Monthly Archives: October 2011

Random Recipe #9: Chocolate & whisky charlotte

Dom mixed things up for this month’s Random Recipe challenge by pairing all the participants up so that each blogger randomly picked a book number and page number for their partner.  I was paired  up with the lovely Camilla from Little Macaroon, a Scottish expat currently living in Singapore.  Her blog is full of beautiful photography that desperately makes me miss expat life and discovering new cultures and countries!  It also really makes me miss living somewhere warm and sunny (grumble grumble)…  I picked book number six, page 124 for her which was steamed and roasted duck with honey and oyster sauce (how delicious does that sound?!) and you can read about the adventures involved in acquiring and roasting a 2.7kg duck here.  She randomly selected book number two, page 42 for me, which was a recipe for a chocolate and whisky charlotte from La Popote des potes.

A charlotte is a dessert that consists of a truffle-y custard or fruit mousse surrounded by sponge fingers.  I’m not sure how popular they are here in the UK, but in France they are quite widespread.  My mum, who loves both charlottes and chocolate, was super-enthusiastic when I announced what I had to try and make.  Luckily, she even has a charlotte dish which I was able to use, although you could probably make one in a large soufflé dish or something similar – the key thing is that the dish is deep enough for the sponge fingers to stand up in.  I’d never tried making a charlotte before, so I enthusiastically followed the recipe to the letter.  The results of my first attempt were… disappointing.  Oh, it tasted wonderful, but it wasn’t particularly presentable.  The sponge fingers didn’t fit snugly against each other, and the chocolate filling filtered through the resulting little gaps.  The sponge fingers were also clearly a lot less dense than the filling and rose up and came away from the edge of the dish, leaving some huge gaps between them (we forced them down a bit after the filling had set, but it wasn’t ideal in the presentation stakes – see the photo below).  What had come out of my fridge really didn’t match the photo in the book.  And even though it tasted good – rich, but deliciously chocolatey with a hint of whisky – I was disappointed.  This is a dessert that would be served to guests, so it is supposed to look nice – why hadn’t it worked properly?

Part of the problem may have been that sponge fingers in France (biscuits à la cuillère) are a bit shorter and fatter than the ones in the UK, so perhaps they fit together a little better, or are slightly denser.  A little hunt around Edinburgh didn’t turn up any imported French sponge biscuits, so I turned to the source of all dessert-related knowledge, Pierre Hermé’s Larousse des desserts to see if there were any helpful tips on making charlottes work.  All of his charlotte recipes involved soaking the back of the sponge fingers in an alcoholic sugary syrup to soften them so they could be pushed together.  This isn’t the first recipe that I’ve tried from Popote des potes that hasn’t quite worked, so out of frustration (and perhaps a little bit of spite), I refused to be thwarted and decided to make the charlotte again, but this time with the added step of dipping the sponge fingers in a whisky syrup.  I can be quite stubborn at times…

I was faced with a minor issue though: I’m currently on my own (my mum is on holiday), but the recipe serves 6-8 people and is difficult to split (8 egg whites and 5 egg yolks?  How unhelpful).  I was never going to be able to eat it all myself, but then realised that I could I make it anyway and give it to Craig and his family to test.  Genius idea!  (Though somewhat stressful in case it didn’t work at all…)  Craig helped out and did an excellent job of lining the dish with the sponge fingers and squeezing them together.  This time, the charlotte worked much better – hurrah!  Craig has reported back to say that his family all enjoyed it and thought it was absolutely delicious (phew!).  Even with the addition of the whisky syrup, the flavour of the whisky wasn’t over-powering, but was a lovely warming addition.  The closest thing to a criticism that I could get out of Craig was that it was quite rich, which is hardly a major issue, it just means you can’t wolf the whole thing down by yourself.

Chocolate & whisky charlotte

Serves 6-8
Adapted from La Popote des potes and Larousse des desserts

I used a charlotte dish because I had one, but I’m sure that a large soufflé dish could be used.  I used 12 year anCnoc whisky, a single malt from Aberdeenshire which is quite light and has notes of honey and fruit.  Use your favourite whisky, or whichever whisky you think would best go with chocolate.  This is a very rich dessert, so I wouldn’t recommend serving it after a heavy meal!  What is wonderful about it though is that it can be prepared in advance (although remember that it does contain raw eggs) and kept in the fridge until ready to serve.

