Supermalt Cupcakes

A recent blog post by friend Yoruba Girl Dancing about white people’s lack of love for Supermalt got me thinking. I love the taste of malt thanks to growing up with Veda bread and working in a diner as a teenager making malted milkshakes, so I don’t really mind Supermalt, although I do find it teeth-itchingly sweet. But having never sampled it until I moved to Brixton, it’s not really part of my repetoire and I would never buy it to quench my thirst. What about cooking with it instead?

I made these Coca-Cola cupcakes for my friend G’s birthday party a few weeks ago and was impressed by how easy they were to make and how incredibly moist and brownie-esque they were. I could see no reason why they wouldn’t work with Supermalt instead of Coke. Hopefully they’d be as moist as the Coca-Cola ones, but more like a cake crossed with Soreen…

The slight risk that they might just be disgusting meant I decided to make them over the weekend for a birthday party where I knew my friend C would be bringing some of her legendary lemon and blueberry cupcakes which would take the taste away if my baking experiment went awry!

The trickiest part of this recipe was finding a small enough amount of Supermalt. It tends to come in six packs and I had to go to several shops before I could get my hands on a single can of the stuff. Mission accomplished, I got cracking on the recipe. It is best to melt the butter, cocoa powder and Supermalt together first to allow it to cool slightly to minimise the chances of the egg curdling when you mix everything together. Out of interest, the amount of Supermalt (or Coke) required comes to about 2/3 of a normal can…

The Supermalt mixes takes about 5 minutes to melt and measuring out the rest of the ingredients does the same. Then you simply mix everything together, watching the batter going from thick and fudgy to soft and smooth by the time it is all mixed and combined. It’s one of the easiest cake recipes I know and it’s difficult to over-mix this batter so it’s a good one to do with kids. It’s also nice and thick for spooning into cases so great even if you’re a bit clumsy.

I used some new square cases from Ikea that are a cross between a bun and muffin case in size (and a rather fetching print to boot) and each one took two full dessertspoons of batter. Don’t overfill your cases with these cakes as they rise a fair bit and look better not overspilling the cases. Even with the slightly bigger cases, I got 18 cakes from this batter before popping them in the oven for about 25 minutes or until I remembered what was making the lovely baked smell in my flat…

While they were cooling, I turned my attention to making a frosting for the cakes. Last time I used the Coca-Cola buttercream suggested and found it to be incredibly sweet and a bit sickly even with a fizzy Cola Bottle for a touch of tanginess. This time I thought a cream cheese frosting would go down better. I combined two packs of full fat cream cheese with a splash of leftover Supermalt and two tablespoons of cocoa powder and found I had gone too much the other way and the frosting wasn’t sweet enough. In fact it had a bitter aftertaste that jarred somewhat. I abandoned the idea of adding more Supermalt and put a teaspoon of vanilla extract and about a tablespoon of icing sugar to sweeten it slightly and this time it was perfect. Light, creamy, slightly sharp and not at all cloying.

I left the cupcakes wrapped in a teatowel overnight and then my friend C very kindly frosted them for me the next day before I added a an extra blast of sharpness with some pomegranate seeds on top before serving them up to ravenous guests. And they went down a storm! I think they were much better with the Supermalt than the Coca Cola as they were less sweet and firmer and tasted more grown up with a bite of dark chocolate, but without losing the fudgy finish that sets these aside from the average chocolate cupcake.

If you manage to have any of these fabulous cupcakes left (I only had three) they also keep amazingly well wrapped in a teatowel to protect the frosting. They ultimately didn’t taste anything like Soreen cake, but were so good I’m glad I have a second spare can of Supermalt in the fridge to make these due to popular demand! Especially if I don’t have to go camping with them!

Beetroot and Cobnut Pesto

This weekend saw September’s Invisible Food Walk and the beautiful autumnal day brought much seasonal foodie inspiration. I eyed up some crabapples for a chili infused jam, noted where the sloes are in Brixton, marvelled at the abundance of elderberries and sampled some amazing vegan food at the post walk picnic.

