Monday 31 December 2007

Something Special

When I was little, a year seemed like the longest time in the world. Birthdays and Christmas were particularly elusive, but even something like 'see you in a month' was, to me, the equivalent of, 'NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN, MOO HAR HAR'.

This year seems to have gone bizarrely fast, so I can only conclude that, as a seventeen year old, I'm officially Getting Old.

This was one of the puddings we had for Christmas last week, but it seemed right for a New Year post as there's something very fresh and -- well, Nigella Lawson describes it as 'sing[ing] with springtime and Easter hopefulness'. Alright, so it isn't Easter, but I think the same description applies ( DOES). While my version is a little more ramshackle (it adds charm!) than Nigella's, my coming year will probably be similar, haha.

Lemon Meringue Cake

From Feast by Nigella Lawson

Makes 1 8-inch cake.

125g butter
4 eggs
300g caster sugar
100g plain flour
24g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
zest of 1 lemon
4 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
150ml double or whipping cream
150g lemon curd

1. Preheat oven to 190C (my mother insisted I put it at the top of the Roasting Oven in the Aga, which is why it's burnt on top --ooh, I'm so resentful). Line two 8inch cake tins.

2. Mix the egg yolks, 100g of the sugar, the butter, flour, cornflour, baking powder, bicarb and lemon zest together (in a Kitchen Aid, is the unspoken instruction after this) until pale. Add the lemon juice and milk and mix again. Divide the mixture between the two tins - there isn't a lot of it. Spread & smooth down with a spatula.

3. Whisk the egg whites and tartar until peaks form then slowly whisk in the rest of the sugar. Divide these between the two tins, spreading over the cake batter. Smooth one flat with a spatula, and use the back of a spoon to peak the other. Sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over the peaks and put in the oven for about 20mins.

4. With a skewer, pierce the flat-topped cake to check it's cooked through; no sponge mixture should stick to the skewer. Let both cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack.

5. Nigella says calmly at this point, 'unmold the flat topped one onto a cake stand or plate, meringue side down'. Ignore her; unmolding these buggers is easier said than done without crushing all the meringue - not a problem for the flat one, but definitely for the peaked one. This involved three of us, all with fish slices, to get the cakes unmolded. I hope you have help and fish slices to hand.

6. Whisk the cream until thick but not stiff and set asidde. Spread the flat sponge surface of the first cake with the lemon curd and then spatula over the cream and top with the remaining cake, meringue uppermost.

Ramshackle appearance aside, this cake is beautiful and was a massive hit at Christmas (although I admit I dusted it with icing sugar rather than parade the burnt bits, so I can't exactly say there's a story with a moral or anything coming up). And I think I definitely prefer it to lemon meringue pie, just because it's a bit different, and there's something special about it.

If I was in a cheesy mood, I'd finish with, 'I hope 2008 also has something special in store for you', but that's just a bit vile.

...On the other hand, I'm getting ready to go out for a New Years party, and time is of the essence. I hope 2008 is special for you, all over the place. XD


Wednesday 26 December 2007

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Firstly - I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday!!

We always have the whole extended family over, and since I get on far better with my extended family than my immediate one, a good time was pretty much had by all. I should mention that I got a couple of stunning vegetarian recipe books, so look out for those in the near future ^__^

My mum is famous for her Christmas dinner, so rather than encroach on her noble territory I was head of puddings this year. The temptation to list everything is enormous, but since I begin to feel queasy again if I think about food too much now I'm going to cut straight to... this:

Probably the aesthetic highlight of the meal, although I can't say I'm too into chocolate cake-y things (I prefer both pure chocolate and pure cake; I don't go in for adulterating a good thing XD). Nonetheless, it got rave reviews from everyone who had some, so I recommend it - you can still make it for New Year's Eve!

