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chocolate raisin cake with chocolate ganache

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three words: Giant. Chocolate. Raisin.

Oh boy.

How about two more? Chocolate. Ganache. (OK, I know I’ve already said ‘chocolate’ but I’m highly excited and prone to repeating things.)

Oh boy, oh boy.

That description – minus the ‘oh boys’ – is how Julie Le Clerc grabbed my attention. Chocolate raisins were one of my favourite sweets when I was a young ‘un and I’m a sucker for a good line of copy. (Julie’s exact words being, ‘Believe it or not, these little cakes actually taste exactly like a giant chocolate raisin!’. Come on – that’s someone throwing down the gauntlet if ever I heard it.)

The result is tooth-achingly sweet, more like a giant squishy brownie or a chocolate fondant that’s been allowed to cool down and slathered with more chocolately wonderful-ness. Stuffed with raisins.

Just don’t do what I did and get so excited by the prospect of all your raisin-chocolate dreams coming true that you forget to line the muffin pan and then find that you can only prise two of the little buggers out in one piece.

How many times have I said ‘chocolate’ and ‘raisin’ in this post? That’ll be all the sugar then…

Little chocolate raisin cakes from Simple Café Food by Julie Le Clerc  

Makes 6

For the cakes:

125g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup raisins, chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
1½ tablespoons plain flour
½ cup chocolate raisins (optional but fun)

For the ganache:

½ cup dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line 6 extra large muffin tins with circles of non-stick baking paper and grease well.

2. In a saucepan, gently melt the butter and chocolate, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the raisins. Take off the heat, allow to cool a little and then carefully add the beaten eggs and finally the flour.

3. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes should still be slightly soft in the middle.

4. Cool slightly before carefully removing from the tins. Serve topped with chocolate ganache…

5. Gently melt the chocolate and cream in a double boiler. Stir to form a thick sauce. Allow to cool and thicken then spoon mounds onto each little cake.
  

Pear and chocolate meringue

… but I defy anyone to have any patience whatsoever when putting this dessert together.

There was supposed to be grated orange zest scattered over the top. There was supposed to be vanilla scenting the whipped cream and roasted, chopped hazlenuts dotted throughout the mix. The chocolate sauce was supposed to be artfully drizzled, not dolloped on in an excited hurry of -oh-my-god-I-need-to-eat-this-NOW!

Clearly none of those things happened. In fact, I was in such an excited, giddy rush to eat this that when I transferred a slice to my plate, the meringue collapsed under the weight of that luscious chocolate-pear-cream combination and ended up looking like this:

pear and chocolate meringue

I’m happy to report that this didn’t affect the taste in any way, shape or form. But I did have a second slice, just to be sure 🙂

Tray-baked meringue with pears, cream, toasted hazlenuts and chocolate sauce from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Serves 6 to 8 people

You’ll need:

4 large egg whites
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
a pinch of sea salt
100g hazlenuts, skins removed
2 x 400g tins of halved pears, in syrup
optional: 2 pieces of stem ginger, thinly sliced
200g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
400ml double cream
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
zest of 1 orange

1. Preheat your oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2 and line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

2. Put your egg whites into a clean bowl, making sure there are absolutely no little pieces of egg shell or yolk in them. Whisk on a medium speed until the whites form firm peaks.

3. With the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and the pinch of salt. Turn the mixer to the highest setting and whisk for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy. To test whether it’s done, you can pinch some between your fingers – if it feels completely smooth, it’s ready; if it’s slightly granular then it needs a little more whisking.

4. Dot each corner of the greaseproof paper with a blob of meringue, then turn it over and stick it to the baking tray. Spoon the meringue out on to the paper. Using the back of the spoon, shape and swirl it into an A4-sized rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until crisp on the outside and a little soft and sticky inside. At the same time, bake the hazlenuts on a separate tray until golden brown (watch out – they burn easily).

5. Drain the tin of pears, reserving the syrup from one tin. Cut each pear half into three slices. Pour the pear syrup into a saucepan with the ginger and warm gently over a medium hear until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and snap the chocolate into the saucepan, stirring with a spoon until it’s all melted.

6. Take the meringue and the hazlenuts out of the oven and leave to cool. Place the meringue on a nice rustic board or platter.

7. Whip the cream with the sifted icing sugar and the vanilla seeds until it forms smooth, soft peaks. Smash the toasted hazlenuts in a tea towel and sprinkle half of them over the top of the meringue.

8. Spoon half of the whipped cream over the top and drizzle with some of the chocolate sauce. (If the sauce has firmed up, melt it slightly by holding the saucepan over a large pan of boiling water.).

9. Divide most of the pear pieces evenly over the top. Pile over the rest of the whipped cream and pears. Drizzle with some more chocolate sauce, then sprinkle over the remaining toasted hazlenuts with some grated orange zest.

10. Serve straight away. Or eat leftovers for dinner the next day and don’t look at the bathroom scales. Ahem.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any tinned pears. So I poached some rock-hard little numbers that were just sitting and laughing at me from the fruit bowl – taunting me with the fact that one day soon they would just turn to mush without ever passing through a ‘ripe’ phase. Eddie Izzard has a joke about that somewhere…

Now, who wants to lick the bowl?

Who wants the last bit of meringue?

lemon meringue pie

When I saw the latest challenge from the Daring Bakers, I did a little skip of delight around the kitchen. We love lemon-flavoured anything around here – cakes, sweets, tarts, muffins, curd, alcohol, you name it – so having to make lemon meringue pie as DB ‘homework’ (set by Jen at The Canadian Baker) was always going to go down well at Bird Towers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite as planned in the end and I would love to find out why.

The pastry came together well, no complaints there (especially easy if using a food processor). And the lemon filling turned out to be a mouth-puckeringly sharp and gorgeous treat – I would certainly make this recipe again as just a lemon tart and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with cornflour as I’d never used it to make a dessert like this before.

Nope, as you’ve probably guessed, my problem was with the meringue side of things. All looked promising as I eased the pie into the oven to cook off the topping – oh, yes, I was writing up this blog entry as a raving success in my head already. I was cruising this challenge. And it looked pretty darn good when it came out of the oven, even if I do say so myself.

But then it all went pear-shaped (or should that be pie-shaped?).

You see that picture above? Notice that little gleam of something around the edge of the pie between the meringue and the pastry? That’s not just the halogen lighting bouncing around the camera lens (curse winter night-time photography). That’s the pie starting to weep. And lo, it continued to weep – clear, unidentified liquid – for the next wee while, until the whole meringue topping was floating raft-like on a puddle of the stuff.

Eurgh. That’s not appetising by any standards.

Eventually, I took the pie over to the sink and carefully drained off the liquid before serving it up to some friends on Friday night. Luckily enough, they’re good friends and are used to having all sorts of food experiments inflicted on them, so they weren’t put off by the weeping meringue. The general consensus was that the pastry was a good ‘un and the filling was perfect – nicely sharp but not cloyingly over-sweet as you sometimes find in store-bought versions (I’m looking at you, Café Leon). Even the meringue, once you tasted it, wasn’t that bad.

So what went wrong? Could any of the following factors have affected the final outcome?

  • My kitchen was extremely warm – I was cooking a big dinner and the pie had to cool down next to the oven on full blast because there was nowhere else to put it. Did it, in effect, start to melt?
  • I think that last point might be extremely wishful thinking, so… did I do something wrong when I whipped up the meringue mixture? Definitely possible.
  • Was there some kind of reaction between the luscious lemon filling and the fluffy meringue topping? I don’t know enough about the science side of things to say, but it’s unlikely – otherwise no one would ever make lemon meringue pie.
  • Was my oven at the wrong temperature? I think this is the most likely explanation. I noticed that the meringue was browning rapidly – too rapidly for it to cook over the allotted 15 to 20 minutes and not come out looking like a charcoal lump with goo on the inside. So I turned reduced the temperature a little bit and kept an eye on it. I think I didn’t get the cooking time right for my oven after I’d fiddled with the temperature, leading to an undercooked, leaky meringue.

But if anyone else out there has any theories on how I made my pie cry, then please leave a comment below. I’d dearly love to know because, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and would give it another go if I could work out precisely what went wrong! 

I’ll add the recipe later, but if you want to see all the wonderful and creative versions that the other DB-rs made of this challenge, then take a quick trip over to the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Enjoy 🙂

Update: OK, I’ve found out how to stop the meringue weeping, thanks to Bellini Valli at More Than Burnt Toast. You need to add cornstarch to the meringue mixture because…

“It prevents the egg proteins from overcooking which causes shrinkage, beading or weeping in the meringue. Food stylists use this technique and have used it during photo shoots to produce beautiful pies.”

Aha! Suddenly it all makes sense!

The in-laws had gone to midday mass when we rocked up to their house for Christmas lunch, so we took a detour to Killiney beach to while away some time:

It’s mainly made up of pebbles, which made for an interesting experience as I was wearing heels (a very rare occurence, let me tell you) and didn’t have any boots in the car (curses!), so off I wobbled on Mr. B’s arm to take in some sea air:

Along the way, we saw this young guy, who went for a bracing Christmas Day dip in the freezing cold water (that’s his dad on the right-hand side, waiting with towel in hand):

He was the only Christmas dipper we saw, but it’s quite a popular past-time both in Ireland and the UK. (It’s a tradition/hangover cure in Edinburgh, when some brave souls go for a swim in the Firth of Forth on New Year’s Day.) We declined the dad’s suggestion that we try it out, despite his offer of a spare towel. Maybe another time 🙂

Then we went back to enjoy Christmas dinner with the family. We all brought starters or desserts to help out, as there were eight adults and six kids in total, so asking one person to do all the cooking would have been insane.

Mr B’s brother made the suprise hit of the day – curried banana soup. Don’t pull a face, it really works! I have the recipe and will make it for the blog some day soon. He also brought along an outstanding sticky toffee pudding, while Mr B whipped up the family trifle (sponge, lashings of sherry, custard, some more sherry, cream, another splash of sherry, topped off with grated chocolate):

If a policeman breathalysed you after eating this pud, the counter would go through the roof.

As well as the Daring Bakers yule log, I made an extremely creamy lime-mascarpone cheesecake, based on a recipe from an old Sainsbury’ advert. I swear it’s actually a very light green in colour, but all the pictures came out more creamy-yellow:

We’re going to be eating pudding for the next month at least…

What about you guys? What do you have for dessert on Christmas Day? Traditional plum pudding and Xmas cake (which were also present at our meal)? Or do you hate the sight of brandy-soaked, fruit-stuffed, stodgy pudding and go for something else altogether?

Lime-marscapone cheesecake adapted from a Sainsbury’s advert of yester-year

Serves 12

You’ll need:

100g butter, melted
400g gingersnap biscuits

4x 250g tubs of mascarpone cheese
zest and juice of 4 limes
80g icing sugar, sifted

1. Crush the gingersnap biscuits into crumbs – either in a food processor or by hand (there’s much therapy to be had in whacking a bag of biscuits with a rolling pin).

2. Mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter together and then spread across the base of a 9-inch round cake tin (preferable springform, as this makes it easier to get the finished cheesecake out of the tin). Put in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the mascarpone cheese, the lime zest and juice, and the icing sugar.

4. Spread the mascarpone mix across the top of the firmed-up biscuit base and use a fork to make a pattern on top. Put back in the fridge for at least two or three hours before serving.

Cook’s notes

The original cheesecake recipe was only for a 7-inch tin. If you’d like to make this smaller version, just halve the amounts given in the recipe above.

I think the original version also stipulated something about frosted grapes and chocolate leaves for decoration – something I’ve never done but it would look great for presentation purposes.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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