Tag Archives: Nigella

Chocolate Birthday Cake

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I couldn’t quite choose what to write about today. However, just now a friend of mine tweeted about chocolate cake and birthdays. Don’t you just love Twitter? I do. It’s nice to be a child: you go to some friends’ birthday parties, and sometimes you get to invite them to yours. And the grown-ups do all the work for you. Smashing. I always say that children have the best social lives. The highlight of a birthday party is of course the cake, even though one might argue that it’s actually the presents! So let’s say that they are equally important. And let’s also say that every excuse is a good excuse for chocolate cake. I tried this recipe quite a while ago; I definitely didn’t wait for my birthday to bake it.

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In my view, Nigella’s book Feast is one of the books to go for if you want something special for a party. As with many of her books, it’s like an encyclopaedia, and there’s a whole section on chocolate and chocolate cakes. The cakes here can also be quite rich, but is that really a bad thing? Let’s face it, you won’t make it or eat it that often, and what’s a birthday celebration without a smooth chocolate-melt-in-the-mouth cake?

You need sour cream for this. I had a tub of the stuff just sitting in the fridge doing nothing. Classic: you buy one ingredient for a particular recipe, then you almost always end up with extra which ultimately goes bad. What a waste. So I flipped frantically through the books till I came across Nigella’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Don’t be fooled by the length of the method. It’s really easy to make. This is totally her recipe.

Some notes before you start: Firstly, this is a sandwich cake, so you need two sandwich tins (with or without a removable bases – mine aren’t). Secondly, I had a lot of leftover icing, a lot more than I really needed. Instead of scaling the amount down I chose to make some quick and easy cupcakes (which I will include very soon) and spooned whatever remained over them. In my experience you will have enough to top another cake if you like. Also Nigella suggests that all your ingredients should be at room temperature.

For the cake you will need:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 175g soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 150ml sour cream

For the American-style icing (or frosting) you need:

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 175g dark chocolate, broken into small cubes
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 125ml sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Line and grease well two sandwich tins.
  2. In a large bowl mix the the flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and beat in the butter till you have a soft and creamy mixture. In another bowl whisk the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla extract and eggs together (you can do this by hand), and beat this with the other mixture in the large bowl.
  3. Divide the cake batter into your two tins and bake for about 50 minutes. Every oven is different so start checking your cakes after around 30 minutes with a skewer or knife. When completely baked, remove the cakes from the oven and put them on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes in their tins. When they are cool enough for you to handle turn them out completely and onto the rack again. Any cracks will be covered by the icing later.
  4. Now for the icing. Melt the chocolate together with the butter in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. (This way is better than melting in the microwave because it is much easier to control and there’s a lesser chance of burning.) When completely melted remove it from over the water and leave to cool. In the meantime, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
  5. Add the golden syrup into your melted chocolate mixture which has now cooled. Then add the sour cream, vanilla and the sieved icing sugar. Whisk the lot. Depending on how you want the icing consistency to be, you can now add around a tablespoon of boiling water (for a thinner icing) or some more icing sugar (for a thicker cream). Your icing should be easily spreadable onto the cake so you don’t want it too runny.
  6. Place a piece of baking paper to cover the base of a plate or cake stand (for any access icing that will surely drip) and start assembling your cake: first one cake, then a layer of icing in the middle, then the other cake on top and finally cover with some more icing.

You can either leave the icing as is, or top with some decorations, especially if it’s for a birthday party. Be as creative as you want. I topped mine with colourful decorative sprinkles. I have to remind myself to buy some white sugar daisies next time.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Strawberry Crumble

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Crumble is one of the easiest desserts I can think of. Recently I needed to prepare an easy supper but at the same time I wanted to feel very accomplished! I wanted a meal that wouldn’t really take much work but still felt like a feast. This was the best excuse for my favourite roast chicken but I just couldn’t think of something sweet after that. Out came Nigella’s Kitchen – one of my must-have books. Not only does it have great ideas for leftovers, but I would say that almost half of the recipes in it are desserts. And really good ones! I also treasure my copy because it’s signed.

Crumbles are great because you don’t really have to follow the exact measurements. You can use either one type of fruit (fresh or frozen) or you can just mix and match. Easy. So the following is a scrumptious Strawberry and Almond Crumble. (You will find that at the moment strawberries will look good but will not be as ripe.)

I will give Nigella’s recipe as it is in her book. I have tried it and it’s great. I will then tell you what I did which worked well too. Nigella says that this will serve 6, but in my experience it will serve up to 4. If you have more people coming round for dinner just make one more dish. There’s no effort.

For the fruit mixture you need:

  • 500g hulled strawberries
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the crumble topping:

  • 110g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 75g butter, cold & diced
  • 100g flaked almonds
  • 75g demerara sugar

And double cream, to serve (optional)

  1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6, and put the strawberries into a round pie dish. Sprinkle over them the sugar, almonds and vanilla extract. Give the dish a good shake to mix the ingredients.
  2. For the crumble topping put the flour and baking powder in a smallish mixing bowl and rub in the cold butter between your thumb and fingers. You could use a mixer for this if you wish. Then stir in the flaked almonds and sugar with a fork.
  3. Tip the topping onto the strawberry mixture and cover the fruit evenly, also giving it a little press at the edges of the dish. Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for around 30 minutes. The crumble topping should turn a golden brown and you could also see some red juices peaking out and bubbling at the edges.
  4. Before serving leave it to stand for 10 minutes. This tastes great without cream but having a jug of cold cream on the table is comforting! Single cream will also do.

