Salmon en Croute

For some reason, wrapping food in puff pastry has become a sign of classy, luxurious, up-market dining. Whilst anything wrapped in puff pastry is clearly luxurious and decadent, I would not go as far as saying it makes a dish classy. There is a bizarre mystique surrounding this pastry, most likely because it is such a nightmare to make, but in a society where we can walk into almost any supermarket and buy it premade (who actually has time to make puff pastry from scratch…) the grand dinners you see at restaurants can easily be recreated at home.

 

The term “en croute” means in pastry and as such, can really be applied to any food that is cooked in a pastry shell. Boeuf en croute – otherwise known as Beef Wellington – another classic ‘posh’ dish that is incredibly simple to make. Originally, hot water crust or shortcrust pastry would have been used to wrap up meats for cooking as it helps keep in moisture and flavour. The pastry could be burnt but then discarded after cooking leaving a delicious meal. This style of cooking has been around for as long as pastry has, with recipes for meat and fish wrapped in pastry dating back to the time of the Tudors.

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Beef Wellington is something everyone should try!

 

Different meats and fish lend themselves well to different pastries as you can only cook the food in the oven for as long as it takes the pastry to go golden brown. Fillet steak and salmon lend themselves well to puff pastry as they are cooked in a short time – you will still need to rest any meat that gets cooked this way to ensure that it isn’t dry. Larger pieces of meat have to be seared for longer in a pan to precook them as, if it takes 40 minutes in the oven to cook the meat well, you will end up with your meal en carbone.

 

Most salmon en croute recipes involve layers of salmon, some sort of creamy dairy element and spinach. The recipe below adheres to this idea but includes an extra element: a basic pesto style sauce folded into the cream cheese. This herby flavour gives the dish lightness which is necessary for something surrounded by a large quantity of pastry. As always, you want to avoid a soggy bottom on your pastry. To try and prevent this, the spinach is wrung out to ensure that it contains as little moisture as possible. The cream cheese is thick and spreadable and while it can be exchanged for sour cream or crème fraiche, these have a far higher moisture content so could soak through the pastry. If you have to use either of these, I would advise hanging them in a cheese cloth for an hour before cooking to try and strain out some of the liquid.

 

This recipe is delicious served with leeks or some other vegetable and a small amount of potato. You don’t want to overload the plate with carbs but when the pastry is rolled out thin enough to cover four fillets, there isn’t much per person.

 

Salmon en Croute

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Price per serving: about £2.80

 

4 fillets of salmon

1 packet (500g) puff pastry

8g fresh basil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

180g cream cheese

450g fresh spinach

1 medium onion

Oil

1 beaten egg

 

 

Thinly slice the onions and sauté in a pan with a little oil until the onion turn soft (about 5 mins).

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Add the spinach and gently stir until wilted. You may have to do this in a few batches.

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before wilting…
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….and after

Once the spinach is just wilted, place it into a sieve and press down to squeeze out all the liquid in order to prevent the pastry going soggy. Set aside to cool.

 

Skin the salmon. To do this, place the fish skin side down on a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to cut inwards from a corner between the skin and the flesh about a centimetre. Pin the flap of skin to the board with your non-dominant hand. Slide the knife along the skin at a 45° angle to separate the skin from the fish. (Online videos can really help with this if you are still struggling).

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Turn the oven to gas mark 7 (210°C) to preheat.

 

Place the garlic and basil into a blender and blend until a rough paste is formed. Add the olive oil and blend until it forms a paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Fold the pesto into the cream cheese.

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The salmon fillets will be placed next to each other to create one large block of fish – one giant salmon en croute – so roll out the puff pastry to three times the combined length of the salmon and about two inches above and below it.

 

Spread a large spoonful of spinach mix in the centre of the pastry and add the salmon fillets with the original skin side up.

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Smear the cream cheese mixture over the salmon and top with a little more of the spinach.

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Brush the outer wings of pastry with the beaten egg and fold them tightly into the centre.

 

Seal the edges and fold them up.

 

Flip the parcel into a lined baking tray so you have a smooth surface on the top.

 

Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to gas mark 6 (200°C) and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.

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excess pastry can be used to decorate the parcel

Remove the salmon from the oven and cover with foil. Leave to rest for five to ten minutes before serving.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love dishes like this, be sure to check out my Beef Wellington recipe or, if you are looking for something a little bit on the sweeter side, why not treat yourself to a delicious tart, you could try chocolate (with or without salted caramel) or even treat yourself to a delicious apple pie.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a Christmassy biscuit recipe.

