Monday, 6 April 2015

Peanut butter and salted caramel cake

Cakes for work have turned into requests recently. It was N's birthday on Wednesday and a cake was required to mark the occasion. Given that she is 

obsessed with salted caramel and love peanut butter also

what could I do but try and incorporate those into a cake? 

I went for layers of peanut butter cake and chocolate cake, sandwiched by a salted caramel and finished with a peanut butter butter-icing.

I'm always worried when I've made a cake to "order" as I just hope it lives up to expectations. Thankfully I think this one did. Remarkably when the e-mail went out to the team a queue formed!

The peanut butter cake was quite subtle which, it turns out, was a good think. The peanut butter hit came from the wondrously rich icing which was offset by the bitter chocolate layer (the chiffon cake that I had previously used for my banana, chocolate and peanut butter cake) and the salty caramel. (I was a bit worried about the salted caramel as it seemed to split slightly as it cooled. It was also terribly difficult to spread.) All the elements worked harmoniously together to give a rather satisfying cake.

Peanut butter and salted caramel layer cake

For the peanut butter cake (adapted from The Woks Of Life Classic Peanut Butter cake):
145g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4tsp salt
4tbsp oil
65g smooth peanut butter
84g caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2tsp vanilla extract
118ml buttermilk
For the chocolate cake:
4 eggs
4oz caster sugar
3oz plain flour
1oz cocoa
3tbsp boiling water
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
For the salted caramel (adapted from Felicity Cloake's perfect recipe):
200g white sugar
125ml water
100g butter, cubed
75ml double cream
1tsp sea salt
For the peanut butter icing:
6oz smooth peanut butter
3oz butter
9oz icing sugar
To decorate:
Reese's peanut butter cups, halved

1. For the peanut butter cake whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.
2. In a separate bowl beat together the oil, peanut butter, and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. 
3. Add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Fold it all together gently until smooth.
4. Put the batter into a lined and greased 8" cake tin. Bake for at 180°C for 25-30 minutes at 180°Cor until the cake is done (a skewer comes out clean and the sides are starting to pull away from the tin). Allow to cool.
5. For the chocolate cake, separate the egg yolks and whites. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, oil, water and vanilla into a smooth batter.
6. Sieve in the flour, cocoa and baking powder and beat until combined.
7. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold into the chocolate mixture.
8. Put the batter into a lined and greased 8" cake tin. Bake at 180°C for 40mins or until the cake is done (a skewer comes out clean and the sides are starting to pull away from the tin). Allow to cool.
9. For the salted caramel, put the sugar in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and pour over the water. Set over a medium heat and keep an eye on it as the sugar melts and begins to brown.
10. Once it turns a deep, but not dark, amber colour, take it off the heat and whisk in the butter until it is completely melted, then stir in the cream and ½ tsp salt.
11. Once you have a smooth sauce, scoop a little up on a teaspoon, allow to cool, and taste for seasoning; add more salt if you like. (Add a little milk if it is too thick).
12. For the peanut butter icing, beat together the peanut butter, butter and icing sugar. Use a milk to get a good consistency.
13. To construct the cake, first halve the two cakes. then sandwich together using a third of the salted caramel (this may be best spread slightly warm). Alternate between chocolate and peanut butter cake layers.
14. Use a small amount of the peanut butter icing as a crumb layer and cover the whole cake. Chill.
15. Generously ice the cake with the remaining peanut butter icing.
16. Decorate wit the halved Reese's peanut butter cups.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Alternative Christmas dinner: Camembert en croute, Christmas pizza and cranberry clafoutis

I love being with my family at Christmas and we all enjoy Christmas dinner. It's the same meal every year, but we look forward to it because it's the ultimate roast with bells on and it never gets boring.

