Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Witches' Fingers

I felt that a little something was needed to celebrate Halloween so here are my witches' fingers. As you can see from the photos, the witches in question were rather more voluptuously shaped than the ones we are used to seeing in fairy tales which makes their plump fingers somewhat less scary than the more traditional long, thin digits. However, the bleeding, severed fingers look suitably macabre for Halloween, I feel and I particularly like the yellow, thickened almond fingernails. For a more grotesque effect, you could add some green food colouring to the dough.

I'm sending this over to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge, Made with Love Mondays.


RECIPE (from GialloZafferano)

280g plain flour
100g icing sugar
100g cold butter, diced
1 egg
1 level teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt (only if using unsalted butter)
a teaspoon vanilla extract

whole blanched almonds for the fingernails
raspberry/strawberry jam for visual effects

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend with the blade attached until the mixture starts to come together to form a paste. (If you don't have a food processor, just rub the butter into the dry ingredients, then add the egg and mix well until combined).

Turn the mixture out onto a board and work it with your hands until you have a smooth ball of dough. Break off a portion of dough and roll into a long, thin finger shape. Place an almond on the tip, shaping the finger around it. Using the back of a knife or a toothpick, make wrinkles under the nail and on the knuckle area.

Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the fingers on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake for about 20-25 mins or until the fingers are pale gold.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Chocolate and Pumpkin Cake

I feel I must start with an apology - this is the second chocolate cake I have written about in less than a month (click here for mini chocolate cakes with nutella cream). However, as the cakes are completely different in terms of taste, texture and when you would want to eat them, I think that its inclusion here is justified. The seasonal use of pumpkin is another reason for adding it to October's recipes.

Although most people are familiar with pumpkin in tarts and pies, it may seem an odd ingredient in a cake. However, please don't be alarmed. This cake is wonderful, combining a fudgy, moist texture and a rich, chocolatey flavour with a hint of spiciness thanks to the pumpkin. It is not overly sweet and although it looks quite dense, it actually isn't. It is perfect as an Italian breakfast cake or as a mid-morning/mid-afternoon snack with a cup of coffee and it keeps brilliantly. It is quite a plain-looking cake but I rather like that. You could ice it though with a vanilla scented cream cheese icing, the sort you would use on a carrot cake.

The origins of this cake lie in Mantova, a fairy-tale city that seems to rise out of the lakes that surround it. It is at its best at this time of year when the mist adds an ethereal quality and with both the tourists and mosquitoes gone, you can wander freely around the magical, historic centre, stopping for an espresso in a cafe on the cobbled square. The region is famous for pumpkins - you find them in everything, from the famous tortelli, where they are used, along with crushed amaretti, to make the filling to pies, cakes and biscuits.

I'm sending this over to We Should Cocoa, the monthly blogging challenge, started by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and Chele of Chocolate Tea Pot, which each month selects an ingredient or theme to be paired with chocolate. This month's theme is Pumpkin, hosted by Hungry Hinny.

I'm also sending it to Nazima (formerly of Working London Mummy) at her wonderful new home Franglais Kitchen. She is this month's host of The One Ingredient Challenge (Pumpkin and Squash), run jointly with Laura at How to Cook Good Food. She is also hosting the Simple and In Season challenge, run by Ren of Fabulicious Food.


Last but not least, I'm sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge, Made with Love Mondays.



350-400g pumpkin, after removing skin and seeds, roughly chopped
200g self raising flour
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
100g butter, melted
40g cocoa powder

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 24cm diameter

Start by making the pumpkin puree. Place the chopped, skinless, seedless pumpkin in a steamer and steam for about 30 mins or until soft. Blend (or mash) to a smooth puree.

Put the eggs in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk (preferably not by hand!) until thick and voluminous.

Sieve in the flour and cocoa powder and mix gently. Then add the melted butter and the pumpkin puree, whisking all the time until everything is smoothly amalgamated.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 45-50 mins. If it starts to burn on top, cover loosely with foil.

Leave to cool for about 20 mins before turning out of the tin onto a wire rack.

