April 16, 2009

hazelnut truffle torte....in search of the ultimate chocolate cake!

In my truly altruistic (well, that's what I tell myself anyway!) quest for the ultimate chocolate cake I have tried many, many, many recipes; searching for that all-elusive tangible experience of dense, velvety chocolatiness; not too sweet, not too bitter - not too heavy, not too dry. Just lately, I've decided to go along the gluten-free route, and following on from the truly indulgent chocolate mousse cake, I was after something a little more firm, that would cut and serve more like a traditional 'cake'. Of course this meant trying out lots of recipes - it's a tough job!........and, in the end I settled on the best bits of all of them. The result is a VERY rich, dark and wicked, truffley chocolate 'cake' that gives you the just the sense of hedonistic guilt that only a true chocolate lover would settle for!

So here it is.....

hazelnut truffle torte
(by Alfie)
400g good quality dark chocolate
6 eggs
50 g caster sugar
175g ground hazelnuts
250mls double cream
75g good quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons double cream
25g butter
  • to make the cake, grease and base line a 20cm deep spring-form tin, and set the oven to Gas 2 / 150 C / 325 F
  • break the chocolate into pieces and put this together with 50mls of the cream in a bowl set over simmering water until it has melted
  • whilst the chocolate is melting, whisk the eggs and the sugar together for 5-7 minutes until it is thick and creamy and will leave a trail across the top of the mixture
  • slacken the melted chocolate mixture by adding a little of the egg/sugar mixture (about 2-3 tablespoons) until it becomes a bit more runny, and then stir the chocolate and the egg/sugar mix in together with the ground hazelnuts
  • whisk the remaining cream until it forms soft peaks, and then quickly fold this into the chocolate batter so that it is all amalgamated
  • pour into the lined tin - if your tin is not completely water-tight you will need to wrap it in foil
  • place the cake tin into a roasting pan and pour in enough hot water to come half-way up the cake tin - about 2cms
  • bake in the oven for about an hour until a skewer comes out clean

for the topping

  • melt all of the ingredients together over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool and thicken just slightly, and then pour over the cake
  • decorate with whatever takes your fancy, and enjoy........but be warned, you know what they say about too much of a good thing!

April 12, 2009

rustic pan-fried chicken in creamy mushroom sauce

This simple Saturday lunch also makes an effortlessly elegant meal for entertaining. It's a recipe that I've made a few times now, originally adapted from a recipe that I'd had lurking around in my 'to cook' pile from 'BBC Good Food'. It's unfailing ability to hit the spot with it's creamy, tangy, garlicky mushroom sauce, has made it a favourite of mine, especially as it is sooooo easy to make! So, on that basis, because we all love dishes that are uncomplicated and easy to throw together, but look, and taste like we've spent hours in the kitchen, I thought that is was really worth sharing....

Rustic Pan-fried Chicken in Creamy Mushroom Sauce
(recipe by Alfie)

1 tablespoon oil
50g butter
handful of fresh or dried herbs (basil, coriander, parsley, oregano, thyme all work well!)
6 chicken breasts or large chicken legs divided into thighs and drumsticks
700mls vegetable stock - I like to use Marigold vegetable bouillon
300mls dry white wine, or whatever you have in the fridge
50g butter
1 onion
400g mixed wild mushrooms - although chestnut mushrooms will do just as well
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
330mls creme fraiche
50-75g ground almonds
another handful of fresh herbs to finish

  • Fry off the chicken in the oil, butter, and herbs to seal it. This will take about 10 mins, until they're golden brown. You may need to cook the chicken in several batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and steaming the meat.
  • Transfer to a large saucepan and pour over the stock and wine to cover the chicken.
  • Bring back to the boil and cover the pan and simmer the chicken for about half an hour.
  • While the chicken is cooking, fry the onion in the remaining 50g butter until soft but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and fry for about 3-4mins. Grate over the fresh nutmeg and add the grated garlic for a further 1 min, then leave aside until the chicken finishes cooking.
  • When the chicken is cooked, drain off the stock. Set the chicken aside and add the mushrooms and onion to the stock. Bring back to the boil, and reduce by about a half - at this stage you can reduce it further if want a thicker sauce that will just coat the chicken.
  • Add the creme fraiche, and the ground almonds and fresh herbs and simmer for 5-10 mins to heat the chicken through, and thicken the sauce slightly.

This is fabulous served simply with hunks of crusty bread warm from the oven for a sumptuous Saturday, or weekday lunch. Or you can dress it up with wild rice, and asparagus or some wilted spinach for an impressive meal for friends. Either way it really is wonderful!

April 02, 2009

blackberry vinegar

I don't know about you, but I love the contrast of salty goats cheese with the sweet acidity of fruit. Somehow it seems to cut through the heaviness to produce a combination that's perfect!

So, when I found a recipe for raspberry vinegar I knew I had to give it a try.....well actually I found several recipes for raspberry vinegar, or raspberry 'shrub' as it was known in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was a popular drink and is actually very refreshing in hot weather, served with ice! I know it may sound strange to have a fruit cordial with a vinegar base, but the acidity cuts through the sweetness in a very pleasing way. Apparently, it's even good for sore throats diluted at 1 dessertspoon to 250mls of water!

Anyway, not one to be able to leave a recipe alone, I thought it would make a great fruit vinegar to use in dressings too, so I cut the sugar down in the last stage to keep the tartness. There were blackberries on sale in my local market and I couldn't resist using these instead, just because I love their deep, jammy colour!

Blackberry shrub

The vinegar itself is very simple to make..... you just put your blackberries (or whatever fruit you choose to use) - I used about 500g - into a kilner jar or bottle and cover them with white vinegar.

Leave them to stand for a week, stirring well each day. Then strain the fruit and add one pound of sugar to one pint of liquid ....or in metric, about 500g sugar to 500mls of liquid (though I think it sounds much more evocative in imperial measures!) and boil it up for about 20 minutes, until it gets syrupy. Finally, skim off any white foam, and pour into sterilised bottles, then seal when it is cold. As I said, to make it more of a fruit vinegar I put in less sugar - about half of the amount used for the shrub.

Goats cheese and mango salad with blackberry vinaigrette

Now, you've got your gorgeous burgundy jewelled fruit vinegar...... so here's an idea of how to use it... mix two parts blackberry vinegar to three parts oil (rapeseed is a good oil to use because its delicate flavour won't overpower the fruit) to make a basic vinaigrette that's a little heavier than normal on the vinegar. Liberally drizzle the dressing over a goats cheese and mango salad, all that lovely palate of colours and saltiness and acid fruitiness....then, just sit back and enjoy!