Saturday 28 March 2015

Intense Flourless Chocolate Cognac Truffle Cake with Miniature Easter Mini Eggs

Easter is only a few days away and I had a hankering for something chocolaty. Usually when you say ‘chocolate’ and ‘Easter’ to someone in the same sentence they will think of milky supermarket Easter eggs in their shiny coloured foil. While these are undoubtedly pretty, they don’t really hit the chocolate treat mark for me. Even as a child when I was given Easter eggs my mum would discovered them still sitting on my bedroom floor at Christmas. So much so that my relatives stopped bothering to buy them for me or else I simply handed them out to my siblings. If I want a chocolate treat these days it often involves a dark, cocoa rich chocolate with my preference being around 70-85%. (Although I'd never say no to anything Hotel Chocolat have to offer, hint hint family!). 

I went on the hunt – an Easter hunt if you will, for a rich chocolate dessert and decided on a flourless chocolate cake. I’ve had many a flourless chocolate cake over the years, some better than others. Quite a few incorporate ground almonds in place of the flour, which while keeping the cake moist, can sometimes give a slightly grainy texture which is not always desired. This recipe ticks all the right boxes, it’s nut free, grain free and gluten free. I tweaked the quantities a bit and added a little splash of cognac for a boozy hit, as like coffee, I find a drop of alcohol seems to enhance the richness of chocolate. The result is one amazing dessert.

‘Cake’ is really the wrong word for this dessert. Torte is probably more like it, or dense layer of fudgy chocolaty truffley deliciousness, but that’s a little OTT. However, this is one super rich, intense chocolate dessert!

The texture is similar to the inside of a giant truffle. It’s dense, silky smooth and very intense. The cognac really enhances the richness of the chocolate, giving it a luxurious flavour which isn’t obviously alcoholic.

There is a serious quantity of chocolate involved, which is melted with a simple sugar syrup rather than cream for a cleaner more concentrated chocolate flavour. The ingredients are incorporated with the minimum of stirring as unlike other flourless chocolate cakes I’ve seen, the idea here is not to incorporate any air, so no whisking of egg whites are involved. Instead the cake is gently stirred together and baked in a water bath which results in a softly set, dense chocolate ganache.

A light dusting of cocoa, a blob of lightly whipped cream and a few speckled miniature mini eggs are all that’s required to finish this Easter inspired dessert. I’m not normally a fan of plain whipped cream, but here it adds a nice lightness and contrast against the richness of the chocolate.

You only need small slices for a serious chocolate hit. The edges are slightly fudgy while the centre stays gloriously smooth and truffle-like. A fork glides through it like a hot knife through butter and each bite melts into an indulgently chocolaty pool in the mouth. It may be a little too intense for children, but who says adults can’t enjoy a chocolate treat at Easter too?! This is going to be my go-to chocolate dessert from now on.

Intense Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake / Torte

320g dark chocolate (mix of 60-80% cocoa)
100g butter
200g caster sugar
100ml water
½ tsp salt
5 eggs
45ml cognac or alcohol of choice

2 tsp cocoa powder
150ml double cream whipped cream
Easter miniature mini eggs

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an 8inch/20cm deep round springform tin with baking paper and wrap the base and sides in a sheet of foil.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a large bowl. Cube the butter, add to the chocolate and set aside.
Add the sugar, water and salt to a saucepan and heat on the hob until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has turned clear, stirring occasionally. Once clear, quickly bring to the boil and then remove from the heat.
Pour the hot sugar water over the chocolate-butter mixture and stir gently until everything is melted, smooth and glossy.
Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Stir the eggs together in a bowl so they are broken and combined, but do not whisk. You don’t want to incorporate any air. Stir the cognac or alcohol of choice into the eggs.
Pour the egg mix gradually into the melted chocolate mix while stirring together with a spatula. Again do not whisk, you want a smooth thick batter.
Pour the glossy fudgy chocolate mix into the prepared tin and gently shake the tin to smooth the top.
Place the tin into a deep baking tray, larger than the cake tin. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water into the baking tray so it comes halfway up the sides of the in. It’s easier to do this when the tray is placed on the oven shelf. Try not to splash any water onto the cake itself.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until just set. The outside should look slightly puffed and will have started to have come away from the sides of the tin. (The middle may still be slightly sunken, but this is fine. It will level out on cooling.)
Remove the cake from the water bath, take off the outer layer of foil and leave to cool for 1 hour in the tin. Transfer the cake, still in the tin, to the fridge and leave to chill for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
When ready to serve, heat a round bladed knife under hot water, wipe dry and run this around the inside edge of the tin before carefully releasing the springform tin. Lay a sheet of clingfilm loosely over the top of the cake (this stops it sticking to the board) and place a chopping board on top, and flip everything upside down. Remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper. Place a serving plate upside down on the cake and flip it over so it’s now right side up again. Carefully peel off the clingfilm.
Dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder.
Lightly whip the cream until soft peak stage. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe swirls of cream around the edge of the cake and top with Easter miniature mini eggs or flakes of chocolate.
Cut neat slices using a sharp knife heated in hot water and quickly dried. Store any leftovers in the fridge.
Makes 1 x 8inch truffle cake

