MILLIONAIRE SHORTBREAD


When I posted photos of my Jubilee party the other day (http://bit.ly/LkIrBq), I got a lot of people messaging me asking me how I made my millionaire shortbread so here is my very simple recipe…

INGREDIENTS

For the shortbread:
250g (8.8oz) plain flour
75g (2.6oz) caster sugar
175g (6.1oz) butter, softened

For the caramel:
100g (3.5oz) butter or margarine
100g (3.5oz) light muscavado sugar
2 x 397g (14oz) cans condensed milk
OR…2 cans of ready-made caramel.
Pinch of sea salt flakes (optional)

For the topping:
200g (7oz) chocolate (60/70%), broken into pieces. (This can be dark or milk chocolate. Personally, I recommend dark as the caramel is very sweet and if you add milk chocolate, the whole thing becomes sickly sweet. I used 64% cocoa solids.)

METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180’C/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 13 x 9inch (33x23cm) Swiss roll tin.

To make the shortbread, mix the flour and caster sugar in a bowl.


Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture together until it forms a dough.


Then press into the base of the prepared tin.


Prick the shortbread lightly with a fork.


And bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch and very lightly browned. Cool in the tin.


To make the caramel, measure the butter, sugar and condensed milk into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.

Or alternatively, go for the easy route and buy some ready-made caramel!


Pour over the shortbread and leave to cool. (You could sprinkle some sea salt flakes over the top of the caramel and stir it through so you have salted caramel)


For the topping, melt the chocolate slowly in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Pour over the cold caramel…


And place in the fridge.

TIP: Keep an eye on the chocolate…when it starts to set, score the chocolate into the size you want your squares to be. This makes it so much easier to cut once its completely set. Otherwise you’ll never be able to cut it into squares. It will just crack.


This made 20 squares but the squares were quite big, considering how sweet it is. You could easily make your portions a lot smaller.


This is such a lovely sweet treat…crunchy shortbread, soft, sweet gooey caramel and crisp, dark chocolate. What a wonderful combination!

UNION JACK JUBILEE CAKE


As you can see from my previous post (http://aspoonful-of-sugar.tumblr.com/post/23988253300/diamond-jubilee-party), I made a Union Jack cake for my Jubilee party at the weekend. I’ve had quite a lot of requests from people asking how I made it, so here goes!

INGREDIENTS
For the sponge:
350g (12oz) soft margarine (I used Stork)
350g (12oz) caster sugar
450g (1lb) self-raising flour
1½tsp baking powder
6 medium eggs, beaten

To decorate:
600ml double/heavy cream
340g jar strawberry jam
Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries - the amounts really depend on what you can find. I think I used about 200g of strawberries, sliced in half, about 20 raspberries and a handful of blueberries but it really does depend on the size of the blueberries.

METHOD
Start by laying out your weighed ingredients…


Preheat the oven to 180°C, fan 160°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4. Line the base and sides of a 30 x 20 x 5 cm/12 x 8 x 2 inch rectangular cake tin (or roasting tin with the same base measurement) with a large piece of non-stick baking paper, snip diagonally into the corners then press the paper into the tin so that the base and sides are lined and the paper stands a little above the top of the tin sides.

Cream the soft margarine and sugar together in a bowl or food processor until light and fluffy.


Mix the flour and baking powder together then gradually mix in alternate spoonfuls of egg then flour until both have all been added and the mixture is smooth.


Spoon the cake mixture into the lined tin.


Bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is well risen, golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly when inserted into the centre of the cake. Leave to cool for a few minutes then invert the cake on to a wire rack, remove the tin and leave to cool.


Once the sponge has completely cooled, carefully slice the sponge in half. You need a flat top for this cake so I sliced a very thin slice off the top and made that the bottom, so the original bottom of the cake could be used on the top. (I hope that makes sense!)


Spread strawberry jam over the cake.


And top with the whipped double/heavy cream and spread it over the jam, making sure you reach the edges and the corners.


Place the other half of the sponge on top then spread the rest of the whipped cream on top.


Add the strawberries in a cross… (The English flag)


Then add the strawberries out to the corners… (to represent the St Patrick’s Saltire for Northern Ireland)


Then fill in the rest with blueberries… (to represent Scotland!) And Voila! You have the Union Jack which represents the United Kingdom.


I then added some amazing Royal pop tops that my mum sent me! (You can buy them here - http://amzn.to/LABrTF but you can get these in most shops at the moment)…


This is such a lovely cake. It tasted delicious plus its a great centre piece for a Jubilee party!

NIGELLA’S NUTELLA CAKE


When I asked my friend Jordan what kind of cake he’d like for his birthday, he replied…"Is it possible to make a Nutella cake? Does such a thing exist? I bloody hope so". I knew there I was one place to look….Nigella Lawson. And I was right!

