Lasagne is a comfort food. Layers of steaming hot pasta and filling with a crispy cheese topping; what is there not to love? It’s so versatile too as you can put whatever you like inside. My two favourite fillings are the one given below and also bolognaise (as is given in my recipe for Beef Lasagne).
With the first recorded recipe dating back to the 14th century, lasagne is one of the oldest foods I have researched for this blog. The original recipes used fermented dough, not pasta, and the dough was rolled out and boiled before being layered with the filling. Traditional lasagne de carnivale from Naples is stuffed with sausage, meatballs, boiled egg and Neapolitan ragu. Outside Italy, most people use a thicker ragu akin to bolognaise sauce inside and béchamel sauce on top. You may notice that I don’t put béchamel sauce on my lasagne but that is just because I don’t like it. You are perfectly welcome to swap the top layer of filling for béchamel sauce if you like and then continue with the recipe.
Spinach and ricotta is a classic pasta filling. It’s used in cannelloni, tortellini and ravioli as well as several other filled shapes. It’s incredibly easy to make at home and it is simple to tweak the recipe to your requirements – be that stronger cheese, more spinach or you just want a little extra garlic.
The recipe is particularly good for feeding a crowd as you can get six solid servings out of it!
Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Cost per portion: around £1.20
750g ricotta cheese
400g frozen spinach
1 clove garlic (minced)
150g grated cheddar cheese (or 100g parmesan)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 packet fresh lasagne sheets
150g mozzarella (grated)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C)
Place the spinach in the microwave with a little water and heat on the maximum poser to defrost. Make sure to stir it every few minutes.
While the spinach is defrosting put the ricotta, garlic, egg, 100g grated cheddar (or parmesan) and seasoning in a bowl and mix together. This will form a thick pasty filling.
Stir in the water to loosen up the mixture and set 60ml (a quarter of a cup) aside. This will be used on the top of the lasagne instead of béchamel sauce.
Remove the spinach from the microwave and drain through a sieve.
Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible. You should end up with a solid ball by the end of it.
Pull the lump of spinach apart and stir it into the ricotta mix and now is time to start building the lasagne.
Lightly oil a baking tray and place a sheet of pasta on the base.
Spread out some of the filling on top and add another sheet on that.
Repeat this using up all the filling and finally top with the last sheet of pasta.
Spread out the spare cheese mixture from before and sprinkle on the mozzarella and reserved cheddar.
Bake for half an hour and then increase the temperature to gas mark 6 (2000C) for the last ten minutes to crisp up the top.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making some dessert, check out my recipe for chocolate fondants or if you are looking for a slightly different main course, why not make yourself a Thai curry?
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for choux buns with a delicious filling.
A hot, gooey chocolate fondant is one of the most indulgent ways to end a meal and, like many baked goods, they are not as hard to make as most people think. There is something exciting about cutting into a cakey looking dessert only to have a chocolatey soup pour out ready to act as a sauce to the rest of the pudding.
Although fondants and lava cakes are relatively recent desserts in the grand scheme of things, appearing in the last 50 years unlike cakes and cheesecakes which are hundreds of years old, they have become incredibly successful. Many high-end restaurants serve them and they are a staple in the home bakers’ repertoire. They can be flavoured with fruit, coffee, caramel and all manner of different things so you can mix and match to make them perfect for you.
Fondants, unlike lava cakes, are made by creaming butter and sugar before adding the eggs and flour and finally stirring in the chocolate. The high chocolate levels and low amount of flour make them dense and fudgy with a melt in the mouth texture. Perfectly cooked fondants will still ooze when they are cut but the centre is thick and viscous and incredibly rich. On the other hand, lava cakes are made by whipping eggs and sugar until thick before folding in melted chocolate and butter and finally the flour. This whipping gives the cake surrounding the centre a light and airy texture and the high butter content means the centre is super runny and flows out of the dessert when it is cut.