Ingredients

For the lining:
Sponge fingers (the amount will depend on the circumference of your dish – we used about 18)
80ml water
100g caster sugar
60ml whisky

For the chocolate filling:
310g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
185g unsalted butter
8 egg whites
5 egg yolks
50g icing sugar
6 tbsp whisky
Chocolate shavings to decorate (optional)

Directions

1.  Mix the sugar and water together in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and allow to boil for about 5 mins to form a syrup.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Once fully cooled, stir in the whisky.

2.  Dip the non-sugar-coated side of a sponge finger into the syrup and place standing up in the charlotte dish, with the sugar-coated side facing outwards.  Repeat with the rest of the sponge fingers until the sides of the dish are fully lined.  If there are gaps between the fingers, pour a little bit of whisky syrup into the bottom of the dish and allow to soak up into the base of the fingers, before carefully squashing them together to close any gaps.  You may need to add a few more fingers – none of them should be able to move from side to side.

3.  Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmer water, until a smooth chocolate mixture has been achieved.  Remove from the heat.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites into firm peaks.  As they begin to firm up, add the icing sugar and continue to whisk for a few minutes.

5.  Stir the egg yolks and whisky into the chocolate mixture, before folding into the egg whites with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Pour the mixture into the prepared charlotte dish, cover with a lid (or tin foil) and refrigerate for at last 4 hours until set.  Sprinkle with chocolate shavings before serving.

Enjoy!

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Cocktail in a Macaron: Rose Martini

You may be aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (and if you weren’t aware, then you are now…), and in support of this cause, this month’s Mac Attack theme is “Pinktober“.  The premise is simple: make your macarons pink (is it just me or does that sound a bit like a euphemism…?) and/or girly.  As soon as I read the challenge, I knew exactly what kind of macarons I wanted to make, but I’ve been putting off making and posting about them.  It took me until today to realise why.

Breast cancer is probably one of the most talk-about cancers (in the Western world anyway), and everybody seems to have been affected by it either directly or known somebody close who has been diagnosed with it.  Perhaps that’s not the case, but it’s the impression I get.  So, here’s the thing that’s been holding me back: talking about breast cancer makes me feel like a bit of a fraud.  Thankfully, my exposure to breast cancer has been limited.  My Scottish grandma was diagnosed with it when I was 11 or 12, but the extent of my knowledge of the whole affair was that Granny had gone into hospital for a little operation, but everything would be fine.  I have a vague feeling that she might have had to have two operations, but I’m really not sure.  (She’s fine, by the way – this would be the very same grandma that accidentally char-grilled the summer fruits crumble a few months ago.)  We lived in Norway at the time, so there were no hospital visits to drive home the reality of it – perhaps that’s one of the reasons that my memories of it are so abstract (which I feel kind of guilty for – made worse now that I realise, of course, what the outcome could have been).  Basically, I’ve been putting this post off because deep-down, there was a lingering, guilt-tinged question: who am I to speak of breast cancer?  What do I know of it, of its far-reaching and awful consequences?  Nothing, that’s what.  And I’m so very aware of how lucky that makes me, but I still feel like a fraud for trying to write a post about it.

Having realised that I had nothing knowledgeable, meaningful or inspirational to say about breast cancer, I decided that I’d better get my act together and make some macarons, because at least when it comes to macarons, I vaguely know what I’m talking about.  Ever since I made Rose Martini cupcakes a few weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to try turning the cocktail into a macaron.  Since the “Pinktober” theme revolves around girliness and pinkness, a macaron based on a cocktail involving rosewater seemed totally appropriate…  I went for plain, pearly shells (it doesn’t really come through in the photos) and pink ganache, and piped little pink ribbons out of chocolate onto some of the macarons.  I even made larger pink ribbons out of chocolate.  I might not have any meaningful words to contribute to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but if you’re going to do something, do it properly, so at least these macarons look the part.  Oh, and the Rose Martini flavour totally works as a macaron.  Hurrah!  So, here we go, be aware of breast cancer; ladies, you’ve probably been told about 56 million times before, but check yourselves.  And eat macarons.  They’re not a proven cure for breast cancer, but they make life that little bit more luxurious, and everybody needs a bit of that sometimes.

