Category Archives: Desserts

Speculoos and dark chocolate bread and butter pudding

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Along with the sugar, milk, spices and chocolate, this recipe contains a story. Stories are fun. I like happy ending stories. Ones that leave me satisfied and induce a warm, fluffy feeling: Serotonin boosters. I can tell you’re in need of such a story to help you escape this grey mood of January and immerse you in a literary hug of caramelised sugar and custardy soft bread.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Once upon a time there lived a little girl who loved nothing more than those little burnt caramel ‘coffee biscuits’ that accompanied her parents’ drinks on holiday. She dreamt of a day when she could buy a whole box and eat them all day long. But as she grew older the dream faded and she became sad. The reality that they only came in individual packets hit her.  It hit her hard.

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Then one day, as she skipped down the aisles of Mr Sainsbury’s shop, a packet caught her eye. She had never seen something so beautiful. It almost glowed. As she stood on her tiptoes, reaching it down from the top shelf, she struggled to control her excitement. Was this what she thought it was? After all those years of sorrow, was this the multipack of her dreams? It was indeed.

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Time went on and she came to learn the biscuit’s name: Speculoos.  She found they were originally made in the Netherlands for St. Nicholas’ Feast. As she discovered more she started to dream bigger dreams. What recipe opportunities would this open up? As if her dreams had come true, her Fairy Godmother posted a recipe using such biscuits. There was just one difference: she used Speculoos spread.*

*For those not familiar with this, imagine smooth peanut butter but replace the peanuts with biscuits. Oh America, you’ve outdone yourself.

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The now not-so-little girl started investigating this phenomenon and found dear Mr Sainsbury also stocked such a spread. She purchased it with the beans her mother gave her and spent the next month crafting a recipe she could call her own.

And this, dearest friends, is where the story ends.

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This pudding is like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother to leftovers. It transforms dry, stale bread into the most beautiful winter warmer; full of oozy chocolate, custard with a hint of spiced rum, and a crunchy caramelized topping – it’s as if the Princess herself was in the pudding. But that would be carnivorous and weird. Forget I ever said that…

Speculoos and dark chocolate bread and butter pudding
Adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe

9 slices of thick, stale white bread
1
/2 jar of Speculoos caramelised biscuit spread
25g dark chocolate cut into small pieces – ideally 75-85% cocoa solids
3 eggs
20g light brown muscovado sugar
2 x 15ml tablespoons dark rum*
125ml double cream
500ml full-fat milk
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
3 tsp. Demerara sugar
5 Speculoos biscuits

*although it may not appear to be that important, this is a key ingredient that completely alters the taste. Do try not to sub it out.

Lightly grease a pie dish with butter. Take your stale bread slices,  remove the crusts, and cut each slice diagonally into 2 triangles. Spread one side of each slice with the biscuit spread and layer the triangles in the dish. Sprinkle the chocolate pieces over the bread.

Whisk together the eggs, light brown sugar, rum, double cream, milk, cinnamon and ginger. Pour this mixture over the bread pieces and leave the whole dish to soak for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to Gas mark 3/ 170°C.

After the pudding has soaked for the full time, sprinkle it with the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 50 minutes–1 hour.  Once cooked it will have puffed up a bit and have a very slight wobble in the middle. Crush the Speculoos biscuits in your hands and sprinkle over the top of the pudding. Let the dish stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

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Baked cherry and amaretti cheesecake

How was your bonfire night? The best night of your life? No? Then please accept my sincerest apologies. I was going to do a fun bonfirey, toffee appley, let’s whip out the sparklers and blow your taste buds off kinda post. It would have transformed your Tuesday.

Then I went to New York.

Before I knew it Tuesday was upon me and Mr Fawkes was giving me that ‘I’m disappointed in you’ look – you know, the one your mum gives you when she comes in to find you watching Made in Chelsea instead of unloading the dishwasher as you’d promised.

Please don’t subject me to that look too. I’m sorry it’s been at least 3 weeks, and that you didn’t experience the bonfire magic you could’ve done and that that’s my fault. Please say you’ll forgive me? What if I bribe you with cheesecake?

New York = cheesecake, right? Whilst in the Big Apple we indulged in the biggest piece I’ve think ever seen. Think cartoon cheese wedge proportions. It could’ve easily fed a family of 5. It fed a family of 3. I wish I had photographic evidence to show you.

