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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…

Simnel Cake Ice Cream

Simnel Cake ice cream

I am not religious, but I do enjoy all the major Christian holidays, chiefly because they are all held together with copious amounts of marzipan. I love marzipan. I’m that person that will eat the spare almond paste off your Royal icing when you’re defeated by Christmas cake or buy a block of it to eat slices off. And don’t get me started about those exquisite little fruits modelled from the stuff you get in posh grocers and Fortnums. I am definitely in the pro-camp.

I spend a lot of time wanting to increase the ways I can get marzipan into my life, so Easter and its siren song of Simnel cake pleases me hugely. I toyed with these mini ones from Nutmegs Seven which look light as a feather, but I’ve also been fiddling around with trying a marzipan ice cream for ages and suddenly it came together and I realised my world needed Simnel cake ice cream immediately.

You could of course bake a Simnel Cake and break it up into homemade ice cream and bob’s your uncle, but I have a deep shuddering hatred of wet cake. Things like trifle and tiramisu make me feel funny inside. So I needed something more deconstructed, but simple and I think, with this recipe, I’ve cracked it:

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Candied Bacon ‘N’ Pumpkin Ice Cream

I think we’ve touched on me being a bit of an Americanophile before. I have a total weakness for the literature and food of the USA. And I’m prepared to struggle for my art. The Kraft Mac n’Cheese might have defeated me, but like my first time reading Moby Dick, I don’t give up easily. Pumpkin pie didn’t float my boat, but I was determined to find a Thanksgiving inspired dessert that did this year. Pumpkin ice cream sounded just the thing.

Shamelessly copying this David Lebovitz recipe, I dug out the spare can of Libby’s from last year and got going. A rich thick custard was created, laced with vanilla and a lot more rum than he suggested and anointed with some proper amounts of spice. Half a can of the pumpkin puree was added in and the whole thing was churned til a beautiful golden shade of orange. It was then served as the highpoint after a proper Amurrican meal of corndogs and macaroni cheese with a friend from Chicago. And it tasted like grass.

Oddly powdery in texture with a strong vegetable taste that took over the soft spices and vanilla, it was the strangest ice cream I’ve ever had. The extra water content in the pumpkin made it freeze as hard as a rock and taste of ice crystals rather than the usual velvety blanket of churned cream I make. The rum didn’t help and added no flavour. And unusually for an American recipe, it wasn’t sweet enough. It seemed sparse and utilitarian. Neither of us finished our bowls.

But I had around a litre of it in the freezer and was loath to throw it out. It needed something to lift it and make it sweeter, more dessert-like and less like a very peculiar starter. And it need to be properly American in style. Hershey syrup would have worked. Maybe some of those mini marshmallows you get in American cereals. Butterscotch chips embedded in would be great. I didn’t have any of those things to hand and I refuse to pay Selfridges’ Food Hall prices.

What I did have to hand was some lovely unsmoked bacon from the Porcus people. I realised the time had come to get on the candied bacon bandwagon. It’s been uber fashionable to bacon everything possible in the past few years from chocolate to Baconnaise. Apart from one disappointing dalliance with the chocolate, I’ve steered clear, haunted by memories of bacon bits in adolescence. But when bacon is this good, it cries out to be coated with sugar, baked til crisp and then crumbled over ice cream and swirled with toffee sauce…

It went into the oven on a lined tray, heaped with sugar and cooked at about 200℃ for about ten minutes, then turned over and dredged through the syrup and cooked a bit more, before being cooled to a crisp. Shred it up nice and small. And then turn your full attention to the toffee sauce. I used equal quantities (handily unmeasured) of golden caster sugar, golden syrup, double cream and butter and boiled it for about 5 minutes or until I got bored waiting.

The rock hard ice cream had loosened up nicely and it got a liberal swirl of sauce and a decent sprinkling of bacon. Some crushed pecans nuts and a rasher of best back cut lengthways would make an amazing (and very adult) sundae. But we kept it simple and got stuck in. And it really worked. The sauce sweetened the ice cream and toned down the powderiness while the sticky shards of bacon added much needed texture. We finished the bowls with gusto this time.