Rose Martini macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on
Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from my standard recipe

I added some some edible glittery pearl powder to the macaron shells which gives them a very subtle pearlescent sheen, but you can’t really see it in the photos.  In keeping with the “rose” flavour of the ganache and the “Pinktober” theme, I had been planning to colour the ganache a pale pink, but as you can see, I put a little too much colouring in so the ganache turned out bright pink instead.  Woops.  Both the colouring of the ganache and the pearl powder for the shells are optional.  I’ve also included instructions right at the end on how to make the chocolate pink ribbons that are in the photos.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30 mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Edible pearl powder (optional)

For the ganache:
40g single cream
150g white chocolate
25g vodka
15g white crème de cacao
3g rosewater
Pink food colouring paste/gel (optional)

For the chocolate pink ribbons (optional):
A few square of dark chocolate (large ribbons only)
A few squares of white chocolate
Pink food colouring paste/gel

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 round piping tip.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and pearl powder 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.

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 in diameter).  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 30 mins (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 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  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 ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the vodka, crème de cacao, rosewater and a few drops of pink food colouring paste (how much you add depends on how pink you want the ganache to be – remember that if it’s not bring enough, you can add more colouring, but you can’t make it pale again, so it’s best to be cautious!), 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 (or freezer if necessary).

9.  Once cool, 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.  If you don’t want to decorate them, skip to the very last step.

To make the large pink chocolate ribbons:
10.  Whilst waiting for the ganache to cool, line a baking tray with baking paper (it doesn’t have to be perfectly cut or anything).  Prepare a piping bag with a very thin piping tip (this is to draw the outline of the ribbon).  Melt the dark chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Allow to cool slightly and transfer to the piping bag.  Pipe the outlines of the ribbons (if you’re not confident in piping the shape, you could draw the outlines out on the baking paper in pencil before piping).  Put the baking tray in the fridge for the outlines to harden.

11.  Prepare a different piping bag with a slightly wider tip (this will be to fill in the outlines).  Melt the white chocolate in a different small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, add a few drops of pink colouring paste (as with the ganache, the amount will depend on how bright a pink you’re going for) and stir until smooth.  Allow to cool slightly and transfer to the piping bag.  Remove the baking tray with the hardened dark chocolate outlines and fill them in with the pink white chocolate.  Put the baking tray back in the fridge for the filling of the ribbons to harden.  Once hardened, the ribbons can be gently peeled off the baking paper (remember that they are just chocolate, so if left somewhere warm, they will melt…).

To make the small pink ribbons on the macarons:
12.  Follow step 11, but when the pink white chocolate is ready to pipe, pipe a ribbon shape directly onto the macarons (I’d recommend practicing on a piece of baking paper or any less presentable macarons first).

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

Enjoy!

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We Should Cocoa #14: Aztec brownies

If I’m going to post today, I can’t really do so without briefly mentioning the rugby…  Although France lost, at least we (because I’m totally part of the French rugby team, didn’t you know?) completely blew apart the expectations of most of the rest of the world (well, the bits of the world that care about rugby) that we would play dreadfully and be completely annihilated by the All Blacks.  So hah!  And I’ll be honest, New Zealand deserved to win the World Cup anyway, particularly on home soil.  Now that I’ve got that totally knowledgeable commentary mini rant out the way, let’s talk about brownies.

More specifically, let’s talk about chilli brownies.  The wonderful combination of chocolate and chilli appears to have been somewhat overlooked recently.  Many people seem to be unaware of how perfectly these two flavours go together, which is odd, considering that this particular pairing has been around since the Aztecs or maybe even the Mayans – either way, it’s not exactly a new discovery.  Luckily though, Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog presented the perfect excuse for a foray into this flavour pairing by setting “chilli” as the special ingredient for October’s We Should Cocoa challenge.

