Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Cakes

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

“There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate” – Linda Grayson

Like so many regrettable decisions, this one seemed like a good idea at the time. Surrounded by selection boxes, tins of biscuits and assorted boxes of chocolates, with the remains of half a Christmas Cake still to be eaten, and an almost malevolent Chocolate Santa, goading us from under the tree with his chocolatey-goodness, the decision to stop buying cakes and biscuits from January 1st made perfect sense. “By the time we finish all this, we won’t WANT any more treats!” we mumbled between mouthfuls, wiping crumbs away from our faces, then tearing open the wrapper of another Curly-Wurly.

How naive. How terribly, terribly naive…

The get-out clause that, at home, we could only eat cakes and biscuits we made ourselves was a sensible, if ill-thought out, back-up plan. Because it’s a plan that requires restraint. So when I open the press and look for a packet of biscuits to eat with my mid-morning coffee, my natural reaction, upon finding the cupboard bare, should be to look a shelf lower, and take a handful of nuts and raisins instead.

And not, say, I don’t know,  to pick an example out of the sky, to spend the rest of the afternoon making a Chocolate Hazelnut Tart instead.

To whit, please find below a recipe for Nut and Rais … Chocolate Hazelnut Tart.

Another smashing recipe from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy, which I seem to be slowly but surely working my way through. This double chocolate tart is really luscious, so caution is advised – small portions are the order of the day. Serve with slightly whipped cream sweetened with a couple of spoons of sieved icing sugar (and an obligatory cup of coffee).

INGREDIENTS – CHOCOLATE PASTRY

2 egg yolks

seeds of a vanilla pod or 2 drops of vanilla extract

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) butter, softened

165g (5 1/2oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

40g (1 1/2oz) good cocoa powder

pinch of salt

INGREDIENTS – CHOCOLATE FILLING

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) good (at least 60% cocoa solids or more) dark chocolate, grated

1 egg

2 egg yolks

130g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

60g (2 1/2oz) plain flour

80g (3 oz) hazelnuts, chopped and toasted, plus a handful for sprinkling

EQUIPMENT

23cm (9″) loose-bottomed tart tin, about 3cm high

 

To make the pastry, put the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar in a bowl and mix together. Add the butter and mix briefly until well combined. Add the flour, cocoa powder and the salt and, using your hands, mix together to make a soft dough. Use as few strokes as possible to bring the mixture together and uniform. This way the pastry will remain crumbly and tender when cooked.

Scoop up the pastry with your hand and bring together to form a ball. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200degC (400F), Gas Mark 6.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Line the tart tin with the pastry. Take a small ball of pastry rolled in flour and use it to ease the pastry into the “corners” of the tart tin. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry around the top of the tin then run a small sharp knife around the edge between the pastry and the tin to loosen it slightly. This will make it much easier to unmould it once it is cooked. Any remaining dough can be used to make small biscuits or the dough can be wrapped up and frozen for up to a month. Place the tart tin in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Once the pastry is firm, remove it from the fridge. Take a piece of baking paper slightly larger then the tart tin and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and place it in the tin. Fill the baking paper with baked beans or dried beans and blind bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry feels firm to the touch.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 160degC (315F), Gas Mark 2-3. Remove the baking beans and baking paper and leave to cool.

For the filling, melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add the grated chocolate and stir well to combine. While this is melting whisk the egg and yolks until they go really pale and frothy, then gradually add the sugar, whisking all the time until the mixture becomes even lighter and more fluffy. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, around the sides rather then the middle so the air, which has been whisked in, does not get knocked out. Fold everything together slowly and gently, keeping is as much air as possible. Fold in the flour and then gently fold in the toasted hazelnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the tart case and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. The top will be just set and the inside still gooey. If the edges of your pastry are going too dark, put foil over them to prevent further colouring.

Leave the tart to cool for 5 minutes. Use oven gloves to push the base to remove it from the tin, then run a palette knife underneath the tart to loosen if necessary. Sprinkle with a handful of hazelnuts before serving.

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Afternoon Tea: Lemon Squares, Half-blondie/Half-brownies, Crunchy Top Scones

“There are few hours in life more agreeable then the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

A dining experience that has come back into vogue in the last few years, the rebooted 21st Century Afternoon Tea can sometimes fall between being a stuffy, mock-aristocratic pastiche, or a doilies and egg sandwich “granny chic” event. This article lists a couple of the best options for Afternoon Tea around Ireland.

The key to hosting a successful Afternoon Tea at home is a diversity of sandwich fillings served on a selection of breads, a variety of tea (and coffee) options, and a selection of bite-sized cakes! Tray bakes are your best bet, as they can just be cut into slightly smaller portions then you would normally serve.

I’ve previously blogged about the Half-blondie, Half-brownies – the other treats in the photo are Lemon Squares from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and Crunchy-Topped Sweet Scones from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookbook.

LEMON SQUARES

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

For the base, put 290g plain flour, 70g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, 230g unsalted butter and 2 tsp grated lemon zest in a freestanding electric mixer and beat until the mixer resembles breadcrumbs. Press the dough together with your hands, then press it evenly into the base of a deep baking tray, lined with baking parchment. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until light golden. Leave to cool, with the oven left on, while you make the topping.

