Monday, 30 July 2007


translated in English: the Daring Bakers’ July challenge - strawberry mirror cake

A few months ago, I read something about a group of Daring Bakers, and then forgot about it again. But a month later, I found more Daring Baker stuff popping up on various blogs. And another month later, yet more of the same. By the time Martha’s darkest chocolate crepe cake came around, I found myself reading all the DB entries, which made for some very amusing reading. After that, I found myself keeping an eye on the DB blogroll and eagerly anticipating what they would make the next month. The Gateau St Honoré sounded rather scary, what with the puff pastry and pate à choux and all, but I thought it would be a nice challenge and encourage me to make things outside my comfort zone, so I asked them if they would have me (pretty please) and luckily enough, they had a little place for me available.

And so, this month, I prepared for my first challenge: strawberry mirror cake, chosen by Peabody's culinary concoctions. I printed the recipe, read it again and again and again and planned when to make the whole thing. It would be a challenge for me to follow the recipe to the letter (that’s a DB rule) but I was looking forward to trying something I’d never made before. Normally, when I make an American recipe, the first thing I do is reduce the sugar, as I usually find American recipes too sweet for me. Also I don’t really liked the idea of using red food colouring (I like my food all natural) and I can’t say I’m fond of gelatin - I’ve only used it a few times in the past, usually with disastrous results, and I don’t particularly like the way texture feels in my mouth. Plus I once did an evening course in conservation and restoration of paintings, where we would often use animal glue, which smells exactly the same as gelatin. But, as a true Daring Baker, I would fearlessly give it a go.

I have to admit though, I’m not that much of a cake eater, never have been and never will be - at birthdays and other occasions I always skip the cake part. Making and assembling the whole thing took ages and was a lot of bother (partly because I didn’t have all the required equipment), and I wasn’t really impressed when I tasted it (but that’s because I’m not a cake eater). It must have been good though, because S took the finished cake to work and his colleagues absolutely loved it.

To me, this cake ended up being one of those things that sound good on paper, but somehow don’t work. Like clothes in a shop that look fabulous on the hanger, but are not a good fit when you try them on. But I am glad I did try this recipe on; at least now I know it’s not a good fit for me. I would try something similar again, maybe with a pound cake or a less sweet sponge and a mousse that doesn’t need gelatin. The mirror bit I think is something would look quite pretty on any cake, so I will try that again as well.

Here’s how my weekend of cake making went down.

Friday night I made the sponge - I don’t have a jelly roll pan, so I used a 24cm round spring form and baked two separate sponges. The first one was a disaster, which I blame on my oven. I’m sure that in new and well-behaved ovens, baking a sponge for 7 minutes at 230˚C works just fine, but in my oven that resulted in a burnt top and liquid centre. Attempt number two, baked for 20 minutes at 150˚C was somewhat more successful, but the bottom of the sponge remained rather sticky. I confess I did substitute the vanilla essence with vanilla bean paste, because I had a whole bottle of the latter and none of the former. Hope that doesn’t mean I broke the rules.

Saturday I went grocery shopping for eggs, strawberries, sugar and cream. Being half space out on antibiotics must have messed up my intellectual capacities (such as adding up and reading) though, because I ended up buying way too many strawberries. And instead of 1 1/2 cup’s worth of cream, I bought 1 1/2 pints worth of cream. Also I was feeling quite sick, so I didn’t get around to making the cake that day.

Sunday I was feeling a bit better, so I started the day full of hope and good intentions to get the whole cake together. First thing was making a new sponge, as the one I’d made on Friday had gone stale. The strawberry juice and Bavarian cream were fairly easy to make, only I misread the recipe (damn those antibiotics) and found out afterwards I hadn’t added enough gelatine to the Bavarian cream. And I only have a tiny sieve with fine mesh, so it took me ages to strain the strawberry purée, so now a proper-sized is very high up on my wishlist. The red food colouring did make the Bavarian cream a bit more pink rather than the original - but natural! - muddied pink colour. Around 7pm I was quite fed up but finally ready to assemble the cake. I used an 18cm round spring form (I didn’t buy any new equipment for this recipe, but just used the things I already have), with a cardboard circle covered in aluminium foil at the bottom (very handy tip!) and a ‘collar’ of baking paper all around. I thought I had some vanilla vodka left, but I didn’t, so I didn’t put any liqueur in the soaking syrup at all. The four layers of the cake already came higher than the spring form - luckily I had added a collar to it.

