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prune cake

Chocolate Liquorice Cake or how to perk up a prune…

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur of new tastes and food experiences and travel and general activity. I’ve had great company and great meals, but I’ve been yearning to get back in the kitchen and play with my new finds. Mister North had very kindly shared some of his Lakrids Liquorice Powder from a Harvey Nicks bloggers’ lunch and I was intrigued as to what on earth to do with it since the package gives no clues and the site is entirely in Danish and my Sarah Lund fixation really only gives me rudimentary Danish vocab for the world of crime, not cooking.

I’d been eyeing up this David Lebovitz chocolate and prune cake for a while. Luscious with dark chocolate and butter, it’s a flour free number with a squidgy mousse-like consistency and having never made a cake like this before, I couldn’t wait to give it ago. I decided to give it an extra edge by adding some of the liquorice powder to the cake as liquorice is many times sweeter than sugar and I liked the idea of using it to smooth out the sharpness of the dark chocolate and give the prunes an extra earthiness.

 

I’ve linked to David’s orginal recipe so you can just follow that or you can do what I did and misread it and thus go about it slightly differently and awkwardly. Your call, but be aware my version gives you an excuse to drink some rum as you go…

Chocolate and Prune cake (from David Lebovitz, tweaked by me)

  • 170g pitted prunes
  • 80ml dark rum (or other dark spirit of choice)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 340g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 170g butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons raw liquorice powder

First prep your prunes. I cut mine into quarters and then soaked them overnight in the rum and sugar because I obviously thought I was making a tealoaf instead of reading the recipe properly. However, if I’d done it properly, I wouldn’t have discovered how good rum soaked prunes on my morning porridge…

Then butter a 9 inch cake tin (preferably springform). I also used cocoa powder on it and the cake stuck more than usually happens in my tin so I’m not sure I’d do that again.

I melted the chocolate and butter over hot water, stirring well to make sure it was well melted and glossy. I took it off the heat and added in the prunes and remaining rum which cooled the mixture slightly which meant I could add the egg yolks without fear of scrambling them. Pop the liquorice powder in at this point.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and firm, adding the sugar gradually and then fold them into the chocolate mix a third at a time, making sure you don’t overbeat and knock all the air out of the batter. Pour it into the tin and bake at 170℃ for 40-45 minutes. You can’t use the old skewer trick as the cake rises massively and the centre should be slightly soft, but the edges are pulling away from the tin. Cool well and you’ll notice the cake settles back down again in size.

David Lebovitz says the cake can be made up to three days in advance. I made mine two days in advance and kept it in a tin and felt that actually it was a touch dry round the edges, so I’d say wrap it well in a tea towel to be sure.

The cake was worth waiting for, very grown up with the bitter edge of dark chocolate,  sticky and squidgy with nuggets of prunes and completely and utterly lacking in any hint of liquorice at all. I couldn’t taste it and I’m presuming the others who ate it couldn’t either as no one asked what the other flavour was or if there was a magic ingredient. It didn’t even sweeten the cake particularly as the one question that was asked was if there was any sugar in the cake at all. I actually really enjoyed the lack of sweetness, which is unlike me and my common milk chocolate eating ways, but was disappointed by the Lakrids.

This is the second dish I’ve used it in. Once sweet and once savoury, and I couldn’t taste it either time. I’ve bookmarked this recipe as my go to quick chocolate cake, especially for gluten free folk, but I’m not inclined to persevere with the Lakrids, unless someone can give me a really good idea for it or takes me quietly to one side and explains that I’ve been doing it wrong…

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

 

Last month I finally got the chance to try an iced coffee for the first time since an ill advised carton of Nestle Frappe back at primary school which scarred me for life (I think it’s where they got the idea for that 3 in 1 monstrosity they were pushing at Tube stations recently). This time I showed more sense and went to the Vietnamese cafe Banh Mi Bay and sampled this summer drink made by the people who do it the best.

