Monthly Archives: January 2011

Patience is a virtue: Blueberry gin

Not to conform to the St Andrews student stereotype or anything, but I have a lot of love for gin.  I have a friend who once made Gin & Tonic in a Thermos and brought it to the library for us to share because we were both craving G&Ts but had too much work to go to the pub.  Now that’s true gin love (some might describe it as alcoholism, however, I am rather inclined to disagree).  Oh and in case you were wondering, we both got our work done and met the deadline.

I came across a recipe for blueberry gin in December.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that I just had to try it – the only question was when?  It takes two weeks to brew, and the Christmas holidays rather inconveniently got in the way, so this little experiment had to wait until I got back to university at the beginning of January.

Now, I’m not a particularly patient person, and two weeks is a long time to have to look at something every day knowing you can’t taste it yet, but this was well worth the wait.  And the resulting pink gin is just so pretty!  It was finally ready at the end of last week, so I had an inaugural tasting with a couple of gin-loving friends.  We made Blueberry G&Ts, and they were rather amazing – fruity and slightly sweet.  We used the blueberries (“ginberries” might be a more appropriate description) to make cupcakes – I’ll blog about those soon.

Blueberry gin

Makes about 500ml
Adapted from Island Vittles

You can use fresh or frozen blueberries – the only frozen blueberries I could find were part of a frozen summer fruit mix so I used fresh ones (in January, I know).  Once the gin is done, use the leftover blueberries instead of normal blueberries to make muffins or cupcakes (or anything really).  For the gin, I used Bombay Sapphire because I happened to have Tesco vouchers for a discounted bottle, but any decent gin (so not supermarket brand) would work.

Ingredients

175g blueberries
60g sugar
500ml gin

Directions

1.  Mix the blueberries, sugar and gin in a glass preserving jar or similar container, seal and shake well.

2.  Store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks and up to two months, making sure to shake every few days (or, out of sheer enthusiasm, every day in my case).

3.  Once the gin has turned a lovely dark pink colour, strain it through cheesecloth (or kitchen roll) into clean glass bottles.  Serve cold over ice with tonic for G&Ts with a difference!

Enjoy!  (Responsibly, of course…  Ahem)

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“Auld Alliance” cranachan

Tomorrow (January 25th) is Burns Night, a celebration of the life and works of the Scottish poet Robert Burns on the day of his birth.  I’m not actually sure what there is to celebrate about his life (apparently he was basically a drunken misogynist and racist) or his works (not having been to school in Scotland I never studied any of his poetry, but I have been assured by various friends that it was a lucky escape), but as far as I’m concerned, it’s an excuse for a dinner party, or Burns Supper, so I’m all for it.

If you’re going to do a Burns Supper properly, there are a whole set of traditions associated with it, including a piper and a heck of a lot of speeches.  Including the Address To a Haggis.  Yes, that’s right, an 8-verse poem in Scots dialect recited to a stuffed sheep’s stomach.  So anyway, I don’t happen to have a piper on hand and (despite being Scottish) I sound ridiculous attempting to pronounce any Scots words, so I think we’ll be skipping most of those traditions (shock horror, I know), though perhaps I’ll attempt to convince one of my friends with an actual Scottish accent to do the Address.  We shall see…

Now that I’ve rambled a bit, I’ll get to the point: food.  Well, more specifically: dessert.  One of the traditional Burns Supper desserts is cranachan, a concoction of oats, whipped cream, honey, whisky (depending on who is making it) and raspberries.  I’m not sure why there are raspberries in a dish that is usually served in January – they’re not exactly in season – but we’ll gloss over that.  I’m not a huge fan of oats though (I find them rather boring), so I was looking for an alternative and suddenly it hit me – use a macaron base to get a bit of crunch just like the oats!  Genius!  Using a macaron base would be a perfect way to introduce some extra colour, too…