Lava cakes and fondants are ideal desserts for entertaining as they can be made up to two days in advance and stored in the fridge until needed when they can be whipped out and shoved into the oven just prior to serving. Even better is that as a result of the refrigeration, it takes far longer for the centres to set so you are much more likely to get the runny centre you desire which looks so impressive on the plate.
Perfecting the chocolate fondant is a matter of trial and error. If they split when you turn them out of their ramekins, try cooking them for a little longer and if they are solid all the way through, reduce the cooking time a bit. The hard part comes if they start to burn during baking as can happen in some ovens with white chocolate and green tea desserts. The best way to avoid this is to place a little foil over the top of the fondant but it must be loose to allow the dessert to rise in the oven! Using a combination of these changes will allow you to get to know your oven’s preferred baking requirements for fondants and lava cakes.
These are so easy to whip up in a hurry – it only takes ten minutes and then the oven does the rest of the work. They are a personal favourite of mine and hopefully will become one of yours too!
Makes 3 cakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
180g dark/white chocolate
1 tsp Vanilla extract
30g plain flour
1 tsp matcha green tea (this is only for green tea fondants and you should use white chocolate for these)
Place a baking tray into the oven and preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC).
Line the base of three ramekins with small circles of baking parchment and butter and flour the sides.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave stirring every 20 seconds to prevent it from burning. Set this aside once it is done.
Cream the butter in a bowl and slowly add the sugar until they are combined.
Add the vanilla to the butter and sugar and beat again.
Add an egg and a tablespoon of the four and beat until everything has mixed together. Repeat with the other egg.
Add in the rest of the flour and beat together.
(If you wish to make green tea fondants, add the matcha powder at this point and mix it through the rest of the batter)
Pour in the slightly cooled chocolate and mix through – the chocolate should be a little cool to the touch but not have started to set.
Divide the batter between the ramekins.
Bake for 12 minutes in the centre of the oven on the preheated tray. This will help ensure that the top of the fondants is fully cooked so they are less likely to split.
To turn them out onto a plate, run a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin. If the knife comes out with liquid filling, place the ramekin back into the oven for another two minutes. This is very important or the cake part with stick and the whole pudding will fall apart.
serve immediately with ice cream, double cream, salted caramel sauce or anything else of your choice – the possibilities are endless!
I have discovered that to get the perfect melty centre, you need to make these a couple of times to get used to the oven as the cooking time can increase or decrease depending on the oven that you use.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making a slightly less rich chocolate dessert, have a look at my recipe for a raspberry and white chocolate tart or if you are in the mood for a delicious main course instead, why not make a Thai curry? They are creamy and spicy and perfect to keep you warm over a cold winter (or at any other time of the year for that matter).
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a yummy vegetarian lasagne recipe.
One of the essentials in the home baker’s arsenal is shortcrust pastry. This crumbly pastry is quick and easy to make and is so versatile that it can be used in almost any situation. From quiches to pies to tartlets and petite fours, shortcrust pervades the baking world.
Like most things in baking, shortcrust pastry is all about the ratios. Made with twice as much flour as fat, the basic recipe has barely changed in about three centuries. Butter, lard, shortening or full fat margarine are rubbed into flour and then bound with a small amount of cold water. The butter is rubbed in as opposed to being blended which prevents it actually mixing with the flour. The breadcrumb like result is actually tiny bits of flour surrounded by butter which helps prevent the build-up of gluten. This is also why the pastry is kneaded only enough to come together in a ball. If it were kneaded anymore, gluten would build up making the pasty case incredibly tough and unpleasant to eat. The technique also gives rise to tiny bubbles of butter which melt in the oven leaving lots of tiny holes causing the flaky nature of the pastry.
