Basic Beef Stir Fry

The most important things when making a stir fry are heat and speed. The oil must be hot enough to cook the ingredients quickly so that nothing turns mushy and any meat you put in doesn’t become rubbery. Woks are ideal for something like this as they concentrate the heat in one area but also make sure that you can move the contents around the pan so everything can be cooked evenly.

Everyone uses different ingredients when they make a stir fry, but for me long strips of carrot and spring onion are essential when noodles are involved. Once they soften, you can twirl them up with the noodles into a delicious ball and eat! If you use rice instead of noodles, I would recommend cutting everything a little smaller – for example cutting spring onions into circles rather than lengthwise into strips. You can also add things like beansprouts for added crunch; peanuts are also a common addition at the end. It should be noted that beansprouts scorch easily at the high temperatures required to make a good stir fry but a way to avoid this is adding them just after the sauce and place them on top of the other ingredients which allows them to steam so they are cooked but still retain their crunchy texture.

In this recipe, I use glass noodles (sometimes called cellophane noodles). These appear transparent when cooked (unlike rice vermicelli which are opaque white) and take on the colour of whatever sauce they are in, so your dish will look beautiful. I am also a fan of standard rice noodles or even stick noodles in stir fry but you have to bear in mind that these are all cooked differently so you have to adjust your timings for the rest of the dish accordingly.

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The glass noodles have taken on all the colour from the sauce but are still shiny and inviting.

The final things which should be mentioned are the meat and the sauce that you decide to use. The high heat means you can seal the meat to prevent all the juices from leaking out but leave the inside relatively uncooked so that when the sauce is added, the meat can cook as the sauce reduces and coats all of the ingredients. Make sure the sauce isn’t too sweet as the sugar can burn, so if you see the sauce getting a bit thick and starting to caramelise, add a tablespoon of water to make sure everything cooks properly.

To give your stir fry a restaurant finish, add some raw beansprouts to one side, sprinkle over some fresh herbs and thinly sliced spring onions. You can also add some crushed peanuts when making dishes like pad thai. As with most dishes, a little garnish goes a long way so I would always recommend experimenting until you find the method of plating up that looks best to you!

 

 

Stir Fry

Prep time: 10 minutes (optional extra 20 minutes if leaving the beef to marinade)

Cook time 10 minutes

Serves 2

Cost per portion: around £1.80

 

Ingredients:

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp sherry (optional)

2 tsp honey

2 cloves garlic

1 inch ginger

1 bunch of spring onions

1 large carrot

170g frying steak or thinly sliced beef

2 portions of glass noodles

Vegetable oil

 

 

Peel the garlic and ginger and finely chop both.

Stir in the soy sauce, sherry and honey.

Thinly slice the beef and add to the sauce and leave for about 20 minutes (if you have time).

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Peel the carrot and then use the peeler to thinly slice the carrot lengthwise into long strips.

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Slice the spring onions lengthwise into quarters.

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Soak the noodles according to the instructions on the packet but take one minute off the soaking time as the noodles will soften more later – drain the noodles.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add the carrot and spring onion.

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Once they start to soften, move the carrots and onion to the side of the pan, lift the beef out of the marinade (reserving the liquid for later) and place it into the centre of the pan.

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Turn the beef until all of it is sealed on the outside (and it all looks an opaque brown).

The moment the beef is sealed, add the noodles and reserved marinade and stir to mix everything together.

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Keep cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed into the noodles.

Serve piping hot and enjoy!

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This stir fry also keeps very well in the fridge and can be reheated easily in the microwave.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and if you fancy a very different dinner, check out my recipe for spinach and ricotta lasagne or if you want to try your hand at a posh dessert, why not make some choux pastry and finish your meal with profiteroles?

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an exciting, fancy apple tart.

H

Choux Pastry

A common misconception in baking is that it is difficult to make profiteroles or éclairs. This stems from the use of choux pastry as the base of these delicious goodies. Choux is famously finickity and problematic to bake but this is just not true. As long as you follow the recipe, it should work every time!