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Now there’s one thing I want you take away from this post if nothing else. Even if you hate cheesecake, never read another post, and pretend we were never friends, note this: Frozen cherries are incredible. Why? Let me spell it out:
– They’re pitted so you’ll never have to navigate your way around those awkward stone-spitting shenanigans again. It’s over.
– Pop them in the microwave for a minute and Bingo! You have fresh berries in the middle of winter, that haven’t travelled all the way from Africa. Food miles and all that.
-They’re super tasty with yogurt and granola or just eaten frozen out the bag. And they dye your lips red. What’s not to love?

Oh, and they’re amazing in cheesecake.

Baked cherry and amaretti cheesecake
Serves 10
100g digestive biscuits
100g amaretti biscuits
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. salt
80g unsalted butter, melted
750g cream cheese
170g caster sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
300ml sour cream
2 tbsp. plain flour
300g frozen cherries – I use Sainsbury’s Dark Sweet ones

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/160°C. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until they’re a chunky dust. Add the melted butter and almond extract and blitz again until mixed through. Press the buttery crumbs into the base of your tin and refrigerate.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer until combined. One at a time, beat in the eggs, followed by the lemon zest, juice and sour cream. Sieve in the flour and mix until smooth. Avoid over-mixing it otherwise it’s likely to rise and crack. Add the frozen cherries and pour the mix over the set biscuit base. Bake for 70-80 minutes – until firm but the centre trembles slightly when tapped.

Turn the oven off but leave the tin inside with the door slightly open until the cheesecake is completely cool. Take out of the oven, remove from the tin and top with additional defrosted cherries and crushed amaretti biscuits. It’s best eaten the same day although will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

Coffee and walnut Saint Honoré

Verb: Patisserie crawl
An activity in which a group of people will try to visit as many patisseries as possible in one day, consuming at least one item from each  destination.

Yeah, you heard that right. Like a pub crawl, but subbing the beer for cake. Genius idea, you say? You saw it here first. After inventing the concept earlier this year I’ve indulged in two so far, in London and Paris, and they have by far exceeded the hype I created in my head. How have you not been on one yet?!

We consumed macarons in an array of flavours and colours (butter caramel was my personal favourite, although my friend’s melon one was mighty fine), visited Maison Bertaux for chocolate mousse cake, stopped off at Konditor and Cook for a flamingo cake, went to Patisserie Belle-Epoque, had a white chocolate and raspberry mousse and meringue cake at Angelina’s (Paris’s answer to the Ritz), scoffed pastries at Paul’s, dined on rose-brioche, ate a passion fruit cheesecake bombe and a large raspberry macaron sitting outside the Louvre. And then there was Ladurée… Oh, Ladurée… Where do I start?! It’s not just a patisserie, it’s an experience. They manufacture a buzz by having queues out of the doors, fancy décor and beautiful packaging. But amongst all this hype, their cakes still shine through . We ate our London purchases sitting on the pavement with a plastic fork (classy, I know) and they were still incredible.

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On top of the extraordinary number of calories gained, belts loosened and glasses of water drunk, I gathered a HUGE amount of inspiration and ideas to try out. This Saint Honoré is inspired by the classic  Ladurée version I ate in Paris.

Wikipedia is pleased to tell you that the cake’s named after the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs – you’ll never guess what his name was. It usually consists of a puff pastry base, covered in hard caramel and topped with choux buns, also dipped in caramel. The gaps between the buns  are then filled with ‘Honoré cream’ – crème pat with added cream or egg whites.

Now I hope Mr Honoré won’t mind, but I subbed a coffee macaron inthe place of his beloved puff pastry. Reason? I strongly dislike making puff pastry and I strongly like making macarons.

I’ve added coffee and walnuts because, well, I thought it would be really nice. Sorry, there’s no fun story behind that but we’re honest around here. Like how we’re honest about eating 6 pieces of cake for lunch yesterday. Or that the reason the ratio of granola to raisins in the cereal box is 1:6 is because for the past 5 days we’ve picked out all the raisins from our bowl and put them back in the box. Well, if you will insist on buying the one with raisins…

Coffee and walnut Saint Honoré

Coffee Macarons
60g (about 2 eggs worth) “aged” egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar, lemon juice or white vinegar
12g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
120g icing/powdered sugar
2 tsp. cooled espresso

Choux buns
65ml milk
50g butter
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tbsp. caster sugar
75g plain flour
2 eggs

Caramel
80g caster sugar
1½ tbsp. cold water

Coffee Chantilly cream
300ml double cream
3 tsp. cooled espresso
2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

50g chopped walnuts

First make the macarons: Take a sheet of baking paper large enough to fit your baking tray and, using a pencil, draw  four 10cm circles 5cm apart across the sheet.
Place the walnuts on a baking tray and roast for around 10 minutes on Gas mark 3.

