Thursday 28 August 2008

Putting a Smile on a Little Girl's Face

I am no great cake decorator. I do not have the creativity or the patience so necessary for that particular art and an art it surely is. My Granddaughter starts school next week and she had her last day at nursery. A party was to be held and a cake was required and Granny was to make the cake. The instructions were quite specific from this four year old. It must be chocolate and it must have lots of things on. There was no way I could refuse that anxious little face looking hopefully at me. As if I would dare. I mean her street cred. at nursery was on the line here and these things are very important when you are four. Now what to make. I had to do a little thinking. I was not going to be popular with the nursery teachers who inevitably have the mess to clear up. A thick cake was out of the question and I didn't want a filling either. I turned to Nigella Lawson's 'Feast' If Nigella only knew it, she has pulled me out of many holes in the past and this was no exception.
I turned to the Hallowe'en section and used the recipe for the ghoul cake (without the black colouring) The topping is lovely and so easy. Please remember to use Nigella's tip about placing the cake on top of torn greaseproof paper when pouring the topping over the cake. You will be glad you did. I would use this topping again. It tastes wonderfully fudgy and so easy if you don't mind the mess. My mission accomplished , I embellished the cake with some store bought sugar decorations and presented it to my granddaughter. I may not be the best cake decorator in the world but the look on that child's face made my heart soar far more than any award. Some things just make life so worth while.

The Recipe courtesy of Nigella


250ml milk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
225g plain flour
50g cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
one-half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g caster sugar
110g butter or soft margarine
2 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract


300g icing sugar
60g butter
2 teaspoons cocoa
2 tablespoons golden syrup
60ml milk
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
one-half teaspoon black colour paste
black sugar sprinkles
Hallowe'en-themed jelly lollies, at least 1 per child

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170C. Grease and line a 23cm springform tin. Mix the milk and vinegar together and set aside.
Make sure all your remaining ingredients are at room temperature if you can, but since no one's going to be overly worried about the cake, you shouldn't be either. If the ingredients are cold, the worst that can happen is that the cake will be heavy. But you do need soft butter (or the cake won't mix), so substitute marge if that's not a goer. Put everything for the cake, except the vinegary milk, into a food processor and blitz to mix. Remove the lid, scrape down with a rubber spatula and then put the lid back on and with the motor running, add the vinegary milk.
Scrape, spoon or pour the brown batter into the tin and spread to fill it evenly, baking it for 40-45 minutes until it is well risen and springy to the touch.
Remove the cooked cake, in its tin, to a rack and leave to cool for about ten minutes, then spring open the tin and let the cake get completely cold.
To make the icing, first sieve the icing sugar. Boring, but it's got to be done. Melt the butter in a saucepan and when it's bubbling add the cocoa. Let it dissolve into the butter, stirring with a little hand whisk, then add the syrup, milk, vanilla and colour paste. Stir or whisk well and let it bubble for a few minutes and then take the pan off the heat and whisk in the icing sugar. Put the pan back on the heat and whisk again to help the sugar dissolve and the colouring disperse, then take it off the heat to let it thicken to the right consistency – thick enough to coat, but thin enough to trickle down to cover the sides too – as it cools slightly (but only slightly: it thickens fast).
Put the cake on torn-off pieces of parchment paper to form an outline of a square to catch the excess icing. Place the cake just on top of the torn pieces of parchment paper so you can pull them away once the icing has stopped dripping. Hold the pan of icing over the centre of the cake and pour over it so that the top is covered and the icing has dripped over and down the sides. You will not believe the incredible blackness of this. You'd have to pay me to eat it (good though it tastes) but my children, and all the children I've made it for, can't get enough. You can imagine their mouths look like afterwards.
Working quickly, throw them over the black sugar sprinkles to cover the top and sides of the cake before the icing dries.
Trim the lolly sticks, so that you have a stem of about 3-4cm to stick into the cake, and then plunge the sticks of the foreshortened lollies into the cake so that the ghoulish faces leer out from their black-frosted graveyard.
To be honest, this cake serves as many as you can stick lollies in for, if that makes sense. You could certainly find room for 12.

I did not use black sprinkles lollies or black colouring.

It is quite a thin cake and I made a mental note that two sandwiched together would make a rather nice dessert cake for entertaining perhaps spiked with a little liqueur and fruit......just a thought.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Texas Rolls

I always seem to be on a quest for something. As soon as I fulfill one I am off on another. This time I wanted to find nice soft rolls. Any I have made have had a tendency to be heavy. Not quite right for stuffing with bacon or whatever takes your fancy. I wanted something soft that would squish round the filling snugly like a blanket therefore not spilling a drop of the precious contents on the floor or my nice clean shirt. Something light that takes minimal effort to bite through to taste the ambrosia waiting inside. Something tasty that when soaking up the delicious juices of whatever it is enfolding complements the flavour perfectly. A lot to ask maybe but I will not be beaten. I wandered around blogs and theses rolls caught my eye. It has come to my notice that the American way appears to be to use all purpose/plain flour and not bread flour as I had been using.
I found this recipe on Julie's lovely blog, Peanut Butter and Julie . It's as rich as any recipe you would expect from the southern states of America but soft light and lovely.

Yeasty Texas-Sized Dinner Rolls
Makes 12
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons butter, in pieces
4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer and whisk to blend.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk to 180F degrees.

Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir to dissolve the sugar and melt the butter.

Let the milk mixture cool to 115F degrees.
Stir in the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes, until foamy.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine.

Add the eggs and knead the mixture, using the dough hook, on medium speed until a dough forms into a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes.

While kneading, add up to 1/4 cup extra flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if necessary for allowing the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Grease a nonstick muffin pan with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. On a smooth, flat surface, cup your hand over 1 dough piece and gently roll it against the surface to form a smooth ball.

Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Divide the dough balls between the muffin cups.

Cover with a towel; let rise in a warm pace for 30 minutes.

Uncover; let rise until the dough rises 2 inches above the pan, about 1 1/2 hours more.
Preheat the oven to 200.C/400.F/Gas6 .

Bake the rolls until they are puffed and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly in the muffin pan before serving.

I used half white plain flour and half wholemeal plain/cake flour
I used buttermilk instead of whole milk as I had some in the fridge.
I didn't use a muffin tray but formed them into round shapes on a baking tray
Thank you Julie they were delicious.

Tuesday 19 August 2008


I love pizza. I have no time for the thick spongy based pizzas you see in supermarkets with plastic toppings. I have never had the privilege of eating pizza in Naples but I would dearly love to. Perhaps in the oldest pizzeria in the world Port Alba at 18 Visa Port Alba serving since 1830. Or where the pizza Margharita was born in 1889 for the then princess, Pizzeria Brandi found in the heart of old Naples a few yards from Piazza del Plebiscito on Salita Sant'Anna di Pallazzo. The first decent pizza I had was in New Orleans in the French Quarter and then again in New York thirty years later. I knew these were nothing like Neapolitan Pizza but they were thin crispy hot and delicious. The the hunt was on to replicate this wonderful Italian peasant dish the origins of which, are lost in the mists of time.
I had tried a few times. My bases were never thin enough. A baking tray just didn't do it. Always soggy. I decided to invest in a pizza stone. Just to continue on the authenticity I bought the most wonderful book La Pizza by Nikko Amondonico. At last I managed a dough that was so thin and crispy. The amount gave enough for four pizzas. After the first rise I popped the other three in bags in the freezer ready to just roll out and put on the topping whenever I want. I was so delighted with the results. If you haven't got a pizza stone get one. An excellent investment for perfect pizzas.

The Dough

25gms/10oz fresh yeast (I used 1 tablespoon of dry yeast)
250mls/9 fl.oz lukewarm water
400gms/14oz unbleached strong bread flour
1 tsp salt

Begin by making a yeast liquid.
Dissolve the yeast in 25mls(1&1/2 tablespoons) of the lukewarm water. Add about 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix to a smooth paste. Leave to rise under a cloth for 30 minutes.

Make a crater in the middle of about 350gms/12oz flour.
Pour the yeast mixture salt and the rest of the water in the hole.
Mix the ingredients together and knead for 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into four and form into balls.
Leave to rise under a cloth for about two hours or until doubled in size.
Use one ball for one pizza.
Press out and flatten the dough with the palm of your hand into a thin round circle. Use a rolling in to make it really thin.
Finally press with your knuckles about 2cm inside the edge to make the raised edge (cornicone).
The pizza is now ready to be filled

A little tip from Jeanette on my foodie forum is to roll out the dough on baking parchment with polenta on it. Then just slide it onto the pizza stone. Works perfectly.


The basic tomato base is two tins of tomatoes drained and gently squashed in a colander to get rid of most of the moisture as it makes the pizza base soggy.
To this I added a clove of squished garlic, oregano, shredded basil leaves and black pepper. I made the filling while the dough was rising to let the flavours infuse.
After this it's up to you what you put on it.
I topped with lots of parmesan and mozzarella then drizzled with olive oil before placing on the pizza stone in the oven.

The Oven

It is essential to put the pizza in a hot oven. Approximately 275.C/525.F. is the recommended temperature. The pizza will take 10-12 minutes. This is beyond the reach of most domestic ovens. In this case preheat the oven to it's highest temperature usually 240.C/475.F and increase the baking time by about 5-8 minutes

My oven managed to reach 260.C and as it is a fan assisted that's equivalent to 280.C and the pizza took 8 mins.

I am so glad I have finally conquered Pizza. It may not be official pizzaiola status but it tasted wonderful just the same.

Monday 18 August 2008

Challah Bread

I love my bread making and just love a challenge. When I was sent a beautiful book from my dear forum friend Francesca. The Secret of Challah by Shira Wiener&Ayelet Yifrach the gauntlet was thrown down. Challah bread is often referred to as 'egg bread' since the recipe usually contains large amounts of eggs. This especially rich bread is eaten on the Sabbath and on all Jewish holidays (with the exception of Passover). Technically, the word 'Challah' isn't the name of the bread at all. The 'Challah' is a small olive sized piece of dough which is separated from the rest of the dough before baking. This is baked and then burnt (representing the destruction of the Temple) and thrown away after a special prayer is said. There are as many recipes of Challah as there are Jewish cooks and cookbooks. Different ethnic traditions call for differences in the recipes. One distinct addition is sprinkling sesame seeds or poppy seeds on the top of the bread before baking (usually after an egg wash, to help the seeds stick). This is supposed to represent the manna which God gave the Israelites to eat while they wandered in the desert. Some people prefer a very sweet bread and will even add raisins to the dough.
I was hesitant about the braiding but I needn't have worried it was quite simple and the book gave very good diagrams of a variety of ways to do this. I chose to braid with four strands.
A lovely rich bread. The recipe stated just flour. I used bread flour but it is my intention to try it with plain/cake/all purpose as I have recently come round to making certain breads with this and have had wonderful results. Some people use half and half I believe.I leave the choice to you. The recipe is for huge quantities. I divided it in four. This gave me one largish loaf. If you like making bread I urge you to try this. It's fun to make and the results are just delicious. It also makes very good French toast.

4 tablespoons dry yeast
1 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon sugar

3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup/150grams margarine (I used butter)
2 tablespoons salt
1 &1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
14-15 cups of flour

In a small bowl combine yeast 1 cup of warm water and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Leave for a few minutes until frothy

Place the margarine/butter in a large bowl, pour the boiling water on top and mix until it has melted.
Add salt and sugar and set aside for a few minutes to cool.
Add the beaten eggs mixing well
Add the yeast mixture then the flour gradually.
If the mixture is too wet add a litle more flour.
Knead by hand for 10 minutes, with dough hook for about 5 minutes and food processor for 1-2 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl cover with cling film or a towel and leave in a warm place for approx. an hour or until the dough has more or less doubled in volume.
Braid the loaves and place on buttered baking trays, cover and leave in a warm place for approximately one hour to rise again.
Preheat the oven to 180.C/350.F
Brush the loaves with beaten egg,1 teasp sugar and 1 teasp of oil.
Sprinkle with poppy seeds
Bake for approximately 40 minutes until the challah turns golden brown and tap hollow on the bottom
If the bread is browning before it is baked properly make a little foil hat and place over the top.
Cool on a wire rack

Braiding Instructions for a Four Strand Challah

1. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Knead each part into a smooth ball and roll each ball into a ropelike strand. Lay the strands side by side and pinch together at the top.

2. Grasp the leftmost strand and pass it to the right, under the two strands adjacent to it, and then back toward the left, over one strand (the one closest to it now).

3. Grasp the rightmost strand and pass it to the left, under the two strands adjacent to it (which have already been braided), and then back to the right, over one strand.

4. Alternately repeat steps 2 and 3.

5. When done braiding, pinch the ends of the strands together and tuck under

Monday 4 August 2008

Pomegranate and Honey Glazed Lamb

A very quick easy and tasty dinner. This was exactly what I needed tonight. Just the thing when galloping exhaustion strikes yet something that tastes wonderful is required at the end of the day. I thank Kate for the recipe which came from 'Cook Simple' by Diana Henry.

8 chunky lamb chops (I use chump)
2&1/2 tblsps pomegranate molasses
10 tblsps olive oil
1&1/2 tblsps runny honey
2 garlic cloves crushed
2 teasps cayenne pepper.

Mix marinade ingredients in a plastic bag.
Pop the chops in the bag and coat well.
Leave for 1-24 hours.
Cook in a griddle pan carefully as the sugars may cause the chops to stick

A quick and very tasty dinner. I served with rocket and pomegranate salad with a balsamic dressing and boiled new potatoes. Delicious.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Chocolate Fudge Cake

I wanted to make a chocolate fudge cake. I have never found a really good fudge frosting. I roamed around various recipes on the internet and found this one. It was from 'Southern Cakes' by Nancie McDermott. It intrigued me greatly as it was cooked. I have never known frosting to be done this way. It was wonderful. Really really fudgey. The only problem I had was I left the cake until it was cold and also the frosting. It was difficult to spread. I used a knife dipped in very hot water so all was well The next time I use it, and there will be a next time, I will leave a little warmth in the cake and also the frosting before applying this delicious fudgey goo.
The cake is basically a pound cake with additions. I am always adding bits to cakes to see how they turn out. This was not at all bad. At least it was nice and chocolatey.

Pre-heat the oven to 180.C/350.F/Gas4

Grease and line two 8 inch sandwich tins

125g/8oz butter or soft matgarine
125g/8oz caster sugar
125g/80z Self raising Flour
4 eggs
30g/1oz cocoa powder
125g/4oz dark chocolate melted
100mls sour cream or creme fraiche
1 tablspoon golden syrup

Melt the chocolate and leave to one side to cool slightly

Beat the butter until nice and soft.
Add the sugar and beat until nice and light
Beat in the eggs one at a time
Beat in the syrup cream and chocolate
Sift in the flour and mix well
Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins and bake for approx 20 -30 mins or until springy to the touch.
Leave to cool before removing from the tins.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1 &1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teasp salt
1/4 cup (1/2 a stick)/2 oz butter*
1/2 cup evaporated milk or half and half*
1 teasp vanilla essence

In a heavy medium saucepan combine the sugar,cocoa and salt. Mix everything together.
Add the butter and place over a medium heat stirring to melt the butterand mix everything together into a smooth brown sauce.
Add the milk,stir well and bring to a lively boil stirring often.
Adjust the heat to maintain an active but gentle boil and cook for five minutes stirring often.
When the frosting begins to thicken remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set it aside to cool for twenty minutes.
Beat the frosting until it thickens and looks shiny then spread it over the cake or the layers you want to ice.


* I doubled the amount of butter as there was no way the specified amount was going to turn that pile of sugar into a sauce.

* I wonder if ordinary milk would do instead of evaporated. If anybody has made this frosting I would be grateful for their input.

Quick and Easy Potato Gratin

This is a very tasty side dish of potatoes. I am constantly trying different ways to cook and present this humble staple in our diet. As the Italians eat pasta and the Asians eat rice so the Irish love their spuds. It would not be unusual for the man of the house in this country, upon being presented with a tasty pasta dish for dinner, to say 'That was very nice but what happened to the spuds? Therefore the hunt is always on to find various methods of cooking other than plain boiling, mashing , roasting or chipping. This is one way which is quick, simple and tastes really good.

Amounts feed four quite generously

Pre-Heat oven to 200.C/400.F/Gas6

Four good sized potatoes
200 mls milk
200 mls cream
1 teasp of Old Bay Seasoning or any other spice you prefer or none.
1 clove of smushed garlic
Black Pepper ( a good grinding)
Handful of grated parmesan

Place the cream, milk old bay seasoning, black pepper and garlic in a fairly large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and put the lid on to let the flavours infuse.
Peel and slice the potatoes into approximately 1cm slices.
Pop them into the saucepan with the milk and cream mixture and bring to the boil.
Simmer gently until just cooked.
Pour this mixture into a buttered oven proof dish and bake for about 15-20 minutes until turning golden and bubbling
About five minutes before the end of cooking scatter over the parmesan..
Allow to stand for a few minute before serving.

This can be served with anything of course but I think it goes exceptionally well with baked or boiled gammon. It makes a meal of plain bacon or sausages and sits well with fish.