Monday, September 29, 2008

Good chocolate

Is there any other kind??? Arguably not. Anti-oxidants galore, all wrapped in mouth-watering, divinely sweet, chocolatey goodness. It was made that way for a reason, so let's vote to remove the luxury tax - it's a necessity, like water or sex.
Which is why, after a helluva long day like today, I needed some. 
These days I measure the productiveness of my weekend by how much really good cooking I've managed, and how well it looks in photographs. This weekend was excellent. Gorgeous weather, blue skies, birds singing, the smell of freshly mown grass and washing on the line. And a great chocolate cake. Bliss. 
I really had my doubts about this recipe because it looked almost too easy, but mostly because it called for melting the chocolate with a minute bit of 
milk. That just turned the whole thing into a fudgy sludge and had me cursing  the waste of 250g decent dark chocolate. (Although I would have rolled it into balls and sold it to Tim as 'truffles' or something of that ilk). 
Surprisingly, the whole thing mixed beautifully, was really simple, and came out perfectly. This cake is deceptively moist, and given that there's not an ounce of butter in it, that's an achievement. Must be the 6 eggs! It means there's no heavy or greasy residue which is a plus. Also, the hazelnut meal works to give it an interesting texture and extra flavour - better than flour. Hazelnuts are like walnuts - not a fan of them au natural, but combine them in any way with chocolate, and they're pretty special.
Time to be healthy...

Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
Wheat & Gluten Free, Jody Vassallo p 87

250g (8oz) dark cooking chocolate chopped
2 tbsp milk
120g (4oz) hazelnut meal
1/2 cup (125g/4oz) caster sugar
6 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 180º (350ºF/Gas 4). Line a 20cm (8in) spring form tin with baking paper.
Put the chocolate and milk into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Stir over medium heat until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
Put the chocolate mixture, hazelnut meal, sugar and egg yolks into a bowl and mix to combine. (I mixed everything except the chocolate mix first, and then combined it)
Whisk the eggs in a clean, dry bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and spoon into the prepared tin. 
Bake for 45 minutes or until firm. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins. Serve with fresh berries. Serves 8. (Or 1 x Tim)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lamington drive

The thought of lamingtons conjurs up memories of the yearly tradition of lamington drives for school, girl's brigade, church fundraisers, senior citizens fundraisers, etc, etc, etc... I'm sure it was even more painful for parents, guilted into buying the dreaded things, and bullied into arriving at the school early on a Saturday morning to take delivery of the un-iced cakes, and spend the day dipping and boxing at the direction of the second grade teacher straight out of uni.
I remember one year, back in the days when primary school children could wander the neighbourhood, safe in the knowledge that as long as parents knew vaguely where you were and you were home by dinner, they wouldn't panic and call a full-scale search, a good friend of mine called Imogen and I set out to sell more lamingtons than any other girls brigader had ever sold in the history of girls brigaders selling lamingtons. We decided that rather than do a half-arsed job canvassing immediate relatives, next door neighbours and our parents friends who would be unable to say no, (lest our parents refuse to buy their kids' fundraising crap) we would launch a well-planned, street-by-street operation in our suburb. I think we were actually trying to knock some leader's pet off their perch, but motive didn't matter because we were raising money for some good, girls brigade approved cause. I have no memory of what that was but I know it didn't directly benefit us - unless you count the glow you get when you sell more lamingtons than anyone else. But anyway...
For two 11 year olds, we were well-organised and strategic. There were clipboards involved, and a map of our suburb, one water bottle (no fear of germs then) and Imogen's bike in case we got tired. I don't really think either of us could read the map, but we had a notion that it was good marketing for adults to see two such organised kids, even if we didn't know what marketing was either. We went on to set some kind of lamington selling record, for the sale of both cream-filled and plain lamingtons - something like 67 dozen from memory. Not bad. It was announced in the church and we were instantly forgiven for annoying far too many innocent citizens.
Anyway, Tim's had a craving for lamingtons lately and has been disappointed with the general standard of pre-packaged, pre-fabbed, pre-flavour offerings at the supermarket. Let's face it, the life of the supermarket lammo starts so long before it ever finds a home that the poor things don't have a chance! Dry sponge that doesn't resemble anything my mother ever made, synthetically flavoured with the sorriest looking coconut clinging desperately to the synthetically coloured chocolate, raspberry (try flamingo pink) or white syruped edges impersonating real icing. It's no wonder that Tim turned once again to the (so far) fail-safe pages of Donna Hay's chocolate book for guidance. (It was her or me and I wasn't in the mood.)
Tim has a theory that lamingtons are made best with slightly stale, day-old sponge. Since we didn't have any of that lying around the house, he bought a sponge cake from the supermarket. Next step, measure it up and square of the corners. Yes, I'm serious. The man had a ruler and other geometrical implements on hand so that his lamingtons would be perfectly cut. (I know) Next came the frosting. It involved A LOT of icing sugar, so he halved the quantities. But basically it's a hot, runny, cocoa icing. Totally idiot-proof. Tim did really well.

