Sunday, September 27, 2015

A tangy cheese starter: Labneh in olive oil

Makes about 12 balls
500g homemade yoghurt
½ tsp salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, peeled and bashed
Chilli flakes, to taste (optional)
Olive oil, in which to submerge the balls of labneh

1 Put a sieve over a bowl and line it with a piece of clean cheesecloth or muslin or any soft cotton fabric.

2 Stir the salt into the yoghurt then pour the yoghurt into the centre of the cheesecloth. Pull the four corners of the cheesecloth up and tie it into a bag with some string. Suspend it over the bowl overnight to allow the whey to drain. If your kitchen is cold enough, you can drain the yoghurt outside the fridge, otherwise do it in the fridge.

3 When it is firm and drained, with wet hands roll the labneh into balls and store in a jar or container. Add the lemon zest, dried oregano, garlic cloves and chilli, if using, and pour olive oil over the labneh balls to marinate.

4 Serve with roasted vegetables as part of a substantial salad, or on bruschetta. The labneh will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ruby Tandoh’s school of rock cakes

Apple spice cakes
 Any tea will do for soaking the sultanas in these lightly spiced rock buns, but I think that Earl Grey sits well alongside the citrussy lightness of the crushed cardamom seeds.

Makes 8
100g sultanas
1 earl grey teabag
150g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
3½ tsp baking powder
125g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, seeds only, crushed
A pinch of salt
125g butter
100g apple (from 1-2 cox or braeburn apples)
1 large egg
2-3 tbsp demerara sugar

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.

2 Measure out the sultanas with the teabag in a small heatproof bowl, and add enough boiling water to cover the fruit. Leave the fruit to soak and plump up until the liquid’s cool, then pass through a sieve, collecting the tea in a separate bowl.

3 While the sultanas soak, combine the plain and wholemeal flours, the baking powder, sugar, spice and salt. Cut the butter into chunks and rub it into the dry ingredients between your fingertips until there are no visible pieces left and the flour mixture is coarsely sandy.

4 Peel, core and chop the apples, cutting into ½ cm chunks. Toss the apple and drained sultanas through the flour and butter mix. Lightly beat the egg, then add to the rest of the ingredients. Work the egg in until you’re left with a slightly sticky dough. If you can pick a ball of it up without it sticking a little to your fingers, it’s too dry. Add a splash of the reserved tea if this is the case.

5 Spoon the batter into 8 portions spread well apart across the baking trays. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over their tops, to give a welcome crunch against the buttery softness of the cake. Bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven, until well-risen and golden brown.

Lemon-glazed gingerbread rock cakes

These will spread a little more than the apple spice rock buns above, but that means a softer texture, too. They’re halfway between a soft gingerbread cookie and a traditional rock cake. If the heat of glace ginger isn’t to your taste, try raisins instead.

Makes 12
400g plain flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp salt
225g butter
200g soft dark brown sugar
200g chopped glace ginger

2 large eggs
200g icing sugar
50ml lemon juice

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Stir the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt together in a large bowl. Cube the fat and rub it into the dry mixture. Stir through the dark brown sugar and glace ginger. Stir in the eggs to get a rough, sticky dough. Spoon into 12 equal heaps spaced well apart on the prepared baking tray.

2 Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the rock cakes have risen, spread and set. They should be reasonably firm, not spongy, to the touch. While they bake, prepare the glaze by stirring the lemon juice into the icing sugar a little at a time until the glaze is smooth and pourable.

3 As soon as they emerge from the oven, brush the rock cakes liberally with lemon glaze. Sprinkle a little lemon zest or extra glace ginger on top of each if you feel like dressing them up. Leave to cool for a while on a wire rack and eat while still slightly warm.M

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Your New Favorite Chocolate Cake


If the grocery store isn't your favorite place, it should be. We're sleuthing for the best back-of-the-box recipes and each week we'll share our latest find.

Today: The perfect chocolate cake recipe has been sitting in your pantry all along, patiently waiting for you to discover it.

Today feels like the right time to confess that I’ve never been able to bake a good chocolate cake.