The only down-side for me is that I don't get to do any of the cooking. To combat this if ever I have people round for dinner during the festive period I like to do an alternative Christmas dinner. All the required tastes and components just in a non-traditional manner. This was exactly the motivation for this evening's meal:

Camembert en croute
Christmas pizza
Cranberry clafoutis

Camembert en croute

Fresh out of the oven this really looked quite unassuming.

However, a pair of swift incisions revealed its glory.

This was delicious and worked out far better than I had anticipated. The Camembert had been reduced to a molten flow, the tart but sweet cranberry sauce was a beautiful contrast and provided a real depth. The pastry was crisp giving a real texture contrast. I had planned to use puff pastry but filo was definitely a superior choice. I think it was far lighter than puff and even more crisp.

It was a parcel of delight that kept on giving. Quite frankly, adding a green salad to this would have satisfied me for dinner.

It's not an elegant thing to eat though...

Christmas pizza

I couldn't have been more pleased with this. Out of the oven the aroma was more then reminiscent of Christmas dinner and every bite offered something slightly different. The toppings were roast turkey, smoked bacon lardons, onion stuffing, sausage meat, cranberries and chestnuts. It was everything you could want from a pizza and Christmas dinner!

The genius stroke was using a cauliflower cheese sauce instead of a tomato sauce. This was so good because not only did it allow cauliflower cheese to be included on the pizza but it also meant that the toppings weren't battling a tomato sauce (clearly there's no tomatoes involved in Christmas dinner). The scant few cranberries provided an unusual but welcome occasional sour burst.

Cranberry clafoutis

The remaining cranberry sauce was supplemented with a dash of raspberry gin and provided the base for the dessert. The raspberry goes remarkably well with cranberry adding a light berry freshness. The tart fruit encased in a just sweet-enough smooth set custard with a hint of almond to finish. This was rich and yet light. A great way to finish things off.

All in all, I was quite happy with this meal. Festive flavours delivered in a more than satisfying manner.

On to the recipes.

Cranberry sauce

150g cranberries
75g caster sugar
Zest of half one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
Juice of one satsuma/tangerine/clementine
2tsbp port

1.Put everything in a pan and heat gently until thick and "jammy". This should take about 5-10mins.
2. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool

Camembert en croute

Whole Camembert
7 sheets of filo pastry
2oz butter, melted
Cranberry sauce (see above)

1. Layer four sheets of filo each slathered copiously with butter.
2. Place the Camembert in the middle of the pastry and top with cranberry sauce.
3. Bring the corners of the pastry up and over the cheese to wrap it snugly.
4. Layer up another three sheets of filo and place the cheese in the middle with the join bottom-most. Wrap the cheese, as before.
5. Turn the parcel over (this should put the cheese with the cranberry sauce back on top). and place on a baking sheet.
6. Bake at 180°C for 10-20mins until the pastry is golden.

Christmas pizza

For the base:
225g strong white flour
1 sachet of easy-use yeast
1/2tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil
~125ml water

For the cauliflower cheese sauce:
Half a cauliflower, broken in to small florets
250ml white sauce
100g mature cheddar, grated
1dsp Dijon mustard
For the toppings use whatever represents your Christmas dinner and in whatever quantities you see fit. I used:
~150g roast turkey
80g onion stuffing, moulded into thin discs
2 sausages, skinned and broken into chunks
20g smoked bacon lardons
50g cranberries
5-8 chestnuts, broken into pieces

1. Make the base first. Stir the yeast in to the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
2. Add the olive oil to the flour and gradually add the water to make a soft dough. Use less or more water, as required.
3. Knead for 10mins and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
4. To make the cauliflower cheese sauce, steam the cauliflower until just soft ~10-20min.
5. Warm the white sauce and add the cheese and cauliflower. Blitz with a hand-blender and season to taste.
6. Once the dough has risen, knock it back and then stretch out on a baking sheet to make the pizza base.
7. Liberally cover the base with the cauliflower cheese sauce and adorn with your chosen toppings.
8. Drizzle over a little olive oil and bake at 220°C for 20mins