 

H

 

Swiss Meringue

A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.

Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.

Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.

Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

 

3 egg whites

6 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice

 

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.

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You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.

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The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.

Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.

Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.

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Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.

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Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).

Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.

Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.

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Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious dinner.

H

 

 

Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

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Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

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Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

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In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

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Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

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If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

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Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

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Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

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As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

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The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Teriyaki Tofu

As someone who doesn’t particularly care for sandwiches, one of my aims in the kitchen is to construct a repertoire of foods which are just as good cold as they are hot and so can be taken to university for lunch. If I weren’t so fussy, this wouldn’t be an issue as I could just take sandwiches and make do but I am so I can’t. As a result, I ended up developing a selection of Asian style tofu dishes with different versions of my standard ‘teriyaki sauce’ as I have found tofu to be a very nice cold dish.

The reason I put ‘teriyaki’ in inverted commas is that this is not a classic teriyaki sauce, it has been westernised. A traditional version would have sake or mirin (types of rice wine) in it and would not have the sesame. As sake and mirin were very difficult to get hold of in the West when Asian food began to become popular, substitutions had to be made that would satisfy customers without changing the sauce too much. The replacement of mirin with sesame oil was one of these. The oil emulsifies into the sauce very well and doesn’t split during cooking – leading to a thick sauce packed full of flavour – and salt, so you shouldn’t need to season this at all. I sometimes add a little bit of rice vinegar if I have it in the house as it helps cut through the sweetness so you get a far more balanced sauce.

As with most cooking terms, the word ‘teriyaki’ comes from the combination of words describing the process. Teri describes the shine that this sauce gives to food because of the high sugar content and yaki refers to the actual cooking method of grilling or broiling. This origin of the word goes some way to explaining the reason why there is no ‘official’ recipe for teriyaki sauce in Japan. The only requirement is that it is a soy sauce based glaze. I could make an argument that, using this definition, my sauce is technically a teriyaki sauce as the result is a glossy dish but this version is certainly not authentic and is deeply rooted in western cuisine.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and decide that you want to try it out for your own lunches. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Teriyaki Tofu with Coriander

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per portion: around £1.20

60ml Dark Soy Sauce

60ml runny honey

40ml sesame oil

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp hot sauce (I use sriracha)

400g extra firm tofu

1 large carrot

I bunch spring onions

1 cup frozen edamame beans

20ml vegetable oil

If necessary: 2 tbsp cornflour mixed with 4tbsp water

I bunch of fresh coriander

Remove the tofu from its packaging and drain it. Wrap it in a hand towel and place it on a firm, flat surface with a heavy weight on top (a large cookery book is ideal). This will press any excess liquid out, making the tofu firmer and nicer to eat. (This is, of course, optional depending on how firm your tofu is to start with.)

To make the sauce, grate the garlic and whisk it together with the soy sauce, honey, sesame and hot sauce.

Cut the carrot into 2mm thick rounds and then cut these again to make tiny batons.

Slice up the spring onion.

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After the tofu has been pressed for about ten minutes remove it from the towel

Cut the tofu into 1 or 2cm cubes.

Place the tofu and the vegetable oil into a non-stick pan and fry until the tofu begins to develop a hard crust underneath. This will soften later so don’t be afraid to get a little crispyness on the tofu.

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Toss the tofu and continue to fry until most of it has formed a crust.

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Remove the tofu from the pan leaving as much oil as possible in it as this will be used to fry the rest of the dish.

Add the carrots to the pan. Fry for two minutes on high heat and then add 50ml water. BE CAREFUL – this will spit a little. The water will help soften the carrots.

Fry for another three minutes until the water has mostly evaporated and then add the spring onion.

Fry for another minute before adding the frozen edamame beans.

Add another 50ml of water and cook until the water has all gone.

Tip in the tofu and the sauce mix. Simmer for at least five minutes to ensure the garlic in the sauce is fully cooked.

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If the sauce is still very runny, add one tablespoon of the cornflour mix and stir it through. Continue to add more cornflour, cooking between each addition, until the sauce has reached a thick, oozing consistency. As this can be eaten cold, you do not want to add so much cornflour that the sauce sets when it cools.

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Roughly chop the coriander and stir it through the still hot mixture.

