Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Torta di Castagne e Ciccolato

I have just returned from six days in Tuscany where Chestnut season is well under way.  Chestnut flour is a magical but somewhat expensive product of the season.  Despite the price I thought it would be interesting to experiment with it in the kitchen.  At 6 Euro for a 500g bag in a deli within the local region and not much cheaper in the supermarket, I need to be a bit savvy about how i'm going to use it.  My first attempt, to get to know the flour if you will, was simply to use it as a replacement for standard flour in a classic sponge mix - equal parts sugar, butter, eggs and flour.  The outcome was tasty, but more like a cakey shortbread.  The comments - "would be tasty with apple....or chocolate" (or possibly both!!)  This flour is incredibly dense and needs some moister accompaniments if a cake recipe is to succeed!

So, second time round, i've changed the angle.  Add some chocolate flavour and approach the process in a different way - whisking eggs and sugar together to create a classic base for the batter and keeping the dry ingredients separate.  Also breaking the flour down with a little milk - or perhaps sour cream? (much like  Nigella recipe for chocolate fudge cake that I remember making last Christmas).  And i've got some apples coming in my Abel and Cole box tomorrow, so the rest of the flour can be for a third triumph!

This cake has the texture of a perfect sponge but with a nutty aroma and a distinctly earthy taste.  Perfect for an afternoon tea break.

6 medium eggs
150g golden caster sugar
70g organic cocoa powder
2 heaped tsp baking powder
250g farina de castagne (chestnut flour)
350ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 4 (180degrees) and line the base of a 23" clip cake tin.  Grease the sides of the tin if it is not non stick.
In an electric mixer, if you have one, and on a low-medium setting, whisk together the eggs and butter until they are smooth, creamy and frothy.  This could take up to 10 minutes, or longer depending on your machine.  Whilst this is developing, you can continue with the next couple of steps.
Sift the cocoa and baking powders into a separate small bowl.  Put this to one side.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the milk.  Mix these together until a combined and thick but smooth batter is formed.  Don't be tempted to add more milk.
Once the egg and sugar mixture has reached the right consistency, add the cocoa / baking powder mixture to it, a little at a time, folding in between additions until completely combined and a deep chocolate colour.  Mmm delish!  This should now resemble a kind of chocolate mousse - perhaps a little thiner / runnier.
a spoonful at a time, add this chocolate loveliness to the flour batter mixture.  Fold in and continue to add the chocolate mousse stuff until it is all added and combined.  This is now ready for the prepared tin.  Don't be worried if the mixture appears thin.  The chestnut flour is so dense and heavy that it will all come together in the baking process to create something wonderful!
Slowly pour the mixture into the tin and place the tin in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes.
Remove, test that the cake is done by inserting a clean skewer into the centre of the cake - if it comes out clean then it is done.  It not, then pop it back in the oven for 5 minutes or so.
Once done, remove for the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Serve cool, or slightly warm, with sour cream or straight up as it is.

Katie xx

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Plum, Passion and Pumpkin Polenta Pake

A Pake is very much like a Cake, but where all the main ingredients start with the letter 'P'.  I couldn't bring myself to ruin a gloriously alliterate moment with the 'C' word, especially when what I really wanted to write was 'Pie' but, alas, this is no pie either.

Fuelled by last weeks discovery of just how great polenta is to bake with, I've devised this cake recipe from scratch.  I say cake, it's more like a flan but with moist delicate tart like fruit on the bottom, or the top, or the bottom, or the top.  You see, it's a classic 'upside down' cake.  You bake it with the fruit on the base and then turn it out to serve.

The use of a variety of ingredients, that I am lead to believe all have special powers, is driving me towards a path of less glutenous cake baking (and eating)....and as we all know, when something has half the calories, you can eat twice as much!