Many variants on shortcrust pastry exist and tend to be used for specific recipes. Sweetcrust is the most common, where a small amount of sugar is added after the flour and butter are combined and the mixture is bound by an egg yolk. This is used in a lot of fruit tarts, tartes au citron and other sweet treats. Chocolate shortcrust is also very popular for, unsurprisingly, chocolate tarts although sometimes, the pastry is used when the filling isn’t chocolatey and all the chocolate flavour comes from the cocoa in the crust.
For my recipe below, the pastry is baked blind before being filled. This is because the fillings are both set in the fridge as opposed to being cooked in the oven. Blind baking requires weighing the pastry down before it is partially cooked to prevent it bubbling up in the oven. The weight is then removed before the pastry finishes cooking so the base can gain a nice golden colour. Other recipes like Bakewell tarts, where the frangipane is baked after it is added to the tart, still require the initial partial bake as this helps prevent liquid from the filling being absorbed by the pastry and causing a soggy bottom.
The white chocolate mousse that I use is very light. It isn’t too strongly flavoured as white chocolate is exceedingly sweet and although it is paired with raspberries which are relatively tart, the main raspberry flavour comes from the raspberry caramel which is also very sweet. To avoid the tart being too sugary to eat, the white chocolate mouse is mild and the texture is light and fluffy which counters the cloying sweetness from below. Decorating the tart with fresh raspberries also helps balance out the flavours.
This tart is stunning to look at – as well as eat – and is sure to make an impact on anyone you serve it to!
Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 mins
Resting time: 2 hours 30 mins
Total time: 4 hours
For the pastry:
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp water
Pinch of Salt
For the raspberry caramel:
200g raspberries (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
80ml double cream
2 tbsp glucose syrup (or another 20g sugar)
For the white chocolate mousse:
200g white chocolate
300ml double cream (split into 100ml and 200ml portions)
Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir through the sugar and a pinch of salt.
Make a well in the middle and add the water.
Mix together with a butter knife as much as you can and then pour the dough onto a cold surface and knead/squeeze it until all the little bits come together to form a homogenous ball.
Refrigerate for half an hour – you can reduce this to 15 minutes if you flatten the dough out so it has a larger surface area or put it in the freezer.
Roll out the dough to the thickness of a pound coin.
If you are using a traditional fluted tart tin (as I do in my chocolate and salted caramel tart), place the rolled out dough into the tin and make sure it is smoothed out properly.
If you would prefer to have vertical sides (which I would recommend for this recipe) so the tart is a bit deeper, cut around a 9 inch tin and place the resulting circle in the base of the tin.
Roll out the remaining dough again into a very long oblong and cut into either one strip an inch and a half in height and long enough to stretch around the inside of the tin or two strips which you can combine to make the sides of the pastry case.
Wrap the long sheet of pastry around the inside of the tin and use a little water to seal it to the base.
Prick the bottom of the pastry case several times with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up while cooking and then place the pastry back in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).
Remove the pastry from the fridge. Place a layer of foil over the case and fill it with baking beads – if you don’t have these then you can use rice/beans/lentils or any other heavy dried food. Just remember if you use food instead of baking beads, the food will have to be thrown out.
Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
Remove the case from the oven and take the baking beads out of it before returning the case to the oven for a further 15 minutes so it fully cooked.
Remove the pastry from the oven and leave it in the tin!
To make the raspberry caramel, blend the raspberries with the cream – if you don’t have a blender, you can use a potato masher.
Strain through a mesh sieve and use a spoon to push as much of the cream through the sieve as possible leaving only a little raspberry pulp behind which can be discarded – you should have just under a cup of raspberry cream.
Place the sugar, glucose syrup and a quarter of a cup of water into a pan.
Place this on a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Allow the sugar to boil unstirred until it reaches a dark golden colour.
Pour the raspberry cream into the sugar. BE CAREFUL as this will boil rapidly, steam a lot and possibly splatter a little.
Stir the cream through and add the butter.
Boil this for another three or four minutes to make sure the caramel will set properly.
Pour the caramel into the pastry until it comes half way up the case. You can reserve a couple of tablespoons of this for decoration if you wish.