I also discovered that this month’s Mac Attack (#15 – MacInspirational) was all about incorporating macarons into your favourite dessert.  So ok, cranachan isn’t my favourite dessert, but here was the perfect excuse to try out my idea. I’ve done a trial run, which I’m quite happy with and am only planning a few minor adjustments – making the bases bigger and slightly “puffier” and also crumbling macarons over the top to create a bit more crunch.  So I give you the “Auld Alliance” cranachan – a perfect Scottish-French partnership (I know, I know, I am just so witty):

“Auld Alliance” cranachan

Serves 8
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
The topping was made from my imagination

The shells can be prepared the day before, but to get maximum crunch, it’s best to add the topping just before serving, otherwise the cream soaks into the shell and softens it.

Ingredients

For the macarons shells:
150g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
100g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
270g icing sugar
Pink & purple food colouring paste (optional)

For the topping (these are all very approximate measures – definitely refine them to your tastes):
550ml double cream
20 tbsp icing sugar
20 tbsp whisky
15 tbsp heather honey (or just normal set honey if you can’t get heather honey)
300g raspberries

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle (a wide nozzle is best to make the large shells).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add a good dollop of pink food colouring paste and a few drops (splodges?) of purple just before the end and mix well (this is totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the dessert, and it’s also kind of fun).

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 10cm but I’m going to try 15cm next time. Make sure you make at least 8 – any extra shells can be crumbled and used for decoration at the end).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet – because these are big shells, a bit longer might be required).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 10-15mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays.

To make the topping:
8.  Add the cream, icing sugar and whisky to a bowl and whip into stiff peaks.  Once this is done, add the honey and mix into the cream (heather honey is set, so use the electric whisk).

9.  Spoon a thick layer of the whisky-honey-cream onto the macaron shells (you could also pipe it into a pretty pattern if you are feeling enthusiastic/have the time).  Decorate with raspberries and crushed left-over macaron shells before serving.

Enjoy!

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Making macarons: Third time lucky?

My last post was about my first two attempts at making macarons.  Attempt #2 turned out quite well, though the shells weren’t smooth.  I think this was because I didn’t blend the icing sugar and ground almonds so the mixture itself wasn’t very smooth and was a little bit on the gloopy side (very scientific description) rather than making a smooth ribbon as it is apparently supposed to.  They still tasted really good though (even if I do say so myself…) so my main issue with them was just that they weren’t as presentable as they should have been.

So the challenge to successfully attempt macarons was still on.  I happened across a suggestion for coffee and cognac macarons and decided that I obviously just had to try them, so I got out my mini-blender and made a start on…

Attempt #3

I’m actually really happy with how these turned out.  The shells, though still not exactly perfect, were (mostly) smooth, didn’t crack and had beautiful feet.

What do you think?  Success?  I’m going with yes.

Since I only have a mini blender, I had to mix the icing sugar and almonds together first and then blend it in batches – a bit tedious, but definitely worth the tiny bit of added effort.

The coffee and cognac ganache combination worked really well, so not only did the macarons look presentable, they also tasted yummy!  All-round win!

Coffee & cognac macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so 120 shells of about 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Shell recipe from Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure gourmandise

Since the ganache has to be cooled right down, it gets very hard and is therefore ridiculously difficult to pipe.  I ended up getting a bit frustrated and just depositing dollops of ganache onto the macaron shells with a teaspoon and my finger – hey, it got the job done!   Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shell a little bit.  They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the shells:
100g aged egg whites
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
7g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

For the ganache:
40g single cream
4 tsp coffee granules
150g white chocolate
2cl (20g) cognac

Directions

To make the shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle, the size of which depends on the size of macarons that you are making.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-12mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer.  The mini macarons took about 8-9mins).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the coffee and cognac ganache filling.  Heat the cream with the coffee granules.  As soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces) and the cognac and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge.

