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Archive for the ‘chocolate’ Category

Passionfruit

I feel as if I’m back from a trip to a world of cakes and pastry delights.  The last month has been filled, chock-o-block, from the beginning of Toronto’s fabulous Spring to the beginning of what is turning out to be a mild, soft, gentle Summer, with parties and cakes.  The air has sparkled with the sounds of popping champagne corks, clinking glasses and merry, laughing people congratulating each other for various accomplishments.  Birthdays, Weddings, Feasting, Fancying and Foot-Loosing turned our ordinarily calm lives in to a train-station platform for the travelling spirits of love, happiness and joie-de-vivre.

Raspberry Coulis

Now, on a day when the soft rain falling from a Summer-grey sky cools my temperament from feverish to fathomable, I thought I’d take a moment and share just some of the fun with you.  I’m going to make, for your reading pleasure, a sandwich of sorts.  A dense yet frothy layer of Birthdays makes the perfect base for a filling of petit Wedding don’t you think?

Rasp White Choc Charlotte Comb

A little after my own birthday celebration, appropriately consummated with a glorious Raspberry White Chocolate Charlotte and Smitten’s Pistachio Petit Four, a couple Wondrous Friends, the maverick Mr D and his wonderful J, decided, impromptly and in a fuzz of love, to get married.  Being unfortunately, as they both were, so far from all family and loved ones, we organised, in the limited time we had, a delightful petite reception de l’amour chez nous, complete with un petit gateux de marriage. It was my first attempt at a real French Butter Cream frosting, and not without it’s little , ahem, learning curve shall we call it.  But a gorgeous evening was had by all and the happy couple left beaming and cuddling and well set for a long and joyous journey through life together.  How could love go wrong when sent off on it’s voyage with a petite tarte a la pomme d’amour, a Monk Fish a la Gazpacho on a bed of Sicilian Buckwheat and a four layer passion fruit cake with mango curd filling?

Wedding GJ1

Wedding GJ Comb

And then, just to test my abilities and patience to the brink of my own sanity, My handsome, enthusing, devestating Mr P turned a year older and required a cake worthy of his own standing in my life.  What could it be?  I scoured my books and bookmarks.  I looked under the couch, in the sock drawer and behind the French Puy lentils for inspiration.  I had to find a cake to match his countless qualities: there had to be something out there.  After days of thinking and sketching cross-sections of cake slices and jotting down notes I came up with the following:

A dark chocolate and whisky cake; something dense and dark and smokey, just like someone else I know.  A cake almost, though not quite, like a brownie.

A sour cherry filling, slightly sweet and slightly tart and altogether moreish

A cream cheese frosting to complicate the palate a little and smooth out any sharpness in the whisky.

And despite the fact that the cherry conserve I used leaked sticky, pink syrup all over the plate (and a guest who helped me transport the thing, sorry Ms R); and depite the fact that the cream cheese frosting slowly melted in the heat of the night and started a steady migration down the side of the cake, and despite finding out that cream cheese frosting does not like to stick well to cherry conserve (note: spread the cream cheese frosting first, then top with cherry) It turned out to be a very handsome, tasty and slightly confusingly, undefinably good cake.  Just like someone else I know.

Choc Whisky Cherry Cake2

Choc Whisky Cherry Cake Comb2

Choc-whisky

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chocolate-cherry-pie1

Oh, don’t shoot me.  Another recipe I diligently wrote down while making and have since misplaced somewhere in the maelstrom of my kitchen notes over the last few months.  Listen, people, do as I say and not as I do.  If you’re going to be making up recipes and fabricate wonderful new concoctions in the kitchen, keep a whole notebook, bound and sturdy and without loose pages in which to write said culinary experiments.  Do not, as I do, keep a post-it pad in the cutlery drawer on which to scribble, somewhat illegibly and often covered in some un-named sauce, your moments of cuisinary Eureka.  So bear with me here as I try to back track in my mind and remember what went into this little morsel of yumminess you see before you.

The shell, I remember well, is a simple shortcrust.  No difficulty there.  If you need a recipe, this is a good one, but make only half the required amount as you don’t need a lid for this pie.

The filling was a pint, at least, of dark, almost black, Bing cherries; pitted and halved, or halved and pitted whichever order you like to do that in. 

Next would have been a little bit of flour and a little bit of sugar.  Again, I can’t give you exact measurements, but I’d estimate ⅓cup sugar and a ¼cup plain flour. 

Then a generous amount of dark chocolate, cut into chunks.  Hmmm.  Lets guess at 100g, 70% cocoa.

Of course, the rest seems fairly simple.  Preheat the oven to, oh, 375˚F.  Line a springform cake tin with the pastry and chill in the fridge for 10 mins.  Fill the shell with the cherry/chocolate mix and bake for about 30 mins, or until the pastry is turning a golden brown and the filling is bubbling merrily away.

Chill for about 10 mins outside the oven before removing from the springform.

Brilliant eaten still warm with a good dollop of vanilla ice-cream.

