23 Dec 2014

Poached pears and spiced chocolate sauce

You may have to choose between cheese and dessert when you go to a restaurant, but at home, it's always cheese and dessert.
Nothing surprising here, really. We're not a land of cheese and baguette makers to then just leave them to go to waste and get stale on the counter. 
Christmas will feature the usual cheese platter of local delicacies such as Cancoillotte, Morbier, Comté and Munster, but it's for dessert that we go all out.

We've adopted the Provence originated tradition of the Christmas's 13 desserts. Yes, 13 desserts (although we don't stick to the list of 13 "official" desserts)
Amongst them, the inevitable chocolate mousse (my dad and grandpa's favourite and a Christmas tradition that goes back to generations in my family), têtes de chocolat (chocolate heads) and Billiotte biscuits from Montbeliard's Christmas market, some muffins, several homemade cakes and tarts, one or two British specialties (this year it will be a magnificent Dundee cake from our local bakery in Nunhead), and a fruit salad or poached pears.

Speaking of poached pears, they are a perfect addition to a Christmas dessert table and will accompany any cake or chocolate dessert to perfection.

how to poach pears?

Poached pears 
and spiced chocolate sauce

These lovely poached pears taste like Christmas, spice and all things nice.
I didn't want the delicious spiced syrup made to poach the pears to go to waste, so I incorporated it in the chocolate sauce (optional if the pears are an accompaniment rather that the main dessert). 
The spiced syrup gives the chocolate a lovely twist, and the end result is magnificent.

Ingredients (for 2 poached pears)

For the pears poached in spiced syrup:
2 pears, ripe but firm
300 ml water
200g caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 whole cloves
1 dried fig (optional)

For the chocolate sauce:
150 to 200g good quality cooking chocolate (I used Valrhona chocolate)


1/ In a medium sized casserole, add all the syrup ingredients, mix well, and bring slowly to a boil. In the meantime, peal the pears whole, leaving the stems on (which will make them easy to handle and also look pretty)

2/ Dip the pears into the syrup, and simmer for approx 25 min, turning them around delicately from time to time if they are not totally immersed, to make sure they cook evenly. Once cooked, take them out of the syrup and transfer to a plate to cool. (If you're making them in advance, cover the plate with cling film once cold and keep them in the refrigerator. Take them out 20min before serving to slowly bring them at room temperature)

3/ Bring the syrup back to the boil and let reduce and thicken for a further 10 to 15 mins. Take the fig out (and either eat it or cut it in quarters to serve as a decoration with the pears)

4/ Before serving, place the chocolate bracken into pieces into a small glass bowl set over a small pan of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water or the chocolate will burn). Leave to melt and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of the spiced syrup (adapt the quantity depending of how thick you would like your chocolate sauce to be). Pour the sauce into a saucer, and bring it to the table so your guests can pour it on their poached pear as desired.

simple recipe to poach pear and make chocolate sauce

This recipe is dedicated to Christine, who every year puts so much effort, time and love in welcoming us to a fantastic Christmas feast.

18 Dec 2014

Mango and Lemon Cake

My to do list to be ready for Christmas:
- drink mulled wine
- see the local Christmas lights
- listen to Magic fm until feeling sick of Wham, Band Aid, Mariah and all the others
- go to a free concert of Christmas carols
- have a chocolate from the Advent calendar

I've done all of this and I still don't feel ready for Christmas. 
So, there's only one option left: an intensive Christmas Spirit mission. 
When I land in Basel airport on the morning of the 24th, I'll drive straight to our local Christmas market in Montbéliard (one of the cutest Christmas markets in France); meet my family there, buy myself a tartine de raclette; drink a hot chocolate from Ragot (the best in the universe); and freeze my feet off wandering around the market for a couple of hours before heading home. 
Then, I'll be ready to celebrate Christmas!

Happy Christmas everyone!

recipe easy mango and lemon cake

Mango and Lemon Cake

I found canned mango pulp at my local Coop and wanted to experiment with it.
So I adapted my pumpkin and orange cake's recipe, and here was the result!

It's a lovely cake off the beaten track. Super easy to make, super moist, a real crowd pleaser!