9.  Once cool, transfer to a piping bag and pipe (or use a teaspoon to deposit) a good dollop of  ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

10.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Making macarons: Attempts #1 & #2

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to successfully attempt macarons.  I absolutely love macarons, but I’ve just never quite got around to trying my hand at them.  So I set aside almost a whole day in which to embark on this adventure.  Apparently though, I somehow decided that just attempting them wasn’t enough, no, I was going to be successful and make a batch as a friend’s belated Christmas present.  This is despite knowing that they have a reputation for being horrendously difficult and super finnicky with loads of things that can go wrong.  No pressure.

There are loads of online resources with advice on making macarons and about 56 million different recipes to choose from.  The advice made the challenge seem slightly less daunting, the sheer number of recipes made it rather more so – how do you pick which recipe to use?  I decided to use the recipe from Jill Colonna’s Mad About Macarons! that I recently acquired, mostly because it has pictures for each step of the basic method and also because it uses the French meringue method, which to me sounded a lot more straightforward for a beginner and less of a logistic nightmare than the Italian method considering my kitchen equipment.  And I’m French, so co-co-rico and all that.

After reading quite a lot of tips and tricks and so on, I suddenly realised that there seemed to be a few common ones that I should probably pay attention to (and then more or less subsequently ignored):
Don’t make macarons if it is raining due to the humidity levels – I live in Scotland, enough said.  Though when I tried these, it wasn’t actually raining…  It was snowing.
Weigh everything PRECISELY – I definitely did this.  Partly because I’m a scientist and so if I’m told that measurements must be precise I start imagining that there might be explosions if there is 1g of cocoa powder too much, and partly because I love my electronic kitchen scales (I am so easily amused).
Blend the icing sugar with the ground almonds – Jill Colonna said nothing about blending them so I decided that it wouldn’t be necessary.  I only have a mini blender and would have had to do it in batches and I guess I was feeling a bit lazy.  In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.
Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds – Since I didn’t bother blending them, I made sure that I did this step.
Use egg whites that have been aged – Sounds simple enough, except every single resource I looked at suggested ageing them for a different length of time, some in the fridge, some not, some covered, some uncovered.  Not helpful.  I followed Jill Colonna’s advice and stored the egg whites for four days in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Use a silicon baking mat on top of the baking tray – Apparently this means that the shells bake better, that the bottoms are smoother and that they come off better.  I only had one silicon mat, so for the first batch, I did half on the silicone mat and half on normal baking paper.  Intriguingly, I found that the baking paper ones actually came out better.
Make sure you know your oven’s temperatures – I haven’t a clue how accurate our oven is, and some of the markings around the temperature dial have been rubbed off.  I don’t own an oven thermometer anyway, so whatever.

So, having read (and disregarded most of) the general expert advice, it was time to embark on a macaron-making adventure…

Attempt #1:

This is how they came out:

They were kind of grainy (probably because I didn’t blend them) and the mixture wasn’t quite liquid enough so the shells weren’t smooth (I think this was at least partly due to the lack of blending).  BUT they had feet!  And they didn’t crack.

Far from perfect, but not too bad for a first attempt.  Since they weren’t particularly presentable, I didn’t bother making a filling for these – they tasted good, so just got eaten as snacks on their own.

Attempt #2:

I still didn’t blend the icing sugar and ground almonds so the texture was still a little bit grainy, but it was a bit more liquid than my first attempt so the shells were slightly smoother.  Not quite sure why though, so I will just pretend that it was the power of my mind.  This was the end result:

Still not perfect, but rather better.  They all had feet and none of them cracked which is rather excellent.  My motivation was flagging slightly by this point, so I decided to make the coffee cream filling and turn the shells into macarons.  24h later, I was able to taste them and they were rather good, even if I do say so myself.  I decided that I would give this batch as a gift, though I later found out that my friend has actually tasted Ladurée’s macarons before, so I reminded him that I’m not a real pastry chef and this was only my second try so please don’t compare them too harshly.  He seems to have enjoyed them though (or is too polite to say otherwise).

Coffee macarons

Makes about 30 small macarons (so 60 shells of about 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Recipe from Mad About Macarons!