Using an electric whisk (or a conventional whisk if you really fancy a workout), whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/white vinegar and continue to whisk until they hold really stiff peaks but don’t ‘break’. Whisk in the caster sugar to make a stiff peaked meringue, then in three additions gently fold in the icing sugar and ground almonds, using careful cutting motions to ensure most of the air’s kept in. Follow this by folding in the cold espresso.

Take a piping bag with a 1/2 inch nozzle and fill it with the mixture. Using your circles as a guide, pipe 10cm wide circles onto the baking paper, piping in a spiral from the outside in. Gently tap each tray on your work surface to release any air bubbles that can ruin the final appearance. Leave your macarons on a flat surface for 40-60 minutes until their surfaces have formed a tacky skin. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4/180°C. Place each tray into the oven to bake for about 16-20 minutes or until you can just about separate the macarons from the baking paper. If they leave behind their middles they’re not yet ready. Leave them to cool on the trays and then remove to a cooling rack using a spatula.

For the choux buns preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/180º and place a baking pan ½ filled with hot water in the bottom of the oven. Place the milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Add the butter, 125ml water, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, ‘shoot’ in all the flour at once and mix quickly with a wooden spoon until all the flour’s disappeared and the pastry leaves the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a minute, continuing to stir. Whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl and then beat them into the batter a little at a time until the paste becomes smooth and shiny. Spoon the choux pastry into a piping bag with a large, plain nozzle and pipe into 2.5cm wide rounds onto a greased baking tray. Smooth the tops of the buns with a wet finger and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Once cooked, remove them from the oven and, using a knife or skewer, poke a hole in the bottom of each bun (this releases the steam trapped inside that can cause them to go soggy) and leave to cool on a drying rack.

For the caramel, place the sugar and cold water in a heavy bottomed pan over a low heat. Melt gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once no granules remain, increase the temperature and simmer, without stirring, until a golden amber colour – watch it like a hawk as it will turn from a nice amber to a burnt dark brown very quickly. Lay a piece of baking paper on a surface and, being very careful not to get any caramel on your fingers, dip the top of each choux bun into the caramel. Place the caramel covered top directly onto the baking paper and leave to cool. Once cooled, peel the choux buns off the paper and set aside. Pour the additional caramel onto the bottom of each macaron and spread evenly (you may need to reheat the caramel over a gentle heat if it’s started to set). Take the roasted walnut pieces and tip into any remaining caramel in the saucepan, stir and spoon out onto a piece of greaseproof paper to cool.

For the Chantilly cream, tip the double cream, icing sugar, coffee and vanilla into a bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Using a small, plain nozzle pipe the cream into the middle of each choux bun through the hole you created earlier.

To assemble your Saint Honoré, place each macaron, bottom up, on a plate and top with 4-5 choux buns arranged in a circle on the outer edge, caramel side up. Using a large star nozzle, pipe the remaining cream between each choux bun from the outer edge to the middle, adding a swirl on the top. Break up the walnut praline into small pieces and scatter over the top of your creation. Voilà. You, my friend, are basically a Parisian patissier.

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Top of the pots

When faced with the challenge of baking anything (and I mean anything) as long as it contains crème patissiere and summer fruits, what would you do? Make list after list of every summer fruit you can think of (yes, lychees included)? Doodle tart shapes on your chemistry notes and attempt to disguise them as atomic structures when your teacher notices? Drive yourself mad making 8 different flavours of crème pat’ and find they’re all ok…ish? Feel like a pro when you produce PowerPoint mood boards? Yeah, welcome to my world.

Having made it through to the semi-final of the Cambridge Bake-off this was exactly the challenge I faced.  After days of going back and forth I went back to basics. Going back to basics is always a good call. Try it sometime.