225g self-raising flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger + a good pinch of cinnamon
110g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs (beaten)
200 ml sunflower oil
210g mango pulp, mashed (fresh or canned)
Zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon

1/ Preheat the oven to 180deg C (160deg C fan oven). Grease and base line a medium sized cake tin.

2/ Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl, stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, rind and juice of lemon then stir until smooth. Add the mango pulp and stir in well.

3/ Spoon the batter into the cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 40-50 minutes until a metal skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake.  Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

4/ Lightly dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.

4 Dec 2014

On the Top of the Shard, a game with a view

I was recently invited to the launch of the new Monopoly installation at The View From The Shard, on the 69th of the highest building in Western Europe, which offers a 360 degre view over London.
I had never been on top of the Shard, so I was bursting with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the weather was not great but the view was no less then impressive. From there, one can see most of London's trademarks : London Eye, The Tower of London, The Gerkin, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, etc.
The giant Monopoly installation is a nice additional feature to what's already an amazing experience!


28 Nov 2014

A taste of Autumn: Orange and Pumpkin Cake

A few months ago, I announced proudly that I had moved in with The Man.
So picture me (in full-on lovey-dovey mode) with a ton of girl stuff, including 30 pairs of shoes and a container of baking equipment, invading a one bedroom flat.
The Man invested in storage units, I got rid of all the clothes I hadn't worn in 3 years (and was keeping "just in case"), and I said "bye for now" to my enormous ice-cream maker and baking robot which moved to the attic.

9 months later though, a third of my stuff is still in boxes. The single book shelf that is mine has been invaded by his latest buys, and I sometimes wish I could storm out to another room (which wouldn't have to be the bathroom) when I get angry with him (would that be the honeymoon phase coming to an end? Yeah, maybe there's a little bit of that too).
We've come to the difficult conclusion that this can't go on any longer. 
So we're buying a bigger house. 

Orange and butternut squash cake

This is one of the best sponges I've ever made. As often in cakes made with vegetables, this cake doesn't taste strongly of pumpkin, but is full of its smooth consistency and moisture. Orange and pumpkin are a match made in sponge heaven.
With its lovely colour and autumnal spices, it's a perfect seasonal cake!


225 grams self-raising flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon of mixed spice: I used cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
175 grams golden caster sugar
3 large eggs (beaten)
200 ml sunflower oil
225 grams butternut squash/pumpkin purée (canned purée is fine)
1 orange (juice and peel)


1/ Preheat the oven to 180deg C (160deg C fan oven). Grease and base line a medium sized cake tin.

2/ Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl, stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, oil, extract, rind and juice then stir until smooth. Add the puree and stir in well.

3/ Spoon the batter into the cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-55 minutes until a metal skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake.  Leave to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

4/ Lightly dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.

Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson's orange and butternut squash cake recipe

21 Nov 2014

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake Tartlets

Greek yoghurt? I love it. It's thick, creamy, with that lovely acidity that lifts it up. 

In the UK, one of my favourite brands of Greek yoghurt is Fage Total Greek Yoghurt, and in particular the Fat free 0% Greek yoghurt, which has a texture very close to the full fat version, without the fat. (I sometimes find that fat free yoghurts are too acidic or too runny)
Although I kind of knew that you can cook / bake many thinks with yoghurt, I used to just eat it for breakfast with cereals or for pudding with fruits and a drizzle of honey. I guess I just lacked inspiration.

When I just came back from Greece, with the delicious taste of local Greek yoghurts still on my tongue and my mind full of new Greek recipes, and I got invited to the launch of the Total Greek Yoghurt recipe book, I saw it as a sign of the Greek gods themselves.

Sophie Michell revisits some Greek classics like pastichio and experiments with desserts, sauces and dips, using Greek yoghurt in many different ways.
I tested for you the peanut butter and chocolate tartlets recipe from the book, in which I swapped the full fat yoghurt with my usual fat free one. It's very easy to make, looks cool, and tastes very nice!

