Mushroom, Caramelised Onion and Gruyère Tart

I love love love puff pastry.

It’s so rich, and buttery and yummy the way it falls into little flakes. It’s completely impossible to eat without getting a little bit (or a lot) messy and it’s totally rewarding and even more satisfying when you’ve made it yourself.

There are loads of advocates of the shop-bought puff. Chefs who say that making your own isn’t necessary, that it’s too much bother. True, it takes a truly laborious degree of rolling, and turning, and waiting and incorporating a scarily big block of butter. But it’s totally worth it at the end.

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I use puff pastry mostly in savoury rather than sweet recipes. So here it’s been turned into a really simple but very delicious tart.  I’m not very good at rolling out my pastry into a perfect rectangle, so always end up with a lot of offcuts. I ended up making a second smaller tart, into which I poured the remaining egg from the eggwash. That worked so well I’ve incorporated it into the recipe below.

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You can also make cheese straws, palmiers, or even jam tarts from the pastry odds-and-ends. All so scrummy, but how could it not be, with homemade puff pastry? 🙂

Mushroom, Caramelised Onion, and Gruyère Tart

  • 400g puff pastry
  • 25g butter
  • 1 red onion, sliced finely
  • 1 dsp brown sugar.
  • 2 large handfuls mixed mushrooms
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 50g Gruyère cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • fresh parsley, chopped

Put the porcini mushrooms in a bowl of water to soak. Roll out the puff pastry. Lay out onto a baking tray, and cut into a neat rectangle. Score a border at least 1 cm from the edge. Prick all over the middle with a fork, and put into the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Cook until soft. Add the brown sugar, and mix in well until the onions are thoroughly coated. Add the oyster mushrooms, and cook until soft and glossy. Add the garlic paste, salt and pepper, taste and adjust further if needed.

Dry the porcini mushrooms, and cut into small pieces, then mix together with the rest of the mushrooms.

Sprinkle a little cheese over the centre of the puff pastry rectangle, then spread the mushroom mixture up to the edges. Pop into the oven and bake for around 15 minutes until risen and puffy, then gently pour into the tart the remaining egg, and sprinkle over with the remaining cheese. Bake a further 10-15 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown, and the egg is just set and lightly golden. Sprinkle over with a little fresh parsley and serve.

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White Chocolate Cigarillo Cake

Spring is a time for new beginnings. Sunshine, fresh air, warmth equals energy for change eh?

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I’ve got a new haircut, and aching muscles to thank for it, but there are a few things that aren’t going to change much with the seasons round here. For instance, there’s always going to be cake.

The contents are really quite simple. It’s layers of almond buttermilk sponge, sandwiched with raspberry jam and finished off with white chocolate buttercream. I weighed up the pros and cons of fresh fruit or flowers to decorate the top. Of course in the end, I had to go for the edible option 🙂 If you want to go for flowers, try and make sure they are organic or you might find you’re ingesting an unpalatable amount of pesticide.

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The cake and icing recipe is based on this one from BBC Good Food. However, I had some leftover buttermilk from making red velvet cupcakes, so I substituted that for the yoghurt in the recipe, along with a generous spoonful of cream cheese I also had leftover.

I made this cake in stages, first baking the sponges then freezing them, before finally finishing the assembly several days later. Cor, I wouldn’t use this sponge recipe again. It is very rich, moist and dense, but oh so heavy. I imagine it holds itself very well for layering and wedding cake type affairs, but it was far too much. The white chocolate icing was also far too sweet for me.

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Next time, I’d make this with the lighter texture of a classic victoria sponge. Perhaps ordinary buttercream, or a mascarpone icing would better float my boat.

The cigarillos I bought online from the Chocolate Trading Co. and I was very impressed by them – they were delivered nice and quickly, all the cigarillos were intact, and they were delicious!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cake. A hit-and-miss bake for me.

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The deep red colour of red velvet cake is oddly appealling. I first ate one at the Hummingbird Bakery, and I rather liked the unusual taste – a little bit of vanilla, hints of chocolate, and something else I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the red food colouring. The quantity that goes into these cakes is always quite horrifying!

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Last time I tried these, they didn’t rise properly, and they tasted a little funny. This time they rose like a dream. They were almost a little too light. I know it’s traditional, but I’m tempted to get rid of the step where you mix bicarbonate of soda with vinegar, and replace this with baking powder.

