Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Pomegranate tart

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Chocolate is easy to combine with most fruits and I particularly love the combination of the rich red pomegranate and the dark chocolate. This tart is fairly rich, so be warned, you might want to eat it in one go. I was also taken by shortcrust pastry and how easy it is to make. Adding various colours and also flavour to the pastry makes it more personal. My hands are always cold so I don’t have to ever worry about melting the butter. You can use this basic recipe for sweet and also for savoury tarts. Feel free to replace it with one bought in a shop (you will need about 350 g).

When making the filling, remember that chocolate tends to fall down to the base. So ensure you mix it very well bringing the chocolate from the bottom of the bowl.

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Sweet Treats: Chocolate and Pomegranate Tart (serves 8-10)

For the shortcrust pastry
200 g plain flour
100 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp of cold water
red or pink food colouring

For the chocolate filling
100 g dark chocolate and 100  of white chocolate
6 tbsp melted butter
2 eggs and 3 egg yolks
4 tbsp caster sugar

1 pomegranate and cocoa powder to for dusting

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To make shortcrust pastry, toss and coat cubes of butter with flour, then with your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it forms breadcrumbs. Shake the bowl every now and then to allow larger cubes come to the surface. Add water and food colouring, keep mixing with a rounded knife which will prevent transferring heat from your hands to the dough. Finally, gather the dough with you hands and kneed on lightly floured surface until you have a smooth ball. Roll out the dough on a flat surface to a slightly larger size than the tart tin (around 5 cm extra). Carefully place pastry on the rolling pin and transfer to the tin. Press lightly into the corners ensure not air bubbles are left on the base of the tin. Chill for 20-30 minutes.

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Heat the oven for 200°C (or 180°C fan/gas 6). Prick the base of the tart with a fork to create holes. Place baking parchment on the pastry and fill with baking beans to weight it down. Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and put back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Once the pastry is done, trim the edges so they are nice and smooth. Use a sharp knife to prevent breaking big chunks of pastry.

To prepare the filling, lower the oven to 180°C (or 160°C fan/gas 4). Melt both dark and white chocolate in a bowl over slightly simmering water. Then stir the melted butter. Whisk the eggs and sugar together with electric whisk until pale and thick. This would take about 10 minutes. Be patient: if the eggs are not whisked enough, then the mixture will not rise in the oven. Fold in the melted and cooled chocolate with a large spoon. Mix very carefully so you will not knock out the air. Transfer into the tart tin and put into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the surface of the tart is puffed and set. The tart will still have a bit of a wobble. Take out of the oven and allow to cool down. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Once ready to be served sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and cocoa powder.

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by Maria

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Sweet Treats: Lemon Macarons

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Macarons have become my weekend treat. I enjoy making them and find it ever so satisfying to come up with new flavours and colour combinations. There really isn’t too much to it. Just ground almonds, sugar, eggs and of course food colouring.

I have been obsessed with perfecting my chocolate macarons. It takes a little bit of time to get the mixture right and also learn to use a right oven temperature. But this time I was tempted to make a colourful and fresh citrusy tasting ones. Lemon curd is a great filling as it contains butter, therefore it is really easy to pipe. Plus you will most probably have some leftover lemon curd that could be used for next time. If you don’t fancy making it, then shop bought one will be just fine.

My friend watched me the other day when I was banging the baking tray to get rid of the air from the macaron shells. She thought I was upset and that it didn’t work. However, she did laugh after I explained that it is super important to knock the air out so that the shells are not hollow. She probably think I am insane but then again she is too polite to say anything.

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Sweet Treats: Lemon Curd Macarons

For macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
green food colouring (preferably gel)

For lemon curd
65 ml fresh lemon juice
65 g caster sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
65 g unsalted cold butter, cut into small chunks
pinch of salt

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. This allows the macarons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven. However, remember that the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out of the oven.

For the lemon curd, whisk eggs with sugar, then add lemon juice and place over the bain marie. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and continue to cook for further 5 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and you should be able to draw a path through it. Remove the curd from the heat and quickly whisk in the cold butter until it is completely dissolved and glossy. Transfer the curd into a clean bowl and allow to cool. Place the cling-film over the top of the curd to prevent the skin formation.

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Pipe lemon curd onto one macaron shell and then sandwich together. Macarons will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.

