Chocolate Rolo Cake

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Chocolate rolo cakes. The holes are from birthday candles

I’ve been trying to post the recipe for this cake for quite a few days now, but life, as they say, has gotten in the way.  I actually made this cake for my friend Dan’s birthday nearly two weeks ago and have only just managed to get myself a cup of tea, sit down in my laptop and write this thing up.  Good things, however, come to those who wait.  Or so the phrase goes.

I have a bit of a tradition of making vertiginous chocolate cakes for Dan’s birthday, getting more and more elaborate each year.  This year, I was struggling to find something to top the Chocolate Behemoth of 2013, until I came across this rolo cake by the brilliant Raspberri Cupcakes.  If you have not yet visited this beautiful baking blog, prepare yourself to feel both inspired and completely inadequate all at once.  Her cakes truly are masterpieces.

This particular creation is a rich chocolate brownie cake, sandwiched with a thick salted caramel and covered with a glossy slick of chocolate ganache.  As if that isn’t decadent enough, it has the added surprise of having a whole packet of rolos baked into each of the two cake layers; which melt a little to create pockets of caramel within the cake.  And more rolos piled on the top, natch.

To be honest, it really is best not to think too much about the ingredients for this cake.  Especially the 400g of butter.  Being the evil feeder that I am I also neglected to mention to my dining companions that it probably had hundreds and hundreds of calories per slice.  Especially those who went for second helpings.

A little bit about making caramel:  in short, don’t bother. I’ve tried every method from heating sugar to boiling condensed milk and both are time-consuming and fraught with hazards.  Use pre-made caramel or dulce de leche.  Carnation make one in a 397g tin that is just perfect.

Chocolate Rolo Cake

For the cake
400g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large eggs
200g caster sugar
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tubes rolos

For the filling
1 x 397g tin of carnation caramel
½ tsp sea salt

For the ganache
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
300ml double cream

To decorate
4 tubes rolos, each sweet cut in half

Preheat the oven to 150ºc.  Grease two 8inch sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and sugar in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water and set aside to cool.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale.  Fold through the chocolate mixture and then gently fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tins.  Push the rolos into the surface of the cake mixture and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes.  The cake will have shrunken away from the edges of the tin but may still have a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool completely in the tin before transferring to a wire rack until needed.

Stir the sea salt into the caramel and, using a palette knife, spread a thick layer over one of the cooled cakes.  Place the other layer on top.  Reserve a small amount of the caramel to spread thinly over the top and sides of the cake.  This will help the ganache to ‘stick’.  Chill the cake in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.  Place the chopped milk and dark chocolate in a large bowl.  In a saucepan, heat the cream until it just reaches boiling point.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to sit for a couple of minutes.  Stir with a balloon whisk and the chocolate will melt into the cream to form a smooth, thick ganache.  Allow to cool.

Place the chilled cake on a rack over a tray.  Pour over the cooled ganache, using a palette knife to spread it out.  It should coat the cake evenly and any excess will be caught in the tray below.  Stack the chopped rolos on top.  Transfer to the fridge to set the ganache, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Adapted from a recipe by Raspberri Cupcakes.

One Year Ago:  Key Lime Pie

On Autumn and Squash

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Autumn leaves in East Dulwich

I feel I have to warn you that this is yet another post about butternut squash.  I understand if you want to stop reading right now.  I also feel that I should state an additional caveat: this probably won’t be the last one this year.

I am, as you may have already figured out, addicted to squash.  The big orange pumpkin-like ones, the reddish-brown cricket ball ones, the green ones that look a bit like marrows, and the humble butternut.  Few things signal the arrival of autumn than the sight of these piled up in baskets at the farmers market, still caked in a little bit of mud.

I think my love of them came from my years of vegetarianism, when they were in just about every dish I ate.  I remember the first time I tried one, however, I was not too impressed.  My mother, who cooked swede with Sunday lunch since the beginning of time (and still does!) brought one home from the supermarket ‘for a change’.  After eyeing it suspiciously for a while, she peeled and de-seeded it, cut it up, boiled it and mashed it with a little butter and some black pepper – eactly as she did with the swede.  Needless to say I was not fussed, however that was before I discovered that you could puree it into soup, roast it with allspice and even turn it into dessert.  Now I could never be without it.

