Saturday, 24 October 2015

Witches Hats

Witches Hats

Now these are admittedly a little wonky and battered but I was basing them on the hats that a classic Disney witch or the Wicked Witch of the West would wear, or even the Harry Potter sorting hat, something that has seen a lot of action anyway. At least that's my excuse for the rather untidy chocolate exterior...

They would make an ideal addition to any Halloween party, whether for children or adults although if you are making them for children consider using milk chocolate instead of dark. Apart from anything else, they're really delicious with their chocolatey biscuit base and the rich ganache used to make the pointy part. Yes, they are slightly fiddly to make but there's nothing intrinsically difficult and children can help with all stages, from rolling out the biscuits to the very messy job of covering the whole hat with melted chocolate. 

Orange and/or Black is the theme for this month’s Treat Petite, so I am sending these to CakeyBoi who is this month's host and The Baking Explorer.

I’m also sending these off to Karen at Lavender and Lovage for Tea Time Treats as I think they are suitably goulish and spooky for the Halloween theme! This is co-hosted by Janie at The Hedge Combers.

Tea Time Treats


For the biscuits

150g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
65g icing sugar
75g cold butter, diced
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

100ml double cream
125g dark chocolate
10g butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g dark chocolate for covering

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Start by making the biscuit base. Sieve all the dry ingredients together and put in a food processor together with the diced butter. Pulse until the mixture looks like sand. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix on high speed until the mixture comes together to form a ball.

Tip out onto a work surface and bring it all together into a ball, wrap it in cling film and leave in the fridge for half an hour.

In the meantime, you can make the ganache. Heat the double cream and butter until just simmering, then remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until it has all melted and then whisk until it gets thicker. Leave to cool.

Remove the biscuit base from the fridge and roll out to about half a centimetre thick. Cut out about 8 large discs (about 6 or 7 cm diameter) and 8 smaller ones (about 3 cm diameter). Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. 

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Put the ganache into a piping bag with a large star nozzle. When the biscuits are cool, pipe the ganache onto the smaller biscuits, making a tall cone shape. Make sure that the ganache is anchored firmly to the biscuit base. Put into the fridge to cool.

Now for the fiddly bit. Melt the chocolate. Dip the large biscuits (one side only) into the melted chocolate, then repeat with the small biscuits with the pointy tops, making sure that they are completely covered with chocolate. Then place the small biscuits carefully onto the centre of the large ones and leave to cool on a wire rack, so that when the chocolate has solidified, the two parts are stuck firmly together. 

Decorate if you wish with star shapes, liquorice laces tied round like ribbon or anything else that takes your fancy. 

Witches Hat biscuits

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Vanilla Panna Cotta with fresh blueberry sauce

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is my go-to dessert for entertaining gluten-free friends. It doesn't require any tinkering because it's already naturally gluten-free and as it can all be prepared the day before, it makes for a very easy pudding. 

I've talked before about how I never choose panna cotta in restaurants because I find them all too solid and rubbery. This recipe is different however; I use just enough gelatine to allow it to set, but it still has a glorious wobble. I find the all-cream versions too heavy; the perfect ratio for me is half milk (full-fat of course) and half double cream. However, if you prefer a creamier version, just up the cream to 300 ml and reduce the milk to 200 ml. See the recipe for a note about the sugar too.

The crowning glory is the blueberry sauce. Heating the fruit with a little water, sugar and lemon juice so that it releases those wonderful, purple juices transforms what is quite a bland fruit into a beautifully flavoured sauce that complements the creamy panna cotta perfectly.


250ml double cream
250ml full-fat milk
60-70g caster sugar (I use 60g as I don't like it too sweet but you can increase the amount of sugar if you prefer)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4g gelatine leaves

For the blueberry sauce
100g blueberries
2 teaspoons sugar
juice of half a lemon
grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon water

Put the gelatine sheets in cold water to soak.

Put the milk, cream, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it's just about to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the squeezed-out gelatine. 

Pour into small moulds and leave to set in the fridge overnight. 

The blueberry sauce can be made the day before too. Just put all the ingredients (blueberries, water, lemon juice and zest, sugar) in a saucepan and heat gently for about 10 minutes until the blueberries are soft. Strain through a sieve, squashing the fruit so the pulp goes into the sauce, leaving just the skins behind. 

To serve, run a knife around the panna cotta before inverting onto a plate. Serve with the sauce and a few fresh blueberries if you like.

panna cotta with blueberry sauce

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pasta with Walnut Sauce

Pasta with walnut sauce

Autumn has arrived so I thought I'd mark the occasion with this wonderful pasta dish. Walnut sauce (salsa di noci) originates from Liguria and is traditionally prepared in autumn when the nuts are harvested. It has a delicate taste but is rich and filling at the same time, perfect for colder evenings, with the added benefit of being full of healthy omega-3.

Every village and town has a slightly different way of making the sauce but all recipes include bread and milk. I've used the sauce with penne here but you can use any pasta you want really; in Liguria, it's usually served with filled pasta. 

As it's a great way of using up leftover bread and milk, I'm sending this over to Foodie Quine, this month's host of No Waste Food Challenge, overseen by Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Kitchen.

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary                         Credit Crunch Munch
I'm also entering it into Credit Crunch Munch, co-hosted by Camilla At Fab Food 4 All and Helen over at Fuss Free Flavours. 


30g bread, without crusts (you can use white, wholemeal, or whatever you happen to have)
160ml whole milk
160g shelled walnuts
1 clove garlic
20g pine nuts
30g parmesan, grated
4g marjoram
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Start by roughly tearing up the bread and place in a bowl with the milk, leaving it to soak.

Put all the other ingredients (walnuts, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, marjoram and oil) in a food processor and whizz together until smooth. 

Remove the bread from the milk, squeezing out any excess and add to the food processor. Pulse to mix everything together. 

Add salt to taste and thin it down with the leftover milk if you think it's too thick.

Serve with any kind of cooked pasta. It's also nice spread on toasted bread.

Pasta con salsa di noci

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Ricotta and Chocolate Cake

Chocolate and Ricotta Cake

It may sound unusual to use ricotta in a cake batter in this way but it really works and goes so well with the chocolate. The texture of the cake is completely different from a normal sponge cake base; the ricotta makes it denser certainly but don't be alarmed - it's not at all heavy and stays beautifully moist. It cuts and travels well which makes it perfect for summer picnics or to take on a walk as a well-deserved snack. It also lasts for a couple of days so you can make it the day before without compromising flavour or freshness. 

This cake is my submission to Choclette’s long-running We Should Cocoa challenge, which is being hosted this month by Choclette herself. The theme is Anything Goes. You can find details of the challenge and past entries over at Choclette's fantastic, relatively new home Tin and Thyme where she blogs not only about chocolate but also Cornish life and food. 

Torta di Cioccolato e Ricotta

This also fits in neatly with Karen's Tea Time Treats challenge, over at Lavender and Lovage. The theme is Summer Holiday Baking and as I mentioned before, the portability of this cake makes it ideal for a picnic or indeed a camping trip, both staples of a summer holiday. You can read co-host Janie's wonderful July line-up over at Hedgecombers

Tea Time TreatsTea Time Treats August

Finally, I'm sending this over to Jibber Jabber's Love Cake challenge as the theme this month is Pack me a Picnic. 

Love Cake logo

250g ricotta
100g caster sugar
3 eggs
250g self raising flour
80g butter, melted and cooled slightly
120g dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and flour a round cake tin, 22cm diameter

Start by creaming together the ricotta and the sugar. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.

Remove one tablespoon of flour and sieve the rest. Fold the sieved flour gently in to the ricotta mixture. Beat in the cooled, melted butter and the vanilla extract. Finally, add the reserved tablespoon of flour to the chopped chocolate (this stops it from sinking to the bottom of the cake) and mix roughly before folding into the batter.  

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30-35 mins or until the cake is cooked and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 

Ricotta and Chocolate Cake

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta

Broad bean bruschetta

Broad beans (sometimes known as fava beans) have only a short season (end of May to mid-July) so it makes sense to use these sweet, creamy beans whenever you can. The inspiration for this recipe came from a holiday in Puglia when we ate raw, just-picked broad beans with some ricotta that we had got freshly made from a local farmer, so fresh in fact that it was still warm when we got it home. It was a memorable lunch. 

These long summer days lend themselves to this kind of food, a simple bruschetta with gorgeously fresh broad beans, creamy ricotta, finished with mint and some sea salt. It's quick to prepare, satisfying, with flavours that sing of summer. Oh, and to do it full justice, it really needs to be eaten outdoors, in the garden, on a sunny afternoon. Summer perfection. 

I'm sending this over to Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking with Herbs challenge, which consistently showcases delicious recipes featuring a whole array of herbs. 

Cooking with Herbs for July: BBQ Herbs - Rosemary and Thyme


I'm not giving weights and quantities here as they're very much up to you but what you need are:

fresh broad beans
fresh mint
extra virgin olive oil

First, prepare the broad beans. Remove the beans from their pods and boil in non-salted water (the salt makes them tough) for about 2 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of cold water. I double pod the beans for this bruschetta but it's up to you. I quite enjoy doing it, using my nail to slit the skin and then squeezing out the bright green bean inside. 

Lightly toast whatever bread you are using under the grill and leave to cool slightly before spreading with some ricotta. Tumble over the broad beans and scatter with roughly chopped mint. Add a drizzle of olive oil and finish with some sea salt.

Broad bean, mint and ricotta bruschetta

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Penne with Asparagus and Ricotta

Asparagus and Ricotta Pasta

A surfeit of meat whilst on holiday in Austria last week and some sunny weather have left me longing for light, summery dishes. Asparagus fits the bill perfectly and is still in season so I decided to try to come up with a pasta dish, rather than the usual asparagus risotto that is frequently seen at this time of year.

There are basically only three ingredients - asparagus, ricotta and a shallot and yet it worked beautifully as a pasta sauce. The delicate flavour of the asparagus wasn't overpowered by the ricotta and the shallot just added a gentle kick. Add a sprinkling of parsley and a generous grating of parmesan and you've got a wonderfully quick, fresh, delicious supper. 

I'm sending this over to Jaqueline's (from Tinned Tomatoes) monthly challenge, Pasta Please, hosted this month by Lucy over at BakingQueen74

pasta please

200g green asparagus
100g ricotta
1 shallot

handful of fresh parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil

300-400g pasta, any shape you want

Wash the asparagus, then cut off the tips and set them aside. Boil the spears in lightly salted water for about 5-7 minutes - they need to be much softer than when eating them on their own as they are going to be blended with the ricotta. 

Place the asparagus spears in a food processor with some salt, pepper, the ricotta and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend until smooth.

Blanch the asparagus tips for about 1 minute in boiling water (I usually just throw them into the water I've got boiling for the pasta), then fish them out and leave to drain. 

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water.

In the meantime, finely chop the shallot and cook gently in a frying pan with the rest of the olive oil until softened.

Add the asparagus and ricotta sauce, the blanched asparagus tips and mix everything gently together, leaving on the heat for a few minutes to warm through. Chop the parsley roughly and add it to the sauce. If it looks too 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 freshly grated parmesan.

Penne with Asparagus and Ricotta

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

La Pastiera Napoletana - Neapolitan Easter Tart

Pastiera is a traditional tart from Naples, with a crisp pastry case and a rich, creamy, sweet filling made from ricotta, cooked wheat, eggs, spices and candied peel. Its origins go back along way; in pagan Naples, this tart was made to celebrate the coming of Spring but now firmly belongs to the Easter festivities. The name comes from the word 'pasta' which is what was originally used in the filling instead of the cooked wheat.

The wheat now comes in a tin, ready cooked and prepared just for making this wonderful tart. If you live near an Italian deli, you should be able to buy it easily. If not, you can find it online, called 'Grano Cotto' and it usually says 'per pastiera'.

This isn't something you can make and bake in a hurry; there's a long list of ingredients and it's quite time-consuming to prepare. However, it's not difficult and your reward is a wonderful, rich tart that feels suitably celebratory. It easily serves 8-10 people, perfect for dessert on Easter day.

Love Cake logoAs the theme is Step into Spring, I'm sending this to the Love Cake challenge, run by JibberJabberUK.

  • For the pastry
250g plain flour
125g butter
80g icing sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • For the filling
350g ricotta
300g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
100g candied peel
1 tesapoon cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon
30g butter
200ml milk
250g cooked wheat 
1 vanilla pod
25ml orange flower water

For the pastry, chop the butter and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Take it out and put it into a food processor together with all the other pastry ingredients except the egg and egg yolk. With the double blade attachment, whizz until the mixture is the size of small peas. Then add the egg and egg yolk and pulse until it just starts coming together. Dump out onto a board and form the mixture into a ball, flatten it down a little, wrap in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 mins. 

While the pastry is chilling, you can make a start on the filling. In a saucepan, heat the milk, cooked wheat, lemon zest and butter together until it starts to simmer. Keep it simmering gently until it is thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and leave the mixture to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the pastry out thinly and use it to line a 25cm round, loose-bottomed tin, leaving some to create a lattice effect on the top of the tart. Put it back in the fridge for at least 10 minutes while you continue with the filling. 

In a food processor, whizz together the eggs, ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla seeds (scraped out of the pod) and orange flower water until you have a smooth liquid without any lumps.

Add the two mixtures together and finally fold in the candied peel. Pour the mixture carefully into the prepared pastry case and cover the top with a pastry lattice. The filling should come almost up to the top. Brush the lattice lightly with egg wash.

Bake in the oven at 200°C for 60 minutes until the tart is puffed and golden. 

Leave to cool in the tin.

Keep in a cake tin in a cool place for about two days before eating.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Deeply Chocolate Layer Cake

This is not a cake for those who are indifferent to chocolate. No, this is a cake for serious chocolate lovers; those with more delicate tastes may even decide to steer clear. But if you like intense chocolate flavours, then you're in for a treat.

The buttermilk and oil-based sponge is moist and fudgy with the added bonus of being easy to make and slice. The layers are sandwiched together with a mascarpone and nutella cream and then the whole thing is covered with a rich chocolate glaze. 

It works because it's all well-balanced - the sponge has sharpness from the buttermilk and sweetness from golden syrup, the filling is saved from being too sugary thanks to the hazelnuts, and the glaze, made with chocolate, water and a little butter, is dark and intense. I used 70% chocolate for this as I wanted some bitterness to counteract the sweetness of the filling but if you don't want such an intense taste, use dark chocolate with a lower cocoa content. The filling (equal quantities of nutella and mascarpone) sounds unlikely but is actually quite wonderful, the two ingredients working together to give an almost crème pâtissière consistency. If you're a nutella lover, be warned - the stuff is addictive and even those who don't much like nutella won't be able to resist.

This cake is my submission to Choclette’s We Should Cocoa challenge, which is being hosted this month by Maison Cupcake. The theme is layer cakes. And congratulations to Choclette who has just moved from Chocolate Log Blog to a fantastic new blog home, Tin and Thyme - I look forward to reading more of her posts about Cornish life and food. 

175g self raising flour 
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
140g caster sugar
2 eggs 
150ml sunflower oil 
150ml buttermilk
2 tablespoons golden syrup 

For the filling
150g mascarpone, room temperature
150g nutella, room temperature
a few drops vanilla extract

For the glaze:
250g dark chocolate
50g butter, cut into cubes
125ml water

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 20cm diameter

Sieve together the flour, bicarb and cocoa into a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Add the sugar and mix. Add the oil, buttermilk, syrup and eggs and beat until smooth. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 35-40 mins or until the cake is cooked and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 

While the cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the filling and glaze. 