Here’s how I did it…

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CAKE:
6 large eggs, separated
Pinch of salt
125g soft unsalted butter
400g Nutella (1 large jar)
1 tablespoon Frangelico, rum or water
100g ground hazelnuts
100g dark chocolate, melted
23cm Springform tin, greased and lined

FOR THE ICING:
100g hazelnuts (peeled weight)
125ml double cream
1 tablespoon Frangelico, rum or water
125g dark chocolate
1tbsp Golden Syrup

First, preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4. I always like to start a recipe by looking out all my ingredients first…


In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff but not dry.


In a separate bowl, beat the butter and Nutella together.


Then add the Frangelico (or whatever you’re using), egg yolks and ground hazelnuts and fold through..


Fold in the cooled, melted chocolate.


Then lighten the mixture with a large dollop of egg white, which you can beat in as roughly as you want, before gently folding the rest of them in a third at a time.


Pour into the prepared tin…


Place in the oven for 40 minutes or until the cake’s beginning to come away at the sides. Then let cool on a rack.


The cake will naturally sink after its been out of the oven for a while.


Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until the aroma wafts upwards and the nuts are golden-brown in parts: keep shaking the pan so that they don’t burn on one side and stay too pallid on others.


Transfer to a plate and let cool. This is imperative: if they go on the ganache while hot, it’ll turn oily.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream, liqueur or water and chopped chocolate, and heat gently.


Once the chocolate’s melted, take the pan off the heat and whisk until it reaches the right consistency to ice the top of the cake. At this stage, I added a tablespoon of Golden Syrup but that’s just me, you don’t need to do this. But personally, I thought it made the icing taste even better!

Spoon the chocolate icing over the top of the cake…


You could stop here. Nigella does. But I wanted a bit more icing over the top since it was so delicious, so I poured it around the sides so it drizzled over the sides. Mmmmmmmm….


And dot with the whole, toasted hazelnuts…


This is a beautiful cake. Even when I was making it, the smell of the toasted hazelnuts filled my flat with the most beautiful smell…I almost wanted to lick the air!

The cake was dense and moist, the ganache was smooth and rich. Pleeeeease make this if you can. It is absolutely delicious.

ROASTED RED PEPPER ON ROAST GARLIC TOAST


One of my favourite food magazines is Delicious Magazine - www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk. I have been subscribing to it for a long time now and every month when I see it waiting for me on my doorstep, I can’t wait to put the kettle on and settle down to salivate over the contents. Each month its packed with fantastic recipes and ideas, it’s like getting a recipe book delivered to me and it only costs £28 for the year!


Whilst I was reading it the other day and marking the recipes I really wanted to try, I noticed their feature on the London-based Spanish chef José Pizarro who has just launched his latest book, Spanish Flavours. A few of his recipes from the book were featured and one of them…Roasted red pepper and anchovy salad on roast garlic toasts, caught my eye. Its a fairly simple recipe and one I’ve made before but as I was having friends round for dinner on Sunday, I thought I’d make it for a starter.

This recipe serves 4 for a light lunch but if you want to serve it as a starter, I think it could stretch to 6 or 8 portions.

INGREDIENTS
2 large bulbs of garlic, unpeeled, plus 1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
4 fresh thyme sprigs
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 lerge red pepper
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Rustic-style white bread, cut into slices about 1cm thick.
Good quality anchovy fillets in olive oil

Reheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/400°F/gas 6.

Remove the papery skin from the bulbs of garlic then slice off the top of each bulb to expose the cloves.


Tear off a large square of foil and place the bulbs of garlic into the centre, add 2 sprigs of thyme then drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt.


Wrap securely in the foil and place on a roasting tin, along with the peppers.


The roast on the top shelf for approximately 25 minutes, turning the peppers once or twice, until the pepper skins have blackened in places. (In my oven, it actually took closer to 40-45 minutes).


Remove the peppers, drop them into a plastic bag and leave until cool enough to handle.


Return the garlic parcels to roast for a further 30 minutes, or until the cloves feel very soft when pressed.


Meanwhile, slit open the peppers, working over a bowl so you catch all the juices, then remove and discard the stalks, seeds and skin.


Tear the flesh into 1cm wide strips and add to the bowl of juices (you may need to strain the juice into a bowl if it is full of seeds) with the chopped garlic clove, vinegar, remaining thyme sprigs and remaining olive oil. Stir together.


Remove the garlic parcels from the oven and set aside. Toast the bread, unwrap the garlic and squeeze out the purée from each clove, then spread it onto the toast while both are still hot.


Sprinkle with a few sea salt flakes and black pepper. Season the peppers with a little salt to taste and place on top of the toast.


It is now ready to serve!


This is a delicious dish. So fresh and bursting with flavour, its like Summer in your mouth! I was immediately transported to Spain, even though it was cold and wet outside. I would of course have preferred to be sitting in the sun whilst I was devouring it.