Good luck!  And please, if anyone can see a major blup in my thinking here, shout shout shout.

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You know the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemon aide”, well my philosophy in life runs in the same vein: When the banana’s of your life turn black, make banana bread.” Which is my way of saying, when life’s being a little rough with you, eat cake. Also, it ties in rather neatly with my Waste-not-want-not upbringing. For a change, however, it being The Season of Great Changes and all, I eschewed all things expected and made something a little crazier. When asked to provide, and I quote, A Simple, No Fuss (with a pointed raised eyebrow, Ms Vickers) Dessert for an evening of screaming and gasping over the new series of Battlestar Galactica, what better remedy to such an unnatural request than brownies; and with those last two, very black banana’s staring at me from the bottom of the dusty fruit bowl, what else could I do but provide Banana Chocolate Brownies? These turned out to be a bit drier than my normal brownie recipe, which I usually diligently obey Nigella’s instruction on, but that made them just perfect with a big, yummy scoop of banana ice-cream.

*note: I put a cup of walnuts on top of the mixture before baking to make a walnut-like crust, but go ahead and mix them into the batter before baking. Ditto with the white choc chips, or go super wild and use dark choc chips for extra punch.

Banana Chocolate Brownies

adapted from The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

80 ml butter (⅓ cup)
185g dark chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of 60 and 70%)
150ml sugar (⅔ cup)
2 eggs
Heaping, oozing ½ cup mashed, ripe banana (the blacker the better)
2 tsp Vanilla
150ml flour (⅔ cup)
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
¼ cup white chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, broken up

– pre-heat oven to 350˚F

– line an 8″ square baking tin (or equivalent)

-in a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt chocolate and butter. Let cool a bit, then whisk in the sugar.

– in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the banana and vanilla. Add to the chocolate mix.

– whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, sift into chocolate and mix well.

– scraped into baking tin, top with nuts.

– bake for about 30 mins until set in the middle. Remove from oven, top with white chocolate chips and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting.

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basler brunsli

These little hearts of joy were a new thing for my cookie collection this year. This is traditional Swiss cookie-making at it’s best, if you ask me. Chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and almonds, what’s not to like? And with no butter or other fat in it, it’s a conscience-soothing nibble at this cookie-glut time of the year. Goodness, it doesn’t even use the yolk of the egg, so you have a great excuse to make real custard for your Christmas pudding this year as well. I’m just so in love with these cookies, I made two batches instead of one and intend to extend their seasonal allocation right past Christmas Nibbles on to Spring Snack and Summer Ice-cream Garnish.

A friend gave me lovely gift of fair-trade cocoa and vanilla sugar, which I used to make the second batch. Just too yummy.

basler brunsli 2

The dough can seem a little tricky the first time you make these, not being quite so doughy as crumbly, but just keep the batches you work with small, the rest in the freezer, and keep working the crumble, nutty, chocolatey mass together one cookie at a time if need be.

*note: I used turbinado (Raw) sugar for the top sprinkling because I like the slightly golden colour and the texture, but you can get large sugar crystals in all sorts and colours so don’t feel limited.

**note: for the first batch I used Callebaut Couverture, chopped up and on the second batch I got a little lazy and used Callebaut Choc Chips. I found the chips a little harder than the couverture and ended up having to warm them, along with the cocoa and spices, over a bowl of warm water until just before the chocolate started to melt in order to grind the chocolate up.

***note: if you don’t want to use the alcohol, substitute water or apple juice. Although, the actual alcohol will evaporate during cooking, so it’s perfectly fine for children. Also try using Kahlua for some fun.

basler brunsli 3

Basler Brunsli

250g good dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
2 egg whites
¼ cup icing sugar
3 cups ground almonds
3 Tbsp Brandy or other
Course sugar for sprinkling (about ¼ cup)

– blend the chocolate, cocoa and spices in a food processor until finely ground

– add almonds and mix well

– in a large bowl, whip the eggwhites until frothy. Add the icing sugar in two batches, whipping well between additions, until firm peaks form

– fold in the chocolate-almond mix and the brandy

– form into two logs, wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 mins

– preheat the oven to 325˚F

– working with one batch of dough at a time, sprinkle your pastry board with sugar and roll dough out carefully over sugar until 1cm thick. Cut shapes (traditionally 2″ hearts are used) and place on a cookie tray. Sprinkle each cookie with sugar crystals, pressing slightly on each cookie to embed the sugar a little.

– bake in the oven for 18 – 20 mins

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Christmas Cookie selection

Phew! Finally I can sit down to a nice cup of tea, wipe the flour from my forehead and, more importantly, wash my apron. The poor thing is starting to look more like a piece of modern sculpture than an apron, so covered is it in flour and cookie dough and various bits of other pastry. But what a bake it was! Even though I didn’t get around to making the shortbread I wanted to, or those cheddar and rosemary crackers, my freezer is chock-a-block full of a large enough variety of Christmas Cheer. Enough to make me wonder quite seriously about that gym membership pamphlet the postman so kindly popped through my letter slot this morning. I’ll need a team of hungry elves to get through this lot!

