27 Feb 2013

Eccles Cakes : little currant wonders

Monomania, definition in the dictionary: 
1. Pathological obsession with one idea or subject.
2. Intense concentration on or exaggerated enthusiasm for a single subject or idea.

I'm this kind of blogger who can spend days thinking about her next recipe, trying to choose between the dozens of recipes that lie on my Top Priority To Bake List
When I'm on stage doing improvisation and I don't know what to do, I often end up playing someone who cooks. 
When I invite friends over for dinner, it takes me all week to devise my menu, make a decision, change everything, go back to my initial ideas...
When I'm with Him, we spend hours discussing what amazing food we'll be cooking this week-end (when two food lovers meet...) 

If you add all of this up...I reckon I spend half of my time thinking about food. Is there something wrong with me Doc?

recipe traditional english biscuit

Traditional Eccles Cakes 

These little currants delights belong to the great traditional British regional biscuits heritage, and are a great way to practive and improve my pastry skills (which so far are quite poor, considering that I often take shortcut and buy ready-made pastry)

Well, I'm afraid Eccles Cakes might have changed this forever. This homemade flaky pastry is so delicious that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to buy supermarket pastry ever again!
This flaky pastry is also perfect for Cornish pasties.

Ingredients for the flaky pastry 
175g plain flour
115g unsalted butter 
approx 2tbsp ice cold water
a pinch of salt

Ingredients for the filling 
75g unsalted butter
150g soft brown sugar
150g currants
1 tbsp mixed spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
50g mixed citrus peel, finely chopped

Make the pastry:  
1/ Put the butter and water in the freezer for 15 min beforehand.

2/ Wash your hands with very cold water so that they are as cold as possible. In a big bow, sift the flour and salt. Grate the almost frozen butter into the flour. With your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it ressembles fine crumbs. Try not to work it too much so the butter doesn't melt or become soft

3/ Add gradually the cold water and knead the dough very briefly until it forms a rough ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for at least 30 min (this is important to respect this time as it will enable the gluten to developp and prevent the pastry from shrinking when cooking of being greasy)

Watch Master Baker Anthony Kindred's  pastry video masterclass to see how to make flaky pastry. 

Make the filling:  
If possible, prepare the filling the night before (it doesn't compromise the biscuits if you don't): mix all the ingredients in a bowl, squashing the currants in your hands to let the spices, sugar and butter to impregnate them. Cover and let aside so the flavours will develop.

Make the cakes:  
1/ Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of about 3mm. Using a 6cm cookie cutter, cut the pastry into rounds.
2/ Place a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each round. Bring the edges of the pastry up into the middle and pinch to seal.
3/ Turn the sealed pastry parcel over, so that the seam is underneath, then gently press down until it is about ½cm thick and you can see the currents through the pastry (without them breaking it). Gently pat back into a round shape if needed and place onto the greased baking tray or a silicone mat.
4/ Slash each cake across three times using the tip of a sharp knife. Brush the cakes with milk and sprinkle with a lot of caster sugar (I dipped them into a bowl of caster sugar to cover them all around)

5/ Bake for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden-brown and puffed up. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool. 
homemade eccles cakes

homemade great british baking eccles cakes
traditional homemade eccles cakes

Eccles cakes recipe

homemage eccles cakes

homemade eccles cakes recipe

13 Feb 2013

Best Food Experiences in London

Whether you admit it or not, every time you start a new relationship, there is always this list of “must haves” at the back of your mind that you expect/hope your new boyfriend / girlfriend to have.

This list usually includes things like: Must be handsome, Must be clever, Must have a valid visa which allows him/her to live in the same country as you (no kidding, I am talking from experience here)…
As we grow older, we gradually understand that Mr Right might not end up ticking all the boxes, but would still be worth a closer look.

Still, one must stay truthful to oneself and keep some Absolutely Compulsory Items on the list.

Mine definitely includes: must love food (if you hate cheese, bread or chocolate, you off to a very bad start boy).

Well, life is full of great surprises, and London is full of great food experiences.

Here they are, 10 of my favourite London food experiences (in no particular order), offering good value for money: 

  1. Banoffee pie from Ion patisserie, at Borough market (their cheesecakes are amazing too) ; the best in the entire universe and beyond.
  2. Sticky toffee pudding from The Butlers Chop House. The waitresses there call it the “Sticky Lovely Pudding” … It is genuinely to die for.
  3. Salt beef and mustard bagel from Bricklane Beigel Bake. So good, so cheap, and open 24/7!
  4. Pizza from Pizza metro pizza in Clapham Junction, or The Pizza de la Muerte as we renamed it with my friends. Your italian mamma wouldn't do it better.
  5. Cheeseburger and chips from Ed’s dinner, Soho. The burger itself might not be the absolute best in town, but there’s nowhere else where you can eat your burger to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack!
  6. Thick hot chocolate from Apostrophe. Cheap and perfect for a cold winter breakfast.
  7. Ginger and chocolate cookie from Ben’s Cookies.
  8. Scones from Sketch, light and crumbly like clouds. Spread with some clotted cream and their delicious apple jam: heaven!
  9. Deluxe duck burger from Comptoir Gascon. A burger…made with duck…topped with foie gras…and some caramelised onions…in a soft brioche bun…this is a life-burger-changing experience
  10. Sushi – eat as much as you can buffet – from Hi Sushi. If you are craving a ton of sushi and maki at good value for money, this is a good place to go!

    Ion patisserie

  11. Sticky lovely pudding

    Oh kid, I know what you fee, I cant make up my mind either

    I finally went for Ed's combo

And you, what are you favourite places?

Follow the adventures of Chocolat the travelling and foodie bear on facebook

5 Feb 2013

Valentine's day: My Mini Raspberry Love Tarts

It's February the 14th and you've decided to boycott Valentine's day and not go to a fancy restaurant. But, you’re not writing it off altogether because you can't help being a bit cheesy, so you've invited your lover round for a dinner at home. 

In an ideal world, your evening should look like this: 
- Your boss, in an outburst of universal love, has exceptionnally sent the whole office home at 5.00pm "Enjoy your night with your loved ones, I'll see you tomorrow".
- You've been to the beautician yesterday, and even bought new fancy lingerie to show off tonight
- You've done your shopping and prepared half of the food in advance

Tonight, you'll just have to light the candles, put on some make up, and grill the steaks. Easy peasy. 

In my world, your evening might more look like this: 
- You forgot a big work deadline that you have to finish before you go. You're already running late.
- You haven't thought of tonight's menu, you pace the grocery aisle in a panic for 20mins in search of inspiration
- Somewhere in the chicken alley, you realise you look like a mess and there is no way you can get away without a complete makeover before he shows up

Well, it looks like things aren’t going so well but you can still save the night with my favourite Cheat's Strategy : Mini preparation, Wonderful presentation 
1/ Prepare a simple meal (brushettas, rocket salad with nuts, cheese board with grapes and chutney...)
2/ Open a good bottle of wine
3/ Prepare a 10min kick ass dessert that will be the show stopper of the evening

Recipe for valentine

My mini Rasberry Love Tarts

These tarts are as impressive as they are easy to make. You can make the crème pâtissière (pastry cream) 1 to 2 days in advance, or even cheat and swap it with some good quality thick vanilla yoghurt (I reckon the Activia intensely creamy range would work fine)

And if you plan to Not-celebrate Valentine's day with some friends, this recipe works fine too!

Ingredients for 4 mini tarts:
A few sheets of filow pastry (3 or 4 max)
10g of melted butter
1/2 punnet of fresh raspberries

For the Crème pâtissière:
4 egg yolks
100 g caster sugar
25 g cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
350 ml milk
15g unsalted butter

Make the crème pâtissière: 
1. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and thick, then stir in the cornflour.

2. Put the with the milk in a pan and bring it slowly just up to the boil. Pour the milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over a low-medium heat until it comes up to a gentle boil. It must boil for it to thicken. Continue to cook, stirring all the time (or use a whisk if it looks lumpy), for approx 2 minutes or until it has thickened.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the vanilla extract and the unsalted butter, whisk well and pour into a bowl. If the mixture goes a little lumpy while cooking, remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk well. If it is still lumpy when cooked, push it through a sieve.

4. Cover with cling film and allow to cool. It must be covered to prevent a skin forming. 

Make the pastry cases:
Preheat the oven to 185deg C.

1. Cut the filo pastry into square of approx 5cm a side. Brush each square with melted butter, and pile up 4 or 5 squares on top of another, shifting each square a little to the side of each other so the edges are not exactly matching. (the butter will help the filo sheets to stick to one another and make your pastry cases golden and crispy). Repeat until you've form 4 sheets piles for the 4 tarts

2. Carefully line a buttered muffin tray or buttered mini pudding moulds with your pastry piles to create mini pastry cases, taking care not to rip the pastry.

3. Cook in the oven for approx 10min or until golden. Leave to cool completely before taking your pastry cases out of the moulds. Handle with great care not to break them.

4. Just before dinner, spoon crème pâtissière in each case, and top with fresh raspberries. 

raspberry tart

raspberry tart recipe
raspberry tart

What's on the Drinks Menu Alex?
A Champagne, 
A sweet wine from the Loire valley in France, 
A Muscat, 
or even a Vanilla milk!

Thanks Alex!