Baking challenge: chocolate hazelnut mousse cake. Oh yes

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week seven (patisserie week) of series two: a layered mousse cake.

Chocolate hazelnut mousse cake with hazelnut crunch base

Chocolate hazelnut mousse cake with hazelnut crunch base

Think a crisp, rice-cereal-marshmallow-and-hazenut base, bound together with melted chocolate. Think a silken, rich yet feather-light mousse that melts in the mouth like snow, leaving behind the impression of chocolate and hazelnut. Think a soft, buttery cake which adds another layer of contrast to the delicate mousse and robust, crunchy base. That is this cake and it is absolutely stunning, and completely worth it.

Lest you think the above is sheer hyperbolic food porn, I assure you that everyone I served this to thought it was utterly divine. It’s a special cake, rather than an everyday, cut-and-come-again cake, that would be perfectly well-suited to being served as a dessert at the end of a lovely dinner party (perhaps served with some of the Frangelico that lends it its hazelnutty, smoky flavour).

Slice of chocolate and hazelnut mousse cake, in layers

Slice of chocolate and hazelnut mousse cake, in layers

The baking ladies of series two of GBBO (who were tasked to make mousse cakes) almost all used gelatine in their mousse, but this one relies on just the cream for aeration and lift. This is of course what gives the mousse its delicate, melting quality, but also means that it isn’t as structurally strong as one reinforced with gelatine, hence lengthy chilling is essential. The mousse is prone to melting, as well, because of the soft texture and structure, so chill it between serving.

It's just absolutely got to be done!

It’s just absolutely got to be done!

The recipe I used is adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe which I found on Epicurious. Apart from a few additions and adaptations based on the reviews (for example I added marshmallows to the base because a lot of the reviews said the base was too hard) and adapting it for ingredients easily found in the UK, I have also tried to streamline some steps as it was quite a fussy and fiddly recipe, which required odd things such as baking the cake in a particular-sized tin and then trimming it to fit another size of tin. Just say no. I didn’t do it and I didn’t need to.

For the hazelnut flavour, this mousse cake relies on a good dose of Frangelico – hazelnut liqueur – in addition to the use of hazelnuts in the base. You can occasionally find hazelnut liqueur which is not Frangelico, but it’s not easy and the price is around the same. It’s definitely quite a niche product and I know how wearying it can be to be guided towards an ingredient which is expensive, sometimes difficult to find, and not very versatile. In my defence, though, this cake is really delicious and very special. If you want to try it but are desperate not to buy in the Frangelico, dark rum could work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 29, 2015 in Baking, Cakes, Chocolate, Dessert, Recipes


Tags: , , , , ,

Baking challenge: on a profiterole – crackpot croquembouche

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week six (dessert week) of series two: croquembouche.

A profiterole tower is for life, not just for Pinterest

A profiterole tower is for life, not just for Pinterest

Is there anything more gloriously, resplendently French than a croquembouche? Delicate, perfectly crisp profiterole shells encasing soft cream, with a crisp and shattering glaze of caramel holding them all together, piled high, served at weddings and other celebratory communal events, a creation from the dazzling and spectacular mind of Marie-Antoine Careme. And the showstopper challenge of dessert week.

There is a reason croquembouche was selected as the showstopper challenge: it is not a simple task and I admit I was not, strictly speaking, worthy of it. I didn’t really make a croquembouche, more a piled-up tower of profiteroles stacked up into a peak. As it was I found the experience of building exceptionally stressful and can’t imagine how I would have felt had I opted for a proper croquembouche experience.

I also eschewed making a full-on croquembouche, with the little profiteroles stuck to a cone mould, delicately removed at the end of the assembly-job, on cost grounds. A proper metal croquembouche mould is expensive and would have been a pointless piece of kitchen kit to own, even by my admittedly relaxed standards on what exactly constitutes ‘pointless’. A lot of recipes on the internet suggested using, instead, a foil-wrapped polystyrene cone, which sounds like an excellent solution, but I had a window of free time and didn’t want to wait for something ordered online to arrive, and just couldn’t face traipsing to art shops around London to find one (I did have a quick peek in a local art shop). I recalled that Holly Bell, one of the series two finalists, had actually piled her profiteroles up and just decided to do that. However, because of this decision, my profiterole tower can hardly claim to have reached the lofty heights of a true croquembouche. On the other hand, I would have run out of both profiteroles and stomach capacity had I opted for one of traditional height.