It took me most of the month to decide what to actually make.  Cookies, cupcakes, macarons – the possibilities are endless.  In the end, I decided to make chilli brownies in order to use the chilli pepper that went into my chilli crème de cacao experiment, as well as to use some of the actual liqueur.  I had a little moment of inspiration whilst making the brownies, and threw in some cinnamon as well, so they morphed into Aztec brownies.  They also turned out lovely and fudgy, and the chilli flavour is subtle rather than in-your-face, but you can definitely taste it, so it is quite warming (which is always a bonus with winter approaching).  I couldn’t taste that there was alcohol in them, but that could just be me, and I haven’t been able to test these on anybody else to get a second opinion about that.  Either way, they’re still delicious and that’s what counts, right?

Aztec brownies

Makes 9-12 brownies
Adapted from The Craving Chronicles

These are fudgy in the middle, with a lovely warmth from the chilli peppers.  Obviously the strength of the chilli peppers will affect how chilli-y the brownies turn out.  If the chilli peppers that you’re using are very strong, you might wish to omit the chilli powder, depending on your tastes.  One of the chilli peppers that I used was the one that I used to infuse the chilli crème de cacao also used in the recipe.  If you don’t want to make up an entire batch of chilli crème de cacao, you could always just infuse the amount needed with one of the required chilli peppers, or just use normal dark crème de cacao and add a little more chilli powder to the dry ingredients.  These can be stored in an air-tight box for a few days (but they won’t last that long!).

Ingredients

2 chilli peppers
125g all-purpose flour
45g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
60g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
55g unsalted butter
2 eggs
125g light brown sugar
80ml chilli crème de cacao (click for the recipe)
1 tsp vanilla extract

To decorate (optional):
Icing sugar
Ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.  Line a 20 x 20 cm baking tin with baking paper.

2.  Slice the peppers in half and remove the seeds but keep the white filaments.  Finely chop the chilli peppers and set aside.

3.  In a heat-proof bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together over a pan of simmering water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t immersed in the water).  Remove from the heat as soon as they are melted together and set aside to cool slightly for about 5 mins.

4.  Meanwhile, sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chilli powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and mix well.

5.  Lightly beat the eggs together in a small bowl.  Slowly add about 3-4 tbsp of the melted chocolate to the eggs, beating constantly.  Once combined, stir the egg mixture into the remaining chocolate mixture.  Then add the sugar, chilli crème de cacao and vanilla essence and return the bowl to the simmering pan of water over a low heat.  Mix for a few mins until the sugar has melted.

6.  Fold the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin and bake for 18-20 mins until a toothpick comes out almost clean (remember that the brownie will continue to cook slightly once it is removed from the oven and that it will also harden).  Allow the brownie to sit in the pan for about 10 mins before lifting out onto a cooling rack and sprinkle lightly with icing sugar and ground cinnamon (optional).  Eat warm or allow to cool.

Enjoy!

PS – I’m well aware that my photos are a bit yellow-y.  Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to sort that out – my Photoshop skills are pretty limited.

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Chilli crème de cacao

Chilli and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  Fact.  And I don’t even really like chilli all that much usually (spicy food isn’t my favourite).  But I do like chilli with chocolate. Dark chocolate, of course – I’m not convinced that chilli and milk or white chocolate would be all that fabulous…  I’ve done the chilli and chocolate combination a couple of times on Sharky Oven Gloves, first in the form of some rather delicious chilli chai and chocolate cupcakes and then in the form of some equally scrumptious chilli and chocolate icebox cookies (being ladybird-shaped was a total bonus.  The cookies that is, not me.)

A few weeks ago, I had a rather brilliant idea.  As we’ve just established, chilli and chocolate go wonderfully well together.  So why not infused dark crème de cacao with some chilli peppers?  Genius, right?  I don’t know why I’ve never thought of trying it out before…  Rather surprisingly, recipes for chilli-infused crème de cacao appear to be rather scarce, so I made it up as I went along (which I tend to do anyway).  The recipes I found for other chilli-infused alcohols (think tequila, vodka, etc) all specified that the seeds should be removed but the little stringy filaments left in.  No specific explanations were given but I decided to heed the advice – presumably the flavour imparted by the seeds isn’t all that great.

