving panic stricken calls and texts begging for an extension due to inclement weather. So the deadline went out the window and a steady stream of entries arrived…better late than never I say…

Entry number 1 was my friend Marky’s Lemon and Sour Cream Cake (A Godfrey Family Recipe), which was essentially a shed load of sugar, some flour, 6 eggs, rind of one lemon and some sour cream, mixed up and baked slowly for 1.5 hrs. A simple, classic but perfectly formed creation I’m sure you’ll agree…

Entrant number 2 was Zannah with her star spangled hummingbird cake with vanilla bean icing…

Number 3 was from Han, graphics whizz…chocolate chip cupcakes with an espresso baileys cream cheese topping and there sure was a definite Baileys kick going on! And…she had a double tier cupcake carrier…this lady means business!…

Number 4, from Jennie and Mark, arrived looking like a clingfilm wrapped space ship but when unveiled was in fact a gorgeous sticky toffee banoffee cake, consisting of a banana sponge with a caramel banana whipped cream and mascarpone filling, topped with more caramel whipped cream and mascarpone and finished off with chocolate sprinkles and special happy birthday icing…

And entrant number 5 was my housemate Patti with her trademark coca cola chocolate cake…it’s so wrong that it’s right!…

Number 6, baked by my oldest friend Clare, was a plum, hazelnut and chocolate creation…

Cam baked entry 7, a gorgeously classy looking lemon afternoon tea cake, with lemon icing (my photo does it no justice at all sorry Cam!)…

Number 8 was a batch of Jellyberryfish cupcakes made by Dr Tan…

I thought they definitely deserved a close up…

Next up was Georgie’s entry…in her own words ‘hummingbird stuffed marshmallow cupcakes with vanilla and minimarsh glittery goodness… Fit for a birthday princess!’, which actually had a whole marshmallow hidden in the middle mmm…

Entry number 10 defied the laws of gravity and was iced in situ by Span. It was a delectable maple syrup and pecan nut floating autumn birthday cake…

Lianna had baked some perfect Hummingbird strawberry cheescake cupcakes…

and her housemate Laura had made pineapple and coconut cupcakes…

In all of the excitement, I’m very ashamed to admit that I don’t have a photo of entry number 13, the handiwork of my friend Simon! But I can describe it as the naughtiest looking chocolate cake known to man!…

??

So, 13 entries in and voting on appearance commenced…after everyone had had a chance to take a look and cast their votes me and my mum took to the floor and judged them for ourselves. Then came the moment that everyone had been waiting for and salivating over…the taste test…

I was in heaven…13 cakes and I HAD to taste them all! I was cursing the limitations of my posh frock but at the same time blessing he invention of control pants!

I never thought it would so hard to judge a cake competiton but the standard was so high! The effort that had been put into the competition blew me off my feet and the decision was definitely a toughy! We counted up the voting slips, then me and my mum (baking oracle and cake appreciator extraordinaire) chose the winners from those that had received the most public votes.

I have great pleasure in announcing that the winner in the appearance category of the 1st Official Afternoon Tease’s Birthday Cake Bake Off was…

Hannah with her uber professional looking chocolate chip cupcakes with an espresso baileys cream cheese topping…

and the winner in the taste category of the 1st Official Afternoon Tease’s Birthday Cake Bake Off was…Simon with his ‘Ultimate Chocolate Cake’!

As a consolation for not having any photographic evidence of Simon’s immensely naughty creation, I have managed to prise the recipe from him for you here. I highly recommend giving it a try just make sure you have an elasticated waistband 😉

Thank you to all entrants, voters, friends and family…you’re amazing!…I had the best party and 13 whole birthday cakes…that surely must be a world record?!

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WARNING! not for the faint hearted…

I’m a sucker for chocolate, along with the majority of the females of the species but I’m also an absolute salt fiend and have been known to snack on slices of cheese topped with freshly ground sea salt…mmmm! So imagine my delight when, on reading The Sweetest Kitchen, a blog I follow, I learnt that Lindt have introduced a bar of dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt!

Jamieanne, the blog author also shared a recipe that she had found for Salted Chocolate Shortbread. I couldn’t get it out of my head and spent the rest of the afternoon at work daydreaming about salty chocolate creations. I decided to bite the bullet, did a pit stop at Waitrose, who stock the aforementioned magic chocolate and headed home for some baking.

Surprisingly I don’t think I’ve ever made shortbread before. There’s a first time for everything and without further ado here is the recipe I used to make my salted chocolate shortbread…

300g unsalted butter

220g caster sugar

375g plain flour

5tbsp good-quality cocoa powder

1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 18 x 28cm shallow baking tray.

Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl with a handheld whisk until pale. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and soda and beat slowly until just combined. Spread into the tray and smooth over. I used my hands to push it into the corners but was careful not to compact it or overwork it too much. I then put my shortbread straight in the oven, only realising once I’d done so that I was meant to have pricked it all over with a fork and chilled it for 15 minutes beforehand…oops!

It needs baking for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Then should be left to cool completely.

