February 11, 2013
Just as I get all enthused about writing my blog again, I come down with a bout of flu on a par with the bubonic plague (without the dodgy armpit sores, thanks be…) (is it okay to talk about armpit sores on a food blog?).
After six days in bed, and more time off work than is good for my bank balance, I’m downright desperate to be back to fiddle-like fitness.
The worst thing about all this is the complete lack of interest I’ve had in food. I’m sure a lot of it is thanks to my tastebuds dying a death – when food becomes nothing but texture and consistency, well, Michel Roux could be standing over me with the finest coq au vin and it might as well be a Findus frozen lasagne.
So, while I await the return of my taste and energy levels, here’s one I made earlier…
My friend Marian is one of my biggest fans. She’s always going on at me to enter The Great British Bake Off, or make her a cake, or set up my own cafe, or make her another cake.
Now, as much as I (normally) like eating, I think baking a cake for someone else is right up there at the top of my list of pleasurable activities. So when Marian asked me to make a birthday cake for her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago, I… actually, that’s a lie. She didn’t ask at all. I told her I was making it, and that was that.
The boyfriend, I was informed, was a fan of carrot cake and chocolate cake. And, as I am most definitely not a fan of carrot cake (and what’s the point of making cake you can’t enjoy yourself), chocolate it was.
A few years ago, I made a chocolate and orange marble cake for Little Sis’s birthday that had both looked and tasted great. Cutting open the cake to see swirls of chocolatey and orangey sponge gives it quite a professional look – even though it’s actually really simple to make. The recipe is from Leith’s Baking Bible, which is a must-have book for anyone who makes cakes regularly.
All you do is make a traditional sponge batter, split the mixture in two, then add orange zest to one half and cocoa powder to the other.
Then place alternate spoonfuls of the mixtures into your tin until it’s all in. Roughly smooth the top, then get a clean knife and slowly draw a spiral from the centre of the batter outwards. Just the once. This will combine the two batters just enough to create a great marble effect once cooked.
Cooking this cake, I came to the realisation once and for all that my oven is pretty damn efficient. Maybe a little too efficient. Hence the great crater in the top. Next time, I’ll remember to turn the temperature down a wee bit. But luckily for this cake, it was being iced, so I could disguise the slight amateurishness of its appearance.
The Leith recipe also suggests sprinkling grated chocolate on top, which is okay, but I think random little chippy bits of chocolate doesn’t always look that great. I thought I’d attempt some proper curls for this one, and while researching the best way to do it, came across a fantastic tip. Instead of all that faff with melting the chocolate, pouring it onto a sheet, cooling, scraping etc etc etc – you do it with a vegetable peeler!
As long as the chocolate is properly room temperature (if it’s too cold, the curls just shatter), and you hold it over the cake so you don’t need to try and pick them up, it really does the trick to great effect. As you can see here…
The cake went down very well, although I’m not sure the boyfriend was too keen on half a Peckham pub singing him happy birthday in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. But hey, you want cake? You have to sing – or at least be sung to – for it.
January 18, 2013
Unbelievably, it has been nearly three years since I packed away my London flat, stacked up all my boxes in a storage unit in Brighton and strode off into the Turkish sunset. The sunset scenario didn’t exactly work out, and it’s taken me a while to find my feet again, but finally, I’m back on solid ground, in a lovely flat, with a lovely flatmate, and most excitingly, have all my wonderful kitchen things out of storage and back in their rightful place – in the kitchen.
I’ve been thinking about my blog and how to restart it for a long time now, and have made a few attempts at getting it going again. I’m not sure why, when I have such a great kitchen to cook in now, I’ve been feeling so blocked when it came to writing about my food again. But I’ve decided that, rather than making a big song and dance about it, I’m just going to slide gently back into the blogosphere and hope that a few people join me along the way.
Now, take that look off your face. They’re not just what your granny eats to keep herself regular, okay? I admit that in my childhood they had all the allure of a dose of Benylin. But, due to the current popularity of Middle Eastern and north African food (thanks, Moro and Ottolenghi), prunes are fast becoming a store-cupboard staple in my home.
In fact, the reason I had a rather large tub of them in my fridge was because I’d used them in an Ottolenghi recipe for osso bucco with prunes and leeks. And the only prunes I had been able to find locally were in mahoosive quantities.
Last week, I was having lunch with a friend and, as my conversations often do, the topic turned to food, and what I could do with my leftover prunes. “I have just the thing!” exclaimed Zoe. “Stuff them with almonds, soak them in booze and make them into a clafoutis.”
Ooh, I’m not sure about that, I thought.
No, of course I didn’t. I thought, bloody hell, that sounds fantastic! And even better, the recipe Zoe suggested was gluten-free, which meant it would also perfectly suit my sensitively stomached flatmate.
Zoe had said she generally used Armagnac or Marsala for the soaking, but I chose Madeira (mainly because it was the only one I could find in relatively small and cheap bottles). And I think you could probably use any sort of strong-ish alcohol that takes your fancy.
So, put a whole blanched almond inside about 12 pitted prunes, stick them in a bowl and soak them in your booze of choice overnight.
Butter a baking dish. (The one I used here was, in fact, a little too wide and shallow. For these quantities, I’d suggest something about 20cm wide.) Then place the boozy prunes in the dish.
Whizz together 250g mascarpone, 30g ground almonds, 30g soft brown sugar and 2 eggs, until smooth and light. Then pour the mixture over the prunes. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 160°C for about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. While waiting, pour the excess Madeira into a wine glass and glug. (Yum.)
Serve immediately out of the oven. In fact, just pick up a spoon and dive in. I’d say this should be enough for four – four very restrained people. In reality, Flatmate and I managed to scoff pretty much the lot in one sitting.
As it should be done.