Nutella Torrone

I’m on a bit of a downer this week. It comes of post-holiday blues, and too much time spent on Facebook. Oh Facebook, how great you make everybody’s lives look. Also despite the startlingly warm Autumn we’ve been having, the clocks have turned back and it is horribly dark in the evenings. Urgh. Winter is Coming.

So I tried to create a taste of warmer climes – Italian torrone.

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Torrone comes in two forms, the hard, chewy nougat you get in the UK, and the softer, truffley version. I tried some when I was in Naples, it’s sweet and rich and you can only eat tiny pieces before starting to feel sick. I used a recipe from Italian blog Dolci a go go with the aid of Google Translate.

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I found making the torrone was a bit faffy. Nothing particularly hard – just lots of melting of chocolate, and sticking the whole lot in the fridge to set. You know when you make something, and you’ve had fun making it, but you probably won’t ever bother making it again? Yeah, I think this goes into that category. However, I do reckon it could go down very well as an edible Christmas gift, especially if you use the torrone as a vehicle for dried and candied fruit, nuts and chocolate pieces.  Think of it as a fancy Italian fridge cake!

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Nutella Torrone

Adapted from Dolci a go go

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g white chocolate
  • 400g nutella
  • 250g whole hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Spread the hazelnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned and fragrant, tossing them occasionally to make sure they toast evenly. Allow the hazelnuts to cool.

Melt 150g dark chocolate. Using a brush, cover the inside of a non-stick loaf tin with the melted chocolate, pop in the fridge to set, and then brush another layer on until all the chocolate is used up. This forms a chocolate shell around the torrone.

Then melt the white chocolate, and mix together with the nutella and toasted hazelnuts. Allow to cool slightly so when you add it to the tin, it doesn’t melt the dark chocolate shell. Fill the tin with the nutella cream, and tap to level out. Return to the fridge overnight to set completely.

Melt the remaining 50g dark chocolate and pour over the set nutella cream to form the dark chocolate base of the torrone. Return to the fridge to set completely.

Turn the tin upside down, and firmly tap to release the torrone. It should slide out without any problems. Cut into thin slices with a hot sharp knife.

Nomming Through Naples

“See Naples and die.”

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Thus goes the saying, referring to a time when Naples was so beautiful you had to see it in your lifetime. These days? Well, I travelled to Naples this Autumn, and I can’t help thinking the saying takes on a whole new meaning.

Naples has a pretty unsavoury reputation. Before my visit, I’d heard stories about the strong mafia presence, heavy crime levels and piles of refuse heaping the streets. As soon as we exited the airport, it looked like the rumours were true. An angry taxi driver gesticulated and shouted at quaking young tourist. The mêlée of screeching crowds vying with zigzagging mopeds in the dirty, graffiti-plastered historic centre was both dismayingly loud and claustrophobic.

So it’s not an inviting city, that’s fair to say. The historical centre, with its narrow almost derelict houses and swathes of laundry, almost feels like a step back into the middle ages. People fling buckets of dirty water out into the street, household refuse piles up in unsuspecting corners, and vagrants paw through the communual rubbish bins. By day, there is a certain charm about some of the streets, peddling their wares of nativity scenes, red horns to protect against the evil eye, gelato, and local specialities. By night, the poorly lit alleyways are menacing rather than exciting.

We did try our hardest to explore Naples, and behind its grimy coating, the city does offer some bright, albeit well-hidden gems. Traditional taverna Cantina del Gallo was the best place we ate at. We arrived at the doorway, only to be warmly welcomed by the owner and tempted with plate after plate of delicious nibbles.

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The arancini were delicious, as were as the mini pizzettes and the croquetes. The pizzas you could watch being made in the open plan kitchen and they came generously topped and full of fresh flavours.

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For the home of pizza we tried out a fair few. Neopolitan favourite Gino Sorbillo also do a roaring trade in traditional stonebaked pizzas. You won’t get good customer service, but you will get a very very tasty pizza. Go early or be prepared to queue for a very, very long time.

For the sweeter-toothed, Pastisserie S. Caparelli did the best sfogliatella, delicious ricotta filled pastries, and you got them with a smile too, which was a bonus.

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Gay Odin do very tasty fruit sorbets, gelato and the Italian classic, torrone morbido. I’m going to try and make some of this soft, almost truffley torrone soon once I find a workable recipe.