Peanut Butter and Chocolate 
Cheesecake Tartlets

Ingredients, for 4 little tartlets

5 or 6 Chocolate bourbons
20-25g butter
40g peanut butter
40g cream cheese
30g fat free Total Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp icing sugar 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 or 2 squares dark chocolate, to decorate

How to make the peanut butter and chocolate tarlets
1/ Process the chocolat bourbon biscuits in a food processor until they form fine crumbs

2/ Melt the butter and mix thoroughly with the biscuit crumbs and press onto the base of tartlers tins. Place in the fridge for 1hour to set hard, or in the freezer for 15min.

3/ In a bowl, mix the peanut butter until smooth. Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the Greek yoghurt and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla extract, the sifted icing sugar, and mix until smooth. 

4/ Pipe or spoon the peanut butter mixture onto the tartlet bases, and grate dark chocolate on top for decoration. Place in the fridge to set for an hour. Eat the same day.

  Total Greek Yoghurt recipe book, recipes by Sophie Michell

I was offered Total Greek Yoghurt recipe book but wasn't commissioned to write up a review about it. Unless stated otherwise, the content of my blog in not sponsored.

12 Nov 2014

Greece #1 - West Cyclades : Kea, Kithnos, Sifnos

I won't tell you that the Greek islands are beautiful. 
I won't tell you that Greek food is delicious.
I won't tell you that the sea in Greece is as blue as it can be.
Like me, you probably know that already, even if you've never visited Greece. 

When The Man and I decided to spend 2 weeks in Greece for our holidays in September, our main question was more: how are we supposed to choose between 6,000 islands?
I won't lie to you, there was a fair amount of "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" and a bit of reading websites and travel blogs on the matter.

In the end, we settled on looking for islands that would be: 
- close to Athens, to minimise travel time
- nice spots to ramble and snorkle
- not too touristy
and that's how we ended up in the West Cyclades; in Kea, Kythnos and Sifnos, which perfectly fit the brief.

A few highlights: 
- These islands are mainly visited by Athenians during summer and over the weekends. In September, everything was still open and we pretty much had the islands to ourselves - which is rare in Greece.
- A great way to drive around the islands is by quad bike: it's cheap, handy (the roads often turn into tracks), and safe if the roads are quiet (which they were). It only takes about 2 to 3 hours to drive from one end to the other for each of these islands, so everything is accessible. Plus, driving a quad bike is so much fun! I now consider myself a professional racer ;-)
- There seems to be more churches than inhabitants in Greece, so you'll get your share of those beautiful white churches with their blue tops.
- Greek people are lovely, and as always, as soon as you make the effort to at least greet them in their own language, they welcome you everywhere with a broad smile.
- Greek food, even in the simple tavernas, is usually delicious. But Greek food deserves more than a few lines, so I'll come back to that in a specific post.
For the rest, I'll let the photos speak for themselves. If you want to visit these islands and have questions, don't hesitate to get in touch!

As always, I took Chocolat the Travelling Bear with us and he modeled for the photos :-)



Korrissia (Kea)

On the ferries between islands, you can even sometimes see dolphins!

There are cats absolutely everywhere on the islands

Kythnos, Loutra



Sifnos, Appolonia


If you don't know me, that's what I look like ;-)

Sifnos is well know for its hand-made pottery



The famous Greek salad


The Parthenon, Athens

Places to stay:
We stayed in the three places below and loved them all.
Kea: Koralli Studio. The owner is really nice and helpful, the studio offers self-catering equipment and is perfectly located in Korissia, 5 min walk from the centre of the main village of the island, which is also the port where most ferries from and to Athens commute.
Kithnos: Kontseta. Once again perfectly located just above the little harbour, which is the main village. The owners are lovely and helpful. The self-catering studio's equipment is minimal but we actually didn't cook. It is very pretty and comfy, with a private terrace overlooking the harbour which offers incredible sunsets every night.
Sifnos: Xerolithia. A lovely hotel just a few minutes walk from the harbour's village centre, with a beautiful swimming pool. The couple who owns it are lovely, and the lady bakes her own cakes for the breakfast buffet!

How to get there: 
From London, it's easy: take a low cost flight to Athens (ie Ryanair). From there, a 1h30min direct ferry ride takes you to Kea. From there, another ferry goes directly to Kythnos in about 1 hour, connected to Sifnos by another 1h ferry ride. From Sifnos, you can go back to Athens directly with an express ferry in less than 3 hours.