Thursday 27 September 2012

Atkins & Potts – Foods for Food Lovers: A Review

I was recently contacted by gourmet food company, Atkins and Potts, to see if I’d like to review any of their new pasta sauces. I wrote back saying thank you for the offer, but that I was more of a sweet and baking blog, so I would pass this time. They then offered to send me a little selected of their other products, more in keeping with my blog. I had a quick look at their website and was delighted to find that all their products are vegetarian and gluten free, with many being vegan too! This was such a lovely surprise, and I was excited by the variety of products they made and so eagerly accepted.

A few days later I received the following exciting products: Chili Chocolate Spread, Basil Jam, Cranberry Relish and Pomegranate Syrup.

Chilli Chocolate Spread
Unscrewing the lid I instantly smelt the aroma of rich dark chocolate. Dipping a spoon in, I found the consistency to be more like a giant ganache truffle than the gooey sticky spread I was expecting. It was very thick and smooth. The first taste is of rich dark chocolate, not overly sweet, which being a dark chocolate lover I really enjoyed. A few seconds later a slight warmth began to develop at the back of my throat which built up into quite a spicy kick. This took me a little by surprise but was wonderfully addictive. The thick texture made it quite hard to spread on softer foods like bread or cake, but delicious spread over toast, where it slowly melts into a glossy pool, giving off wafts of dark chocolate aroma. I image it would be wonderful melted over ice cream too. Very indulgent, but defiantly one for the grown ups.

Purple Basil Jam
This idea really intrigued me and I wondered what to expect. It sounded wonderfully exotic. I was imaging a smooth sticky jam, sort of like a mint jelly only made with basil. However, on opening I found it to be quite chunky, containing little squares of onion set it a sweet and sticky syrup. To me this made it more of a sweet pickle or relish than a jam, but naming aside, it was delicious. It reminded me of onion marmalade. Very sweet, with a slight twang. The basil was flecked throughout the jam in thin shreds which added an intriguing flavour. It was delicious with some cheese, although I would have liked the basil flavour to be more pronounced.

Spicy Cranberry Relish
Again I wasn’t sure what to expect and imagined a sort of cranberry jam/sauce. It turned out to be far more superior than that. There were whole, lightly crushed cranberries mixed with a few other bits and pieces to make a chunky relish. It was not that sweet, with the whole pieces of cranberry giving it a wonderful mix of sweet, sharp and tangy flavours. There was also a slight kick of vinegar lingering in the background. It’s probably intended to be eaten with roasted meats, but I found it delicious with both a sharp cheddar cheese and peanut butter (not all together!) I loved the freshness of the cranberries and again how it wasn’t that sweet. This would be perfect for Christmas.

Pomegranate Syrup
I was excited by this. I love pomegranates and think they are a very underused fruit. This sweet glossy syrup had a fabulous pomegranate aftertaste. It somehow managed to keep that tart, slightly astringent and mysterious flavour of pomegranate while still being sweet and sticky. I’ve been drizzling it over my porridge this week and it makes a lovely change to honey or sugar. I’m longing to make a cheesecake and drizzle it over that with some berries or figs. Really unique.

Thank you to Atkins and Potts for the samples. I was genuinely impressed with the quality of all the products I tried. Nothing was overly sweet, which allowed the ingredients natural flavours, or tartness to shine through. I loved how I could really see the main ingredients, like the whole cranberries and the shreds of basil in the products. Do have a look at their website, everything they make is a little unique and different to the usual run of the mill products. It’s great to see a company being to create with flavours and ingredient combinations. When was the last time you saw quince syrup or wasabi mayonnaise stocked in your local supermarket? 

Thursday 20 September 2012

The Cake Slice September 2012: Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cake

I was so excited when this month’s winning cake was this Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cake. I am a great lover of peanut butter and have been rooting/voting for peanut butter cake creations for several years, every time one happens to come up for the vote. Usually, they are outvoted, but this month it won – hurrah!

I have issues with this recipe being labeled as ‘cake.’ There is no baked element in the dessert and nothing spongy about it. To me it is more of a mousse torte or layered cream…pie? Seeing how this is a cake baking group and it’s listed in the book as a mousse cake, I’ve decided to leave it as ‘cake’

The ‘cake’ itself was quite time consuming to make, being made up of 4 different layers, all which needed mixing and chilling separately. It starts out with a chocolate biscuit base, followed by a creamy peanut butter mousse, topped a dark chocolate mousse and finished with a dark chocolate glaze and a scattering of salted peanuts. Sound good, doesn’t it?!
I’ve made desserts in the past that were quite time consuming and when eaten, they are nice, I’ve felt they weren’t really worth the effort. This mousse cake however, was fabulous and worth every second of preparation. I loved the contrast between the crisp biscuit base and the rich and creamy mousse layers. The peanut butter flavour really shone through and worked so well against the dark chocolate elements. Slightly sweet, but then also a lingering saltiness from both the nuts on top and the peanut butter itself. A delicious creamy, crunchy, sweet and salty combination.