I love making this dish but next time, if I‘m doing it as a starter, I would serve it on smaller slices of toast as it is actually quite filling. I’d almost half the size. The portion I served would have been perfect for a lunch if served with a green salad, but a tad too large considering how much more food I had for my guests following this starter!

Also, I would blacken my peppers a bit more. Unfortunately I have a very old oven which is on its last legs and takes a lot longer to do anything, and I was running out of time.

José actually recommends garnishing each slice with 2 anchovy fillets but my friends and I don’t like anchovies so I left them off. However, apparently the teaming of the sweet roasted red peppers with the salty anchovies works a treat…if you like anchovies of course!

TIP: You can store any leftover peppers and sauce in the fridge for up to a week. Toss through some pasta or add to salads.

TIP: You can of course make this dish much faster if you buy roasted red peppers in a jar from the supermarket or deli. You can get them everywhere now. Just tear the peppers into strips and top with the chopped garlic, vinegar, thyme and olive oil then stir together.

SCRUMPTIOUS PAVLOVA


So, its my gorgeous friend Harri’s birthday today. * HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRI! * She doesn’t like cake very much so I have made her favourite dessert…pavlova!

Pavlova is also one of my favourite puddings. Unfortunately, I never feel sick from it so I can just eat and eat and eat! This is my fool proof recipe:

Serves 12-14 (depending on how greedy you are!)

INGREDIENTS

For the meringue:
6 medium free-range egg whites
300g/11oz caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar

For the topping:
1 litre double/heavy cream
Lots of berries! I have chosen strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Icing sugar/cake glitter

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°/Gas 2. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Look out your ingredients for your meringue.

Remember, the meringue should ideally be made the day before. Unless you have time for it to completely cool after being in the oven.

Place the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk until soft peaks are formed when the whisk is removed from the bowl.


Then whisk in the sugar, one tablespoonful at a time, until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed.


The mixture should look smooth and shiny.


Add the cornflour and vinegar to the egg white mix and fold in lightly with a metal spoon.


By now it should look lovely and silky.


Spoon the meringue onto the baking parchment, making a circle and creating a crater by making the sides a little higher than the middle. Remember that the meringue will swell in the oven so don’t spread it out to close to the edge of the baking tray. (like I did!)


Place into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 120°C/250°F/Gas ½. Cook for an hour, then turn off the oven and leave in the oven while it cools completely. I usually do this at night and leave it in the oven overnight.

Remove the meringue base from the oven. Don’t be alarmed if some of the outer casing of meringue has collapsed a bit and cracked. This is perfectly normal. Also, once the cream and fruit is added to the top, it will crack anyway. They can cover up any cracks. A pavlova isn’t supposed to be neat anyway.


Carefully remove the baking parchment.

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, whisk 400ml of the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.


I like to mix some of the raspberries through the cream so when I’m folding them through I break them up a bit by pressing them against the side of the bowl. This creates a lovely ripple effect. Spoon it onto the meringue base…


Whisk the remaining 600ml of the cream and spoon it onto the raspberry cream mix.


Top with the berries…


Dust with icing sugar…


If its for a special occasion I love dusting my pavlova with some cake glitter.


If you want, you can place some raspberries and icing sugar into a food processor and blend to a smooth sauce. Or alternatively, push them through a sieve if you don’t have a food processor. Using a spoon, drizzle raspberry sauce over the top.

This makes a big pavlova, suitable for a party. If you are serving to approx. 6 people, just half the ingredients.

Serve and enjoy!


Tip: I sometimes prefer this the day after assembling when its a bit more squidgy.

CHOCOLATE PROFITEROLES


I think its safe to say I have a lot of weaknesses when it comes to food in general but I think my biggest weakness has to be chocolate profiteroles. I adore them. The light airiness of the choux pastry, the rich softness of the whipped cream and the smooth, luscious hit of dark chocolate at the end. They’re incredible.

I must say, I do tend to ‘lean’ on chocolate profiteroles in times of trouble. Whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I find myself wandering into a supermarket to buy a profiterole tower, then I quite often surprise myself by how quickly I can devour the whole tower, without even thinking about it! It’s a bit worrying actually, I almost don’t even realising I’m doing it! And I’m not even fussy by the quality of them. I don’t need to buy the best profiteroles from the best patisserie. I’m happy enough with a cheap profiterole tower from a cheap supermarket. With super sweet cream and super sweet milk chocolate on top. In fact, I almost think I prefer those ones!

Considering how much I love them, it’s hard to believe I have actually never made profiteroles before. Making the choux pastry has always put me off as I always thought it would be difficult, but last weekend I was back at my parent’s house and I fancied making use of a lovely big kitchen and an oven that actually works properly! I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were to make. First off, I laid out the ingredients…

For the choux pastry:
150g plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon each sugar and salt
100g unsalted butter
4 eggs, beaten
250ml cold water

To decorate:
500g double/heavy cream (this is an approximate amount)
150g dark chocolate (70%) (you can use milk chocolate if you prefer)


I started by putting the butter and the cold water into a saucepan and bringing it to the boil.