Cranberry clafoutis

100g cranberries
10g caster sugar
~150g cranberry sauce
20ml raspberry-based spirit, if liked
95g plain flour
30g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
300ml milk

1. Mix the sugar and cranberries and leave to macerate (~30min).
2. Mix the raspberry liqueur and the cranberry sauce, if using
3. Mix the flour and almonds in a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk together with the milk and eggs to make a smooth batter
4. Butter a 8" pie dish and spread the cranberry sauce over the base and scatter with the cranberries. Pour over the batter.
5. Bake at 180°C for 30mins until just set.
6. Allow to cool slightly and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Bang on trend(?): Whole braised cabbage

There seems to be a growing trend for cooking entire vegetables: celeriac, cauliflower, cabbage and the such. The combination of a family conversation over Christmas, a suitable recipe being printed and the endless time between Christmas and new year has meant that I tried a braised cabbage last night.

It was surprisingly good. The cider, ham and chestnuts were a great accompaniment to the cabbage without overwhelming it. Crucially, though, there wasn't too much cabbage to put you off eating a wedge. It was very satisfying "carving" a whole cabbage too. Oh and more importantly I am now BANG ON TREND!

Definitely give this a go if you're having cabbage; it could convert a cabbage naysayer.

Whole braised cabbage (care of Tom Kerridge)

Savoy cabbage
100ml cider
100ml chicken stock
Bramley apple, peeled
6 garlic cloves, grated
75g butter
Bunch thyme, tied
100g ham, finely chopped
100g, vacuum-packed chestnuts, broken into pieces

1. Discard the large and loose outer leaves from the cabbage and trim the stalk (so that the cabbage will sit flat). Put two metal skewers perpendicularly through the equator of the cabbage.
2. Put the cider and chicken stock in a large pan (large enough to comfortably hold the cabbage) and bring to the boil. As the liquid is heating grate in the apple.
3. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and add the garlic and butter.
4. Once the butter has melted add the chestnuts, ham and thyme.
5. Place the cabbage on top and baste.
6. Cover and bast every 10mins until cooked through. This may take up to 1hour. Remember test only the outer parts as you won't be eating the dense central core.
7. To serve, remove the skewer and the top layer of cabbage leaves. Place the leaves on the serving platter and top with the cabbage. By doing this the bright green inner leaves will be revealed giving a fresher presentation.
8. Pour the cooking liquor over the cabbage (having reduced if required).
9. Carve and serve!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas presents 2015

As has become tradition, I spent today in the kitchen finishing off edible gifts for the family. This year I made:
  • Salted caramel;
  • Chorizo jam;
  • Chocolate ginger squares; and
  • Cashew caramels
I was a bit worried about the salted caramel as by the time ti had got to 170°C t had become slightly bitter. The addition of the cream and salt remedied this though to create a rich and deep spreadable caramel. The chorizo jam is a variant of the now reasonably well-known bacon jam. The tang of the chorizo mixed with sweet makes for an excellent condiment, especially with cheese.
The chocolate ginger squares were a ginger-based rocky road: ginger snaps and crystalised stem ginger encased in dark chocolate. An indulgent treat perfect for ginger-lovers. The cashew caramels turned out to be a fabulous slightly chewy caramel encasing toasted cashews with a hint of salt.

Hopefully they will go down well. On to the recipes:

Salted Caramel (care of A wee bit of cake) - Makes approx one and a half 1lb jam jars

300ml double cream
225g caster sugar
67ml water
3dsp golden syrup
Sea Salt

1. Heat the the sugar, water and golden syrup in a deep, heavy bottomed pan and unitl it reaches 170°C.
2. While the sugar is boiling warm the double cream in a separate pan until it’s warm but not boiling.
3. Once the sugar reaches temperature take off the heat and carefully pour the double cream in. Take care as the mixture will bubble up.
4. Stir until well combined and set aside to cool.
5. Once cool add 1 tbsp of salt. Add more according to taste.
6. Pour into the glass jars, add a light sprinkling of sea salt and decorate.