Ingredients for Plum base
6 medium plums (I used those that came in my Abel and Cole box this week)
150g golden caster sugar
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Ingredients for Cake
170g unsalted butter
170g golden caster sugar
2 medium free-range eggs
2 passion fruit
200g ground almonds
100g fine polenta
2 tsp baking powder
50g pumpkin seeds
+ a little icing sugar and sprig of mint for decoration

There are really two stages to this recipe, which is a little bit more tricky than last weeks Orange and Fig Polenta Cake but it's worth all the effort you but in. 
The first stage is to prepare and cook the plums.  We need to lightly poach them, to make it easier to remove the skins, then caramelise them in a pan with butter and sugar, before placing them in the cake tin.
Prick the plums a few times and place them in a pan of cold water.  Place the pan over a medium / high heat and bring to a simmer.  You will start to see the skins come away from the flesh.  Simmer for a couple of minutes and remove from the heat.  Do not leave them on the heat for too long otherwise they will poach all the way through and become a mulchy mess to prepare!
Drain and peel what should now be easy to remove skins.  Squeeze the lemon juice over them and leave them to cool in the fridge for an hour or so.  
Grease the sides and line the Base of a 23" loose base flan tin.  
Once cooled, cut the plums in half and then slice each half into 3 or 4 slices.  Melt a large knob of butter in a frying pan, over a medium heat, and add the 150g of golden caster sugar.  Allow the sugar to dissolve to a light bubbling deliciousness.  Gently transfer the plums to the pan, making sure the pan isn't overcrowded and the plums are only one slice deep (i.e. don't stack them up), pour any juice that is in the bowl into the pan with the plums and leave them to caramelise in the sugar syrup for a 3-4 minutes.  Occasionally tilt the pan away from you and, with a spoon, spoon the syrup over the plums so that they are all coated in the delicious sugar syrup.  You will find that the plums start to break down, but thats ok, we're not looking for whole pieces here, just imprints.
Take the plums off the heat and pour the entire contents of the pan into the base of your flan tin.  Spread the plums out to an even level and place the tin in the freezer for an hour or so.
You can prepare the plums up to this point a day or two before you complete the bake.  If the base is completely frozen when you come to bake, then make sure you remove it from the freezer an hour or so before you want to bake, so that that plums can thaw slightly.
Whilst the plums are in the freezer, you can make the cake mixture, which is quick and simple!
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5.
Cream and the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes, until pale and smooth.
Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl and, a little at a time - beating in between, add the eggs to the butter / sugar mixture.  Beat the mixture for a few minutes to ensure the batter is fully combined.
Spoon the pulp from the passionfruit into a sieve and push it through so that only the juice (not the pips) go into the cake batter.  The pips are hard and brittle and don't break down easily in the baking process so it is best just to omit them from the recipe altogether.  Beat together again for a few minutes.
In a separate bowl, measure out the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder and lightly stir so they are combined.  A little at a time, add the dry ingredients into the batter, mixing on a low setting in between, until all the ingredients are combined!
Remove the bowl from a the mixer and, with a metal or wooden spoon, fold in the pumpkin seeds so that they are evenly(ish) distributed.
Remove the plum tin from the freezer, they should be cooled and semi soft - with a white tinge to the top.  Spoon the batter onto the fruit and then spread it out to an even level with a metal palette knife - tip - to stop the batter from sticking to the palette knife, dip the knife in water between uses - the batter will slide of the knife easily.
Place the tin in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.
Then turn off the oven and allow the cake to set in the oven for around half an hour.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool completely, in it's tin, on a wire rack.
Turn the cake out onto a stand, dust with icing sugar and decorate with a sprig of mint.  Serve with natural yogurt and grown-up conversation.

Katie xxx

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Orange and Fig Polenta Cake

I know, I KNOW! It's been too long. Almost 6 months.  I'm terribly sorry but I started to run out of recipes and I've just been baking the same things over and over again - and who would want to read about that?  You're not a forgetful bunch, i'm sure.

Anyway, how are you?! Where are you? Hello....are you still there?  I sure hope so!

I thought it only fair to return to this blog with something delicious, but also something that went a little bit wrong.  With my 23" cake tin on loan - (including the birthday cake that was contained within it) - I found myself part way through creating this glorious batter before before breaking out into a series of expletives that ended in me crying on the kitchen floor licking my tears and raw egg mix off a spatula.  Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but the heat of the last few weeks is really starting to get to me.  I appreciate that there are many more important things going on EVERYWHERE than in my kitchen at 9pm on a Saturday night - with only a box of polenta and a flan tin for company.  The result was a cake that slightly overflowed the tin, but it is still pretty.

So, here it is.  And I think it's a corker!  Orange and Fig Polenta Cake.  BOOM! get your laughing gear round that!