Since it's unlikely I'll eat anything but leftovers for the next week (or eat anything at all, the way I feel now - about twelve times bigger than usual, for the record), I can guarrantee you'll be seeing more of the Christmas desserts soon XD

Chocolate Christmas Pudding
Good Food Magazine, January 2008 edition
Prep: 40 mins + chilling. Serves 8 (rubbish, it serves twice that, especially at Christmas when everyone's full anyway)

For the sponge:
4 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
50g cocoa
85g butter, melted
50ml espresso with 2 tbsp Tia Maria (none of my family like coffee so I left this out, but added a capful or so of dark rum)

For the mousse:
3 eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
175g dark chocolate
200ml double cream

For the ganache:
142ml pot double cream
100g dark chocolate
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp Tia Maria + 1tbsp espresso (I added rum again instead)

+ some dark & white chocolate to decorate

1. Oven to 200C. Line a 22 x 31cm swiss roll tin with baking paper (we used a tin double this size and I'd recommend it; it makes the sponge thinner but gives you a lot more to work with when it comes to fitting it to the bowl). Tip a tbsp of spare cocoa powder over the tin and turn it to coat it evenly, tapping out the excess.

2. For the sponge, beat the eggs and sugar until thick enough to hold a trail. Fold in flour and cocoa powder, then swirl in the butter and fold through. Tip into the tin, bake for 10mins until just firm, then cool under a clean tea towel. Or perhaps don't.

3. For the mousse, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Melt the chocolate and loosely whip the cream until it just holds its shape. Quickly beat half the cream and all of the chocolate into the egg mix, then gently fold in te rest of the cream. Whisk the egg whites until softly peaked, then fold in.

4. Grease a 1.4 litre/ 2.5 pint basin or bowl with a little oil. Line with cling film, leaving some overhang. Then to build the pudding, cut a circle of sponge to fit the bottom of the basin (we used a large cookie cutter) and fit it in. Then cut about 7 x 10cm sloping rectangles (trapeziums? Man, I always sucked at maths) from the sponge and fit them tightly around the bowl. Sprinkle with the rum (or coffee/Tia Maria).

5. Fill the bowl halfway with mousse and use what's left of the sponge to top the mousse with a snug-fitting circle of cake. Spoon in the rest of the mousse then cover with the overhanging cling film. Chill for at least 4 hrs till firm (we left it overnight) then turn onto a plate.

6. For the topping, heat all the ingredients gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally, until thick and glossy (MAKE SURE IT'S THICK ENOUGH TO SPREAD PROPERLY! The worst thing would be to be too quick over it and have it run everywhere. For probably the first time in my life I actually had some patience, and left it until it was almost set). Spread over the turned out pudding in lovely swirls.

Good Food's helpfulness runs short on decorating, but you can make chocolate curls using a potato peeler against the long side of some white or dark chocolate. What looks best, however, is to make caraque (the long ones) - to do this, I melted a few squares of chocolate (white looks best, but I did a bit of both) in a bowl and then spread it over an acrylic chopping board and left it in the fridge until it had set. Then use a sharp knife and pull it over the set chocolate towards you slowly, and you should get long chocolate curls coming off. This is what the Parragon book 'Chocolate' tells me, anyway; I had trouble with it, which is why my caraque are pretty crap.


...Aaah, come on, it looks like a giant truffle! It's like chocolate, but in GIANT form!

I can't be the only person who gets excited over this sort of thing.

Thursday 20 December 2007

Glad Tidings?

I'm not exactly organised with Christmas this year. I'm not exactly organised with ANYTHING this year, least of all blog posts. So I don't really come bearing tidings of great joy or anything like that.

The stained glass window biscuits above are part of the presents I gave to my friends this year (we broke up from school yesterday), but I'm not going to give you the recipe for several reasons:

1. I don't actually know if they taste very nice. They're edible, and very pretty, but their taste is pretty... meh. This is lost on festive teenagers, so I don't feel guilty about palming them off on my friends

2. It's not a very exciting recipe. In fact, if you want to make these, just use a normal shortbread or sugar cookie recipe or whatever, and cut down the sugar a bit. These don't have much sugar in at all because of the sweet in the middle.
3. I was spectacularly unsuccessful at making these (example: I burnt the first batch cause I'd deviated from the recipe and not allowed for it, and I fell over the dog when getting the third batch out of the oven and dropped half of them. I then had to eat them, because I can never bring myself to throw food away. This is not a good recipe for hygeine or obesity).

