The Simple Things

With my life being so busy at the moment – I feel I hardly have any time to myself – I’m taking great pleasure in the little things. In the things which take little energy or effort. The Simple Things In Life.

My favourite recipes are quick and easy; the sort which can be committed to memory after one or two attempts and can be adapted without trouble.

As an example, chocolate truffles. The basic recipe I use can be adapted for all sorts of flavours and types of chocolate, and these days, can be made in about 5 minutes. 20 if you include the rolling out. And I suppose there’s the 3 hours or so waiting for the mixture to set.

RaspberryTruffles.jpg

I prefer to use dark chocolate – it seems to handle the melting and mixing process more happily than milk or white. In fact, unless absolutely necessary, I don’t use milk chocolate at all.

White chocolate is so-so. The fat tends to come out more with white chocolate which gives the mix an odd appearance, but doesn’t affect the taste. Might just be the cheap chocolate, of course. On the other hand, it’s better for more delicate flavours than dark, which can overpower.

The above truffles are raspberry and coconut. With a splash of mango vodka.

 

(Almost) According to ScandiKitchen: Kladdkaka

There is a café just off of Oxford Street. (There’s probably a lot of cafés off of Oxford Street.) I can’t remember exactly where, but you can get there in almost a straight line from Goodge Street, from the street opposite Paperchase, with the Tesco Metro on it. Walk along there for about ten minutes or so.

Actually, that might be a lie. You might have to turn off it somewhere. It’s been a while.

Anyway, this café, ScandiKitchen, is a home away from home for Scandinavian expats. It provides Scandinavian food and a small grocery section for imports. Like reindeer meat. And Scandinavian licorice. But I go for the cakes.

One of the things I miss the most about my time in Sweden is the baked goods. Sweden has some wonderful cake recipes. Especially kladdkaka. I normally describe this as a sort of brownie-cake, and my ScandiKitchen recipe book say it literally means sticky cake.

Kkaddkaka.jpg

This isn’t the one I made, but a picture of the picture in the book. Mine was eaten too quickly for photographs.

It’s a reasonably quick and simple recipe too:

2 eggs

200g sugar

100 butter, melted and cooled slightly

150g flour

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

Teaspoon of vanilla

  1. Whisk together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Stir in dry ingredients and vanilla
  3. Add melted butter and mix well.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 in a 20 cm cake tin

The crust should need a little pressure to crack but the cake shouldn’t be completely cooked. The middle should still be a bit runny – it’ll set once cooled.

Best served with a dollop of cream.

Mine, I think, was slightly overdone. Still tasty, but I feel it probably should not have broken neatly in half when I picked it up…

P.S. – Apologies for the delay – one of those weeks!

VCT: A Brief History of Chocolate

The pinnacle of chocolate-ness, that which history and tradition has declared The Best, is that which is made in Belgium or Switzerland.

And yet, and yet…The cacao tree isn’t native to Europe; indeed, it doesn’t even grow here save for in tropical biomes. It isn’t even native to Africa. Growing within 20 degrees of latitude of the Equator, it comes from Central America – from Peru and Ecuador and Mexico.

Chocolate began life as a drink, the beans roasted and ground into a paste with water, and flavoured with chili. Introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors, it was only when the Spanish began sweetening it with honey or sugar that this new drink found favour with the court.

And later, experiments were made, to make it better, more consistent, tastier, cheaper. It wasn’t until 1847, though, that John Fry worked out how to make solid chocolate. Then the greats of chocolate began – Daniel Peter used Henri Nestlé’s powdered milk, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, John and Benjamin Cadbury received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. And in 1893, Milton S. Hershey established his chocolate factory in Chicago.

Nowadays, the majority of cacao comes from the Ivory Coast, cacao beans having made their way to Africa, and further afield, during European colonisation.

And makers are going the other way – more expensive, artisan, chocolate. Single-origin. Cheap, mass-produced bars are still on the shelves, but there’s growing demand for higher quality. For chocolate which tastes like chocolate, and not sugar or non-cacao vegetable fats. Or is that just me?

The Virtual Chocolate Tour

Before one embarks on any journey, one must prepare.

For a journey of this magnitude – I hope to take in as many of the chocolate-producing countries as I can – one must make a lot of preparations. For one thing, off the top of my head, I can only think of a handful of countries which grow cacao trees. I’m sure there are more. For another, because I will sadly not be visiting the countries in person, I will need to source as many different single-origin bars of chocolate as I can.