Now it seems to be making its way into my cooking with some regularity.  This week I made two dishes of butternut squash, although one was to use up the leftovers of the other.  First, I made a warm salad of butternut squash, lentils, walnuts and feta, all roasted up with a bit of curry powder.  This was concocted simply because I had a lot of lentils and walnuts – my cooking really is inspired by little more than what I happen to have in the kitchen at any particular time.  As this did not use up all of the squash and feta I bought, the leftovers made their way into a simple galette, which was sliced up for lunchboxes.

Somewhere between both of these, I started making plans for a butternut squash curry.  I think I need to branch out a bit more.

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm Butternut Squash and Lentil Salad with Feta and Walnuts

½ large butternut squash (you will use the other half in the other recipe), peeled and cut into 1inch pieces
1 large eschalion shallot, finely chopped
Olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
100g green lentils
125g chopped walnuts
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Handful chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, shallot, olive oil and curry powder until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.  Meanwhile, cook the lentils according to packet instructions and drain.

In a large bowl, combine the warm squash, lentils, walnuts, feta, coriander and lime juice.  Check for seasoning before serving.

 

Butternut squash galette

Butternut squash galette

Butternut Squash Galette

For the pastry
175g plain flour
Pinch salt
100g cold butter, cut into cubes
50ml sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
50ml water
Beaten egg, for glazing

For the filling
½ large butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Parmesan, to finish

To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl then rub in the butter with your fingers until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and water in a separate bowl, and gradually add enough of this mixture to bring together a soft dough.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface, shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour until needed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, olive oil and salt until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.

Heat some more oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the onions over a low heat until they are very soft and translucent, but not browned.

When you are ready to roll out the pastry, transfer it to a floured surface and roll out to a 30cm circular shape.  Carefully pick up the pastry using a rolling pin and place it on a baking sheet (it may hang over the edges a little at this point, but this is OK.  If it overhangs by more than two inches, you will need a bigger baking sheet.)

In a large bowl, combine the squash, onion and feta and check the seasoning.  Spoon this mixture into the centre of the rolled pastry and spread out, leaving a two inch border around the edge.  Fold the excess pastry over the filling, leaving the middle open.  Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with a little grated parmesan.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the pastry is browned all over.  Serve in slices.

One Year Ago:  Brioche Burger Buns

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

In the days since I last wrote, there has been a birthday.  On Saturday night, eleven friends gathered in Honor Oak to wish our friend Dan many happy returns.

Photo by Claire Chapman

Photo by Claire Chapman

The venue was Sodo, a new(ish) restaurant specialising in sourdough pizza.  There is a lot of good pizza in London right now, and although I was reprimanded by our waitress for my use of the ‘F’ word (Franco Manca), they are among those who lifted it from late night junk food to respectable dining option.  Others include the magnificent Pizza Pilgrims, Homeslice‘s gargantuan offerings and, my personal favourite: The Gowlett in Peckham.  The pizzas at Sodo were also very good, with that charred and flavoursome dough that comes with using a sourdough starter, and good toppings.  We shared a classic anchovy/caper/olive pizza and one from the specials menu with five cheeses.

The following day, after both a late night and a troubled one (I blame the cheese), Ollie and I decided to have a quiet day at home which, for me, always means spending some time baking.  I had some Bramley apples in the fridge, given to me the weekend before by my lovely friend (and apple dealer) Aimee, which would go to ruin if not used soon.  With the dark nights drawing in and nothing to do except watch television, I decided to make a crumble.

Nothing screams ‘autumn’ like hot crumble and cold custard.  I have this rule that a hot dessert must be accompanied by something cold (cold custard, cold cream, ice cream) and vice versa.  Never hot-with-hot or cold-with-cold.  Many disagree, but that is how I like it.  This crumble is a very simple combination of chopped apple, chopped stem ginger, a little syrup from the ginger jar and a sprinkling of sugar, topped with an oaty crumble.  I used four pieces of stem ginger as we both like it fiery.  If I was making this for others, I would probably tone it down to three.  Feel free to use a different crumble mix if oats aren’t your bag, or a ready-made one if you’re feeling super lazy.

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Bake in your favourite dish.  This crumble will serve about six people, perfect for a large family lunch.  If you, like we, are a family of two, there will be lots for leftovers.  Eat straight from the fridge with (hot) custard.

