Thursday, 28 March 2013

Chocolate Simnel Cake (gluten free) with Hazelnut Marzipan

There is so much good food to be eaten over Easter: hot cross buns, roast lamb, Easter bunny for the more adventurous among us, and, of course, Simnel cake, complete with its characteristic extra layer of marzipan running through the middle. Now, I’m certainly not the type to turn my nose up at dried fruit – far from it - but, however much mixed spice you throw at me this Easter will mean nothing if there’s no chocolate.

As far as I’m concerned, Easter might as well be renamed the festival of chocolate. Religious types might scoff at my sacrilege, but I’ll be too busy scoffing chocolate eggs to notice. For the secular amongst us, Easter is about little kids running around with melted chocolate smears all over their chubby cheeks, getting hyperactive and bouncing off walls and sofas, until it’s finally time for them to eat more chocolate. Whether it’s a bag of mini eggs, a Lindt bunny or the poshest of posh Paul A. Young salted caramel egg, I'll be happy. For this weekend only, if your eggs aren’t made of chocolate, you can leave them at the door.

My nephews and niece love my chocolate Easter cake topped with a chocolate Shredded Wheat nest, but for this Easter’s celebrations, I thought I’d bring more tradition to the table and make a Simnel cake instead. But not just any Simnel cake. I’m making a chocolate Simnel cake. That’s right. I’m sticking chocolate in a fruitcake and it’s  going to be delicious. If you’re unconvinced by this combination, I can promise that a single bite will have you eating your words and then eating them again over a second slice.

 Along with my spiced, boozy, orangey chocolate fruitcake, I’m revamping traditional marzipan, by foregoing the almonds and using hazelnuts instead. Hazelnuts and chocolate make for a dreamy marriage of flavours and I’ve made an extra thick disc on top of my cake, so that each slice will have the generous wodge of Frangelico-spiked nutty goodness it deserves. By all means, exercise more restraint if you must, but not too much. It is Easter after all.

My gluten free chocolate Simnel cake is slightly gooier than traditional Simnel cake, but as far as I’m concerned that’s just one of its many bonuses. It’s best made a few days in advance if possible, as it tends to cut better after a spell in an airtight tin, but you can leave it as late as Easter morning if you like. It won’t affect the taste, you’ll just end up with a slightly claggier knife while slicing, which is no great hardship.

This may look like a lot of ingredients, and it is, but fear not. This cake is a “bung it altogether” sort of recipe. You don’t need to cream the butter and sugar or even get your electric whisk out. If you want to make a larger cake, you can double the ingredients and increase the baking time by 25 minutes for a 9” tin. If you don’t need it to be gluten free and don’t want to shop for fancy flours, plain wheat flour can be substituted for the rice. And finally, if “hazelpan” appeals less than traditional marzipan, you can swap the hazelnuts for almonds, and the Frangelico for almond extract (or Amaretto). This hazelpan recipe contains raw eggs, but you can find my recipe for a cooked marzipan here, if raw eggs are a concern for you.

Happy Easter! May your day be as chocolate-filled as mine!

Chocolate Simnel Cake

For the cake

150g prunes, pitted and chopped (it’s easiest to snip them up with kitchen scissors)
70g sour cherries
55g raisins
50g currants
50g sultanas
50g natural glacé cherries, cut in half
2 balls of Chinese stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped
65ml of ginger syrup (from the stem ginger jar)
30ml brandy
35ml port
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
The grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
85g dark muscovado sugar
85g butter
2 tbsp. cocoa
100g dark chocolate
40g ground hazelnuts (or you can use almonds if you prefer)
75g rice flour
2 tsp. mixed spice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
A large pinch of bicarbonate of soda
A large pinch of baking powder
1 large egg, beaten

For the hazelnut marzipan or “hazelpan”

200g skinned hazelnuts.
200g icing sugar, sifted
A splash of Frangelico (or you can use brandy)
1 large egg, beaten

1 tbsp. of apricot jam
1 egg yolk

For the cake, bung the fruit, ginger, syrup, booze, sugar, butter, vanilla, orange zest and juice, cocoa and chocolate in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until everything has melted. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

In the meantime, make the hazelpan. Toast the nuts in a dry frying pan, tip them out into a cold dish and leave to cool. Once completely cold, blitz the nuts in a food processor until ground to a powder, add the icing sugar and blitz again.  Add the beaten egg and a couple of teaspoons of Frangelico and pulse to combine. Tip it out and knead for a minute before popping it in a sandwich bag. Chill it in the fridge until later.

Double line a 6” deep round tin with baking parchment. Make sure the parchment comes a good two to three inches higher than the tin. Next, wrap the outside of the tin with brown parcel paper (again higher than the tin) and tie with food string.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (135°C fan)/300°F (275°F fan)/Gas Mark 2

Sift the flour over the saucepan of the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the hazelnuts, spices and raising agents and mix the whole lot together with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and mix together again until everything is combined. Pour half of the mixture in the cake tin.

Roll out a third of the marzipan into a circle about 1cm thick and place it on top of the cake mixture and pat it down. Pop the remaining marzipan back in its bag and back in the fridge until later.

Pour the rest of the mixture over the marzipan and level the top. Pop the cake in the oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. The centre of the cake will leave a sticky residue on your cake skewer, but don’t worry, it’s just the melted marzipan in the middle. Let the cake cool completely in its tin on a wire rack.

Preheat the grill

Roll eleven small balls of marzipan in your hands to make the eleven disciples (excluding Judas). Roll the remaining marzipan in a circle that is slightly larger than the cake, so you have enough excess to crimp the edges. Warm the apricot in a saucepan and paint over the top of the cake. Stick the disc of marzipan on top of the cake and crimp the edges. Brush the top with the egg yolk, stick on the marzipan balls round the edge and brush the tops of the balls with more egg yolk. Leave for a couple of minutes until the egg yolk dries.  Pop the cake under the grill for a few minutes until golden brown. Keep an eye on it as it can catch very quickly.

Pop the cake on a plate and, once cold, decorate as you wish. I chose to adorn mine with little fluffy Easter chicks, because I thought they were the coolest things ever when I was a child. In fact I still do, come to think of it.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Bringing Home the Bacon: Bacon and Maple Syrup Muffins With Earl Grey Chantilly Cream

Bacon! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Salty, crisp and moreish, you have corrupted countless vegetarians with your enticing aroma and continue to enchant me with your versatile porky charms.

I’m not sure anything exists that can’t be improved by the addition of bacon. It is the perfect partner to… well, everything really. From a softly yielding egg yolk, to a pasta sauce, as part of a salad or inside a chocolate bar, bacon is intensely savoury, but equally tempting when paired with sweet. It is as at home slapped, humbly, between two slices of bread, as it is inside Heston Blumenthal’s legendary bacon and egg ice cream. Bacon knows no culinary bounds - just make sure you look for the Red Tractor mark to identify the quality and provenance of the meat.

As it’s Bacon Connoisseurs Week, now seems the perfect time to add some extra bacon to your day. Already a classic for our transatlantic friends, maple syrup and bacon is fast becoming a favourite in the UK too. I thought it would be fun to fuse North American maple and bacon with our very British Earl Grey tea, to create an extra special breakfast treat that includes your morning cuppa as well as enough bacon to keep you going till lunch. Just make sure you make enough to revive you from the mid afternoon slump too.

Bacon and Maple Syrup Muffins Topped with Earl Grey Chantilly Cream and Candied Bacon Bits

For the candied bacon

12 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. soft light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F (325°F fan)/Gas Mark 4

Coat both sides of the bacon in the syrup and sugar and sprinkle over a little salt. Place on a baking tray and pop them in the oven for about half an hour or until the bacon is crisp and caramelised. Pop the tray on a wire rack until cool enough to handle and snip all the bacon into little pieces with kitchen scissors. Leave to cool completely.

For the muffins

Makes 6 muffins

Half of the cooled candied bacon.
125g Plain flour or Rice flour (gf)
1 heaped tsp. of baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg
65ml buttermilk
65ml maple syrup, plus extra to drizzle
65g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F (325°F fan)/Gas Mark 4 and line your muffin tray with paper cases.

Place the egg, buttermilk, 65ml of syrup and butter in a jug and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Sift over the flour and baking powder and add the salt before mixing the wet and dry ingredients lightly together. Fold in the candied bacon bits and pour the batter into the muffin cases (3/4 full) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Prick their tops with a cake tester or cocktail stick before drizzling over a little extra maple syrup. Leave the muffins to cool on a wire rack.

For the Earl Grey Chantilly cream

250ml double/whipping cream
1 vanilla pod
1 Earl Grey teabag, infused in 50ml of boiling water for 5 minutes and left to cool.

Whip the cream, add the scraped out seeds of a vanilla pod and the cold Earl grey tea and whisk again. Place in a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe a little swirl on top of each cold muffin before sprinkling over the rest of candied bacon bits.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Mothering Sunday Amaretto Sour Cupcakes

Amaretto Sour cupcake

Traditionally, before Easter nicked it, Mothering Sunday was celebrated with a Simnel cake, but my mother is not traditional by nature, so you can keep your marzipan and fruitcake for another day. She deserves something a bit more fun and frivolous.

My Mum is a glamorous but self-effacing blonde, who hates shopping but loves shoes and has a penchant for navy strength gin. She goes tap dancing, plays the violin and loves botanical drawing. She is the mother of four daughters, gets impassioned about politics, loves dancing with her grandchildren and has loud fits of giggles at least twice a day.  In the ‘60s, she worked in town planning at County Hall by day and stomped the Kings Road by night in all the latest Biba outfits, before rocking out to The Rolling Stones. She is warm and daft, beautiful but unintimidating, generous, clever and fidgety. She looks years younger than her age, gets excited by new ideas, but would be happier holidaying in Cornwall than any of the world’s most exotic places. 

Most of all, my mum is a lot of fun - she throws her head back when she laughs, lets us borrow her clothes and will offer you the entire contents of her fridge if you visit. I have inherited that trait, along with her fear of under-catering, which is why you will rarely leave either her home or mine, hungry or sober. 

With this in mind, I wanted to create a fun cake for her, deceptively unassuming to look at but with a twinkle in its eye. Pretty, yes, but not old fashioned, and delicate without being in the least bit fussy. I looked to the drinks cabinet for inspiration and dusted off a bottle of Amaretto, before rooting out a bag of sour cherries from the back of the cupboard. Amaretto Sour cocktail cupcakes, I decided, will make a very happy Mother’s Day indeed!

Amaretto Sour Cocktail Cupcakes (gluten free)

I made these cakes gluten-free, as my mum, like so many of the people closest to me, is a gluten dodger. If your mother can eat wheat, you can substitute the rice flour with plain wheat flour if you wish. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F (325°F fan)/Gas Mark 4 and line a 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.

For the cakes

100g/4oz soft, unsalted butter
100g/4oz caster sugar
2 large eggs
50g/2oz ground almonds
50g/2oz rice flour
1 tsp. baking powder
The zest of 2 lemons
1 packet of dried sour cherries, soaked in 2 tbsp. Amaretto for 20 minutes.

For the icing

75g/3oz soft, unsalted butter
25g/1oz full fat Philadelphia
150g/6oz icing sugar
A generous splash of Amaretto
Natural glacé cherries to top, if you like.

Squeeze out the excess Amaretto from the cherries and reserve until later. Place the butter, sugar, eggs, almonds, rice flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy. Whisk in the Amaretto from soaking the cherries to slightly slacken the mixture, before folding in the cherries and lemon zest. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, two thirds full, and bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the icing, simply beat the butter and cream cheese together until soft and sift over half of the icing sugar. Whisk together until fully combined, before sifting over the second half of the icing sugar and whisking in. Add the Amaretto and whisk in and taste, whisking in more booze if needed for flavour.

Use a palette knife to smooth the icing over the tops of each cake before topping each one with a cherry.