Chorizo Jam (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes approximately two jars

500g cooking chorizo, diced
1 large white onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
85g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp Sherry or red wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 shot of espresso coffee or 100ml/4fl oz strong black coffee

1. Fry the chorizo in a large saucepan for about 5 mins until golden and crispy at the edges. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate, leaving the oil that has been released in the pan.
2. Turn the heat down low and gently cook the onion in the chorizo oil for 15-20 mins or until very soft and starting to brown.
3. Stir in the garlic, muscovado sugar, Sherry, maple syrup, espresso and chorizo. Cook slowly for 35-40 mins, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy.
4. Turn off the heat, leave to cool a little, then tip everything into a food processor. Pulse briefly to chop everything up into really small pieces, then leave the mixture to cool before packing it into sterilised jam jars.

Cashew Caramels (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes 30-40 squares

375g toasted cashews
125g butter
350ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
400g golden caster sugar
250ml golden syrup
sea salt, for sprinkling

1. Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment and rub generously with vegetable oil. Add half the cashews to the tin.
2. In a saucepan, bring the butter, cream and vanilla to the boil, then remove from the heat.
3. In a large heavy-based saucepan, heat the sugar and syrup on a medium-low heat until it reaches 155°C. Do not stir or the sugar will crystallise.
4. Turn off the heat and very carefully add to the cream mixture. Stir together and heat again until it reaches 125C on the thermometer.
5. Remove from the heat and pour in the remaining nuts. Quickly pour into the tin, sprinkle over the salt and leave to cool.
6. When firm (after 3-4 hrs), cut into pieces – use a knife that has been dipped into boiling water.
7. Wrap in baking parchment until ready to eat. Will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight tin.

Chocolate Ginger Squares (care of BBC Good Food) - Makes 10-20 squares

300g ginger nut biscuits, roughly crushed
140g crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped
300g plain chocolate
100g butter, diced
100g golden syrup

1. Line a 20 x 30cm tin with baking parchment.
2. Mix the biscuits with most of the ginger, then set aside.
3. Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth and glossy. Pour this over the biscuit and ginger mixture and mix together well.
4. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the reserved ginger, then flatten the top lightly – it doesn’t need to be completely smooth.
5. Chill for at least 2 hrs, or overnight, before cutting into small squares

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Choc-a-holic birthday cake

I was at a birthday gathering today at the Leather Bottle in Earlsfield for which I provided an impromptu cake. When I say impromptu, I mean that I offered to bring cake only yesterday afternoon...

Now the birthday boy is a big chocolate fan, so it was obvious what sort of cake to make, the only question was how to make it a stand-out birthday cake? Embellishment with an assortment of chocolate-based biscuits and sweets seemed to be an appropriate answer

It was an 8" chocolate Victoria sponge with a dark chocolate ganache filling, covered in chocolate butter cream and encircled by white and milk chocolate Cadbury Fingers. The cake was then topped with four different types of chocolate confections:
  1. Minty Aero balls;
  2. Peanut M&Ms;
  3. Smarties; and my favourite
  4. "The Danger Quarter" - Revels!
I'm always a bit worried in situations like these*, when there seems to be a high level of expectation, that people will be disappointed. Thankfully I don't think they were.

*This definitely wasn't made any more stressful by running out of enough Fingers four fifths of the way through decorating the cake on a Sunday morning when the only local shop that sells white chocolate Fingers doesn't open until 11am and you are supposed to be at the event at noon...

Monday, 11 August 2014


Last month at the Canary Wharf summer Lunch Market, whilst I was buying an empanada, I spotted some rather intriguing sandwich biscuits. These turned out to be "alfajores": shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche and lightly dusted with dessicated coconut. Apparently these little treats are eaten all over South America not just Argentina (although that may be where the originated).