Lamington Icing
Donna Hay, Simple Essentials - Chocolate, p40.

3 cups (450g/15 3/4oz) icing sugar, sifted
3/4 cup (90g/3oz) cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup (250ml/ 8fl oz) boiling water
1/4 cup (60ml/ 2 fl oz) milk
75g (2 1/2 oz) melted butter
dessicated coconut, to coat

Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Put the coconut in another bowl. Roll the sponge squares in the icing and then in the desiccated coconut. Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and refrigerate until set.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The problem with brown food...

I really wanted to share this one because it's so delicious and easy and will definitely make the right impression on anyone who isn't a vegetarian. Unfortunately Tim was right! It's REALLY, REALLY hard to photograph brown food and make it look good. (The obvious exception being anything made of chocolate. Let's face it, chocolate on a stick would still make you want to reach for the nearest Lindt ball). Not beef stew.

Still, we pressed on, determined to do this French classic asthetic justice. In the end, after many variations on a theme, and with Tim at his wits end over my obsession for a plate of beef stew, I settled for full frontal beef.

Now about the brown food in question, I attempted another French feast - Beef Carbonnade. It sounds flashy, but really it's beef and onion stew made with beer. Actually it tasted great, but it's just hard to photograph it and make it look anything other than beef stew with mash. Which is really what it is.

Compared to beef bourguinon, this recipe is a doddle. No overnight marinading, bouquet garni, small onions that take forever to peel or any tying up of any ingredients. It's basically beef, beer and onion. Really you just chop it all up, brown it in batches, layer it in a casserole dish and pour a beery mixture all over it. Then into the over for 2-3 hours and you're done.

I think my absolutely favourite thing about this stew, and others like it, is that you can start out with an average cut of meat, and after several hours of cooking in some delicious juices in a slow oven, you have something really special.

Beef Carbonnade
The Food of France, a journey for food lovers, p159, Murdoch Books

30g (1 oz) butter
2-3 tbsp oil
1kg (2lb 4oz) lean beef rump or chuck steak, cubed
4 onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed (but since I don't have a crusher, I finely chopped)
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
500ml (2 cups) beer (bitter or stout. Tim spent some time in NT this year so I opted for VB)
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme

Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF/Gas ). Melt the butter in a large pan with a tablespoon of oil. Brown the meat in batches over high heat and lift out onto a plate. (I didn't cook completely through - literally just brown)

Add another tbsp of oil to the pan and add the onion. Cook over moderate heat for 10 minutes, then add the garlic and sugar and cook for a further 5 imnutes, adding another tablespoon of oil if necessary. Lift the onion out onto a second plate.

Reduce the heat to low and pour in any juices that have drained from the browned meat, then stir in the flour. Rmove from the heat and stir in the beer, a little at a time (the beer will foam). Return to the heat and let the mixture gently simmer and thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Layer the meat and onion in a casserole dish, tucking the bay leaves and springs of thyme between the layers and seasoning with salt and black pepper as you go. Pour the liquid over the meat, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 -3 hours, or until the meat is tender.