The recipe called for smooth peanut butter, but I only had slightly crunchy peanut butter on hand and I think this actually worked to the cakes advantage. Having a few chips of peanut actually in the mousse layer gave it some texture, as otherwise I think the thick peanut butter and chocolate mousse layers might have been a bit too soft and airy with nothing to bite on. I loved being able to distinguish the different layers.

The cake could probably have done with being left to set overnight rather than just an hour as it was still a little soft on serving, but this didn’t stop it tasting fabulous. Anything peanut butter is a winner in my books and paired against the rich dark chocolate mousse, ganache and base, it was delicious. I also loved that the only element I needed to adapt to make it gluten free was the base, and that the mousse didn’t contain any gelatin, meaning its vegetarian too! A winning ‘cake’ all round.
Next month, October, is our last cake baked from our current cake book by Tish Boyle, and we’re all going to bake the cake of our choice. Then in November we’ll be starting a brand new book for the upcoming year. Now I just need to decide which recipe to choose!

As this is nearly our last cake from our current cake book, we are now opening up group to fellow cake baking enthusiasts who wish to bake with us for the upcoming year. Places are limited and you will need to buy a copy of the new cake book to participate, so dedicated bakers only please.
Anyone wishing to join us can email my new co-host Paloma at ([AT] along with their name, blog name, blog URL and email address for details. Please put ‘New Cake Slice Member’ in the subject box

Click here to see the Cake Slice blogroll

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cake
(Recipe from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle)
Chocolate Cookie Crust
180g chocolate cookies (I used GF shortbread cookies)
55 g unsalted butter, melted
10g cocoa powder (my addition as my cookies were plain)

Peanut Butter Mousse
142g cream cheese, softened
30g unsalted butter, softened
144g icing sugar
200g creamy peanut butter (I used finely ground crunchy)
¼ tsp salt
400ml double cream

Chocolate Mousse
142g dark chocolate, chopped
100g milk chocolate, chopped
200ml double cream
80ml whole milk
65g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze
85g dark chocolate
80ml double cream

Few chopped salted peanuts

Chocolate Biscuit Base
Have ready a deep 9inch springform pan.
Either blitz the biscuits in a food processor, or put them in a bag and bash them into crumbs using a rolling pin. (Stir through the cocoa powder if using vanilla or plain biscuits) Once crushed, melt the butter, drizzle over the biscuit crumbs and mix well. Press the mixture into the base of the tin and press down into an even layer.
Place in the fridge to firm up while you make the peanut butter mousse.

Peanut Butter Mousse
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the icing sugar and mix until well blended. Add the peanut butter and salt and mix until well  combined.
In a clean bowl whisk the double cream at high speed until soft peaks form. Beat half the double cream into the peanut butter mixture using a spatula. Once combined, gently fold the remaining cream in the peanut butter mixture, mixing until no streaks remain.
Spread the mousse onto the chilled biscuit base and spread into an even layer. Refrigerate while you make the chocolate mousse.

Chocolate Mousse
Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the milk and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir through the vanilla extract and set aside to cool slightly.
Beat the double cream until soft peaks form. Fold a third into the chocolate mixture and mix well. Follow this by half of the remaining cream and finally the last of the cream. Beat again with an electric mixture to help aerate the chocolate until slightly thickened.
Spread the chocolate mixture over the top of the chilled peanut butter mousse and place in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

Chocolate Glaze
Once the chocolate mousse layer is set, make the chocolate glaze.
Place the chocolate into a small bowl. Heat the cream until steaming hot, but not boiling, and then pour this over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and glossy.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before using.

Run a sharp thin-bladed knife under hot water and wipe dry, then run the knife between the cake and the side of the pan to release the cake; reheat the knife as necessary. Remove the side of the pan. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake and spread out over the surface. Try not to let it drip down the sides. (I spread my glaze on the cake while it was still in the tin, sprinkled it with the peanuts and then let it set for a smoother finish).
Sprinkle the top of the cake with the peanuts and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving.
To serve, slice the cake with a hot knife, wiping it clean between each cut.
Store in the fridge and eat within 3 days.
Makes a 9inch mousse cake

Note: I halved this recipe and made it in a 6inch round tin.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Walnut & Amaretto Brownies

Where have they days gone?! I can’t believe it’s been nearly two weeks since my last blog post. I have been so busy recently that the days have just flown by. I’d rather be busy than bored though.

Today I had arranged to meet someone for a walk round Sheffield in the sunshine. Last night I learnt that there was a large food festival going on in Sheffield city centre today and I really wanted to have a look around and hoped my walking partner might be persuaded to postpone our walk and explore the food festival instead. In order to try and sway them I decided to bake a batch of brownies to use as a bribe. So at 6am this morning I was in the kitchen baking away. Is there a nicer way to start the weekend then the aroma of warm melting chocolate?

