Thursday, 25 April 2013

Honey, Almond and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Almond, Honey and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Last September, a colleague of mine who lives on Anglesey, gave me some of her wonderful honey. It's pale gold with a beautiful floral scent and delicate taste. Although most of it went very quickly, I managed to keep some of it back, as I have been wanting to try baking with honey for some time.

While I was at university, I was lucky enough to live for a year in the beautiful city of Dijon. As well as having fond memories of the famous mustard (I lived opposite the Amora factory and was often greeted by the overwhelming smell of vinegar whenever I opened my window), the local speciality of pain d'├ępice featured largely in any social visits during my time there. It's a lightly-spiced cake, heavy with honey but like so many traditional cake recipes, it has quite a dry texture. Nice though it is (and it certainly goes very well with a glass or two of something sparkling), I wanted my first foray into baking with honey to be rather more elegant, with subtle flavours, suitable perhaps for a genteel tea.

These honey, almond and white chocolate fairy cakes were what I came up with and I have to say that they did live up to my expectations. The honey gives them a delicate perfume and the almonds add a pleasing crunch. They are topped with a ganache made of white chocolate which would not be my usual choice but I felt that white chocolate would work better with the dainty, understated flavours of the cake.

As this month's letter is 'A' 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'm also entering it into the Tea Time Treats Challenge, with the theme of Fairy Cakes, Muffins and Cupcakes , run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage  and Kate (this month's host) from What Kate Baked

As this month's challenge is Honey, I'm also entering these fairy cakes into April's We Should Cocoa challenge started and hosted by Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog and Chele from Chocolate Teapot

RECIPE - makes 12 cupcakes

  • For the cakes
120g softened butter
100g caster sugar
120g self raising flour
half a teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50 g chopped, blanched almonds
  • For the ganache 
100ml double cream
200g good quality white chocolate, chopped


12-bun muffin tin lined with 12 cupcake or muffin papers

 Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and honey
Sieve the flour and baking powder and fold in. Lastly, fold in the chopped almonds.

Spoon the mixture in to the cases, filling each case as equally as possible.

Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins or until the cakes are cooked and golden brown on top.

Remove from the oven. Take the cakes out of the tin as soon as you can and leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the ganache, heat the cream gently until almost but not quite boiling and pour over the chopped chocolate. Leave to stand for a minute or two and then stir until all the chocolate is melted. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes so that it thickens slightly which makes it easier to use. 

When the cakes are completely cold, spread thickly with the ganache. 

Honey, Almond and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Friday, 19 April 2013

Roasted Pepper and Ricotta Pasta

Pasta with Peppers and Ricotta

A staple of Italian cuisine, peppers are incredibly versatile. When roasted  they become sweet, soft and smoky but I love them raw too, so crunchy and refreshing, although you rarely find them in their uncooked state in Italy as they're considered highly indigestible. As an aside, the Italian word for peppers is peperoni which I thought worth mentioning here in case of any confusion when ordering a pizza in Italy; pizza con peperoni is a pizza with peppers, if you want US style 'Pepperoni Pizza', then you should  ask for pizza con salame piccante. Just thought it might be useful...

In this pasta recipe, the peppers are roasted and peeled before being blended with ricotta to form a thick creamy sauce which is then added to some softened onion, fresh tomatoes and chilli. The tomatoes provide a nice acidity which works well with the smooth, rich sauce and chilli gives a little kick.

This month's One Ingredient Challenge, started by Laura of How to Cook Good Food and Nazima from Franglais Kitchen, is Cheese so I'm sending this over to Nazima who is the host for April. I absolutely love cheese so can't wait to see the round up at the end of the month!

One Ingredient April  Cheese

As the theme is Chilli, I'm also sending this to Shaheen for Allotment 2 Kitchen who is April's host of Pasta Please, a wonderful challenge started by Jac from Tinned Tomatoes.

2 red peppers
100g ricotta
half a fresh chilli, finely chopped
half an onion
100g cherry tomatoes
4-5 tablespoons olive oil

300-400g pasta, any shape you want

Start by roasting the peppers. Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature and put the peppers in whole, on a greased baking tray. Leave for about 25 mins, turning occasionally. The skins should be blackened and starting to peel away. Remove from the oven and put them in a plastic bag to cool before peeling them and eliminating the seeds and core.

Place the peppers in a food processor with some salt, the ricotta and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary and adjust the seasoning.

Cook the pasta in a boiling salted water.

In the meantime, finely chop the onion and cook gently in a frying pan in a  little olive oil until softened. Add the chilli and cook for a further few minutes. Halve the cherry tomatoes and add them to the onion and chilli, tossing them briefly together for a minute or so.