What shouts ‘summer fruit’ more than strawberries? It isn’t summer in my house until the first home-grown strawberries have been eaten. But instead of going down the classic clichéd strawberry tart/cake/meringue route I really did go back to basics. I’m talking about the soily, leafy, still in the ground kinda basics.  Go with it, this will make sense in a minute.

Crushed Oreos look surprisingly like soil. Fact.

Strawberry flowers are super pretty AND you can eat them. It baffles me why they don’t get the attention they deserve.  I guess life’s not fair.

Mini terracotta plant pots make brilliant tart tins. Cooking in terracotta’s cool. It’s like the most basic of basic: Caveman style basic.

Pastry plant pots filled with strawberry compote and chocolate crème pat’, sprinkled with Oreos and topped with strawberries, flowers and mint leaves became the way forward.

Strawberries made friends with raspberries when they became the compote. Raspberries brought a little tang that helped show the chocolate off in all its glory.

Crème pat’ has this scary hype around it. Don’t be scared. Take it on with all you’ve got. You’ll soon find it’s really not that creamy demon you first thought. Just whisk it like a chocolate biscuit. Ok, too far, sorry.

Dark chocolate and strawberry plant pots
Makes 10 pots

Sweet pastry plant pots
165g plain flour
90g cold unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1/3 tbsp. cold water
extra flour to dust surface
egg white to stick pastry together
10g chocolate to coat insides

Dark chocolate crème patissiere
375ml whole milk
85g dark chocolate
5 egg yolks
75g light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp. cocoa
3 tbsp. cornflour
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Strawberry and raspberry compote
340g strawberries + 15 strawberries for decorating
110g raspberries
4 tbsp. light brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 packet of crushed Oreos
A handful of strawberry flowers
A handful of mint leaves
10 mini terracotta plant pots – mine are 57mm x 50mm

Cover the outside of your plant pots with tin foil. Do not press the tin foil too tightly around the pots or it will stick when you try to get your cooked pastry out.

Rub the flour and icing sugar into the butter until they resemble fine breadcrumbs with no large lumps. Using a blunt knife, stir in the egg yolk and ¾ of the water until it comes together as a dough, being careful not to over work it. Add the extra water if required. Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. If you want to do this part ahead of time it will last in the fridge for up to a week.

Cut all the strawberries into roughly 1cm2 pieces and place ¾ of them in a medium saucepan with the raspberries and heat until they start to produce juice. Then add the lemon juice and brown sugar and cook down for about 5 minutes until the fruit is soft and jammy. Stir in the vanilla and then add the water and cornflour mixture and stir until no cornflour is visible. Boil for a few minutes to rid the compote of its floury taste. Stir in the left over ¼ of uncooked strawberry pieces and pour into a bowl to cool.

And now it’s crème pat’ time. Oh yeah. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks, flour, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and cornflour until the mixture is really smooth. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put to one side. Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat until steamy. Don’t boil it. Mix the melted chocolate into the warm milk and take off the heat. Pour ½ of the warm chocolate milk into the egg and flour mixture and whisk continuously until smooth. Return the egg and chocolate mixture to the rest of the milk and place back on the heat. Whisk the mixture continuously until it becomes really thick and custard like. Pour into a bowl and cover the top with cling film, pressing it onto the crème pat’s surface to avoid it forming a skin.

Preheat your oven to Gas mark 4/180°. Take your pastry out of the fridge and roll out to about ½ cm thick. Using a small round cookie cutter (the size of your pot’s base) cut out 10 circles of pastry. Press these onto the base of each of the pots. Use a sharp knife to cut a strip long enough to fit around the outside of your pots and wide enough to reach ¾ of the height. Roll your pot along the strip, attaching the edge to the base as you go. Cut another strip to act as your pot’s lip, egg washing the edge and similarly rolling the pot along, attaching to the pot as you go. Place your pastry-covered pots on a tray, base up, and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a baking tray. Remove pots from their pastry case by unwrapping the foil and twisting the pots gently.

Melt the chocolate left for coating and brush the inside of each pot to ¾ of the way up. Leave to set and then half fill each pot with strawberry compote, before topping with chocolate crème pat’ to within 5mm of the top lip of the pot. Sprinkle the surface with crushed Oreos and decorate with strawberries, strawberry flowers and mint leaves to your heart’s content.

Many thanks to Ashley from Groover Photography, https://www.facebook.com/GrooverPhotography?fref=ts for the use of the title photograph taken at the Cambridge Bake-off.

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