The resulting chilli crème de cacao is rather wonderful.  The length of infusion depends on your preferred level of spiciness.  I’m automatically a fan of anything that requires regular taste-testing and this recipe definitely ticks all the right boxes.  Some of this liqueur is destined for baking, though I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be making with it yet, but you can rest assured that I’ll keep you informed.  Adding a liberal splash of the liqueur to a hot chocolate would also be a great way to jazz it up.  The same goes for cocktails – it could be a great addition to make a cocktail unique (depending on the cocktail, obviously).

Chilli crème de cacao

Makes 250 ml
Recipe from my imagination

This recipe can easily be scaled up without problems – I only made a small quantity since I was experimenting.  The infusion time will depend on the combination of how spicy the chilli pepper that you use is (as chilli peppers go, mine wasn’t too too strong) and how spicy you want to make the liqueur.  Tasting the liqueur regularly is the only way to determine how long you want to let it infuse (what a shame).  Once removed, the infused chilli pepper can be chopped up and used for baking.

Ingredients

1 chilli pepper
250 ml dark crème de cacao

Directions

1.  Wash and dry the chilli pepper.  Halve it and carefully remove the seeds, but making sure to keep the white filaments, then add to a jam jar or preserving jar (depending on how much you are making).  Pour the crème de cacao over the chilli peppers and close the jar.  Store in a dark place (cover in foil if you can’t put it in a cupboard or something).

2.  After about 24 hours, taste the liqueur to check the strength of the chilli.  If not strong enough, return the liqueur to its dark place of hiding and check again in about 24 h (mine took about 48h).  When the liqueur is ready to your taste, strain the crème de cacao through a cheesecloth (kitchen roll also works) and decant into a bottle to store.

Enjoy!  (Moderately, of course…)

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Doughnut holes without the deep-frying faff

Anything that requires deep-frying intimidates me.  There’s something about the combination of a large pot of burning hot oil and me trying to dunk things into it that just sounds like a recipe for disaster.  I’m accident-prone at the best of times, so there’s no need to set myself up for mishap.  So I keep well away from any recipe requiring deep-frying, including doughnuts.  Which is a shame, because I rather like doughnuts…  Theresa from The Craving Chronicles seems to share my apprehension when it comes to deep-frying, and about a year ago I came across a recipe for baked doughnut holes on her blog.  It sounded like a perfect compromise to me, so I bookmarked the recipe and then never really quite got round to trying it out (I probably got distracted by something shiny).

Then in June, as I was trying to use up as many of my baking supplies as possible before moving out of the flat in St Andrews, I needed a recipe that used tinned pumpkin.  It was finally time to try out the baked spiced pumpkin doughnut holes recipe.  Kat, Craig and I had them for brunch and they were rather deliciously scrumptious.  And no big scary pot of hot oil required – win!  They don’t quite have the same taste as a proper yeast doughnut, but they’re so good that it doesn’t really matter.

When I made them, it didn’t really matter that it was June – the weather in Scotland is pretty autumnal all year round anyway (grumble grumble) – but I decided to wait to share them until it was autumn and pumpkins were in season again, even though the recipe requires tinned pumpkin rather than fresh pumpkin.  When I was in Waitrose yesterday, I noticed that they had massive big huge pumpkins in (they were pretty sizeable), which means that pumpkin season is upon us, and it’s finally time to share these delicious baked spiced pumpkin doughnut holes

Baked spiced pumpkin doughnut holes

Makes 18-20 doughnut holes
Slightly adapted from The Craving Chronicles

I haven’t adapted this recipe very much, but I’ve converted it all to metric rather than American cups so I’m posting it anyway, rather than just linking to the original recipe.  The cinnamon sugar coating is totally optional – the doughnut holes are delicious both with or without it.  If you do decide on the coating though (which I would recommend…), only add it on the day that you’re planning on eating them.  So you could make the doughnut holes the day before, store them in an airtight container overnight and then just dip and coat them just before breakfast.  Not all the butter will get used in the coating, but it’s to ensure that there is enough butter to dip the doughnut holes in.