These didn’t turn out perfect, but I think it was more a question of technique than the recipe itself – I guess practice makes perfect!  I will warn you in advance, there is a lot of waiting around when making macarons, and consequently they are quite time-consuming to make.  After you’ve garnished the shells to make the macarons, make sure you leave them 24h before eating them to allow the filling to soak into the shells.  Store them in the fridge, but make sure you take them out at least 30mins before eating them.  Unfortunately, the recipe makes way too much coffee buttercream filling for the number of shells, but it’s difficult to split an egg.

Ingredients

For the shells:
50g aged egg whites
33g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
90g icing sugar
3g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

For the filling:
100g unsalted butter
160ml full-fat milk
2 tbsp coffee granules
1 egg
20g caster sugar
20g custard powder
Few drops coffee extract

Directions

To make the shells:
1.  Line two or three flat baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle to make it easier later on.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (Don’t skip this step like I did – I really think this is why they look a little grainy).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula (mine was a bit of a gloopy ribbon – I think this is why the pastry didn’t spread properly to make smooth shells).

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-12mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer.  The mini macarons took about 8-9mins).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the coffee cream filling.  Cream the softened butter and set aside.  In a saucepan, boil the milk with the coffee granules.  Remove from the heat.

9.  In a bowl, whisk the egg with the sugar and custard powder.  Add this to the milk and coffee, and return to the heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Place some cling-film directly onto the cream to avoid a skin forming.

10.  Once cool, mix in the creamed butter and the coffee extract.  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe some of the filling onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

11.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!).

Enjoy!

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Henceforth I shall be known as: Queen Mel (OK, OK, just for one day)

To celebrate the Epiphany (when the Three Kings visited baby Jesus) in France we make a galette des rois, or “Kings’ cake.”  Hidden in the cake, there is a fève (a small porcelain figurine), and whoever gets it in their slice is crowned King or Queen for the day – this is known as the “drawing of the Kings.”  The Epiphany is the 6th of January, but you can get galettes des rois throughout January.

There are countless different types of galettes des rois – most regions have their own speciality versions (as with everything in France).  The best-known type of galette is probably the one made with frangipane and puff pastry, which I made this year for the first time (I usually make one of my regional versions, which is choux pastry-based).

In an attempt to make the drawing of the Kings as random as possible, the responsibility of assigning slices to people rests with the youngest person present.  I remember agonising over which slice I thought was most likely to contain the fève so that I could pick that one and be Queen.  I was usually wrong though.  To ensure the least amount of bias possible, some families make the youngest person sit under the table (so that they can’t see the galette) and yell out people’s names as slices are cut.

This year, I got the lucky slice, so I was crowned Queen Mel for the evening (coincidentally, at the roughly the same time, my blog reached 300 views – I would currently like to think of myself as Queen Mel of Spartaaaaa!  Or not.)  In thanks for being crowned, the King/Queen is supposed to provide next year’s galette des rois.  I think I’ll make a regional version next year, so keep your eyes peeled for that…

Frangipane galette des rois

Serves 6-8
Recipe slightly adapted from La Popote des potes.

If you’re a big frangipane fan, the quantity can be doubled for an even more creamy filling.  I cheated a little and used ready-made puff pastry (I just didn’t have the time to faff around and make it myself) – for this recipe, it’s easier to get block pastry rather than ready-rolled as it has to be split.  Of course, you can make galettes all year round – just leave out the fève!

Ingredients

60g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
1 egg
1 tsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp white rum
500g puff pastry
Tiny bit of milk
1 egg yolk
1 tsp icing sugar
1 porcelain fève (and a crown for the King/Queen to wear)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper.

2.  To make the frangipane, melt the butter in a small saucepan and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the caster sugar and whisk to get a frothy mixture.  Add the ground almonds, the egg, the flour and the rum, and mix well until smooth.

