Saturday, 30 January 2010

Wedding Fayre

Victoria's Cake Boutique will be exhibiting at The Royal Wells Hotel wedding fayre tomorrow, Sunday 31st January, from 11 - 4. You will be able to see some wedding cake designs in the flesh as well as leaf through my portfolio and sample some delicious cake. Come and say hello if you're around and drag any friends or family along who are planning on tying the knot.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Dark days require dark chocolate and strong coffee

January has left me yawning and yearning for my bed. Maybe it's the lack of sunlight, maybe it's the cold weather, maybe it's the body's general collapse after the long hours and long parties it has endured over the last month or so. Maybe it's all of the above. But now that all the Christmas and New Year festivities are over and the daily grind has resumed properly, or so it has been alleged, I have found that all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep until the sun comes out. Now, as I am, unfortunately, not a Blue Peter tortoise or a hibernating bear (and if you're reading this blog, I'm assuming you aren't either), going on an extended trip to the land of nod just isn't an option. Fear not, though, help is at hand and it comes in the attractive form of espresso chocolate squares.

I adore brownies, but have, of late, noticed a wanton disregard for what a brownie actually is. It seems that people think if it's brown and square-shaped, a brownie it must be. Wrong. Brownies are slightly chewy and have a crusted top that compliments their soft, nutty centre. They are not simply brown tray bakes containing the odd floating chocolate chip, cut into squares. Don't be hoodwinked by Cafe Nero and Costa Coffee's cellophane-wrapped slices. Their brownies would never get promoted to girl guides. Brownies are absolutely packed full of sugar and chocolate and that is exactly why they are so delicious, but they also contain flour. Nothing wrong with that. But I wanted to make a flourless chocolate cake to reduce the effects of the carbohydrate coma that seems to overtake me after lunch, but also for the growing number of friends and family with gluten allergies.

I created this recipe with brownies in mind, but they have, along the way, become something quite different. They still have the irresistible chewy charm of a chocolate brownie, but without the chunks of nuts or chocolate chips and with an extra kick instead. I addeed coffee in an attempt to keep the afternoon nap cravings still further at bay, and as a result they have become a bit more grown-up and will be unlikely to excite children in the same way that a traditional brownie will. Though if small children do manage to get their tiny gnashers round them, you could find these innocent looking squares excite them in another way altogether. So, if you'd rather not witness your children bouncing off the furniture, fighting like cubs and smearing chocolate hand prints all over the wallpaper, keep these cakes where the little darlings can't reach them. They can be our delicious little secret.

Espresso Chocolate Squares
Preheat the oven to 180 C or 160 C Fan assisted and line a shallow 8" square tin.

  • 7 oz / 175 g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 8 oz / 200 g good quality dark chocolate
  • 3 oz / 75 g ground almonds
  • 2 oz / 50 g cocoa
  • 11 oz / 275 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 oz/ 25 g ground espresso coffee - the fresh coffee itself, not the drink you make with them.
  • A pinch of salt
  • Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and suspend over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Leave to cool slightly.
  • In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Fold the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs and sugar.
  • Fold in the ground almonds, salt and coffee.
  • Sift over the cocoa and fold into the mixture until fully incorporated.
  • Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes. An inserted skewer should come out slightly sticky.
  • Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely.
  • Turn the cake out, remove the baking parchment and cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Decadent dinner party pudding

I absolutely refuse, point blank, to start the year with a recipe for a low-fat cake. Instead, I am going to the other extreme and offering up an indulgent show-y off-y pudding that is all about celebrating food with the special people in your life.

There is nothing more boring than listening to someone drone on about how “bad” or "naughty" everything is for you, or how they "shouldn't really, but..." It sucks the fun of eating straight out of a room and encourages joyless picking and pursed lips from everyone else. You can almost see the unspoken thoughts of "well, if I only eat branflakes, brown rice and broccoli for the rest of the week, it'll be okay" or "if I do an extra 2 hours at the gym tomorrow...". Wouldn't it be a lot more fun, as well as ticking a few more of the diet police's boxes, if we saved rich and decadent food to share and enjoy with friends and family, rather than just cramming down a mars bar alone on the bus? Now, I’m no nutritionist, but surely it’s perfectly possible to enjoy food, not count calories, occasionally eat too much and still be healthy, fit and of an acceptable weight. I am not promoting the constant cramming of fat and sugar down your throat so that it barely touches the sides, as some kind of fingers-up to salad-munchers. What would be the point in that? There is no real pleasure to be had in mindless stuffing, and it's pleasure that I am in the business of finding and making. That is why people who bake a lot of cakes aren't necessarily the people who are on the last holes of their belts. They bake to share. When you've really enjoyed a meal with wonderful company that has ended with "oohs" and "ahhs" at an extravagant pudding, there is a sense of communal joy, not only in the eating of the pudding, but also in the experience of sharing it. You feel sated and happy and, because of this, there is no sense of having to punish yourself later. It also has the wonderful side-effect of leaving the idea of stuffing down a mars bar on your own on the bus a bit cold and stale. In essence, when good things are eaten in good company, you are less likely to eat too much, too often, as a matter of course.

