Category Archives: Patisserie

White chocolate and amaretti cake

I don’t often have cake failures. I’ve been baking since I was seven. But when I do, they hit me hard.

The first time I made this – a Donna Hay recipe – it went wrong. It looked fine, coming out of the oven, but when you cut into it there was a hole running the whole width of the cake, so that each slice had a hole right through it. The sort of thing which, if you’d tried to achieve, would have been impossible.

It tasted delicious, but it was a failure. I whizzed the whole sorry thing up in a food processor and froze the crumbs. They will be delicious on some ice cream, as a topping, or put in milk shake mix ins.

I had a rare afternoon nap and then it came to me: I had forgotten to put the milk in. I had made it in a bad mood, and got distracted. The original method is also a ‘bung it all into the food mixer’, which is where I also went wrong as I lost track of the ingredients.

This is a simple cake – simple to look at, simple to make, but the ingredients add up. It has nearly £5 of white chocolate in it. Of course, you could put any old white chocolate in it, something cheap, but I think good quality white chocolate makes a difference. I use Green and Black’s white cooking chocolate. Then there’s the amaretti. The rest is regular baking fayre: butter, eggs, flour. Oh and milk.

I have adapted this so it’s all done by hand. I felt I got a better result. If you want to, you can bung everything save the amaretti crumbs into a food mixer and mix away until smooth, then rejoin the recipe at the putting into the tin stage.

Because this recipe contains amaretti – almonds – it is not suitable for anyone with nut/almond allergies.

This is what you need:

185g very soft unsalted butter

220g caster sugar

3 eggs

a teaspoon of vanilla extract

250g melted white chocolate, slightly cooled

300g self raising flour

310ml of milk

160g crushed amaretti biscuits

A few amaretti, crushed, for decoration after cooking.

This is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and flour a 3l bundt/ring tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the three eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Now gently mix in the melted chocolate. Then add the flour and, little by little, the milk.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs (I pulse them in a food processor) over the cake mixture. I use a skewer to gentle feather them through the mixture, but you don’t have to. Now top up with the rest of the cake mixture.

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Bake for about 45 minutes. Check with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked. Make sure it comes out clean.

Leave to cool for ten minutes, then turn out and sprinkle a few crushed amaretti over the top if you’d like.

This cake fills the kitchen with amazing Viennese coffee house smells as it cooks. It’s even better the next day. The white chocolate gives the sponge an amazing lightness and a taste you can’t quite put your finger on. And the amaretti crumb layer is just amazing and marzipan-ish in taste (so absolutely no good if you hate marzipan).

 

Easy Berry Tart

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The me I show to the world isn’t always the same as the private me. I know that, sometimes, people who think they know me, suppose my life is one big idyllic bubble. All baking and babies and countryside and long grass through which to trail my fingers.

And that is indeed part of my life, especially since our lawn mower breaks down often. But it’s also because I don’t always choose to share the more negative parts of my life publicly because I like to see the best in everything and I like to spread joy and comfort; not worry and misery.

I have this memory of being very young and  being in the playground at primary school. I sometimes found playtimes hard but pretended, largely, that I didn’t. Mostly they were okay but not my favourite time: too disorganised, too sprawly and I didn’t have a best friend til way, way later with whom to buddy up.

The school bully (someone actually very troubled, I discovered lately) only once picked on me so I was never really bullied. That wasn’t the problem. But she invariably picked on someone and I thought “Jesus this playtime is just a free for all, where are the adults to help us?” (My mother is Neapolitan and in Naples no child is allowed to misbehave and everyone parents everyone else’s child.)

And then I remembered that Kizzy was on that afternoon and I got this surge of happiness (it was to be 30 years before I realised it was actually a surge of a hormone called oxytocin and for ages I thought I was the only one who experienced these physical surges of happiness). And I realised, right there and then, that life was about a series of episodes; pockets of good things and bad things and if you could just concentrate on the good things, the bad things could diminish. Mostly. And that Kizzy moment has never left me.

This week a much loved colleague from my years at the Independent on Sunday, died. She was also a friend that I’d known for twenty years. Someone that I hadn’t spoken to in a while, because I took it for granted that she’d always be there to catch up with. As you do. I won’t say anything else about her or what happened to her, because it will probably just make you anxious and think the world is a big, scary, place. And it isn’t. It’s mostly really good.

