Saturday 29 June 2013

Cherry Brandy & Chocolate Surprise Cheesecake

Do you ever have some days or weeks where you are craving a certain food or flavour and you just can’t get it out of your head? Last weekend for me that was cheesecake. I just had a craving for it that wouldn’t go away. Normally my dessert of choice is something cakey or spongy, but last weekend I wanted rich, creamy indulgent cheesecake!

Being coeliac sadly means I can’t pop down the shops for a quick cheesecake fix, but have to make one myself. However this has its advantages. Not only do I love baking, but baking it yourself allows you the freedom to be as simple or wacky as you want with the flavours, plus at the end you end up with an entire cheesecake to devour, rather than a single slice wahhhha!

As I went cream cheese hunting I instead discovered a different sort of soft cheese called Quark. This cheese is almost like a cross between cream cheese and ricotta and feeling adventurous I decided t use it as the base for my cheesecake. This proved to be a very good idea as the Quark was thicker and creamier than normal cream cheese, which I’ve found can sometimes go a little runny when I’ve baked with it in the past. Like ricotta, the Quark is made with strained milk, meaning it’s a lot healthier than cream cheese too, all the more reason for a bigger slice!

I had a jar of Morello cherries in syrup that I had been wandering what to do with and so decided to make a cherry studded cheesecake. Cherry Brandy flavoured ice lollies used to be one of my favorites. I’d buy them from the ice cream van outside school and feel ever so grown up as it had ‘brandy’ in the title (can you still get these?) I decided to soak the cherries overnight in Brandy to give them a bit of more a kick.

Chocolate always goes well with cherries and so I made a chocolate biscuit base for my cheesecake, which also added a nice colour contrast. While preparing my cheesecake I suddenly decided to create a hidden middle layer of chocolate cheesecake, encased in the cherry cheesecake. This created a fun surprise when the cheesecake was sliced, as from the outside all you could see was the pale cherry. Chocolate and cherry are also a fabulous flavour pairing.

As I still had some cherry juice leftover I made a quick cherry jelly using a little of the agar agar powder I have been experimenting with recently. This finished the cheesecake off nicely and gave it a wonderfully glossy mirror top.

I was really pleased with my finished cheesecake and it certainly satisfied my cheesecake cravings. Morello cherries steeped in brandy, a hidden chocolate layer, a rich chocolate base and a glossy cherry glaze and combined into a velvety smooth and creamy cheesecake. What’s everyone else been craving recently?

Cherry Brandy & Chocolate Surprise Cheesecake
For the cherries
100g drained, pitted Morello cherries in syrup (reserve the syrup)
40ml Brandy

For the base
90g gluten free shortbread or digestive style biscuits
50g butter
20g caster sugar
10g cocoa powder

For the cheesecake
400g Quark or soft cream cheese
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
10g cornflour
50g dark chocolate

For the cherry jelly
130ml cherry syrup reserved from earlier
20g caster sugar
½ tsp agar agar powder

The day before, remove the cherries from their syrup, cut them in half and place into a small bowl. Pour over the brandy, stir and cover with clingfilm. Set aside for 6 hours, or preferably overnight to allow the cherries to steep and absorb the flavour of the brandy.
The following day, line a 6inch/15cm deep springform tin with baking parchment. Wrap the base and sides of the tin with a large sheet of foil, you want it cover the whole base and up and sides of the tin in one piece. Repeat so you have two layers of foil wrapped around the outside of your tin.

For the base, blitz the gluten free biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and blitz again briefly.
Melt the butter, pour it over the cocoa crumbs and pulse briefly until and crumbs resemble damp sand.
Tip the biscuit mix into the base of your lined tin and press down into an even layer. Place the tin in the fridge to chill while you prefer the filling.
Preheat the oven to 175C.