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by Maria

Sweet Treats: Mango & Passion Fruit Roulade

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Now that Easter Eggs are all eaten, I am craving a slightly lighter desserts. I love making sponges and especially this airy roulade sponge. It is very easy to put together and taste superb with fruits. Unfortunately strawberries and raspberries are not yet in season. And even though shops are already filled with amazing colours most fruits still lack the lovely sun-kissed taste of the summer. So I decided to use mango again, and of course my current favourite, passion fruit!

If you feel double cream is too heavy,  please feel free to replace it with whipping cream. It will work perfectly well and spreading it is much easier as it is less likely to curdle. Adding vanilla essence will also bring out lovely soft but not overly sweet flavour.

I have gone into one of those moods the other day and looked up the amazing patterns of Swiss rolls around the world. I would be lying if I said I was not super jealous of stunning, imaginative and artistic rolls. But then practice makes it perfect and maybe one day I will be posting my own ‘impressionistic’ Swiss roll. I will keep you posted anyway… 😉

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Mango and Passion Fruit Roulade (serves 6-8)

3 eggs
85 g aster sugar
85 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ripe mango
1 or 2 passion fruit
200 ml double cream
icing or caster sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190 (170 fan, gas mark 6). Line baking tray with baking parchment, preferably oblong tray with even surface.

Whisk eggs with caster sugar until pale and light in texture. This will take good 5 minutes with an electric whisk. Then carefully fold in the flour mixed with baking powder, using large spoon or spatula. Add the vanilla extract. Spread the mixture to the baking tray and put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. The baking time varies due to the thickness of the sponge. Once sponge is turning golden and springs back when touched, take out if the oven. Leave to cool slightly. Then separate sponge from the parchment and turn on clean baking parchment, then roll it whilst still it is warm. Keep in the rolled position until completely cool.

Whip double cream until just almost solid. Spread over the unrolled sponge. If you whip the cream too much it will start to curdle when spreading. Always ‘underwhip’ the cream so that is still slightly liquid. Scatter chopped mango and one or two passion fruits over the sponge. Them roll the sponge carefully whilst using baking parchment to hold the outside. Leave in the fridge to cool for about 2 hours. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

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by Maria

Sweet treats: Chocolate Cigarello Cake

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Long Easter weekend is coming! And a lot of chocolate with it. I am not so keen on Easter eggs so I came up with a stylish Chocolate Cigarello Cake to share at our friend’s lunch. It is very rich and I can assure you, everyone will love it!

Dark chocolate is amazing and always balances the sweetness of the sponge with the caramel. However, if you are not a fan of ‘bitter’ chocolate you can easily replace it with milk or white chocolate cigarellos. I use Chocolate Trading Co for my cigarellos as they come beautifully uniform and precise. They also taste fantastic and have an excellent crunch. You can choose the volume you need from a small batch to a large one depending on how many cakes you are planning to  make. The delivery is very efficient and cigarellos are packaged really well to prevent any damage. However be aware you might need to buy more cigarellos, in case the crumble once you start working with them.

I must admit that I failed miserably on my attempts to make these beautiful decorations. No matter how many videos I have watched and practised… Working with fragile chocolate is difficult enough when trying to get the temperature and roll consistent for all cigarellos. My determination in this case was simply not enough. And trust me I am a one determined baker!

Fruits are excellent as a decoration on the top of the cake. They bring fresh and citrus flavour and also lighten up the cake. Strawberries, raspberries and also blueberries with redcurrants would work really well. I love having my cake with fruit whenever possible!  Especially now when the spring is in it way. Well one hopes it’s on its way…

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Chocolate Cigarello Easter Cake (serves 12-14)

For Chocolate Sponge
175 g lightly salted butter, plus 10 g for greasing
75 g dark chocolate
300 g plain flour
375 g golden caster sugar
25 g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200 g buttermilk
100 ml boiling water

For Vanilla Sponge
4 medium eggs
225 g softened unsalted butter
220 g self raising flour
220 g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
pink and purple food colouring

For the chocolate ganache
250 g dark chocolate
180 ml of double cream

For the Filling
1 tin of Carnation Caramel

box of 50 chocolate cigarellos
various fruit (optional)

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/mark 4. Grease with butter and line two 8-inch cake tins. For Chocolate Sponge, boil the kettle with water. Put chocolate, broken in small pieces, and butter into a small pan, then heat gently and continuously stir until melted. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, and soda bicarbonate together with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk until lighter in colour then add to the flour mixture together with melted chocolate. Add 100 ml of boiling water and whisk preferably with electrical whisk, until the mixture is lump free.

Divide the cake mixture into two tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remember to swap tins halfway through the bake if place on different shelves in the oven. Once the cake is ready and the skewer comes out clean when testing, take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool down.

