Monday, May 25, 2015

Another Coffee Cake



You may not believe by the looks of it but this is the same cake that I baked last week. This time around, I decided to bake the coffee nut sponge in foil lined ramekins to give me mini cakes. Then I got thinking about what to fill these cakes with. I'd already tried the version with ganache, and try as I might, I simply can't get myself to like buttercream. It's too rich, too sweet, just too much of everything. Now, if you dislike the cloyingly sweet buttercream as much as I do, I think I've found a genius solution. I filled and topped my sponge with pastry cream.

More specifically, this is peanut butter pastry cream from Johhny Iuzzini's Sugar Rush. I am a big Iuzzini fan ever since I saw him on Top Chef Just Desserts and I've become an even bigger fan after reading his latest book. Sugar Rush has some fantastic flavour combinations. And it's full of gems like this peanut butter pastry cream that goes so well with the coffee flavoured cake.

Ingredients
1 cup milk
1/4 cup peanut butter
50 grams honey
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt

Pour the milk and peanut butter in a blender and whiz it into a smooth mix. Transfer the milk to a saucepan and add honey and salt. Heat on a medium flame until the mixture is hot but not boiling. Mix sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Beat the egg yolks until well mixed. Whisk the sugar/cornflour mixture into the eggs until well combined and fluffy.

Keep on whisking as you pour 1/3rd of the warm milk over the yolks. Once it's well combined, add another 1/3rd and whisk well. Add the remaining milk and pour the whole thing back into the saucepan. Put the pan back on medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture begins to boil. Cook for another couple of minutes so the pastry cream is well cooked.

Immediately pass through a fine mesh strainer. This is a thickish cream so sieving it is a bit of a pain. You will be thankful later though, because the pastry cream will taste eggy if you leave it unstrained. Cover the sieved pastry cream and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.

To use instead of buttercream for mini cakes, split the cakes into two. Spread a thin layer of pastry cream on the bottom cake layer and top with the other half. Spread the pastry cream to cover the top of the cake and sprinkle chopped nuts and cranberries to finish.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Coffee Break



This post is about a delicious coffee flavoured sponge cake, sure, but it's also about another important topic bakers worry about - baking accidents. Cakes that don't rise, cakes that sink or crack or burn; I've seen them all. And here's the most important lesson I've learnt about baking disasters - you have to stop panicking and embrace them! Even if they happen half an hour before you have to leave for a party and this cake was meant to be your hostess gift. It's guaranteed that whatever you baked with butter, sugar, eggs and flour is going to be edible. Yes, it may not meet your standards for a perfect sponge but here's the thing - almost nobody in that party knows what a perfect sponge looks like. Which brings me to my second important lesson - ganache can cover almost any flaw and people will love what you end up with. Ganache, my friends, is a baker's best friend.

So here's what happened with this one. I followed a Mary Berry recipe to create her perfect coffee sponge. It rose well in the oven but as soon as it came out of the oven, it sank. And I had a cake sized crater to deal with. So I did what I do best; filled it up with white chocolate ganache. Just when I'd poured tons of ganache in, I figured it might get too sweet. So I sprinkled some cinnamon on top, correctly assuming that the spiciness with cut through the sweetness. And while the cake was dense and too sweet, loads of folks said it reminded them of Cinnabon. And that's never a bad thing!

Good luck baking this one, and hope your cake doesn't sink. But even if it does, you know how to fix it now!

Ingredients
For Coffee Sponge
2 eggs
100 grams butter, softened
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coffee essence (or 1 tbsp warm water mixed with 1 tsp instant coffee)
50 grams chopped walnuts

For ganache
100 grams white chocolate
100 grams heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

To bake the coffee sponge, heat your oven to 180C. Grease a 6 inch round cake tin and line the base with parchment. Beat butter and sugar until pale, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in flour, baking powder and coffee essence, Beat well, then fold in chopped nuts. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then turn it out, peel off the parchment and cool completely on a wire rack.

In the meantime, chop white chocolate. Heat the cream on a gentle heat until its hot but not boiling. Pour the cream on top of the chocolate, let sit for a couple of minutes and then stir until you get a smooth ganache. Pour the ganache on top of the cake; it will be thin enough to spread but use a spatula to get it all over the top of the cake if you need to. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp cinnamon on top of the ganache.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Arancini



All cultures have dishes that use leftovers creatively. Some are so good that you make extra food and therefore, leftovers, just to have that dish. I was always told that arancini, the Italian rice balls that are made from leftover risotto, is one such dish. Alas, my first taste of arancini at a London farmer's market was underwhelming. Lukewarm rice and a soggy coating surely didn't make me an arancini fan. I had arancini again on my trip to Italy, but it was always pre-cooked and reheated so I really didn't see what the big deal is.

Then yesterday, while making risotto for lunch, I decided I'd make some extra and figure once for all what the deal with real arancini is. And finally, eating this carb loaded, cheesy dish right out of deep frying, I finally get it! Arancini can be truly wonderful when it's piping hot and just fried. You should try it too.

The base of a good arancini is good risotto. Mine was spinach and three cheese risotto but you can cook plain risotto if that's what you like, or whip up your favourite version. Whatever type you make, take out one cup cooked risotto and leave it in the fridge for several hours for any liquid to get absorbed in the rice. Apart from the rice, you will need 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, some finely diced mozzarella and either an egg or 2 tbsp milk. Plus oil for deep frying of course.

Make golf ball sized portions of your rice. Pick each one, make a dent in the middle and add some cheese. Roll back into a ball to cover the cheese, adding more rice if needed. Spread the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate. With a pastry brush, add a layer of beaten egg or milk to your arancini - egg is traditional but I personally prefer milk. Now dip the balls in the breadcrumbs, rolling them around to coat evenly. Put the arancini back in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.

Heat oil in a pan to smoking point - about a 1-2 inch layer so you can get the arancini crispy. Drop 2-3 arancini into the pan at a time and fry until golden brown. Eat immediately to get the full flavour of a crispy, carb loaded, gooey snack.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Molecular Mousse



Ever since I first heard about El Bulli and Alinea, I have been a huge fan of molecular gastronomy. It's an interest that's only increased over the years as I dined at Heston Bluementhal's restaurants and even tried the experiments some Indian restaurants are doing with liquid nitrogen and foams. But follow the trail of molecular gastronomy long enough and you soon realise that it goes far beyond the theatrical drama of spheres and gels and foams. Molecular gastronomy, in its true form, is the art of using science to make food taste better. And it does so by brilliant innovations like antigriddles and sous vide cooking.

Some of the molecular gastronomy techniques are so counter intuitive and yet so simple that they awe me. One such recipe, created by Herve This (the original brain behind this whole school of cooking) is the chocolate mousse. Traditional wisdom says that water and chocolate don't mix. But This melds the two together and somehow manages to create a light, smooth chocolate mousse.

To make this chocolate mousse, pour 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Heat gently and while it's still on a medium heat, whisk in 240 grams of chopped dark chocolate. Since you won't add anything else to the mousse, pick the best and the tastiest chocolate you can buy. Whisk until you have a smooth sauce.

Fill a bowl large enough to hold the saucepan with ice cubes, and put the saucepan on the ice cubes. Whisk manually or with a hand beater until the mousse thickens and also has some air incorporated in it. I personally tried the whisk first but nothing much happened so I switched to the electric version and the mousse thickened in about a minute.

Pour the mousse into ramekins and chill to set. I had some tart cases I'd baked and left in the freezer so I poured my mousse onto those to make an indulgent chocolate tart.