Saturday 21 March 2015

Raspberry Meringue Pie with Lime & Pistachio Pastry

Growing up my mums lemon meringue pie was one of my favourite Sunday treats. I’ve not eaten one for several years, so when I recently saw a recipe for raspberry meringue pie I had feelings of both nostalgia and excitement over childhood favourite with a new twist. I’d heard of lime or orange meringue pie, even a chocolate meringue pie, but never a raspberry meringue pie. It looked too delicious to pass up.

This pie is extra special as not only is it filled with a zingy raspberry curd, but it’s also spiked with lime for an extra fresh kick. The pastry contains lime, pistachios and brown sugar for a really unique and delicious meringue pie pastry twist. It smelt unimaginably amazing when it was baking.

Instead of raspberries, you could try using other fruits, blackcurrants, cherries or mixed forest fruits, but I think raspberries are the fruit of choice for a truly spectacular magenta coloured curd filling. The contrast of the vibrant raspberry against the puffy pale meringue topping is stunning. It gives much more of a wow factor than a lemon meringue pie.

This pie tastes delicious eaten when still warm from the oven, which is how we served it initially, but I wouldn’t recommend this if you are going for dainty elegant presentation. When hot, the curd is melted, oozy and gooey, meaning it pools out of the tart when cut. Not exactly photo worthy. However, leave it to cool, or even better, chill for a few hours in the fridge and you get a perfectly behaved and sliceable pie, with all the layers staying distinct. I think this gives a much better impression, see below.
Warm and oozy

Chilled and elegant

Leaving the pie to chill also allows the flavours to develop. The lime and raspberry mingle together well and the subtle nuttiness of the pistachio pastry is more noticeable. I also love the texture when it’s been chilled. The meringue maintains the crisp top sugary shell with airy mallowy meringue below which just dissolves on your tongue. By contrast the curd is thick, smooth and softly set and the base crisp and nicely crumbly. A wonderful mix of textures and flavours.

The raspberry filling is quite tangy, the freshness from the raspberry really being the star of the show. This is emphasised by the subtle zing of lime in the filling and pastry. This was delicious against the sweetness of the meringue top, and really kept the fresh raspberry flavour (despite using frozen berries!)

If you are looking for a real show stopper of a dessert I couldn’t recommend this pie enough. My sister and I made this for our mum for Mothers Day last weekend, and it was the perfect pretty-in-pink dessert. I love how you can use frozen berries in winter and fresh berries in summer. It would rival any summer pudding at a BBQ and would make a great non-chocolaty Easter dessert.

The recipe below makes enough filling and meringue for one deep 8inch tart, but you will have some pastry leftover – this tastes delicious cut into rounds and baked as mini biscuits to serve with a mousse or just to munch on. The pistachio and lime making them much more flavoursome than regular pastry. It’s quite time consuming to make, but definitely worth the effort.

Raspberry Meringue Pie with Lime & Pistachio Pastry
(Slightly altered from Gluten Free Alchemist blog)
Lime Pistachio Pastry 
40g pistachio nuts
80g rice flour
60g cornflour
50g buckwheat flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
Zest of 1 lime (save the juice for the filling)
50g light soft brown sugar
110g cold butter
1 egg
1 tbsp cold water

Have to hand a deep 8inch/20cm tart tin with a loose base and set to one side.
Grind the pistachio nuts so they resemble fine crumbs, then mix in a large bowl along with the flours, xanthan gum, salt, lime zest and sugar.
Chop the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour mix using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Lightly beat the egg with the water and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix with a flat butter knife until it begins to come together as a dough. It may look a little dry at first, but don’t add any more water just yet.
When large clumps begin to form, switch to your hands and bring the mixture together to form a dough, kneading gently. Add a few drops more water if it’s too crumbly.
Lay a large sheet of clingfilm over the work surface and place the pastry on top. Cover with another large sheet of clingfilm before rolling out the dough until 2-3mm thick. Lift up and reposition the top layer of clingfilm to help you as you roll.
Remove the top layer of clingfilm and lift the pastry up with the base layer of clingfilm still in place to support it. Flip the pastry into the tart tin and press into the edges before peeling away the clingfilm. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and place into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Wrap any leftover pastry in clingfilm and store in the fridge for use later (delicious baked as mini biscuits).
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C.
Dock the base of the pastry with a fork and line with baking paper or clingfilm and fill with baking beans. 
Blind bake the pastry for 10-12 minutes before removing the beans and baking for a further 5-10 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Switch off the oven.