A brief search of the internet offers me at least twenty chocolate-producing countries. A quick trip to the nearest supermarket offers me four single-origin bars: Peru, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic. Finding bars of the rest might take some time – Mexico, Madagascar, Ecuador, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Cameroon, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Granada, Cuba, Somao (among others).

I look forward to my tour, beginning, I think, in Peru. I think it is time for me to find my favourite chocolate. I’ve been a fussy sort of chocolate-eater since I was about eighteen, when I first started making truffles, and began reading labels.

When it comes to tasting chocolate, I know that you can tell a good bar by the sound of its snap. It should be a quick, clean sound. And then you let the chocolate melt, slowly, on your tongue to let the flavours release.

 

(Almost) According to Paul Gayler: Chocolate Sorbet

Isn’t it nice when one’s work-place provides ice-creams mid-afternoon because it’s too hot? Quite the nicest sort of work-surprise, excepting a healthy bonus.

We were given an ice-cream maker a few years ago – it’s sat in its box in the cupboard ever since – and with all this heat at the moment, I was inspired to pull it out and test a recipe in an Ice Cream and Sorbet recipe book. Admittedly I attempted a vegan ice at the weekend, with blueberries, coconut milk and bananas, but it was just a bit too bananary for me. So I riffled through the recipe book, and settled on chocolate sorbet.

I’m not a huge fan of commercial chocolate ice-creams – they’re all a bit chemically and not nearly chocolatey enough -but this recipe I recall being quite good. And I had some cacao chips to use up.

Chocolate Sorbet

Ingredients:

125g chocolate, pref. at least 70% cacao

(I used 100g cacao chips – gonna be a rich chocolate sorbet)

500ml water

250g sugar

75g cocoa powder

(I used chocolate flakes – no cocoa powder in my cupboards!)

60ml creme de cacao

How to Make:

Bring to the boil the water, sugar and cocoa powder and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes to create a chocolate syrup.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over a pan of boiling water and stir until smooth.

Stir the chocolate into the syrup and add the creme de cacao. Stir until smooth.

Allow to go cold before tipping into your ice cream maker/pouring into a tub and popping in the freezer. If not using the magic machine, remember to take it out every hour or so and give it a good stir.

Enjoy!

Grasshopper Pie

Mark said he wanted a chocolate cake for his birthday, so I had a quick flick through my recipe books to make suggestions, and then left them lying around for him to find what he wanted.

He chose the Grasshopper Pie from one of my Hummingbird Bakery cook-books. It’s not a cake, and it’s only chocolatey because of the chocolate-biscuit base. And sprinkles on top if you want.

But it’s nice and easy to make, no baking involved, with each stage requiring time to set between times. And given all the other cakes and cake-like things he received, a welcome change!

Grasshopper Pie

Basically, you make a biscuit base like you would for a cheesecake, then melt some marshmallows with milk and stir in some whipped cream (with mint and green colouring), and then top with more whipped cream and optional chocolate flakes.

Biscuit base: 250g double chocolate cookies + 150g butter. Press into cake tin/pie dish and leave to cool for about an hour.

Marshmallow layer: 180g marshmallows (preferably white) + 180ml whole milk + 300ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks + 1tsp peppermint essence + 1tsp green food dye. Leave the marshmallow&milk mix to cool for 10-15 minutes before adding the cream, mint and green. Pour onto biscuit base and leave to set for a few hours.

Topping: 400ml double cream, whipped, + chocolate shavings/sprinkles (optional). Tip onto base and leave to set until ready.

No-Fuss Chocolate Cake

Is there anything better in this world than a good cake which requires very little effort to make?

DSCN0474

This chocolate fudge cake fits the bill. Very definitely the lazy person’s cake, or the cake for the time-deprived. It’s even better than that 5-minute microwave cake in a cup recipe that floats around on Facebook.

Because this cake is a bread-maker cake, and it’s a cake-mix, in the manner of the bread-mixes you get for the bread-maker. You just put the mix in the machine, pour in so much water and oil, set the machine to the cake setting, and press on. An hour or so later, and you have a perfectly good loaf-cake. Alternatively you follow the instructions for the making of muffins.

This one would be particularly good with soured cream and berries on top, especially since it sank a little in the middle.

I shall be testing the other bread-maker cake mixes, since this one was so yummy.