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There aren’t a lot of exciting attractions to see in Naples otherwise. The archeological museum is worth a glimpse for the stunning mosaics and rude roman paraphenalia, but often the good exhibits are shut due to staff shortages. The Capella Sansevero is worth a visit due for the beautiful sculptures and anatomical machines. Italy has a wealth of beautiful churches, and I guess once you’ve seen a few, there’s only so much you can gasp in awe.

I imagine most travellers use Naples as a pit stop for the Almalfi coastline (where we didn’t go, sob) or the sights of Pompeii. It’s probably quite harsh of me to say so, but I certainly wouldn’t regard Naples as a place to return to again. There are a few goodies, but it’s not enough to entice me back.

Whole Lemon Tart

What will I do now Great British Bake Off 2014 is over? No longer can I plonk myself in front of a screen every Wednesday evening, mesmerised by an alterate reality dusted with flour and icing sugar. Of course, I carry on baking.

I really was gunning for Nancy in the final, so I’m so pleased that she won. Of course Richard wowed consistently throughout the series, and Luis’ creations were stunning, but it’s so lovely to actually have an grandmother baking tasty treats for her children and grandkids winning the show. I also enjoyed the fact that the technical challenge reintroduced the basics again. I would love it if all the contestants were pitted against one another on the simplest of recipes, to really challenge them against one another. There’s nowhere to hide with them, after all!

Now in the Great British Bake Off final, the contestants were tasked with making a so-called simple tart au citron. I had a lot of pastry ends to use up, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never made a tart au citron before, so it was a bit of a new adventure!

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Well, this tarte au citron was kinda different from Mary Berry’s version. I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. This recipe involves blitzing an entire lemon into a purée, and enfolding it into a mixture of sugar, eggs, butter and a little cornflour.

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It looks very different from the versions I’ve been used to seeing! The pastry case encloses a bubbly sticky lemon filling that’s like chewy toffees in texture. You only need a thin sliver – it’s rich stuff. The pastry looks very dark in the photos but I promise it isn’t burnt.

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I looked online afterwards to see that a lot of people had problems with this lemon tart recipe. Issues included the filling not setting, being too sweet, too sour, cooking too fast, spilling over and separating out so the butter ended up floating on top. Hmmm, unappealling.

My lemon had a thick layer of white pith, so I followed the advice online and cut some of this away, making up the weight with a small piece of a second lemon. This seemed to work pretty well. Would I make this tart again? I’m not completely sure. I think Dorie Greenspan’s recipe needs a few alterations to make it workable in my kitchen. Here’s my version below.

Whole Lemon Tart

Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

  • shortcrust pastry
  • 130g lemon
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 heaped tbsp cornflour
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a 24cm tart case with shortcrust pastry and pop into the fridge to chill. Prick the base with a fork, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 160˚C.

Cut the lemon(s) into thin slices, removing the seeds. If there is a lot of white pith, remove half of this. Blitz the lemon in a blender with the sugar until puréed. Then pour into a bowl and whisk lightly with the eggs and cornflour. Slowly pour in the melted cooled butter and whisk into combine.

Pour the lemon filling into the tart case, making sure you leave a lip of pastry around the edge to allow for the filling bubbling up when it is cooking. Pop the tart into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned. Leave to cool to room temperature before slicing and eating.

Vanilla, Cherry and Mascarpone Cake

It’s so inviting – warmly golden, springy vanilla flecked sponge, softly whipped mascarpone, and a generous sticky layer of cherry jam. This teatime favourite never fails to fill me with delight, and as a final adieu to the summer months, it is perfect. Is there much else better than homemade cake, fresh out of the oven?

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Cakes and cream teas are synonymous in my mind with quaint little cafes, found in seaside towns, picturesque villages and plenty of fresh outdoors air. Whenever I leave the Big City for a respite, I’m drawn to these places like a bee to nectar, mentally tasting all the tempting counter offerings and going back home to make my own instead.

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Despite the fancy name, this is indeed a jazzed up Victoria sponge. How can you go wrong with such a classic? Black cherry jam is a tasty revelation. The vivid colour alone makes me happy 🙂

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I should have made this cake for my work bake off competition! I dithered and hmmed, and in the end, submitted a last-minute lacklustre, hastily knocked up cake that I wasn’t happy with at all. It goes to show that good cake doesn’t like to be rushed. With patience, precision, and willing mouths, you’ll be rewarded richly.