Place this in the fridge for at least an hour or two before you make the white chocolate mousse.
To make the white chocolate mousse, break the white chocolate into a heatproof bowl with 100ml of cream.
Place this in a microwave to melt the chocolate stirring at 30 second intervals. Stop when there is still a little solid chocolate left as you do not want this mix to become too hot and the latent heat in the melted chocolate will be enough to ensure the rest of it melts.
Whip the remaining double cream and fold this into the white chocolate mix.
Pour this into the tart until it fills the pastry case and place in the fridge for at least two hours to set.
Using the reserved caramel from earlier, pipe lines across the surface of the tart and decorate with fresh raspberries for a professional finish.
This tart is delicious and the perfect way to round off a meal.
I have always found that Thai curry is one of those foods which is never as good when you make it at home as it is when you go out to eat it. This probably stems from the fact that the Thai curry paste available in most shops is nowhere near as good as the stuff that most restaurants use. It’s also taken me a long time to figure out how to get the coloured oil on top of the curry which gives it the authentic look – and in the process, really helps to meld the flavours together.
The coloured oil is formed when the coconut milk is cracked. This is where the coconut oil starts to split out of the rest of the liquid. It happens when the coconut milk is heated and boiled and as the water is driven off, the balance of oil to water is changed so the milk, which was previously an emulsion of oil in water, now has too high a fat content so the coconut oil starts to leak out. Coconut oil is a colourless liquid however it absorbs both colour and flavour from the curry paste which is why it always has a vibrant shade, far more intense than the rest of the curry.
It should be noted that not all Thai curries contain coconut milk. A notable exception is Jungle Curry which is water based. This is a direct result of the lack of coconut trees in the northern parts of Thailand where this curry came from. Unsurprisingly, it was the coconut curries which caught on in the western world. Whether that was because they are naturally creamier in texture or because they are less spicy is unknown but red, green, yellow, massaman and panang curries have all become very popular in England. Unlike their coloured counterparts both massaman and panang curry make use of peanuts giving them a distinctive flavour. Panang is very similar to red curry and can be quite spicy whereas massaman curry is very mild. It is very creamy and nutty and generally contains both peanuts and boiled potato. Despite the lack of spice in it, massaman curry is definitely one of my favourite curries.
One of the best things about curry is that you can make it to your personal preferences. You can swap ingredients in and out until you find the perfect combination for you so you never have to eat the same thing twice. In my recipes, I always use onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. These come canned from my local supermarket and are normally in the Asian section. It is also common to add red/green/yellow peppers to their respective coloured curries. I have also seen mange tout added to green curries as well as green beans. The chicken can also be switched out with beef, pork, tofu, quorn or just left out entirely. Prawns are also popular in curry however if you use them, you want to add them to the curry very last minute so they don’t become overcooked so make the rest of the curry first and add the prawns just before serving.
I hope you enjoy the recipes below.
Thai Chicken Curry
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
1 large chicken breast
600ml coconut milk
1 large onion
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unflavoured oil
2 garlic cloves minced/finely chopped
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Chop the onion. I tend to chop it into eight sections by cutting it in half and then quartering both halves.
Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan.
Add the curry paste and the garlic/ginger if you are using them.
Fry for a minute or two to let the flavours come out of the paste.
Add 200ml of the coconut milk. Stir until it is combined with the paste and then boil for five to ten minutes, stirring regularly, until the coconut milk splits. You will know this has happened as you will start to see coloured oil appearing on top of the mix. The coconut milk will have reduced down a lot during this time. Once you start seeing the oil appear, you should continue to boil the mix for another minute to ensure it is split properly.
Add the chicken and fry until it is sealed and opaque on the outside – about five minutes
Add the onion and fry for another minute or two.
Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.
Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.
Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.
Serve with rice.