I went to add some vanilla extract and found I had run out; remembering that vanilla extract is about 99% alcohol, I decided to add a little amaretto instead. It smelt so inviting stirring it into the molten chocolate that I added a bit more to make the flavour more pronounced. I also added a few chopped walnuts, as I love nuts in brownies, but my siblings don’t, so I never added them when I lived at home. Now I am free to add as many as I like :)

I recently rediscovered my favourite brownie recipe from my pre-gluten free days and decided to bake it again, slightly adapted to be gluten free. It was just as good as I remembered. Paper thin crisp sugar top crust, with a rich, moist and intensely chocolaty interior. Ever so slightly chewy with an occasional soft nugget of walnut. The amaretto wasn’t distinctively noticeable, but I’m sure it added to the flavour. They were certainly very addictive! Yes, I did eat one about 9am this morning – for quality control purposes of course!

I’m pleased to say my walking partner was more than happy to rearrange our walking plans and explore the food festival with me, so the brownies ended up being a thank you gift, rather than a bride. We actually managed to go for our walk as originally planned after exploring the festival. So we ended up with the best of both worlds and some chocolate brownies – a great start to the weekend!

Walnut & Amaretto Brownies
(Recipe adapted from Prue Leith’s Baking Bible)
140g butter
170g dark chocolate, around 60%
180g caster sugar
60g white teff flour (or other GF flour)
10g cocoa powder
1 tbsp amaretto liqueur
2 eggs
¼ tsp gluten free baking powder
40g chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 175C or 160C fan. Grease and line the base of a deep 8inch/20cm square tin and set to one side.
Break the dark chocolate into pieces and place into a large saucepan along with the butter. Melt gently, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter is just melted. Do not allow the mixture to boil or get too hot or else it will seize.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the amaretto and sugar. The mixture will be slightly grainy at this stage.
Beat the eggs in, one at a time, until thick and glossy.
Sift over the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and beat until no flour streaks remain.
Fold the walnuts through the brownie batter and pour into the tin.
Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until slightly risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with a few sticky crumbs attached, not molten batter though.
Allow to cool almost completely in the tin, before removing. The brownie will loose its puffed up look and become level on cooling.
Cut into 12 pieces and store in an airtight container for up to three days. Also freezes well (I know from experience they taste delicious eaten straight out the freezer too!)

Monday 3 September 2012

Plum & Apple Crumble

When my parents came for a visit last weekend, they bought with them a whole assortment of goodies from home. Some freshly dug potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, some Discovery apples and Victoria plums. As the fruit was home grown, some of it was a little bruised from where it had fallen off the tree, not the best for eaten au-natural, but perfect for baking with.

Apple and plum are a classic combination and when thinking about classic English desserts, at the top of the list must be the much loved crumble. Its amazing how a few crumbs strewn over the top of lightly cooked fruit can taste so good. Who doesn’t love crumble?

You can of course jazz crumbles up no end with fancy flavour combinations, pear and chocolate chip, spring instantly to mind, not something my mother or grandmother would ever have eaten together in a crumble, as traditionally crumbles were purely fruit based. I decided to stick with a good old fashioned crumble and top mine with a simple butter, sugar and flour mixture. I added a few buckwheat flakes (in place of my mothers usual oats) and a pinch of cinnamon, a spice always welcomed by any fruit.

It took around 10 minutes to put together, meaning in only half an hour I was happily tucking into a taste of home and childhood. Soft, juicy fruit complimented by the toasted buttery crumbs…bliss.

If you like to add some ‘sauce’ to your crumble, it must be custard. There is no room for debate on this – keep that cream and ice cream away from me! It’s either custard or nothing at all. I had my first portion of crumble au-natural, as I couldn’t wait to make custard! As it’s just me eating this, there was a portion left, and I made the effort to make some custard for that bit. I'm not sure which way I prefer.

Plum & Apple Crumble
300g Victoria plums
200g Discovery apples
1 tbsp water
3 tsp caster sugar

Crumble Topping
20g butter
20g brown rice flour
10g fine ground cornmeal or ground almonds (not cornflour)
20g buckwheat flakes (or GF oats)
15g caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp almond liqueur (or 2 drops almond extract)

Preheat the oven to 190C.
Peel and core the apples and cut into 2cm chunks. Remove the stones from the plums and slices into quarters or eights depending on size. Place the apple into a pan with the water and heat gently until the apples are just beginning to soften. Add the plums and sugar and cook for only 3-4 minutes, until the fruit is just beginning to go soft and fluffy as the edges. You don’t want complete mush!
Transfer the fruit to a deep 6 inch round ovenproof dish and set aside.
For the crumble, place the butter and all the other ingredients, expect the almond liqueur, into a small bowl and rub together using the tips of your fingers. Lift your fingers up above the bowl as your rub the mixture together, letting the crumble mix fall back into the bowl, just like when making pastry. It doesn’t have to be completely fine, a few largish lumps are good.
Add the almond liqueur or extract and mix again briefly.
Scatter the crumble topping over the surface of the fruit. Place the dish on a baking tray to catch any juices that may bubble over.
Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, until lightly golden brown and bubbling around the edges.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 2