All you have to do is cut the cookie dough into whatever shape you like and use a very small cutter (or the wrong end of a piping thingy, if you want them to be circular) and put half a boiled sweet (I used Fox's) in the gap. Bake them for however long (don't ask me...) and let them cool COMPLETELY on the tray before you lift them off, so that the sweet has set.

Likewise, these are not tremendously original - they're just regular shortbread (240g or 80z butter and flour each, and 60g or 2oz sugar) but I added some cinnamon, mixed spice and orange zest to make them a bit Christmassy. I also sprinkled a little caster sugar over the top once they'd come out of the oven and were still warm, to make them a bit sparkly. These are going to be for my cousin, since I only ever buy him food anyway.

Presents left to buy: 7
Days til Christmas: 5
Heart attack: impending.

Sunday 9 December 2007

SHF#1: God Save The Queen!

I'd been at a loss for what to post up here next last week, mostly because I was away for half of it (a university interview in Oxford ^__^), and on my return we survived a few days on meals hauled out of the freezer and such. But then I got an email from Zorra about this month's Sugar High Friday, with its pudding theme.

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

I had one of those moments. That vision-of-sugar-plums moment where my eyes glaze over and I start drooling with anticipation.

Pudding is one thing I can do.
Alright, so France has its patisseries, and America has pumpkin pie, but in Britain, if something's thick and stodgy and sits in your stomach for about a week since you ate it? We're good at that. So I went through the stack of recipe books at the end of my bed (I have no shelf space to put them on, so I hide them under my duvet when the cleaner comes) to find a quintessentially British pudding.

Within about a minute I'd found at least three recipes for Queen of Puddings, and my mind was made up.

I love the Queen. It's one of those things. Immediately upon entering my room you see this poster on the end of my desk, and at school we can't go a day in the Common Room without drinking a cup of tea 'to the Queen!' In fact, just to reinforce my point - about an hour ago I got a text from my friend Ed Philip adressed to me Elizabeth, signed 'HRH', which made me laugh no end.

So since this is my very first blogging event, I'm hoping the Queen is on my side ^__^

To make this pudding my own I combined about three similar recipes I came across and changed the base a bit- usually it's just white breadcrumbs, milk and caster sugar, but I made it into a chocolate affair and replaced the raspberry or strawberry jam layer with black cherry. This is also generally made in a large dish but I made it in individual ramekins for a bit of a change =]

Chocolate Queen of Puddings

50g dark chocolate
400ml milk
2 heaped tbsp drinking chocolate powder (cocoa powder would also work, but we had none in, and you'd probably need to add more sugar if you used it)
80g breadcrumbs (usually they'd need to be white, but with this being a chocolate version I don't think it matters)
25g + 100g caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
4tsp black cherry jam

1. Oven to 180C. Break up the dark chocolate and melt it in a saucepan with the milk and drinking chocolate until it has melted and all combined together.

2. Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl with 25g caster sugar and pour the chocolate milk over it. Mix well and leave to soak for about half an hour, then beat in the two egg yolks. Divide between four ramekins and bake for 30 mins, or until firm.

3. Whisk the two egg whites in a large clean bowl into soft peaks. Gradually, whisk in the 100g of caster sugar to make a thick, glossy meringue.

4. Spread a heaped teaspoon of black cherry jam over the top of each dish of baked chocolate mixture, then pipe or spread the meringue over the top of that (I used a flat knife to twist it into peaks). Return to the oven for 10-15 mins (mine took 12) until the meringue is crisp and golden.

Excuse the poor photography D= My camera's being even more temperamental than usual, and the terrible weather (meaning bad lighting) doesn't help much. Though probably the real problem is more about the person behind the camera... X__X