Monday, 17 September 2012

Decadent Pear and Chocolate Birthday Cake

A little while ago I mentioned this cake, and this one which I made in response.  My good friend made a beautiful-looking pear and dark chocolate version, although much like me she struggled with unripe fruit and getting the curd to set.  I was sorry I didn't get to taste it, as it has really inspired my second try.
I really wanted to get this right.  It is high time I had a proper show-stopping torte on my resumé which I can whip out for other people's birthdays as well as my own.  This time I made sure to buy my pears a week in advance, so that they would be juicy and flavoursome by the time it came to making the cake.  Thankfully, it is by far the best cake I have ever made!

This is an expensive confection as it involves buying hazelnuts (peeled nuts are a luxury in this country for shame) and a bottle of decent sweet wine.  Thankfully fruit and chocolate are both cheap!  It is also a multi-stage bastard.  As I have said, usually I avoid multi-stage anything like the plague, being of the 'screw it we'll have stew' school of culinary excellence, but for one's birthday as a known baker one has to go the extra mile.

One benefit of these sorts of cakes is that almost any of the stages stands alone.  The praline is a great peanut brittle substitute, the cake is obviously pleasant, the poached pears are a great pudding in and of themselves and the ganache could be used to make truffles.  If you've been paying attention, you'll realise that I made all of these things one at a time over the past few days, to avoid a nine-hour baking binge on the night of the party.

For shopping lists: Total chocolate used overall 500g, total cream used overall 300ml, total hazelnuts 400g

Spiced Pear and Chocolate Cake with Indulgent Pears and Hazelnut Praline

You Will Need:
Hazelnut Praline, one batch - three decorative pieces, the rest powdered
Chocolate Ganache, one batch
Pears Poached in Sweet Wine, - 4 pears' worth including three pear fans to decorate
100g hazelnuts, to decorate

Spiced Pear And Chocolate Cakes
You Will Need: scales, 2 tins, greaseproof paper, wooden spoon, large bowl, chopping board and knife, (small grater),potato peeler, teaspoon, whisk, 2 medium bowls, cup, small saucepan, cooling rack

100g chocolate
200g butter
200g sugar
5 eggs
2 small pears
1/2tsp nutmeg, or 1/2 a nutmeg grated
1/2tsp cinnamon
100g hazelnuts
200g self-raising flour

1) Preheat the oven to 180degC.  Line and grease your tins.
2) Peel, core and chop the pears into small pieces.
3) Separate your eggs, with the whites going into one medium bowl and the yolks a cup.  Cut the butter into small pieces, and break up the chocolate.  Set the second medium bowl over a pan of boiling water, and melt the chocolate, sugar and butter together.  When the mixture is all mixed with no lumps, transfer to the large bowl and whisk in the egg yolks gradually.
4) Grind the hazelnuts, and mix with the flour and spices on the scales.  Wash the whisk; whisk the egg whites to soft-peak stage; fold spoonfuls into the mixture alternately with flour, whisking the whites back up to peaks again between spoonfuls.
5) Pour equally into the tins and bake 30-35 minutes, until risen and clean-skewer.
6) Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for 10 minutes.  Remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack.

You Will Need: Serving dish, breadboard, breadknife, spoon, medium bowl, small bowl, small saucepan, teaspoons, dinner knife

200ml thick cream
200g dark chocolate

1) Allow your ganache to come back to room temperature so that you can work with it.
2) Cut your cakes.  Very gently turn out the first cake onto the serving dish.  Now cut it in two carefully, and shuffle the top half onto the breadboard. 
3) Spread a thick ring of ganache all the way around the edge of the cake on the serving dish, using your teaspoons and dinnerknife to manipulate it.
4) Mix the hazelnut praline powder powder gently with the thick cream only until mixed.  Spoon a round of this mixture inside the ganache ring.  Top with the next round of cake.
5) Turn out the second cake onto the breadboard and cut it in two.
5) For the central filling layer, arrange the poached pear slices in an overlapping layer.  Top with a third round of cake.
6) Use the remaining ganache and hazelnut cream to fill the third round, as before.  Top with the final cake.
7) Melt the last chocolate in the small bowl over the small pan.  Pour this melted chocolate all over the cake, first spreading a layer to catch all the crumbs, then allowing it to dribble over the sides organically.  Allow to cool slightly.  Fan out the poached pear halves in a trio; wedge the chunks of praline in between the pears.  Place hazelnuts evenly around the edge to mark portion sizes.

Fin! Serve to no fewer than a dozen people at once!

Pears Poached In Sweet Wine

This pudding is one of my father's favourites, from the worst-laid-out cookbook either of us has ever seen, authored by Nigel Slater, one of my favourite food people.  This isn't Nigel's recipe, because it uses sweet wine instead of red, but red is traditional.
It is a law of cooking that if (as generally recommended) you save the sh*te wine for cooking, your cooking will taste of sh*te wine.  Splash out on the £6.99 stuff on offer from £10 - you can always drink the rest of the bottle.

Pears Poached In Sweet Wine
You Will Need: Medium saucepan, measuring jug, wooden spoon, teaspoon, chopping board and knife, potato peeler, plate

4 small pears
350ml good sweet wine such as Muscat
30g sugar
100ml water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 vanilla pod, split and scraped
6 cloves

1) Peel and cut the pears into halves lengthways, scooping out the cores with the end of the teaspoon.
1a) If making my pear and chocolate birthday cake, make sure that you keep three half-pears with stalks on to make into decorative fans for the top.  Peel and core these too.
2) Melt the sugar in the water in the saucepan.  Split the vanilla pod. Scrape the vanilla seeds with the end of your knife into the pan; add the other spices including the pod, and swirl until golden and fragrant.  Add the wine carefully. (Method from Jamie Oliver).  Bring the mixture to a simmer, and add the pears.  Cook for approximately half an hour, until tender.
3) Retrieve the pears with the spoon.
3a) If you are making the pear and chocolate birthday cake, cut all but three half-pears into long slices for a filling layer.  Carefully cut the stalked three into fans, and keep these aside.

Protip: Save the cooking liquid as a hot toddy - it tastes AWESOME.  Cook's perks!  Or reduce slightly and serve as a sauce for the pears, if doing as a pudding.

Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Ganache
You Will Need: Small saucepan, wooden spoon, medium bowl, scales, measuing jug, chopping board and sharp knife, clingfilm

100ml extra thick cream
200g dark chocolate

1) Break the chocolate into small pieces and chop as small as you can.  Pour these chips into the bowl.
2) Heat the cream until hot but not boiling.  Pour swiftly over the chocolate, and stir rapidly until all of the chocolate is melted.  If the cream becomes too cool, heat the ganache very gently again over a pan of hot water.
3) When mixed, cover the ganache with clingfilm, and allow to cool back to room temperature.  Chill in the fridge.
4) To make truffles, cover your hands in cocoa powder, take teaspoonfuls of room-temperature ganache, roll into balls and then roll in cocoa, chopped nuts or other flavourings.  Ganache can also be piped as a decoration or filling.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Hazelnut Praline

This. Stuff.  Smells.  AMAZEBALLS.  If you like hazelnuts (and who doesn't?) this is the best way I have ever experienced of getting a proper fragrant waft of them right in your face, covered in sugar.
Use a decent-sized saucepan, to make the change in the colour of the sugar easier to detect.  I burnt one batch because I turned my back on it to grease my baking tray, in the erroneous belief that it would take ages.  This is reflected in the instructions.  Watch your sugar very carefully.

Hazelnut Praline
You Will Need: Baking tray, greaseproof paper, scales, saucepan, wooden spoon, spoon (food processor)

Dissolved sugar, just beginning to colour
butter smudge
200g hazelnuts
200g sugar
100ml water

1) Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and grease the paper with butter.
Getting towards to that golden colour that you want
2) Heat 100g of the sugar and 50ml water in the saucepan.  Let the sugar dissolve, and then let it cook on a medium-high heat without stirring it at all for a while until a golden colour.  DO NOT SUCCUMB to the stirring monster.  If the sugar gets too dark it is burnt; throw it away and start again (use boiling water from a kettle to clean sugary pans).
3) When the sugar is golden, pour in the hazelnuts, and coat them in the sugar as well as possible.  Pour the mixture out onto the baking tray, and spread it out into a single layer using the back of a metal spoon.  Leave to cool.
4) Meanwhile, clean the pan; make another batch of caramel with the remaining sugar and water, and pour over the hazelnuts to fill in the gaps.  Leave to cool.
5) When cool, peel the brittle off the greaseproof paper.  You now have different things you can do with it:

  • Coat or drizzle with chocolate and break into pieces for a decadent sweetie/candy present.
  • Break into pieces to use as cake decoration.  If making my pear-and-chocolate birthday cake, break off three large pieces for this purpose.
  • Smash into small pieces and blend in the food processor until the texture of sand.  This can then be added to other ingredients to make homemade Nutella OR, if making my birthday cake, saved to mix with cream to make a pipe-able hazelnut filling.


Birthday ingredients: left, decorative chunks; right, praline powder

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Toffee Banana Crackle Trifles

Crap!  Dinner party in half an hour, haven't bought ingredients yet!  Smooth organising there E!
-Buy bananas, pasta stuff, peas (for soup).
-Make soup.  Cook half the pasta things, get pan of hot water going.  Toast porridge oats (bear with me).
-eat soup.  Finish my soup first, leave others chatting, finish pasta things.
-Eat pasta.  Finish my pasta first, start making pudding.

This is a super-easy, foolproof (if you time it right) good-looking pudding with minimum Faff Index (I would say a Faff of 4/10, because other than watching a grill (bear with me) it has absolutely no difficult steps) - which is perfect for small or large dinner gatherings.  They went down a storm, with only one complaint/suggestion from the Man which I have incorporated here.  This was lucky as I spent some of the evening going OMG why did I agree to make nice food at 5 minutes notice per course I am an idiot, and having a successful, bloggable pudding makes me feel worthy and nice again :)

Toffee Banana Crackle Triflets (Serves 4 +)
You Will Need: serving bowls; chopping board and sharp knife; baking tray; two teaspoons; small saucepan.

Number of bananas equal to number of people who deserve them
Extra thick double cream OR vanilla / nutty icecream
porridge oats
caster sugar

1) Scatter the porridge oats on the baking tray, and toast them under the grill until branflake coloured and fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Allow the tray to cool.
2) Cut the bananas into narrow diagonal pieces and arrange the pieces in the bowls, one nana per person.
3) Dollop cream or icecream on the nanas.
4) Scatter porridge oats on the cream to give a good scatty coating.  Chop the walnuts not too finely and scatter these too.
5) In the small pan, heat about a heaped dessertspoonful of caster sugar per person and a *tiny* slither of butter over a high heat, until the sugar has completely melted and is a rich dark brown.
6) Using your clean teaspoon, drizzle the toffee crackling over the puddings.  Listen to the crackly noise!  Try to avoid getting the crackle on the sides of the bowls as it will dry on and be harder to get off.

ProTip: When washing up toffee apparatus, boil a kettle and use to rinse / soften baked on sugar, and scrape at it with wooden implements.  Don't try to pick at it with your fingernails or other apparatus it will just break things and you.