The French serve this with croutons - slices of baguette toasted and spread with dijon mustard. Since I can't do baguette, I settled for creamy mashed potatoes. Mmmmmm......

Comfort food at it's best, and excellent the following day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

To market, to market...

It's been a long and cranky week and what I needed this morning to boost my morale was a trip to some decent markets. I grabbed my patient and understanding brother Sam, lured by the promise of a good coffee and home-cooked tasty treats, and off I set.

First stop - Gorman House Markets in the City. Actually, first stop was coffee, but after that we got down to business.

GH has been around for ages, and I've been a seller there a couple of times. It's been a bit of an up and down affair over the years, but these days it's more up than down and actually really pleasant and vibrant. We got there just after opening time so a few people were still setting up and it was a little quiet, but perfect for trawling unhindered by crowds of people. By the time we left - about 10.30am, it was picking up considerably.

Stalls there are mostly vintage clothing, arts and crafts, local produce and international food. I haven't been in ages, but since last time I went, a cake stall has been added in the main courtyard - Amore Cakes? Of course this proved irresistable to me, so over I ventured, a woman with a mission, narrowly avoiding tripping over the dancing child and large Irish wolf hound . I really wasn't in the mood for a gluten free brownie, and I couldn't try the rose-muffins or brioche pudding (which incidentally looked divine) so I settled for a piece of banana-blueberry bread for Tim.

As you can see from my extremely average photo (forgot to take my camera along!!!) a piece of this bread is cut off an served in a great chunk and at $4 it seems like good value. I had the tiniest sliver and it was moist and tasty. Tim might have something to add when he's tried it...

The second good thing I got was home-baked bread. A whopping great multigrain loaf that really looks like a loaf of bread should look. There are two types on offer, the main difference being that one has caraway seeds and the other doesn't. The same lady sells other goodies, as well as some home-grown organic produce.

Gorman House is definitely worth a look. It's open from 10am Saturdays. 

Not satisfied with my purchases, I headed over to the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, on the promise that a shop there sold whole rabbits for the bargain price of 12.99. My mother has been hankering for rabbit for ages, and I've been dying to try my hand at making a French dish involving the little critters.

I found what I was looking for, not at either of the butchers (although I did come away with some very well priced and lean chuck for tonight's effort in French cooking) but at the poultry shop. I bought four, along with a whole duckling (don't worry - it's more the size of a small turkey!!!) for yet another French recipe I want to try.

We also picked up assorted fruit and veg at really good prices, and I was very restrained at the deli. It's easy to get caught up in the colour and theatre that is the heart of any real food market, and I say dive in. It's fun and you'll get much more out of it than supermarket shopping.

Try Fyshwick Markets for more info.

Now I have a lot to work with, so stay tuned for something fabulous and French.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New speed record set!

That's right folks, I set a new speed record when I took my chocolate souffles out of the oven! They fell faster than a euro dropped from the top of the Eiffel Tower. (Not that I've ever tried that. Just sticking to a French theme...)

They may have been a little flatter than I would have liked, but man they tasted goooooooodddd!!! Just ask Tim. I practically had to engage in hand to hand combat once he'd finished his and I still had some left.

I've always wanted to try making a souffle and as the Festival of Tim drew to a close, I decided it was time to try. I'd heard they were difficult to master. It's true. They are. Well sort of. It's not hard to follow all the instructions and put the ingredients together and get it in the oven, but the second I took mine out of the oven, their chocolatey, air-filled walls of tasty goodness deflated, right before my eyes! This made it very hard to photograph.

Undefeated, I intend to keep trying. It's likely this weekend will result in a recipe from a French cook book for zucchini souffle. Actually the photos look divine and I have nothing against zucchini.

Chocolate Souffle
Donna Hay: Simple Essentials - Chocolate, page 80

melted butter for brushing
caster sugar for dusting
150g (5 1/4 oz) dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup (80ml/2 1/2 fl oz) cream (single or pouring)
1/4 cup (30g/1 oz) cocoa powder, sifted
6 egg whites
1/2 cup (110g/3 3/4 oz) caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180º C (350ºF). Brush 4 x 1 cup (250ml/ 8 fl oz) capacity dishes with butter and dust with caster sugar. Place on a baking tray. Melt chocolate, cream and cocoa in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth.

Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add extra sugar and whisk until thick and glossy. Fold a quarter of the egg white mixture through the chocolate mixture. Gently fold remaining egg whites through and spoon into prepared dishes.

Bake for 20 minutes or until souffles are pugged and set. Serve immediately. (I served with whipped cream)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The festival of Tim continues...

Rather than spend hours over a hot stove creating something that would wind up being wolfed down while sitting on the floor, in our trackies, in front of the coffee table, with Tim reading the junk mail and me watching something British on TV, I opted to take him out for his birthday dinner.

But where was worthy of this occasion??? Sabayon, in Canberra's West Row.

We'd been there once before - the night before Tim had to go off on a 5 month posting, a night when we both wound up drunk on emotion and one bottle of red, and a night when his ex-girlfriend who he hadn't seen since the breakup a couple of years before, wound up sitting at the table behind us in full view. Memorable for all the wrong reasons, although I do recall thinking it was a great meal.

This time around was no exception. We opted for the degustation menu, without wine, since we'd already started drinks. There were 5 courses, starting with perfectly cooked scallops, followed by even more perfectly cooked calamari strips on a sweet salad. I was so impressed by this as most places manage to turn out slightly rubbery calamari. This was exquisitely tender and salty. After this, we moved on to a tourine of chicken, pistachio and I think a more gamey meat. Finally for mains, we had the most perfect little piece of beef known to man of beast. This was served with what I can only describe as the most flavoursome mini-meat and potato pie in the universe. I can't explain how good it was - it was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was there! Despite being roughly the size of a 50c piece, it was enough. Any more would have been overkill.

The palate was freshened with a mouthful of mandarin sorbet, which we thought was it. But wait, there's more... A sort of chocolate mousey cake thing with strawberries and vanilla sorbet for proper dessert. Tea and coffee was then served with rosey turkish delight and caramel.

The thing about this degustation is that while everything is in small, and sometimes tiny proportions, it's all the best of the best. I mean, every morsel was carefully thought about and beautifully presented to you at just the right interval, by waiting staff who took care of you without crowding you.

We walked out feeling full and happy. My guess is that we felt so full because of the richness of every course, and because eating at intervals lets your system start to feel the food before you keep going. You don't just wolf down a big plate of whatever, not thinking much about it, and then wonder why you're about to burst.

Without wine cost $65 and with is $95. That might seem pricey but we both felt it was value for money - it's the whole experience you're paying for and well worth it. In fact, stay tuned next month when we will have gone back for another birthday and indulged in the version with wine.

The menu and all the details can be found on the website:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cakes Men Like...

This is from a hysterical book I bought a few years ago called 'Cakes Men Like' by Benjamin Darling. It contains 50 'fun filled recipes' for cakes that promised to make the most untalented housewife a domestic goddess, and thereby fulfill at least half of her matrimonial duty.

The recipes are taken from the promotional blurb produced by baking product manufacturers during the golden era of baking - 30's, 40's & 50's. I've attempted a couple of recipes in the past with mixed success, possibly because in some cases I've had to take a stab at what some of the ingredients actually are.

It's Tim's birthday today and while I'm tempted to make the pink-frosted birthday cake on page 9 that calls for 2 cups of sugar, 3/4 cup of shortening, 5 tsp of baking powder, and some other stuff, (like a trip to the ER when the chest pains begin) I'm going to make chocolate souffle. Tomorrow...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lemons & Limes

I think winter is the season for citrus?  Well anyway, I got my hands on some very nice lemons and limes, and needed something to do with them besides adding them to alcoholic beverages...

Recalling my boss has a penchant for lemon tarts, I searched for a recipe. No, I was NOT sucking up. It just so happens that one of those office morning teas was scheduled, our team had to come up with the goods. You know the type of event I mean - officially for everyone from all departments to chat, meet the newbies, and hear a few choice words from the big boss that are meant to inspire everyone into greater productivity and pride in the work WE do. (There are no 'I's in 'we'). Pointless, except for the food. Which is maybe the point.

