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.

Follow Claire Thomson on Twitter or get more recipes at

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.

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to make raspberry, coconut and lemon syrup cake – recipe

My two-year-old is increasingly keen on baking when it’s just us at home and her older sisters are at school – she knows she’ll have the spoon and bowl to scrape out all by herself when the cake goes in the oven.
My local fruit and veg shop had raspberries piled high just at her eye level. She demolished one punnet in her pushchair on the way home; the second was earmarked for a cake. I’ve had a split packet of desiccated coconut sitting in a tub on my shelf at home for more months than I can remember – baking with it seemed a fitting end to this storage annoyance. And the lemon? Simple: lemons make everything better and brighter.
Time for cake!
Time for cake! Photograph: Claire Thomson/Guardian
(Serves 6-8)
160g butter
120g caster sugar
2 eggs
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
80g desiccated coconut, plus extra to decorate
2 tbsp milk
80g raspberries
For the lemon syrup:
½ lemon, juiced
2tbsp caster sugar
Add the raspberries
Add the raspberries. Photograph: Claire Thomson/Guardian
Preheat the oven 180C/350F/gas mark four, and line and grease a 900g loaf tin.
Cream together the butter and sugar in bowl with an electric whisk until pale and creamy – this should take a good five minutes of mixing.
Whisk the eggs and, with the beaters running, add a little at a time to the butter and sugar. When you have added half the egg, add a tablespoon of flour to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the rest of the egg with the beaters running, then sift in the flour and baking powder and beat briefly with a large spoon.
Stir in the coconut and milk. The mixture should be loose enough to drop off the back of a spoon; if not, add a little more milk.
Spoon half the cake mix into the prepared loaf tin. Spread the raspberries evenly over the surface, then add the remaining cake mix.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup. Put the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and boil rapidly over a high heat for two minutes, until the mixture thickens and turns syrupy.
Take the cake out of the oven, spoon over the syrup and sprinkle over the extra coconut.
Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Peachy keen: Mary-Ellen McTague's nectarine recipes

Ah, nectarines, the smooth-skinned sibling of the fuzzy peach. Though rarely quite as sweet or juicy as the peach, the two are often interchangable in cooking. The 1938 edition of Larousse Gastronomique – the culinary equivalent of going to your nan for relationship advice (wisdom tempered with intransigence) – says simply, and dismissively, "Voir pêche", so directing the reader to a million variations on peaches poached in vanilla syrup, served with raspberries and sweetened cream, and often named after some early 20th-century starlet.
Well, nectarines also have a great affinity for that triumvirate, while almonds, aromatic wines and prosecco (think bellini) are also classic pairings. But if you happen to land some perfectly ripe examples, you could do much worse than serve them sliced, dusted with a warming spice such as pepper, nutmeg or clove, and topped with air-dried ham or gooey blue cheese. Fresh, young cheese works well, too – burrata, say, is gorgeous with nectarine.
Nectarines are sold at such varying degrees of ripeness that one purchase rarely resembles another; there are even often variations within the same bag of fruit. To give a few options, today's recipes deal with the fruit at different stages.

Seared scallops with nectarine and burnt butter

You can get away with under-ripe nectarines here, but the riper the fruit, the more intense the puree. The dish looks very simple, but the flavours are rich and interesting. Works with apricots, too. Serves four.
1kg nectarines, halved and stoned
250g unsalted butter, plus extra for frying
8 large diver scallops (or 12 medium)
Sunflower oil, for frying
Lemon juice
Sea salt
Stew the nectarines in a splash of water until soft enough to push through a sieve. Pass through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside.
Heat the butter gently in a pan until it's a deep golden brown and stops foaming. Tip through a fine sieve into another pan, then leave to cool ever so slightly. With a hand blender, slowly blitz the still hot butter into the nectarine puree (much as you would oil into eggs for a mayonnaise). Once all the butter has been emulsified into the puree, check for sweetness – add a tiny bit of honey or caster sugar if it's overly sour – then cover with clingfilm and set aside: keep warm (stand the jug in a pan of hand-hot water) or refrigerate if making ahead of time.
Heat a nonstick frying pan on a very high flame. Roll the scallops in oil, then lay a few at a time flat-side down in the pan. Leave for one to two minutes, depending on size, until nicely caramelised, then flip. Cook for just a few seconds more, then add a small nugget of butter and a good squeeze of lemon – this whole post-flip operation should take all of 30-40 seconds, so the scallops don't overcook. Transfer the scallops to a tray or plate, pour the juices over the top, wipe the pan clean and reheat the pan for the next batch. When all the scallops are cooked, season both sides with salt.
To serve, put a generous tablespoon of warm puree on each plate and place the scallops on top.

