Sweet Treats: Scotch Pancakes with Pomegranate

Recently I was not able to bake or cook as I had my laser eye surgery. So looking into the hot oven was definitely not an option. And even though reading seems to be a bit of a challenge, my vision is slowly coming back and improving.

However having all this time off work also allowed me to have a more relaxing breakfast once everybody has left. I am a huge fan of fry up and that is probably my ideal weekend treat. This time I didn’t feel like heavy fried bacon and sausages. I was craving something warm but this time I was thinking of a sweet breakfast. Quick look on the internet and there they were pancakes! There is hundreds ways of how to have your pancakes but I decided to make Scotch ones with lots of delicious pomegranate and a bit of dark chocolate.

I must admit that I always loved making crepes and having them with cream and fruits was my absolute signature dessert, when I was a teenager. But having thick and fluffy scotch pancakes for a breakfast is another perfect of spoiling myself and a few other lucky ones.

Scotch Pancakes with Pomegranate

100 g plain flour
50 g caster sugar
splash of milk
1 egg

Sift the flour with sugar. Add beaten egg and mix well together with a whisk. At this stage, your mixture will be lumpy and floury. Slowly add milk allowing the batter to become thick and more liquid (similar to thickness of usual double cream).

Grease the frying pan with oil, only a drop or so is enough. Heat the pan with until it is hot. Then pour the first ladle of batter. Pancakes are usually ready to be turned when bubbles develop on the surface. Cook each side for about 2 minutes until golden.

Once all pancakes are done, spread yoghurt over the pancakes and stack as many as you like on top of each other. Pour more yoghurt and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Top with shavings of dark chocolate or honey.

by Maria

 

Sirloin steak and roast potatoes

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Easy, essential, tasty. Of course, you need to like meat in principle; otherwise, stick to the roast potatoes which are great anyway, even on their own. For the meat, I chose a sirloin steak medallion, very close to fillet and roughly £5 less per kilo. The potatoes are Charlotte ones, because I love their sweet nuttiness and their golden colour. (Also their name, to be honest). This recipe for potatoes is fantastic: it is easily prepared and it gives you a chance to serve lovely roast potatoes with an alluring look. Try it!

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Sirloin steak medallion with roast potatoes (serves 4)

4 sirloin steak medallions (about 180 g each)
2 kg potatoes
1 shallot
1 or 2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
40 g butter
a few fresh thyme sprigs

Start with peeling, washing, and drying the potatoes with a cloth. Melt about 20 g of butter and add it to two tbsp of olive oil. Use part of this to line your baking tin–you can line it with foil, but still use the melted butter on top of the foil. Slice the potatoes with a mandoline, about 1.5 mm thick.

Place the potato slices in rows, do not worry if they look a bit tight, it is perfectly fine. If you place them too loose, they will dry out and burn. Brush the potatoes with the remaining melted butter and olive oil mix. Finely chop the shallot and place between the potatoes rows. Place in hot oven for 1 hour at 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

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While your potatoes cook, take the meat out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter without covering it–half an hour is usually fine, depending on how thick is your meat cut and if you are using a piece with bone, e.g. a côte de boeuf. I used here sirloin steak medallions, which are a rather lean part of the sirloin, at the top of the fillet.

Once the potatoes have cooked for an hour, take them out of the oven, add salt and the thyme sprigs, and put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes till perfectly golden cooked and slightly brown on some of the top rims.

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Once the potatoes are back in the oven, season the meat, put 1 tbsp of olive oil in a hot pan, add the garlic, and brown the meat. Add the remaining butter (about 20 g) and spoon it over the meat as it melts and foams, and cook both sides. My preference is medium-rare, usually ready in 15-16 minutes. Leave for about 20 minutes for medium, and 25 minutes for medium-well. These cooking times may vary according to the steak thickness and cut.

Take off the fire and let the meat rest for a few minutes, while you take the potatoes out of the baking tin. Serve one row of potatoes–about two or three–per beef steak. Accompany with a bottle of Barbaresco, you won’t be disappointed.

by Max

Vegetarian impromptu: Courgetti with mushrooms and smoked scamorza cheese

FotorCreated.jpgA funny fridge-emptier, quickly prepared and very tasty. Vegetarian spaghetti, in this case spiralised courgettes, are just a good excuse to have a weird vegetable pencil-sharpener in the kitchen. It is useful if you feel lazy to prep. I had a few vegetables left in the fridge and Portabellini mushrooms are a good combination with the scamorza cheese which I had bought last week–and forgot about (how?!?). I added half a boiled egg for the sake of colour, mainly, and I apologise to those vegetarians who do not eat eggs. This dish would taste as good also without the egg.

The sweet, nutty flavour of the Portabellini mushrooms sings a tasty duet with the smoked scamorza. This is a simple yet fine cheese. It originates in southern Italy, even though my favourite one comes from the central regions like Marche, Abruzzo, and Molise. These regions still remain lands of real famers and you can always go around the countryside and find some fresh scamorza. I love its texture, thick and yet soft, almost spongey and chewy. In the large cheese family, scamorza sits between mozzarella and caciocavallo, and it is prepared with cow milk and warm water. The smoked version is slightly almondy, alabaster coloured, and with a thicker skin than the normal white scamorza, but equally filante–our word for stringy. A truly generous ingredient.

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Courgette spaghetti with mushrooms and scamorza (serves 2)

2 courgettes
250 g mushrooms
100 g scamorza cheese
25 g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
a few sage leaves
1 clove of garlic
(1/2 boiled egg)

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Melt the butter in a frying pan on middle heat while you chop the washed mushrooms. I sliced them longitudinally rather than dicing them because they cook better and look nicer. Add the garlic either cleaned and chopped or still unpeeled. When the butter is starting to foam, add the sliced mushrooms and the sage. Cook at medium heat for about 6-7 minutes.

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While the mushrooms get cooked, prepare the courgetti–or simply finely slice the courgettes with a mandoline slicer. Add the courgette extra bits remaining from the cutting to the mushrooms and cook together for another 2-3 minutes at high heat. Meanwhile, quickly cook the courgetti in a frying pan with the tbsp of oil at mid-high heat.

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Start serving with a larger nest of your courgetti, on top of which you line a layer of thinly cut scamorza slices. Place the mushrooms still hot on top of the cheese slices, in the middle of your courgetti nest. Add a few scamorza flakes and, eventually, half a boiled egg.

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by Max

Sweet Treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass

A few days ago I had a real craving for a banoffee pie. Unfortunately I had no time to make a proper one in a tin and I certainly did not have enough ingredients. So I decided to make just an experimental one in a glass. Well actually, in two glasses. I was not so sure if it will be any good but my flatmate certainly enjoyed it. Even though I ruined her diet as usual.

Word banoffee is a combination of a word banana and toffee. They are my favourite things I am therefore very much in love with this new ‘recipe/invention’. I must admit that it is very simple and does not take longer than 10 minutes to make. However if you fancy something creamy and delicious, I think you might enjoy it too. In comparison to my macaron procedure, it seems rather straight forward. No oven needed or fancy equipment, hardly any waiting time and certainly no piping involved.

I have used dark chocolate on the top as I find milk chocolate far too sweet with caramel. However you can also skip it if you don’t have a fancy grater which I save from my Christmas cracker a couple of years ago. It is impossibly small but incredibly handy when I use chocolate shavings. There is hardly ever any risk of cutting my fingers.

I have struggled to take decent pictures of this dessert though. Due to the shape of the glass and also light was not in my favour on the day. But I guess in the end couple of pictures seemed fairly good.

Sweet treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass (serves 2)


2 small bananas (cut into chunks or circles)
150 ml double cream
6-8 digestive biscuits (with or without chocolate)
1 tin of carnation caramel
20 g dark chocolate

Break digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and then roll over the bag with a rolling pin to create fine breadcrumb texture. It is fully up to you if you prefer larger chunks of biscuits or fine sandy like texture. Then transfer to a glass to create a base. Scatter chunks of banana over the base and pour caramel. Top the glass with whipped cream and if you wish shavings of dark chocolate.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Banana Bread

I was never keen on banana bread. There was something about the colour that I somehow didn’t find attractive. Then, one day, I found a chocolate banana bread recipe with delicious streusel topping. The texture of moist and rich banana bread with crunchy and nutty topping works really well. It is such a perfect combination! I have made this recipe so many times and for so many of my friends. I hope also you will enjoy it and remember to cut the loaf into thick slices, otherwise you’ll blink and it’ll be gone…

Ever since I was a child I loved my chocolate custard dessert with bananas. To my nan’s surprise–or disappointment–I kept ordering it as my birthday treat. She was fairly unimpressed by the simplicity of it, but I still preferred it to fancy, glittery and colourful fruit iced sundae.

Bananas are a delicious fruit once they are ripe enough. On top of their unique taste, you also get a huge vitamin B6 and magnesium boost. But only a relatively small portion of potassium in comparison to apricots. They are ever so popular as an addition to smoothies as their lovely sweetness works well even with kale. Fun fact of the day: they are botanically classed as berries!

Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Banana Bread (makes 2 loaves)

For the banana bread
100 g dark chocolate
150 g unsalted butter, softened
175 g caster sugar
3 eggs
175 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
25 g cocoa powder
2 large bananas, mashed

For the streusel topping
25 g unsalted butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds, or any other nuts

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan/gas mark 4). Line two loaf tins with baking parchment or grease with butter and dust with flour.

For streusel topping, rub the butter into the flour and then mix with the demerara sugar and nuts.

Melt the chocolate over simmering water and set aside to cool down. Whisk the softened butter with sugar until pale and fluffy in texture. Gradually add whisked eggs and continue whisking until well mixed. Carefully fold in the flour with a large spoon and then the chocolate. Lastly, add mashed banana to the mix and chocolate. Mix well and divide the mixture into the two tins. Sprinkle the struesel topping on each loaf and put into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean once inserted into the loaf. Place both loaves on the cooling rack. Enjoy with a lovely cup of tea.

by Maria

Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek and shallot

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Due to the snowy spring we are getting here in Europe, I am posting this soup I made in January, before Maria and I started our blog. It might be uneasy to find Jerusalem artichokes after March/April, but if you can get them, have a go! This is simply gorgeous stuff. It takes a bit of time, but it will reward you. Fully.

These tubers were already used by natives in north America and arrived in Europe from Brasil in the 1600s, via Portuguese importers. They then spread across western Europe quite quickly. Their name possibly comes from the misunderstanding of ‘girasole‘, sunflower in Italian, which resembles the word Jerusalem, as said by Italian immigrants in north America.

On the outside, Jerusalem artichokes look like ginger roots, but when you open them, they glow with a unique nacreous shine. Also their taste holds charming secrets, starting from a starch-less, soft potatoey crunch moving to a bitter-sweet nutty finish. I have tried them sautéed or roasted as a side dish, but this time I wanted something comforting, warm, and focused on their peculiar flavour. And in these days, I could really use them again to chase this cold away…

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‘[…retire therefore,] November, depart from this April!’

Jerusalem artichoke soup (serves 4)

500 g Jerusalem artichokes
1 shallot
1 leek
1/2 l vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
a few rose petals

Start washing the tubers and scrub the bulgy edges with a potato peeler. Put them with one tbsp of oil in hot oven at 180°C/160ºC fan/gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When baked, take out and leave to cool at room temperature.

Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and the leek, and pan fry them in a pot with one tbsp of oil at low heat. Let them slowly turn golden. When the Jerusalem artichokes have cooled down, peel them one by one–the skin will easily come off at this point. Dice them and add to the vegetable base in the frying pan, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, according to how big you have chopped them.

Remove from fire and blend together with warm vegetable stock. Don’t overdo the blending or you will lose the texture of the Jerusalem artichokes. Before serving, warm the soup again in the pot for a few minutes, drizzle with fresh olive oil, and decorate with the rose petals. This will warm you up.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons

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These macarons came as an inspiration from watching far too many videos on Instagram. Working with chocolate can be rewarding but also pretty damming. Chocolate is very temperamental and needs to be very liquid when doing the straight lines. I had a real problem to transfer it from a bowl into my piping bag. But I found the easiest way was to put the piping bag into a high glass and wrap the end of the bag around the edges. This way I could use both hands, one to hold the bowl and another to scrape chocolate with spatula.

I like to sandwich my macarons with light filling if possible. The shell itself is fairly sweet so I usually try to find a way to avoid adding more sugar into the filling. Double cream is very easy to get in any of the shops and I think it works very well. But feel free to use whipping cream if you prefer.

Although I had to work this weekend, somehow I managed to find enough time and to pop to my favourite bookshop on Saturday. Waterstones at Piccadilly has an excellent selection of books and I was salivating over a number of patisserie books they had. No matter how many books I buy, I could still spend most of my monthly wages just on cookery books and random utensils for the kitchen. Unfortunately for my credit card, I even took pictures of books that will need to be purchased soon, very soon. I believe this matter is urgent….

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons (makes 18)

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

For the filling
200 ml double cream
2 tbsp raspberry jam

For the decoration
35 g dark chocolate

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. Add a small bit of food colouring to the meringue. Mix thoroughly and add more colouring if needed. 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, then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven.

For the filling, whisk double cream until it is about to thicken. Then add raspberry jam and transfer to the piping bag. Pipe a small amount of the filling on one of the shells and sandwich together.

Melt chocolate in the microwave for 20-30 seconds until all melted. Transfer to the piping bag with a very fine round nozzle. You can practice your first lines with chocolate on the board. Place macarons all together on the board and pipe chocolate by making quick movements from tip to bottom of the tray. Chocolate needs to be fairly liquid so that the lines will be as straight as possible. Allow to set for about 20 minutes and then place the macarons into the fridge.

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Macarons need to ‘mature’ for at least 24 hours. Or in other words they taste better on the third day.

by Maria

Naughty pork fillet medallions in ginger and white wine sauce

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This is a quick and naughty version of a Parmesan dish called ‘La Rosa di Parma’, which is usually made with beef fillet, staffed with prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cooked in a red wine sauce. To make my properly naughty version, I wrapped pork fillet in unsmoked streaky bacon and sage, I cooked it in white wine and ginger sauce, and served with pan-fried pak choi, fresh fennel, and maple syrup crispy bacon. I did say it is naughty, but in no way this dish will ever leave you disappointed or hungry at all. The dish comes from a mix of traditional Italian food, with some Anglicised flavours, and Asian ingredients. It would be difficult to put a pin on it; better to use a fork instead.

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This naughty pork fillet/tenderloin is pretty easy to prepare and takes reasonably little time. The hardest part was to find the cooking string, which I had to mooch off the butcher’s desk at my local supermarket. The ingredients are easily obtainable, at least here in London, almost any time of the year.

The original dish, La Rosa di Parma, is one of the town’s symbols, usually appearing on important occasion tables–that’s why it is made with expensive ingredients like the beef fillet, prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Lambrusco red wine, and Marsala wine. It truly encapsulates the city’s imperial heritage of Marie Louise in some of its endemic flavours, except the Marsala, of course. I opted for a more cost-contained version, still retaining some of the typical Parmesan ingredients.

I had to cheat using unsmoked bacon, because there was no pancetta, but their preparation remains similar enough to give you almost the same taste. I chose to prepare the pork with white wine and ginger, instead of red and Marsala wines, because this meat calls for a milder dressing than the beef fillet. Fennel and pak choi followed the same rationale to avoid overpowering the dish or covering the delicate intensity of this pork cut. The final taste is a soft, sweet pork main, glazed by a thin, spicy wine sauce, accompanied by a fresh green bite, candied up by the bacon crisps.

Naughty pork fillet medallions (serves 3)

1 pork fillet (whole)
12 unsmoked streaky bacon rashers
a few sage leaves
cooking string
2 tbsp olive oil
15 g butter
2 glasses of white wine
30 g fresh ginger
1 tbsp maple syrup

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Start with sealing the whole fillet on a hot pan with 1 tbsp of oil and the butter, at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Take it off the pan when it is golden all around and starting to get brown. Slice the fillet into medallions of the same thickness, about 3-4 cm–unless you need to serve some more cooked than others: in that case, slice accordingly.

Wrap each medallion with one rasher of unsmoked bacon (or one pancetta rasher, if you can find it), four or five sage leaves, and tighten all together with the cooking string. Once all medallions are prepared, put them back into the hot pan with your second tbsp of olive oil, at medium heat.

After a few minutes, when one side of the medallions is turning brown, raise to high heat, flip them cooked-side-up, and wash with the first glass of wine till reduced. Then lower again to medium heat and cook for another few minutes. When also the second side is cooked, repeat the reduction process with the second glass of wine. Add the ginger now, which you have pealed and sliced, with a couple of shallot rings that you will not serve.

In the meantime, you can start preparing the remaining bacon rashers in another frying pan. You will add the maple syrup only at the end, after you added salt and they are cooked on both sides. The syrup will caramelise the bacon and get it crunchy like a crisp. Slice the washed fennel, and start preparing the pak choi, washing it and separating the leaves.

Once the pork is cooked on both sides, the bacon wrap should also be pink ready. Take the medallions off the pan, leave the remaining sauce to char the pak choi in a couple of minutes at high heat. Serve hot. Eat. And feel guiltily satisfied. Naughty…

 

by Max

 

Vegetarian impromptu: avocado amuse-bouche and warm potato peperonata

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A sunny Sunday in London is a gift, particularly for an Italian guy. And sun makes you want to eat simple, colourful food. The kitchen was pretty much empty, so this happened. The avocado helped keeping the stomach busy while I was preparing the potato peperonata for main course.

First, I cut in half an avocado and dressed with salt, oil, and three drops of balsamic vinegar. I like to eat it off its skin with a spoon–apologies to Pixar’s Wall-e fans, no robot was harmed in feeding this human…

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This simplest amuse-bouche gave me time and energy to see what else could be done with the few ingredients left in the kitchen. I found a few new potatoes and three red peppers, a couple of almond flakes (leftovers from the courgette pesto risotto), and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge. Enough to prepare a lighter version of peperonata.

Originally, this Sicilian dish was a simple sauté mix of peppers cooked with onions and tomato sauce, something you would have had with bread pretty much, and nothing else. It is a dish that then started to be used on the side of meat and even as a pasta sauce, but its humble origins confirm it was meant to be eaten alone, till you were stuffed. This version is stripped of the heavier base and finds potatoes as a good substitute for the bread. I cooked it in the oven in a little more than half hour.

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Potato peperonata (serves 2)

500 g new potatoes
3 red peppers
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few almond flakes
2 tbsp oil

Start washing, drying, and cutting the peppers. Lay the pepper slices on an over tray lined with foil, add some salt on the peppers, and leave in hot oven on grill (240°C/gas 9) for about 6-7 minutes. They will lose some water and get a little firmer.

Meanwhile, wash, dry, and cut potatoes. Lay them cut-face up and add a pinch of salt. Take the peppers out of the oven, add the potatoes, and mix all together with the oil.

Place the tray in hot oven at 220°C/gas 7 for about 30 minutes. You can give the vegetables a quick toss during their cooking, but keep the oven closed and hot all the time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and flaked almonds. Eat it hot, warm, or even cold. And remember to enjoy the sun!

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by Max

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