Clare read this blog avidly, although she never commented. Even in her last message to me just last Saturday she said “I’ve really loved your blog”. Because I can’t be absolutely sure that you can’t read the internet when you’re dead (I mean, come on, who knows?). I’m giving her a shout out here. Clare was a hopeless romantic and we shared many cosy, chatty evenings at her house in Crouch End when she lived in London. This is just the sort of tart we’d have made because it would have been lovely, and shown caring and thought, but not distracted us too far  from the task in hand: putting the world to rights.

So here is an easy tart. Although usually, because I am a crashing, crashing snob about home made things, I would never entertain the thought of buying a home made pastry case, sometimes, it’s okay to. Buying the pastry case for this makes this so easy. And yet the result is glorious. I’ve put it here, today, because there are so many berries being picked right now and this is a lovely way to use them. It will make you feel good making it and even better eating it.

You need a ready made shortcrust pastry case, about…8 or 9 inches? They’re pretty standard size in the supermarkets.

500g mascarpone

3 tablespoons of lemon curd. Something artisan would be lovely

Half a teaspoon of vanilla essence

One tablespoon of icing sugar

300g berries, whatever you like

The syrupy topping (which isn’t essential):

Three tablespoons of caster sugar

The zest of half a lemon

Put your pastry case on a plate. Mix together the mascarpone, lemon curd, vanilla extract and the icing sugar until smooth and all homogenous. Spread it evenly over the pastry case. Chill for one hour. [Note: if you don’t have time and want to just assemble it all in one go, do, but you must then either leave the lemon syrup out of make sure it’s chilled, don’t pour it over hot!]

Meanwhile, make the syrupy topping which you do by putting the caster sugar and two tablespoons of water in a pan over a low heat. Let the sugar dissolve, increase the heat to boil for a few minutes (2-3). Remove from heat and add lemon zest. Cool completely.

When ready to serve put the berries on top (I find them nicer at room temperature), pour the syrup topping over the whole thing and serve.

Sorry I don’t have a pic of the actual tart, but above is a photo of wild blackberries picked this week.

Filling nozzle, the right equipment for the job.

Now that I have become quite, quite obsessed with eclairs and profiteroles, I realised quite quickly that I was lacking a vital piece of kit.

A piping nozzle that was long enough and thin enough to penetrate the choux pastry, but with the hole large enough to let the cream out.

Cheap icing/piping nozzles are a false economy because the really good ones don’t cost that much, about £4-£5 a piece. And most people don’t need that many nozzles because they don’t ice/pipe much. So you don’t need a payday loan to fund this particular habit. And if you do ice/pipe a lot then you must surely appreciate the benefit of having good tools.

Anyway, the one for this job is the Wilton Tip 230. It’s available in lots of places for £4ish. But you can also get this kit for not much more, £6.27 at time of writing, and yet you get four Wilton nozzles and some disposable icing bags. NOTE: the description says ’12 piece set’, well it is if you count the icing bags but you only get four nozzles. One of which is the filling nozzle.

So if you don’t want to slice your eclairs or profiteroles, you simply make a little hole with a skewer or some such, insert this and squeeze the cream in until it starts to come out. It is a bizarrely satisfying ritual, which probably says something more about me than I should let on.

Chocolate ganache – a great filling for doughnuts or eclairs

Continuing with my slight eclair obsession…I’ve been wanting to try a darker chocolate cream, as opposed to my white chocolate cream, for some time now in an eclair. Except I trialled it in a doughnut, first. But you could use this in anything that needs a gooey chocolate filling. It tastes like chocolate ice cream. Except not cold..

The recipe for the doughnuts is here, and of course you’ll notice immediately that these are not deep fried doughnuts. This honestly doesn’t matter. The doughnut here is simply a receptacle for the chocolate. Just like it really doesn’t matter what a drug mule looks like, they’re there to just, you know..

The topping you see above is just melted dark (70%) chocolate – about 50g – with a teaspoon of vegetable oil.  And sugar sprinkles of course. I’m not a man fan of them to eat. The conflicting textures confuse me: soft doughnut, soft cream, crunchy, sugary, balls. But the children love them.

For the chocolate ganache filling, all you do is (for 12 small doughnuts) put about 100ml of double cream and 50g of dark, 70% cocoa chocolate, in a bowl over some boiling water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. It should be thick. Chill. Then add about another 100ml of double cream and whisk until really thick. I then added two teaspoons of icing sugar, because I was after a very particular taste – just sweet but not sickly and without the sugar it was simple too ‘dark’. But do taste as you go. Put in an icing bag with an appropriate nozzle – depending on what you’re doing, eclairs, doughnuts etc. Chill the icing bag and the cream for half an hour. Then use.