Raspberry Filling
350g fresh or frozen raspberries
Juice of 1 lime
40g caster sugar
20g cornflour
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
25g butter

Thaw the raspberries if frozen, then puree with the lime juice in a liquidizer. Pour into a sieve set over a bowl and press with the back of a spoon to sieve out the seeds. (This takes a while). Discard the seeds. 
Combine the raspberry puree with the sugar in a saucepan.
Mix the cornflour with a little water in a small bowl to make a paste and then stir this into the raspberry mix.
Heat gently, stirring continually until the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to stir over a low heat for 1-3 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. 
Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, before cubing and whisking in the butter.
Spoon the filling into the pastry case and smooth the surface. Chill for at least 30 minutes to allow the filling to set.

Meringue Topping
2 egg whites                
100g caster sugar

When the raspberry curd is chilled, preheat the oven to 180C and place a flat baking tray in the oven to heat up.
In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly until the meringue forms stiff glossy peaks. 
Spoon mounds of meringue over the chilled raspberry tart filling making sure it reaches the edges of the pastry to seal it.
Carefully remove the hot baking tray from the oven and place the tart onto it. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes in the middle of the oven until the meringue surface is lightly golden and crisp, underneath should still be soft and mallowy. The curd will be melted and gooey when hot, so don’t use this as a baking indicator of doneness.
Allow to cool for 20 minutes before carefully removing from the tin.
Best served chilled for ease of slicing, although also tastes delicious warm – the filling will ooze out if eaten warm.
Makes 1 x 8inch tart

Sunday 8 March 2015

Cauliflower Pizza Base

Cauliflower pizza bases have been making the rounds on blogs, and in the news a lot in the past few months. I’m a little late at joining the party as I only made and tasted my first cauliflower base pizza a couple of weekends ago, when I met up with my sister. We like to get together every few months, catch up with each others news and cook something for lunch. Cauliflower pizza is something we have both been longing to try for some time so pizza it was to be!

The base is made of blitzed, lightly cooked cauliflower that is bound together with ground almonds and eggs before being prebaked to form a ‘crust’ on which to spread your pizza toppings. Its gluten free, dairy free, paleo, flourless and grainless so would suit a wide variety of diets. It’s lower carb, is fibre packed and higher in protein than your traditional bready pizza base. So far so good.

After cooking the cauliflower and squeezing out the excess water we were left with a mix that almost resembled a dough. We combined this with the other ingredients to create a thick paste which is then baked. It turned a lovely golden brown colour and smelt really good when baking. Slightly nutty, no sodden cauliflower aroma. You make a little rim around the edge to hold in your toppings and give it that risen crust appearance, which is a nice touch.

After adding our toppings - mushrooms, artichoke hearts, courgette, peppers, olives and a sprinkle of chilli for us - it had a final bake before we tucked in.

We had a slight issue with getting it off the baking parchment, it had stuck in some places and being a softer, not so sturdy veg base rather than a chewy bread dough it was hard to get it off without tearing it. Note to self, next time use a silicone baking sheet, nothing ever seems to stick to them!

Once plated we took our first bites. It was interesting…good interesting but different. It had the flavour of pizza, but without the right texture. The crust was more of a base than an actual crisp crust. It was softer and lighter, slightly coarse in texture and reminded me strongly of a thick oat pancake in texture. It carried the flavours of the pizza toppings well, but you didn’t get that same crunch or chew as you experience from a bread dough base. It was also quite fragile, definitely a knife and fork job, you couldn’t pick it up with your fingers.

I know it sounds like we didn’t enjoy it, but we did! The flavour was delicious and we both agreed if you wanted a change from regular pizza or had a diet that normally prohibited pizza then this would be a great alternative. The base was slightly sweet and nutty, and we didn’t detect any overcooked sodden-sock taste or aroma to the cauliflower, it was very neutral. Nor did it taste overly of almonds or taste like a dessert, something we were a little worried about as it was so almond packed.

