Florentines recipe review

Milk and dark chocolate FlorentinesThese make a great gift for any special occasion such as New Year and Easter. I made these for my relatives and purchased little cellophane bags from Cakes, Cookies and Crafts. I do think the recipe needs a bit of tweaking though, partly because they took quite a long time to make. Firstly, the recipe says to use two baking trays, adding small spoonfuls spaced apart. I found that I needed to use three baking trays and my third tin was a little smaller than the rest and the Florentines did start to merge with each other. If you want to be sure that they don’t merge, I’d suggest either doing tiny mounds or using four baking trays. The mixture only has to be cooked for 10-12 mins so that part is very quick.

The recipe says to melt dark or milk chocolate and then paint it on baking paper and then stick the dried Florentines on to the baking paper. I found this to be an extra step which wasn’t strictly necessary as it wasted chocolate and meant that you had to wait for the chocolate to dry before you peeled off the Florentines from the baking sheet. Once dried, I painted on more of the melted chocolate and used a fork to create a wavy pattern in it. It helps if the chocolate has been left for 30 seconds so the pattern stays in the chocolate. Your hands do get very sticky so it’s handy to have a damp cloth nearby.

I struggled to get perfect circular Florentines but once they have the chocolate on them, they do look quite professional anyway, especially in the little bags!

Here’s the recipe:
75g butter
75g caster sugar
50g glace cherries (or use 25g cherries and 25g glace ginger)
25g raisins or sultanas
25g pumpkin seeds
100g almond flakes
175g good quality dark chocolate – you could probably just use 100g by cutting out the painting on a piece of baking paper first
2 tbsp double cream

Method:
Melt the butter and add in the sugar. Bring to the boil once the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and add the almonds, cherries, sultanas and pumpkin seeds. Then add in the two tbsp of double cream. Spoon tiny amounts onto several baking trays (lined with baking paper) and put in the oven at 180degrees for 10-12 mins until lightly golden brown. Leave to cool. Take the Florentines off the baking trays and then paint the melted chocolate on to the flat side of the them. Draw a wavy pattern in the melted chocolate using a fork. Leave to set. Add into little clear bags once the Florentines have dried.

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How to make a Frosty the Snowman cake

Hummingbird bakery red velvet cupcake

This weekend I made a Frosty the Snowman cake and surprised my boyfriend with it as part of his Christmas present. The cake is made with the Hummingbird Bakery red velvet cake recipe (same as the cupcakes) and their cream cheese frosting. I used a six inch cake tin for the head and a 10 inch cake tin for the body. I found TK Maxx and department stores like House of Fraser are good for finding cake tins of varying sizes.

The Hummingbird Bakery recipe says to use Dr. Oetker red food colouring as this gives a deep red colour for the sponge. I used Dr. Oetker’s artificial cochineal food colouring as I couldn’t find the recommended one in my local supermarkets. I would be interested to know if it made a difference to the taste. It did give a great colour to the sponge as you can see from the photo but personally, I think this could taste a bit more chocolatey and less bland. I suggest adding 1-2 extra tablespoons of sifted cocoa powder to taste. The cream cheese frosting tasted sweet and complemented the sponge well. I did get a few lumps in the icing so I would suggest that, however difficult, try mixing the butter and icing sugar as much as possible before you add in the soft cream cheese.

For the decorations I used smarties for the eyes, nose and buttons and mini smarties for the snowman’s scarf. For the lips I used fizzy strawberry laces from Sainsburys. The cake turned out well but personally I think this would taste better with a chocolate sponge. You could also increase the recipe size slightly to give the sponges a little more depth. The cake certainly went down well with my boyfriend and he ate atleast half the snowman in two days with a little help from me!

Mince pie recipe reviews: Delia vs BBC Good Food

shortcrust pastry recipe Now this isn’t the strictest of tests because my boyfriend made the first batch of mince pies last week and I made the second batch last night. We put to the test this BBC Good Food recipe and the tried and tested Delia Smith recipe from her famous cookery book. Both of us were unarmed with a rolling pin but last night I had a wine bottle spare so wrapped it in cling film to roll out the pastry nice and thin.

The main difference between these mince pies is the pastry – the Good Food one uses a sweet pastry but it did lack structure and actually rose and bubbled a bit (looking back this could be because the beaten egg was missing from the pastry). Delia’s recipe uses shortcrust pastry and this was much flakier but with a decent structure. Although the Good Food ones were crumbly, they tasted delicious but perhaps too sweet with the mincemeat. The Delia pastry didn’t have any sugar in it so I’d say the balance was a little better.

The only comment my boyfriend made about the mince pies I baked was that they were very small! He just ate a larger quantity to make up for the mini mince pies though and they seemed to go down well with my temporary housemate too! The Delia recipe says to use 3 and 2.5 inch cutters but I’d actually suggest making these with 4 and 3 inch cutters instead. Do you have a tried and tested recipe which you bring out each year? If so, let me know!