I can report that my shortbread was pretty darn perfect and didn’t seem to suffer from my forgetfulness. Maybe next time I’ll make sure I do the pricking and chilling and try to spot the difference.

While your shortbread is cooling you can crack on with the salty ganache topping…

2 x 100g bars of Lindt touch of salt, finely chopped

2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream

2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small cubes

sea salt flakes

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream until it’s just about to simmer (do not boil), then pour it over the chocolate and leave for about a minute. Stir it until smooth and all of the chocolate has melted. Add the butter and stir until combined. 

Put the bowl in the fridge for approx 20-30 minutes to set. Every 5-10 minutes get it out and give it a good stir/whisk. Once the ganache is of spreadable consistency smooth it over the cooled shortbread with a spatula and then let it set for 30 minutes until it’s firm to the touch. Cut the shortbread into squares, wiping the knife clean after every cut to keep the ganache crumb free and vice versa. Sprinkle a few sea salt flakes onto each square and hey presto you have the most amazing chocolatey, salty delicacies…

Now, brace yourselves and behold, what I believe are the best baking porn photo’s I’ve taken to date…

I was really happy with how these turned out…they were delicious and were a huge hit with my colleagues! The flavours really balanced themselves out, the overriding taste was definitely the chocolate but the salt worked to cut through the sweetness and helped ensure that they weren’t too sickly and the sudden salty hit that you get from the flakes of sea salt was a pure delight.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…and I highly recommend that you do!


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rain rain go away…

It may be the end of August but in my book Summer shouldn’t be over yet and yet the rain just won’t go away! It’s been a miserable day, I trudged home under a miniscule, ineffectual umbrella with soggy pump-clad feet, which is enough to put anyone in a bad mood. But…I decided all should not be lost…I cracked open a beer, donned some warm socks and my apron, put on my new Andreya Triana album and started comfort baking…surely the answer to everything!?

In my eyes Chocolate Brownie’s are the ultimate choice in comfort baking. I decided to laugh in the face of danger and mix it up a bit though…so these weren’t any normal bog standard brownies…they were chocolate brownies with pears and brazil nuts. I had the saying…’if something ain’t broke don’t fix it’ ringing in my ears but I decided not to err on the side of caution and take a risk. I used 70% dark chocolate and ripe, ready to eat conference pears…

I only cooked the brownies for 30 minutes and they were cooked to perfection…

You couldn’t exactly taste the pear but it definitely added to the texture and sweetness. They are exceedingly moist and have that sticky brownie-like consistency without being cloying. 

Check this out for a bit of food porn to chase the wet weather blues away…

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Foodie adventures in the wild west (of Ireland)

It’s been at least a week since I’ve posted any baking photo’s or recipes but I’ve just returned from an amazing trip visiting a good friend in the Wild West of Ireland. So for the time being I hope a healthy dose of Irish food porn will suffice…

My mate Brig lives in a gorgeous little village called Kinvara in an area of West Ireland called the Burren in Co. Galway and runs The Burrenbeo Trust, a landscape charity dedicated to protecting the future sustainable management of the Burren region. As part of the charity they run Cafebeo, where I worked for two days and which I completely fell in love with. 

Cafebeo is Ireland’s only conservation cafe, it serves only Burren produce and 100% of its proceeds go back into the work of the Burrenbeo Trust. They serve delicious homemade soups, Burren organic smoked salmon with local goats cream cheese on homemade brown bread and fresh salad and cakes and the most amazing scones baked by a local lady.

I didn’t realise how popular scones are in Ireland. They’re a whole different ball game to English scones…apparently the main difference is the addition of buttermilk. I’m intrigued by them so I’m going to source a recipe and attempt to make my own.

Brig is well aware, as are most people, of my passion for cafe’s, cakes and food in general and did a sterling job of taking me on a tour of all the culinary hot spots in the area. First stop was the Gallery Cafe in Gort…

where, amongst other things, we ate a yummy goats cheese and beetroot pizza. I forgot to take any photos as I was overcome by hunger after a long day working in the cafe 🙂

Every Friday Kinvara hosts a farmers market, my own little slice of heaven…

It had everything….live music…

cheese…

and the most amazing cake stall serving chocolate fudge cake…

carrot cake…

even the gluten free lemon cake looked amazing…

and a chocolate and guiness cake…not a traditional Irish recipe as you may imagine…apparently it’s one of Nigella’s – another to add to my ‘to bake’ list.

After much deliberation and drooling I decided to buy a slice of mango, banana and coconut cake…it was quite similar to a hummingbird cake that I made a while ago from the Hummingbird Cookery book but substituting pineapple for mango. It was one of the most moist, fruity cakes I have ever eaten…

That evening we popped into Galway and paid a visit to Bar No.8 on the docks. It didn’t look much from the outside but the food turned out to be a real hidden gem. The menu sounded so amazingly good that we decided to share a couple of things…

Parsnip, wild garlic and red cabbage fritters with beetroot yoghurt…

Potted crab with Jess’s Brown Bread. The crab was rich and creamy, mixed with celery and spring onion and was accompanied by a scrummy dressed salad. Simply perfect!