Nectarine and almond tart

mary-ellen mctague
Concentrated flavour: Mary-Ellen McTague's nectarine and almond tart. Photograph: Deirdre Rooney for the Guardian
Again, you can get away with under-ripe fruit here, because roasting concentrates the flavour. This can be made with gluten-free flour and/or dairy-free butter, which makes it a winner in my family. Serves six.
750g nectarines
75g butter at room temperature
60g sugar (caster is fine, demerera or soft brown even better)
1 level tsp cinnamon or nutmeg
20g almonds
20g sugar
10g water
For the pastry
75g butter at room temperature
150g flour
10g fresh yeast, or 5g dried
5g sugar
1 large egg
2g salt
1 vanilla pod (or 2 drops extract)
For the pastry, in a large bowl beat the butter into the flour. In a small bowl, beat the yeast and sugar into the egg, then stir into the flour. Add the salt and vanilla, and knead briefly until smooth – it will start off very sticky, then come together all of a sudden. Roll into a ball, transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot to double in volume (one to two hours).
Halve and stone the fruit. Line a baking dish with nonstick baking paper (optional, but it will make life easier later on) and dot all over with butter. Sprinkle sugar on top, then lay in the halved fruit flesh side down.
Bake at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 15 minutes. The nectarines should be softened but not mushy, with the skin lifting away from the flesh, and the butter and sugar nicely caramelised. If the fruit was very under-ripe, it may need a few minutes more, otherwise remove and set aside until cool enough to handle, but still warm; turn down the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Peel the fruit, keeping it as intact as possible, then set aside.
Lightly butter or oil a 20cm tart case, tip in the dough and with oiled or floured hands flatten and press out to fill the tin right to the edges. Arrange the nectarines on top and scatter over the spices, caramelised sugar, butter and juices from the oven dish. Leave to prove for 15 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes. Mix the almonds, sugar and water, scatter over the top of the fruit and bake for a further 20 minutes.
Remove, leave to cool for five to 10 minutes, and serve with vanilla ice-cream, creme fraiche or a raspberry and almond chantilly: whip 200g cream with 20g caster sugar and a drop almond extract, then stir in 50g crushed raspberries.

Nectarine chutney

The traditional way to preserve nectarines and peaches involves dipping them in boiling water to release the skins, spiking with cloves and covering with brandy, à la Monet's Jar Of Peaches. My way may involve more work, but it goes with most cured meat, pâtés and cheese.
1g nutmeg
1g allspice
3 cloves
1g cinnamon
2.5kg nectarines, stoned, skinned and chopped into 1cm-square dice
150g white-wine vinegar
125g caster sugar
Grind the spices, and put in a heavy-based pan with the other ingredients. Cook on a low heat, stirring regularly, until thick and jam-like. Pour into sterilised jars, seal and keep in a cool, dark place or in the fridge. Unopened, it keeps for up to two years, and improves with age.

Nectarine and basil ice lollies

This is lovely way to use up wrinkly and over-ripe nectarines – you know, the ones that have gone so soft, you can squish them between your fingers. Push the stoned fruit through a sieve (this purees the flesh while keeping the skin in the sieve), then blitz smooth. Finely shred a handful of basil (or mint) and add. Stir in whole raspberries (optional) and a splash of water or a slug of prosecco, depending on your target audience, then check for sweetness. Add sugar to taste, and freeze in lolly moulds.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Scandinavian baking secrets

Baking is a small and everyday act that shows someone you care. As a child in the 1970s, I lived in a commune in Copenhagen. My parents were very busy changing the world so, at eight years old in our big communal kitchen, I baked my first cakes. I did not read recipes. I just mixed everything together, poured the resulting batter into a tin and baked it. At some point, somebody explained to me that if I started a cake by beating eggs with sugar, or butter with sugar, I would find I baked lighter, better-tasting cakes.
My baking developed over the years. As a young woman, studying literature and being at home with my newborn son, I bought a baking book and worked my way through it. For my son’s first birthday, we were in the UK and I couldn’t imagine us all celebrating that milestone without real Danish pastries. So I learned how to make them, too. Over the years that developed into a set of recipes that are all part of our family life. I wrote the baking book during an unsettling year for me and my family. Despite the fact it expanded to take more time and work than I had ever imagined, the baking became part of a healing process. Baking can be like that.

Jens Jørgen Thorsen meringue

Jens Jørgen Thorsen was a famous Danish painter. Feel free to use other fruit instead of figs, if you prefer. Serves 8.
For the caramel cream:
demerara sugar 100g
double cream 500ml
For the meringue:
egg whites 6
caster sugar 300g
salt a pinch
For the topping:
figs 6, fresh
good dark chocolate 50g, at least 60% cocoa solids
The day before you need the cake, make the caramel cream. Spread the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and starts to colour: it should turn into a light brown caramel. Add one-quarter of the cream and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. It takes time, be patient.
When the mixture is fully combined, turn off the heat, stir in the remaining cream, then pour it into a bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
For the meringue, preheat the oven to 140C/gas mark 1. Using an electric hand mixer or a food mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then whisk in half the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until very stiff. Fold in the remaining sugar and add the salt.
Line two baking trays with baking parchment and draw, in pencil, a 24cm circle on each. Turn the baking parchment over so the pencil marks are underneath, but still legible. Spread the meringue inside the circles. Bake for one hour, then let them cool down on a wire rack, still on their baking parchment.
Remove the paper from the meringues and place the least attractive disc on a serving plate.
Whip the chilled caramel cream until it is light, fluffy and billowing, then spread it on the base meringue. Place the second meringue on top. Cut the figs into quarters and place them on top of the cake.
Break the chocolate into pieces, place in a small heatproof bowl and fit over a saucepan of simmering water – the bowl should not touch the water. Melt the chocolate, then remove from the heat.
Dip a tablespoon in the chocolate, then throw it at the cake, channelling Jackson Pollock (and Danish painter Jens Jørgen Thorsen), until you have a wild decoration. Serve the cake as soon as the chocolate has set.