I’m a pretty persistent person -- some would say bordering on a perfectionist -- and I’m a very confident baker. Despite all that, chocolate cake has stymied me for years. Mine are either too moist, taste only vaguely of cocoa, or fall apart when I try to frost them.

I want a serious chocolate cake. I want a sturdy crumb, like a 1-2-3-4 cake, but with an intense wallop of chocolate. I want you to be able to close your eyes and think, "Dark and rich." I want it to be tender yet still firm enough to slice and frost. I want it to be just moderately sweet so that it can pair well with Swiss meringue or caramel glaze or coffee buttercream. Oh, and I want to be able to make it in one bowl without needing any fancy, expensive chocolate.

I had gone on a lot of chocolate cake recipe first dates, so to speak, and had yet to enter a serious, move-in-with-me relationship with one -- until I met the perfect chocolate cake from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I think it’s the one! And it was right in front of me all these years.

This dead-simple recipe yields a fantastically rich chocolate cake. It highlights the subtle alchemy of baking, taking a handful of very basic ingredients and turning them into something worthy of celebration. You don’t need any chocolate other than cocoa. There’s no buttermilk, no hot coffee, and no sour cream. Can I get a hallelujah? I've dialed down the liquid slightly from the original recipe to make the cake a little more sturdy, which helps when constructing (and eating) the layers.

More: These Genius brownies also rely only on cocoa powder for their chocolate flavor.

You don’t need the frosting -- the cake is very good plain. But when offered frosting, I usually say yes. Just to be polite. If you’re looking to dress it up differently, I’d suggest a topping of crème fraîche, boiled icing with cacao nibs, or dulce de leche frosting.

Perfect Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Hershey's

Makes one 8-inch double layer cake

For the cake:

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water

For the frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dan Lepard's Black Forest chocolate cake

Getting a rich chocolate flavour in a soft cake is a touch complex, as it requires tricks to keep the flavour intense while maintaining a delicate texture. I used to half-joke that my favourite was a ready-made packet cake mix with melted chocolate stirred through before baking. Packet mixes use modified starches such as tapioca to form a gel, making the cake moist, and will forgo butter in favour of oil to keep it soft when chilled.

Now, when you try to take your favourite butter cake recipe and add expensive dark chocolate, it can often turn out horribly dry and heavy. The reason for this lies in the type of chocolate you use. If a chocolate contains 70% cocoa, it effectively contains 70% starch. So although dark chocolate appears to be fat – of the most delicious kind – it's only actually about 30% fat and the rest is starch. So adding that expensive chocolate is like adding extra flour, and bitterness, to your recipe. This is fine, just so long as you reduce the flour, and increase the sugar to balance the flavour.

Black Forest chocolate cake

Here is my version of a chocolate packet mix formula, intense with chocolate, and with a texture that stays quite soft and moist in the refrigerator. If you like a slightly lighter flavour you can use half milk and half dark chocolate instead.

For the chocolate mixture
200ml milk
25g plain flour
200g 70% dark chocolate
75ml sunflower oil

For the cake
250g caster sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
6 medium eggs
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

To finish
Kirsch or brandy
Cherry cake filling (see below)
Sweetened whipped cream
Grated chocolate
Dan step 1: Line the base of two ungreased deep round cake tins with discs of nonstick paper.

1 Line the base of two ungreased deep round sandwich cake tins with discs of nonstick paper.
Dan step 2: Put the milk in a pan with the flour and whisk well, bringing to the boil. Add chocolate

2 Put the milk in a saucepan with the flour and whisk well while bringing to the boil. Add the chocolate, broken into pieces, and the oil, then stir occasionally as the chocolate melts and the mixture takes on an oily, split appearance.
Dan step 3: Spoon the mix into a mixing bowl, add sugar & vanilla then beat until smooth and glossy.

3 Spoon the mixture into a large mixing bowl, add sugar and vanilla then beat until smooth and glossy.
Dan step 4: Beat in the eggs, two at a time, add the flour and baking powder & stir well til smooth

4 Beat in the eggs, two at a time, then add the flour and baking powder and stir well until smooth.
Dan Step 5: pour choccy into baking tin.