Unlike most other baked goods, no specific raising agent is used in choux pastry, rather the high moisture content results in a lot of steam being created in the oven which inflates the pastry as it cooks. The reason the flour is added to boiling water when creating the paste is that it starts to cook and the bursting of the starch granules traps even more water which helps the paste to rise in the oven. This leads to a very light shell which is hollow inside and ready to be filled with all the yummy things that we love to eat – cream, chocolate, caramel.

Once cooked, choux buns are surprisingly sturdy and can be stacked up leading to desserts like the stunning croquembouche. These are giant towers of choux filled with crème anglaise or Chantilly cream and held together by melted sugar. They are adorned with webs of spun sugar, glazed almonds and edible flowers and are really something to behold. Much as they are fun to make, I would recommend becoming more familiar with baking choux before you attempt one!

Although associated with French cuisine, the man who allegedly invented choux pastry came from Florence. He worked for Catherine de Medici and left Florence with her when she travelled to France to marry the Duke of Orleans (who later became King Henry II of France). Originally called pâte à Panterelli after its creator, the pastry had several incarnations before arriving at the pâte à Choux we know today. It is called this because of the resemblance of the cooked buns to cabbages (and choux is the French word for cabbage).

I am a massive fan of choux pastry. I first made it a seven or eight years ago and in 2011 (when I was fifteen) made my first croquembouche. Looking back, it was quite an achievement that I came out of that with only a minor burn from the melted sugar so if you do try this yourself, please be very, very careful. Having said that, I made one three years ago in a house where the power failed and I was assembling it by torch light as the sun set because I’m stubborn and don’t learn from my mistakes. Luckily I survived that one unscathed but hopefully when you try making choux pastry, it will be a little less eventful!

 

 

Choux Pastry

 

Ingredients:

100g strong white flour

75g butter

3 eggs

1 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

 

Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

Sift the flour onto a piece of baking parchment.

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Heat 150ml water in a pan with the butter, sugar and salt until the butter is melted and the mixture is boiling.

Once the mix comes to the boil, pour in the flour and beat the mixture over the heat until it starts to form a ball and come away from the sides of the pan – it will look very lumpy and curdled at the start but I promise it will come together.

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Once the paste starts to come away from the sides of the pan, continue to cook it – still beating it – for another minute.

Pour the mix into the flour bowl from earlier (so fewer things are made dirty) and leave the ball to cool for five or ten minutes. You can speed this up by spreading it up the sides of the bowl.

Although you can do the next stage by hand, its far faster to use an electric beater. Add the eggs one at a time – it is fine if the flour mix is still a little warm at this point.

After you have added the eggs, you should have a smooth, glossy, sticky paste.

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Choux paste before the addition of eggs (top left) and after each of the eggs has been added

 

For profiteroles, pipe into circles an inch and a half across (or just dollop it onto the tray if you can’t be bothered with all the posh stuff. If any of the profiteroles have a tip on top from the piping bag, use a damp finger to flatten it out to prevent the tips from burning.

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For éclairs, pipe lines of paste four inches long onto the paper. Remember that they will expand a lot in the oven so space them out by an inch or so!

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For gougères, add some grated cheese to the mix and then treat as you would for profiteroles.

 

Sprinkle the tray with water (not the pastry) and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Try not to open the oven until this time as it will result in the choux deflating before it is finished cooking.

Check that the choux has puffed up, is golden and hard when you take them out of the oven. If not all the puffs are cooked, rotate the tray and give them another few minutes.

Once you remove the pastry from the oven, use a sharp knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each one and place them upside down to let the steam escape.

You can also place them hole side up in the oven for another minute to help dry them out (this is particularly useful when making a croquembouche as the choux buns have to be sturdy.)

 

Gougères are served plain or can be filled with mushroom duxelle (see my beef wellington recipe), or meats like beef, ham or pate.