It was definitely like eating pizza baked onto a large pancake. Only the very exposed edges had stayed crisp, the rest having softened under the moisture from the sauce and toppings. That aside, we loved it and both agreed that we felt energised all afternoon without that usual bloat or drowsiness that often follows a pizza fest.

I want to make it again but try and tweak the base recipe to make it more of a crispy crust. To me that’s part of what makes pizza so great. We used a recipe from BBC Good Food, but I’ve seen others that don’t use the ground almonds and just use cauliflower and egg for the base. I think they may work better at forming a lighter, crisper, less pancake-like crust. Experimentation ahead!

Have you tried cauliflower pizza? What did you think?

Cauliflower Pizza Base
(Recipe from BBC Good Food)
1 head cauliflower (about 750g)
100g ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp dried oregano
Salt & pepper
Oil for greasing

Tomato Sauce
2 tsp oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 x 220g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
½ tsp dried oregano
Small bunch basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Toppings of choice
1 x ball mozzarella
Courgette, mushrooms, olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, chilli etc

Preheat oven to 200C. Line two baking trays with silicone sheets or baking parchment that is greased with oil.
Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim the stalk end. Cut into chunks and blitz in a food processor until finely chopped, like rice. (You may need to do this in two batches).
Tip the cauliflower in a bowl, cover with cling film and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes until softened. Tip onto a clean tea towel and leave to cool a little. Once cool enough to handle, scrunch up the tea towel, twist and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. It should feel dry and almost look like dough. Then transfer it into a clean bowl.
Stir in the ground almonds, egg, oregano and seasoning. Mound half the cauliflower mix into the centre of each tray, then cover with a layer of cling film and use the flat of your hand to smooth the mixture out into an 8-9inch round. Pat the edges in to make it a little thicker and create a ‘crust’.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and starting to crisp a little at the edges.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat a little oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until softened. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano and a few leaves of basil. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 8-10 minutes until thick. Season to taste.
Once the cauliflower base is cooked, set aside to cool a little. Turn the oven up to 240C.
Prepare your toppings of choice. Spread the tomato sauce over the bases leaving a rim around the edge. Arrange your toppings of choice over the top and finish with some blobs of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 15-25 minutes, depending on how thick you’ve made your bases and how much topping you have piled on!
Once cooked, leave to stand for 3 minutes before using a fish slice or palette knife to remove the pizzas from the tray. Scatter over some more basil leaves before serving.
Makes 2 x 8-9 inch pizzas, or one massive one.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Foodie Finds in Cambridge

My aunt has a flat that she rents out in Cambridge and a couple of weeks ago it became vacant for a few days in-between new tenants arriving. She kindly offered it to us to use as a base for a few days. My mum and I jumped at the chance and enjoyed a lovely girly weekend away.

Central Square Market
The first day we spent shopping, exploring the famous outdoor market, winding passageways and arcades. We decided to eat out at lunchtime and then buy some goodies to take back to the flat to enjoy for dinner. We couldn’t resist getting these grapes off the market – just look at the size of them, absolutely gigantic! I’ve never seen such large grapes in my life, and they only had 2-3 tiny seeds inside too. They were deliciously crisp and sweet. We went back at the end of our stay to try and buy some more but sadly he wasn’t there that day.

There is also a fantastic bread stall called The Earth’s Crust, for those lucky people who can eat gluten. My mum bought a delicious walnut bread and sourdough from here which she enjoyed with our giant grapes and some local cheese in the evening.

I’d planned ahead and taken my own gluten free bread, but also indulged in some delicious artisan cheese from the CambridgeCheese Company. This is hidden down a side alley and well worth hunting out. It’s a real treasure trove of cheeses, meats, olives, oils and other assorted gourmet ingredients.

Rainbow Café – King’s Parade
For lunch we decided to try Rainbow Café. It’s an entirely vegetarian café that also caters magnificently for vegans, coeliacs and dairy free diets. It’s almost a secret restaurant, as it has no obvious shop front along the street but is secluded down a narrow alleyway, situated directly opposite the famous Kings Collage Cambridge. So if you see this you know you are in the right location.

Look out for the Rainbow Café sign down the alleyway and follow it down until you get to a door surrounded by hangings baskets filled with flowers. Open the door and walk down the steps into the depths below. This opens out into a few interconnecting rooms, hidden beneath the street above. The ceilings are low and the wooden tables are clustered into nooks and crannies. The walls are brightly coloured and adorned with mirrors giving it a very inviting and cheery atmosphere. You really feel like you have stumbled upon a hidden gem.