Next year I won’t be bothering with pumpkin desserts, keeping my slices from the deli for soups and stews, but I recommend you combine this ice cream and the accompanying candied bacon one to have something to experiment with this time next year. You’ll be be giving thanks for the bacon all year round!

Salt n’ sweet ice cream

Despite the legendary pronouncement as a child in a huff that I don’t like Italian gelato, I do like a decent ice cream once in a while and since Marine Ices is a right trek from my house and i haven’t made it to Gelupo yet, I have always fancied the notion of having an ice cream maker.

So when I discovered that John Lewis have a new model out for a mere £35 that comes well recommended by Which? I couldn’t resist. While waiting for it to arrive, I browsed several recipes for ice cream and compiled a list of ones to try. I also put out a batcall for other people’s favourites on Twitter and the hands down mentioned-a-million-times winner was this David Lebovitz recipe for salted caramel butter ice cream. Luckily my machine turned up sooner than expected and I had time to freeze the bowl for 24 hours prior to a friend coming for dinner during the week.

On the day, I rather tredipidiously making the recipe. Lizzie over at Hollow Legs found it tricky and since I’d spent the weekend burning sugar like it’s a superpower, I felt this might go off piste if I wasn’t careful. I decided to concentrate on the cooking carefully, so I don’t have any photos of the various stages, just the end product. The original recipe page has some though if you find that helpful.

I started off making the caramel brittle that would be used to add bite and intensity to the ice cream. This is basically sugar melted til golden brown and bubbling, infused with some Maldon sea salt and then spread out on a baking tray as thin as possible til hardened. It was surprisingly quick and easy, although since the sugar is hotter than the sun, you do need to pay attention while doing it.

Feeling positive that the first step had gone well, I started making the actual custard. More caramel was created in the same way as the brittle, but once bubbling, it come off the heat and has butter mixed in and then cream to make a gorgeous creamy toffee sauce. It was all going well, and I hoped that adding the egg yolks wouldn’t cause a problem. By following the advice to add some warm sauce to the yolks to heat them gently and then add that to the main body of the caramel sauce, preventing any tricky splitting or curdling. It then thickened very slightly and in no time I had the whole custard cooling in the fridge for three or so hours. Even if the ice cream was a disaster from here on in, I was pleased with my custard making powers!

Later on, once the custard was cooled and everything else for dinner was complete, I got the machine out and ready to go. It’s super simple to assemble and a few moments later, it was churning away with no real effort and only a low rumble of noise. I might not want to be in the same room as it while it does its thing, but if you had to you could without yelling or losing your mind. I gave it exactly 30 minutes to churn, adding the now shattered caramel brittle in five minutes before the end. Rich and icy, it looked gorgeous and would have have been lovely as it was with a sort of soft scoop finish. But as I wasn’t ready for it, I popped it in a covered bowl in the freezer for another two or so hours.

After all my nerves about the caramel, the custard and the machine, I was overjoyed to see that it had set beautifully. Just like real ice cream in fact! I left it to sit in the fridge for about five minutes to make it easier to scoop and reminded myself I must get a proper gadget for serving in the future. Because if all the ice cream I make is going to be as good as this, I’m going to be using the scoop a lot…

This was just heavenly. Very very creamy, decadently rich and utterly heavenly. The slight tang of salt stopped it being too sweet and the little nuggets of crunchy caramel both challenge and delight the tastebuds as you go. It went down well with my dinner guest and we both emptied our bowl quite quickly. It’s so rich though that much as we would have liked, we just couldn’t have managed another portion. It will keep well in the freezer and make a delightful treat after any meal (or before a meal or as evidenced at lunchtime today, instead of a meal.)

Don’t hesitate to try this very grown up ice cream, even if it means having to splash out on the ice cream maker first. You won’t regret it!