Strong, but not bitter and slightly sweet from condensed milk, it was so refreshing I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to re-live its cooling caffeine hit and when Kavey mentioned that July’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge was a condensed milk custard, I knew what I had to do…

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream (makes about a litre)

  • 410g can of condensed milk or two small cans (Polish shops usually sell the bigger ones & are great value)
  • 3 tablespoons freeze dried coffee dissolved in 60ml of water, cooled slightly
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 250ml double cream
  • 250ml whole milk
  • pinch salt
  • freeze dried raspberries (optional)

First make your coffee. You’re probably having kittens at the thought of using instant coffee, but I always keep some in the house for baking and cooking as you want a good strong coffee flavour without too much liquid and proper ground beans don’t do this. If you really object to the instant stuff, this is a good time to try cold brewing coffee and using the concentrate that method creates instead. I wasn’t organised enough so instead I used 3 tablespoons of freeze dried espresso powder in 60ml or 1/4 cup of boiling water and left to cool a bit while I made the custard. I find when you freeze ice cream it lessens the flavour and I like a proper coffee kick from my custard so heaped the coffee in.

I warmed the cream and whole milk, adding in the condensed milk so it all melted and looked like thick creamy custard. I separated the eggs and beat the yolks, adding in a bit of the condensed milk custard to temper it before adding it all back into the saucepan to thicken. Add in the coffee and the salt and str until blipping gently and thickening nicely. It’s like a regular ice cream custard base but much easier to do without splitting or it not coming together. Chill well. It will look as set in the bowl at this point as pannacotta and will be a little bit difficult to get into the machine without ladling.

From reading the expertise of the people organised enough to get their posts up on Kavey’s blog in time, it looks like you could freeze other condensed milk based custards without a machine because of the texture of the custard is airier than usual and wouldn’t just make a big icy block (see her comment below). I used my machine as normal as this is egg based and while it was churning, turned my attention to the garnish.

I adore coffee and raspberries together. The tang of the berries works especially well with coffee desserts and I decided I wanted to cut through the richness of this ice cream with a sprinkle of freeze-dried raspberry. Unfortunately I wasn’t organised enough to mail order these and instead spent an afternoon trekking round London trying to find them in Whole Foods and Waitrose and Fortnums and not getting very far. Instead I bought a bar of 36% cocoa milk chocolate with raspberry from Marks and Spencer and took my frustration from my failed shopping trip out on it with a rolling pin.

I sprinkled some crushed chocolate chunks into each section of my silicone tray and poured the ice cream in, topping with more crushed chocolate and freezing as ice cream bars. I served these between wafers and the crunch of these and the chocolate chunks made the ice cream seem even creamier than it was. Not to toot my own horn, but this was the best coffee ice cream I’ve ever had and coffee ice cream is my favourite…

 

Chilly Philly: Chocolate cream cheese ice cream

 Cadbury Philadelphia cream cheese ice cream

 As I’ve mentioned before, I very rarely eat cheese. I like it, but rarely buy it because it’s expensive and Brixton doesn’t have many choices to buying small amounts of cheese rather than family sized blocks so I get bored of eating the same kind quite quickly. But the one thing I never tire of is cream cheese. I’ve always got a tub in the fridge because it is delicious and versatile and goes with Ryvita like nobody’s business. Therefore it was inevitable as a cream cream obsessive that I would be lured into trying the new Cadbury’s chocolate and Philadelphia combo pretty much soon as it came out.

And I quite liked it. It made a nice change from Nutella, but I would have liked slightly more lactic tang from it and less flat sugariness, but considering how sweet all processed food is these days, I guess I should be glad there was any type of cheese taste to it at all. I had some on Ryvita (quelle surprise) and liked it with the saltiness, but found it a bit flat with digestive biscuits. I found myself with more leftover than I expected and wondered what to do with it. I thought back to the Veda Bread ice cream I made which was originally made with a cream cheese base and knew exactly what to do with that second impulse purchase tub.