 

For éclairs and profiteroles,

Filling:

400ml double cream

4 tbsp icing sugar

Vanilla (½ tsp vanilla paste or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)

 

For the ganache:

200ml double cream

250g dark chocolate (chopped)

 

For the filling, whip up the double cream with the sugar and vanilla to just lest than stiff peaks.

Pipe a generous amount through the hole in the bottom of each profiterole/éclair until they feel heavier and start to bulge.

 

For the ganache, heat the rest of the cream until just before boiling and pour it over the chocolate.

Leave for two minutes and then stir until the chocolate has melted and combines to make a glossy ganache.

Dip the top of each profiterole or éclair into the ganache and place onto a tray to set.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy a nice comforting main, check out my recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne or for another chocolatey dessert, why not make yourself some melt in the middle chocolate fondants?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious stir fry recipe.

H

Chocolate Fondants

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.

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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.

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This fondant has a salted caramel sauce and some double cream to cut through the richness of the chocolate

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!

 

 

Chocolate Fondants

Makes 3 cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

 

180g dark/white chocolate

25g butter

75g sugar

1 tsp Vanilla extract

2 eggs

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.

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(If you wish to make green tea fondants, add the matcha powder at this point and mix it through the rest of the batter)

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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.

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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.

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I may have forgotten to loosen my green tea fondant from the ramekin before I tried to turn it out.

serve immediately with ice cream, double cream, salted caramel sauce or anything else of your choice – the possibilities are endless!

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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.

H

Thai Curry and Other Coconut Curries

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.

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Cracking coconut milk for red curry. Top left – curry paste by itself. Top right – immediately after the coconut milk is added. Bottom left – the coconut milk has started reducing and the colour is intensifying. Finally the bottom right image is after the coconut milk has begun to crack. You can clearly see the red oil splitting out of the mixture.

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

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large chicken breast

Curry paste

600ml coconut milk

1 large onion

Water chestnuts

Bamboo shoots

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unflavoured oil

Optional:

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.

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Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.

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Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.

Serve with rice.

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Thai green curry garnished with a little bit of reserved coconut milk.
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Thai red curry garnished with a little fresh chilli and coconut milk.

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.

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chicken – off the bone

1 medium sweet potato

Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)

1 onion

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.

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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!

H

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Chocolate and Caramel Layer Cake

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.

Cocoa Pod
A fresh cocoa pod

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

Serves 25

For the Cake:

100g cocoa (you want to use regular shop bought dutchy processed cocoa, not raw cocoa!)

200g dark brown sugar

500ml boiling water

250g unsalted butter

300g caster sugar

450g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tbsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

For the Icing:
½ batch of caramel (see Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe which gives instructions for the full batch)

200g butter (at room temperature)

450g icing sugar – sifted

¼ cup milk

For the filling:

300ml double cream

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.

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Place the cocoa and the dark brown sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk this together.

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Cream the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes in an electric stand mixer.

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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.

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The moment it starts looking lumpy, add a little of the chocolate mixture

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.

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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.

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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.

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Spread the inside of the circle with one third of the cream and one third of the remaining caramel.

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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.

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Cover the entire cake in a thin coat of icing and chill for an hour.

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Chill the cake after adding the crumb coat so the final product has a clean finish on the outside

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.

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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!

H

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One Pot Pasta

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

½ onion

300g mushrooms

2 cloves garlic (minced)

Salt & pepper

Oil

Cornflour to thicken if needed

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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.

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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)

½ onion

1 chilli

2 cloves garlic – minced

Oil

Salt and Pepper

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I had some leftover mushrooms which I also threw in to the pasta along with some soya protein!

 

 

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

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One Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta

1 cup pasta

1 cup milk

½ onion

1 chicken breast

2 garlic cloves – minced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

¼ cup grated parmesan

Oil

Salt and pepper

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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

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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!

