Tag Archives: chocolate

Chocolate chip nut butter cookies

Choc chip nut butter cookies

This one is based on a recipe by New Zealander Miles Kirby, published in Guardian Cook to coincide with the release of his book Caravan: Dining All Day. Kirby’s version is called salted chocolate and almond butter cookies. They’re basically a variation on the chocolate chip cookie theme, and I’m always up for those.

I’m not sure about the whole salted chocolate thing though. I can see the appeal of salted caramel, and used to Hoover up the caramello di galles – Welsh caramel, that is salted caramel from the idiosyncratic gelateria La Gourmandise down the road from our flat in Rome. Until he stopped doing it – not a popular flavour among the other locals, apparently.

But, salted chocolate? Hm. Last night I went to the Depot, the splendid newly opened independent cinema here in Lewes, which I visited last year when it was a building site. While there, I ate a whole bar of Los Angeles salted chocolate, a gift from my sister. It didn’t exactly win me over, but then it was maybe a bad combo with a pint of overly gassy Harvey’s Golden Bier on keg I bought from the bar. (My first pint of Harvey’s keg beer I think; kegs from Harvey’s are pretty new, breaking with years of cask and bottle-only tradition.)

So anyway, I decided against including the sea salt in my version of Kirby’s recipe. Also, his uses 200g almond butter. The jar I bought was an odd 170g. As we had a jar of peanut butter rejected by my son in the cupboard, I added some of that. Kirby says the recipe works well with any nut butter. We’re getting a whole variety in our cupboard now as we’re not allowed to put peanut butter in school lunches any more.

For the chocolate buttons I used Montezuma’s organic Giant Dark Chocolate buttons. The bag says they’re “58%”, but then the ingredients say they’re 44% cocoa mass. Which I don’t understand, and I’m too tired to try and get my head around it. They’re still a quality button and I’ve messaged Montezuma’s for an explanation. Hope they reply.* They should do, as I eat enough of their product. Me and Fran are addicted (not really) to their Milking Maid truffles at the moment, which is odd as I’m usually a dark choc kinda guy. I digress.

Kirby’s recipe also says, “In a stand mixer, combine the…” Does everyone own a stand mixer? I don’t. They’re hellish pricey and I’ve never been able to justify one or find the funds. Luckily, my increasingly decrepit hand blender has beater attachments. If you don’t have any of these things, you’ll just have to beat by hand. Use some calories before you consume some.

Kirby also said to divide the mixture into 12. Now, as the total dough weight was about 1200g, this would mean some pretty massive cookies, scaled at about 100g each. I pared mine down to about 50g, a good dollop shaped between two desert spoons, and they’re still pretty substantial. I also knocked back the sugar a little from the original recipe, something I do as a matter of course.

Choc chip nut butter cookies mix

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g almond butter, or a mix of nut butters
85g muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, that is, about 115g egg, beaten
Pinch salt
10g baking powder
300g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
200g dark chocolate buttons

1. Preheat the oven to 170C and line some baking sheets with parchment or silicone.
2. Beat together the butter, sugars and nut butters.
3. Add the egg a little at a time and beat until smooth.
4. Sieve together the baking powder, flour and cocoa, then add to the mixture along with the pinch of salt.
5. Combine, along with the chocolate buttons.
6. Form into lumps as described above. How big you make them is, of course, your call.
7. Put the lumps on the baking sheets, flattening them somewhat. Space out as they spread a bit.
8. Bake for about 12-14 minutes.
9. Cool on wire racks.

Eat. The nut butter gives them a light, crumbly texture, but not so crumbly they fall apart when you touch them.

Note to self, next entry probably shouldn’t be more chocolate cookies. This isn’t just a chocolate cookie blog…

* They did. A lady called Jacqui Boyd-Leslie in customer services says, “The Cocoa Mass is 44% plus the Cocoa butter 15% which is 1% over but this is to cover any slight variation. This is a little confusing, the cocoa butter is also known as cocoa mass.”

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Hande’s pear, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Pear, choc, hazelnut cake, with clotted cream

Hande Leimer is the founder and owner of Vino Roma, a wine studio – with an absurdly historic cellar – located in the centre of Rome. Not only is she an expert sommelier and polyglot wine educator, she’s an excellent cook too. And baker. When she posted a pic of her pear, chocolate and hazelnut cake on her Instagram a few weeks ago, I had to try it.

These three ingredients make for a classic combination. I’ve always loved pear and chocolate, and indeed pear with chocolate sauce was a pudding I grew up with. But I also love anything made with ground nuts, so this really was a cake for me. Furthermore, Hande developed the recipe with the aim of balancing them, so no flavour dominated the other but each was clear and evident. The individual flavours are sharpened and delineated further with the judicious inclusion of some hot spice.