I served this pudding on New Year's Eve, but the menu would work just as well for any late Autumn or Winter dinner party. My boyfriend made a delicious starter of fennel risotto and I followed it with tenderloin of venison in lapsang souchong and orange zest and then "mulled wine pudding". This is an unapologetically long-winded pudding to make in that there are several components, but fear not, none of them are particularly difficult. And anyway, so what if things take a bit of time to make? It shows you've made an effort for your guests and they'll appreciate that. It makes the evening feel more special if you show that you think the occasion and the people deserve an extra little bit of thought and time.

Mulled wine pudding
Pears poached in mulled wine, mulled wine chocolate cake, individual meringues with mulled wine caramel and blackberry cream served with mulled chocolate wine.

I poached the pears the night before and did everything else on the day, but there's no reason why you can't also make the cake and the meringues the day before too, if you'd rather. 

Pears poached in mulled wine

  • 1 bottle of fruity red wine - not so cheap it tastes like you should douse your chips with it, but it needn't be a bottle of Barolo either.
  • a small wine glass (125 ml) of ruby Port
  • 2 cinammon sticks
  • A peeled finger of ginger, chopped in 3
  • A few cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 oranges, halved
  • 3 or 4 strips of lemon peel
  • 8 tbsp sugar
  • 6 firm pears, carefully peeled and left whole, with their bottoms sliced off so that they can stand upright on a plate.
  • Place the red wine and port in a saucepan and warm up on a gentle heat.
  • Add the sugar, spices, lemon peel and oranges and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste the wine to check for spice and sweetness and add more sugar/spice if you feel it needs it.
  • Place the pears in the saucepan and simmer very gently for about an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and place on a cold plate to cool. Retain the mulled wine for later.
  • If you have made them the day before they can go in the fridge overnight, but bring them back to room temperature before serving, then strain and reheat the half of the mulled wine not reserved for the rest of the pudding and reduce it to a light syrup. Place the pears back in the syrup to warm through just before serving and place each pear upright on the serving plate and pour over a little warm syrup.
 Mulled wine chocolate cake

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 6 tbsp mulled wine syrup
  • 6 oz/ 150g good quality dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids)
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 8 oz/ 200g soft, unsalted butter
  • 9 oz/ 225g caster sugar
  • 3 oz/75g plain flour
  • 1 oz/25g good quality cocoa
Ingredients for the chocolate ganache:
  • 12 oz/ 300g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 10 oz/ 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3 tbsp mulled wine syrup
Method for the cake:
Preheat the oven to 160C/ 140C Fan. Grease and line an 8" (20cm) round tin.

  • To make the mulled wine syrup, strain half the left over mulled wine from the poached pears into a smaller saucepan and place over a medium heat and reduce into a syrup. Leave the syrup to cool.
  • Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Once melted, whisk in half of the mulled wine syrup and leave the chocolate to cool for 5 - 10 minutes.
  • Beat the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate.
  • Beat the butter and 4 oz/ 100g of the sugar together until light and creamy and stir in the chocolate mixture.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until firm peaks form. Gradually, a spoonful at a time, add the remaining sugar, whisking between each addition.
  • Beat 1/3 meringue (whisked egg whites and sugar) into the chocolate mixture until well incorporated.
  • Sift over 1 oz/ 25g of the flour and fold into the mixture. Add a quarter of the remaining meringue and gently fold in. Repeat twice with an ounce of flour, followed by another quarter of the meringue, folding between each addition. Finally sift over the cocoa and fold it in followed by the last of the meringue.
  • Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf for 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Stab the cake all over with a skewer and pour over the remaining 3 tbsp of mulled wine syrup and leave the cake to cool in its tin on a wire rack.
  • Once cool, take the cake out of its tin and slice in half (horizontally) with a large serrated knife. Be careful as the cake is quite easily broken.
For the ganache:
  • In a large heatproof bowl, suspended over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Give it a good stir every now and then, but try not to get air bubbles in the ganache.
  • Once melted, stir in the mulled wine syrup and leave the ganache to cool for about 10 minutes.
  • Spread 1/3 ganache over one half of the cake and sandwich the other half on top.
  • Pour the remaining ganache over the whole cake, smoothing it over with a palette knife and leave to set.

