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Thursday 30 June 2011

Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownie Torte

I think chocolate doesn't need much styling. You want this.

Well, the jet lag has set in. Not delicious.

I have been thinking about what to write for you tonight for a while, and most of what I have come up with in my tired and cranky state wouldn't really be considered suitable for a blog post.

I thought about telling you how sorry how I am to have been away for so long, but I didn't think you'd want to hear my excuses. I know you know I am a slacker. And it would go against my new policy of trying to stop beginning every post with a 'Sorry I've not been posting much recently...' rehash.

Then, I wanted to tell you about this ridiculous situation that occurred at work, but to do so would go against my policy of ensuring other people's privacy (which is devastating: it was truly hilarious, and I know how much people love airline stories).

Next, I thought about telling you about this creepy experience I had recently with a taxi driver who tried to pick me up (in the figurative sense: he did actually take me to the station) at about 5am in the morning, but that would go against the very same policy. (And the 'No Defamation' policy I sometimes - sometimes - operate under.) Plus, making a connection between a chocolate brownie torte and an awkward and difficult situation I didn't relish might make you feel like you wouldn't want to make said torte. And you should.

(Don't get your hopes up by the way. This is a torte in the sense of 'I made brownies in a round pan.' It's delicious, but not fancy.)

So, given that I seem so restricted by my own self-inflicted rules, I thought I'd tell you about my policy on chocolate cake (for this is a chocolate torte after all). It is to say no.

You have read correctly.

When I was on that TV show (which we don't speak about - another of my policies), the researchers were shocked when I said I thought chocolate cake was boring, and possibly the worst desert ever. But it is true. I'd almost always rather have something else, even if it were something lame like a fruit salad.

Well, maybe not a fruit salad; I mean, come on. But the fact remains: chocolate is overdone.

You know, before we talk more torte, and why exactly I went against my own policy in making it (spoiler: it was quick and easy, and I was tired and short of time), I think I'd like to tell you some more of my policies in life.

I may say 'no' to chocolate cake, but I never say it to Champagne. Ever. Lily Bollinger had it right.

I never say 'no' to moisturiser, and am currently a fan of the little blue tub. Yes, that one. Call me low rent, but it's the perfect night cream and more the fool you if you pay more. (Sorry Elemis - I still love you).

That's all I can think of right now. I am jet lagged after all. Maybe you have some better ideas you can share.

Anyway, the chocolate. Well, we had people to stay at relatively short notice, and macarons were out of the question. Plus, most of the world seems to be of the opinion that to say 'no' to chocolate cake is madness, so I knew I would please the crowd.

Apologies for duplicating a brownie recipe you've already had, but that's how this cookie is crumbling today. Brownies, btw, are really forgiving, and can be made with pretty much whatever flour you have on hand. So if you only have self-raising in the house, or even bread flour (makes a great, chewy brownie), you can still pull this off.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownie Torte

You will need:

1 batch of brownies, made from this recipe and baked in a 20cm round tin (leave out the spices)
1/2 cup Nutella
a handful of hazelnuts to decorate

  1. I think it's pretty obvious what I did here, but for those who disagree: bake the brownies, then cool and remove from the pan without slicing.
  2. Ice with Nutella.
  3. Decorate with the nuts.

Friday 10 June 2011

Coconut and Vanilla Bean Chiffon Cake

I feel like it needs more...

That's better. Strawberries can make all the difference.

Let me tell you of my new new obsession. The one that sits alongside coconut. It's chiffon cake. I know. You've no idea what I'm talking about, do you? (UK readers that is.) Well, let me enlighten you.

My beloved Rose tells me that chiffon cake is an All-American creation, invented by a caterer called Harry Baker in Los Angeles in 1927. His recipe was allegedly a closely guarded secret until he sold it to Betty Crocker (who isn't even real btw - still not over that) in the late forties, and I read somewhere (and now can't find the web page) that it was so popular among Hollywood stars of the time, who ordered it for parties, that he'd often make up to 48 chiffon cakes in a single day, and make the equivalent of $900 doing it.

I haven't quite got that far yet.

Betty Fake Crocker heralded the chiffon as the first new type of cake in more than a century, and that may well have been true. I certainly had never made a cake with this method before now. It's like making a genoise but with separated eggs and added baking powder.

Betty liked to steal Harry's glory...

I have no idea why it has never really caught on in the UK. I've eaten chiffon cakes in Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, so am guessing that it's well known all over Asia, and maybe us Europeans have just been missing out. I think this situation needs to change, and that's why I'm posting this recipe. My Coconut and Vanilla Bean Chiffon Cake has a texture like clouds, and the flavour of the tropics. If you don't like it, well, you probably don't like anything.

Not even lying. Look at the flecks of vanilla!

A real chiffon needs a real chiffon cake tin, the likes of which are unavailable in Europe. I know this for a fact, because I've searched EVERYWHERE for one. I think this may be the real reason the cake never caught on in Britain; people grew tired of looking for the correct bakeware. I can't blame them. But Rose, in her fabulous book, has a method for baking chiffon as a layer cake, in a regular cake tin.

I could tell you all about the foam structure of chiffon cake, and why this has proven to be such a difficult dessert to bake in a flat layer cake pan, but frankly, you can just go and buy the book for that. I am more interested in getting you to bake the cake itself, using my re-vamped and coconutted recipe and a method which I have simplified even further from Rose's original. (Which involved insulating the pan with strips of silicone and suspending flower nails in the batter. I tried it, and it worked, but my way works too, thanks to the coconut. No need to get busy here, readers.)

This is the lovely Mr. Other P's current favourite cake. I think it's the name. What's not to like?

Coconut and Vanilla Bean Chiffon Cake

You will need:

115g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
60ml vegetable oil (I use rapeseed)
5 egg whites
4 egg yolks
90ml coconut milk
40g dessicated coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cream of tartar

  1. Heat the oven to 160°C. Have ready a deep 23cm springform cake tin. Do not grease or line it. If you have a 'not nonstick' (for want of a better description) one, so much the better.
  2. In a large bowl, mix everything except for the eggs whites and cream of tartar together using a wire whisk, or wooden spoon. Beat everything well until you have a thick, smooth mixture.
  3. Beat the egg whites until foamy, then add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Fold this meringue into the coconut and flour mixture, and transfer to the cake tin.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is well risen and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Immediately invert the cake, till in its tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool. When it has completely cooled (give it a good hour or so), run a knife round the edge of the pan and un-clip the tin. Remove the base (you'll need to use your knife here too - chiffon cake sticks to the pan!), turn the cake the right way up and serve in thick slices with whipped cream and berries.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Butter Crisis Cupcakes

Some of the people who ate these think I am the kind of guy who arranges small blue discs of wafer to resemble roses on top of iced cakes. I hate to shatter dreams... But I ordered them online.

Oh my gosh, it's been ages.

And it's going to be pretty brief since it's late and I should really be going to bed. Work tomorrow and I need to sleep off a bad mood, since what should have been, and started out as, a wonderful day rapidly soured when I made the mistake of getting my hair did by someone other than the guy who normally does it. Some lady cut all my hair off! I am angry, upset and frustrated all at the same time. I haven't felt this bad since I watched Lust, Caution (which by the way, I really feel should have been named 'Death in a Quarry' instead).


Anyway... Tomorrow may yet be better.

I have a cupcake recipe for you today. It's one that has been around the web already, but I thought I'd share it since it's wedding season now, and there may be some of you out there who are planning on making wedding cupcakes for somebody, as I did recently. And I don't have anything else to post, so if you were hoping for duck à l'orange, you'd be better going elsewhere today.

It might really help you out though, since the recipe's yield is high considering the ingredients needed. The recipe I would normally use is made up of an equal weight of flour, sugar, eggs and butter. This one more than halves the butter and uses only one egg per dozen cupcakes in place of the usual two. It is the cupcake of mass caterers, and, Honey, it is going to save you a fortune.

Let's face it: the UK butter crisis is never going to get the sort of front page coverage it deserves, but it seems like the days of reasonably priced butter are long gone. On DDD, I couldn't let this pass without a mention. Frankly, I feel I should be wearing a black arm band. It is a sad day indeed when you have to consider the baker's margarine option. This recipe should push thoughts of trans-fats to the back of your mind though. What's more, even the buttercream icing has much less butter in it than the one I normally use. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel I should be screaming 'Home Bakers take note!'

Full disclosure (for you deserve no less): I made 138 frosted cupcakes and an 8 inch frosted and filled layer cake for less than £48 with this recipe. That included £8 worth of fancy pants cupcake wrappers, and a cake stand that cost £15.

You want to try it out for yourself, don't you? Be my guest. Just promise to let me lick the bowl.

Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Icing
(adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

You will need:

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
zest of one lemon, grated
40g soft butter
125ml milk, at room temperature
1 egg

  1. Heat oven to 170°C and line a 12 bun muffin tin with liners.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest in a large bowl. Then add the butter and three quarters of the milk and mix with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until all the ingredients are moistened. Turn the speed to high and beat for a further minute.
  3. Add the egg and remaining milk; beat in on high speed for 45 seconds.
  4. Divide the (quite runny) mixture between the paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and allow the cakes to cool on a wire rack. Then make the frosting.
250g icing sugar
30ml milk, at room temperature
40g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Simply beat all the ingredients together for 5 minutes on high speed, until creamy and fluffy. Use to ice the cakes.
(Special thanks to Dave Fletcher Photography for letting me use the top photo.)
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