Chocolate Philadelphia Ice Cream (adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)

  • 250ml whole milk (I use Jersey)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 tub of chocolate Philadelphia (160g)
  • half a large bar of dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
  • 500ml double cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the milk gently in a pan, adding in the cream and the sugar and dark chocolate and stirring until everything is melted, then add in the chocolate cream cheese and keep stirring until that melts. Make sure the mixture has come back up to heat, but is in no danger of overheating or boiling and then temper the egg yolks by adding a cupful of the chocolate milk mix to them. Mix this in and add the yolks to the pan and stir until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spatula. Add in the vanilla extract, cover the bowl and place in the fridge to cool (overnight preferably).

Next day, you should have had the thickest creamiest chocolate custard you can imagine. Churn in your ice cream maker for around 30 minutes or as described in the instructions. (I have a machine, so cannot be sure if you could make this without one. Worth a go though!) Serve when ready.

And marvel at how delicious this is. The extra chocolate adds the slight bitterness and tang the original product needed to be more grown up and you definitely get a different taste to a regular chocolate ice cream from the cream cheese. This is very rich but surprisingly grown up. I definitely preferred it to the cream cheese on its own, thus proving no matter what the question is, ice cream is the answer!

Top Hats! Or make more of your marshmallows!

Top down new

My childhood was punctuated by marshmallows. One of our aunts had a particular soft spot for them and visits to her house weren’t complete without dipping into the bag of pink and white numbers in the kitchen drawer by the table, even if it was before dinner. We often toasted them in front of my granny’s open fire on the end of a proper toasting fork and tried not to burn our tongues. Guide camps were never quite complete without trying to concoct one of those exotic sounding s’mores we’d read about in American books, even though we only had some Scotbloc and an own brand Rich Tea biscuit to hand. Every party had the Northern Irish classic of Fifteens which combined digestives, marshmallows and glace cherries to heartstopping goodness. And that’s before Mister North brought me a jar of Marshmallow Fluff when he moved to England…

I think we could safely say that I like a marshmallow. Yet as an adult I never eat them. In fact I haven’t seen a packet to buy for years. The humble marshmallow has fallen out of fashion it seems. Nothing would do but to make them. How hard could it be?

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Wild food, or food to drive you wild

Last month’s Guestrant at Electrik was one of my favourites to date. Wild foraged food is something both Miss South and I have dabbled in before, but with the best will in the world, we don’t have the knowledge to go beyond the well known and well-trodden without some proper guidance.

So when I read Beth Creedon was the guest in Electrik’s kitchen for June I was rather excited… I knew how well-received her first stint at Electrik had been last year, so I signed up right away. Beth’s a bit of an expert in foraged food, and comes with good credentials and form in preparing foraged feasts. She, alongside her husband, also runs Dig, Manchester’s best local veggie box scheme. I’d met her at the recent cheese ‘chewtorial’, and her obvious knowledge and enthusiasm for foraged food was infectious.

After the disappointment of the previous month’s event with Julie Bagnolli being cancelled due to poor attendance (shame on you North West foodies… surely you’re not doing anything better on a Monday night?) this needed to be something special to put a smile back on the faces of my dining companion and I. We needn’t have feared: it was.

We arrived, wet after a sudden heavy rainshower, looking over the well-stocked bar. Once again we decided to stick to beer, rather than wine, although there’s a decent selection of both in Electrik. We joined another couple on a table – always one of the best things about pop-up & supperclub-type arrangements is meeting new folk – and snatched a quick look at the menu which was being passed around.

The menu tantalised, teased and prompted whispered questions around our table. It sounded simple and restrained, yet wonderfully exotic. What the hell is Fat Hen? Do cherries go feral only when you lose them? Was that really two desserts on the menu? We couldn’t wait to learn more… so when Beth came out of the kitchen to introduce the first course I was straining to hear every word.