One of these dishes was a vegan pesto made with beetroot greens and cashew nuts. I was too busy stuffing my face with it to ask what the umami element was since it definitely wasn’t parmesan. Whatever it was it was delicious and I lost out on seconds to a couple of the kids who were very taken with the colour and the flavour…

So when I picked my first crop of beetroot from the garden the next day to accompany the grouse Mister North and I roasted, I made sure to keep the lovely young tender leaves, stems and teeny tiny baby beets that hadn’t really reached full potential. I planned to pick up some pine nuts next day and make a pesto with them when I remembered Mister North had picked up some fresh Kentish cobnuts at the Farmers’ Market earlier that day. Why not use these seasonal treats to make the pesto instead of the more traditional pine nuts?

While the grouse was roasting, we stripped the outer husks and then popped the cobnuts in the oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes to roast them lightly before shelling them. This was trickier than it sounds. The shells are quite tough and the nuts quite soft and buttery in texture so it was almost impossible to get them out intact. Obviously this wasn’t a problem for pesto, but might have been if you wanted to serve them as nibbles.

Once the cobnuts were shelled (using a cleaver, chopping board and metal skewer), I blitzed them in the food processor along with the chopped beetroot leaves and stems and some rapeseed oil to get a chopped but well bound texture. Olive oil would of course work beautifully here, but I had run out and had to improvise a bit, although the rapeseed oil made this an even more fantastically seasonal British dish! I then added in some grated parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper to finish. Feeling very domesticated I put some of this gorgeously vibrant pesto into a pot for Mister North to take home and the rest in the fridge for me.

We both ate the pesto the next day. He served his stirred through fresh pasta for dinner and I had mine on oatcakes with a sliver or two of Pexommier cheese for lunch and we both loved it. Sweet and earthy, it tasted deliciously fresh compared to traditional basil pesto and the light smooth texture of the cobnuts made it especially creamy and quite light. It needed some extra pepper to lift it completely, but this was otherwise a real seasonal delight!

There’s no excuse to waste any beetroot tops you might have around, and don’t worry if you can’t get cobnuts. Pine nuts or walnuts would be equally lovely. Think pink this week when you’re picking up veg from the garden or the farmers’ market and make this fab pesto for a quick and easy meal!

Soft Pretzels

I have long since loved soft pretzels; those artfully twisted chewy doughy salt crusted pieces of joy. I always thought they would taste best from a cart on a New York City street, but then I realised that they can be made by hand at home anytime you fancy one…

I used a recipe from Rachel Allen’s Bake (Page 132) which I’ve mentioned here before as I really like everything I’ve baked from it up til now. Would soft pretzels make or break her winning streak? I was slightly worried as I had an idea that soft pretzels would be extremely complicated. Read more

Kraft Mac n’Cheese

I have long been a bit of an Americanophile with a particular penchant for American literature. Part of that fascination is to do with the descriptions of seemingly exotic sounding foods in these novels. To someone growing up in Ireland, corn dogs and crawdaddies held an almost magical fascination. So imagine my childlike glee when I espied a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in Brixton Market last weekend! I could finally try that most archetypal of American meals without the need for transatlantic travel…

Kraft Mac n’ Cheese or Kraft Dinner as it is also referred to, seems to be the thing that most of my American ex-pat friends crave the most outside the USA. They beg returning travellers to slip those familiar blue boxes in their luggage or pay ridiculous prices for it in Selfridges food hall. Their eyes glaze over with wistfulness when they mention it. How could I resist trying something so iconic?

So on a grey rainy Sunday evening, after a few cocktails the previous night, I decided it was time to try the ultimate comfort food and open that box of Kraft Dinner in time for Come Dine With Me. Firstly, I was alarmed to see that since the macaroni and cheese sauce are separately packed, you have to make the entire 3 serving box in its entirety. Even as a great lover of macaroni cheese that seemed excessive.

Secondly, the macaroni seemed to stick together the instant I added it to the boiling water and no amount of stirring seemed to help. Thirdly, while my pasta lump was cooking, I was horrified to see that the serving instruction was to use 4 tablespoons of margarine to make the cheese sauce. For a real butter lover those instructions felt like sacrilege. I was slightly relieved to see that the ‘Light Prep’ involved 2 teaspoons of butter and the same amount of fat free milk. Pondering why anyone would willingly add that much margarine to anything, I drained the macaroni.

Thanks to having to stir it to try and break up the unappealing lump it had formed, I haven’t seen macaroni this gluey since I last made art in kindergarten class. Obeying the express instruction not to rinse it took every ounce of my willpower. Instead it lay draining in the colander looking wan and quivering like a recently unearthed brain. I hoped the cheese sauce would salvage it…

I added a 1/4 cup of semi skimmed milk to the pan along with a lump of salted butter and opened the foil sachet of cheese sauce powder. Believe me when I say the last time I saw anything that unnaturally lurid in colour, it was being worn by a eager young thing en route to a Nu Rave night. Luckily stirring it into the milk and butter rendered it normal enough coloured to consider eating and it looked almost palatable by the time the macaroni was stirred in.