I then added the flour with the salt and sugar into the pan, and stirred well to incorporate.


Take the saucepan off the heat. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until it forms a ball and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the pan. This should take just a few minutes.


Now, add the egg mixture, a little at a time, beating all the time with the wooden spoon.


At first, it doesn’t look like the egg will amalgamate, but persevere. Just keep beating and it will mix in smoothly.


Keep beating until all the egg mixture is used up and you have a paste that is thick and shiny.


The mixture should drop off the spoon when tapped lightly on the side of the pan.


Now, grease your baking sheet, then hold it under the cold water tap for a couple of seconds. Let the excess water run off. This extra water creates more steam in the oven while the pastry is cooking, and should produce lighter pastry buns.


Pipe or spoon the mixture onto the greased baking tray any which way you like. For larger choux buns, you can just take a table spoon of the mixture and dollop it onto the baking tray.


For smaller buns, you can either take a teaspoon and spoon the mixture, or you can pipe it with a pastry bag.


If you want to make some chocolate éclairs, just pipe the pastry with a piping bag straight onto the baking tray.


Bake at 200°C/fan180°C/400°F/gas 6 until golden brown.


Remove from the oven and make a small hole in the underside of each bun to release any steam. If left to go cold unpunctured, the steam turns back to water resulting in soft or soggy buns.


Set aside to cool on a wire rack.

When ready to serve, whip your double/heavy cream, fill your piping bag and pipe the cream into the hole you made at the bottom of the buns (or at the side of the éclair) until you fill the bun. Watch that the cream doesn’t burst through any other air holes!


Pile the profiteroles into a tower.


Melt the chocolate over simmering water and then drizzle over the profiteroles.


If making éclairs, spoon the chocolate over the top of the éclair.


These were unbelievably delicious. The pastry was so light and crispy. To be honest, they were delicious with just the cream inside without the chocolate on top. I will definitely be making them again but next time I think I’ll put less chocolate on. Or maybe I’ll use a slightly milkier chocolate. Or perhaps I’ll stir some double cream into the chocolate to make a ganache. I might experiment next time by piping ganache into the centre of the choux buns or éclairs for an extra chocolate hit!

Or you could even grate some orange zest into the cream to add another depth of flavour. Please try these out. They were surprisingly easy to make and they taste out of this world! A word of warning though…have other people around you when you make them as its far too easy to scoff the lot if you’re on your own!

BANOFFEE PIE


Banoffee Pie is my friend Denise’s favourite dessert and seeing as it was her birthday this weekend, I thought I’d make one and bring it into the office on Friday so we could start the celebrations early. This is a great dessert to make as it is so easy, and reasonably quick. It’s essentially just a case of assembling the ingredients.

Ingredients
300g/10oz biscuits - you can use Digestive/Graham Crackers or Hob Nobs
100g/3.5oz butter, melted
1 397g/14oz tin condensed milk or ready made caramel / dulce de leche
3 large bananas (or 4 small ones)
500ml double/heavy cream

For decoration, have some chocolate to hand for grating or melting over the top.

You will need a 23cm/9inch spring form cake tin.

There are two ways of making this. The first one is to make the caramel yourself which is done by immersing an unopened tin of condensed milk in water for 2 and a half hours, always making sure the tin is constantly submerged in the water. (this is very important or else the can explodes!)


That was the traditional way of making the caramel but luckily, the lovely people at Nestlé have brought out a tin of ready-made caramel….


If you use this, it really is a very quick dessert to make.

If you’re making the caramel from condensed milk, get this started early. You can even make it days, if not weeks in advance. It will keep in an airtight container. Start by placing a can in a pan of hot water.


The tin must be completely covered with the water at all times so make sure you keep an eye on it and top up the water if necessary. Keep the water simmering the whole time.

Carefully remove the tin from the hot water and leave on the side to cool.

For this recipe, I have decided to use Hob Nobs for a change.


Crush the biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor you can just put them in a bag and bash them with something heavy.


Tip the breadcrumbs into a bowl, add the melted butter and stir to combine.


Using a spoon, press the mixture into the base of your tin then place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.


When cool, spread the cooled caramel, or the ready-made caramel over the biscuit base.


Then arrange the sliced bananas on top of the caramel.


Whip the cream and then spread or spoon over the bananas.


I personally prefer to spoon it in dollops over the top so it doesn’t look too neat.


Top by drizzling cooled melted chocolate over the top of the cream. I melted 50g of Green & Blacks 34% milk chocolate over the top since Denise prefers milk chocolate. If I was making it for myself, I would have topped it with 70% chocolate.