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

650g bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
4 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar
75g rolled oats
100g demerera sugar
100g plain flour
75g butter

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish.

In a large bowl, combine the apples, stem ginger and sugar.  Mix with your hands and arrange in the bottom of the buttered dish.  Pour over the ginger syrup.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, demerera sugar and plain flour.  Rub in the butter until you have a rough crumble, then sprinkle it over the apple mixture, covering it completely.  Pat the crumble mixture down gently with your hands and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling at the edges.

One Year Ago:  Nan’s Tea Loaf

A Chocolate Beetroot Cake for Chocolate Week

Chocolate beetroot cake

Chocolate beetroot cake

This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.

Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture.  I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket.  The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.

Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical.  A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears.  It sounds silly, but it worked.  Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work.  It has the same effect.

I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings.  With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble.  I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.

I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake.  Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success.  Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake.  Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food.  It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.

This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks.  It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it.  It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot.  The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny.  Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked.  The good old purple kind will do just fine.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g beetroot
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 eggs
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender.  Remove and cool under cold running water.  Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.

Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated.  Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.

Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.  Do not overmix.  Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin.  There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools.  Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.

Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Pie

Cherry Oat Bars

Cherry oat bars

Cherry oat bars

I’m writing about sweet things again.  I apologise.  Despite how it looks here, I can assure you that I do eat proper food. Promise.

One of the things I love about the street I live on is the cats.  Almost every other house has one and they can often be seen parading up and down, jumping on walls and hiding under cars.  Being surrounded by pets reminds you that you are in a part of the city where people actually live.  Real people, not just those with a city bolthole they use from time to time.  My favourite cat is a fluffy ginger one that lives at the end of the street.  Regardless of what time I am arriving home, he always seems to be there to greet me.

My friends John and Heather have just got a cat, and on Friday we popped over to meet him.  He is just too cute and, despite my being allergic to his fur, we became firm friends.

I baked these cherry oat bars to take for them as a little gift.  I seem to be making quite a lot of cake bars at the moment – I think it’s because I seem to be transporting bakes across town, and are more robust than a cake or cupcakes.  These are a cake bar combined with a fruit flapjack, with an oat crumble baked into the topping.  Cherries have recently gone out of season, but the tinned ones work well. Just make sure that they are well drained as the coloured liquid will spill into the base and ruin the effect of the layers.  If you don’t fancy cherries, other fruits will work equally well.

Cherry Oat Bars

For the bottom layer and topping
185g plain flour
100g icing sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp lemon zest
175g butter, at room temperature
90g rolled oats

For the filling
400g tin black cherries, drained and halved
2 large eggs
175g caster sugar
40g plain flour
125ml natural yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

In a medium bowl, combine the plain flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest.  Rub in the butter until you have a smooth dough.  Separate a small handful of the dough (about half a cup) into a separate bowl, this will be used later to make the topping.  Press the remaining dough into the base of the tin, spreading evenly to cover.  Bake for around 15 minutes until brown at the edges.

Arrange the black cherries over the crust.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, caster sugar, plain flour, natural yoghurt, lemon juice and salt until well combined.  Pour this mixture over the cherries.

Add the rolled oats to the reserved dough and rub together to form a crumble.  Sprinkle this over the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until set.  When baked it should have a very slight wobble.  If it is too wobbly, return to the oven.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays:  Viet Van, East Dulwich

Plum Clafoutis

Plum clafoutis

Plum clafoutis

Last week my friend Sam was in the city and so came for dinner.  We had planned to go out in Peckham, but I had Band of Bakers the following day, so was chained to my kitchen whilst I proved and baked my malt loaf.  Luckily she’s pretty happy to sit at my kitchen table drinking tea whilst I cook, filling me in on life in the westcountry.

I had a punnet of plums that had been ripening on the kitchen counter since the weekend, which seems to be a constant feature in my kitchen at the moment.  Many of the fruits we have been enjoying for the past few months are rapidly going out of season and, instead of buying the imported varieties that are creeping on to the supermarket shelves, I am stocking up on good British plums, still very much in season and still in abundance at my local farmers market.

The plums I had were the most common type you are likely to find in autumn – the small, dark purple variety with orange flesh inside.  Similar to those I used for my plum upside-down cake.  They hold together well when sliced and cooked, so I thought they would be perfect for a clafoutis.