Chicken, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry
This curry is a combination of my basic curry from my last curry post but it is elevated to the next level by the addition of coconut milk instead of stock.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Chicken – off the bone
1 medium sweet potato
Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)
400ml coconut milk
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 tbsp unflavoured oil
Peel and cube the sweet potato.
Cut the onion into large chunks – like before, I do this into eight pieces.
Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.
Place the oil, garlic and spices into a wok and heat until the aroma starts being released.
Add two tablespoons of coconut milk to stop the spices burning.
Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is sealed and opaque on the outside.
Add the onion and sweet potato and continue to cook until the onion starts going translucent. It’s fine if the sweet potato is still hard at this point.
Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir it through.
Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
Add the spinach now. If you use fresh spinach, add it a little at a time and let it wilt down before adding the next batch otherwise it won’t all fit into the pan! If you are using frozen spinach, just add it all in at once.
Once the spinach has mixed in, bring the curry back to boil and simmer for another five minutes.
Serve immediately with rice.
I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I said before, the brilliance of curries is that you can tailor them to your tastes. By adding extra vegetables and removing others, you can create an almost unlimited amount of different meals to spice up your life.
I hope this has given you some ideas about different meals you can add to your repertoire – the hard work is already done when you buy your own curry paste.
If you want to make a lower fat curry, check out my basic curry recipe. Again, you can add whatever meat and veg you want to it and it is a water based curry so has far less saturated fat in it that coconut based curries. The base recipe I use is also vegan!
If you enjoy baking, you should also try your hand at my Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart. Crumbly shortcrust pastry layered with luscious raspberry caramel and white chocolate mousse, this is not one to be missed and will stun anyone who eats it (providing you don’t finish it yourself!)
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. These things are actually amazing!
Tofu is not known for its wonderful flavour. Or texture. Or visual appeal. In fact, most people’s first reaction to the word is some sort of grimace. This probably stems from the fact that, in England, one of the more available forms of tofu is ‘silken tofu’. This has a very gelatinous texture and is incredibly fragile, in fact I have found it almost impossible to cook silken tofu without it all falling apart and becoming some sort of mush – though this is probably just me. Silken tofu is created by curdling soy milk but the liquid is curdled inside the carton in which it proceeds to be sold, whereas standard firm tofu is curdled and then the liquid is strained off before the curds are pressed into a block.
With records dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, tofu has been around for about 2000 years. One of the leading theories is that it used to be made by curdling soy milk using sea water – the impurities in the water acted as the coagulants needed – and some forms of tofu are still produced like this today. The production of tofu spread around eastern Asia and it became a popular meat substitute as it is far cheaper.
There are several different types of tofu ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm. Extra-soft tofu has so much liquid in it that it barely holds its own shape – think of the texture of ricotta cheese. The next firmness is standard silken tofu. This tends to be used in desserts and sauces or smoothies as it can be used as a substitute for dairy and eggs. When blended into sauces or smoothies, it gives them a very creamy texture.
For tofu to be firmer than silken tofu, it must be pressed during production. This involves straining out the soy bean curds and then squeezing them to remove as much liquid as possible. The tofu produced from this has a much harder texture and tends to be what I use for cooking. You can press it at home to drive off even more of the liquid by wrapping the block in a tea towel and placing a heavy object on top – I tend to use either a pan or an encyclopaedia. The tofu can then be cooked in a variety of ways to give it the texture you want. Extra-firm tofu is incredibly dry. It is a little rubbery and is firm enough to be sliced very thinly without the pieces breaking. It is sometimes shredded and used instead of noodles in dishes.
Standard tofu is bland. It has basically no flavour whatsoever. This makes it perfect for absorbing flavours from other things so you can always marinade tofu in soy sauce or flavoured oils after it has been pressed to give it some taste. When I bake tofu before adding it to curries and such, I like to add some salt, pepper and sometimes a little curry powder before I put it in the oven as that way it will have a natural taste. The other way to avoid this lack of flavour is continuing to cook your curry for five or so minutes after the tofu has been added as it gives a chance for the moisture from the curry to soften the tofu a little bit and also infuse the flavours of the sauce into it.