Put 210g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 tsps grated lemon juice in a bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until well mixed. Pour carefully over the baked base and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the top has set. Leave to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

CRUNCHY TOP SWEET SCONES

Sieve 450g plain flour, a pinch of salt, 25g caster sugar, and 1 and a half heaped tsp of baking powder into a large bowl. Cut 85g butter into cubes, toss in the flour then rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk 3 eggs with 215ml milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.

Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to 2.5cm and cut into scones with a ring cutter. Put on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with jam and a blob of whipped cream.


Banana and Cinnamon Cake

A rare treat, a guest contribution. The recipe and these photos were sent in by man of the people and friend of the stars Conor Sreenan. The recipe can be found on Nigella Lawson’s website here, and Conor tells me that he whipped it up in about 20 minutes. Knowing Conor’s exemplary character as well as I do, I don’t doubt him for a second. He also advised me that he substituted the plain flour for stone-ground wholewheat – sounds delish to me, I’m looking forward to Afternoon Tea in Conor’s house soon!

(clicky on images to embiggen…)

 


Tuscan Plum Tart

Wow. I came across this recipe by chance – I had some plums left over and wanted to make something using ingredients I had in the house. This is one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made, and tastes absolutely scrumptious when it’s nice and warm out of the oven. This has the definite potential to be my new fallback, quick emergency cake. I came across the recipe in one of my bibles – Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course.

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

Put 275g sugar and 150ml water into a 25cm/10in cast-iron frying pan (or any pan that size that you can use on the hob and in the oven i.e. no plastic!). Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelises to a rich golden brown (it’s very important that once the sugar dissolves you leave the syrup alone – don’t be tempted to stir it! It will take time but the syrup will continue to bubble away and then start to turn golden-brown).

Meanwhile halve and stone 900g of plums. Arrange them cut side down in a single layer over the caramel (I only had four plums left so I quartered them and arranged them as per the photo).

Put 150g soft butter, 175g caster sugar and 200g self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds, add 3 eggs then mix again. Stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon over the plums, spreading gently in as even a layer as possible.

Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour (mine only took 45-50 minutes). The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan. Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out (put a plate on top of the pan and flip it over – be careful of any juices that might escape!).

Serve with creme fraiche or gently whipped cream.


National Baking Week – Whoopie Cakes

It’s National Baking Week, so what better excuse is there to get in the kitchen and bake yourself some tasty treats! To celebrate, here’s a batch of Whoopie Cakes from, you’ve guessed it, Baking Made Easy. According to food historians, Amish women would bake these desserts and and put them in farmer’s lunch boxes. When farmers would find these treats, they would shout “Whoopie!”. It is thought the original Whoopie Pies may have been made from cake batter leftovers (thanks Wikipedia!).

Preheat the oven to 170degC and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Heat 120ml milk gently in a saucepan, add 190g demerara sugar, then take the pan off the heat, add 120ml soured cream and stir through to combine. Leave to cool to body temperature. Meanwhile, put 180g plain flour, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, half a tsp of baking powder, 55g cocoa powder and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl.

Once the milk mixture has cooled, add one egg, plus an egg yolk, a few drops of vanilla extract and 115ml sunflower oil to the pan and stir to combine. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and fold gently together.

Transfer the mixture into a piping bag and pipe circles about 8cm diameter on the line baking trays, spaced about 8cm apart. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out clean.

Leave the whoopie cakes to cool on the trays. Meanwhile, to make the buttercream, beat 200g softened butter, 375g icing sugar, 25g cocoa powder and a few drops of vanilla extract together in a bowl until light and fluffy, and then beat in one tbsp of milk.

Once the whoopies are completely cool, gently release them from the baking paper. Take a generous dollop of buttercream and spread it onto the flat base of one of the whoopies, then sandwich it together with a second whoopie. Repeat with the rest of the cakes.


Pear and Blueberry Cake

Last week apples, this week pears? Not quite, but thanks to my friendly neighbour Tim who dropped in a bag of garden apples, I have enough fresh fruit to make a few more cakes this week!

This is a cinch to put together, a really quick cake that’s great if you have to make something quickly for unexpected guest. From Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, he suggests you can use any fresh fruit for the topping.

Preheat the oven to 180degC, and line a 9-inch cake tim with baking parchment.

Beat 130g butter with 130g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat 2 eggs together, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar. Sift 130g flour and a teaspoon of baking powder together and fold this gently into the mixture. Scrape into the lined cake tin.

Peel and core 2 ripe pears, and then cut them into chunks. Spread over the top of the cake mixture with 250g washed blueberries. Scatter a couple of tablespoons of sugar over the top. Bake for 55 minutes, then test for doneness with a skewer. If it comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven, then leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out.


Big Elf Toys – Opening Day Treats

The fantastic Big Elf Toys opened their doors today at 7 South Main Street in Naas. Moveable Feast were on hand to provide an assortment of treats for the lucky children who dropped by today.

Clockwise from top left: mini fairy cakes, Mars Bar Rice Krispie Squares, Gingerbread Rockets, Gingerbread Robots, chocolate covered shortbread stars, Lemon Squares, Top Hats.