3.  Split the puff pastry into two and roll out both halves into circles of the same size (make sure that the circles aren’t too big to fit onto your baking tray).  Spread one of the circles out onto the sheet of baking paper and prick it all over with a fork.  Spread the frangipane over the disk of pastry up to 1cm from the edge.  Push the fève into the frangipane (near the edge is best.  It helps if you can remember where it is so that when you slice the galette, you don’t end up trying to cut through it – just make sure you’re not picking who gets which slice or that would be unfair!)  Cover with the second pastry disk and pinch the edges of the two disks together, using a little bit of milk if necessary.

4.  Whisk the egg yolk with a drop of water and brush over the top of the galette.  (At this point, you can use a knife tip or a fork to trace patterns over the top and make it look pretty.)

5.  Bake in the oven for 40 mins.  5 mins before the end, lightly sprinkle some icing sugar over the top (using a tea strainer makes it much easier to control and even coverage), and return to the oven.  Serve warm (the galette will deflate when you cut it).

Enjoy!

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Fun fact: It takes 3h to make a seal pup out of grated chocolate…

A friend of mine had his birthday last week and, well, let’s just say that he’s not a huge fan of the cute and fluffy variety of animal.  I had to do a presentation with him last year, and I deliberately added pictures of cute baby seals to every single one of my slides, just for a laugh.  He made me take them out (to be fair, the presentation wasn’t even particularly related to seals – it was about biodiversity and climate change, so they were only briefly mentioned), but I managed to convince him to leave this baby harp seal on the title slide:

How adorably cute is it?!  Since then, we’ve had a bit of a running joke about cute baby seals, so when Kat and I made a surprise birthday cake for him, we just had to somehow include a baby seal.  It took us about 3 hours to decorate, but we managed it, and I think we did quite a good job, even if I do say so myself…

What do you think?  We modelled it on the harp seal pup photo from the presentation.  Thankfully, Kat can draw and so she drew the outline of the seal into the icing with a toothpick (actually, I don’t have any toothpicks, so a cocktail umbrella made a wonderful substitute – we’re students, what can I say?)  We made the eyes, nose and mouth with dark chocolate chips, used roughly grated white chocolate for the fur, finely grated dark chocolate for the shading and some random little square chocolate sprinkles for the eyebrows and whiskers.

Rich & decadent chocolate cake

Serves 10-12 (using a 26cm cake tin)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner

This recipe can be multiplied by 1.5 and it still works fine, but has gone wrong whenever I’ve doubled it – I think there might be too many eggs or something.  It’s quite a rich and compact cake, so you don’t need massive slices, and I definitely recommend serving it with whipped cream – we made kirsch-infused whipped cream (since we used kirsch in the cake) and it went rather fabulously.

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
140g caster sugar
70g unsalted butter
4 eggs
2 tbsp of liqueur (rum, kirsch, etc) or orange flower water
Chocolate glaçage (recipe below)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 120°C, and butter a 26cm round cake tin.

2.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

3.  Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks one-by-one, followed by the flour and then the sugar (if you want the texture of your cake to look like the photo above, and be quite “grainy” then use a wooden spoon, but if you want it to be smoother, use a hand whisk.  Both are scrumptious – it’s entirely a matter of personal taste).

4.  Whisk the four egg whites up into firm peaks, and fold them into the chocolate mixture along with your chosen liqueur.

5.  Pour the mixture into the buttered cake tin, and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (or a cocktail umbrella…  I should really invest in some toothpicks!)

6.  Invert the cake onto a cake platter or plate or whatever you want to present it on, and cover it in chocolate glaçage (see recipe below) before decorating (use white chocolate chips, hundreds and thousands, cherries, etc).

Dark chocolate glaçage

Makes enough glaçage to cover a 26cm cake (and then some!)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner.

Ingredients

60g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
60g unsalted butter
2 eggs

Directions

1.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

2.  Remove from the heat, and with a hand whisk, mix in each of the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites into firm peaks and fold them into the chocolate to make a smooth mixture.

3.  Spread onto the cake using a palette knife, making the top and sides as smooth as possible (don’t worry about getting chocolate all over the plate – it is fairly easy to clean up with a bit of damp kitchen roll).  The glaçage will set as it cools.