White chocolate cream

A mini doughnut, with all sorts of gloriousness, on it and in it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about eclairs. Which I am, now, well into. Not so much eating them (although I’m getting there…) but making them. I have just gone mental for piping stuff. I think eclairs are going to be the new macaroons which were the new cupcakes which were the new doughnuts which were probably the new eclairs.

I am slightly obsessed with thinking of new fillings and toppings. Not that I’ve got that experimental yet. But give me time.

It was my youngest child’s birthday last week, and I made her these small celebration cakes (okay, okay, they’re cupcakes, but cupcakes are so over aren’t they? I daren’t mention them…). And some bourbon biscuits with her name stamped on them. And some mini chocolate eclairs with white chocolate cream in them.

Mini eclairs with white chocolate cream.

They were delicious. But they still looked like ‘normal’ eclairs, so with a dark chocolate topping and a white cream filling. Not that eclairs have to look like this, but I wanted them to.

The white chocolate cream was amazingly good and people couldn’t quite work out what was in it but it just tasted so good.

Have I mentioned how good it tasted? So good that today, whilst making the mini doughnuts you see above, glazed with chocolate and dipped in sprinkles, sliced and with white chocolate cream PIPED inside (for I wanted to use up this wonderful stuff), I almost, almost, just stuck the icing bag straight in my mag and squeezed in the style of, probably, Homer Simpson.

But I didn’t. Time, still, for that.

So here’s how you make white chocolate cream. An idea I got from here.

For the eclair recipe here, I’d recommend 300ml of double cream (or whipping, which I will try next time, but I used double) and 100-125g of white chocolate. I only ever use Green and Black’s white chocolate as it’s fantastic.

Break up the chocolate into individual pieces and put in a heat proof bowl.

Heat half the cream in a pan, until boiling. If you use another sort of white chocolate, you may want to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract into the cream. But the Green and Black’s already has vanilla in it, so I don’t. When it’s reached boiling point stir it around for a few seconds, then take off the heat. Pour it onto the chocolate. Give it a count of 15/20 seconds then whisk together.

Chill for an hour or until needed.

When you are ready to make the eclairs, add the other cream (the one without the chocolate in it) and add to the cream with the chocolate in it. Or vice versa, just introduce them! Now whisk until firm, you know, so it’s pipe-able.

Put in a piping bag with a nozzle and pipe into your eclairs. If the piping bag happens to get stuck in your mouth, squeeze, swallow and then hide the evidence.

Eclairs

The best compliment I got was from a nine year old girl (not mine) who said “these are like real eclairs”

Here is a confession. I really am not that into eclairs. I know people who go cuckoo for them. Not me. I’m not overly a fan of choux (unless in a Paris Brest), nor whipped cream. Basically, eclairs aren’t piggy enough for me.

The first time I made choux pastry I was very young, about eleven and it was in HE. No-one told me it was difficult so I didn’t sweat over the choux pastry and I made the most amazing profiteroles. (Equally, no-one told me puff pastry was difficult and I used to make a great puff pastry.)

As I got older, and everyone went on about how hard choux pastry is, well that, coupled with my slight meh-ness towards them…meant I didn’t really try.

My children love eclairs so I decided to give them a go. They were easy. So easy I was expecting the sky to fall in.

I’d love to hear how you customise them.

The recipe for choux is pretty standard:

125ml water
50g butter
75g plain flour
3 medium eggs (at room temperature, this is important)
pinch of salt (I think this is key, choux is pretty tasteless, but the salt adds something).

The filling

I just used double cream, about 300ml, whipped up with a spoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of icing sugar. Or try delicious white chocolate cream, which is what I use as a default filling these days.

The topping

I used 150g 70% cocoa chocolate and a teaspoon of vegetable oil, melted in a bowl, over a pan of boiling water. Then manually just dipped the eclair tops in and set them down on a cooling rack. Hardly any drips..

Obviously with both filling and topping you can change it. Next time I’m going to try something a bit more adventurous.

You also need a piping bag and plain nozzle of about 1cm diameter. A baking tray and some baking parchment.

Oven to 180C.

Put the water and butter in a sauce pan and cook over a high heat. Stir until butter is melted and bring to the boil. When this happens, lower the heat and add in the flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. For me this happened almost immediately.

Remove from the heat. Now. Some recipes say to let the mixture cool and then add the eggs. I can only tell you how I did it which was to add the eggs straight away to the mixture, once in the electric mixer bowl.

So. Put the butter/water dough in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment and add the eggs one at a time.

This is the important bit. After you’ve added the first egg, the mixture must be absolutely smooth before you add the next egg. At first the mixture seems to curdle, more so if your butter/water dough is hot and the eggs are very cold. It will look like scrambled eggs. You will want to cry.

Don’t. And don’t panic. Keep mixing. It will eventually blend together and go smooth. Honestly mine took a good five-ten minutes during which I started to panic and think “why the hell did I not LISTEN to everyone who told me choux pastry was so hard.” Keep the faith. Keep mixing. It will smooth out. Then, add the next egg and mix until smooth and then the next one. I added the salt with the third egg. No idea why just did.

The mixture is ready when you lift the whisk and it leaves ribbon marks – indentations in other words.

Put into the piping bag. I find it useful to a) use a clip to secure the top of the icing bag – just above the nozzle – so that the mixture can’t ooze out. By clip I mean like those Klip-it things you use to keep food in a plastic bag fresh. b) put the bag in a tall glass and fold the top of the bag over so you can spoon the mixture in. Obviously when you are ready to pipe, you take the Klip-it off.

This mixture pipes really beautifully, so pipe eclair shapes (or profiterole shapes) onto the tray, leave a good gap as they do grow.

Put in the oven. I cooked mine for 30 mins and they were perfect, dry and crispy. My patisserie expert said that’s how high quality eclairs should be – kinda dry and not soggy like shop bought ones. You can’t really overcook eclairs (well, actually you can but you know…). I cooked some profiteroles another time and gave them 35 minutes and they were fine.

Don’t be tempted to open the oven at all if possible and certainly not before about 25 minutes.

They should be puffed and golden. Mine were almost empty inside. There was no need to dry them out inside as some recipes suggest, by placing them back in an oven.

I just cut them lengthways when they were completely cool and did the topping first (put the topped eclairs in the fridge for five mins to make the topping set if you’re in a hurry), then I added the cream with another piping bag (I was piping bag mad by this stage).

They all got eaten that day. And when I served them the second time round, because I had some salted caramel left, I added a dollop of that in too. I am salted caramel crazy though.

The reason I’m writing about these is that they were so easy and the return to effort ratio so madly unbalanced in favour of the return part, that I did wonder why I had left it so long.

Update on 6th March 2013. I thought it might be useful to have some troubleshooting here.

There are a couple of key important bits in making eclairs. The bit in the saucepan, with the flour and the butter/water…make sure you really dry this mixture out. By that I mean, even when it starts to come off the sides, keep going for a minute longer. The more you dry it out now, the more eggs you will be able to add (more on this later). The more eggs you can add, the more the eclairs will rise.

What do you mean, the more eggs I can add? Don’t you say three eggs?

Yes, yes I do. But here’s the other thing. I make this all the time with three eggs but mine are medium (in fact I’ve altered the recipe above to say this). Eggs differ in size, although it’s usually the amount of white in an egg that differs between the different sizes. So if you were to crack open a medium and extra large egg, the real difference is in the white, not the yoke.

Anyway, when you’re at the adding the eggs stage, if you’re new to this, I’d whisk up the third egg before adding it and then add it a bit at a time. What you want is a mixture that’s thick. Don’t be afraid to give it a really good whisking, don’t stop just the moment you think it’s done. You want the mixture to be able to stand in stiff peaks. If it’s not thick enough at this stage, it won’t get any thicker at the piping them out stage. So when you stop whisking you need to be absolutely sure it’s thick enough, otherwise,  you pipe it the eclairs will spread.

If you add too much egg, then the mixture might get too sloppy which is why I recommend adding it in stages if you’re new to this.

Should I cool down the butter/water/flour mixture before putting it in the mixer?

Almost every recipe tells you to do this, to cool it down otherwise it will cook the eggs.

I don’t. I know, madness, but I’ve tried it both ways and for whatever reason I’ve found that if I add this to the mixer and add the eggs straight after the sauce pan stage, my eclairs rise more. Yes you do need to beat the first egg in for much longer and it will go through a scrambled egg phase. Try it whichever way you want and see how you go. I’m fairly brave with patisserie making so I like to fly by the seat of my pants. You may want to go more slowly. Both are fine approaches.

If you’d like more ideas about what to fill them with, other than cream: chocolate ganache filling recipe here; white chocolate cream filling here (this is YUM). And not long after I originally wrote this I stopped cutting the eclairs in half and instead using a piping nozzle to fill them.

Madeleines

Spot the eager small child trying to reach up for a madeleine

It started with the purchase of a madeleine tray. Because, ya know, I don’t have enough baking tins. Then came the hunt for the perfect madeleine recipe.

Big disappointment. Many were nothing more than a sponge recipe that you then baked into a shell-shape.

Then I came across a recipe by Heston Blumenthal in, I think, The Times. If I recall the tale correctly he made these for his wife when he was courting her. They are exquisite.

Here’s what you need:

125g unsalted butter, plus a bit extra for greasing the mould
100g icing sugar
40g ground almonds
40g plain flour, plus again a bit extra *
3 large egg whites
2 teaspoons of honey
Finely grated zest of a lemon
Salt

*I have made these, really successfully (like can’t tell the difference successful) with rice flour for those that can’t have wheat. I made these for the super talented opera singer Sarah Connolly with rice flour and she LOVED ME FOR IT. I think she may have even shed a tear, although that may have  been at my singing.

This is what you do.

Don’t preheat any ovens just yet.

Put the butter into a small sauce pan over a medium heat and melt it, keep it on the heat until it starts to sizzle and, Heston says, have a nice nutty scent to it. I have an atrocious sense of smell so this never happens for me and I do it by eye, it goes darker is the only way I can describe it and takes about five minutes. You’re making beurre noisette.

Don’t panic. It’s not like making caramel. Set it aside and take a deep breath. You’re about to make something delicious.

Take your madeleine tray and grease it with some of that extra butter. Unlike when you make friands (more on them another time), don’t be tempted to melt the butter and brush it on. It makes the mads too greasy. Once you’ve buttered the moulds, sprinkle some flour over and tap off the excess.

This is where a flour duster must really come in handy. A flour duster is a kitchen gadget I do not (yet) possess.

Now, sieve the icing sugar, ground almonds and flour into a bowl. You’ll no doubt have some bits of round almond left over in the sieve, just chuck that in too when you’re done. Using a fork, whisk the egg whites into the sugar/almonds/flour. Just lightly and with no panic. You’re not making meringues.

Now add the honey, whisk it up a bit more. Now add the butter which should be warm, but not hot. Now the lemon zest and mix until everything is homogenous. To use Heston’s very particular word. Now add a bit of salt. I grind up some rock salt for this.

Now press some cling film or baking parchment onto the surface of the mixture and rest it in the fridge for at least an hour. I’ve left it overnight and longer. The gluten relaxes to produce a madeleine that is, to quote Ross in Friends (The “Manny” episode) “Lighter than air”.

I have, at this stage, transported the mixture on holiday, or to friends’ houses so that I can cook up fresh madeleines on a whim. But what you’re meant to do next is fill the moulds (which you could of course grease whilst the mixture is resting) with the mixture. Heston says they make 10 but I’m sure I’ve made 12. Anyway you fill with madeleine mixture and put it in the fridge again for half an hour (or longer if need be).

No-one said this was going to be quick.

Preheat oven to 170C.

Cook for 10-15 minutes. They should be dark brown around the edges but golden otherwise. Turn out (you may need to prise the edges with a knife) and leave for five minutes before eating. You REALLY need to eat these warm from the oven, they will never be that good again.

Nearly all gone..

Update, 24 June 2012

After several requests from my children to make chocolate madeleines, I decided to try to adapt this recipe. What I did was melt 50g of plain chocolate and divide the mixture made above into two.

Into one of the halves half I drizzled the melted chocolate and stirred it well. I then dolloped a spoon of the chocolate mixture into my madeleine tray, a spoonful of the plain mixutre and cooked as above. Result: fantastic. The chocolately bit was really chocolately. I had worried it might alter the mixture in some way, but only for the better!

The only thing I’d change is that, next time, I’d swirl the chocolate mixture into the plain mixture using  a skewer or something, to make it more marbled. Dunno why, just think it’d be nice.

But generally, I feel really very clever.

You can also add a handful of chocolate chips to the plain mixture.

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