Clearly as I am not one to turn down a new sweet treat, I had to have one. And glad I was that I did. Melt in the mouth shortbread with a rich caramel filling. What's not to like? A very satisfying little treat. I an quite understand how they are devoured all over an entire continent. The real question is just why have I never had one before?

It also became quickly apparent, that these would be perfect for (what is quickly becoming) my regular fortnightly work cakes.  

Finding recipe was pretty easy. Finding a jar of dulce de leche was more taxing. Now, I know that I could have taken the condensed milk route, but I wanted something more "authentic". I eventually tracked down jar of Merchant Gormet Dulce de Leche from Asda(!).

These turned out rather well. Given how very short the biscuit dough was I had my doubts but the were ill-founded. The biscuits were crazily short and had that smooth melt-in-the-mouth quality that cornflour brings. The lime in the biscuits perfectly offset the richness of the caramel. The caramel itself provides a very long finish. I could have been slightly more generous with my caramel, but I was worried about running out before I made all the sandwiches.

Recipe for Alfajores (adapted from Cooking with Books)

200g plain flour
300g cornflour
1/2tsp baking powder
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 medium egg yolks
1tbsp vanilla extract
Fresh lime zest
Juice from 1 lime
A jar of Dulce de leche
Dessicated coconut, toasted

1. Sift the flour, cornstarch and baking powder together and set aside.
2. Cream the (very) soft butter and sugar together until pale.
3. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, lime juice and zest.
4. Add all the dry ingredients at once and mix until completely incorporated.
NB The dough is VERY dry (resulting in a very short cookie). However, add a dessert spoon of water at a time to ensure the dough fully comes together. DO NOT work the dough as you'll develop the gluten and make the biscuits tougher.
5. Form the dough into a fat disc, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30mins.
6. On a floured board, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time. Aim for about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into 2" circles.
7. Place the dough circles on a lined and greased baking tray. They can be placed close together as the biscuits will not spread.
8. Bake for at 160°C for10-12 minutes. (Don't let them brown.) Cool.
9. Meanwhile in a dry pad gently toast the coconut until lightly browned. Set aside and cool.
10. Once both biscuits and coconut are cool, it's time to assemble. Slather dulce de leche on the underside of a biscuit and sandwich using another biscuit.
11. In a wide bowl take 2dsp caramel and mix in 2tsp of water to lightly slacken the caramel. Roll the biscuits in the runny caramel sauce and then the shredded coconut.
12. Try not to eat them all at once...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Picnic in Regent's Park: Picnic loaf and raspberry & white chocolate cake

K organised a picnic in Regent's Park today as part of her birthday celebrations. Given it was a bring your own affair and a fair-sized gang was expected, I thought I'd take "big" things to share.

This also gave me an opportunity to finally make a picnic loaf, which I have been wanting to make for an age (most probably inspired by James Martin on Saturday Kitchen). Basically you hollow out a whole loaf of bread and fill it with tasty stuff, so each slice (and indeed bite) is an explosion of tastes.

As it was a birthday celebration, I was compelled to make a birthday cake so went for a seasonal raspberry and white chocolate affair.

The picnic loaf lived up to expectation. It was stuffed with layers of chilli red onion marmalade, avocado, mozzarella, griddled chicken thigh, and tomato. It was immensely satisfying with each mouthful including a little but savoury, sweet, bitter, salty and sour: a completely rounded flavour profile. The variety of fresh vegetables made sure it wasn't too heavy.

The picture is of one I made the next day with feta instead of mozzarella, grated carrot and an attempt at giardiniera. This goes to show the flexibility of the recipe. Equally as epic as the first. 

These are known as "pan bagnat" in Nice or as "muffaletta" in New Orleans. Both much more romantic terms than the prosaic "picnic loaf". 

The cake was a success despite my worries of transporting it on the Tube and the searing afternoon sunshine which K had somehow managed to conjure up. The sponge was very moist with a delicate crumb. The lemon and raspberry offset the rich sweetness of the white chocolate buttercream very well.