200g Unsalted butter
200g Golden Caster Sugar
200g Ground Almonds
100g Fine Polenta
2tsp Baking Powder
3 medium free range eggs (or 2 large ones)
Zest of one Orange
Juice of one Orange (probably the same orange as above - don't buy two, you'll only kick yourself later!)
+50g extra Golden Caster Sugar for the glaze
2 fresh figs
some sesame seeds for decoration

Pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 4 and line the base of a 23" clip cake tin (2" deep minimum)
In an electric mixer, if you have one, or by hand with a wooden spoon, cream the butter and the 200g of sugar until pale and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, measure out the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder - these are your dry ingredients.
In another smaller bowl, lightly whisk the 3 eggs.
Mix a little of the dry ingredients into the butter / sugar mix and beat on a slow setting.  Once combined, add a little of the egg and beat until combined.  Then a little more of the dry ingredients, then the egg etc and repeat until all of it is combined.  Beat for 5 minutes on a low setting to make sure all the ingredients have become quite the best of friends.
Zest the orange before juicing it.  Pour half the juice into your cake batter (leaving the other half to one side for the glaze) and mix again.  I find it quite tricky to mix zest using an electric mixer, so take the bowl off of the mixer stand and fold in the zest using a wooden spoon.
Pour this mixture into your cake tin and even out with the back of a spatula.
Slice your figs so you have 8-10 even slices and arrange on top of the cake as you wish.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and place in the over for 40 mins.  Test the cake using the skewer test.  If it comes out clean, then it's done.  It may seem a little bit wobbly, but don't worry.  If the skewer isn't clean then put back into the over for 10 mins and check again.  When done, turn the oven off but leave the cake to start to cool - I find this helps prevent the cake from sinking in the middle.
Mix the 50g of extra caster sugar with the remaining orange juice and, whilst the cake is still warm, prick the top and pour the juice / sugar over the cake.  Leave to stand in the tin until completely cool.

Slice, and enjoy with natural yogurt, cream, ice cream and friends xx

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Chocolate Orange Brioche and Butter Pudding

I have so often seen recipes for chocolate bread and butter pudding using either plain white bread or brioche.  I've also seen orange flavours added with marmalade or other similar flavours - with apricot jam sometimes.  But I couldn't find a recipe that used orange flavoured chocolate to give the scent of orange but without that kick in the head citrus hit.

So I've made one up!  Hurrah!

For when you want something stodgy, something sweet, if you've got a craving for milk, if you need to mend a broken heart, if you're missing your mums cooking or if you're just feeling a little bit naughty!  Hopeful this pudding will sort it out and, if it doesn't, it will hopefully soften the bumps.

Along with a few other recipes, I'm going to start campaigning for this pudding to be a certified method for the treatment of depression!

50g Butter - for greasing
400g plain brioche, sliced
100g milk chocolate - orange flavour if available
750ml Gold Top Milk (5% Fat)
Zest of 2 large oranges
3 medium eggs
5 medium egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling

Most bread and butter recipes suggest using stale bread or brioche, which you can do, but it's not essential.
If you can't get hold of Gold Top, split the milk quantity evenly between full-fat (3-4%) and double cream.  And you can always use the left over egg whites to make little meringue bites - lovely with a cup of coffee.

Grease the base and sides of a 2 litre oven-proof ceramic dish.
If it is not already sliced, slice the the Brioche into 1cm thick slices, or an even thickness if you'd like them to be thicker.  Cut the chocolate into little pieces.

Arrange the Brioche in the dish, sprinkling half of the chocolate pieces between the slices as you do so.
Once the bread is arranged, sprinkle half of the remaining chocolate pieces over the bread.


In a saucepan, gently warm the milk and orange zest until approaching a boil.  Remove from the heat.
In an electric mixer, if you have one, whisk together the eggs and sugar on a medium-high speed until pale, thick and doubled in size - this should take about 5 minutes in good electric mixer - you want soft peaks.  On a slower setting, slowly pour the warm milk and zest into the egg mixture and mix for a further 2-3 minutes on a slow speed to make the custard.

Pour the thick, glorious custard over the arranged bread and leave to stand for 15 minutes until the bread has soaked up all that it can.  You may find that the mixture is a little fluffy or foamy - like the top of a decadent cappuccino - that's ok. In this 15 minute rest, light the oven and pre-heat to gas mark 3.

Sprinkle the top of the pudding with a little golden caster sugar or demerara and place in the oven for 45 minutes.  When baked, the crusts of the bread should be golden and crispy and the centre of the bread should have a soft, spongey consistency.

Serve, with a big fat smile to warm hearts and raise spirits xx