Add the pepper and ricotta sauce, mix everything gently together and leave on the heat for a few minutes to warm through. If it's all looking a bit thick, add some of the pasta water to thin it slightly. When the pasta is al dente, drain and mix everything together well.

Serve with some freshly grated parmesan.

Roasted Pepper and Ricotta Pasta

Monday, 15 April 2013

Cod with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers - Merluzzo alla Livornese

Cod with tomatoes, olives and capers

While I think that traditional fish and chips has its place, I certainly don't think that deep-frying cod in this way shows off the firm, flaky texture to its best advantage. In this recipe for Livorno-style cod, the fish is simmered gently in white wine with fresh tomatoes, black olives and capers. The addition of garlic and oregano gives added depth of flavour. Like so many fish dishes, this is simple to prepare, healthy and full of flavour. The end result is a real taste of the Mediterranean with beautifully cooked cod, firm yet moist, and a wonderful, rich sauce from the wine, olive oil and herbs that develops while cooking. I tend to serve this with just a simple green salad and some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices. 

This post is making its way over to one of my favourite challenges, Herbs on Saturday, created by Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage.

Herbs on Saturday

I'm also sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.

RECIPE - serves 2 

400-500g cod loin or fillet, as thick as possible
plain flour
2 teaspoons dried oregano 
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 onion
8 black olives, halved
1 tablespoon capers
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
250 ml dry white wine
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, roughly chopped

Finely chop the onion and sweat gently in a large frying pan (one with a lid) for about 7 minutes in a tablespoon of the olive oil until translucent but not coloured. 

While the onion is cooking, you can prepare the fish. Cut the cod so that you have about 4 smaller fillets. Sprinkle the dried oregano over the cod, pressing it in slightly. Repeat on the other side. Put some flour onto a plate, season with salt and pepper, then flour the cod on both sides, knocking off the excess. 

When the onion is soft, remove from the frying pan with a slotted spoon. Add a little more olive oil to the pan and turn up the heat to medium. Add the cod and brown on both sides until a nice, golden colour. 

Put the softened onion back in the pan with the cod and add the wine, olives, tomatoes and capers. Put the lid on and cook over a low-medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the cod is cooked but still moist.

Add the fresh oregano and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with crusty bread. 

Merluzzo alla Livornese

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ina Garten's German Chocolate Cupcakes

German Chocolate Cupcakes

There are so many different recipes for chocolate cake out there that it's difficult to choose a favourite. I suppose it depends on the occasion and what you fancy at the time of baking. Of the intense, rich recipes that use real chocolate in the batter, I love Nigel Slater's Chocolate Espresso Cake from quite an old book of his, Real Food. The cake is moist inside with a slightly crisp exterior which is simply heavenly. And I was really pleased with the chocolate and pumpkin cake I made last year. The recipe I use most often though is just a classic sponge recipe with cocoa replacing some of the flour, you can find the recipe for a mini version filled with a nutella cream here.

Considering this wealth of recipes, I wasn't particularly tempted to try these cupcakes from Ina Garten when I came across them in her book Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. I was also put off by the long list of ingredients. However, when I peered into the fridge and realised that I had a carton of buttermilk and half a tub of sour cream that desperately needed using up, I thought I'd give them a try.

Reader, I loved them.

The cupcakes are intensely chocolatey and so moist as to defy belief. They immediately became my absolute favourite recipe for individual chocolate cakes although I don't know if the mixture would work as a whole, large cake, I suspect it would sink in the middle. That's by the bye though - these are perfect as they are. I didn't however top the cupcakes with the coconut frosting that Ina suggests, delicious though it sounds. I preferred to use a classic cream cheese icing and it worked perfectly, the smooth sweet icing providing a perfect foil to the rich, dark centre.

As I followed the recipe for the cakes exactly, I'm not going to reproduce it in this post but you can find it here. Below, I've included the recipe for the cream cheese icing I used.

As this month's Tea Time Treats theme is Fairy Cakes, Muffins and Cupcakes, I'm happily sending this along to Kate from What Kate Baked (congratulations on turning 2!) who hosts this fabulous challenge along with Karen from the always inspirational Lavender and Lovage.


  • For the cake, click here

For the icing

100g cream cheese, at room temperature
200g sifted icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Beat the cream cheese and vanilla essence together with an electric whisk until smooth. Add the icing sugar in three batches, whisking in each batch before adding the next. Put aside in the fridge to set a little otherwise it will be too runny to ice the cakes.

Ina Garten Chocolate Cupcakes