Now the first time I made this I didn’t have all the ingredients as shown in the recipe. So I had to make do with what I actually had. The following is what I did:

For the topping all I had was 45g flaked almonds. I didn’t even have half the amount suggested but turned out good – not great but it was ok. The mixture just felt more doughy so I left it for an additional 10 minutes in the oven for it to crisp up a bit. The second try with the full 100g was much much better though. I also used light brown sugar instead of demerara, but lately I decided to have this type of sugar as a pantry staple. So I’ll use that next time.

For the fruit mixture I had 350g strawberries and 250g raspberries in the fridge. That worked wonders because I love the tartness of the raspberries. Also 2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract is enough.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Chorizo and Thyme Bread

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Now that’s a great combo. That’s why I’ve chosen it for the name of this blog. And if you try this combination, you’ll know – it’ll be a bit of an a-ha moment. You see, to be honest this blog post was a long time coming and I know I will be relieved once it’s published. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you might already know that recently I bought a cook book which I didn’t like that much at first. I thought it was a total waste of money really. Having baked some recipes from it as the weeks passed by, I must now say that although I still have some lurking doubts, I am warming up to it slowly. First of all I must thank this book for this blog’s name. I have cooked with chorizo before and it has become a staple in my pantry. Lorraine Pascale made me want to try it with thyme. It turned out to be a perfect marriage.

The following recipe is my take on her Chorizo and Thyme Fougasse (click here for the actual recipe). I am grateful to Ms. Pascale for this and for some other recipes in her book which I will try very soon. I made this bread after a long walk in the beautiful Surrey countryside and loved it. So here it goes.

A very important note for this recipe: I used my bread machine to make the dough instead of a mixer with a hook. This was less messy and it worked really well for me. I will also include the traditional method later on.

For the bread machine dough method will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons yeast dissolved into 250ml warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin if possible)

Have 50g of finely chopped ready-to-eat chorizo and 2 tablespoons of dried thyme at the ready, to add after the dough cycle is ready, and some milk for brushing the dough.

  1. If you have a bread machine then choose the pizza dough option which will take approximately 45 minutes. Remove the dough from the container.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  3. Work the chorizo and thyme in the dough. When these are well combined leave the dough to rise in a warm place, preferably covered with some oiled clingfilm or a warm damp clean cloth for around 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
  4. Brush the dough with the milk.
  5. For the crust to remain nice and golden place two handfuls of ice cubes at the bottom of the oven (you can also either spray the oven with some cold water before closing or fill a small roasting dish with water in place of the ice cubes).
  6. Place the dough on a lightly oiled roasting tray in the oven. Bake for around 40 minutes but keep an eye on it and check its colour every once in a while. I know this is fiddly, but it’s worth it. I’m already smelling the freshly baked bread in your kitchen!

And now for the other method, all you need to do is to replace Step 1 with the following:

  • Mix the dough ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.
  • Knead for 15-20 minutes. I know you have to work at it and use some muscle power but this will develop the dough’s elasticity. So please, please have patience.
  • Put the dough back in a bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Continue from Step 2.

    Enjoy!

    Rob x

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese

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What a long recipe title this is! The story behind this is simple enough though, with some simple steps. It goes like this:

Step 1: Buy Nigella Book.

Step 2: Read every page intently and stick post-its to every page.

Step 3: After careful consideration choose 1 recipe…yes…just one. O-N-E I said!

Step 4: Run to the market & fill your bag with veggies for…what…20 recipes???

In the end one recipe made it through, and it’s amazing. In my view, you really cannot avoid using blue cheese, but since it’s not my recipe I can tell you that Nigella suggests some substitutions (Cheshire or Wensleydale cheese for those in the UK, or maybe some ricotta salata if you’re in the Mediterranean). Instead of butternut squash you can easily use pumpkin. So here’s the recipe with my variations. Go on…invite 4 friends for lunch and try this out. They will love it and so will you. You need:

  • 1 large butternut squash (or 800g cubed pumpkin)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons red wine or red vermouth
  • 125 ml water
  • 1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 100g pine nuts
  • 500g fresh pappardelle (tagliatelle will also do nicely here)
  • 125g blue cheese
  1. Peel and cut the butternut squash or pumpkin into approximately 2cm cubes. Gently fry the chopped onion in the olive oil (into a pan that is big enough to hold both the sauce and the pasta in the final stage of cooking). Add the paprika when the onion turns golden in colour.
  2. Add the butternut (or pumpkin) cubes and butter into the pan and stir well. When the butternut squash is completely covered with the onion and butter add the wine (or vermouth), water and red wine vinegar. Let the ingredients bubble for a minute or so, put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the butternut squash is soft but not falling apart. Add the dried sage during the last few minutes.
  3. In the meantime cook the pasta as per packet instructions and lightly toast the pine nuts. Tip the nuts in a container and let them cool. Don’t be a klutz like me and burn the pine nuts! Keep an eye on them at all times.
  4. Check the sauce to see if the squash is tender. If not let it simmer for another few minutes. Add a pinch of salt for extra seasoning but not too much. When pasta is cooked add this to the sauce and mix thoroughly.
  5. Serve either in one big serving dish or in 4 individual portions. Crumble in the blue cheese and sprinkle the pine nuts.

    Enjoy it – you will want more!

    Rob x