 

H

 

 

Brandy Snaps

For a long time, I was unaware that brandy snaps could be eaten on their own as opposed to being used a decorations for bigger, grander desserts. While this discovery hasn’t exactly rocked my world, it has given me another recipe in my biscuit arsenal, one that is particularly quick and easy to make! Whilst containing almost identical ingredients to gingerbread, the difference in ratios is what gives brandy snaps their distinctive appearance.

While in the oven, the butter and golden syrup melt, as does the sugar. This makes the brandy snaps  spread out from teaspoon sized blobs to several inches across. The bubbling in the butter causes little holes giving rise to the lacy appearance. As the sugar caramelises in the oven and the butters flows out of the biscuits, they darken. Once removed from the oven, the brandy snaps are far to soft to handle but as they cool, the sugar begins to harden. This is when they should be shaped. Cigars are shaped using an oiled wooden spoon but more exciting shapes can also be made. Laying the soft biscuit over an oiled cup or orange can give a beautiful bowl which can hold a dessert or cutting into triangles or long rectangles and curling can give an ornate garnish to a pudding.

Dating back to the early 1800s, brandy snaps have been around for a long time and haven’t really changed at all! They are traditionally filled with whipped cream however they can also be dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts to give another dimension. The origin of the name is actually thought to have been derived from the word ‘branded’ referring to the fact that they can appear burnt. Having said that, I can appreciate that you may wish to drink a couple of brandys whilst baking these as they are some of the fiddliest things I have ever created.

One thing to note is that while you want to shape them while they are still hot, they have to cool enough not to break when you handle them (and also not to burn your fingers). Another thing that makes them so useful is if you only want a few to jazz up your dessert, the lack of eggs in the recipe means you can reduce the quantities as much as you want – providing you stick to equal ratios of all ingredients other than the ginger.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and have a chance to try these at home!

 

 

Brandy Snaps

Prep time: 10 minutes          Cook time: 40

Makes: 30 medium sized brandy snaps

100g unsalted butter

100g brown sugar

100g golden syrup

100g plain flour

1tsp ground ginger

(optional: 1tbsp brandy or lemon juice)

 

Vegetable oil and wooden spoons

300ml whipping cream to fill

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C).

Sift the flour and ginger into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Gently heat the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until it has all mixed together and the butter is fully melted. DON’T LET THIS BOIL!

Pour the butter and sugar mixture into the well in the flour and mix together.

Add the lemon juice or brandy and mix into the batter – it should be thick and flow very slowly.

Using a half tablespoon (or a heaped teaspoon), dollop four blobs of batter onto each baking sheet – they will spread out a lot so do not put more than 4 on the first couple of sheets. Once you know if you can fit an extra brandy snap on the sheet then you can add one to the next batch.

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Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown – but not too dark as no one wants burnt brandy snaps.

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Minute 0, minute 4 and minute 8.

I tend to use three sheets on a rotation as the lower one doesn’t cook as fast so once I remove the first sheet, I move up the lower one and add the third sheet on the bottom of the oven and work in four or five minute intervals from there.

Lightly brush the handles of some wooden spoons with the vegetable oil.

Let the brandy snaps rest for a minute until they are cool enough to handle and won’t rip when lifted but are still soft and malleable.

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Wrap each one around the handle of the wooden spoon and place (seam side down so they don’t unwrap) onto a surface to cool.

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The brandy snaps should have cooled enough to remove from the wooden spoons without losing their shape when the next batch comes out of the oven.

Keep this rotation going until you have cooked all of the brandy snaps.

 

To fill them, whip the cream and pipe into the brandy snaps from both ends. You can also dip ends of brandy snap into melted chocolate (before filling with cream of course) and roll it in chopped nuts.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Let me know how these turn out for you, drop me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing as I love seeing what you guys create at home. If you fancy something more cakey – check out my recipe for a Yule Log (they don’t have to just be for Christmas)! Alternatively, if you are looking for something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some delicious Curried Parsnip Soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a base recipe for one pot pasta which can be adapted to make masses of dishes!

H