Monday, 28 November 2011

Poo cakes

I was commissioned to make cupcakes for the wrap party of Holy Flying Circus, an excellent and hilarious television film aired on BBC Four last month, but it certainly wasn't an ordinary commission. Holy Flying Circus focuses on the build up and controversy surrounding the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian in 1979. During this time, each cast member was sent a poo in the post by deranged protesters who had taken against the film's subject matter. Tony Roche, the writer whose other credits include The Thick Of It and Fresh Meat, rang me up to discuss his special cake request. He wanted me to make poo cakes for their party, but "not so disgustingly realistic that people won't be able to eat them". No problem. 

We exchanged various emails about the kinds of poo possible and I suggested adding an extra layer of silliness with sugar flies. My boyfriend, Richard, also became quite excited by the idea of these poo cakes and offered to make parcel paper boxes for each cupcake that we decided must have an address and stamp for realism's sake. I made chocolate fudge cupcakes and topped them with rich chocolate buttercream. Next I made cartoonish coiled poos out of chocolate plastique and added the odd sugar paste fly with rice paper wings and shiny eyes made from edible metallic lustre and melted cocoa butter. 

Richard took some very decent snaps of the cakes before they were delivered, but alas, we went on a trip to Noma in Copenhagen the next day, took lots of photos and then our camera got nicked. I hadn't downloaded the poo cake photos before we left and all the photos we'd taken of our amazing twelve course lunch were lost to us, never to be returned. So sad. Still, Tony Roche, lovely man that he is, sent me a couple of pics he took of the cakes on his mobile phone. They're not great quality, but at least they're something. Thanks Tony! So here are my poo cakes, boxes and all:

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Stir Up Sunday! Triple Chocolate Christmas pudding

I can't quite believe a whole year has swung by and it's stir up Sunday again already. The full frosty chill of November might not have fully crept in yet, but the dark nights are already creating a massive internal battle in my yawning head: to resist the urge to cupboard-raid for something tasty, sweet and moreish, or to free-fall into its tempting, chocolate-y arms and say, to hell with fitting into my Christmas party frocks next month. Sugar and caffeine are dark nights' devils at this time of year, especially if you, like me, find yourself turning into a hibernating hedgehog, ready to curl up and sleep your way through the Winter. It's Sunday after all, so by all means, collapse into a cocoa cuddle by making my chocolate and espresso brownies, if you feel like it. Or, if you'd rather prevent yourself falling too far too fast with the excessive indulgence of Christmas just around the corner, why not make yourself feel useful and take your mind off your sugar cravings, by taking part in stir up Sunday. If you want to stick staunchly to tradition, you can find my recipe for Victorian Christmas pudding here, or, if you'd like to inject a slick of avant-garde glamour into this year's festive staple, why not try my triple chocolate Christmas pudding? There is certainly no skimping on the booze in this alternative and it has the good sense to  keep as long as traditional Xmas pud, so you can be more productive than you thought possible by making an extra to serve as a decadent Valentine's Day dessert too. 

Triple Chocolate Christmas Pudding

Enough for a 1.5 litre pudding basin.

100g soft, pitted prunes
100g dried figs
100g dried sour cherries
50g dried apricots
2 fl.oz/ 50ml Port
1 fl.oz/ 25ml brandy
1 fl.oz/ 25ml Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
3oz/ 75g soft, unsalted butter
4oz/100g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
7oz/175g plain flour
1oz/25g ground almonds
1oz/25g cocoa
3oz/75g dark chocolate
1oz/25g white chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks
1oz/25g good quality milk chocolate (I like using Green & Blacks milk chocolate), chopped into smallish chunks
8 fl.oz/ 200ml Guinness, poured out of the can so the head settles
Zest of 2 oranges and the juice of 1

Butter and flour the inside of your pudding bowl.
  • Chop the dried fruit and place in a bowl with the spices, Port, brandy and Cointreau, cover with cling film and leave to soak for at least 6 hours, so they all plump up deliciously.
  • Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and leave to cool.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar and gradually add the eggs, then mix in the almonds and then mix in the melted chocolate.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt and mix into the chocolate-y sugar, butter and eggs.
  • Stir in the Guinness, orange zest and juice, and the boozy fruit with any residual booze left at the bottom of the soaking bowl.
  • Fold in the white and milk chocolate chunks.
  • Pour the batter into your prepared pudding basin. Fold a piece of greaseproof with a pleat and place over the top of the bowl and secure with string. Next, cover the top with a generously sized piece of foil and place in a steamer for 3 hours.
  • Leave to cool, remove the foil and greaseproof and drizzle over a little brandy and top with a disc of baking parchment or wax paper, and cover in foil. 
  • Every week, top the pudding up with a bit more booze and then pop back the greaseproof disc and cover with foil again.
  • On Christmas Day, take off the foil and baking parchment disc and place a folded sheet of greaseproof paper over the top of the pudding basin. The pleat should be in the middle. Attach the paper with string and cover the top with a generous amount of foil and steam for 90 minutes before serving with Cointreau custard or brandy butter.