Enjoy the cake with liqueur-infused whipped cream!

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Alcoholic whipped cream?! Yes please!

Whipped cream – such a wonderful accompaniment to cakes and many desserts, so simple to create, and so good!  The beauty of whipped cream is in its utter simplicity – that’s what makes it go so well with so many things.  Now whipped cream is amazing in itself, no need to change it, right?  Well, I thought so too, until I tried infusing it with liqueur (you know you’re an alcoholic when…).  Oh yes, that’s right, alcoholic whipped cream.  And there are so many spirits and liqueurs out there that suddenly you’re presented with infinite possibilities…  And you can subtly match your whipped cream to a particular dessert.

Other than not having the ingredients, there is never a valid excuse not to have home-made whipped cream if it goes with a particular dessert.  Don’t ever serve me whipped cream from a can – I’m a whipped cream snob, and I will judge you.  No electric whisk?  Just whip it by hand.  Sure, it takes a little longer but it’s really not that difficult.  Take it from me – I once hand-whisked enough single cream for 12 people, just to prove a point.

Liqueur-infused whipped cream

Inspired by Texts From Last Night (ya, I know – not your standard recipe source)

To be honest, this isn’t really a proper recipe – it’s very much a-bit-of-this, a-bit-of-that – but I just thought I’d put down the basic premise.

Ingredients

Double cream
Icing sugar
Several glugs (a well-known scientific unit of measurement) of a liqueur or spirit of your choice

Directions

1.  Pour the double cream into a bowl, add some icing sugar and several glugs of whichever liqueur or spirit you’ve chosen.

2.  Using the electric whisk (or standard muscle power if you don’t have one), whisk them together to form medium peaks.  Taste and add more liqueur or icing sugar as necessary.

Enjoy!  (Ahem, in moderation of course…)

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

Spinach & goat’s cheese muffins

Savoury muffins are so much fun and so versatile!  They’re perfect as party food, as nibbles for a chilled film night or if you just feel like having something for lunch that’s a little different but still fairly healthy.  I have a lot of love for muffins (sweet or savoury) so I always get enthusiastic about baking them, and these are no exception!  I also kind of love that they are green – I’m obviously easily amused…

Kat and I made these for a birthday nibbles-and-drinks that we threw for a friend the other evening.  They were snaffled up in no time – so I think it’s safe to conclude that everybody loved them!

Spinach & goat’s cheese muffins

Makes about 15 muffins
Recipe from Channel 4 Food

These are great both in the summer or the winter, and can be served warm or cold – perfect for picnics and packed lunches!  This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but my one main note is to remember to add the egg (no kidding, I know – but the first time we made these, we somehow forgot.  Ya, oops!)

Ingredients

25g butter
200ml milk
100g fresh spinach
250g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Several pinches cayenne pepper
Several pinches freshly ground black pepper
50g parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
200g rindless goat’s cheese, chopped (if it has a rind, it tends to melt a bit funny)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/gas mark 5.  Line 15 muffin holes with paper liners, or set out silicone muffin moulds.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl, and add the cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Stir in the grated parmesan, and set aside.

3.  Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Once the butter has melted, stir in the spinach and bring it just to the boil (the spinach takes up a lot of room, but quickly wilts).  Remove from the heat and pour into a liquidiser or food processor (I only have a mini blender, and it works perfectly fine for this, you just have to do it in several stages – takes a little longer, but not really much of an issue.  Make sure you don’t fill the blender up with the liquid though – it will go everywhere).  Whizz until the spinach is finely chopped, and allow to cool for about 5 mins.

4.  Add the spinach mixture and the lightly beaten egg to the dry ingredients, and mix with a big metal spoon until just combined.  Fill each of the muffin holes about half full with batter, and add some of the goat’s cheese.  Cover with the remaining batter, and top this off with any leftover goat’s cheese, pushing it down into the batter.

5.  Bake for 20-25 mins until risen and firm to the touch.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool a little.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods