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cakes

Pear & Speculoos Caramelised Cookie Magic Cake

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Pear & Speculoos Caramelised Cookie Magic Cake

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Maybe they think that all the gluttony and swollen stomachs affect our ability to digest information, that all the turkey/mince/fruit/chocolate/stuffing becomes blinding and we are no longer able to read paragraphs of text.  Instead, we have to have things numbered so as to reassure us that whatever we are reading won’t detract too long from the Christmas stasis.  

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Every newspaper or magazine clearly has some greedy journalist on its team who takes it upon him or herself to rate every mince pie out there to save us all the hard work. Then the subjective lists are compiled and played back to us year after year, despite the foods remaining the same, in the identical, consumable, numbered format.

In response to this, and inspired by an affront to my eyes when opening the newspaper magazine this weekend, I thought I would do a light review of the food adverts themselves:

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WAITROSE

Apparently, it’s for fruit lovers: congealed, glistening and with blood/jam trickling through its rivulets. But what is it? Depends how you like your desserts, but I’ll pass.

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SAINSBURY’S

I know Christmas is supposedly about family and coming together, but the picture of “grandma” with a prawn coming out of her head doesn’t conjure up any feelings of warmth for me 

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BOURSIN

I’ve caught members of my family spooning Boursin directly into their mouths. I was cynical at first about their Christmas rebrand with the addition of the “merry” epithet. But somehow, heady with garlicky creaminess, it has caught on in my household – we are now asking each other whether we’d like some “Merry Boursin” on our toast.

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LIDL

Lidl has gone down the particularly salivating route in showing us the turkeys pre-slaughter. They are relaxing free range by a bale of hay with the sun shining to stained glass effect through the translucent wattles. Delicious.

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Anyway, with all this Christmas “magic” abounding (and as a remedy for all this gaudiness), we might as well move on to an actual “magic” cake. Making a cake is magical enough, but there is a childlike joy when you put a homogeneous mix into the oven and it emerges, burnished, in perfectly ordered layers. This particular magic cake is like a perfectly formed French entremet, but without the effort.  All it requires is eggs to be separated and whisked and somehow it all falls into place. When making the speculoos topping, I would advise making a bit extra to allow some innocent “sampling” during the process (it’s ambrosial).

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Ingredients

 

Speculoos layer

300g Speculoos cookies + 100g for decoration

220ml unsweetened condensed milk

¼ tsp salt

 

Cake

3 eggs, separated

75g caster sugar

90g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

¼ tsp salt

300ml milk

4 small pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm cubes

 

21cm square cake tin (or round tin with similar area) fully lined with baking parchment.  It doesn’t matter if the tin is marginally larger or smaller

 

Method

1)    Preheat the oven to 150°C

2)    Put all the ingredients for the speculoos layer into a blender and blitz until smooth, and set aside.

3)    Melt the butter and set aside to cool. In a bowl (if doing by hand) or electric mixer beat the sugar with the egg yolks until thick and pale. Pour in the butter and 150g of the Speculoos layer and gently combine. Then sieve in the flour and salt and fold to combine. Pour in the milk and combine.

4)    In the bone-dry bowl of an electric mixer or by hand, whisk the egg whites vigorously until they thicken and hold their shape in stiff peaks. Very gently fold them into the batter, taking care to preserve the aeration.

5)    Scatter the diced pear evenly on the bottom of the cake tin, then gently pour the batter on top. Smooth the surface with a knife and place in the oven to cake for 35 minutes. The cake will still be soft when you remove it from the oven but this is how it is meant to be. Put it onto a rack to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for an hour to set.

6)    To serve, lift the cake out of the tin on the serving plate using the baking parchment and remove baking parchment. I choose to slice off the cake edges in order to better expose the layers. Spread the remaining speculoos layer on top and over it crumble the decorative speculoos cookies.

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Recipe adapted from "Magic Cakes" by Christelle Huet-Gomez

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Raspberry & Orange Financiers

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Raspberry & Orange Financiers

Entremets, soufflés, macarons, choux buns - even making ciabatta, a two day process, which culminates in a dough whose tenacious elasticity has been known to reduce some people to tears - I’ve generally met their challenges.

However, hubris met nemesis a couple of weeks ago. I came home to the nutty toasted perfume of a new recipe my mom had tried out: ridiculously simple, five ingredient coconut wafers so thin you could see the sunset through them, so tender that they crumbled in anticipation of hitting one’s tongue, and so light and moreish that a second batch was immediately required in order to satisfy my family’s greed.

I duly crumbed, clumped, chilled, and sliced.  “Make them thinner,” my mom said. And I did, each slice crumbling into thousands of buttery coconut crumbs. I pressed them together and started again. And again. Unfortunately, it was only my patience that turned out thin, and the petulant three year old in me ended up scooping together the entire mixture and, from a height, throwing it down onto the tray.

Finally, I managed to get the fragments to coagulate by adding water. Things went more smoothly, but the biscuits, when baked, were slightly tougher, less flaky and less moreish than the original batch. Nevertheless, my brother took them to university. One of his friends, suffering from tonsillitis, reached into the box of biscuits, and in taking out one, touched many. The rest were binned, mostly due to the possibility of their having being infected with tonsillitis, but clearly not delicious enough to warrant risking it – a failure in my book.

After nursing my crumbled confidence for several days I swerved off the rocky path of coconut wafers to try my hand at financiers. I have always admired them - perfectly bite sized and innocent- looking with the flush of raspberry in the centre. They are also simple to make, requiring few ingredients, and turning out both delicious and delicate.

The history is much debated, but some say they were create by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and then adapted by a French baker, Lasne, to sell in the Parisian financial district where their almond content allowed them to keep well in the pockets of bankers. 

They are elegant and dainty, slightly crunchy on the outside, the tender blond crumb perfumed with a slight orange tang and moistened by the burst of raspberry.  They do keep rather well and would bless a summer’s picnic.

Recipe:

Makes 30 (approx)

50g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

160g icing sugar

140g ground almonds

1/2 tsp salt

200g egg whites (6 large eggs)

1/4 tsp almond extract

zest of 1/4 orange 

60g raspberries (minimum of 30 raspberries i.e. 1 per financier)

 Very well-greased and flour- dusted 3 x 12 hole mini cupcake tins (with 2.5cm diameter circles)  OR 1 to be used 3 times

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. When completely melted, stir the bottom of the pan continuously until the butter turns a deep gold colour and nutty in aroma. Set aside to cool.
  2. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into large bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and salt. Once combined, pour in the egg whites, almond extract, zest and slightly cooled butter and stir to fully combine. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  4. Spoon the batter into the holes until each is two thirds full. Press a raspberry into the centre of each - the batter should rise to all the way to the top. 
  5. Place in the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until light gold in colour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (to avoid them becoming soggy) or devour immediately. 

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