Pear and hazelnut cake + Chocolate, walnut and banana bread

Baking usually requires very little or no excuse. We had Beloved’s mum to stay last weekend and I deemed that a good occasion to do not one but two cakes. The first was a quick and simple Chocolate Banana Bread from Leith’s book to which I added walnuts, to have with tea on Saturday afternoon and the second was a very good Pear and hazelnut cake from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II for Sunday lunch. I’ve been meaning to post photos since.

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The Pear and hazelnut cake is an immediate favourite. Deeply satisfying and easy to do but it does require a little time. The pears are softened a little first with sugar and lemon juice, hazelnuts toasted, skinned and ground, nothing terribly time consuming but it also takes an hour in a low oven and I just about managed it before our pick up time for lunch. It consists of three layers – hazelnut sponge base, the softened pears in the middle, a buttery crumble on top. Once out of the oven, the syrup from the pears is poured over. Moist and just delicious.

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The Chocolate Banana Bread was a much simpler affair so I thought I’d make it more interesting by adding walnuts. I also used a very good cocoa powder & chopped Valrhona chocolate so it was very rich but I may have left it in the oven for 5 minutes too long as it was quite crumbly to cut (I also tried cutting it while still pretty hot, which is never a good thing) and I didn’t manage a good photo of a slice. Here is the whole thing

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Not so much of a looker but makes up for it in taste.

Chocolate and pecan tart

A friend with a sweet tooth was coming over to spend the afternoon watching movies yesterday, a perfect opportunity to bake something suitably rich and indulgent, something with chocolate. As I’d already had Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake book out to make sourdough, I leafed through it in search of inspiration and stopped at the description for the Chocolate and pecan tart – like a good treacle tart but more sophisticated. Beloved is a big fan of treacle tart (of anything with golden syrup really) so I thought this would do splendidly. It did:

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The recipe involved making a sweet pastry – this one has a high butter to flour ratio so it does need a long chilling time + quick rolling but it is wonderfully short. The filling I played around with a little. It includes melted butter and dark chocolate, whisked into beaten eggs; then sugar and golden syrup brought to boiling point, cooled and whisked slowly into the chocolate/ egg mix; a little vanilla extract and a whole load of chopped pecans. Despite our friend’s sweet tooth and Beloved’s love of golden syrup, I reduced the quantities a bit and increased the quantity of chocolate. I’m glad I did as the tart was still rich and sweet but not overpoweringly so. Very, very good indeed.

Chocolate, walnuts, digestives

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This is a perfect little treat for when you don’t fancy baking. I was exhausted yesterday afternoon, stepped out for a moment to clear a bit of bramble that catches on clothes on the path outside the house, then couldn’t stop… Four bags full of ‘growth’ and lots of cuts on my hands later, at least the path is clear. So anyway, I didn’t fancy making a cake after that and made these Chocolate, walnut and digestives squares instead. I adapted a recipe from Hugh FW’s Three Good Things a little according to what I had and what needed using up.

I used 180g Valrhona dark chocolate (think it’s 68%), 40g white chocolate (recipe called for 200g dark and I didn’t fancy opening another bar when I had a bit of white left), 100g butter, dollop of honey (1tbsp, you could also use golden or maple syrup), melted in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the sides of the bowl). Separately, break up 150g of digestive biscuits but not too fine as you want to have some crunch and 75g walnuts – you can use any dried fruit, nut or a mix here (HFW used ginger) then add to the chocolate and butter mix. Line a small sandwich loaf tin with greaseproof paper then pour the mix in, then leave in the fridge for a few hours until firm. Cut into squares & enjoy. There’s probably an infinite number of combinations you could do here – peanut butter, maple syrup and dried figs perhaps, black treacle even.

 

Espresso and dark chocolate ice cream

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It took some maneuvering to get the ice cream maker bowl to fit into the freezer (small and recently loaded up with ‘stuff’) but fit it in I did because I really fancied some home made ice cream this weekend. I don’t think I froze the bowl for long enough beforehand though because it was taking ages yesterday afternoon, the ice cream was not really chilling and, as we were watching The Master at the same time I was getting pretty frustrated that nothing was happening. Nothing in the kitchen and nothing on the screen. I gave up on the machine and just froze the ice cream hoping for the best and soon after I gave up on the film too and nodded off. When I woke up the film was still on and Beloved informed me that I’d missed very little. What a pointless waste of time (Joaquin Phoenix very good though).

The ice cream, though was well worth the effort, with a very intense and mildly bitter coffee flavour enhanced by good dark chocolate. This is a real treat for lovers of good coffee. Recipe came from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II although I reduced the amount of sugar by a third – think Nigel has a very sweet tooth although Beloved did say he would have liked a bit more sugar. For me, this was perfect but I would consider perhaps using a mix of dark and white or milk chocolate in future. Or perhaps not, it really is very good just as it is. Like a chocolatey affogato. Very good aftertaste too.