I truly do revel in this time of year, here in the cold, white north. Each season brings its own joys and flavours, but somehow, despite my love of all things fresh in the Summer, and warm in the Autumn, it’s the Winter that puts a smile in my heart. Just put a pot of hot, mulled apple cider on the stove and I’m in heaven. I’ve always been a Winter person, loving, from an early age, the bite of cold on my cheeks and nose, and the burrowing one must do into warm woolens and snuggly sweaters. Thank goodness the somewhat more Winter-weary Mr P puts on a brave and tenacious spirit when ever I want to walk to Destination B instead of taking a warm and comfy street car because I do love a stomp in the snow. It’s the time of the year when any one can act like a child again and not risk immediate institutionalisation.

Christmas Cookie selection 2

I made this year pretty much what I made last year, in terms of cookies, which include traditional seasonal favourites like the somewhat crunchy, somewhat chewy Molasses Spice cookies; Gingerbread men with silver buttons and Royal smiles; peanut butter cookies, perfect with a glass of milk, plus a couple less traditional types like chocolate-orange harlequins, South African Crunchies and Basler Brunsli (which is currently my favourite Christmas treat).

One or two recipes to follow…

xxx

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French Lentils

We haven’t had a housewarming, per se yet. But we decided last week that something was needed to make our house feel like home. And I also needed something to kick start the kitchen a little. A Winter Dinner was quickly put together, some friends asked around and the fire was lit in the hearth. With Winter having arrived a little earlier than I think we were expecting, the meal was warm and comforting, with loads of winter veg and a little bit of chocolatey goodness to help it all along the way. We started off with a Chestnut and Onion Soup, which is a traditional French soup and neither too hearty not too brothy; followed by a main course of Filo baskets filled with Beetroot, Butternut and Onion, topped with a Broccoli and Pepita pesto and accompanied with a variation of the divine Deb’s Curried Lentils and Sweet potatoes and some fresh Cherry Tomatoes. But my favourite bit was, of-course, dessert, as it so very often is. Le Dessert was a miniaturised variation of Nigella’s Nutella cake, topped with a precious marron glacè and swathed in a white chocolate and saffron ganache. Oh, yum. The little cakes were warm from the oven and slightly sticky on the inside. Chocolate heaven. Mmmmm.

An no, I’m afraid I’m not going to give you the recipe’s this time. I have Christmas Stuff to do! My, it’s busy this time of year. Instead, here are some temptingly yummy pictures to water your mouth over a little.

Fireside dinner 1

 

Fireside dinner 1

 

Fireside dinner 3

 

 

 

 

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autumn-move.jpg

If you’re in the same boat as me (and by boat I mean relative age category) you’ll remember the Guns ‘n Roses track “November Rain”. If you were in the Romantic Teenage Angst Boat at the time you’ll no doubt be thinking of the sad “death” of a ravishing Stephanie Seymour and that dress, coveted by teenage girls the world over. Well, I’m a little off topic here, but bare with me. Growing up on the High Veld of South Africa, one could only associate November Rain with that gorgeous rush of a late afternoon thunderstorm, a perfect tribute in the Romantic Mind of an Angst-ridden Teen to the loved-and-lost epiphany of pour ol’ Axl Rose.

It’s only now, in my second November in North America, that I can look back at that video and realise (as one so often does when thinking back to one’s teen years) just how very, very wrong I was. I remember last November in Toronto well: the huddling masses, waiting, shivering and dripping for a tram; the crouching of the pedestrian population into their soggy coats and the squelching of water-ridden shoes and socks. November Rain, it seems, has nothing much to do with passion and glory and the lightening strike of True Love (with an electric guitar). It has to do with endless, grey and sombre days; dripping, sopping, wet days and not enough love to go around.

None of this Novemberness is in anyway helping with my exasperation at not yet being back at my stove. Well, not successfully, in any event. We cooked our first meal last night, with a friend come to visit, and it was a dismal, if laughable, failure. After discovering late in the day that the soup I’d left out to defrost was marked “Country Soup” in my sloppy handwriting, and not “Vegetable Soup” for the simple reason that it had ham in it, and our guest being vegetarian, I rifled in the fridge and settled on making a spinach and mushroom soup with purple potatoes. Sounds yummy, non? And really, how hard could it be? It’s soup! It’s easy! Except, that in my distracted state of being, I doubled the amount of stock in the pot and ended up with a green, watery grave for the potatoes to bob around in. After reducing it for as long as I thought I could get away with, I discovered that the stock, once thus condensed, had turned the soup far too salty. Ah well, at least the sun-dried tomato and herb bread was good.

Oh, patience, Vickers, I keep telling myself. Before you know it all the boxes will be packed away and you’ll be baking batches of biscuits till the cows come home. Le sigh. In the mean time I’ll think back to that time I like to call Before The Rain and a walk I took in the park…

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