For a Vanilla Sponge, grease and line one 8-inch cake tin. Whip the softened butter with sugar until pale, and then add eggs, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix until combined. The mixture should be light and easy to spread. Transfer the mixture to a cake tin and bake for 15-20 min until skewer comes out clean. Carefully remove the cake from the tin and allow to cool down.

Once all the sponges are cool, trim all three so that they are same depth. It is very helpful to put them all on top of each other and compare to the hight of the chocolate cigarello. That will give you a rough idea on how high each sponge needs to be. Spread caramel on the bottom chocolate sponge followed by vanilla sponge and finally by the second chocolate sponge. Be generous with the caramel as it will also absorb into the sponges. Put the cake into the fridge for about 30 min.

For the chocolate ganache, pour the double cream into a heavy based pot and bring slowly to boil. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave it to melt the chocolate for a couple of minutes. Once all the chocolate has melted, pour half of the chocolate ganache over the cake and spread over the sides of the cake. Then you can start attaching cigarellos to the side of the cake. Ganache will act as a glue and help to position each roll. This will get messy but keep cigarellos tight together and make sure they are vertical to the work surface. You can keep adding fresh ganache in case cigarellos do not stick to the cake properly.

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Once all cigarellos are attached pour leftover ganache on the top of the cake. Set aside preferably in a cod place to allow the chocolate to set. Add the fruit on top of the cake and dust with icing sugar.

by Maria

 

Sweet Treats: Passion Fruit Macarons

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Happy Macaron Day to all!!

It has been a few years since I tried making my first batch of these delightful treats. To be honest with you I have made a plenty of attempts before I got even half decent macaron shell. But I never gave up on the idea! It is so incredibly rewarding once you master a magic art of preparing them in a correct way. In the end you will be ever so proud to see them come out of the oven! So lovely, shiny, round and standing on their ‘feet’.

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I feel that using the right ingredients makes a huge difference. And one of the very important things is to age the egg whites. You can either separate egg yolks from egg whites and store them in a fridge for 24 hours. I am not particularly keen on this method, as I do not like to keep the separated eggs in my fridge. What works for me is simply using ‘older’ eggs. I always buy eggs one or two weeks in advance and simply keep them out the fridge so they come to room temperature before whisking.

This particular recipe is my favourite as I only recently fell in love with passion fruit. The trick is to keep it until the skin becomes all wrinkled and a bit crunchy/dry. The actual fruit inside is then wonderfully sweet and just perfect to use for the filling. Of course, I mix it with slightly bitter chocolate ganache which goes really well with the sugary macaron shell. I decided to use double cream in this recipe, which does not add any more sweetness but still holds the flavour very well.

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When deciding on the colour of your shell, you can either use a small amount of the food colouring to create light shade or add a wee bit more to create a rich and deep colour. But be careful when adding the colouring as this could change the texture of the meringue and  macarons they will not rise. Also overworking the mixture, when you try to get the colour evenly spread, would cause knocking too much air out. In this way mixture because too runny and spreads too much on a baking sheet. I usually add the gel food colouring just towards the end of making a meringue.

Passion Fruit Macarons (makes 18)

95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
yellow food colouring (preferably gel)

For the chocolate ganache
80 ml double cream
one passion fruit (you could also use two depending on the size of each)

Whip the egg whites until still. Keep in mind that you have to add the caster sugar gradually while you are whipping the egg whites. This allows the macaroons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. The easiest way is to use a toothpick. You can easily regulate how much colour you need to use. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubles to come out: in simpler words, knock the air out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake.

Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky that mean they need a bit longer in the oven. However remember the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out off the oven.

For the filling, whip double cream until it still has a bit of a runny texture. If you over whip it, then cream could split when piping onto shells. Add the inside of one passion fruit by scrapping each half. You can also add two passion fruits as long as the filling does not become too runny. Mix well and transfer into a piping bag.

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Match two shells so that their size will be as similar as possible. Pipe a little bit of double cream filling on one macaron shell and sandwich together with the second one. Leave to cool in the fridge. Macarons are best on the next day and ideally kept in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge about an hour before eating, to allow the filling to warm up to room’s temperature.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Cake Decorating

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I love making cakes! From looking through recipes, checking pictures on the internet, searching for random ingredients, and spending a small fortune in cake shops on fancy tins and glitter. I enjoy the planning and preparing, and of course happy faces of my friends eating my baked goods. But then I struggle when it come to finishing and decorating the cake. There has been times when I felt like putting the cake straight to the bin because of a very disappointed look of the final monstrosity. So, I decided a way forward would be to go for a course and learn what exactly needs to be done and what exactly I am doing wrong when it comes to the buttercream.

Last Saturday, while most of people stayed in their warm beds, I crossed foggy and cold South London and made my way to A Techniques with Buttercream class, in Cakes4fun in Putney.

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I was a bit apprehensive and not sure what to expect, as I have never done any cooking or baking classes. However, I was welcomed by a lovely shopkeeper who asked me to wait a bit for our tutor. This gave me a perfect opportunity to look around a small shop with generous amount of edible glitter, food colourings, tins, and cupcake cases. Of course, I love glitter so much that I was already tempted to spend my cash.

Our tutor for the day was a charming lady called Pervin. She has a great knowledge of cake baking, decorating, and chocolate making. On top of the extensive qualification, she also has valuable experience in working in kitchens and baking for paying customers. Her approach was friendly and very professional. She was happy to share her knowledge and useful tips on what to do with buttercream, why air bubbles form and what to do about it, and she explained us which utensils are the best to use.

The room was very comfortable and had a wonderful display of decorated cakes. There was five students in total and we all had plenty of work space. We were given an apron, some basic utensils, cake boxes with cake boards to take our cakes home, and a guide with a few recipes and a description on what buttercream styles and type we were going to do.

During the morning, we cut, trimmed, and prepared our three sponges, so that we could practice our pipping techniques in the afternoon. The first technique was the most simple and we used our chocolate cake to create petal appearance. This was fairly easy, but still gave us a chance to work with temperamental chocolate and bubbly buttercream. The second technique was to decorate a lemon cake with horizontal thrills, zig zag or two different flower patterns. I enjoyed this part the most as I was always excited to learn how to make a pretty feminine cake. Pervin was excellent in showing and describing the pipping techniques and the steps needed to make our cakes looks tidy and uniform. I tried all three different ways but settled to finish my lemon cake with a delicate rose pattern.

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The last technique we did was a pink rose cake. I have seen this particular style and I can say it is the most beautiful and elegant of all. By adding extra pink colour we could also create shaded roses.

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The pace of the course was perfect and gave us enough time to focus on each task. Pervin is extremely talented and her charming and honest personality made a world of a difference in  understanding the buttercream. She was more than happy to answer any of our questions and give us advice about any home electricals, piping nozzles, and what kind of ingredients are the best to use.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the course and would definitely come back for more. And if you are looking to learn about cakes check out Cakes4fun courses (The Techniques with Buttercream course run from 10 am to 4 pm, with a fee of £99). I am sure you can find something interesting too.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Mango & Lemon Curd Cake

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This cake came about as an inspiration for Mother’s Day celebration. Not being British, I am used to celebrating this very special day later in the year. However, here in UK we remember our precious mums in the beginning of March. So, I wanted this cake to be very feminine, delicate, and full of wonderful surprises.

It all started with a mango I bought a couple of days ago, which had to wait patiently in my kitchen for a few days to ripe and become sweet and juicy. Once I figured out the filling with a tangy lemon curd, I realized I would also like to change the colours of each layer. And, of course, what colour would be better than soft pink and light purple? I thought it would make the perfect Mother’s day cake. Light and fresh, sweet, and a bit different…

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Mango and Lemon Curd Cake (serves 6-8)

4 medium eggs
225 g softened unsalted butter
220 g self raising flour
220 g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
pink and purple food colouring

For the butter-cream filling
175 g unsalted butter
370 g icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
100 g lemon curd
one ripe mango, cut into small chunks

Preheat the oven to 180° C/150° C fan. Grease the tins with butter and dust with flour, or with greaseproof paper. For this cake I used 4 cake tins (each 4″, but 5″ would also work).

Whip the softened butter with sugar until pale, and then add eggs, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix until combined. The mixture should be light and easy to spread. Do not over-mix as that would stop sponges from rising.

Be careful when adding the food colouring. The best way is to use a tooth sticks. Add a tiny bit if pink food colouring and mix thoroughly. This layer could also be left white, if you prefer. Transfer a small amount into the first cake tin. Add more pink colouring and mix again. This layer should be light pink. Transfer the second cake mixture to the cake tin. Then, add even more pink colouring to create a very deep shade of pink. Fill the third cake tin. Finally, add purple food colouring to get a dark and rich purple cake mixture. Fill the last cake tin and putt all tins into the oven. Leave to bake for about 12-15 minutes. You might need to rotate your tins in the oven to allow even bake. Cake is baked once it starts to come way from the edges.

Release all baked sponges from tins and leave to cool on the side, preferably on a cooling rack if you have one. Once all sponges are at room temperature, trim each one so that they are all same height.

For the butter-cream filling, whip all of the softened butter with the icing sugar. You might want to add some milk to make the mixture lighter and easier to work with. Spread the lemon curd onto the bottom purple sponge and also onto the light pink sponge; spread a small amount of the butter-cream on the dark pink sponge.

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To assemble, place the purple sponge at the bottom, then dark pink sponge, followed by light pink sponge and finally the lightest sponge. Cover with some of the butter-cream and smooth the sides and edges. Leave in a fridge for about 20 minutes to harden. Add a small amount of pink food colouring to the leftover butter-cream and spread around the sponge but not on the top. Carefully smooth the sides of the cake and then the top of the cake.

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by Maria

Sweet Treats: Mini Croquembouche Filled With Caramel Cream

 

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I still remember the first time I tried to make profiteroles…and the second, and the third, and also the fourth time… It was not an easy task but they were absolutely perfect, once I realised what went wrong. So, be brave and don’t give up if the first batch doesn’t work out. It is so worth it to make these glorious little golden globes! Plus choux pastry is amazingly versatile and it could be used for desserts as well as starters and nibbles.

The origin of profiteroles is rather mysterious and hardly anyone could find out who was the first person to make this delicious treat. However, we do know that cooks in Southern Germany and France during the thirteenth century already started experimenting with puff pastries. It is more likely they were made with savoury filling based on cheese. One of the stories claims that it was actually one of the cooks of Caterina de’ Medici who came up with the idea. Nonetheless, choux pastries are wonderful and such a great fun.

Profiteroles look their best in croquembouche, which is traditionally made for weddings, baptisms, or other family gatherings. There are some spectacular ones and of course you can choose caramel or chocolate to stick choux pastries together. They can be decorated with a variety of ingredients, most traditionally sugared almonds. Last Saturday, I  decided to make this simple mini croquembouche just for a few close friends who came for dinner and they loved it…

Mini Croquembouche filled with Caramel and Cream  (Serves 5-6)

For the choux pastry
3 eggs
200 ml cold water
85 g unsalted butter
115 g plain flour
pinch of salt

For the filling
250 ml double cream
50-100g carnation caramel

For the caramel
100 g sugar
25 g water

For the chocolate sauce (optional) 
50 g dark chocolate
25 g butter
125 ml double cream
1 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven 200°C/180°C fan/mark 6.

Place water and butter into a pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Once the water starts to boil, tip in the flour and mix quickly until combined. Continue mixing on very low heat, preferably with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the edges of the pan. This allows the drying of the batter, in order to avoid the profiteroles ending up soggy.

Leave to cool slightly for about 5 minutes and then mix in one egg at the time. When you add the eggs, the mixture will split into smaller chunks, but keep going and it will come together into smooth and glossy dough. Once all the eggs are incorporated, transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a 1 cm nozzle. If you haven’t got a nozzle, just cut off the end of the bag with scissors.

Pipe small balls in a regular pattern on a baking sheet and glaze with egg or just press the top with a wet finger. Place in the oven and leave to bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow profiteroles to brown slightly. Lighter colour would make them wet inside once cooled down.

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For the filling, whip the double cream until almost stiff, then add as much caramel as you please. Do not overmix, as it will curdle when pipping. Remember, the caramel will make the filling rather sweet, so there is no need to add sugar. Make a hole in each profiterole with you finger and fill with the cream mixture. It is easier if you are using a small nozzle.

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For the caramel, place sugar and water into a pan, and slowly bring to boil on a low heat. Don’t be tempted to stir and move the pan, as this would encourage the formations of crystals. Let it boil slowly and the caramel will start to brown. You can turn the heat down once the caramel is turning darker, just to prevent burning.

Please, be very careful when arranging your croquembouche, as the caramel will be extremely hot. Dip the tip of each profiterole into the caramel and start to build base in a circle, then continue by adding more layers. Caramel will act as glue and it will hold all profiteroles together very well. Finish of by carefully pouring caramel over your completed croquembouche.

For the chocolate sauce, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix the rest of the ingredients and heat in a separate bowl until combined well together. Remove from the heat and add the melted chocolate. Stir well until combined. When you serve the croquembouche, show off first, then serve several profiteroles in a bowl for each person, and dress with the hot chocolate sauce.