For those not familiar, a clafoutis is a dish of fruit baked in custard.  It solidifies to form something half way between a creme brulee and a flan.  It is most commonly made with cherries, although other soft fruits are often used.  It has to be baked in the oven for around 45 minutes – just set the timer if you have a friend over whom you’ve not seen in a long time, as you may forget it’s there.

Plum Clafoutis

6 medium plums, halved and sliced into wedges, stones removed
3 large eggs
65g caster sugar
250ml whole milk
1½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
60g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Butter a medium-sized baking dish.  Arrange the plum wedges at the bottom.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale.  Add the remaining ingredients and whisk on the lowest speed until fully combined.  Pour the mixture over the plums and bake in the oven for around 45 minutes.  When done it will be puffed up with no wobble in the middle.

Allow to cool a little and serve with a drizzle of double cream.

One Year Ago:  Sausage, Cider and Potato Pie

The Warm Embrace of Nostalgia

Malt loaf

Malt loaf

Last night was a very special Band of Bakers event – the first of its kind.  Due to my inept scheduling, I had accidentally planned the event for the same night as The Great British Bake Off final, so we decided that, instead of cancelling the event or forcing everybody to miss the show, we would instead create the ‘Band of Bakers/GBBO Final Mash-up’.  Our venue, The Clockhouse, kindly allowed us the use of their television and we all sat down together to watch it.  Congratulations to Nancy, a very worthy winner and my favourite all along.

The theme for last night’s event was ‘Childhood Favourites’, so we invited our bakers to delve into their memory banks and bring something along that is a part of their past.  Since starting Band of Bakers a couple of years ago, I have always found nostalgia to be a really big part of baking – people will often bring along old family recipes, or something that reminds them of a particular time.  The things we loved as children may not be the best tasting or most accomplished bakes, but they are often those that give us the best memories.  It is also interesting to see how bakers of different age groups work with this theme – those who grew up in the 1970s, for example, will have a different repertoire to those who grew up in the 1990s.  What is also interesting is the influences in the baking of those with parents of other nationalities.

My bake for this event is something that has been a favourite of mine ever since I can remember: malt loaf.  And there is, of course, a bit of a backstory.  I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  Like many grandmothers, she would often allow us more treats than we would get at home.  She would also allow us to eat our lunch in front of the television, something we were seldom allowed to do in our own house.  She would make us sandwiches of corned beef or polony, cut into eight tiny triangles, and would give us slices of malt loaf, thickly spread with butter.  It sounds fairly ordinary, and I suppose it was, but the memory of it always makes me smile.  Nan passed away a couple of years ago and I would trade any of the beautiful food in London for a corned beef sandwich and a slice of malt loaf in front of her old television.

Despite being an excellent baker and home cook, it would never have occurred to Nan to make her own malt loaf.  Having such a large family, she baked more for necessity and sustenance than for pleasure; desserts for Sunday lunches, tea loaves to give to visitors and pies for weeknight suppers.  Malt loaf came in those yellow packets from the supermarket, and that was the way she liked it.

I love those too, but I wanted to try my hand at making my own for the first time.  This recipe by Paul Hollywood looked like the most authentic and straightforward.  This recipe is very simple to do and, if you allow the usual time for proving, is fairly quick to make.  The biggest difficulty was finding malt extract, an ingredient I had never used before.  I had heard that some supermarkets do stock it, but seemingly none that I went to.  Luckily, the wonderful bakers of Twitter pointed me towards Holland & Barrett, who did indeed have a jar.  It’s very thick, a bit like honey and after the first use, you will forever have a sticky jar in your cupboard.

This malt loaf does not look much like the ones you get in the supermarket – it is far lighter in both colour and in texture, however the nostalgic taste is there.  Glaze it with honey, slice it up and spread thickly with good Irish butter.

Notes:  I made this malt loaf in a freestanding mixer as, to quote last night’s GBBO winner Nancy, I don’t have the strength to pummel it around.  You can make it in by hand if you wish, just knead it for a bit longer.

Malt Loaf

1 tbsp demerera sugar
3 tbsp malt extract
2 tbsp black treacle
25g butter
350g strong white bread flour
100g strong wholemeal flour
Pinch of salt
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
225g sultanas
250ml warm water
1 tbsp honey, to glaze

Prepare a 1lb loaf tin by greasing it with butter or spraying it with cake release spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat together the sugar, malt extract, treacle and butter over a medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flours, salt, yeast and sultanas in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.  Add the warm water and cooled malt extract mixture and mix using a dough hook until the dough comes together.  Continue to knead with the dough hook for an extra couple of minutes.

Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf tin, it should come up to about ¾ inch below the edge of the tin.  You may not need all of the dough.  Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours.  The dough should rise up just slightly above the tin.  Preheat the oven to 190ºc.  Smooth off the top of the dough to the top of the tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until browned and risen.  Leave to cool a little in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan over a low heat until it loosens in consistency.  Brush over the warm malt loaf using a pastry brush.

One Year Ago:  In Praise of Banana Bread

Leek and Cheddar Pie

Leek and cheddar pie

Leek and cheddar pie

I have a bit of a confession to make.  One of my favourite topics of office conversation to have at those pivotal points where the seasons are changing is the inappropriate attire of my fellow commuters.  It is barely ten degrees in central London today and I saw three people on Regent Street in summer dresses and sandals.  They must have an incredible immunity to cold or not look out the window before leaving the house in the morning.

Yes, London is under its familiar clouds once more.  It takes little more than a sharp gust of wind for me to start swaddling myself in knitwear and putting on the heating.  I think I have become more like this the older I get.  I love the cold weather, I just don’t like to be cold.  This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the abundance of coffee shops in London – a great, if slightly expensive, handwarmer.

Last night I was faced with three leeks and a defrosted pack of puff pastry that I took out of the freezer for some apple turnovers that never were.  There was nothing else for it but to make a pie.

There are a lot of debates flying around the internet at the moment about pie: most notably about whether it is a real pie if it has only a top crust.  Purists believe a pie should have both a top and a bottom crust to be given the moniker, claiming that a pie without a pastry bottom is merely a stew with a pastry lid.  Although I am inclined to agree, both do have their place, and the latter is often a good way to use up a small amount of leftover puff pastry that would not stretch to a top and a bottom.  Whether my pie would please the purists, I don’t know, as it is made on a baking tray and not in a pie dish.  However, it does have a top and a bottom.

This pie is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, despite my inability to grow my own produce.  Grouping the recipes by ingredient, not by course, really helps give you some inspiration for leftover vegetables.  It is an incredibly simple pie to make – just perfect for a week night.

Leek and Cheddar Pie

650g potatoes, sliced ½cm thick
3 large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
50g butter
Olive oil
200g creme fraiche
175g mature cheddar, grated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil, in a deep frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the leeks.  Stir, cover and cook over a low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until tender.  Transfer both the potatoes and the leeks to a large bowl.  Allow to cool a little.  Stir in the creme fraiche, cheddar, nutmeg, sea salt and ground pepper.

Divide the puff pastry in half.  Roll out one half on a lightly-floured surface and use to cover the bottom of the baking sheet.  Spread the filling out on top of this, leaving a border of an inch on all sides.  Roll out the second half of the pastry and lay over the top of the filling.  Pinch and crimp the edges to seal in the filling.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and then use a sharp knife and any pastry trimmings to decorate.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Southampton: a Tale of Two Burgers

The Last of the Summer Raspberries

Raspberry-almond bars

I don’t know how, but it is October already.  Something has changed in the air and we seem to be settling in for winter.  This morning, I unpacked my scarves from their vacuum bag and got out my winter coat, ready to be taken to the dry cleaners.  I turned on the heating.  I started thinking about Hallowe’en.

I have had a punnet of raspberries in my fridge that have been there since before I went to Germany.  Despite expecting to have to throw them away on my return, they survived remarkably well.  If I’m honest, I can’t believe I risked letting them go to waste; raspberry season is quickly coming to an end, and it will be a long time before fresh British raspberries will be available again.

could have just tipped them into a bowl and eaten them with a little icing sugar and a lot of creme fraiche, but instead I decided to bake something with them.  I swore off cake after eating so much of it in Baden-Baden, but there is something about the new chill in the air that makes me want to nest; and baking is always the biggest part of that need.  Raspberries always work so well in baking; their sharp flavour cuts through all of the butter and sugar and makes everything just a little less sweet.