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Originally I was going to pipe the icing on, but I put the wrong nozzle on the piping bag, so in the end went for Hummingbird Bakery style swirls. I feel there was still a little something missing in the taste of these, though they were certainly better once cold, and the icing had set properly. I’m not sure what – I have seen lots of rave reviews for the Hummingbird Bakery recipe (which is what I used) but I might have to try a few others and compare them all.

Still they photographed well. I totally missed the boat for a Valentine’s Day post, but simply couldn’t resist a bit of a romantic theme for these. Come on, they’re red cakes! So out came the rose, and the petals, and I had my fun. Oddly for this time of year, and considering the stormy weather, there was still one perfectly formed red rose clinging to the bushes. So there it went into the photo. Mwah, mwah. Feel the lurrve.

The Perfect Dark Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake, universally loved around the world. With so many recipes, which one honestly comes closest to perfection?

Firstly, I had to choose sides. Chocolate cakes fall into two distinct camps. The first – fluffy spongy cakes that are perfect for layering, icing and Birthday parties. Popular, pretty, actually pretty good – but not what I wanted to go for.

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I’m referring to the second category. The dense and the dark; the tortes and rich slivers of 70% cocoa, requiring minimal adornment. They’re given seductive names in restaurants, they never lose their place on dessert menus, and I simply wanted to try more.

The recipes all startlingly similar, relies on the heady combination of butter and melted chocolate , with whisked egg whites for airiness. Some add ground almonds, others just a touch of flour. I’ve made and loved Sophie Dahl’s recipe, but was curious to try out some others to find out just how different the results could be. I tested in total five popular recipes, to see how they differed and which one (would I be able to decide?) would be closest to perfection? Most of these recipes are designed to serve at least 8 people, so I halved the ingredients to bake the cakes in a 15cm tin. It worked very well, so if you are baking for smaller numbers I can happily recommend this.

  1. Sophie Dahl’s Flourless Chocolate Cake
  2. Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cake
  3. David Lebowitz’s Chocolate Cocoa Nib Cake
  4. River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis

Sophie Dahl’s recipe is one that I have made a few times, and I have always been happy with the results. The cake is very, very rich, but delightfully satisfying. The method is very failsafe, and although a food processor or blender is needed, there’s no lengthy use of hundreds of mixing bowls. A deep crater forms in this cake, which forms a great receptacle for cream and fresh fruit, and there is a textural contrast between crisp exterior, and melting, almost mousse-like interior.

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David Lebowitz’s recipe was actually adapted from one he found scribbled inside the men’s toilets inside an upmarket Parisian restaurant. You can read the full story here.

This cake doesn’t sink as much as Sophie Dahl’s. The combination of less sugar, and a shorter baking time means you don’t get the development of that very crisp crust, but I quite like it this way, and the cocoa nibs provide textural contrast.

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Although this recipe requires 3 bowls, it was remarkably quick and simple. With an electric whisk, you can easily whip this up within an hour. I enjoyed it very much, but I think Sophie Dahl’s cake won this particular contest by a narrow margin.

Next up is this recipe from popular French blog Chocolate and Zucchini. The results are very, very good. It is adapted from another popular recipe by Trish Deseine, but Clotilde Dusoulier has reduced the sugar, and cut out one egg. The method was even easier – no electric appliances needed – and the whole thing could be made in 1 pan, which is always a bonus.

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The cake was utterly delicious – unctuously dark and rich, with Clotilde’s genius addition of a sprinkle of salt flakes on top. At first I was sceptical, but the way the salt dissolves against your tongue produces a magnificent burst of chocolatey flavour that I think would be impossible to replicate any other way.

The fourth and final recipe I tried was the most infamous chocolate cake of them all. River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis is notorious for its difficulty, and I approached it with considerable apprehension. I opted to use the recipe for the Easy Small Nemesis, which still seemed pretty complex  – making syrup, whisking eggs for what felt like hours, and boiling the kettle three times for the deep water-bath that the cake luxuriates in as it bakes. I had a bit of an issue with the water-bath, and my cake tin not being watertight, but all was well in the end. The finished result was full-blown chocolate intensity. It doesn’t get richer than this.

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There were a lot of other chocolate cake recipes I wanted to try, but for the sake of my wallet, waistline, and sanity, didn’t get round to baking. In particular I omitted flourless recipes incorporating ground almonds, such as Elizabeth David’s Chocolate Cake, but I have no doubt they are just as good.

So best cake out of them all? I would have to stay that Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cake is a resounding winner. It’s a combination of two very good things – easy to make, and absolutely flipping delicious. The Chocolate Nemesis is impressive stuff, but oh so complicated. The others? Still delicious but ousted!

Valentine Sugar Cookies

It’s almost Valentine’s Day!