I was too shocked to take a good photo...

I put the whole mountain of mac n’ cheese in a bowl and added some black pepper for extra favour. I was slightly concerned to see that by the time I had sat down to eat, it had begun to congeal slightly in the bowl, adding an extra dimension of unappealingness to it all.

Undaunted, I dug into the dish, only to discover it looks better than it tastes. I’d say it tasted like sick, but at least sick has a definable flavour. This was offensive in its sheer blandness. It didn’t even taste of salt, let alone cheese. The macaroni was limp and wet with absolutely no texture or bite while the sauce was just tasteless with a unpleasant hint of oiliness. The whole thing was simply like milky semi digested pap. By the time the good folk of Come Dine With Me had reached their first starter, I had had enough.

Having tasted this dreck, I cannot imagine how miserable you must be feeling for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to classify as comfort food. Everything about it is an insult to the real thing. Any craving for processed cheese I had after reading this paean to it has been obliterated. After this crushing disappointment I doubt I will ever risk trying an egg cream or a funnel cake in the future. I’m not sure I could take the shattering of another childhood dream after this debacle!

Feeling Hungary

Mister North’s recent trip to Hungary made me very very envious as a weekend of beer, pork and paprika is definitely something I would revel in. I decided to create a little Magyar magic at home and make goulash with the lovely looking tube of gulyáskrém he brought me…

Paprika in a tube...

Strangely I loathe, despise and abhor peppers, yet I adore paprika. Something about the drying and grinding of peppers to obtain this rich intricate spice seems to remove the taste of a regular bell pepper that I hate so much. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’m very glad it does, since avoiding the unexpected addition of peppers is the bane of my life when eating away from home. Such is my hatred of these vile fruits that I try to avoid walking past them in shops in case I get a whiff of them. At risk of sounding like the princess and the pepper, I can even tell if you used the same knife for peppers and and didn’t wash it before moving on to something else. It is impossible to cut peppers up small enough that I won’t notice them in a dish…

Yet I add paprika to everything I possibly can. Along with anchovy sauce, black pepper and Maldon salt, it is my essential can’t live without it food flavouring. I tend to fill up the famous La Chinata tins with cheaper tastier paprika bought from my local Portuguese deli and I like to keep all types in the spice cupboard, but favour the sweet paprika most generally.

Keen to try the new spicy paprika cream Mister North had provided, I set about finding an authentic sounding goulash recipe that didn’t involve adding in strips of bell pepper. This was quite difficult to find as many of those that omitted peppers relied on other ingredients like dried ceps to make life more awkward and expensive. I eventually found what I was looking for thanks to the lovely Liz at Gastronomy Domine and set about making a paprika infused, pepper free stew to tantalise the taste buds!

The recipe is very easy to follow. I used goose fat to brown the meat since the Hungarians are the most goose obsessed nation on earth. Everything was easy to come by and apart from an exploding tube of tomato puree, everything was straightfoward. I was making the goulash for about 3-4 people, but used the same amounts of paprika as Liz suggested anyway. I also deglazed the pan with some red wine as that was all I had to hand. This rich heavily scented stew was ready for the oven about 15 minutes after starting. I popped it in for 2 hours and settled down with a glass of red wine as delicious aromas filled the house.

Ready for the oven...

A few hours later, I pulled this stew out of the oven and realised I had turned the oven up too high and carbonised this round the edges! Luckily the meat and sauce were fairly easy to salvage and once I’d added some lemon juice, it all looked deliciously thick and tasty. Rather than make the nokedli mentioned in the recipe, I served this slightly singed stew with some plain pasta.

Ready to eat!

And it was delicious! Rich, deep paprika-y flavours with just the right amount of tang from the tomato puree and the lemon juice and a slight warmth from the gulyáskrém. Surprisingly it was quite light to eat on a warm night despite its reputation for being a heavy dish. The meat was a bit tough from my mistake with the temperature, but tasty enough to do justice to the sauce. I will definitely be making this lovely paprika spiked stew once more…I’ll just double check the heat of the oven first!