For the filling, beat the Quark or cream cheese until smooth. Add the eggs and sugar and beat again until well combined.
Now remove one-third of this mixture and place it into a separate bowl. Melt the chocolate and add this to the removed third of the cheese mixture, stirring it together until well combined. Set aside.
Sift the cornflour over the remaining two-thirds of mix. Then pour the soaked cherries and their brandy liquid into the cream mixture and fold in to incorporate. It will turn a light pink colour and be quite runny, this is fine.
Pour half of the cherry cheesecake mixture over the chilled biscuit base, spreading it into an even layer.
Place small spoonfuls of the chocolate cheesecake mix over the top of the cherry cheesecake until it is all used us. Gently try and smooth the chocolate cheesecake into an even layer, but don’t worry too much about making it perfect.
Then pour the remaining cherry cheesecake mix on top, covering the chocolate filling inside. Tap the cheesecake on the counter 2-3 times to remove any trapped air.
Place the foil wrapped tin into a larger deep baking tray.
Fill the tray with boiling water so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the cheesecake tin.
Carefully transfer this to the 175C preheated oven to bake for 50-60minutes. The cheesecake should be set around the edge but still a little wobbly in the centre when gently shaken.
Once baked, quickly remove the cheesecake tin from the water bath and return it to the switched off, but still warm oven. Leave the oven door ajar and leave the cheesecake to cool down gradually for 45-60 minutes.

For the jelly, start this once your cheesecake has been cooling in the oven.
Add another 130ml of cherry juice to a small pan along with the sugar and agar agar. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring the mixture to the boil for 15 seconds, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for 3 minutes.
Remove your partially cooled cheesecake from the oven and carefully pour the hot cherry glaze over the top. It must still be hot, or else it will have set into a solid.
Carefully transfer the cheesecake to the fridge and allow to chill for at least 4-6 hours before serving.
Makes 1 x 6inch/15cm cheesecake

Saturday 22 June 2013

Devnaa Indian Sweets Tiffin Box: A Review

Now, this may look like a fancy box of chocolates – but don’t be fooled. These are not just your ordinary box of truffles and caramels, oh no. These are so much more indulgent and exciting than that!

Devnaa is a relatively new company who make gourmet boxes of sweet Indian treats, specially developed to represent the infamous tiffin boxes of India, used to transport food. They also make Indian inspired bars and drinking chocolates too. The box itself looks very artisan, but lift the lid, peel back the paper and the most intricate box of beautifully decorate chocolates are revealed. However, these are not actually ‘chocolates’ as we known them, but a range of specially designed and delicately spiced classic Indian sweets, which have been enrobed in chocolate and beautifully decorated.

Bite into one of these and you won’t find ganche or salted caramel, instead your get to experience a pistachio barfi delicately flavoured with cardamom and rosewater and encased in dark chocolate and finished with chopped pistachios. Or, how about a coconut barfi enrobed in milk chocolate or one of the other fabulous combinations including vanilla, saffron, orange, strawberry and chai!

I’m not much of a chocolate lover – shocking I know. On the odd occasion I have been given a box I usually eat one or two and then put them in a cupboard and forget about them. Not so with these divine creations. I was so excited when I opened the box that I ate two just after breakfast. I just couldn’t resist trying them immediately.

My first choice was Cinnamon Chai. A signature chai blend of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and close infused barfi which is enrobed in milk chocolate. Wow, it was divine. You could taste all the spices, the cardamom in particular, but nothing too strongly overpowered anything else. The spices were delicate and fragrant and worked so well with the coating of smooth milk chocolate. The barfi itself had a creamy, yet slightly crumbly texture and wasn’t overly sweet, which let the spices really shine through.

I couldn’t resist trying another one and selected the Velvety Vanilla. A Madagascan vanilla barfi with hints of saffron and cardamom, covered in white chocolate. This was fabulous too. Again I loved the cardamom flavour and how you could see speckles of it throughout the barfi. The saffron flavour was subtle but still noticeable and also gave a light golden hue to the barfi. So good, I sat there in my PJ’s grinning over my box of Indian treats.

All the barfi sweets were amazing and I’d much, much, much sooner be presented with a beautiful box of these than a box of regular chocolates (even the expensive ones). I adored their soft melt-in-the-mouth texture, how the spices were delicate and yet still shone through, how the centres were made from delicious barfi rather than chocolate or truffle based and the presentation is stunning. Plus, this particular box (Signature Indian Sweets Collection) is entirely gluten free! (although some of their other Inidan Sweet boxes do contain gluten so ask before buying).