You can of course decorate it whichever way you like. You can grate chocolate over the top, or top with chocolate curls or dust with cocoa powder. Anything you like!

In this case, not only did I melt chocolate over the top, I also decided to grate some more chocolate over the top. I decided to grate a little dark chocolate, some white chocolate and some milk chocolate.


Place in the fridge to chill for approx an hour. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to serve. The beauty of a spring form tin is that you can loosen it and lift it off without it damaging the pie.

And voila! You have a quick and easy dessert that tastes sweet and delicious!


If you haven’t made one of these before and you have a sweet tooth, please give it a go. If you buy the caramel ready made, it really is the quickest, easiest and tastiest dessert to make. And I promise your friends will love you for it!

BUTTERFLY FAIRY CAKES

Recipe: http://bit.ly/nqLT0v

(Source: aspoonful-of-sugar)

HESTON’S LEMON TART


When I was trying to decide what dessert to make for my friends Louise and Tony last weekend, I couldn’t make up my mind between something rich and sweet or something clean and light. I started off my thinking I might do individual melting-middle chocolate fondants, then I thought I might do sticky toffee pudding. Then I thought I’d keep it easy and do a banoffee pie. Banoffee pies are so easy, its just a case of assembling ingredients. But then I remembered the Waitrose advert for Heston Blumenthal’s Lemon Tart. It looked so simple, I thought I’d try it out myself. Luckily for me, I then found out that lemon is Tony’s favourite flavour and he was delighted I was making a lemon tart.

Heston says: "The set of this tart depends on precision. If you have a digital probe, whisk the tart filling until it reaches 75°C. It should set perfectly. If you don’t have a digital probe, follow the instructions carefully and the tart will be equally delicious. It is also important that you use a really good quality, all-butter shortcrust pastry for the best results."

Ingredients
375g All Butter Shortcrust Pastry
4 unwaxed Lemons (juice of 4, finely grated zest of 3)
170g unsalted butter, cubed
220g golden caster sugar
5 medium eggs,
1 medium egg yolk, beaten

You will also need some baking beans and a 23cm tart case.

Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350F, gas mark 4.

Roll the pastry between 2 sheets of clingfilm to a thickness of 2mm.


It should be 10cm wider than the tart case.


Peel off the clingfilm, roll the pastry around a rolling pin, lift it over a 23cm tart case and unroll it so the edges hang over the sides.


Press the pastry to fit the tin leaving the edges overhanging to trim after baking (this will ensure the tart case is unaffected by the pastry shrinking). Prick with a fork and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Take a sheet of parchment larger than the tart tin, scrunch it up and lay over the pastry (this will make it easier to fit into the edges of the tart). Place baking beans on top and bake for 20 minutes.


Remove the parchment and beans and return the tart to the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Now, I have come to the conclusion that shortcrust pastry is NOT my friend! I always seem to have problems with it. It could be because my oven is shockingly bad, or it could be that I just handle it all wrong, I don’t know. For some reason, my pastry puffed up!


And that was with a whole tub of baking beans weighing it down! I have no idea why. I did ask a baker what he thinks happened and he suggested that perhaps I’d rolled the pastry out too thick and there weren’t enough beans but I definitely rolled it out to 2mm as the recipe suggests. Maybe I should have put more beans in but then I would have thought it wouldn’t cook through properly. Anyway, whatever went wrong with it, I’ll probably never know. But I think I might have to admit defeat with shortcrust pastry and just buy ready-made tart cases in the future instead!

Once cooled, run a knife around the tin edge to remove the excess pastry. Carefully lift the tart case out of the tin and place on a serving plate.

While the case is cooling, zest 3 lemons and reserve, then roll all 4 of the lemons on a work surface with the palm of your hand (to release more juice).


Juice them and measure out 150ml.


Put the butter and sugar into a pan with the juice, zest and eggs and place the pan over a medium heat.


Stir continuously for 10-15 minutes (do not allow to simmer) until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.


Increase the heat to medium-high and stir until it begins to simmer; simmer for 5 seconds only, then remove from the heat.


Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover with clingfilm to avoid a skin forming, and place the bowl in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.


When cold, pour the lemon filling into the centre of the tart allowing the lemon curd to flow evenly to the edges.


Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour or until set, before serving with crème fraîche and fresh raspberries.


This is a beautiful dessert to serve after a meal. It’s light and fresh tasting; tart, yet sweet, and the filling is beautifully smooth which works in contrast with the crunchy pastry. I do love my sickly sweet desserts but sometimes you don’t want anything too heavy after a big meal.


You can see Heston’s advert here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAQ8hT4ZGMo You will notice that his pastry case does of course turn out perfectly! Grrrrr…

POTATO & SWEET POTATO DAUPHINOIS


I absolutely LOVE potato dauphinois. They’re really easy to make and they taste unbelievably good! This time, I decided to add sweet potatoes into the mix, just for a change and it was divine! Please give it a go.