For the filling:
Just put the mascarpone, nutella and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Just make sure the ingredients aren't too cold otherwise they won't mix well. 

For the glaze:
Chop the chocolate and melt gently in the water until smooth, then beat in the butter. Cool until the icing is thick and spreadable.

When the cake is completely cold, cut carefully into three layers. Sandwich the layers together with the mascarpone and nutella cream, right up to the edges. Move to a wire rack and pour/spread with the chocolate glaze, covering top and sides completely. 

Leave to set.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Citrus and Honey Madeleines


The experience of tasting a madeleine, near the beginning of Swann's Way, is by far the most famous part of Marcel Proust's epic novel In Search of Lost Time. Even those who have never so much as opened a book by Proust are probably familiar with the episode: the author, as adult narrator, eats a madeleine dipped in tea, sparking memories of childhood afternoons at his aunt's home in Combray. 

The passage highlights the importance of the senses in jogging our memories and transporting us back to events and experiences in our past. Although madeleines never featured in my childhood, the smell of tea, the sound of china teacups clinking together gently on a tray and the smell of a cake baking in the oven (which I had baked with my mum earlier in the afternoon), take me straight back to Sunday afternoon tea when I was growing up - comforting, warm, cosy. 

And I am happy to report that even now, when I spend the weekend at home with my parents, Sunday tea is still served, with the same china teacups, on the same wooden tray and with a freshly-baked cake standing proudly on a flowered plate. Next time I might just make these madeleines to go with it though. 

It was actually Proust's mother who gave him the madeleine that provoked all his memories so I'm sending these to Treat Petite hosted alternately by Stuart from Cakeyboi (this month's host) and Kat from the Baking Explorer - the theme this month is Mum. 

Citrus Scented Madeleines


3 free-range eggs
150g caster sugar
175g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
8g baking powder
175g butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing
2g salt
10g honey

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. 

Brush the madeleine tray with melted butter then shake in a little flour to coat, tapping out the excess.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until frothy. 

Lightly whisk in the remaining ingredients. Leave to stand for 30 minutes before carefully pouring into the prepared madeleine tray.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture has risen a little in the middle and is fully cooked through. 

Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly. These are best eaten within an hour of cooking.

Orange and lemon madeleines

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bara Brith Spiced Shortbread for St Dwynwen's Day

Bara Brith Spiced Shortbread for St Dwynwen's Day

It's St. Dwynwen's Day today, the Welsh day of love. My celebrations are restrained - there are no tacky red hearts, no chocolates declaring 'Dwi'n dy garu di' (I love you in Welsh), no balloons professing undying love; I've opted instead for these understated but undeniably delicious shortbread hearts. The delicate spicing together with the sweet sultanas works very well and the biscuits themselves are light and crisp.

It's no coincidence that I've chosen shortbread for my inspiration as the 25th January is a double Celtic celebration. All over Scotland this evening, Burns Night festivities will be taking place so whether you're partying with haggis and whisky or having a romantic, candlelit dinner for two, these biscuits are the answer.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus - Slàinte!


110g plain flour
40g cornflour
100g butter, room temperature - I use salted butter but you can use unsalted if you prefer. I do think though that in that case, you should add a pinch of salt to the mixture.
50g caster sugar
50g sultanas
1 teaspoon mixed spice

Either by hand or in a mixer, mix the butter and sugar until combined. Sift the flour, mixed spice and cornflour together and then add to the butter mixture. Finally add the sultanas and mix until the dough comes together. Shape into a rough disk, wrap in clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes. 

Flour a work surface and roll the dough out thinly. Cut out the biscuits with whatever cutter you prefer, then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. 

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the biscuits) and then move to a wire rack to cool.

Bara Brith Shortbread