Nowadays tofu is only really used as a meat substitute Europe and America. In eastern Asia, it tends to be viewed as just another ingredient and is often used alongside meats or seafood in dishes. A lot of people, especially in England, are not exposed to well cooked tofu when they are younger resulting in the reactions I mentioned at the beginning. With proper seasoning and cooking and, most importantly, the correct type of tofu, I believe most people would appreciate it far more and use tofu when cooking on a more regular basis.
1 block of tofu (400g)
1 large onion
500ml vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour mixed with 3 tsp water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 C).
Drain the tofu and if you have time, press it (this step is optional).
Cut the tofu up into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal slice through it and then cut it to make cubes which are around a centimetre a centimetre and a half long. The tofu will shrink in the oven.
Line a tray with baking parchment or a silicone mat and spread the tofu out on it.
Drizzle over a little oil or if you use a cooking spray, a couple of sprays of that will also work well.
Season with a little salt and pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes remembering to turn the tofu every 10 minutes.
After the tofu has been cooking for 20 minutes you can start on the curry.
Chop the onion into wedges (I tend to go for eight of them).
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or wok and add the onion.
Once the onion starts going translucent, add the stock, garlic and spices.
Simmer for 15 minutes while the tofu finishes off in the oven.
Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour mix and let the curry sauce thicken. If it is still
very thin, add some more corn flour but if the sauce has become too thick, add some more stock.
Take the tofu out of the oven and pour it into the curry and stir through.
Let the curry simmer for another two minutes to so the tofu can absorb some of the flavour and then serve with sticky rice.
This curry keeps very well so if you are only cooking for yourself, you will have leftovers to eat the next day too. I like to use medium curry powder but if you like a spicy or particularly mild curry, there are different versions available. You can also eat this curry with noodles or bread.
A way to make the curry even cheaper on a budget is just don’t use the tofu! This will also drastically reduce the cooking time and you can replace it with whatever you want. Cubes of carrot work well and you can always throw in water chestnuts and bamboo shoots at the end too to bulk it out. Obviously you can also use meat too but make sure to sear it in the wok before you add the onions and the stock to it.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For another easy meal, check out my One Pot Pasta or if you are looking to do something a little more flamboyant, why not make yourself a Chocolate and Caramel Cake filled with lashings of cream and delicious caramel.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a yummy shortcrust tart.
I recently realised that in all of my recipes which used chocolate as a main ingredient, I have never actually talked about its origins which is something I am about to change.
There is evidence of the use of chocolate in drinks from almost 4000 years ago. The ancient Maya and the Aztecs were known to use it in drinks however the chocolate they consumed was nothing like what we have today. Cocoa beans are incredibly bitter and need to be fermented before they begin to taste nice. Even then, we still dry them, roast them and add sugar before they get close to our mouths.
The name chocolate derives from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word ‘chocolātl’. The Mayans used chocolate in celebrations and religious events. As cocoa beans grew so easily in Mesoamerica, chocolate was widely available and as a result everyone had access to it regardless of social status. Chocolate was so well thought of that there are paintings of the Mayan gods drinking it.
Like the Mayans, the Aztecs valued chocolate highly and also thought it had religious significance. They believed the removal of seeds from the pods they grew in was analogous to the removal of the human heart in ritual sacrifice. They would season chocolate with pepper and honey before they consumed it – almost like the world’s first chilli hot chocolate (except they drank it cold). Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs could not grow chocolate themselves as conditions were unsuitable so it was imported. As a result, cocoa beans were extremely valuable and were sometimes used a currency. When they conquered the Mayans, the Aztecs forced them to pay taxes (or ‘tributes’) in cocoa beans.
Since then, chocolate has become a world-wide phenomenon. It is consumed everywhere in, frankly, ridiculous quantities. Back in 2014, Switzerland held the crown for highest chocolate consumption per head with the average person eating 9kg of chocolate a year!