Although as I’ve said above the croquembouche is a quintessentially French dessert, I added a Belgian twist by making a speculoos paste filling, using a recipe from a book I picked up on impulse a few trips ago. Juliette’s Speculoos is all about speculoos, those ubiquitous spiced Belgian biscuits, and the flavours are translated into a variety of different desserts, such as tiramisu. Regrettably the instructions aren’t as clear as they could be (even in the original Dutch book which I have) and I definitely overcooked the paste, making it a little harder, drier and more candy-like than I would have wished. So I’d say definitely go slow when making this and don’t let the mixture boil. Instead of using caramel to bind – as speculoos already has a caramelised flavour – I used a chocolate ganache, made with a little less cream than usual to ensure it was firm. When using chocolate for binding, I would recommend letting it cool carefully between layers and ensuring the croquembouche is kept in a cool place, because if the chocolate melts everything will slide around.

Contestant Mary-Anne Boermans’ croquembouche was balanced on a praline base; to tie the flavours together I made a chocolate shortbread base to balance the profiterole tower on. I will say that shortbread probably isn’t the ideal choice because the texture is very tender and breakable, but it is a very good recipe.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Baking, Chocolate, Dessert, Pastry, Recipes


Tags: , , , ,

Baking challenge: return on a roulade

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week six (dessert week) of series two: Mary Berry’s chocolate roulade

Roulade slice

Roulade slice

Well, another round. I admit to having lost a bit of my baking and blogging mojo for a while. Not because I don’t still love baking – every time I do it I am reminded of how much I really do love it; and not because I don’t love the writing, because again when I get down to it it’s exciting and stimulating and time just flies by. And not even because of being in the fourth month of my diet, even though sweets and 1200-calories-a-day really don’t go at all (I have to spend a lot of time at the gym to earn myself some cake, but the results have absolutely been worth it!). No, it’s been something much more prosaic: simply not having much time between work and social commitments. Once upon a time, I did a part-time MA (well, I only graduated in April!) and I can’t imagine how I did that, in retrospect. No wonder I was always ‘very tense’, as my boyfriend delicately put it (he meant prone to lashing out in angry, tearful snaps in lieu of words).

Whenever I look at other blogs I see beautifully styled and well-lit photographs that glow from within. I tend to take my photographs in artificial light (because most of my cooking and baking is done when I get home from work) seconds before I start digging in. So I hope I can describe how really lovely, and simple, this roulade is, even if my photos may not do it full justice.

The making of the roulade

The making of the roulade

First of all, this Mary Berry is utterly unfancy, and, compared to many rich, exotically-flavoured cakes which are absolutely packed with nuts and fruit and alcohol and what have you, actually quite plain. Its appeal is based on the almost universally loved contrast between bitter chocolate and soft, fluffy white cream, which cuts the bitter edge despite not being sweetened. I found the sponge had a tendency towards dryness – you will need to watch it like a hawk to ensure it doesn’t overcook because, with a sponge this thin, it can easily happen. But even if you do it’s quite frankly not so much of an issue because the cream will provide the requisite moisture. There is something quite old-fashioned about it, even though the generous quantity of eggs, sugar, chocolate and cream mean it would have been quite a luxury in days gone by.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Baking, Cakes, Recipes


Tags: , , , , ,

Something I threw together: spiced red bean stew

This recipe is for a dish I threw together at the weekend. We’d had half a bag of red kidney beans sitting in the cupboard for about a hundred years, and I decided the time was right to use them up – for whatever reason I’m itching to clear out cupboards and declutter. I soaked them a few days before (I store the soaked beans in the fridge until ready to cook) and, using various bits in the cupboard and fridge, I threw together a richly spiced, juicy, tomato-tinged red bean stew. It wasn’t going to make it into the blog – since it really was just a spontaneous, on-the-fly meal – until my boyfriend suggested it.

Spontaneous bean stew - I'd already started eating when I took the photo

Spontaneous bean stew – I’d already started eating when I took the photo

“This is amazing!” he said (it is really good – hearty and flavourful). When I told him it was my own recipe, he insisted I blog it: “The baking challenge is fine, but you can find those recipes somewhere else. You can’t find this one anywhere, since it’s yours!” He added that he thought it might be useful for other people putting together a meal based on storecupboard staples. So, I hope it is.