Ingredients

For the doughnut holes:
220g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 egg
75ml sunflower oil
100g brown sugar
185g tinned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
120 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the coating (optional):
75g unsalted butter (this probably won’t all be used)
130g granulated sugar
3 tbsp cinnamon

Directions

For the doughnut holes:
1.  Butter 18-20 holes in a muffin/cupcake tin (depends on whether the muffin tin is for normal-sized or huge muffins) or set out silicon muffin moulds.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-sized bowl and mix together.

3.  Lightly beat the egg in a large bowl, then add the oil, brown sugar, pumpkin, milk and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined (like with muffins, don’t over-mix!).

4.  Divide the batter between the muffin holes or moulds (don’t fill them too much – about 2-3 tbsp per hole will be enough, because these are supposed to be doughnut holes not actual muffins!) and bake for 10-12 mins until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the coating:
5.  Whilst the muffins are baking, melt the butter in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water.  In a different small bowl or dish, mix together the sugar and cinnamon.  When the doughnut holes are baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool for about 2 mins until you can handle them, then dip each one into the melted butter before rolling in the cinnamon sugar to coat.

Enjoy!

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Toothy’s Travels – Ayrshire: Dumfries House

About ten days ago, my mum and I took advantage of Scotland’s surprise three-day summer (that’s right, at the end of September – about flipping time…) and decided to go visit Dumfries House, a stately home in East Ayrshire (in Scotland).  If you watched Britain’s Hidden Heritage on the BBC in August, you may remember Dumfries House, which was featured in the first episode and has recently opened to the public.  If you had more interesting things to do than me didn’t catch it, chances are that you’ve never heard of this treasure-trove of a house.

The house was built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries, and is quite unique in that it was the first and only full house designed by the architect Robert Adams before he went on his Grand Tour of Europe (I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about architecture, but apparently a lot of architecture fans get rather excited about that).  The house was lavishly furnished to make it a family home, with many examples of the Thomas Chippendale’s earlier work as well as many examples of the distinguished Scottish cabinet makers Francis Brodie (father of the infamous Deacon Brodie), Alexander Peter and William Mathie.  Towards the end of the  19th century, two wings were added onto the house to increase the surface area.  The Victorian wings were designed by Robert Weir Schultz and, aside from a slight difference in the colour of the stone, are remarkably well integrated.

Through marriage, Dumfries House and its associated titles were joined with those of the 2nd Marquess of Bute.  Consequently, the family moved into their grander Bute properties, and Dumfries House was used as a stopping-off point as they travelled between their larger estates in Scotland and Wales.  When the family were not using the house, it was looked after by three live-in servants and since the family only stayed for brief visits, the furniture remained in excellent condition and did not require replacing.  The resulting time capsule-like nature of Dumfries House is one of the reasons that HRH Prince Charles helped to save the house at the last minute from being sold and its contents auctioned off.  HRH believes that the value of the house lies in the unique fact that almost all of its original furniture and decorations remain, complete with proofs of purchase in most cases.  Much of the furniture has now been renovated, such as the most important piece of Chippendale in the house, the ‘rosewood’ breakfront bookcase (seen against the wall in the photo of the Blue Drawing Room above) which I believe was valued by Christie’s at around £4 million.  Ya, £4 million.  Oh my god, £4 million?!  No biggie.

Another of the house’s great treasures can be found in the specially-built Tapestry Room in the west Victorian wing.  This room was specially built to house four magnificent tapestries gifted by Louis XIV from the Gobelins Manufactory (famous for their stunning tapestries) dating back to the early 1700s.  The wonderful thing about this room is that the tapestries are displayed in all their glory in full daylight because all the windows are fitted with UV filters to prevent the tapestries from fading further.  How amazing is that?!  Whilst much of the original furniture has remained the same, during the Victorian times, the white ceiling plasterwork was painted over, and some rooms have been left painted and some have been returned to the original all-white Georgian style – I found it really interesting to compare the two styles, and must admit that I distinctly prefer the all-white plasterwork.  I did, however, really like the Pewter Corridor in the west Victorian wing, as shown below, probably because the paintwork isn’t at all in-your-face.