Serve with rice either hot or cold! I like to take this to university with me for lunches as it doesn’t need to be hot to be delicious.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, check out my ginger tofu recipe, it’s another one which is good cold and my lord is it tasty. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet variety, why not treat yourself to a delicious devil’s food cake? It’s rich, chocolatey and devilishly good.

Have a good one and I will be back with a recipe for those of you looking to indulge your sweet tooth.

H

Chocolate Spider Cake

This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.

Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.

The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.

Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.

Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

75g cocoa

150g brown sugar

1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water

180g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

340g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)

50g milk chocolate

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.

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Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.

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Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.

Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.

Repeat with other eggs to mix them in.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.

Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.

Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.

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Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

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Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.

 

To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!

Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.

Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.

Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.

Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!

 

To assemble the cake:

Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).

Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.

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Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

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Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.

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Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.

 

To decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate.

On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.

Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)

 

Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.

Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.

Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.

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Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.

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Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)

 

Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.

For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.

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This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.

H

Curry Laksa

If you have been following this blog for some time, you will have picked up on the fact that I love curry. One thing that I have always wanted to do is create my own curry paste but, unfortunately, I have never had the right equipment. Now things have now changed. This recipe doesn’t require any expensive spice grinders that are only going to be used occasionally, it uses a standard food processor, which is a much more worthwhile investment.

Handmade curry paste is very different from the most available ones you can buy. For starters, it is nowhere near as concentrated. This may seem a bit odd but once you make it, you will realise quite how much water is in the paste which is removed before you purchase it. A curry for two people normally has about 60g of curry paste in it. This recipe feeds four but uses over a cup (250ml) of paste. This excess water must be driven off at the start of the cooking process if you want to extract the best flavours from the spices.

The recipe below is specifically for curry laksa. This differs from asam laksa as it lacks tamarind pulp and includes coconut milk. These differences result in a far creamier, much less sour curry that I am a huge fan of. Laksa is a classic example of fusion cuisine done well. It is believed to have been cooked for Chinese merchants by the women they married as they travelled around the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Java and Indonesia). The dish combined the local ingredients, specifically coconut and tamarind, with the noodle dishes that the Chinese merchants bought with them on their travels and from these intermarriages was born the Peranakan culture.

A lot of classic laksa recipes contain both dried and brown shrimp in the curry paste and also use prawns instead of chicken. As someone who doesn’t eat seafood this was rather unfortunate for me, but luckily chicken laksa is relatively popular and isn’t too much of a change from the original sentiment behind the dish. The depth of flavour from the spice combination is phenomenal and I hope you get as much pleasure from this dish as I did.

 

 

 

Curry Laksa with Chicken

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3/4

Cost per serving: around £2

 

 

For the paste:

3-6 red chilis

5 garlic cloves

2 stalks lemon grass

3cm ginger

2 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp turmeric

1tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp cashew nut butter (2 tbsp nuts or swap for peanut butter)

1 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of one lime

1 tsp oil

 

Other Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts

400ml low fat coconut milk (this has a slightly milder flavour than the full fat variety)

600ml chicken stock

4 portions noodles

Beansprouts or some other thin, crunchy vegetables (julienne carrots or mangetout both work too)

3 tsp chilli paste (optional)

6 tofu puffs or slices of fried tofu (optional)

Corriander and sliced spring onion to garnish

 

 

Place the ingredients for the paste into a food processor and blend until almost smooth. Laksa should have a slightly gritty texture so the paste should still have a few fibres left in it.

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Heat the oil in a pan and add the laksa paste. Fry this until it starts to dry out.

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Add a quarter of the coconut milk and cook again until the paste starts to dry and the milk begins to crack. (For more information about cracking the milk, see my post on Thai curries).

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk along with the stock. Stir this together and heat until it begins to boil.

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Once the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat until it is simmering and then add the chicken to poach in the soup for around 15 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking and if you are using tofu puffs, slice them in half along the diagonal and add them to the soup.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain them and rinse with cold water until the noodles are completely cool to stop them from cooking any more.

Once the chicken is ready, blanch the beansprouts and begin to assemble the dish.

Place a portion of noodles in the centre of each bowl and place a couple of pieces of tofu on top.

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Slice the chicken breasts and divvy them up between the bowls laying the chicken down on one side of the noodles

Place the bean sprouts or other vegetables in the centre of the bowl, on the noodles, to give the dish height.

Ladle the soup around the outside of noodles so as not to disturb the vegetables.

Finally, garnish with a small spoon of chilli paste if you like your laksa spicy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe! The soup is full of flavour and can absolutely be enjoyed without any of the other toppings if you want a light lunch or even just a small starter at the beginning of your meal. The wonderful thing about making your own curry paste is that you can adjust the ingredients to your preferences so the laksa will be perfect every time.

If you like curries, you should definitely check out my recipes for Thai coconut curry and also for my lighter, non-coconut curry too. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little sweeter, why not try treating yourself to a beautiful ombre cake? You can even turn it into a unicorn!

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a cake idea that you can prepare for Halloween.

H

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut and Purple Sweet Potato Soup

Blue food. The very notion conjures up thoughts of sweets and food colouring – neither of which are particularly appealing. This reaction most likely arises from the fact that there are almost no naturally blue foods so eating something with such an unnatural colour can be a little unsettling. The closest that nature comes to presenting us with blue food are the butterfly pea flower (which isn’t eaten itself, just used for its dye) and purple plants.

Most naturally occurring purple foods contain the indicator anthocyanin. This is what gives red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, purple sweet potato and even black rice their colour. Anthocyanins are red in acidic solutions and dark purple and blue in more neutral ones. The colourful nature of anthocyanins has lead to their popularity among chefs who like to employ a bit of pageantry in their cooking. With only a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice, food and drink can be made to change colour in front of the consumer’s eyes leading to an exciting meal (which can also cost a lot of money).

The purple sweet potato has a vibrant purple colour which stems from the high concentration of anthocyanins in its flesh. When boiled, the colour darkens, becoming closer to navy blue, as boiling water is slightly more acidic than cold water and the indicator in the sweet potato reacts accordingly. As a result, the majority of recipes using purple sweet potatoes will tell you to bake the potato and then scoop out the cooked flesh, as this way none of the colour is lost. You also don’t lose any of the flavour which is important as there are a lot of subtle undertones which can be easy to miss if all the taste is cooked out of the potato. As they have such a sweet flavour, purple sweet potatoes are commonly used in desserts and not savoury dishes. Cakes, tarts, swiss rolls and even bubble tea have all benefitted from the taste and colour of purple sweet potatoes and, because of this, the sweet potato has become one of the most versatile ingredients you can use.

The recipe below can of course be made with normal orange sweet potato or even with white sweet potatoes if you can get your hands on them. I imagine a small trio of soups, one with each of the different potatoes, would be both visually and gustatorily fantastic – though I’m sure that the contestants on Come Dine With Me would say that it’s still too simple, even with the homemade bread that you spent the day baking. Either way, the soup is delicious and I hope you like it as much as I did.

 

Purple Sweet Potato and Coconut soup

Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 7/8

Cost per portion: around 35p

 

2 large purple sweet potatoes

2 medium onions

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp chopped ginger

1 medium spicy chilli

400ml coconut milk

500-750ml vegetable stock

3 tbsp vegetable oil

 

Chop the potatoes into quarters lengthwise, place onto a baking tray and drizzle with two tablespoons of the oil.

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Bake for half an hour at gas mark 6.

While the potatoes are baking, dice the onion. This doesn’t have to be super fine as the soup will be blended later.

Place the onion into a pan with the remaining oil and saute until it is translucent.

Roughly chop the garlic and chilli and add them to the onions along with the ginger.

Fry until the garlic and ginger become fragrant and then add the coconut milk and 500ml of the vegetable stock.

Once the mix is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer the soup until the potatoes finish cooking in the oven.

 

Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes until you can touch them without burning yourself.

Peel off the skins which should have released during cooking.

Chop the potato into chunks and add it to the soup – if it is not quite soft yet, let it simmer in the soup for five minutes or so.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

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Slowly add the remaining stock until the soup reaches the desired consistency. I like it to be thick enough to coat a spoon – similar to the thickness of double cream.

 

This soup is really filling and really tasty so it will go a long way. It’s also super vibrant and, if you make it with purple sweet potatoes its colour is phenomenal. Extra portions shouldn’t be an issue as the soup freezes well so you can just grab a portion and whack it in the microwave for a quick meal.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe, if you are a fan of soups, you should definitely check out my curried sweet potato soup or my butternut squash soup. If you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not treat yourself and make a honey cake?

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an amazing unicorn cake.

H