You can serve this with all sorts of extras - pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese

You can serve this with all sorts of extras – pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese

This recipe draws on Tex-Mex flavours: the earthiness of cumin, and heat, sweetness and smokiness from two types of paprika and the fresh red pepper. One you have this template in your head to draw on, you could vary it in all kinds of ways: using different beans – black beans would be great if going down the Tex-Mex route – or adding more, or different, vegetables, are the most obvious. You could make it fiery with chilli and add ground meat. But you could also gently shift the recipe’s geographical focus with some other adjustments:

  • dial down the paprika, add grated fresh ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric and sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander at the end, and it would become an Indian-inspired, not-quite dhal, for example (if going down the Indian route you could substitute various lentils for the beans, as well. I’ve made a version of this using urad dhal).Serve with naan bread or steamed rice.
  • To make something more Italian-inspired, use cannellini or butter beans, add two chopped carrots and two chopped celery sticks to the onions, and omit the dried herbs. Chop through some fresh parsley or basil and stir through some lemon juice at the end and serve with parmesan.
  • If you feel inspired by the flavours of Morocco, use chickpeas and add one or two chopped carrots to the onions. If you have any preserved lemons, chop one up and add it to the pot, and stir through some lemon juice at the end. Serve with couscous.

The above suggestions might not be strictly authentic (hence my careful use of the word ‘inspired’), but using these flavour profiles will enable you to put together a dinner based on almost any dried or tinned pulses you may have.

I use a lot of spices in this recipe, because I definitely prefer strong flavours, and I think the starchy, substantial red beans can take a lot of flavour. If you’re baulking at the idea of throwing in spices by the tablespoon, by all means reduce the amounts.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tags: , , , , ,

Baking challenge: deep and dark and velvet – chocolate cheesecake

Denser than a black hole...but probably smoother

Denser than a black hole…but probably smoother

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week six (dessert week) of series two: a baked cheesecake.

I’m not a cheesecake lover, especially not the ice-cold, slightly crumbly wodges of dense cream cheese served up by chain cafes around the world. And yet cheesecake is, simultaneously, very dear to me, because, since childhood, my father would always order me a slice of cheesecake, or Black Forest cake, when we were in a cafe together. It became so routine that, despite not particularly liking either bake (chain cafe Black Forest cake being typically sandy, somewhat dry, punctuated by a gloopy layer of tinned cherries of cheap cherry jam), I would ask for either whenever I was with him. Even a few years ago, when we were at the British Library cafe, I asked if he wanted cheesecake. “You’ve always really liked cheesecake,” he said happily, as he polished off about 99% of the little cake. I smiled to myself and kept mum – but really, I have no idea how this conviction that I love cheesecake began.

It took a bit of work to find a cheesecake recipe I wanted to bake, and eat, for my little baking challenge, still chugging along. I’ve owned Marian Keyes’ Saved by Cake for a pretty long time, and in fact I bought it (after borrowing a copy from the library) without having read a single of her novels (I’ve since read Watermelon). I was equally charmed and bemused: Keyes is a vibrant writer and this cookbook certainly showcases her voice and dark humour. Well-known for her struggles with alcoholism, Keyes came to baking as a hobby when she was suffering an intense depression. She started to bake and it became a sort of lifeline or pressure valve, bringing her back from the brink of suicide. Cake is serious stuff – although she is clear that baking wasn’t a cure, but a way of occupying herself until such time as she became well again. Indeed, Keyes has said she no longer bakes as it reminds her of the terrible depression she suffered.

And yet, despite the unusual, and dark, provenance of this cookbook, there is a deftness and a lightness of touch, and an unashamedly acquisitive joy in baking and in the fun and sheer silliness of it. Keyes likes bright colours and edible glitter and uses them with abandon: her bakes sparkle. She is not one for pretentiousness or being bogged down in pared down, minimalist portions of dessert, and she is not above using commercial products such as packets of lime jelly. The idea that sloshing in half a bottle of blue icing into whipped cream might be a touch declasse is not one that would resonate with Keyes. And there is a reason Keyes is a popular, bestselling author: she has that uncanny ability that many writers lack to pin down an exact word or phrase which describes something perfectly, and allows you to build a perfectly clear picture in your mind of what something is like. It was her description of her Black Hole Chocolate Cheesecake – “like being punched in the stomach by a chocolate-flavoured fist” – what made me decide to make it for the baked cheesecake part of my baking challenge.

Crust, oven, table. Plus added chilling time

Crust, oven, table. Plus added chilling time

I was rewarded, because it was worth eating, despite not being a natural fan of the cheesecake. The texture of this is delightfully smooth, without any jarring, dry crumbliness, with interest provided by the crisp crust, which is made with both traditional digestives and melted dark chocolate. I sometimes find cheesecakes, especially commercial ones, to be somewhat acidic, but the sharpness of the cream cheese was tempered by mascarpone and double cream, so that it complemented, rather than competed with, the chocolate then poured in. I was surprised that the final colour was somewhat light – a deep and polished chestnut rather than chocolate labrador, but the taste is gratifyingly rich.

This is a recipe that comes together relatively quickly and easily. The only potential pitfall is that, because the base is quite dark to begin with, it can be difficult to tell if it is catching – mine did blacken a little (my oven’s calibration is really off and it is running very hot), which was unfortunate. Also, the crust does set very hard and is somewhat difficult to cut as a consequence. Patience and a hacksaw…

Study in blue, and cheesecake

Study in blue, and cheesecake

This cheesecake is traversed with cracks – difficult to avoid with a cheesecake – and like many dense cakes it sinks in on itself. It’s also not a half hour job; though simple to put together, a lot of lengthy chilling is required at various stages. A good one to do if you have snatches of time to yourself over the course of a day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2015 in Baking, Cakes, Chocolate, Dessert, Recipes


Tags: , , , , , ,

Baking challenge: my my, miss strawberry meringue pie

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week five (pastry week) of series two: a meringue pie.

During Wimbledon, it really gets crazy…and we eat strawberries and cream and root for our favourite tennis players. My boyfriend loves Roger Federer, and who can blame him? A beautiful man who plays a beautiful game. A man who can rock a cardigan and still look like a hero.

Who could blame a man-crush? - Roger Federer French Open 2015 by Carine06 from UK. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Who could blame a man-crush? – Roger Federer French Open 2015 by Carine06 from UK. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Personally, I’m always behind Andy Murray, which can be hard to justify since he doesn’t…make a habit of winning finals. For me, Murray is like an intrepid and determined schoolchild who works incredibly hard to achieve his ambitions and to reach the upper echelons, while Novak Djokovich and Federer are like the cooler kids who do everything flawlessly while also dressing really well and dating the hot cheerleaders and make it look easy. Yes, they may be fantastic, but who has more heart, eh?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is when personal psychology meets national sporting events. Because, let’s get real, Djokovich and Federer train incredibly hard too. But the more elegantly they play, the more I stubbornly root for Murray. (Though a part of me knows that only in tennis could you be ranked world number 3 and still be seen as a natural underdog). There is something elatable about that tenacity.

I’m not even British.

Right, back to baking, since this is, after all, a food blog. But it’s a food blog where baking and tennis intersected, be it ever so briefly. When I was thinking up what kind of meringue pie to back for the old baking challenge, I kept thinking that what I really wanted to make was an homage to the classic accompaniment to the Wimbledon Championships, strawberries and cream (it sounds really random now because I’m writing this up months after the event, but I baked it to serve at a Wimbledon Men’s Finals viewing party).

Strawberry meringue pie: naked filling

Strawberry meringue pie: naked filling. A tennis championship classic and baking intersected here

Well, it’s a classic for the viewers in the stands and at home – I doubt the players themselves are wolfing down sugary fruit and dairy once they return to their…tents/hotel rooms/wherever the hell they sleep. I mean, Djokovich doesn’t even eat gluten! Or tomatoes! Gluten and tomatoes – for the weak. Wimbledon grass – for the strong.


So, strawberry pie it was, with a thick, marshmallowy layer of slightly sticky meringue. The meringue I made was blasted with a blowtorch, which gives it an amazing toasted, scorched flavour. In fact I blasted every mouthful with the torch to ensure my portions of meringue were as toasted as they could get. Divine. A torch gives much more control than a grill – especially my grill, which is more smoke than heat.

A dazzling combination of sweet fruit and gooey, caramelised meringue - a match made in heaven

A dazzling combination of sweet fruit and gooey, caramelised meringue – a match made in heaven

I thought I’d made up strawberry meringue pie, as I’d never seen nor heard of it before, but no – people had gotten there before me. I contemplated making up my own recipe but opted for one from the enviably gorgeous Sift and Whisk blog. Blog envy: I have it. The photography, the lighting and styling – all beautiful. I’m more of a ‘throw on a plate, photograph for 30 seconds under murky yellow overhead light, eat dinner, wonder why photo isn’t all beautiful’.