Serve dusted thickly with icing sugar.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Puglian Broad Bean dip - Purea di Fave

Months ago, GL's parents gave us a precious bag of dried, skinned, split broad beans from Puglia, precious because I have yet to find these pale skinned beans in the UK. Once a staple of la cucina povera, 'peasant cooking', made into a puree and traditionally served with a boiled green vegetable, it is now more often found gracing the tables of chic local restaurants as part of the groaning antipasti table or served instead of the pasta course, as a primo. Don't be put off by the simplicity of the recipe - although the beans in their pallid, wrinkled, uncooked state don't seem to promise anything good, the transformation that takes place with what is basically no more than the addition of water and an onion is incredible. The puree is creamy and satisfying, with the subtle taste of the beans taking centre stage. It really is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I had intended to cook this months ago in my first flush of enthusiasm after receiving the beans. However, the need for overnight soaking meant that I couldn't just cook them whenever I felt like it and they gradually got pushed to the back of the cupboard. It was with joy then that my hand fell upon these as I was having a rummage in order to (finally) participate in this month's Random Recipes Challenge from Belleau Kitchen, Store cupboard Finds. Unfortunately, I know that only one of my cookery books has recipes using dried broad beans - La Cucina Salentina, a small publication I bought whilst last on holiday in Puglia. It has two recipes using this ingredient, a soup and this puree - I opted for the puree as I have always wanted to try making it at home and I must say, I was not disappointed. My only problem now is where to get more of these elusive beans...

RECIPE - taken from La Cucina Salentina

400g dried, skinned, split broad beans
1 small onion, sliced
extra virgin olive oil

Rinse the beans, put them in a large bowl or pan and cover them with cold water. Leave to soak overnight or for at least 10 hours.

Drain the beans and rinse them again under the tap. Place in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil over a medium heat, skimming off the foam as it rises to the surface. Add the sliced onion, lower the heat and part cover. Cook at a gentle simmer for about one hour, topping up with hot water if the beans start to run dry. When the beans are very soft and starting to disintegrate, remove from the heat and season with 1-2 teaspoons of salt.

Leave to cool slightly and then puree the beans with a stick blender until smooth or the consistency that you prefer - I like them with a bit of texture. Stir in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and add a little water if you prefer a looser puree. Adjust the seasoning to taste. I also add some dried chilli flakes.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some wilted spinach or with warm toasted bread if you prefer the non-traditional route.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Chilli Jam

I have always loved the idea of having a larder stocked with home-made jams, preserves and chutneys but in reality, the demands of a full-time job don't leave me much time for this type of cooking. However, since moving into our new house a few years ago, I have managed to make at least a few jars of chutney each year, spurred on by a reluctance to waste the windfalls from my apple and pear trees if I didn't. The whole operation of chutney-making was so much simpler than I had imagined (apart from my almost OCD obsessiveness about sterilising the jars) that I was encouraged to try my hand at some other preserves.

Although marmellata di peperoncino originally comes from Calabria, famous for its powerful chillies, I first tried this chilli jam in a trattoria in Tuscany. It was one of those rustic places, without pretension, all wooden tables and brown paper mats, serving plain but delicious local food. We had platters of Tuscan meats and cheeses - cinta senese (a rare breed of pig from the Siena area) salami, wafer thin slices of finocchiona, a wonderfully scented salami flavoured with fennel seeds, silky slices of lardo di Colonnata produced from pigs that dine on acorns and chestnuts served on chunks of warm toasted bread, ash-covered wedges of pecorino from Pienza ... The chilli jam accompanied the cheeses and it was perfect, not only, as I had expected, with the more mature ones but also combining wonderfully with the young, fresh pecorino.

My version comes from Nigella's Christmas book. I have tried others but this is my favourite - it's so simple yet yielding fabulous results. I love the clear, vibrant red jelly, with its fragments of chilli floating inside. Don't save it just for the cheese board though - it goes wonderfully with bacon sandwiches, burgers cooked on the barbecue, grilled chicken, cold meats...

You can find Nigella's recipe here (

Tea Time Treats Blogging Challenge

I'm sending this over to the amazingly alliterative monthly blogging challenge Tea Time Treats hosted by Karen (of the inspirational Lavender and Lovage) and Kate (from mouth-watering What Kate Baked)  - the theme is Jam, Chutneys, Curds and Conserves. Kate is this month's host and having seen both her entry and Karen's, I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic round-up!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Mini Chocolate Cakes with Nutella Cream

Mini chocolate cakes with Nutella Cream
It is a truth universally acknowledged (sorry, but October is the time of my annual rereading of Pride and Prejudice) that everybody loves chocolate cake and these little, individual sized ones are impossible to resist. The cake part is a standard chocolate sponge but the thing that makes these a real winner is the nutella cream sandwiched in the middle. It looks and tastes like a chocolate crème patissière that you've been slaving away over for the best part of an hour but is actually whipped up in less than a minute and is nothing more than nutella mixed with mascarpone. I know it sounds odd but it really works and I speak as someone who is not a great fan of either - I mean, I eat both mascarpone and nutella when the occasion requires but I don't go wild over them (unlike several of my acquaintances).

I made the mini chocolate cakes by baking the mixture in two round 18 cm cake tins, then just cutting out circles with a scone cutter when the cake had cooled, slicing them in half and sandwiching with the cream. You could of course leave it as a normal sized cake, slicing each disc in half and then layering it all up with the nutella cream.