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 by Maria

Sweet Treats: raspberry and chocolate cake

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Birthday cakes are very special kind of cakes. They can be excessively extravagant, decorated, and shaped to anything you wish them to be. I like cakes to be simple but, at the same time, I want them to stand out and let the candles brighten up everyone’s face. Keep that in mind if you are struggling to find a perfect birthday present…

Chocolate and raspberries taste sublime together and bring a wonderful colour contrast. It is always easier if you try to arrange the raspberries on the side rather than straight onto the cake, to allow a regular pattern and to ensure you won’t run out of them before finishing the cake.

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Raspberry and chocolate birthday cake (serves 10-12 people)

175 g salted butter, plus 10 g for greasing
75 g dark chocolate
300 g plain flour
375 g golden caster sugar
25 g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200 g buttermilk
100 ml boiling water
4 tbsp raspberry jam
250 g fresh raspberries

For the chocolate ganache
170 g dark chocolate
120 ml of double cream

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/mark 4. Grease with butter and line two 8-inch cake tins. Boil the kettle with water. Put chocolate, broken in small pieces, and butter into a small pan, then heat gently and continuously stir until melted. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, and soda bicarbonate together with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk until lighter in colour then add to the flour mixture together with melted chocolate. Add 100 ml of boiling water and whisk preferably with electrical whisk, until the mixture is lump free.

Divide the cake mixture into two tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remember to swap tins halfway through the bake if place on different shelves in the oven. Also rotate tins if you put both tins next to each other to allow even rise and bake. Check with a skewer every now and then. Cake is ready once the skewer comes out clean. Take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool down before decorating.

For the chocolate ganache, pour the double cream into a heavy based pot and bring slowly to boil. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave it to melt the chocolate for a few moments. Be careful when stirring the ganache, if you stir it too soon, not all the chocolate will melt. If you have a few lumps of chocolate left, then place the bowl in warm water to allow the heat to melt the rest of the chocolate.

Squash a few raspberries with a fork and mix with raspberry jam. Spread the jam over the first sponge and place the second sponge on the top. Spread another but thinner layer of jam on the top sponge. You can also spread some of the chocolate ganache over the first sponge if you wish to make this cake a bit richer. Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake and cover all the sides. Leave the cake on the side for about 10-15 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.

Wash all the remaining raspberries and dry. Then place them on the top of the cake. Dust with icing sugar if you wish.

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by Maria

Sweet Treats: almond and blueberry cake

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Almonds, blueberries, and cream…that just can’t go wrong! An absolute Foodamazers’ favourite: we love this scrummy cake. This was one of Maria’s, our patissier, first cakes, the one she would make for friends. It is simple and works really well as a light dessert for a dinner party or just as a little treat for one of those lazy Sunday afternoons. It just feels like home. If you are not keen on blueberries, you can replace them with any other fruit you fancy, like strawberries, blackberries, or even passion fruit. And if you feel double cream is a bit too heavy, whipping cream will also do the job.

Almond and blueberry cake (serves a few good hungry friends)

4 eggs (preferably large)
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
50 g ground almonds
75 g plain flour
3 tbsp Lemon and lime marmalade
300 ml double cream
220 g blueberries
1 lemon zest
20 g toasted flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180°/160° fan/mark 4. Grease or line two sandwich tins with baking parchment (if you have only one 8in cake tin, it’s fine, just slice the sponge in two discs once cooked).

Whisk the eggs with caster sugar and vanilla extract until pale and twice the original volume, usually about ten minutes. Be patient when whisking because this will determine how well the sponges will rise in the oven. Keep going until the eggs turn light, almost ivory colour and full of bubbles. Mix flour and almonds in a separate bowl and slowly fold into the whisked eggs. The trick is not to overmix and lose the volume.

Pour mixture into the sandwich tins in the oven for about fifteen minutes (or thirty minutes if you are using one large tin). The cake is ready once it is turning golden and pulls away from the sides of the tin. Let it cool in the tin for a few moments and then release to cool on a wire rack.

Prepare the base sponge spreading lemon and lime marmalade on it. Then whisk the double cream with lemon zest and spread half over the sponge. Add two thirds of the blueberries and then top with the second sponge. Spread the rest of the double cream on the top and scatter with the remaining blueberries and toasted flaked almonds. To finish, dust with a little icing sugar.

Now, treat yourself!

by Maria