Chocolate muscovado banana cake

I seem to be baking with bananas quite a bit at the moment, there was the Banana and walnut bread and now this Chocolate muscovado banana cake from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II. Well, there were four rather blackened bananas in the fruit bowl so I thought better use them in something than throw them away. And, as it happens, this cake is totally worth leaving bananas out too long, it is rather lovely. Here’s the whole thing:IMG_0518I’ve been a fan of Nigel Slater’s recipes for years although I’ve learnt not to completely trust some of his ingredient quantities. For this cake, I reduced the quantity of muscovado sugar and also used up some old vanilla palm sugar I had. Combined with a teaspoon of vanilla essence, 100g of Valrhona and the pretty overripe bananas, this cake has a rich, intense, almost boozy flavour. Typically, I didn’t particularly fancy waiting for it to cool down so cut it, carefully, while still warm. Unfortunately the colourful look – with chopped chocolate and some bits of banana still visible, doesn’t quite translate in this photo since I used flash on iphone and then tried to soften and warm up the image somewhat.IMG_0517Have to admit, I did the photos in a rush as have quite a lot on at the moment – not satisfied with doing one pretty full on course, I’ve committed to doing another, not nearly as full on but I seem to be forever catching up now. At least all this study is not leaving me any time to be depressed about it still being winter.

Homemade fresh mint truffles and The Hobbit

So marvellous to finally be on holiday! Took a couple of days to get into it, to remember I don’t have to check emails or do anything other than what I fancy, to be lazy and indulgent. These Homemade fresh mint truffles from Dan Lepard in The Guardian (second recipe down) are a proper indulgent treat:

IMG_0480Dan suggested them as a Christmas gift and, in a sense I made them as a gift, only a gift for Beloved and me. Obviously, mine are very messy – shaping was tricky and I thought I’d be clever and use a rubber ice cube tray to freeze some but then they wouldn’t come out so that really wasn’t very clever. The rest I just shaped with a couple of teaspoons and froze on greaseproof paper as suggested so they ended up being all sorts of different shapes and sizes. I finished them yesterday afternoon with a good coating of melted dark chocolate, only the chocolate was cooling too quickly to give each one a second ‘smooth’ coating so I just made them look even more messy. Now I think they look quite cute and they definitely taste way, way better than anything shop bought. They contain a huge amount of chocolate (400g white and 200g dark) beautifully balanced with both fresh mint and essence. More fiddly to do than Dan’s other edible Christmas gifts I’ve made over the past few weeks but so very good.

We braved the outside world – or rather the West End yesterday morning for a special screening of The Hobbit at Empire on Leicester Square and this was the queue:

IMG_4857 Rather, this was the back of the queue, it went on and on. Amazingly all these people bothered to get up and turn up on a miserable and wet Saturday morning and even more amazingly, they all fitted in. I thought the film was just about OK, too much technical gimmickry, thought 3D was unnecessary, didn’t particularly add anything and the high speed frame rate (or whatever the technical term for this is) kind of worked OK in some bits but made others jerky. I’m very, very fond of Lord of The Rings (books more than films but I do like the films too) and I guess this was a bit of a disappointment. There isn’t a huge amount of character development, a lot of the scenery seems identical to what’s been used for various Lord of The Rings films and, most annoyingly, you just see the group running in the same or a very similar way to what they did in mines of Moria, plains of Rohan and so on. Still, I enjoyed the film, just not as much as the others. Am glad we saw it in a good cinema and now definitely want to re-read the book, very much looking forward to it.

First though, I’ve a brioche to make, lovely for Christmas Day breakfast, no?

Two kinds of macaroons

Since I’ve been doing so much baking this year, I thought I’d do some edible Christmas gifts: Stem Ginger Macaroons and Chocolate Muscovado Macaroons. Both recipes came from Dan Lepard, Guardian archives: here and here and this is what they looked like:

IMG_0468Both highly recommended and very easy to make. The stem ginger ones took no time at all. I would recommend a piping bag for the chocolate ones though as the mixture is too sticky to spoon if you melt the chocolate (the recipe didn’t specify). Tried them both before packing, the ginger ones are lovely and intense, almond balancing the ginger out very well. I’m not the greatest fan of gingerbread or ginger in cakes but these really are good. Chocolate ones too, lovely and chewy, I used Valrhona to deepen the flavour. Here are some individual photos:

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IMG_0470The Guardian website had an article the other day about homemade edible gifts vs. shop bought. Shop bought often turn out to be quite a bit cheaper (when you count the cost of all your ingredients and packaging) but homemade not only taste good (depending on which shop, I guess) but are also lovely to make. I shall definitely be making a few more over the coming weeks.