There are, of course, many more exciting and interesting things to see in Dumfries House, and as the renovation work continues, more wonderful treasures should go on display.  I found the visit absolutely fascinating, and our tour guide was incredibly informative – in fact, I’m awed at how knowledgeable she was!  What was great about the house is that it really is somewhere that you can imagine living.  Assuming you like the rococo style of course, which I rather do (so uhm, if they need anybody to live there…).  Prince Charles also has plans to create specialised artisan training workshops on the grounds to create jobs for young people and also provide the skill set required for the upkeep of the house and its contents, which I think is a great way to involve the local community.

Dumfries House is near the village of Cumnock in East Ayrshire, so if would make a great day trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and I would definitely say that it’s worth a visit!  The house can only be visited by guided tour, which must be booked in advance (see here for details), but the grounds can be explored at your leisure (though I’d recommend wellies or hiking boots if you want to venture into the woods!) – maps of the grounds are available if you ask.

Although I took all the outdoor photos, photography is not permitted within the house, so all the indoor shots in this post are from the website.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Zoosday Tuesday: Killer whale birthday cake

I’ve had a bit of a blog hiatus, mostly because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I thought I’d better sort that out, and it would seem appropriate to end the hiatus with a Zoosday Tuesday post (which I haven’t done in a while) in the form of a slightly epic birthday cake.  It seems to have been the year of the animal birthday cakes – we had the seal pup cake in January, Craig’s meerkat cake, and the latest offering…  A killer whale cake!  Before anybody panics, let me just make it clear that by killer whale cake I mean a cake shaped like a killer whale, not a whale cake that is lethal.

You may well be wondering why I decided to spend seven hours of my life making a cake in the shape of a killer whale (before anybody feels the need to point out that it doesn’t have a tail, the whale is surfacing, so the tail is underwater).  Aside from the fact that cake is awesome and killer whales are pretty awesome, thus the two put together would automatically be totally awesome, Kat happens to love killer whales and has just started the Marine Mammals MRes in St Andrews (she’s clever like that).  She also happens to love amaretto (an almond-flavoured liqueur), so when it came to making her a surprise birthday cake, an amaretto cake in the shape of a killer whale was a bit of a no-brainer…

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really come across many amaretto cake recipes, so that was the first step.  I eventually found a cake recipe that involved apricots and amaretto which sounded promising.  In view of the epic amount of buttercream icing that was likely to cover the cake, I decided that attempting to be vaguely healthy with the apricots was a bit pointless so I substituted chocolate chips instead.  The next step was to work out how to make the chocolate and Amaretto cake into the shape of a killer whale.  I decided that baking the cake in a loaf tin was a good first step, and pretty much winged it from there.  So basically, I knew roughly what I wanted the finished cake to look like (a surfacing killer whale – to avoid faffing around and having to make a tail), but effectively made it up as I went along.  Thankfully it turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The final step was to get the cake from Edinburgh to St Andrews… on public transport.  Remarkably, we managed it to get it there in one piece.  All that remained to do was to stick a candle in its blowhole and all over Craig’s delicious chilli and lime chocolate brownies and celebrate Kat’s (slightly belated) birthday by spending two days eating cake…  In case you’re wondering, the cake not only looked pretty amazing (if I do say so myself…) but tasted rather good, too.  Phew!

Chocolate & amaretto cake

Serves 8-10 people
Adapted from Waitrose

Since I was making a whale cake, I made the cake in a loaf tin, but obviously a round cake tin works perfectly, too.  I’ve given the instructions here on how to make the cake into a whale, but if you’re not making a killer whale, but still want to ice the cake, use about ⅓ of the icing ingredients and sprinkle with flaked almonds and cocoa powder to decorate.  Just a warning, the killer whale cake did take me about 7 hours from start to finish, though most of that time was the cake’s cooking time and waiting for it to cool – the actual shaping and icing maybe took about 1 ½ hours since I faffed around quite a bit.  The cake keeps well for a few days in an air-tight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
25g self-raising flour
165g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g ground almonds
115g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
100ml amaretto (this is a bit of an approximation)
3 eggs
125ml sour cream
125g dark chocolate chips