Ingredients
500g potatoes (use floury potatoes such as Russet, King Edward, Maris Piper or Desiree)
500g sweet potatoes
300ml full fat milk
284ml carton double cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus extra for sprinkling
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
25g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Rub the butter all over the surface of a large gratin dish.

Peel and slice the potatoes to a width of 3mm and pat dry. Keep them covered with a tea towel while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan. Add the garlic and thyme.


Slowly heat the milk and, just as it is about to reach boiling point and you see bubbles appearing around the edge of the pan, remove it from the heat. Strain the liquid into a large jug, sprinkle in the nutmeg and keep warm.

Start to layer the potato slices in the dish, slightly overlapping the slices and sprinkling with a little salt and freshly ground pepper between each layer.


I started with the white potato then the second layer was sweet potato.


You don’t have to be too neat with the lower layers, but keep some of your best slices for later, so the top looks good.

Once you have finished, arranging them a bit more carefully towards the top, pour over the hot milk and cream mixture.


Scatter the cheese over the top.


Then bake for about one hour, until golden and tender.


Leave the dish to stand for about 5 minutes, then serve sprinkled with a few fresh thyme leaves.


Rich and delicious…what can be better?

This is also a great dish to make in advance and re-heat.

ROAST CHICKEN & CHORIZO


I had my friends Louise and Tony over for dinner on Saturday night and I wanted to make something easy to prepare, yet tasty. My mum tested out this Bill Granger recipe a couple of weeks ago and raved about it so I decided to try it out. It is so simple to make! You literally just throw the ingredients into the tray and then place it in the oven for an hour and voilà!…an incredibly delicious dish.

Ingredients
Assorted chicken pieces, I used 4 chicken quarters and 4 chicken thighs, skin on.
200g chorizo, cut into 2cm chunks (you can of course add as much as you want, this is just a guideline)
400g echelon shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
1 green pepper, deseeded and cut
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and cut
1 orange pepper, deseeded and cut
3-4 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250ml white wine

Method
Preheat the oven to 220C, 425F, gas mark 7.

Arrange the chicken pieces in a large roasting tin and scatter with the chorizo, shallots, peppers and thyme, bay.


Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven for one hour, adding the wine halfway through cooking.


Serve with anything you like…mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, crusty bread, a salad. Anything! I served it with potato dauphinois (http://aspoonful-of-sugar.tumblr.com/post/20356127057/potato-sweet-potato-dauphinois) and it worked perfectly.


Please try this out. Its so simple, so quick and so delicious!

DELICIOUS MINI CHEESECAKES


My beautiful friend Kate and former colleague recently returned from 9 months of travelling around Australia and Asia. When she said she was going to come up to the office to visit us, I decided to make her favourite dessert…cheesecake. Unfortunately all the girls in my office are trying to be good and are off cakes for a few weeks. So instead of making one big cheesecake, the majority of which I knew would end up in my tummy (!), I decided to make some mini cheesecakes. That way, the few girls in the office who wanted them could have them and nothing would go to waste.

From looking at a selection of cheesecake recipes I have, I worked out the best way to make enough mixture for 15 mini cheesecakes, using muffin cases.

For the base
150g Digestive biscuits or Graham Crackers
75g butter, melted
1 tbsp caster sugar

For the filling
375g cream cheese, at room temperature
112g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150ml double/heavy cream
30ml lemon juice
Splash of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F and line a muffin tin with muffin cases.

Finely crush biscuits in a food processor.


Add the melted butter to the biscuit crumbs and process until well combined.


Divide biscuit mixture evenly among cases (about one firmly packed tablespoon of biscuit mixture per case).


Firmly press mixture down with the back of a teaspoon until smooth. I used a pastry case presser.


Place the bases in the fridge for about 30 minutes while you make the filling.

Beat the cream cheese for approximately 2 minutes until its light and smooth.


Then add the sugar and beat until smooth…


Then add the eggs and beat until well combined… (this photo only shows one, but there should be 2 eggs).


Add the double/heavy cream and the lemon juice and beat…


Then add a splash of vanilla extract and stir through the mixture…


Divide the mixture evenly among the cases. I probably spooned in about 2 generous tablespoons into each. It really depends on how high you want them.


Bake the cheesecakes for 25 minutes.

* I initially tried them for 20 minutes but they were too wobbly. I put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes which was a total of 30 minutes but they came out a bit cracked so I knew I had over-baked them…


Cooking them for 25 minutes worked perfectly for me. They came out nice and smooth on top…


Cool in the tin for 30 minutes then remove the cheesecakes and refrigerate.


To serve, peel off the muffin cases and top with some raspberries then dust with sifted icing sugar.


I decided to make a soured cream topping for some of the cheesecakes, just so there was a bit of an option for everyone.

All I did was mix 142ml soured cream with 1 tablespoon of golden caster sugar and a splash of lemon juice. Probably about 2 teaspoons. Then I spooned it over a few of the cheesecakes, spreading it to the edges. This amount made enough to cover 6 of the cheesecakes.


The cheesecakes are ready to serve when they are cold and set. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.


These really are delicious. They taste rich and creamy, yet they’re very light and not sickly.

Enjoy!

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE


On Monday I posted that I’d recently bought The Skinny French Kitchen, a cookery book by Harry Eastwood. In it, she takes on the challenge of marrying her love of classic French cookery with a desire to maintain her waistline. Every recipe has been slimmed down to a fraction of its usual calorie count, without robbing it of flavour.


I had friends round for dinner at the weekend so I decided to make her Mousse au Chocolat for pudding. I just wanted something easy and quick to make, which would satisfy my chocolate cravings, and my God, this did it!

Using 85% chocolate means that you’re stretching the chocolate flavour without adding to the quantity of chocolate used. The full chocolate hit in this mousse means that you don’t need to add cream, butter or egg yolks, all of which pack on extra calories.

Please try out this recipe if you can. I was amazed by how good is tasted and my friends would never have believed it was low in calories if I hadn’t told them. It is very moreish and because it tastes so light, you don’t feel like you’re eating anything, hence you can get through quite a lot of it! And yes, I do realise this defeats the point of having a calorie-light pudding!

The book says this recipe serves 6 people. I’d probably say 4 people though. I halved the ingredients as there were only 3 of us eating. I thought there would be enough for 3 helpings but instead, I found there was only enough for 2. But maybe that’s my portion sizes!

Ingredients
100g dark chocolate (85% cocoa solids), broken into squares, plus a little extra for garnish
4 egg whites
50g sugar
pinch salt

Method
Heat the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl over simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, until the chocolate has completely melted. Set aside to cool.


Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl until stiff peak stage.


Using a spatula, beat one-third of the egg-white mixture into the cool chocolate mixture. You don’t have to be delicate here: it’s just a case of introducing the egg whites to the chocolate roughly.


Next, delicately fold the second third of the egg white into the bubbly chocolate mixture until it is well incorporated and is getting yet more bubbly and light.


Finally, when all the white air pockets have gone, fold the remaining egg white delicately into the chocolate mixture until the mixture is a uniform texture and colour.

(If you want to, you can add a little flavouring to the mixture at the stage when you’re folding the last of the egg white into the chocolate. You could add peppermint extract (¼ tsp is enough), or Grand Marnier (1 tsp is good) for a little bit of boozy orange flavouring. You could then use a garnish of mint leaves or grated orange zest.)


Carefully pour or ladle the mixture into six pretty glasses and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


If you wish, you can shave a little dark chocolate over the mousses using a potato peeler, for decoration before serving.

This pudding really was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. It was light, fluffy and gave you a proper hit of chocolate. I think it needs the 85% chocolate in order to do this.

Enjoy!

You can buy The Skinny French Kitchen on Amazon - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skinny-French-Kitchen-Harry-Eastwood/dp/0593066464

COQ AU VIN BLANC

Recently, a few of my friends have pointed out that perhaps my diet is a little too rich, and it might be worth my while trying to reign it in a bit. I admit, I do love my rich foods. I love butter and cream and pate and pastry…basically anything that isn’t very good for you! Its all fine in moderation but I haven’t been eating them in moderation recently. My friends are right, I do need to pull back a bit.

So, when I saw a cookery book called The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood, I bought it immediately.


Growing up in Paris, Harry loved her food but she struggled with her weight, so she decided to write a cookery book about her love of French cuisine, but lightening the load somewhat. She has cut the calories from one hundred of her favourite French recipes, including gratin dauphinois and cheese soufflé, without losing the flavour and the French character. And since I do love my French food, I thought this book might be the best place to start my new ‘regime’.

Flicking through the beautifully illustrated book, I noticed her recipe for Coq au Vin Blanc. I must say, I hadn’t heard of it before. Obviously, I’ve heard of Coq au Vin which uses red wine, but this recipe uses white wine instead, in order to lighten the dish. She also omits the butter and the bacon (I did cheat a bit and added a little bit of smoked bacon). So I decided to make it at the weekend and must say, it went down a treat!

If you’re looking for a lighter alternative to this classic dish, please try it out.

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
6 large chicken thighs, skinned and on the bone
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
12 shallots, peeled*
3 tbsp plain flour
400ml good quality medium dry white wine, such as Riesling
500ml chicken stock
250g button mushrooms
5 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
flakes sea salt and black pepper
some fresh tarragon to garnish

Method
First, heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish, then brown the chicken pieces over a medium heat, turning them until they are golden all over. (I must confess, I didn’t read the ingredients list properly and I didn’t realise that I was supposed to remove the skin from the thighs, hence why the skin is on here. I did remove it later though.)


(I made another batch the next day with the skins taken off from the beginning)


Remove from the dish and set aside on kitchen paper.


At this point, because I’d left the skins on, I removed the excess fat from the dish. If you use skinless chicken thighs, you won’t need to do this. I then added 3 slices of smoked bacon which I’d diced. Obviously, if you’re wanting to keep the calories down, don’t add the bacon.

Next, add the carrots and the shallots to the pan. (You can use onions instead of shallots but I personally think shallots taste and look nicer. If you want to use onions instead, just finely dice 3 medium onions.)

*Handy hint: if you hate peeling shallots, immerse them in boiling water for a few minutes before peeling. They practically pop out of their skins! It’s so much quicker and easier.


Next add the flour to the dish and stir until there is no loose flour left.


Add the stock…


And the wine, making sure to scrape up any leftover flour from the bottom of the dish.


Add the chicken thighs to the dish…


Then the thyme and bay leaves…


Bring to a slow simmer and leave to simmer for 2 hours with the lid on.


After 2 hours, add the mushrooms…


And cook for a further 30 minutes with the lid off, turning the heat up slightly to thicken the sauce and intensify the flavours.


I served this with Harry’s Light Mashed Potato (using semi-skimmed milk instead of cream and only a knob of butter) and long-stemmed broccoli. I topped the chicken with some fresh tarragon which really lifted the dish.


This dish is absolutely delicious. I actually prefer it to the classic Coq au Vin. There is a real richness and depth of flavour and yet its so much lighter. The first one I did had the skins on the chicken and I added a little bacon but I wanted to try it a second time, removing the skins and omitting the bacon and it tasted just as good. Its the perfect dish for moving into Spring.

You can buy The Skinny French Chef on Amazon - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skinny-French-Kitchen-Harry-Eastwood/dp/0593066464/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330820017&sr=1-1

CARROT CAKE


It was my friend’s Mike’s birthday last week so I decided to make him a carrot cake seeing as its his favourite. If you like carrot cake, please try out this recipe as it really was delicious…

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:
350g (12½ oz) carrots, grated
56g (2oz) pecans, roughly chopped
110g (4oz) self-raising wholemeal flour
110g (4oz) plain wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
240ml (8floz) vegetable oil
170g (6oz) soft brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons golden syrup

For the frosting:
200g (7oz) cream cheese
56g (2oz) unsalted butter, softened
200g (7oz) icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160ºC/150ºC fan/300F and grease and line a 9 inch round cake tin/s.

Start off by grating the carrots and chopping the pecans and put to one side.

In a large mixing bowl, sieve together self-raising flour and plain flour (if you can’t find them both in wholemeal, you can use white, or use one of them wholemeal and one of them white). Tip the bran bits of the wholemeal flour that are left in the sieve into the mixture. Add the cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and bicarbonate of soda.


In another mixing bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, sugar, eggs and golden syrup. (Heat the spoon first and the syrup will slide off easily.)


Add this to the dry ingredients and mix until it’s nice and smooth.


Stir in the pecans and carrots.


Tip the mixture into the greased lined tin and bake for 1 hour, or until firm on top.


Leave to cool on a wire rack.


Whilst the sponge is cooling, make the frosting. Most recipes agree on the topping: a mixture of cream cheese, icing sugar and a little unsalted butter. Where the recipes differ is on the proportions. It really comes down to how sweet or creamy you like your topping to be. I personally like it quite sweet, but not too sickly. Taste it as you’re mixing. If its too sweet, add more cream cheese. If its too creamy, add a bit more icing sugar. It’s up to you.

Just mix all the ingredients together until smooth, adding a little milk if it’s too stiff. I like to squeeze about a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice into the frosting as it stops it tasting too sickly. It lightens it slightly.


Once it tastes just how you like it, (be careful, this is addictive stuff! Its not easy to try it and then leave it alone) place in the fridge until you are ready to add to the sponge. Make sure the sponge has completely cooled before you add the frosting or else it will just melt and slide off. I’ve done this before and it’s a pain.

Start by slicing the sponge in half. This can be tough. I personally insert the knife until it reaches what I gauge to be the centre of the cake, then I slice round, turning the sponge bit by bit. It means I don’t end up with a lop-sided cake!


You can decorate any way you prefer. In this instance I have spread frosting in the middle and on top and decorated with pecan halves.


But you can decorate with finely chopped nuts, or you can make mini carrots from icing. You can leave the top as just plain frosting and spread frosting round the side, adding chopped nuts round the side. You can do anything. Just google ‘carrot cake’ and you can see all sorts of different ways to present it. If you don’t want to add frosting, it will still be delicious just as a sponge.

The end result was a beautifully moist, nutty, lightly spiced cake with a delicious light but sweet frosting. It disappeared pretty fast! If you like carrot cake, try this recipe out.