My favourite combination is a classic one: raspberry and almond.  The world probably does not need another raspberry-almond recipe, but I am just going to squeeze this last one in.  These raspberry-almond bars are based loosely on Dan Lepard’s Blueberry Almond Bars from his book Short and Sweet – he suggests that you can use blackberries instead of blueberries, which is where I got the idea.  The base is a dense cake, almost biscuit-like, topped first with a raspberry jam, thickened with cornflour, and then with a brown sugar-almond crust.  The result is more biscuit than cake and lends itself to being sliced up and eaten with a strong cup of tea.  Once the raspberries have gone completely, I am going to try this with a plum jam and a hazelnut crust.

Raspberry-Almond Bars

125g caster sugar
150g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
180g punnet fresh raspberries
2 tsp cornflour
50ml whole milk
2 tsp honey
100g light brown sugar
100g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s).

Mix together 75g of the caster sugar, the plain flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture.  Add the egg and bring the mixture together in a soft dough.  Press this evenly into the bottom of the prepared cake tin and set aside.

In a small pan, combine the raspberries, cornflour, the remaining 50g caster sugar and 100ml of water.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the raspberries have broken down and the mixture thickens.  Set aside.

In a separate pan, combine the milk, honey, brown sugar and flaked almonds and simmer over a medium heat until thickened.

Spread the raspberries over the base layer (you probably won’t need all of it), then top evenly with the almond mixture.  Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned.  Leave to cool completely in the tin and then cut into slices.

One Year Ago: In Praise of Granola

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

Blueberry and brazil nut baked porridge

I am fickle about many things, but never breakfast.  Even when I have been through phases of not eating meat, limiting carbs and doing just about every diet imaginable, I have never, ever considered skipping breakfast.  For me, the day does not begin until I have had, at the very least, a cup of strong tea and something small to eat.  In recent years I have reluctantly embraced brunch, but found waiting until late morning to eat a bit of a struggle.  I just need a jump-start like you wouldn’t believe.  It comes, as many things often do, from childhood.  My mum was adamant that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and we were not allowed to go anywhere without having something to eat first.  It is a habit that has stuck.

Breakfast during the working week is usually something that can be prepared and eaten very quickly as, let’s face it, none of us give ourselves enough time in the mornings. Toast is my default option of choice, mainly because I can eat it whilst walking around the house (a habit that my husband despises); or cereal that can be eaten quickly.  At the weekends there is much more time to make something delicious that can be lazily devoured over the newspaper supplements.  Only under very extenuating circumstances will I have breakfast at my desk.

I can just about manage porridge, although I no longer have a microwave, so it does require a bit of watching and stirring, which is a bit of a drag.  Recently I read a blog post on baking oats rather than boiling them, and became intrigued about how this could work in the morning.  The basic principle for this is that the liquid (milk) and flavourings are added to the oats in the same way, but cooked in the oven for about half an hour rather than in a pan for a few minutes.  Yes, it does take longer this way, but it doesn’t need any further attention after the oven door has closed.  If you can bear to get up early enough, you could pop this in the oven and go back to bed (provided you had a reliable enough alarm clock to get you up afterwards!)

This particular porridge is cooked in a mixture of milk, golden syrup and egg. The syrup gives it some much-needed sweetness (I still cannot abide plain porridge) and the egg sets it a little in the dish.  You can add just about anything you like to the mixture; mine contains half a punnet of blueberries that I had left in the fridge and the last of the brazil nuts, left over from the double espresso and Brazil nut cake I made last week.  Use very ripe blueberries if you can as they disintegrate in the oven to form little jammy pockets within the oats.  Finely chopping the brazil nuts gives them the grainy texture of coconut, which works well with the softness of the porridge.

For the second batch of this porridge, I made it the night before and reheated it the following morning in the oven for 10 minutes with a splash of milk.  It wasn’t quite as good as cooking it fresh, but it does save you 20 minutes.  You win some, you lose some.

Blueberry and Brazil Nut Baked Porridge

150g rolled oats
Large handful of brazil nuts, finely chopped
125g ripe blueberries
85g golden syrup
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
435g whole milk
30g melted butter
1½ tbsp coarse Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 175ºc.  Lightly grease a large baking dish with butter.  Scatter in the oats, Brazil nuts and blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the golden syrup, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter until smooth.  Pour over the oats mixture and gently stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until just set.

One Year Ago:  Street Food Saturdays: Brockley Market