Review: The Chocolate Festival 2010, London

This lunchtime, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private event at the London Chocolate Festival by organiser Yael Rose. Greeted with prosecco, a select group of chocolate artisans, media and bloggers turned out to see the latest chocolate collections which will be the talk of the town in 2011. The festival has secured the top 10 chocolatiers in the country and this weekend they are gathered at the Southbank Centre to show off their chocolate delights. First up was Damian Allsop who is the first chocolatier to make a ‘water ganache’.

Pastry chef by trade, two years ago he realised that cream was changing the taste of chocolate so he set out to make the perfect water ganache instead. He uses natural spring water off the land where he’s producing the chocolates, rather than cream. This year he’s launched his Pure Collection which includes six water ganaches. The first chocolate we tasted was pure manjari (a 64% Madagascan dark chocolate) and Damian asked us to look out for its ‘red fruit notes’. We tasted two other chocolates of his which were delicious! One of them was an incredibly smooth Krug truffle which he has made exclusively for Fortnum and Mason. Next, Marc Demarquette took to the stage to reveal his ‘Nutkeeper’s Caramel’. He runs a small artisan chocolate business creating caramel hybrid pralines. He uses nuts and flavours such as pecan, maple and provençal almond. Next year he’ll be using macadamias from Australia. We were lucky enough to try his chocolate and pistachio caramel which was fragrant and a departure from other chocolates I had tasted before. Last but not least, Paul Wayne Gregory, (who has recently won four excellence awards for his chocolates), gave us his passionfruit bonbon. He said that his chocolates were different because of their simplicity, finish and quality of flavour.

This was the chocolate that had by taste buds talking. It was very crisp, and had just the right kick and balance between the passion fruit and dark chocolate. To find the perfect flavours, Paul explained that ‘you carry the perfect flavours inside you and you continue testing until you find those flavours’. The key to this beautiful chocolate? Room temperature, mould temperature and most importantly – the humidity of the room. The event was a great preview and teaser for what else is in store for the Chocolate Festival this weekend. I’m on my way back to the Southbank now to sample more chocolate and see what other sugary surprises are in store. Come on down!

Alternative Christmas cake ideas – Part II – Christmas tree cake

M&S Christmas tree cake mouldAs I mentioned in my post last week, there are lots of fun things you can do which are an alternative to the traditional Christmas cake and here is one of them. On Sunday night, I tried out the Marks and Spencer Christmas tree baking mould and it worked out very well! It doesn’t give any instructions on what volume of cake mixture to make so I experimented and here are my tips! The mould isn’t as big as it looks so I used Delia’s classic Victoria sponge recipe with cocoa powder for two 7 inch cake tins. This was the right amount of mixture. It’s a classic 4oz recipe – self raising flour, marg, caster sugar, tsp of baking powder, 2 large free range eggs. To change it from a Victoria sponge cake recipe I added 1 tbsp of cocoa powder and don’t add any vanilla essence. For the icing I used 15g of butter, 2 tbsp of water, 125g of icing sugar and 50g of melted dark Bournville chocolate. This was enough icing for the whole cake. And the verdict? Personally, I thought the sponge needed to be more chocolatey so I would recommend making the sponge with dark melted chocolate rather than cocoa powder (this is the method my Gran uses). The icing was sweet and chocolatey so that seemed to hit the spot. I then added mini smarties for the baubles or you could use ‘dragees’ which are little silver baubles. You can them here from the Cakes, Cookies & Crafts website. And if you want tinsel you could use edible glitter! Oh and if you want to bake mini Christmas tree cakes, M&S have a mould for that too! This is a great one to make with and for the kids and you can personalise it any way you want!

Hummingbird Bakery cafe review – Old Brompton Road

Last night, I visited the Hummingbird Bakery on Old Brompton Road (nearest tube is South Kensington). I went there with a friend back in February but had poor customer service and emailed the bakery to let them know I had been disappointed. Their customer services team were very good, made some changes, apologised and offered me and my friend complimentary cupcakes and coffee. We decided to give it a shot yesterday and I had a red velvet cupcake and my friend had a choc chip cheesecake cupcake (hard to say!). I thought the icing on my cupcake was delicious but the sponge was rather dry. I tried a bit of my friend’s and hers was nice and fresh and she really enjoyed it. It was a little sweet for me but then that’s what cupcakes are all about! The staff were OK but still slow to clear tables and bring drinks. On a Monday evening this could definitely have been a bit swifter. I’d like to return for take-out to keep trying their different cupcakes and cakes but I still think the ambiance of the cafe is missing that bit of sparkle.

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