Beetroot and bacon muffins

beetroot and bacon muffins
Savoury treat: beetroot and bacon muffins. Photograph: Columbus Leth
Makes 10–12
spelt flour 50g, wholegrain and stoneground
plain flour 150g
jumbo oats 50g
baking powder 2 tsp
bicarbonate of soda ½ tsp
salt 8g
black pepper 1 tbsp, freshly ground
eggs 3
yogurt 250ml, full fat
olive oil 4 tbsp
beetroot 200g, raw and finely chopped
bacon lardons 100g, cooked (or walnuts 100g, toasted)
thyme leaves 1 tbsp
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the flours, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and pepper in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the yogurt and oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, then fold in the beetroot, bacon (or walnuts) and thyme.
Cut out 15cm squares of baking parchment – you will need 10 to 12 – and fold each into a muffin mould. Divide the batter between the moulds and bake in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes.
Serve warm for lunch or dinner, sprinkled with a little more thyme if you like, with a crisp green salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette.

Rye crispbread

rye crispbread
Strip teas: rye crispbread. Photograph: Columbus Leth
Makes 40 strips
water 150ml, lukewarm
yeast 15g, fresh (or 2 tsp dry yeast)
rye flakes 60g
rolled oats 50g
stoneground rye flour 50g, plus more to dust
polenta 50g, or use cornmeal
olive oil 75ml, plus more to brush
salt 4g
Pour the water into a bowl and add the yeast, stirring to dissolve. Stir in the rye flakes and oats. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. Now mix in the remaining ingredients. Mix really well, then knead on a floured work surface.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Divide the dough into four. On a floured work surface, roll each piece out as thinly as possible into a rectangle about 25x20cm. Cut each into 10 strips. Lay the strips on baking trays lined with baking parchment and brush with oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You will probably have to bake these in batches.
Leave each batch to cool on a wire rack while you bake the rest.


kringle with flaked almonds
Roll of honour: kringle with flaked almonds. Photograph: Columbus Leth
Makes 3
For the kringle:
whole milk 100ml, lukewarm
yeast 50g, fresh (or 1 ½ tbsp dry yeast)
eggs 3, lightly beaten
caster sugar 100g
salt ½ tsp
butter 350g
00 grade flour 550g
For the filling:
almonds chopped, 150g
caster sugar 200g
butter 250g
rosehip jam (or apple compote, see below) 300g
egg 1, lightly beaten
almonds 50g, flaked
For the apple compote:
vanilla pod 1
tart eating apples 2, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, peeled, cored, chopped
caster sugar 100g
To make the compote, slit the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a sharp knife. Put the apples in a saucepan with the sugar and the vanilla seeds and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Stir the apple mixture together to create a thick sauce, then leave to cool.
For the kringle, pour the milk into a bowl, add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Add the eggs, sugar and salt, cover and leave for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the butter into cubes and, with your hands, rub them into the flour. When the 30 minutes is up, mix the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Knead on a floured work surface until you have a smooth dough. The dough is very delicate, so you might have to use a bit more flour and handle it with care. Place in a bowl, cover and leave to rise at warm room temperature for about one hour.
For the filling, mix the chopped almonds into a paste with the sugar and butter. Set aside.
Return to the dough. Roll it out on a floured work surface into a rectangle. Fold it into three, crossways, like a business letter then turn it by 90˚, roll it out and fold it once more, in the same way.
Now divide the dough into three and roll each out into a rectangle.
Divide the filling into three. Spread each portion along a 4cm strip down the middle of each dough rectangle. Spread the rosehip jam or compote on top. Fold the short ends up over the filling and then the long sides, first one side over the filling and then the other, so they overlap by 1cm. Place on baking trays lined with baking parchment, cover with tea towels and let rise again, in a warm place, for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Brush each pastry with the egg and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on them so they don’t turn too dark. If they are looking too dark, reduce the oven temperature to 200C/gas mark 6.
Cool on a wire rack and serve warm or cold.
More baking next week with Trine Hahnemann. To order a copy of her book, Scandinavian Baking (Quadrille, £25), for £20, go to or call 0330 333 6846.
Nigel Slater returns in a fortnight