It may have a secret location, but it’s by no means a secret to the locals – we got there early and within minutes all the tables were taken. Some people have a set, somewhat negative view of what vegetarian food is. If you know of any such doubters – take them here – the food is outstanding, a real mix of international flavours and dishes, and not a boring mushroom risotto or goats cheese tart in sight! Instead you have dishes like Jamaican Roti Cups, Latvian Potato Bake or Enchilladas.

I should think 70% of the menu was naturally gluten free, which made me very dithery and indecisive over what to choose from the menu – I’m not used to so much choice! In the end I had Pepper Pot: A West Indian favourite - fiery hot as the Caribbean, jewel peppers, seasonal pumpkin, carrot, onion, garlic, tamarind and coconut. This was served on rice’n’peas and topped with a large wedge of fresh pineapple and a side salad. The photos don’t do it justice, but being underground doesn’t lend itself well to photos.

It was amazing. Sweet yet slightly spicy, the heat growing as I ate it. It was creamy from the coconut and a generous amount of nutty brown rice underneath. The fresh pineapple was sweet and juicy and was great to take bites from in-between spicy mouthfuls. I’ve never had a dish like it.

We were both full after our lunch but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try one of the desserts from the specials board – not when 10 of the 13 dessert specials were gluten free – what choice!

We decided to share the Lime & Zucchini cake as this sounded a bit different. It came in a generous wedge and had a fabulous pudding-cake texture. It was moist, dense and fudgy. The top was doused in a zingy lime syrup and flecks of courgette/zucchini were visible speckled throughout the cake. It reminded me of sticky toffee pudding in texture, and we think we picked up on a subtle hint of ginger too. Amazing, especially as it was gluten free, dairy free, egg free and vegan. I’d love the recipe. This place really is a must visit for the charm, food and fun top secret location alone – whether you have dietary requirements or not.

Afternoon Tease – Kings Street
Afternoon Tease (love the name) is a buzzing café located just outside the main shopping square in Cambridge. It serves a wonderful selection of brunches, lunches and of course plenty of mouth-watering cakes for afternoon tea. Everything is made fresh daily on site, and the menu is always changing according to seasonality and what the team feel like trying out on the day. I think this is a wonderful idea and keeps it fresh and exciting. You never know what’s going to be on offer each visit. Look at their facebook site for some very drool-worthy photos.

We visited Afternoon Tease for morning coffee and cake on our final day. I’d emailed the lovely owner Jo in advance to ask about gluten free cake, and was told they always had at least one offering. Sure enough when we arrived there was a choice of gluten free pistachio lemon drizzle loaf cake or almond financiers. It was so nice to see something other than the bog standard gluten free brownie.

I went for the pistachio and lemon drizzle loaf cake and it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had out. It was damp and closely textured, yet wonderfully soft and light. It had a pale green tint from the nuts of which there were also a few chunks scattered throughout the cake, giving it a nice bite. The top had been doused in a zingy lemon syrup which complimented the pistachio flavour perfectly.

My mum went for a slice of ginger cake with lemon cream cheese frosting, which was also studded with chunks of glace ginger. She enjoyed it, but after tasting mine she got cake envy and has made me promise to try and recreate the pistachio cake at home. The coffee was excellent too. I’d love to go back to try their lunch options sometime.

Mill Road
Another place to explore is Mill Road which is a bit outside the city centre. It’s a long street lined with a whole assortment of independent shops, restaurants and cafés. I even found a vegetarian wholefoods and stocked up on some gluten free bread, noodles and crackers, all brands I’ve only ever seen online before.

The Sea Tree – Mill Road
Walk right to the end of Mill Road and over the railway bridge and you come to The Sea Tree which is a fabulous fresh fish and chip shop. They can cook you fresh gluten free fish and/or chips any day of the week. They have a separate fryer for their chips and also use this for any gluten free requests, of which they have a separate gluten free batter. They only serve fresh fish, no pizzas or burgers and you can get them to eat in or take away. Everything is fresh and you are not limited to cod or haddock either. If you want calamari, scallops or sea bass that’s not a problem and you can also have it battered, fried or grilled. You can’t beat a freshly cooked, piping hot crisp chip, eaten straight out the paper with your fingers. Another must if you are staying locally.

Fitzbillies – Trumpington Street
Finally, if you are not needing to eat gluten free then you must also stop by Fitzbillies. A traditional wooden fronted bakery/café that has been going since 1921, and is now run by the famous food writer Tim Hayward. They are famous for their huge (and my mum declares delicious) sticky Chelsea Buns.