To produce chocolate, the beans must be roasted, cleaned, have their shells removed and ground up to create cocoa mass. This is then heated so that the cocoa butter melts creating a smooth, liquid called cocoa liquor. This is then either processed or left to cool in large blocks of raw chocolate which is then sold to different chocolatiers.
The raw chocolate can be re-melted and the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa mass. These are then recombined in different ratios along with sugar, milk and oils to create the chocolate we know and love. The cocoa mass must be ground up to very fine particles which is what gives the chocolate its smooth mouth feel and is why you can’t just add cocoa butter to cocoa powder and sugar to create chocolate – the cocoa powder has particles with almost four times the radius of those in professional chocolates.
The cocoa butter is also important to making good chocolate. When you make decorations, many recipes will call for tempered chocolate. This is where you melt the chocolate and when it is cooled, prevent the cocoa butter from setting, but stirring, until it gets to the right temperature. This is because cocoa butter has six different crystal forms only one of which is completely solid at room temperature and you don’t want your carefully crafted decorations to collapse before everyone sees them! One way around this is to buy compound chocolate where the cocoa butter is replaced with vegetable oils – this means that you don’t have to temper it!
Luckily, the recipe this week doesn’t call for anything super fiddly like tempering chocolate. It does make one of the biggest cakes I have created though. With four layers sandwiched with cream and caramel, this cake is incredibly indulgent, exceedingly decedent and definitely worth it. It’s perfect to feed a crowd and if you only want a small one, you can easily half the quantities and only make a two-layer cake!
Chocolate, caramel layer cake
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes (or 1 hour)
Cooling time: At least one hour
Decorating time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour cooling)
Total time: 3 ½ – 4 hours
For the Cake:
100g cocoa (you want to use regular shop bought dutchy processed cocoa, not raw cocoa!)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180oC) and line four eight-inch baking tins (you may have to make the cakes in two batches if you have fewer tins and this will also help ensure the cakes all bake evenly). I like to butter the tins, put a circle of parchment on the bottom and then give it all a coating of cocoa.
Place the cocoa and the dark brown sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk this together.
Cream the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes in an electric stand mixer.
Stir the salt, bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder into the flour.
Add an egg and a tablespoon of the flour mix and beat it together.
Repeat this until all the eggs are added.
Add in half the remaining flour and mix it together.
Add the rest of the remaining flour along with a couple of tablespoons of the chocolate mix to prevent the mix turning into a hard dough.
Add about a quarter of the remaining chocolate mix and make sure it is beaten through well so there are no lumps of while left.
Gently add the remaining chocolate mixture and slowly stir that through until all the mix is combined.
Divide this into your tins and bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool before filling them.
To make the icing, beat the butter for at least seven or eight minutes until it is light and fluffy. This step is imperative to making a smooth, spreadable icing.
Add half of the icing sugar and slowly beat it in to prevent covering the room in a layer of icing sugar.
Once it has been incorporated, beat the icing again on a medium to high speed for another five minutes.
Add the remaining icing sugar and repeat, beating for another five minutes. If the icing seems to be getting dry and clumping, add a tablespoon of the milk.
Add half of the caramel and beat it into the icing – the rest will be used later. The icing should now be smooth and delicious.
Once the cakes are cool, it is time to assemble them.
If the cakes are very domed in the middle, it’s best to level them a bit at this point. Us a sharp knife or a cake leveller to remove the top of each dome so the cake will be a more even shape.
Whip the cream to soft peaks – it should be able to hold its shape but not have started to split!
Place the bottom layer on the cake board and pipe a circle of the butter cream around the edge.
Spread the inside of the circle with one third of the cream and one third of the remaining caramel.
Add the next layer of cake and repeat this until you only have one layer of cake left to add.