Monday I finally added the mirror (I didn’t add any food colouring to it, because I thought it had an all natural beautiful intense red colour already). By then I was so fed up with it all, I couldn’t be bothered to do something about the bubbles in the mirror. Nor did I feel like adding any decoration to the cake at all. I snapped a few quick piccies (maybe I should have cut the top of my sponge, because the browned top made a dark line in my cake), ate a piece and was not impressed.

Tuesday I made S take the whole shebang into work and told him I didn’t want to see a single crumb of it ever again. And I threw the recipe printout in my paper recycling bin, feeling strangely satisfied while doing that.

Check out the other Daring Bakers' cakes here.

Sunday, 29 July 2007


I was going to skip this month’s Tropical Paradise Sugar High Friday, organised by Mary of Alpine Berry, not only because it’s been a busy month for me, but also because I didn’t have any inspiration for something tropical. The word tropical speaks to me of luscious and juicy fruits, white sandy beaches, gorgeous and lazy sunny days, refreshing dips in the ocean, exotic birds and the like. Last month, I really tried very hard to get into a summer mood, with my coconut and passionfruit sorbets, but it’s simply not working. Must be the continuing total and utter lack of summer here in the UK. I find myself craving comfort winter food, such as soup and mash, rather than ice creams and sorbets. So I decided to skip SHF this time.

But then a few things happened simultaneously. Mary extended the deadline by a week (I hope your back gets better soon, Mary); due to some serious miscalculation on my part, I had 2 punnets of strawberries left from another project; there was an overripe mango in my fruit basket that I didn’t know what to do with; and I had a few unexpected days at home - not sick enough to lay in bed all day, and feeling just about good enough to potter around in the kitchen a bit.

So I decided to try my hand at jam making. Something I’d never done before, but it was the only thing I could think of to use up all the fruit before it went really bad. I had a look at a few different recipes and kind of made it up as I went along. I added vanilla, star anise and black peppercorns to the strawberries and mango, and I also used pectin, just to make sure my jam would set. I also used way too much sugar (same amount as the fruit), because my jam turned out to be really sweet. Equal amounts of sugar and fruit is a fairly standard jam thing though, so maybe it’s just my personal preference, or maybe the mango was super sweet. I admit, strawberry jam is not very tropical, but the addition of mango and star anise makes it little bit more so - just good enough for a tropical SHF, methinks.

Oh, and the pV=nRT? That’s the reason a vacuum is created in the jam jars - something scientific with pressure and volume, particles and temperature. Just ask S. Me, I’m convinced it’s magic.


500g strawberries
250g mango
750g sugar
2tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp vanilla bean paste
3 star anise
7 black pepper corns
pectin (use as per manufacturer’s instructions)

clean and hull strawberries; peel and cube mango. Put in large pot with sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, anise and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. Take off heat, stir in pectin and put in sterilised jam jars (I reused Bonne Maman jars).

Friday, 27 July 2007

matcha white chocolate ice cream

if you haven’t made this ice cream yet, stop reading now and go make it immediately!

I have been in a decidedly ‘Japanese’ mood for the past few weeks, getting bento boxes or sushi for lunch almost every other day, slurping soba noodles and miso soup at home, stocking up on Japanese goodies in the Arigato supermarket in Soho (48-50 Brewer Street) and treating myself to a lovely assortiment of Japanese plates and bowls from the Japan Centre shop.

And so, when I saw a matcha white chocolate ice cream (with recipe!) on Kuidaore, I couldn’t wait to make a batch myself. I hadn’t touched my matcha supply since I used it in a pound cake, and my little box of matcha was starting to feel neglected. I decided I couldn’t wait until the weekend to make this, and so, after work, a quick grocery trip was required. But somehow, every single shop I tried seemed to have run out of white chocolate! However, I simply had to make the ice cream there and then, so I kept on trawling the shops and finally found a stack of Green & Black’s white chocolate. Arriving home about 2 hours later than planned (yes, I really wanted the ice cream that badly) with my precious white chocolate, I set to work.

Making the ice cream is an absolute doddle and the result is out-of-this world good. So good, in fact, that I think I had a religious experience when I first dipped my finger in the custard and stuck it in my mouth. And again with every single taste I’ve had since. No singing angels or anything though, just a feeling of pure and utter bliss. The cloying sweetness of the white chocolate and bitterness of the matcha make for a perfectly balanced pairing - it is very rich though, so one small scoop is more than enough. I scooped mine on one of my beautiful new Japanese plates and sprinkled it with some black sesame seeds.

Seems like I’m not the only one absolutely smitten - check out Jaden and Brilynn's versions. But before you do that, go and make this ice cream. Now!

adapted from Kuidaore

375ml double cream

375ml milk
100g caster sugar

1/8 tsp fine salt
4 large egg yolks
200g white chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp matcha, sieved

Bring cream, milk, sugar and salt to a simmer over low heat, stirring constantly. Whisk egg yolks and add cream mixture in a slow and steady stream. Return to pan and cook custard until it thickens (make sure it doesn’t boil or it will curdle). Strain into bowl and set aside. Melt chocolate (I did this in the microwave, 2 30-second blasts were just right) and blend thoroughly with matcha. Add chocolate mixture to custard. Refrigerate overnight* and then churn in ice cream maker, according to instructions. Or, if like me, you still don’t have an ice cream maker**, put in freezer and stir every half hour or so until frozen.

* this is how I discovered it would also make for excellent little cream pots; when I came home from work the next evening after work and wanted to plonk it in the freezer, I couldn’t resist sneaking another taste and found it had set to a lovely cream pot consistency
** I recently found out Kitchenaid has an ice cream making attachment. I don’t have a Kitchenaid either (it’s on my wish list), but S has informed me the only reason he hasn’t bought me one yet, is that he doesn’t know what colour to buy. Only problem is, he likes the red one, I like the orange one. Or the yellow one. Or the surf green one, such a cool colour, in a surf dude kind of way.

Monday, 23 July 2007

yet another post without any food pictures...

... but beautifully sanded floors and painted walls instead. Which is what S and I have been doing all weekend long. More food to come, very soon.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

happy birthday darling!

Today is S's birthday, and the good people of France are so nice that they always organise a parade and fireworks especially for the occasion!

Last year I did actually take S to Paris for his birthday - our minuscule hotel was very close to the Eiffel Tower and we enjoyed the most splendid sight of the fireworks. A French girlfriend had recommended me Le Comptoir du Relais, a lovely tiny bistro at the Carrefour de l'Odeon, where we had S's birthday dinner. Which was absolutely wonderful, with the token rude waitress of course (it just wouldn't be Paris without them, would it). And lots of wine.

We didn't have any particular plans for the weekend - the weather was amazing and we just roamed around and relaxed, enjoying delicious pastries, croissants and confit de canard all weekend long, in the tiniest unassuming bistros. With polite and friendly waiting staff, which threw us a bit, but we were quickly reassured by our encounter with a rude waiter in a creperie who totally refused to speak French with us.

All by accident (a good thing of wandering around a city at leisure) and long BB (before blog), I discovered Sadaharu Aoki's shop in the Rue Vaugirard and E. Dehillerin, where I asked the shop people if I could move in but they wouldn't let me, so I had to settle for buying some baking moulds.

This year, S requested dinner at Locanda Locatelli for his birthday - he is quite a fan of the cookbook already and wanted to try the restaurant. I didn't take a camera with me, so no piccies, but I can assure you the whole experience was absolutely divine! The restaurant was very smart of course, but not in a stuck-up way, with extremely friendly and efficient staff who didn't rush us. And the food, ah, where to start! Home-made Parmesan grissini, a basket full of delicious breads, amazing salads with the perfect dressing and sweetest cherry tomatoes ever, wonderful calamari with chili and lots of garlic, lovely flaky monkfish, yummy baby cow, and delicious desserts. I of course tried the most unusual thing on the dessert menu, while S went straight for the vanilla ice cream. Which he declared to be the best one ever (in fact, his exact words were: 'eat this, Häagen-Dazs!'). No fancy schmancy dishes; everything was fairly simple (not the kind of simple you'd make at home though) but the ingredients were the freshest and bestest, top-notch quality. Another restaurant we can tick off our 'must try' list, but we've now moved it to our 'must go back' list.