For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
200g butter (softened to room temperature)
5-6 tbsp amaretto
Blue and black food colouring paste/gel
Edible blue sparkles (optional)

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Butter and flour a 21 x 11 cm loaf tin (or if you’re not making a killer whale, you can use a 23 cm round cake tin), and line the bottom with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Sift the two flours, the bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Add 75g of ground almonds and mix together.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the cubed butter and golden caster sugar together using an electric whisk.  Add the remaining ground almonds and about 4 tbsp of amaretto, and whisk together.  Beat in the eggs one at a time before adding the remaining 65 ml of amaretto and mixing well (don’t panic if the mixture appears to separate – I don’t know if that’s normal, but it happened to mine and the cake turned out perfectly fine.  Adding the dry ingredients in the next step will sort the mixture out again).

4.  Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the amaretto mixture, alternating each addition with folding in a spoonful of sour cream.  Make sure not to let the mixture get too dry.  Fold in the chocolate chips and spoon into the loaf tin.

5.  Bake for 1h25 (1h20 if using a round cake tin).  A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, but make sure not to overcook the cake (or it will come out really dry).  Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To turn the cake into a killer whale:
6.  Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the cake into a rounded shape (try to keep at least one of the corners in one piece to make the fin with), making one end slightly more pointy than the other (this will be the whale’s head).  If necessary, trim the top edges of the loaf at an angle to try and make the overall shape more rounded and whale-like (if none of that made sense, hopefully the photo below will explain better).

7.  Using one of the corners that have been cut off the cake, trim it into a fin shape (again, see the photo below if you’re not too sure).  Stick a toothpick or two through the fin and into the cake to secure it into place, and use a toothpick on either side to make sure it doesn’t fall over.

8.  To make the buttercream icing, cream together the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth (be prepared for an icing sugar explosion).  Place 1-2 tsp of icing in the centre of the underside of the cake and place the cake onto the cake board of plate that you’ll be presenting it on, pressing it down gently (this is to vaguely stick the cake to the cake board/plate so that it doesn’t slide around in transit).

9.  Transfer just under half of the remaining icing to a medium sized bowl, add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a dollop (very technical term) of black food colouring gel/paste.  Mix well until the icing is smooth.  Add a tiny bit more black food colouring if necessary and mix until the icing has turned very dark grey.  Using a small tapered spatula or knife, spread the dark grey icing over the whale, making sure to leave space for the white icing under the mouth (alternatively, cover the entire cake in dark grey icing and then pipe the white icing over the top as with the white bits over the eyes).  Use icing to cover the toothpicks on either side of the fin, and shape it a little if necessary.  Try and make the icing as smooth as possible.  Refer to the photos of the cake, or to photos of real killer whales as guides.

10.  Prepare a piping bag with a 5 mm round tip, and spoon 2-3 heaped tbsp of the white icing into it.  Pipe the white spots over the top of the killer whale’s eyes, and the the white parts of its belly under its mouth (see photos of the cake or real killer whales to use as guides).  If there is any icing left in the piping bag, return it to the rest of the original white icing in the large bowl.

11.  Dip the end of a toothpick into the black food colouring paste and draw a small eye between the white patch above the eye and the white belly under the mouth.  Use the other end of the toothpick to do the eye on the other side.  Use another toothpick to shape a blowhole in the centre of the top of the whale’s head (the blowhole I made was about 6 mm across).

12.  Prepare another piping bag with a tear-drop or rose-petal tip (or if you don’t have either of those, a 5 mm round tip would probably work, too).  Add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a tiny bit of blue food colouring paste to the remaining icing and mix well until the icing is smooth.  Spoon the icing into the prepared piping bag and pipe squiggles across the cake board or plate to make the waves of the sea.  Sprinkle some edible blue sparkles across the top of the “sea” to finish off the cake (optional).

Enjoy!  (And remember to warn people about the toothpicks in the fin…)

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods