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Friday 15 November 2013

Maple Spice Chocolate Roll Cake with Caramelised Nuts

Possibly the best recipe ever to be posted on Delicious Delicious Delicious...

So, several weeks ago, our friends Lucy and Rich asked us over for dinner. They have a toddler and I never know how they manage to get him bathed and in bed, cook a three course meal and host dinner in a lovely clean house for all of us on a Wednesday evening, but somehow they consistently manage. I suppose it's possible that they lock the little one up in a cage upstairs, tired and dirty, but if that is what they do, they won't be able to get away with it for much longer because he's going to start talking soon. Therefore, new tactics might prove necessary in coming months.

I confess that I ate quite a lot of these and had to caramalise more. Sue me.

Anyway, last time we went round, the pudding was hands down the best thing we've eaten for ages - a spiced pumpkin and caramelised pecan pie, with maple syrup whipped cream. I am going to say that last part again, in case you missed it, and also because it gives me great pleasure: maple syrup whipped cream.

I haven't been the same person since, and knew without a doubt last week that I had to come up with some kind of cake (I'm no pie guy) that would make this maple and spice combination the star of the show. I am quite excited to present this bad boy, the result of my efforts, to you all for your approval.

I have rather lazily simplified the whole spice fandango, unlike the pie Rich made: there'll be no fine grating of nutmegs for this beauty. I noticed in Miami that lots of shops were selling 'pumpkin pie spice'; we don't get that here, so I opted for Schwartz's  'mixed spice', which has a little bit of everything you want in it. This made me feel really nostalgic, because my Mum's spice rack was always full of those cute little spice bottles, with their distinctive shape and lids.

I also seem to remember she always had celery salt in plentiful supply. I'm wondering as I type this if she was a secret Bloody Mary drinker the whole time? It would explain a great deal.

Anyway, I hope you try this. The spiced chocolate and nuts go so well with the maple whipped cream that it would be a pity if you never found it in you to whisk a few egg whites. If you can't be bothered with the rolling, simply bake the mixture in a 20cm greased and lined deep-sided tin for around 25 minutes, and when cool, frost with the whipped cream and top with the nuts. For me, it's the Swiss roll, every time.

Maple Spice Chocolate Roll Cake with Caramelised Nuts

You will need:

35g cocoa plus a little extra for dusting
1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp Schwartz mixed spice
30g unsalte
d butter
60ml boiling water
135g sugar
6 eggs, separated

A generous handful of pecans and walnuts
50ml maple syrup

250ml double cream
125ml maple syrup

  1. Pre-heat the oven to (you guessed it!) 180°C. Cut a generous piece of baking parchment (you want some overhang at the edges, to assist in rolling later), grease it well and lay it on a regular sized shallow sided baking tray. Mine measures 45cm by 30cm, so that's what I mean by 'regular'. You can make this as a round cake too - see above.
  2. Put the cocoa, vanilla, mixed spice, butter and boiling water into a small bowl and stir until the butter has melted and you have a thick, brown cream. Set aside for a moment.
  3. Beat the egg yolks and around half the sugar until creamy, pale and thick. This will take around three to five minutes with a regular hand whisk, a little less if you use machinery. It's your choice, and we're all friends here, so don't think I'll judge you for pulling out the stand mixer.
  4. Whisk the egg whites in another, large bowl. When they start to froth, start adding the remaining sugar gradually, continuing to whisk until they reach the stiff peaks stage.
  5. Now, we amalgamate. Add the cocoa slurry to the yolk mixture; stir until well mixed. Then fold the egg whites into the chocolatey egg yolks. Fold gently and keep at it until there are no streaks of white left and all is chocolate brown in colour. Pour the mixture onto the parchment-lined tray, spread it out using a spatula, and bake for just under twenty minutes. It will be light and springy when done.
  6. Wet a clean tea towel and ring it out well. Take the cake out of the oven and, leaving it in the pan, place it on a cooling rack to cool. Sprinkle a little cocoa powder evenly all over the cake and cover with the damp dish towel. Allow to cool completely.
  7. Meanwhile, toast the nuts in a dry pan, over a low flame. Just warm them through, stirring often. When nicely toasted (don't let them burn!), add the 50ml maple syrup and stir to coat them as it heats up. Turn them out to cool onto a piece of baking parchment and then chop them into small chunks.
  8. Whip the cream until softly peaking; add the syrup and whip just a little more. Then, remove the tea towel from the cake and spread the cocoa dusted sponge with the maple cream. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts. 
  9. Gently roll up the cake, using the parchment to lift, peeling it away as you go. This is much easier than it sounds so do not be scared as the cake is very flexible. This will keep in the fridge for at least three days. Serve generously in thick slices.Yum!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Zest + River Cottage, Cardiff Marriott

Parsley Salad, with Crab, Soft Boiled Egg and Garlic Mayonnaise

Shock horror: I am going to do a restaurant review.

I get a lot of promotional emails through my blog, usually asking me to review things. I tend to ignore them, since I have had a few annoying experiences in the past when PR types try and control what I write and get angry when I write what I want to anyway. I have never done restaurants on here, largely because in the main I find blogger restaurant reviews so unbearably cringe-inducing to read (everybody starts talking about how well-excecuted the dishes were - blurgh!) and I assume my readers feel the same way I do. So this review isn't going to be like that.

I have made no secret of my adoration for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on these pages. I love the man. His River Cottage team have been working with Marriott Hotels to develop new, sustainable ways to serve diners at the hotel chain's restaurants, and Cardiff is one of two pilot hotels trialing the scheme. The emphasis is on local (within a 60-mile radius) suppliers and producers, seasonal menus that change daily and organic produce. I know that doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd find at a hotel restaurant (and believe me, I stay in enough hotels to know that!), so you'll just have to take my word for it when I tell you it is really happening. And, if it works well in Cardiff, the new restaurant format is going to be rolled out nationally, bringing the taste and ethos of River Cottage to Marriott customers all over the UK.

Percy. Oh, and Pollock with Red Cabbage, Apple and Horseradish.
Rainbow Carrots and Potato Gratin with Anchovies and Fennel.

I am suitably impressed to want to share this with you. But rather than give you a (yawn!), blow by blow account of the meal we enjoyed, I think I'll instead just focus on the core areas that matter to me as a customer.


Well, after all, I do work in the service industry. It makes sense to start here.

I don't know how to say this without sounding really down on Cardiff, but the staff were wonderful. I don't think I have ever eaten at a restaurant in this city where the employees were friendlier and more polite, or as knowledgable about what they were serving. It really reminded me of the actual River Cottage Canteen in Axminster: Caroline, our server, took time to explain to us where the ingredients in each dish came from and recommend side dishes to complement our choices, based on what seasonings and flavours were dominant in the main courses we ordered. She really knew the menu and it was obvious that the team care and are enthusiastic about the new concept.

Venison. Yum.


I have to say that it was really difficult to choose from the menu, because each dish had at least one gorgeous sounding seasonal ingredient. There were five or six different options for each course to choose from, and a definite simple, fresh feel to everything. Brilliantly, and in true River Cottage style, fish and seafood was well represented. I had a crab and parsley salad to start (which I shall be recreating at home!), and pollock and mussels were on the main course list. Hugh has spent years trying to raise awareness about over-fishing and championing pollock as a delicious alternative to cod, so it was good to see it on the menu (and our plates).

Our mains were delicious - we had lamb and fish - but I think you alway expect that in a restaurant. What really made us want to go back to Zest were the starters and puddings. I already mentioned my salad; Percy chose cold venison with crisp fried garlic and mushrooms. It was beautiful and a truly appetising way to start a meal. Caroline also told us that the restaurant now bakes all their own bread and brought us some salt topped focaccia to nibble on between courses, with organic Calon Wen butter.

I remember the desserts at River Cottage Canteen were lovely: simple and uncomplicated, but just treaty enough to be impossible to turn down. They're the same at Zest! We chose panna cotta (that was nicer than mine, boo!) with apricots and biscotti, and sticky date pudding with homemade ice cream. They were lovely. I'll be telling everyone about them for weeks!

Panna Cotta.

Local suppliers

I shall be honest: this is something I like to know about and would choose a restaurant because of. I find it so irksome that in Wales, where we have the best lamb in the world, so much of what you see in the supermarkets comes from New Zealand. How does that make financial sense? It's ridiculous.

At Zest, the lamb and pork comes from Slade Farm, just down the road in Bridgend. The fish comes from Cardiff Market (less than five minutes walk from the restaurant) and the vegetables are from Wales too. I can't tell you exactly where from, since I have forgotten, but Caroline will be able to let you know, I am sure. Nothing is imported from far-flung corners of the globe, and if the chef can't get something because it isn't in season and at market, the menu gets changed.

Sticky Date Pudding and Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.

I thoroughly recommend a visit, and am hoping that Marriott adopts this concept in all of its hotels. I can't tell you how many times I have been exhausted after long flights and had to force myself, begrudgingly, to leave the hotel to get dinner when I am away on trips. If all hotel restaurants were this good, I wouldn't have to.

Disclosure: We were the guests of the Cardiff Marriott hotel and as such our meal was complimentary. However, we are already planning to go back!

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