We couldn’t resist the chocolate brownie with wild berry biscuit ice cream for desert. It arrived looking like a true work of art, decorated with edible flowers (well at least we hoped they were edible because well…we ate them). They even cut the brownie in half for us so that we didn’t get into a fight about who had eaten most 🙂

We spent my last day on a mini road trip taking in the beautiful scenery of the west coast and despite not being in the least bit hungry, managed to fit in one last cafe trip to the Burren Perfumery

for carrot cake…

and a chocolate cupcake…

After such a wonderful trip it was a real struggle making myself leave Kinvara and get on the plane back to London…I have no doubt that I’ll be back.

 

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Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.

I love perusing food magazines and am amassing a substantial collection, which I flick through every now and again for inspiration. Two of my housemates share the same birthday, which gave me the the challenge of producing a cake amazing enough to be able to get away with only making one for them to share without them feeling slighted.

I found what looked like the perfect solution in the April 2010 edition of Sainsbury’s Magazine….

Devil’s Food Cake with Raspberries

I am so unbelievably proud of this cake and can’t be modest about how good it looked and tasted 🙂 The texture is more fudgy than spongy and it’s supremely naughty…

225g butter

200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

6 large eggs

200g caster sugar

40g plain flour

25g ground almonds

100g white chocolate

350ml double cream

1 tbsp icing sugar

175g raspberries

For the ganache – 

250ml double cream

150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

50g soft butter

Line 2 x 22cm cake tis with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and leave to cool to room temperature.

In a separate large bowl whisk the egg yolks and 150g of the caster sugar with an electric handheld whisk until thick and pale. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and fold together with the flour and the ground almonds.

In another clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining 50g caster sugar and 1/4 tsp of salt until they form soft peaks. Gently fold into the chocolate mixture in batches making sure everything is combined. Pour the mixture into the cake tins and bake for 30 minutes until the cakes have risen and are firm the the touch. Leave them in the tins to cool – they’ll sink but that’s normal so don’t panic!

This is the first time I have ever been instructed to do this but…wrap the cold cakes, still in their tins, in clingfilm and chill for 3-4 hours or even better overnight. I made my cakes on Thursday evening and left them chilling until Saturday and they definitely didn’t suffer for it. The chilling just makes them even more fudgy and delicious!

For the ganache you need to bring the cream to the boil, pour over the chocolate and leave for 2 minutes before mixing it in thoroughly. Leave it to cool for another 5 minutes and then add the butter. Leave to cool and then chill for approx 30 mins as it needs to be the consistency of chocolate spread. The ganache was absolutely amazing…the most sinful, creamy, chocolatey, shiny gloop I have ever seen.

To make the chocolate curls you melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and then pour it onto a baking sheet of plate and leave it to set for approx 30 minutes. Then drag a sharp knife over the surface to produce the curls. I was impressed with how easy this was to do and how professional they looked.

To assemble the cake place one on a serving plate, whip the 350ml of cream with the icing sugar and smother over. Top with the raspberries and sandwich with the other cake. Pile on the ganache and sprinkle over the white chocolate curls….simple!

I was dying to tuck in but had to wait a few more hours…boy was it worth the wait…

The whole cake was consumed in a matter of minutes and the feedback was really good. Using 70% cocoa solid chocolate means that it’s not too sickly, which is also helped by the tangy-ness of the raspberries.

I have most definitely yielded to the Devil…and invited him in with open arms! 

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Brill tiffin

Another cafe that I visit regularly on Exmouth Market is Brill. It’s a small, independent music shop with a few tables and chairs, good coffee and bagels freshly toasted and prepeared to order (I can recommend smoked salmon and gherkin – not a combo listed on their board but one from my personal repertoire). I popped in one day after having already eaten lunch but with a longing for something to satisfy my sweet tooth and I picked up a tiffin.

You may find it hard to believe but I’d never come across a tiffin before so after devouring it I set about googling how to make them. Apparently they’re also known as refrigerator cakes and as the name may suggest, don’t require any cooking at all. I decided that tiffin making would be my mission for this evening. I’m going to Winchester tomorrow to celebrate my friends birthday and thought tiffin would make a good birthday cake substitute.

Here is the finished article…I dare you not to drool….

It was incredibly easy to make and they can be tailored very easily to your individual tastes.

This version contained

125g ginger nut biscuits

125g rich tea biscuits

50g mixed raisins

50g dried apricots roughly chopped

50g walnuts

100g butter

25g soft brown sugar

3tbsp cocoa powder

4tbsp golden syrup.

Oh and as if that isn’t naughty enough….approx 200g melted chocolate to pour over the top.

Crush the biscuits roughly but so they are still quite chunky, I just used my hands, no rolling pins required. Add the fruit and nuts of choice.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together and add the cocoa. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until everything is coated with chocolatey goodness. Pour into a tin (I lined mine with greasproof paper to minimise on mess), even out, pour over the melted chocolate and put in the fridge for 1 hour.

It really is as easy as that! Once set use a sharp knife to slice into squares and then enjoy!

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