When it arrived the first course looked gorgeous… a perfectly turned-out layered terrine, surrounded by delicate leaves, sitting on a base of finely-sliced beetroot. We found out during the preamble that Fat Hen’s actually a kind of wild spinach-like leaf, not a plump poultry bird, so that was one mental image shattered. It, and the goats cheese in the terrine, was delicious, crowned with a sprig of chickweed. I’ve picked sorrel leaves in the woods before, and love their distinctively tart flavour. This sorrel was French, and the flavour of their leaves added piquancy. The star of the dish, though, were the little pickled dandelion buds. Wow! Revelatory stuff: these unassuming wee buds tasted like capers, and gave the whole starter an extra frission which I’d never expected. I may have to start home pickling…

With such a good starter our expectations around the table cranked up a gear. The main, with razor clams at its centrepiece, caused me some excitement (Miss South has already written on our love of these moreable molluscs) but my dining companion was somewhat nervous at the prospect of blade-like bivalves, being a little squeamish about such things. When the course was presented – a single razor clam shell laying across a bowl of chowder – this did little to allay her concerns, but she became more convinced when she tasted the contents.

The ‘hero’ shell – dressed with the flesh of several razor clams, hearty chunks of chorizo and a sprinkling of chives – capped a healthy portion of chowder. In this the razor clams were paired up with a goodly selection of smaller, more conventional clams. Accompanied by Barbakan bread, a perfect heart-shaped pat of delicious butter, and a hunk of lemon, this was simple but great fare. Salty pork and shellfish is a sure-fire winner (I’m looking at you, scallops and black pudding, as a prime example) and the rich notes of the chorizo complemented the tender pale flesh of the clams perfectly. The broth was rich and oh-so-moreable… by the time I looked up from my bowl there was a surfeit of empty shells and crockery around the table.

After that it was time for dessert #1… Beth reappeared from the depths of the kitchen to explain that yes, she couldn’t decide which dessert to serve us, so she opted for both. Hellish for us punters, you must understand, to be saddled with such an onerous task. The ‘feral’ cherries were local, but not totally wild… more like a domestic cultivar which had gone walkabout… so they were less tart than their wild cousins. Again, this looked so pretty… a cherry ‘mouse’, complete with almond ears, sat atop a cream cushion on a delightful chocolate mousse in a ramekin. Digging to the bottom of the mousse revealed macerated cherries, their sweet syrupy flavour riffing off the dark chocolate. Oh, and the finishing touches: glitter, and a sprinkling of popping candy on the plate, only added to the sense of giddy playfulness. Thumbs up!

The second sweet came shortly afterwards, and continued the local and slightly tongue-in-cheek theme, with a light hare-shaped shortbread accompanying strawberries, ice cream and praline pieces. The strawberries are Dig’s own organic offspring, grown in nearby Cheshire in polytunnels. Not sure what variety they were, but their flavour was rich and fruity, exuding summer with every mouthful. The elderflower and lime ice cream started to melt quite quickly, but the taste was divine… light and sharp citrus notes, with the elderflower rounding everything out in the background. The lavender praline was the unexpected highlight for me: I have a soft spot for lavender and its soft floral presence lent itself well to the slightly chewy sweetness of the praline. The whole dish disappeared quickly, but the flavours lingered on as a gentle reminder for some time. A fresh, light and well-balanced full stop to a really good meal.

Presentation was absolutely spot-on, food was fresh and perfectly cooked, and the theme and focus of the whole meal was bang on. A good balance of playfulness, education, quality and localism (without being too hung up on every last ingredient being utterly wild or from on our doorstep) made it a great menu. Oh, and at £25 a head, very good value considering the extra work which must’ve gone into the sourcing and preparation of the course. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough… bravo to Beth (and her sous for the night, Deanna).

Today’s Guestrant features Mary-Ellen McTague and Laurence Tottingham from Aumbry. After June’s experience I can’t wait to see what these graduates of the Fat Duck will deliver from Electrik’s modest kitchen…