So friends and family take note, next time its my birthday, Christmas or you are just feeling generous…keep your chocolates and jewelry, I’ll have a box of these please! I might even let you try one too.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Buffalo Milk, Honey & Almond Gelato

Recently I was having a discussion with a friend about buffalo milk. They were raving about its thick creamy taste and texture and couldn’t believe I had never tasted it. The next time I saw them they bought me a gift – a carton of buffalo milk. I was slightly unsure how it would taste. Buffalo are big hairy animals and I could image their milk tasting quite unusual and strongly flavoured, a bit like goats milk. However, on drinking a glass I couldn’t believe how fresh and clean it tasted. No goaty or animal taste to it at all. It was clean, rich and unbelievably creamy.

The milk was so indulgent and creamy that I decided to use the rest of it to make some buffalo milk gelato. Gelato is similar to ice cream, only its lighter as it’s made with a milk base, rather than cream.

I wanted the creaminess to be the star, so decided to flavour the gelato only lightly with honey and some chopped almonds. My idea was based on my love of creamy thick Greek yoghurt with honey and almonds, which always tastes lovely and fresh. The honey also added sweetness without having to use sugar.

After churning in an ice cream maker, the gelato had retained the buffalo milks freshness and richness. It was naturally not as thick or full on creamy as ice cream, but it was very refreshing. I found it also tended to melt a lot more quickly than ice cream, I suppose because it doesn’t have so much butter fat or any eggs compared to ice cream to help stabilise it.

The honey flavour was subtle but went very well with the freshness of the gelato. The almonds added a nice crunch too.

Has anyone else tried buffalo milk? I have recently discovered it in Waitrose if anyone wants to try some for themselves. Also, does anyone know why its called buffalo milk/cheese when (to my understanding, I may be wrong!) buffalo are the males and it’s actually bufala, the females who produce the milk? In Italy there is a cheese called Mozzarella di Bufala, which in 1993 was grated DOC status and in 2008 was awarded Protected Geographical Status. Maybe this means no one else can now call it Bufala?

Buffalo Milk, Honey & Almond Gelato
700ml buffalo milk
250ml full fat milk
100g honey
35g almonds, skin on
½ tsp vanilla extract

Set your ice cream to freeze*Mix all the ingredients together, making sure your milk is well chilled first.
Pour this mixture into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufactures instructions. It should be thick and softly set when done after about 45 minutes.
Transfer the ice cream to a large container and place in the freezer to stiffen up for about 30-60 minutes.
Scoop your ice cream into serving bowls, drizzle over a little honey and a few chopped almonds.
Eat and enjoy in the sunshine (if it ever reappears!)
Makes 1 litre ice cream

Note* If you don’t have an ice cream maker, simply pour the ice cream mix into a plastic container and place in the freezer. Take it out every half and hour and give it a bit of a whisk to ensure an even freezing, until you’ve reached your desired consistency.

Monday 10 June 2013

Deconstructed Pavlova – Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Mini Meringues & Textures of Strawberry

I have recently been reading about a vegetarian gelatine alternative called agar agar, which is derived from boiling several kinds of seaweed together. It’s dried and sold in powder form, flakes or bars and has similar properties to gelatine, in that it can set things into a gel or jelly.

I was intrigued and ordered some of the powder form online to have a play. As the weather was bright and sunny, I decided to try and replicate a recipe for buttermilk panna cotta, using the agar in place of the gelatine. Using buttermilk rather than cream appealed to me as it sounded lighter and fresher than regular panna cottas.

Seeing the first English strawberries starting to appear in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a large punnet of them. I decided to pair them with the buttermilk panna cotta in order to create a light and summery dessert. As I was in an experimental mood and had set aside a whole day to play with my new agar ager, I decided to have some fun and use the strawberries in three different ways. Some I kept fresh and whole, others I sliced thinly and dehydrated until crisp and the rest I pureed, mixed with some agar and set the mixture into a jelly, which I then cut out small dots/circles of to decorate the plate. Strawberry 3 ways!