What really happens is that the promise of free food brings out more of your colleagues than you knew you had or ever wanted to see, including perpetually perspiring Jeremy from payroll who asks me 'have we met' and what my name is every time I see him, the office shuffler (shuffles between teams, unable to get on with anyone and eventually winding up in a corner somewhere with a lot of plants) and some of the colleagues you wish you'd see more, like the IT guys who are NEVER available when you have a tiny little problems like, I don't know - your whole freaking system collapsing into the blue screen of death!!! Yes, it has been a VERY LONG WEEK. Salvageable only by the last of the Cointreau-soaked strawberries that I reserved for home consumption only. (Jeremy wouldn't have known what hit him).

Bill's Open Kitchen provided the answer - baked lemon lime tart. I thoroughly enjoyed the sliver I found begrudgingly proffered to me towards the end of the event. It really is very, well, 'tart' although not overpoweringly so. Not too sweet and would have gone perfectly with the strawberries and booze. The crust is delicious, although I was cursing it during the making as there are more steps than I counted on, including two sessions of 'chilling' (if only I could have) and rubbing butter that was rather too chilled into the flour (butter can hurt). I wasn't in the mood to suffer for my art so the solution was a few seconds in the microwave.  Also, I used spelt flour and it worked really well. 

Tip: when you blind bake, for God's sake, line the bloody pastry with baking paper before you put your weights, beans, rice or whatever down. I achieved a beautiful crust, but then found myself picking borlotti beans out of the pastry where they'd sunk in. Idiot! Tim offered to help. I refused. I needed to do this myself so that I would never make this mistake again. Ever. 

Baked lemon lime tart with fresh strawberry salad
Bill's Open Kitchen, p 104 Bill Granger

For the filling:
4 eggs
170g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream 
80 ml (1/3 cup) lemon juice
80 ml (1/3 cup) lime juice

Preheat the oven to 160º C (315ºF/Gas 2-3). Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cream then the lemon and lime juices and whisk lightly until just combined. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry shell and bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

For baked sweet shortcrust pastry shell:
250g (2 cups) plain all purpose flour
125 g (1/4 cup) icing sugar
a pinch of salt
180g (6 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
60 ml (1/4 cup) iced water

Place the flour, icing sugar and salt into a bowl and stir to combine. Using your fingertips, rub the butter through until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together in a ball. Shape into a round, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until 3mm (1/8 inch) thick. Press into a greased or non-stick 23cm (9 inch) tart tin ad prick pastry with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200º C (400ºF/Gas 6). Line the chilled pastry with baking paper and add baking weights or rice. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and weights. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Leave to cool.

Of course you could always just buy a pastry shell!

For the strawberry salad, place 250g hulled and quartered strawberries into a bowl with 1 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp Cointreau optional. Bill says the Cointreau is optional. Like hell it is! Ditch the honey and use Cointreau at a 1:1 ratio - 1 tablespoon strawberry, 1 tablespoon Cointreau. Just trust me.

Also serve with thick/double/heavy cream if you want to. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Hallmark holiday bites the dust

This past Sunday was Father's Day - a day like no other. A day when more socks, jocks and Old Spice are exchanged than you can swing a cat at. I have one colleague who bought enough Toblerone to choke a horse (no, Father's Day has not sent me into an animal killing analogy frenzy), and hid it in the filing cabinet for safe-keeping before the big weekend. She was lucky Phil from accounting didn't come around looking for cabcharge receipts or 'dad' would have had to make do with shaving soap and Y-fronts without any real return for looking surprised and grateful on the day. 

Anyway, what I got up to on Dad's Day was making breakfast, which at 10.30am felt better labelled as brunch, but by the time I got to it, it was lunch. And not for my father, but for the adoptive father of my four-legged kid. 

And that leads nicely into the subject of baked egg pots...