When you add the final layer, add it upside down so the top of the cake is a smooth, flat surface. You may have to build the icing wall up a little higher on the third later to support this if your cakes aren’t completely level.
Cover the entire cake in a thin coat of icing and chill for an hour.
Once the cake has chilled, cover it in the remaining icing keeping about 4 tablespoons back for decoration.
Use the reserved icing to pipe designs onto the cake. You can make them more visible by adding a little cocoa to the icing so it stands out.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe and that you love the cake when you try it! If you fancy a little bit more baking, why not have a go at making some Brandy Snaps or for a quick and easy meal, make yourself some One Pot Pasta!
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a delicious curry recipe – it’s even going to be vegan!
There is a big trend at the moment for one pot meals. Cooking your whole meal in a single pan is a fantastic way to reduce washing up and if you are cooking around other people, it prevents competition for cookware!
Like most cooking, one pot pasta is all about the ratios. You have to learn to adapt recipes to the type of pasta you use and the different ingredients as some will absorb more water than others. For example, mushrooms and fresh tomato will give out liquid whereas tomato paste will thicken everything up and therefore requires more stock to make it work.
Most one pot pastas have five base parts: pasta, liquid, meat, veg and cheese.
First of all, cook up the vegetables and the meat making sure the meat is seared properly before you add the liquid. Next add the pasta and liquid of choice and cook until the pasta is done. Finally, add the cheese which should help thicken up the sauce nicely so it is smooth and creamy.
Standard ingredients include:
Liquid: Chicken/beef/mushroom/vegetable stock, milk or a mixture of cream & stock
Meat: Chicken, meatballs, beef mince, pork mince or choritzo
Veg: Onions, garlic, tomato, mushrooms, sweetcorn or spinach
Cheese: Parmesan, Cheddar or Goat’s cheese
Obviously the list is only restricted by your imagination so you can add whatever you want but one pot pasta is about simplicity (and also normally using up leftover veg that you have lying around).
Below are the recipes for several one pot pastas that I have made recently all of which took around 20 minutes altogether!
One Pot Mushroom Pasta
1 cup pasta
1 cup milk
1 mushroom stock cube
2 cloves garlic (minced)
Salt & pepper
Cornflour to thicken if needed
Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with a little oil.
Chop the mushrooms – I generally cut them into quarters – and add them, along with the garlic, to the pan once the onions are translucent.
Fry the mushrooms with the onions for another two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients.
Cook for about 10 minutes stirring regularly to prevent the pasta clumping.
If the sauce gets too thick, add a quarter of a cup of water and stir it through.
If the pasta is cooked and the sauce is still too thin, mix a tablespoon of cornflour with a tablespoon of water and add it to the pasta stirring it through. Cook for another 30 seconds to thicken the sauce and then serve.
One Pot Arrabiata Pasta
1 cup pasta
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup tomato paste (or replace half a cup of the stock with passata)
2 cloves garlic – minced
Salt and Pepper
Dice up the onion and sauté with a little oil.
Finely chop the chilli and add it, along with the garlic, to the pan with the onion.
Continue to saute the vegetables for two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients – adding salt and pepper to taste.
Cook for around 15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.
If the sauce isn’t the correct consistency, add either cornflour or water to adjust to a thick sauce which should coat the pasta
One Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta
1 cup pasta
1 cup milk
1 chicken breast
2 garlic cloves – minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
¼ cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with some oil.
Chop the chicken into smallish chunks and add to the onion once it is translucent – also add the garlic at this point.
Sear the chicken until the outside is cooked before adding the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan
Cook for 10 minutes or so until the pasta is cooked.
Add the cheese and stir it through – this will help thicken up the sauce
Hopefully these examples have given you some ideas for some different and exciting dinners. For another delicious easy meal, check out my recipe for Curried Parsnip Soup or if you fancy something a little sweeter, how about making some brandy snaps?
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for a chocolate and caramel cake – perfect for feeding a crowd!