As this month's letter is 'N' in the brilliant Alphabakes challenge by Ros (this month's host) from TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker and Caroline at Caroline Makes, I'm sending this as my entry. I always enjoy seeing what everyone comes up with for this imaginative challenge!

For the cake
Weigh 3 eggs in their shells, then measure out the same weight of:
caster sugar
self raising flour, minus 50g
50g cocoa powder

For the cream - this quantity makes enough for one layer of filling
150g mascarpone
100g nutella
a few drops vanilla extract

Two 18cm cake tins, greased and base lined with baking parchment.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C .
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each addition. Fold in the sifted flour and cocoa powder.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tins. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a cake-tester (be it a knitting needle, metal skewer or anything else you might use) comes out clean.
Leave in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool.
While the cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the cream. Just put the mascarpone into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the nutella and the vanilla extract and keep whisking until it's all mixed together.
When the cake is cool, use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Split them in half and sandwich with the nutella cream.

Before serving, dust with icing sugar. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Chocolate and Chilli Mousse

A sixties bistro classic, chocolate mousse has endured the vagaries of culinary fashion to become a perennial favourite. This is a classic version with a modern twist in the form of chilli.

I've tried lots of recipes for chocolate mousse over the years, some with butter, others with cream, but I don't think you can beat the simplicity of the original French version - just chocolate and eggs. You can add any flavours you like to this basic recipe - vanilla, coffee, brandy, it's really up to you. I personally love the subtle kick of chilli that comes through the intense, rich chocolate.

This is the one place that I don't use chocolate with more than 70%  cocoa solids as it is much harder to incorporate into the egg whites and has a tendency to turn grainy. In fact I find that a dark chocolate with about 50% cocoa solids is about right here - it mixes in perfectly and the extra sweetness works well because the recipe doesn't include any sugar.

I love this with some extra thick double cream spooned over the top - the bland, cool cream is a perfect foil for the rich, spicy mousse.

RECIPE - serves 4 normal-sized portions or 8 mini ones (see photo)

200g dark chocolate (see note above)
4 eggs, separated
a pinch of chilli flakes (see note above)

Begin by melting the chocolate. You can do this in the microwave (just go gently) or in the traditional way by breaking the chocolate into pieces and putting in a bowl over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. When the chocolate begins to melt, turn the heat off. Stir until smooth.

Beat the egg yolks and add them to the melted chocolate while it's still hot. Mix thoroughly. At this point you can add the chilli flakes or any other flavours you're using.

Whisk the egg whites into soft peaks. Spoon about a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix and whisk in. Fold the rest very gently into the mixture until just combined (be careful not to overmix), and then put into bowls or glasses and refrigerate for at least four hours until set.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Pear, prosciutto and blue cheese salad

This salad is perfect for autumn; it's still (just) warm enough to want to eat salads but this also provides the big, hearty flavours that I start to long for at this time of year, making you feel full and satisfied.

Pears, blue cheese and prosciutto are a classic combination that never fails to please so this salad is worth bearing in mind for a quick starter if you've got friends coming over for dinner. It works really well as a lunch dish too. A delicious vegetarian version can be made with minimal fuss - just dispense with the prosciutto (obviously) and sprinkle over some roughly chopped walnuts.

A note on ingredients - I used Perl Las when I last made this - it's an organic cheese from Carmarthenshire with a strong but creamy flavour and those unmistakable blue overtones. It works particularly well in sauces and salads but you can substitute it with any strong blue cheese you happen to have. The best pears to use are the harder variety ones here; this is not the place for very ripe, mushy pears. My favourite ones in salads are Conference pears.

As you can see from the photo, it does have an undeniable 'eighties' look to it. However, I don't think that this is anything I should apologise for - it tastes great and that's what counts.

I'm sending this over to Nazima and Pierre at their wonderful new blog, Franglais Kitchen - they're hosting this month's Simple and In Season challenge, started by Ren from Fabulicious Food.

RECIPE - serves 4 as a starter

2 pears
100g prosciutto
50g blue cheese
50g single cream
Salad leaves

Wash the pears and cut into quarters, removing the core. Then cut each quarter in half again, giving you eighths.
Wrap prosciutto round each segment of pear - I find that half a slice of prosciutto is enough for one segment.
Melt the cheese and cream gently in a pan, being careful not to let it boil. It should be a pouring consistency - if it's too thick you can add a little milk or even water to thin it slightly.
Put a handful of salad leaves on a plate, arrange the prosciutto-wrapped pears on top and then drizzle over the sauce. It doesn't need any salt because of the blue cheese.