Saturday, 26 February 2011

Cake Pops!

Cake Pops/Cake Balls/Cake Popsicles - After seeing these on the internet (Bakerella, of course, is the original cake pop queen) and in magazines, I have decided to give them a go! If you haven't seen them, then cake pops are basically balls of crushed up cake mixed with frosting, dipped into chocolate on sticks and decorated with various glittery colourful decorations. I'm making them this weekend as a trial run as for my birthday (in a couple of weeks time), instead of my usual cupcakes, I'm going to make cake pops and decorate them with flowers and have them standing out of a flower pot! 
You can make cake pops out of fresh cake but they tend to work better with day-old cake that's a bit drier - a good way of using up leftover cake. I'm being lazy and using Betty Crocker devils food mix and Betty Crocker Chocolate cake frosting but you could make a homemade cake and frosting. If you don't have lollipop sticks to stand them up, then you can just make them as 'cake balls' that look like truffles.

Ingredients -
Chocolate cake (made from a mix like Betty Crocker or handmade)
Chocolate frosting (you can either make a buttercream or use Betty Crocker's chocolate frosting)
Chocolate Scotbloc to melt
Lollipop sticks

1. Make the cake according to the packet's instructions. With B.C mix, you just add 3 eggs, oil and water and mix it. Bake in the oven. Leave to cool completely.

2. In a bowl, fork the cake into crumble it into tiny pieces. Then stir in part of the frosting (a little at a time until it turns into a paste, you don't want them to be too sticky) and mulch up with your hands. When all combined, shape into about 2inch balls and place on a tray.

3. Chill the balls for at least 30minutes in a fridge. 

4. Then melt the chocolate/scotbloc in a microwavable bowl on a low heat. When all melted, dip a lollipop stick into the chocolate and then push into one of the balls, this will act as a glue. Leave to set.

5. When the stick is secured in the ball, dip a ball in the chocolate and cover with a spoon. When covered, gently spin or tap until the excess drops off (don't do it too hard or the ball will split or fall off). Then decorate with sprinkles or flowers while the chocolate is still wet. Stand up to dry (some chocolate may drip off a little bit). Leave to set, ideally in a fridge or a freezer if you can fit them in.  - see tip below.

6. Then either give them as a gift wrapped in cellophane and a ribbon. Or serve at a party! I'm going to have mine coming out of a flower pot, standing in an oasis block to look like flowers. 

- Note that as these are a trial run, I haven't got a proper picture of them all standing up. I'll post one from my party in a couple of weeks time!

- Some extra advice - It's really difficult to use normal chocolate to cover the cake balls as it doesn't set quick enough. My Mum came up with the idea of using Scotbloc which sets much quicker and gives a glossy finish. I think this is the UK equivalent of 'treebark chocolate' which is in all of their pop recipes.  Happy Baking :)

- I wrapped a cake ball up and gave it to my friend for her birthday.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Best Ever Chocolate Brownies -

Since Costco has stopped selling my favourite brownie mix (see previous post), I have been on the hunt for a new favourite. I tried the recipe from the Green and Black's cookbook which was really good but I'd heard so many good things (thanks to 'Lazylol' who commented on the G&B brownies) about a recipe from BBC Good Food which claimed to be the 'best ever'. So on this rainy depressing Saturday in February, I tried it out. Obviously it's been a few weeks since the Green and Black's brownies so it's hard to make a direct comparison but I think these may just have the edge. 
These brownies are made slightly differently to the usual method. I usually just melt the chocolate/butter and then mix everything together with a wooden spoon. But these require a little more attention, whisking the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer and then sifting the flour, folding the chocolate etc. But they are worth the wait. However, they should come with a warning, they're extremely rich. With other brownie mixes, I could, if left to my own devices, probably eat rather a lot before feeling a bit sick and sugar-rushey. But with these, I had a headache after just a small square! I think it's the large amount of dark chocolate with a lot of cocoa and then having chocolate chunks in the mix too. But they were definitely a hit with the rest of the family. They have a great crispy top with such a fudgey centre, yet they were firm enough to cut and serve (a fault with the old costco mix, you literally had to eat it with a spoon from the tin). I like my brownies to be almost under baked, but if you want yours a bit more cakey then leave them in the oven for a bit longer.

Also, before I post the recipe, a little tip on lining the tin. My boyfriend lined the tin today and he made a really cool net of baking paper with slits in the corners so it could easily lift out of the tin (see the photo for a better understanding). He did it by having the paper overlapping each side of the tin by about 2 inches, then fold all of the edges in evenly to make a square the size of the tin then unfold and cut every other slit. 

The recipe - I've really condensed this recipe as the one on the BBC good food site is so ridiculously over complicated that it's confusing! I mean, it's a brownie mix for god's sake! So I've made it simple:

Ingredients -
185g unsalted butter
185g dark chocolate (I used half Sainsbury's cooking chocolate and half G&B 70%)
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
50g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
50g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 160c (fan oven). Line a tin with baking paper. 
2. Put the butter and dark chocolate into a microwavable bowl and melt on a low heat for a minute before stirring, then if not fully melted, continue. Leave to cool to room-temperature.
3. Meanwhile, chop the white and milk chocolate into chunks. Then break the eggs into a bowl and tip in the sugar. Using an electric mixer on the maximum speed, whisk until the eggs look thick and creamy and have nearly doubled in size.
4. Then pour the chocolate mix over the egg mix and gently fold with a spatula until the 2 mixtures combine. Try not to knock out too much of the air.
5. Then sift the cocoa and flour mixture into the chocolate/eggs and fold in gently until all incorporated. Don't over fold. Then stir in the chocolate chunks and pour into the tin. Place in the middle of the oven and cook for about 25-35 minutes. This will depend on your oven, I usually put a timer on for 18 minutes and then check it every couple of minutes after. I use a skewer to test if it is ready. You want it to still have a slight wobble and a tiny bit of chocolate still on the skewer as it will continue cooking for a few minutes after coming out of the oven. It should have a shiny, papery crust with the sides just beginning to come away from the tin.
6. Leave the brownie in the tin to cool and then lift the baking paper up to get the whole brownie out to serve. I cut it into 4 x 4 squares, but you could easily cut these in half again due to their richness. Keep in an airtight tin. 

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Pea, Prosciutto and Tomato Pasta...

Gigli Pasta - cone shaped flowers
This is just a simple pasta dish that is really, really delicious. I'd been craving pasta for a while so made a really quick sauce last night and just added some peas, prosciutto ham, basil and onion. I really wanted to use orecchiette pasta (also known as little ears) which would have held the sauce well but unfortunately Sainsbury's didn't have any. So instead I got 'Gigli,', the next most unusual looking shape, which is rolled into the shape of a conical flower. I think it's the prettiest pasta I've seen and was really delicious. It's hard to use exact quantities, this is more of an idea for a quick pasta dish rather than a proper recipe so just use as much as you like.

Ingredients - (for 2)
2 portions of any type of pasta
Prosciutto ham
Small white onion, finely chopped
Handful of basil
Clove of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Can of chopped tomatoes
Tin of tomato puree 
Grated cheese, parmesan or cheddar. 
Black pepper

1. Boil the kettle for the pasta. Get the sauce going by frying the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Once softened, add the basil and tomato puree for a minute or 2. Then add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for a good 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook the peas in the microwave and tear the ham up. Cook the pasta according to it's instructions. 
3. Add the peas and ham to the sauce and stir in. Add some black pepper.
4. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and coat in the sauce. Divide into bowls and add some cheese, then serve.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Parma Ham Wrapped Cod with a Shallot and Sage Risotto

For an early Valentine's dinner, my Boyfriend and I cooked dinner together. I had been thinking about cooking some fish wrapped in parma ham for a while and so it seemed like a good opportunity. The recipe is for cod (we were going to get monkfish but cod was better value in Waitrose) wrapped in parma ham and baked in the oven served with a simple shallot, sage, asparagus and pea risotto. I really like shallots in risotto, they're much more subtle and sweeter than regular onions, the sage goes well with them too. It was really delicious. I think next time though, I'd put a cocktail stick to hold the ham around the fish a bit better. For dessert we had meringue kisses (see previous post) with vanilla ice cream and raspberries. 

Ingredients - Serves 2
2 x white fish loins or 1 large one
Parma/prosciutto ham slices, about 2-3 per person and fish loin
3 small shallots, chopped
250g risotto rice (I like arborio)
Small knob of butter
2 small cloves garlic
Chicken stock (about 1 litre)
White wine (optional)
Sage leaves
Black Pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 200c. Prepare the fish by placing the slices of ham in a lightly oiled baking tray and add a bay leaf (see photo) then lay the fish on top. Roll up and secure with a cocktail stick.
2. Put in the oven and cook for about 20-25minutes until the fish is cooked through.
3. Start the risotto by frying the garlic, shallots and a couple of  roughly torn sage leaves in the butter. Then when the shallots are softened, add the risotto rice and stir until translucent. Then add a glug of wine (if using) or a splash of stock and stir until well absorbed. Repeat a few times before adding some parmesan and black pepper. Keep stirring over a low heat and gradually adding more stock. 
4. Microwave the asparagus and peas until cooked and set aside. Check the fish, if there is any juice in the baking tray, pour this into the risotto. Keep stirring the risotto.
5. Once the risotto is nearly cooked (you want it to be soft with a tiny bit of bite - al dente), add the asparagus and peas.
6. When the fish is cooked through, serve on top of the risotto with a tiny bit more parmesan and black pepper. 

Below are some photo's from my Valentine's Day. Some are pictures of presents my boyfriend made for me (the orchids in a drawer and the LOVE picture). The other is of me at 'Cupid Green', appropriate for the occasion.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Valentine's Cupcakes and Meringue Kisses

Many people think that Valentine's day is a product of commercialism, an excuse for restaurants to charge more and for shops to fill the gap between Christmas and Easter. But I love Valentine's day and while we should show our loved one's how special they are everyday, it's nice to make an occasion out of it. Plus there are so many pretty heart inspired products in the shops around this time of year. Food is an important aspect for Valentine's day, as the old saying goes 'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach'! With my boyfriend this year we are cooking in rather than going out to a restaurant. In addition, I've baked these cupcakes and some meringue 'kisses', 2 small piped meringues sandwiched together with chocolate.

Cupcakes -
For me, any special occasion wouldn't be complete without cupcakes! I've made these using the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook (see this link to my previous post) using chocolate sponge and vanilla frosting. I added a handful of chocolate chips to the sponge mixture so that they'll be extra chocolatey. I used cases with little hearts on and decorated them with a range of toppings. I used heart shaped jelly beans from M&S, some pink love heart sweets and a mixture of sprinkles.

Meringues -
Meringues are always popular with me as we always have so many eggs to use up (from our lovely chickens) so when I saw a recipe by Lorraine Pascale in the Sainsbury's magazine for chocolate meringue kisses, I thought it would be a great idea for Valentine's day. These meringues are the best I've made yet, the lemon juice and cream of tartar added when whisking really stabilises the mix, making them easier to pipe and their texture at the end is perfect. She uses chocolate buttercream to sandwich hers together but I just dipped them in melted chocolate and she also adds some toasted (175g) pecans to the meringue mix but again, I wanted to keep them simple. The cute meringues would be great for a light pudding at a dinner party or as part of an afternoon tea. To pipe the meringues, I find it easiest to use a sandwich bag and cut the end off and then put the piping nozzle in that. It's then easy to throw away the bag rather than waste hours washing your piping bag.

Ingredients - 
5 large egg whites
a squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
275g caster sugar
Chocolate or a chocolate butter cream to sandwich them together.

1. Preheat the oven to fan 100c and line 3 baking trays with nonstick baking paper. Using a whisk, whisk the egg whites and lemon juice to stiff peaks.
2. Whisking all the time, add the cream of tartar and sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. Keep on whisking until you have a stiff, shiny meringue. Then spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe 50 x 3-4cm blobs on the baking trays.
3. Bake for an hour and then leave to cool on the trays. I leave them in the oven with the door ajar to reduce cracking.
4. Then once cooled and dry, carefully lift the meringues off of the baking paper and sandwich together then leave in the fridge for a while to set properly. If using buttercream, sandwich a couple of hours before (no earlier). 

Happy Valentine's Day <3 
I'll be posting what we cooked in the next couple of days. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ikea's Daim Cake...

As well as visiting Leon at the weekend, I went to Ikea. Being Swedish they sell lots of Swedish food - some of it is slightly dubious like smoked or pickled herrings but they also sell DAIM bars. Daim's are delicious and I think you can buy them in our normal supermarkets or newsagents but in Ikea they have them everywhere. They sell bags of miniature daims, chocolate bars filled with daims, they give them out free at the checkouts but the variation I particularly love is their Daim cake. They sell it by the slice in their cafe but you can buy a whole frozen cake in their food store at the end. It's made by 'Almondy'  and is an almond tart with a biscuit base, custardy cream and chocolate covered crushed daims. I always thought that Daims tasted of burnt caramel, like a butterscotchy taste but all of their packaging says it's an almond flavour but it doesn't taste like almonds...?
Anyway, I'm going to try and come up with a recipe to make this daim cake but in the mean time, get yourself to Ikea and pick up a cake :). It's frozen but defrosts within 10 minutes and we served ours with ice cream. So if anybody has a recipe, it would be good to try and make it.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


I've really fallen for the Leon brand with their healthy cookbooks and quirky restaurants. Their 'healthy fast food' is a great concept and their restaurants are popping up all over the place. I first went to one on the Strand about a year ago and have only just got round to going again. The problem with all of these delicious restaurant chains (I'm also a huge fan of Yo Sushi, Wahaca, Wagamama, Pizza Express etc) is finding the time to visit them! We have to choose carefully when we go out (most are in London) as to which one to eat in. So anyway, last night my boyfriend, my parents and I went to Leon in Brent Cross. It's only been open for a couple of months and looks really lovely with twinkly lights and a chandelier. Unfortunately, we'd looked at the menu online and wanted the dinner 'grazing dishes' available after 6pm but Brent Cross doesn't serve these. So instead we ordered some flatbread and houmous to start (very good) then 5 lunch hot dishes between the 4 of us, they all come in a box with rice and dressed 'slaw which wasn't ideal as we then had to split the dishes and share out all the rice. I think the concept of the grazing dishes would be better, just ordering a good selection of the meat/veg dishes so you can try the all and getting the rice and salads separately. But anyway, the food was really delicious even if it was all mixed onto one plate. We had a Pork Jambalaya (probably my favourite) -  mexican slow cooked tomatoey cajun spiced pork, Grilled chicken with garlic and aioli, chilli chicken - grilled chicken with chilli sauce on the side, sweet potato falafel and the Leon Gobi a coconut based cauliflower curry - all with so many yummy flavours. And it was a definite winner for me serving brown rice and giving free water (in retro jugs with slices of lemon). 
You're probably wondering why, in a blog filled with sweet baking and puddings, that I haven't mentioned any pudding. And that's because like the grazing dishes, they didn't serve puddings with ice cream or anything. On the counter they have brownies or pecan pies but we wanted something proper after our mostly virtuous meal so came home for it instead.
So Leon is a great healthy place to go for breakfast (yes even their breakfasts are healthy and look delicious), lunch or dinner, just try to pick a branch that serves the grazing dishes and puddings in the evenings. Also, an added bonus is that if you sign up to their 'Leon love club', you get 40% off! So all of our food came to £26. 

The boxed chicken aioli, rice and slaw. 

 Our plate with a bit of each lunchtime dish.

P.S I've only tried one thing out of the Leon cookbook so far (pancakes) but as I go through and try the rest out, I'll be blogging them :)