Thinking through the dessert I decided I needed to add some chew or crunch element to compliment the other softer textures. Mini piped meringues seemed a good idea and I was struck with how my dessert now resembled a deconstructed pavlova.

I was a little anxious my buttermilk panna cotta wouldn’t set, as I wasn’t sure how to much to use. As it turns out I actually used far too much, as my panna cotta was more like a firm jelly, than a softly set cream. It still tasted nice, but wasn’t the texture I hoped for.

I have decided not to give any recipes for the dessert, as although I was happy with the presentation and the flavours, I felt the textures of both the panna cotta and meringues could have been improved. The panna cotta was much too firm and the meringues were more chewy than crisp.

The flavours were lovely when eaten together. The buttermilk panna cotta was fresh, and only lightly sweet, the strawberry elements had ripe fruity flavours that actually tasted like strawberries and the meringues had a lovely crisp outer crust and very very chewy interior.

I tried really hard with the presentation and was happy with how the dish looked. It just needs some tweaking to perfect the recipes. I need to read up about how to correctly substitute powdered agar agar for gelatine.

Anyone else got experience of working with agar agar?

Sunday 2 June 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash Houmous

I love houmous and its one of my household staples that appear in my fridge at least 2-3 times a month. You can get some really tasty and interesting houmous varieties in the shops these days, but recently I have found I also enjoy making it myself.

Having recently bought some of the new Warburtons gluten free tortilla style wraps to try, I wanted some houmous to eat them with. As I had some butternut squash languishing in the fridge from making my butternut and ginger soup I decided to roast it and then blitz it into some homemade houmous to add a bit of interest.

Butternut squash is one of those fabulous vegetables – well tubers really, that go fabulously sweet and soft after a little roasting in the oven. You’d never think that something so tough and hard to slice could be transformed into something so soft and almost creamy, in just a few minutes. The vibrant golden orange colour helps add a little sunshine to whatever it’s served with too.

I had a jar of garlic chutney in the fridge too, so used some of that in place of the standard freshly grated garlic. This gave it more of a subtle sweet garlic flavour rather than the harsher raw garlic hit, but either works well. I also added a squeeze of lemon juice as I’ve found this really seems to enhance the flavours in houmous.

The resulting houmous was soft with an almost creamy mouthfeel from the velvety roasted squash, which also gave it a delicious natural sweetness. Although creamy in the mouth, the houmous itself was still a little on the coarse side which I like, as it adds texture and interest. I also left it quick thick so that it would be easier to spread on wraps and in sandwiches, but you can always make it thinner if you want to use it as a dip instead.

I loved the rich orange roasted colour it produced. Even though I usually associate roasted veg with winter, this seemed very fresh and summery. I served mine with an assortment of salads and olives, along with strips of the gluten free tortilla wrap. I then had fun making up little handheld wraps, almost soft taco style, using the houmous as the base. Delicious

Roasted Butternut Squash Houmous
300g butternut squash
400g tin chickpeas
1 tbsp roasted garlic puree/chutney (or 1 clove garlic grated)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with foil.
Cut the butternut squash into 1cm thick slices and lay them out on the baking tray, leaving the skin on. Brush with half a tablespoon of oil and roast for 25-30 minutes until softened and just starting to take on some colour.
Once roasted, remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place the chickpeas, 1 tbsp of water from their tin and the remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil into a food processor and blitz to create a chunky paste. Scrape down the sides once or twice during the process.
Add some roasted garlic puree/chutney, or grate in 1 clove of fresh garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Peel the skin off your roasted and cooled butternut squash using your fingers, it should come away easily.
Briefly mash the butternut into a mush and add to the blitzed chickpeas along with the lemon juice. Blitz again until well combined and the mixture is as smooth or chunky as you desire. (You can add a little more oil or a drop of water if it is too thick)
Spoon into an airtight container and store in the fridge until required.
Delicious served with crudités, on jacket potatoes, salads, wraps with crackers or in sandwiches etc.
Makes around 800g (you can freeze some in a Tupperware container if you don’t think you will eat it all straight away)