Individual meringues with mulled wine caramel
To make 6 individual meringues. Preheat the oven to 140C/ 120C Fan


  • 3 egg whites
  • 6oz/ 150g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tsp white vinegar (although if you haven't got any, don't bother getting any in especially for this recipe, just use regular malt) 
  • 3 tbsp mulled wine syrup plus 2 extra tbsp caster sugar.
  • In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites into firm peaks.
  • Add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, whisking between each addition.
  • Once the sugar has all been incorporated, add the cornflour and vinegar and give the mixture a final whisk.  
  • On a baking tray/ sheet lined with a sheet of baking parchment, place 6 dollops (about 2 spoonfuls to each dollop) of meringue, with a space between each one.  
  • Place in the oven for about an hour and once the meringues are cooked, turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven to cool at the same rate as the oven.
  • In a small saucepan, place the mulled wine syrup over the heat with the extra sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and reduce the syrup further until it becomes a caramel.
  • Using a spoon, flick the mulled wine caramel over the individual meringues, back and forth until prettily coated. Watch your fingers though as it will be very hot.
  • Leave the meringues out (or in a tin if you are leaving them for longer than a couple of hours) until you are ready to plate up.
Blackberry Cream
Blackberries obviously aren't seasonal at this time of year, but my parents have blackberry bushes at the end of their garden and they picked so many that they gave me a few bags for my freezer, so I just happened to have some knocking about. You can buy frozen British blackberries off season from supermarkets or, if you can't find any, you can get punnets of frozen mixed British berries, which will be a delicious substitute. Thaw them out on kitchen paper, hollow end down.


  • About 2 punnets' worth of blackberries, slightly mashed
  • 1 litre of double/ whipping cream
  • sifted icing sugar, to taste
  • Whip the cream until peaked, but not too stiff.
  • Tumble in your mashed berries and whisk them through the cream.
  • Simply add icing sugar to taste and put the bowl in the fridge until you're ready to plate up.

Mulled chocolate wine 
My boyfriend made me a mug of chocolate wine as part of a meal in celebration of Valentine's Day or possibly an anniversary last year. Or possibly the year before. Either way, it was so delicious I wished my tongue was long enough to reach the bottom of the mug so I could have licked it clean. He'd had chocolate wine with a friend at Heston Blumenthal's The Hinds Head and was telling me about it over dinner. There was some left-over chocolate from the chocolate dipped fruits he'd made us for pudding, so he decided he'd use it to have a go at making the wine at home. He made his own version, without the centrifuge that the Fat Duck Cookbook calls for, but still thoroughly delicious, and he made it again on New Year's Eve but added some of my mulled wine syrup to tie it in with the rest of the mulled wine pudding. We served the chocolate wine in espresso cups as mugs might have been a bit much in this instance...

To serve 6

  • 5 espresso cups of red wine
  • 5 espresso cups of ruby port
  • 4oz/ 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp mulled wine syrup
  •  Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water
  • In a small saucepan, heat the wine and port and reduce it by around a third. Whisk it in to the melted chocolate along with the mulled wine syrup. Check for sweetness as it'll depend on the wine, chocolate and port that you've picked. Add caster sugar if required. Pour it into espresso cups and serve hot alongside the rest of the components of the pudding.
 Plating up...

When all the components of your pudding are ready, cut a small slice of your cake and place it on your chosen serving plate (a square white dinner plate would probably be the most aesthetically pleasing, but whatever you like or, failing that, whatever you've got). Next place a meringue and an upright poached pear drizzled with a little warm syrup next to the cake and spoon on some blackberry cream. Serve the espresso cup of chocolate mulled wine on the plate with the rest of the pudding and it's ready to serve.

The photo posted at the top of this blog was taken on New Year's Eve by Alex, one of our dinner party guests.  Thanks Alex!