5 Divide the mixture between the tins and bake at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes until a skewer poked in comes out clean. While the cakes are warm in the tin, wrap them well (I use clingfilm) then leave until cold.
Dan step 6: Take the cakes out of tins. Spoon 2-3 tbsp of kirsch on top. Put cherry mix on top

6 To assemble, take the cakes out of the tins and spoon 2-3 tbsp of kirsch over the top of each if you like. Spread half the cherry mixture over each of the cakes, blob and swirl sweetened whipped cream over one, top with the other cake and spoon more cream over the top. Grate chocolate over to finish.

Cooked fresh cherries combined with cherry jam makes this filling bright and fruit-filled. It keeps well in the fridge for a few days, and doubles as a simple sauce for ice-cream.

400g fresh ripe cherries
Juice of ½ a lemon
100ml cold water
150g cherry jam
2 tsp cornflour

1 Pit and halve the cherries then place in a saucepan with the lemon juice and water. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid has almost vanished and the cherries are tender.

2 Mix the jam with the cornflour, stir in with the cherries and bring to the boil again. Let the filling cool before using.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to make pressed chocolate cake

To decorate, dust with icing sugar and cocoa powder, then add crystallised violets and sugar stars. Photograph: Claire Thomson
With three children, the birthday cakes come thick and fast. So far, we've had ballerinas protruding from the tops of panettone, a farmyard with pigs and chocolate fences, a liquorice ladybird, a Smartie-pebbledashed house and a banana and toffee bear. It's my daughter's seventh birthday soon. Like most kids, she loves chocolate (less commonly, she hates icing), and I know she's hoping for something beautiful with flowers. My take on this River Café recipe for a pressed chocolate cake is perfect.

I've reduced the sugar and rather than pressing the cake with a same-sized plate, I like to use a smaller plate so the outskirts of the cake remain high, giving it a lovely raised lip to dust with icing sugar. To decorate, dust the centre with cocoa powder, then add crystallised violets and white sugar stars. Simple, stark and very pretty indeed.

Pressed chocolate cake

(Serves 10)
400g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
300g unsalted butter
10 eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
4 tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra to decorate
Icing sugar
Crystallised violets and white sugar stars

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Butter and line with greaseproof paper a 30 x 7.5cm (12 x 3in) high-sided spring-loaded cake tin, pressing the paper right into the tin.
Melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water – don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl.
Remove the bowl when the chocolate and butter have melted, and allow to cool a little.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cocoa powder, then add to the chocolate.
In a separate clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture, one third at a time.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 25 minutes. The cake will souffle, set slightly and cracks will appear on the surface at the edges. The cake should retain a wobble at the centre. Take it out and place two side plates on top of each other in the centre of the cake to press. Leave to cool for half an hour.
Release the cake from the spring-loaded tin and, with the plates still on, dust the edges of the cake with icing sugar.

Remove the plates and decorate with cocoa powder, crystallised violets and sugar stars.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

How to make chocolate, chilli and chestnut cake – recipe

Chilli chocolate chestnut cake
Chilli and chocolate have become a well-loved combination. Thoroughly pureed chestnuts add a subtle sweet flavour and a grainy texture, similar to ground almonds.
(Serves 10)
4 medium eggs
140g caster sugar
250g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder, to taste
250g cooked chestnuts
275ml milk
2-3 drops almond essence
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the caster sugar.
Roughly chop the chocolate and put it into a small saucepan with the butter. Gently melt the chocolate and butter together. Stir in the chilli powder and mix well to avoid any lumps. Leave to cool a little, then stir into the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.
Peel the chestnuts if they still have their outer skins on. Roughly chop and put them into a small saucepan with the milk. Bring to the boil, stir in the almond essence and leave to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a food processor. Process until smooth and add to the chocolate mixture, mixing well to prevent any pale streaks in the cake.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for up to 45 minutes – it may still be a bit wobbly. Leave to cool before taking the cake out of the tin and slicing to serve.
• Extracted from the Vegetarian Year by Jane Hughes (Modern Books, £20). To order a copy for £16, go to or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.