I got the idea for these from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' series. I made baked egg pots ages ago and we both really enjoyed them and thought it was a fitting dish for a special Sunday breakfast (I know!).  It's so simple I haven't included a recipe, but instructions on how anyone could do this. This one really is idiot-proof!

First, dig out your ramekins that never see the light of day. Not the tiny ones used for smart dinner parties that hold exactly 2.5 mouthfuls of creme brulee. Ones that hold about a cup (250ml) or so. I have cheery red ones that came out last time I did this. I could tell Tim did the washing on that day. (Why do men not rinse???)

So after washing the ramekins out, I rubbed the inside with olive oil and then coated with polenta.  In the background, a pot was boiling up two medium sized potatoes with which I made up enough mashed potato to fill the ramekins, and moulded a well into each one big enough for an egg. It's kind of cool moulding hot mashed pots into ramekins, fighting against the polenta that will not let anything stick. Very satisfying. 

I then cracked an egg from my lovely mother's chooks into each, sprinkled with a little bit of parsley, salt and coarse black pepper, and put these into a large baking tin with enough water in it to come about 2/3 of the way  up the ramekins. Then into the oven for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Or longer if you like a less runny egg yolk.

I served with some exquisite pork sausages from our local butcher, and some portobello mushrooms that I sauteed with some leek in butter. I know olive oil is much better for you, but butter goes with mushrooms and leeks and it was father's day!!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gnocchi with a difference!

I recently pulled out my volume of Antonio Carluccio's 'Southern Italian Feast.' For me, both the pictures and the recipes in this book conjur up memories of hot afternoons spent in my grandmother's country kitchen, the smell of the bread wafting in from the wood-fired oven and being sent out to pick tomatos, basil or whatever else was needed. The book contains all manner of authentic meals that my own Southern Italian nonna might have made.
A great thing about Southern Italian food is that it is generally pretty simple, seasonal, and full of character and flavour. This is reflected in Mr C's recipes which are generally simple and short. It's a bonus because it keeps the meals authentic, but also allows pretty much any cook, no matter how inept, to make good. It's pretty hard to go wrong as the instructions are clear and there isn't a flowery description in sight!

And now to the gnocchi. If you've always thought that gnocchi is a potato based dish, think again. I've been dying to try an alternative for a while, and turned my hand to 'panelle al forno' or baked chickpea gnocchi.

I was surprised how dead easy and satisfying this dish is to make. It looks impressive too, with very little effort. It basically requires you to boil some water with some salt and fresh parsley, and then gradually whisk in some besan (chickpea) flour. My faithful old whisk died on the weekend so I resorted to sifting it in while whisking with a large fork. This wasn't too bad but I did get some lumps. With the baking, the lumps seemed to disappear, or perhaps we just didn't notice because the gnocchi was so delicious.

I served this with a very simple tomato sauce - softened half a small brown onion in some olive oil along with one clove of garlic, poured in about 500ml pasata and a handful of chopped parsley. I would have used basil if I'd had any, but I think it will be a while before I see anything decent in the shops, and even longer before mine grows. Salt to taste - bear in mind there's plenty of salt in the gnocchi already.

Panelle al Forno
'Antonio Carluccio's Southern Italian Feast' p65

1.5 lt water
15g salt
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
250g chickpea flour
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
50g butter (I used about 20g butter at most. With the olive oil I didn't see the need for more)
40g freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Put the water in a pan with the salt and parsley and bring to the boil. Gradually pour in the chickpea flour, beating vigorously with a wire whisk to prevent lumps forming. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, then pour the mixture on to an oiled surface and spread out in a layer 1cm thick. Leave to cool and set.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C, 400 F, Gas Mark 6

Cut the chickpea mixture into circles 4cm in diameter and arrange them on an oiled baking tray, overlapping them slightly. Dot with the butter and sprinkle the nutmeg, Parmesan cheese and black pepper on the surface. Bake for 10 minutes, then place under a hot grill to brown the top.
Oh, and Mr C encourages you to use the off-cuts in some sauce so as not to waste food!

Seriously, what could be simpler???

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A boulangerie is a bakery specialising in bread, although many these days will double-up as a patisserie. Since this blog is clearly not just about baking, why call it Boulangerie?