The cake not only went down well, with practically everyone hoovering up a slice, but also acted as a strong bartering tool in the cake for wine scheme K had set up resulting in a rather smart glass of fleurie for me. Given the sunshine and the general relaxed nature of the afternoon, I completely forgot to take a picture of a slice until the sun had done its work and the cake was a little past its best. It turns out butter cream melts when placed in direct sunshine for hours on end. Who knew?

I tried a crazy two ingredient buttercream for the white chocolate icing. As easy as it was to make, I think it probably needs some icing sugar to keep it stable.

Recipe for a Picnic Loaf

1 ripe avocado
Lime juice
Red onion marmalade
3 chicken thighs
Beef tomato, thinly sliced
Mozzarella, sliced
Loaf of bread

1. Take the skin off the chicken thighs and de-bone. Sandwich between two layers of cling film and batter out.
2. Oil and season the chicken and cook on a griddle. Allow to cool.
3. Peel, de-stone and slice the avocado. Douse gently in lime juice to and tang and prevent discolouration.
4. Cut the top off the loaf of bread and hollow out the inside leaving a layer below the crust of approximately 1/2". You can also scoop a little of the bread from the lid.
5. Generously spread onion marmalade on the bottom of the loaf
NOTE: You can make this yourself. Or just buy. I made mine with four thinly sliced red onion, a finely diced red chilli (seeds removed) and soft brown sugar. Simply throw in a pan with a slug of olive oil and leave over very low heat until the onions are tender and caramelised. Finish with a glug of balsamic vinegar.
6. Layer up the ingredients until the loaf is full, not forgetting to season each layer liberally. I think my layers were: avocado, tomato, chicken, tomato, mozzarella, avocado.
7. Slather the lid with more onion marmalade and press back on the filled loaf.
8. Tightly wrap the loaf in cling film (you may need three or four layers).
9. Place the loaf on a tray, put another tray on top, weigh down and leave. An hour will do but overnight will result in an even more compressed loaf which will be easier to slice.

For the second loaf, I ran out of onion marmalade so made a quick giardiniera, which went amazingly well.

Stick celery, peeled and finely sliced 
1tbsp capers, rinsed
Garlic clove, crushed, 3tbsp olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp dried chives
(You should also add 100g green olives (stuffed with pimento, ideally) and shallots would be better than the chives. I had neither of these in the cupboard so went without) 

Method:  Mix and leave to mingle!

Recipe for Raspberry and White Chocolate Cake

4 eggs
8oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
8oz butter
8oz caster sugar
1oz ground almonds
100ml raspberry purée (from ~150g raspberries)
Zest of one lemon
Juice half a lemon
For the buttercream:
212g white chocolate
281g butter
A few raspberries, crushed
To decorate:
White chocolate buttons, ~150g

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale.
2. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, alternating with a spoon of sieved flour (to prevent curdling).
3. Beat in the lemon juice, zest and raspberry purée. Stir in the ground almonds.
4. Sieve the plain flour and baking powder together and fold into the batter.
5. Divide the batter between two lined and greased 8" round cake tins.
6. Bake at 180°C for approximately 25mins. Bake until a skewer comes out clean.
7. To make the butter cream, melt the butter and white chocolate together in a pan over a low heat until melted.
8. Allow to cool then refrigerate until solid.
9. Put the solidified mixture into a bowl and then beat until fluffy and light.
10. To put the cake together, spread approximately a quarter of the icing on top of one of the cakes. Then spread over some crushed raspberries. Sandwich the cakes together.
11. Thinly ice the cake all over (the crumb layer) and refrigerate until set.
12. Spread the remainder of the icing over the cake, again refrigerate to set
13. To decorate, insert buttons vertically around the rim of the cake then carefully place raspberries to fill the top. Use more buttons to decorate the sides of the cake.
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