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Regardless of whether you are coupled-up, single or even in a polygamous five-way….this is THE best time of the year for kitsch baking. Cover everything with hearts, pink icing, glitter and rejoice. January is over, the worst of the Winter blues is past. Spring is coming!

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Biscuits store well in a tin, and always go down well in a crowd. I had a lot of leftover lemon sugar cookie dough from Christmas and I wanted originally to make some biscuits that I could sandwich together with raspberry jam. However, I completely ruined the first batch of biscuits by a) burning them and b) letting them get totally stuck to the baking sheet. So, there weren’t quite enough left biscuits left for sandwiching purposes. On the bright side, I got the chance to test out my new food colouring from Squires Kitchen.

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This shade here is Poinsetta, and I think it’s pretty spot on!

It seems I am inherently unable to go totally OTT when it comes to decorations; I rather like the contrast of bright red icing and plain lemon biscuit. The rest of the sprinkles, sparkles, and sugar flowers might have to wait until next time.

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Spring Flowers, and Rescued Flapjacks

Running is tough on the ground at the moment. The UK’s been getting a lot of rain, and so its pretty slippery going. I just have to be thankful I’m not planning on training for a marathon anymore, as that route is most certainly submerged underwater.

Anyway, instead of going outdoors and engaging in a lot of exercise, I had a beautifully relaxing Saturday. The house has been brightened up with a beautiful big bunch of fragrant white flowers (I shamefully still don’t know what kind of flowers they are).

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I’ve also got a newly made batch of puff pastry chilling in the fridge, and flapjacks cooling on the kitchen counter.

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These flapjacks started out as a Sophie Dahl flapjack recipe which didn’t quite work out for me, as they ended up being a little drier and crumblier than I’d like. However, I found the coconut a fabulous addition, so broke down the crumbly mixture, and remade it up into this batch, which turned out much more to everybody’s liking.

Reading-wise, I’m working my way through The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. It’s rather beautifully written, and encourages you to take one step back, and really truly appreciate all the good simple pleasures of life. Flapjacks are most certainly encouraged!

On another note, I’ve finally signed up to Bloglovin’ and so if you want to follow me on there, just click the Bloglovin’ button on the right and it’ll take you right there. 🙂

Hazelnut Macarons

Sometimes I fancy that I’ve read a lot that the literary world has to offer. Then I realise that the majority of what I read consistitues “fluffy fiction.” So when I spotted lists of “Books One Must Read” I had a striking curiosity to see how many of them I could tick off.

Disappointing results. On the Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read, I have read a grand total of….

52.

Oh well.

So books aside, I’ve been on a macaron kick again. This time it’s the turn of one of my favourites – hazelnut.

The shells are made from ground hazelnuts, and the filling is a glorious nutty ganache. Ground hazelnuts are quite difficult to source in the UK. I usually pick up a packet when I am in France – they are a staple of the baking aisle there. Otherwise, it’s fairly straightforward to make your own ground hazelnuts by processing them in a food processor and then working through a sieve to get rid of the coarse pieces.

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I keep meaning to pluck up the courage to try Pierre Hermé’s recipe for praline macarons (my absolute favourite) and finally get over my fear of Italian meringue. This year will be the year!
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Hazelnut Macarons

Adapted from The Ottolenghi Cookbook

For the macarons:

  • 110g icing sugar
  • 60g ground hazelnuts
  • 60g egg white
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 20g roasted chopped hazelnuts

For the filling:

  • 50g double cream
  • 50g white chocolate, chopped finely
  • 25g hazelnut paste

Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.

For the macarons, sift the icing sugar and ground hazelnuts together in a bowl and set to one side.

Beat the egg white with the caster sugar with a handheld whisk until it forms a thick meringue. Fold the meringue into the ground hazelnut/icing sugar mixture in 3 lots, making sure there aren’t any streaks of meringue left in the mixture.

Put the macaron mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Dot macaron mixture into the corners of the baking paper to fix it into place on the trays, then pipe little circles on the baking paper, leaving enough space for the macarons to spread. Sprinkle the shells with

Scrumptious Strawberry Cheesecake

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If you’ve ever had grief with baked cheesecakes, this little recipe is absolutely perfect. No baking is required at all, no faffing around with leaking tins and cracked tops. And did I mention it is deeeeeelicious? 🙂

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The strawberries weren’t in season, but with the rain sheeting down, and the chilly days outside, it’s rather lovely to have a taste of Summer indoors! All credit for photography and whisk wielding goes to A, who as usual, outdid himself.

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