Still itching to go back to Paris though.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

HHDD#13 passionfruit slush

After my flirtation with coconut last weekend, I thought it was high time to continue my love affair with all things passionfruit. When handling and scooping out all those passionfruit whilst making my soufflé, I was thinking how cute the shells would be as little cups for sorbet. I cleaned the shells, stored them in the freezer and filed away the idea in a little unused corner of my brain. And whaddayaknow: yesterday, when I bought my favourite interior magazine and browsed straight to the ‘entertaining’ bit which is edited by Donna Hay, my idea was staring right back at me, in the form of a six-page spread on ice cream and sorbet, all presented inside ‘cups’ made of orange halves, melon, lime and more.

So it was only fitting I used my passionfruit shells for this month’s Hay Hay it’s Donna Day, organised by Laura of Eat Drink Live. Remember when I said I thought my coconut sorbet would taste best paired with something else? That something else would have to be, without a doubt, passionfruit sorbet. I figured the tartness of the passionfruit would be the perfect companion to the ultra-creamy coconut, with a bit of coriander syrup thrown in to add a nice twist to it all. And of course it tasted great, just not in the shape I had imagined it. Because my passionfruit sorbet turned out to be passionfruit slush, but let’s call it granita. Sounds like it was my intention all along to end up with a grainy mix, rather than a nicely scoopable or quenelle-able frozen mass. Maybe it didn’t freeze like I wanted to because I don’t have an ice cream maker, maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was because I made up the recipe as I went along.

I looked at a few different recipes, but they all combined the passionfruit with another fruit and I wanted pure, unadulterated passionfruit flavour. Also, I couldn’t find any unsweetened passionfruit juice in the shops and I had no intention of bankrupting myself by buying enough passionfruit in order to get about half a litre of pulp/juice. So I just bought the sweetened stuff (sweetened with sugar, not nasty aspartame), skipped the ‘boil juice with sugar’ stage (because I didn’t want my sorbet to be overtly sweet) and threw all my ingredients together. Which resulted in said slush.

I had it all figured out: one quenelle of my coconut sorbet, one quenelle of passionfruit sorbet, and a stripe of coriander syrup - presented like an abstract painting on a white plate.* Only one cannot make nice quenelles with slush - granita I mean. Luckily ‘help’ was at hand, in the shape of Helen’s HHDD entry, in which she combined two sorbet flavours with sauce and churned it all into one delectable-looking combination. I threw half of my coconut sorbet and half of the passionfruit granita together and ended up with a deliciously rich, creamy yet tangy, coconut-passionfruit sorbet. Which definitely won’t last long in my freezer. The other half of the coconut sorbet I’m keeping aside for my dad. And the other half of the slush, you ask? Well, S and I do cocktail hour at weekends, and the icy passionfruit with coriander syrup made a perfect base for a tropical cocktail.

* This combination is of course inspired by Claudia Fleming’s signature dessert (coconut tapioca soup with coconut and passionfruit sorbet, coconut tuile, passionfruit caramel and coriander syrup), which I had the pleasure of enjoying in the Gramercy Tavern in New York last year. I skipped a few steps and stuck to the sorbet and syrup bit. I wanted the coriander flavour to be really intense, so I doubled the amount Ms Fleming’s uses in her syrup (thinking I could always dilute it if it was too strong), and it turned out rather nice.

passionfruit granita

1/2 litre passionfruit juice
4 passionfruit (pulp and seeds)
1 shot glass passionfruit jenever (I bought a bottle in Belgium, in this shop, Peterman’s brand)

Mix everything together and freeze. Then when you end up with granita, mix it all together with the coconut sorbet you made last week to create a coconut-passionfruit sorbet.

coriander syrup
adapted from Claudia Fleming’s Last Course

1/3 cup sugar syrup
1/2 cup firmly packed coriander leaves

For sugar syrup, mix equal measures of water and sugar and bring to boil. Turn off heat as soon as sugar is dissolved and put in glass jar with lid firmly screwed on.
Plunge coriander leaves in boiling water for 15 seconds, then drain and immediately plunge them into ice water (bowl of cold water with ice cubes). Remove from water and pat dry. Combine syrup and coriander leaves and blend (I used an immersion blender). Let rest for 30 minutes, then strain and discard solids.

passionfruit shell ‘cups’

passionfruit shells, halved

With a paring knife, remove coral-looking bits from the inside of shells. This is fairly easy, try to remove the whole membrane at once. Rinse, dry and freeze.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Meeta's monthly mingle: I scream for ... Summer

Meeta’s July is (not just hot but) HOT and she wants us all to scream for ice cream at her monthly mingle. Unfortunately the UK weather gods have other ideas about our summer, and with the wind howling outside and the rain battering the windows I think I’ll be screaming for sun rather than ice cream. However, I’m not one to sit moping around being grumpy about the weather, and so, by lack of a decent summer outside, I thought I could at least try to create a hot and tropical summer inside. And that’s exactly what I did last weekend. Plus I decided I might as well challenge myself a bit and make something outside my comfort zone: coconut sorbet.

I’ve never been a fan of coconut, except in (Thai style) curries. I simply love the combination of hot curry paste with creamy coconut milk, it’s incredibly easy to make and it features often on my dining table. But other things with coconut, no thank you. When I was a child, we used to have an old Quality Street sweets tin in the cupboard, which would always contain mini Milky Way, Mars and Bounty. My brother and I would eat the Mars and Milky Way, and the Bounty was for my dad. If I remember well, he took one in his lunch box every day and also had one after dinner (in recent years he has moved on to ice cream for dessert). I also remember trying it once, after which experience my five-year-old self decided that I hated coconut. I can still feel that dry, fibre-y taste of desiccated coconut in my mouth, so it comes as no surprise I tend to avoid any sweets that have coconut in them.

But now, almost twenty-five years later, I thought it was time to change that and broaden my horizons a little. I chose and adapted a coconut sorbet recipe from Claudia Fleming’s Last Course and was inspired by an old Donna Hay Magazine to make ice cream sandwiches. I was also determined to try Jen’s amazing lemongrass, ginger and sesame cookies, for which I just happened to have all the ingredients in my pantry. Of course, Jen’s recipe left me with two unused egg whites, perfect for coconut meringues (another first for me). I didn’t think I would actually like these, with the shredded coconut in the meringue mixture, but I surprised myself by actually thinking they weren’t too bad. The sorbet on its own is very rich and creamy – not bad (I think it will be a hit with my dad when he comes to visit next month), but best paired with something else. Both ‘sandwich’ combinations worked well; the meringue one was incredibly coconut-y with the meringue providing a light and airy crunch; whereas in the cookie sandwich the creamy coconut and spicy cookie combination provided a more balanced and complex taste.

I don’t think I’ll find myself craving or making this coconut thingy very often, but I spent a nice afternoon experimenting, created a tropical Sunday in my kitchen and I’m now less hesitant to use coconut in desserts. And, in case you’re wondering where the British summer is hiding, shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I’m keeping it in my freezer.

coconut sorbet
inspired by Claudia Fleming’s Last Course*

2 cups coconut milk
1 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup sugar
a squeeze of lime

Mix coconut milk with sugar and shredded coconut and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils and sugar is dissolved, take the pan off the heat and cover with clingfilm for about half an hour, to infuse the flavours. Sieve into a container, add lime juice and chill in the fridge overnight. Sieve again and freeze, stirring every half hour or so until frozen (or, if you’re lucky and have an ice cream maker, churn in your machine).

*I changed Claudia’s recipe considerably, which presented me with a few questions: when does ‘adapted from’ become ‘inspired by’? And at what point does a recipe become your own? After all, Claudia Fleming must have got her recipe from somewhere as well.

coconut meringues
from the Donna Hay magazine, issue 31, Feb/Mar 2007

2 egg whites
½ cup caster sugar

½ teaspoon white vinegar

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add sugar and vinegar until mixture is thick and glossy, fold in desiccated coconut. Spoon onto a baking sheet (I used cookie cutters for a round shape) and smoothen tops. Bake for 20 minutes on 120˚C. leave to cool in oven for 30 minutes.

ginger and lemongrass cookies
from Milk and Cookies

I had to grind most of the spices myself, not having any powdered versions on hand. I also used freshly grated ginger, and the palm sugar I had was very moist (it wasn’t a lump that needed grating), which resulted in a rather wet and sticky dough. I had to add an extra half cup or so of flour to get the cookie dough to hold together and be workable, and it still had a rather strange texture (to which S remarked ‘well, what did you expect, making strange dough like that.’). The finished cookies came out of the oven just fine though, and they tasted of Christmas.