Well, when Tim and I spent some time in Paris last year, the boulangerie came to have another meaning for us - it became the place where we got most of our meals.

We struggle with the French language at best, and when asking about a place to eat, Parisians invariably directed us to the nearest boulangerie. This didn't bother me as the visual feast was spectacular and I could always find something to fill the gap, and it bothered Tim even less as he could try anything in the shop, from demi-baguette to pain au chocolat. And he did.

Hence, Boulangerie - a place where we could always find something good to eat.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nigella and I

Nigella Lawson is one of those celebrity cooks that polarizes opinions  - people either love her or don't. I'm one of the lovers. I think what I like about Nigella is that she's a true girly-girl, gorgeous and unabashed, not a professional chef and has a love of food and cooking that not all celebrity cooks/chefs exude.  And yet, I never really got that in to her show. I'm not sure why that was - perhaps tricky scheduling or lack of advertising or whatever, but I certainly love her books. My favourite is 'Feast' and was given to me by my sister and brother a few Christmases ago with a book mark in the chapter entitled 'Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame' and strict instructions that I was to work my way through this chapter for their birthdays.

Well this past weekend was my sister's birthday and I could not disappoint. I looked to Nigella's chocolate indulgences for guidance and decided on the 'old-fashioned chocolate cake.' 

I think when it comes to baking, Nigella makes it simple whenever possible. Simple as in you can do it the long way of whisking butter and sugar and eggs, etc, or you can put the whole lot into a food processor and whizz it all up until it looks like cake batter. I've seen her do this on her show to great success. I did the first, but only because I don't yet have a food processor to call my own.  It was still pretty simple!

Everything went as it was described, but then I was a bit surprised when I pulled the two cakes out of the oven as they looked quite flat, and the cake in the picture seemed a lot bigger. Silly me for doubting her! There is enough chocolate icing to put in the middle and everywhere else and this added significant bulk to the end product. I also thinly sliced up some fresh, sweet strawberries and put them in the middle with the frosting. I did this because I had about three punnets in the fridge I needed to use, (still have two left) but also because the icing is so rich that I felt it needed some freshening or risk people being unable to go on once they hit the centre.  Also, they created a lovely scent. 

Don't do what I did with the icing and be impatient for the chocolate mixture to cool. If you do, you'll have the kind of sloppy mess I first created. I saved it with some extra icing sugar but probably just could have waited for it to cool down a bit more. I live and learn...

All in all, I rate this as a simple cake to make, it turned out like the one in the picture in the book, and it went down really well with everyone. The most frequent comment was 'it's really rich' but that didn't stop people from trying for seconds. I think serving with some fresh cream would also work.

The recipe is below, but I've summarized the instructions into a less flowery form as they go over a page otherwise. 

Old-fashioned chocolate cake
p 269, Feast by Nigella Lawson

For the cake:
200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
40g best-quality cocoa
175g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 tsp real vanilla extract
150ml sour cream

For the Icing
75g unsalted butter
175g best quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
300g icing sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
125ml sour cream
1 tsp real vanilla extract
sugar flowers, optional

Take everything out of the fridge so all ingredients can come to room temp. Preheat oven to gas mark 4/180C and line and butter two 20cm sandwich tins with removable bases. 

Put all the cake ingredients into a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick batter. Or do what I did and take the long road by slowing mixing things in...

Divide the batter into the two tins. Cook for about 35 minutes, although start checking at 25 minutes. You may also want to switch the two tins around halfway through cooking time. 

Remove cake in their tins to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of tins. Don't worry about any cracks as they'll be covered by the icing later.

For the icing: melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way so to avoid burning or seizing. While this is happening, sieve the icing into another bowl. 

Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla, and when combined, add the icing sugar. This can be done in a food processor. 

Sit one of the cakes on plate or stand of your choice, domed side down. Spoon about a third of the icing on to the centre of the cake and spread it until even. Sandwich the other cake on top and spread the rest of the icing on top and over the sides. 

Decorate with little flowers or however.