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I’m a little sad that the days are shorter now, so I have take to take pictures in artifical light. It’s a little more tricky, but an enjoyable challenge!

Hawksmoor at Home Sticky Toffee Pudding

The Hawksmoor Sticky Toffee Pudding (STP) is sublime. I was stuffed to the gills from the previous two courses, my stomach protesting vehmently at the thought of dessert. But one taste of this deliciously rich pudding, and I somehow found space for more. After that, it was a must-make at home! Armed with the recipe from the cookbook, I set to work.

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Because I am fussy, I baked this a few times to work out how to replicate the Hawksmoor version as much as possible. Just following the recipe produces a slightly rougher-textured pud, with tangible pieces of chopped date poking their way through the sponge. By blending the date mixture to a puree, you get a far smoother result. Although the recipe states dariole moulds, I had a good look at pictures online and I think it is actually baked in mini pudding moulds.

Just for fun, I baked the pud in both moulds to compare the two. The dariole moulds produce a tall sleek shape that looks very elegant. A moreish couple of mouthfuls and it’s gone.

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The pudding mould predictably produces a fatter, more traditional rounded STP. The sponge is beautifully soft and bouncy, and hungrily soaks up the toffee sauce.

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Given their thinner shape, the dariole STPs definitely require less baking than the pudding mould STPs. My first batch had a thicker, slightly chewy crust, so I took the next lot out five minutes earlier, and that seemed  to do the trick. I also compared ceramic pudding moulds with metal ones. I wouldn’t recommend using ceramic moulds unless you are serving the puddings inside them. They took longer to bake in the middle and were difficult to extract from the moulds, despite liberal buttering beforehand.

Anyway, like all good puddings, STP must be served hot. So it’s a bit of a organisation kerfuffle to make sure you have your puddings out of the oven, the sauce bubblingly hot, and the plates warmed before the whole lot come together into a delightful mouthful. It tastes sweet, but not overly so, and deliciously rich. Very good in small quantities.

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Just don’t count the calories, because there are a gazillionty-billionty. Also bear in mind when making this that the Hawksmoor recipe makes colossal quantities. I halved the recipe, partly for the sake of my waist-hip ratio, and for lack of freezer space.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Adapted from Hawksmoor at Home

Makes 8 (dariole moulds) or 6 (pudding moulds)

For the puddings:

  • 125g dates, roughly chopped
  • 3g bicarbonate of soda
  • 187ml boiling water
  • 40g beef suet
  • 63g dark muscovado sugar
  • 62g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 162g self-raising flour
  • 3g baking powder
  • pinch of sea salt

For the toffee sauce:

  • 63g dark muscovado sugar
  • 62g light muscovado sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 125ml double cream
  • pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Butter your moulds well, and cut out circles of baking paper to cover the base of each mould. Prepare the same number of foil squares to make lids for the moulds.

Put the chopped dates and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. Pour over the boiling water. Leave to stand for several minutes. Meanwhile, mix the sugars and suet together. Crack in the egg, and mix together. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Blend the chopped dates and liquid into a puree with a stick blender.

Now fold half the date puree into the bowl of sugar, suet and egg. Then fold in the floury mixture until combined. Finally fold in the remaining date puree.

Fill each mould two-thirds full, and cover each with a foil square to form a lid. Place the moulds onto a baking sheet and put into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Whilst the puddings are baking, measure out all the sauce ingredients into a saucepan. Put on a low heat. Once melted, simmer for around 5 minutes until thickened. If you are serving the puddings straight away then unmould each pudding. Some may need the bases trimming flat so they stand up straight. Plate the puddings individually onto warmed serving plates, and ladle a spoonful of toffee sauce over each pudding, going round one by one, and adding more as they soak the hot sauce up.

If making the puddings for later, divide the sauce into two. After unmoulding and trimming the puddings, stand them all together in one dish, and cover with half the piping hot sauce as above. Allow them to soak all this up. Cover the dish, until the puddings are needed.

When needed, reheat the puddings in their dish, covered in foil, in a 180˚C oven for around 15 minutes until warm. Reheat the remaining sauce until hot, and pour over each pudding as before. Hawksmoor recommend serving with cold clotted cream or ice-cream. Mmmmmm.