This pie is filled with both fresh strawberries and a fresh strawberry filling thickened with tapioca. The recipe calls for the tapioca pearls to be ground and, although I tried using my mini food processor for this, as directed, it’s difficult for the blades to grind down such a tiny amount, and I’d recommend pounding with a mortar and pestle instead. I struggled to find tapioca pearls in standard supermarkets and ended up buying a bag from an Indian corner shop, where, predictably, they had multiple sizes of pearls and I came away with enough tapioca for the rest of my life and change from £1.00.

The recipe also calls for 1.25kg strawberries, and this was far, far too much when I made it. Since you both place cut strawberries onto the pie and pour over a strawberry puree filling, it really is much better to go by eye; once you have covered the circumference of your tart shell with the hulled berries, you’re done. I used slightly less than a kilo of strawberries in total, for both puree and whole fruit.

Finally: this is not a bake, slice and serve pie; it really benefits from lengthy and patient chilling at each stage so that the filling can set. Perfect for a make-ahead dinner party, less for a quickly dashed-off dessert to present to people who’ve just dropped by (for that category of visitor, make scones!). If you serve it soon after baking and assembly, the pie will taste nice but be decidedly leaky/sloppy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Baking, Dessert, Pastry, Recipes


Tags: , , , , , ,

My week in breakfast

I thought it might be fun to write up my week in food – I love reading articles with that theme, as it satisfies that inherently curious/nosey part of me that’s interested in what people get up to, and it can provide mealtime inspiration as well. Instead of all my meals and snacks, however, I’ve put together my week in breakfast for the previous week.

I typically have a lighter breakfast (though not always), and this tendency has been exacerbated by my relatively recent weight loss regime, as I prefer a more substantive dinner. I have however experimented with having heavier and/or more protein-rich breakfasts as protein in the morning apparently keeps you fuller, and this has usually worked well for me. I do find that surprisingly small portions keep me going until mid afternoon for much longer than I’d expect if I add something like a tablespoon of almond butter to enrich them.


Bacon, eggs, toast - not a typical weekday meal

Bacon, eggs, toast – not a typical weekday meal

This isn’t a typical weekday breakfast for me, but we had a few rashers of leftover good-quality bacon in the fridge, and I occasionally have eggs in the morning as I’m trying to increase my protein intake, so I decided to put the bacon to good use. The slice of wholemeal bread is unbuttered and perfect for dipping into the egg yolk – I have the yolk as runny as humanly possible.



I have a mug of black tea with a teaspoon of honey every morning.


An egg, prosciutto, toast. Imagine the tea

An egg, prosciutto, toast. Imagine the tea

Similar to Monday’s breakfast, but with the last egg in the fridge…and this time making good use of some leftover prosciutto a friend brought us when she came round. (I have good friends).


A chocolate smoothie - spinach hidden

A chocolate smoothie – spinach hidden. And tea

Smoothies are all the rage, though I struggle to drink those kale, blueberry and maca powder concoctions so praised for their health benefits. Although this recipe does contain the usual suspects like spinach and coconut water, it’s cleverly disguised as a chocolate smoothie (using raw cacao powder, of course). The flavour is very good; it tastes rich, creamy and indulgent, despite not containing any dairy and, most shockingly to a smoothie sceptic like myself, it did actually keep me full until lunchtime, probably because of the addition of almond butter and chia seeds. The only sweetener in this is a banana – I let mine get very ripe indeed before using and this was sweet enough for me, but you could add a little maple syrup or honey to taste if you prefer it a little sweeter. I based this on a recipe found on Gym Bags and Glad Rags and have made it many times. My version below.

Spinach and coconut water chocolate smoothie

  • 1 banana
  • 20-30g baby leaf spinach (the more spinach you use, the less chocolatey it will taste and the muddier it will look. I prefer 20g)
  • 10g raw cacao powder (about 2 TBS if you can’t be bothered with the scales. I use the Bioglan brand of cacao powder)
  • 6g chia seeds (1 TBS)
  • 1 TBS smooth almond butter
  • 120ml unsweetened coconut water
  1. Put all of the ingredients together in your blender and mix until smooth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Healthy, Quick, Recipes


Tags: , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers