Friday, 26 May 2017

Pistachio, White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake

Do you remember the Blue Peter children's programme phrase: "here's one I made earlier", accompanied by the production of some incredibly complicated thing made out of a cereal packet?   I was scrolling through my photos of cakes, wondering how on earth I had made (and eaten) quite so many, when I came upon this one.   I think I made it a couple of years ago for Camp, and it didn't last long enough for me to remember it very well (and the clue is the paper plate for easy transportation).   Which is extraordinary, as it is a really delicious cake!

Chetna Makan got into the British Bake Off final, and she is clearly a highly talented cook, using a multitude of flavours.  I was attracted to this one because I simply adore pistachios...  Chetna, I have borrowed from your column in the Sunday Times shamelessly, but you are so worth it!

Pistachio, White Chocolate and Cardamom Cake

Pistachio, Cardamom and White Chocolate Cake

8oz/225g softened butter (Chetna used unsalted)
8oz/225g caster sugar
4 large fresh eggs
8.5oz/250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed to a fine powder
3.5 fl oz/100ml milk
2oz/50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
2oz/50g white chocolate chips

6oz/150g white chocolate
6oz/150g softened butter (again, Chetna used unsalted)
6oz/150g sieved icing sugar (absolutely necessary or you get lumps)
Few drops of vanilla extract
Handful of pistachios, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180 deg C, and line two 8” loose bottom sandwich tins with parchment (or spray with a “cake release” agent), and grease the sides.

In a food processor or Kenwood, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (called “creaming”).  Add the eggs, beating after each one (and add a tablespoon of the flour as well to stop the eggs from curdling).  Add the rest of the flour, baking powder, cardamom and milk.  Beat for 1 minute until the mixture is light.   Use a spatula and fold in the nuts and choc chips.  Divide between the tins and cook for 25-30 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven) until risen and golden brown.  To test, the cake should have come away from the edges slightly, and if you put a (heated) knife or skewer into the middle, it will come out clean.   Leave the cakes to cool in the tin. 

Melt the chocolate, either in a microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Cool slightly, then beat the butter and icing sugar in a food processor, adding melted chocolate and vanilla extract.   Sandwich the middle section together using half of the icing.  Then, use a flat bladed knife to add the icing top (it helps to have a mug of boiling water handy to wash the knife).  Decorate with the chopped pistachios.  

Chetna says this cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

Somebody told me about the wonderful combination of the smooth crème brulée with a hint of tart rhubarb at the end, and I just had to try it.   Reader, I married him.    Yes, it was truly amazing, and I'm not sure I'll find it easy to go back to the original version!    I wasn't sure if the rhubarb mixture would stay at the bottom of the little dishes, so I popped them into the freezer for a bit just to give it the best chance.   I left one out, as a control, but then it was impossible to tell, so it must work both ways.

One of my darling sons has given me a cook's blowtorch, so I can now do the professional top to the brulée.   It does make a difference - maybe that's one for the Christmas list?

On a recent trip to France, my husband and I tried several different crèmes brulées, and there was a lot of variation there, including a hot one with alcohol as a finisher.  Hmmm....

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

Rhubarb Crème Brulée

8oz/220g pink rhubarb
2tbsp jam sugar (or granulated)
2tbsp water

4 egg yolks
2oz (50g) caster sugar 
600ml (20 fl oz) double cream
half a vanilla pod

Caramel:   2oz caster sugar and a little water
6 little ramekin dishes (actually, about 7 because the rhubarb takes up some space)

Cut the rhubarb into 1/2"/1cm pieces and arrange in a single layer in a saucepan, sprinkling over the sugar and adding the water.  Simmer gently until soft.  Mash up so that it is not a paste, but still has some little chunks.  Divide it between the 6 dishes and allow to cool (or put in the freezer for 20 minutes).

Boil a kettle of water (I always forget this bit).... and heat the oven to about 140-150 deg C.   Heat the double cream in a saucepan over a low heat, scraping in the seeds from the vanilla pod, plus the pod itself.      Meanwhile, mix the yolks and sugar together.  When the cream is at blood temperature, pour it (minus pod) over the yolks/sugar and whisk gently until well mixed.   

Pour the crème into six ramekin dishes, over the back of a spoon so as not to disturb the rhubarb, and place the dishes in a roasting tin containing enough boiling water to come at least half way up the sides.   Bake for about an hour until the mixture is set but not coloured (better that than runny though!).    Remove from the water, and allow to cool.   

If you have a cook's blowtorch, sprinkle 1tsp caster sugar over each little dish and then torch it until it has caramelised. 

If not, over high heat, melt the caster sugar with a little water, stirring until it boils, and then watch it until it turns brown and caramelises.  Carefully (it is HOT), pour evenly over the ramekins and allow to cool.   

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons

In the interests of my blog followers, I sometimes make experimental food and test it on my fellow Reservists.   We've just spent a fabulous long weekend in France, visiting the memorials to the SOE Agents in World War II, bringing a couple of veterans with us.   It was deeply moving, and makes me realise how lucky we are today, thanks to the sacrifices made by those who gave up their lives for freedom in the war.

There was the challenge of getting down to the Loire area, and the coach journey was long (actually, interminable, owing to the driver opting for a scenic tour of Paris!).  However, it proved the perfect test-bed for these macaroons, as they were created with the needs of our gluten and dairy free members in mind.   By the time we arrived, there were but crumbs in the bottom of the box, so they must have been edible!

Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons
Pistachio, Almond and Orange Macaroons

1 egg white
3 ½ oz/100g caster sugar
1oz/25g pistachio nuts (shelled)
1oz/25g ground almonds
½ tsp orange essence
flaked almonds
small quantity egg white for glazing

Line 1-2 baking sheets with silicone paper/parchment (it has to be non-stick: I learned this the hard way!), and preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

Grind the pistachios in a blender until they are fine, adding the ground almonds at the last minute.  There’s no need to blitz them to a powder, as I think a slight crunch tastes better.

Whisk the egg white until stiff, and fold in the ground nuts, caster sugar and orange essence.   Put dessertspoonfuls of mixture onto the paper, allowing room to spread (about 6 per tray).   Drop a few flaked almonds on each, then use the pastry brush dipped in egg white to simultaneously glaze the macaroons, press them down and make the almonds stick.    

Bake for about 10-15 minutes until just beginning to colour.  When you take them out they will be squidgy, but leave them on the parchment and they will stiffen.    They keep quite well in a tin.