She included piment d’espelette / esplenette pepper, but as that’s not easy to source in the UK, changing that is one of the tweaks I made. I think Hande also made hers in a loaf tin, but I favoured a round tin.

I suspect my version is a little moister than Hande’s. I used local Concorde pears (a hybrid of Conference and Comice), which were firmly ripe, but still added a fair bit of moisture to the mix. Hande said “I aimed for a batter that is not too runny but not too stiff either, when you pour it into the pan it does hold for a couple of seconds before gently flowing to all corners”, giving an optional 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs if your batter was too runny. I didn’t do this, but instead increased the flour slightly.

I also suspect I assembled mine in a different manner to Hande, but it’s one of those forgiving batters where the ingredients could be combined in various orders. It’s not the sort of cake where you’re trying to achieve a super-light texture, instead it’s got a texture that’s defined by the nuts – crunchy, slightly oily – and the pears – moist, with the whole concoction shot through with bursts of dark chocolate.

500g pear
125g hazelnuts
100g dark choc (at least 70% cocoa solids)
115g unsalted butter, melted
70g light muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt1
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper and a few grinds of black pepper
130g plain/all-purpose flour, or low protein 00
2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Grease and line a 20cm round tin.
2. Preheat oven to 180C.
Skinning hazelnuts
3. Lightly toast the hazelnuts, rub off the skins (using a tea towel or cloth; I wasn’t too assiduous about this – too many skins can be bitter, but a little adds flavour) and grind in a food processor to a medium meal.
4. Coarsely chop the dark chocolate.
Peeling pears
5. Pear, core and coarsely grate the pear.
6. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and spices to mix.
7. In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and melted butter. Add the egg, vanilla and pinch of salt and beat again to blend.
8. Add the nut meal, pear and chocolate to the bowl and combine.
9. Fold in the flour.
10. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
11. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until firm to the touch and lightly browned.
12. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out. Serve warm with cream2 or ice cream, or allow to cool completely. Hande had hers for breakfast. But then she lives in Rome and the sort of cake us Brits would treat as a tea-time treat or pudding gets eaten for breakfast there.

 

 

Notes
1 So yes, I’ve made a point of saying “unsalted butter” then added a pinch of salt. Why? Well, salt is essential for all foods, unless you have no sense of taste or somehow like your food bland. Put simply, it’s the ultimate flavour enhancer, so even sweets – especially sweets like this with a variety of flavoursome components – benefit from a bit of salt. A pinch. Too much and you may get a salty taste, but too little and it won’t be there to do its work. In the words of renowned London-based chocolatier and pâtissier Paul A Young salt “lifts and balances the sweetness and brings out other flavours.” I have used salted butter in cakes in the past, especially when I’ve not got any unsalted, but the problem with that is that you can’t control the quantity effectively as you can’t be sure how much salt is already in the butter. So it might seem perverse to use unsalted butter then add salt to the mix, but there’s a logic to it!
2 We had clotted cream. I could eat the stuff every day… if I was a bit more blithe about my arteries.

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Kladdkaka – gooey Swedish chocolate cake

Kladdkaka sliced

So this isn’t very Christmassy, but I’ve wanted to try making a kladdkaka for a while. I really must get a Swedish or Scandinavian baking book as I’m enjoying everthing I try making from recipes from that part of the world.

Kladdkaka is a kind of gooey chocolate cake. It’s unleavened – no baking powder, no soda, no yeast, so it’s not intended to be light and airy. Instead, the aim seems to be to basically leave the inside somewhat unbaked, so it’s moist to the point of runny, so it’s not unrelated to things like chocolate fondant and brownie.

In English, it can be called mud cake, but from what I can tell from online dictionaries, kladd means either draft, or rough, or daub, something a bit messy and unfinished, or goo, gunk. A Swedish-speaking friend meanwhile (he’s Finnish but is one of those annoying types who speaks multiple languages perfectly) says that “If something is ‘kladdigt’ it’s sticky, gooey, doughy, maybe even messy.” Thanks. Tom.

135g butter
55g cocoa powder
110g plain flour
320g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease and line a round tin, ideally 18cm or 20cm (7 or 8 inch).
3. Melt the butter then remove from the heat.
4. Sieve the cocoa and plain flour into mixing bowl.
5. Beat together the eggs and vanilla.
6. Pour the butter and egg mix into the flour, and beat together with the sugar until the mixture is combined.
7. Pour the mixture into the tin then bake for around 20-30 minutes. This is the important bit and will vary depending on the character of your oven. You want it to start pulling away from the edges of the tin, but not be baked dry in the middle.
8. Cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then turn out.
9. Dust with icing sugar.

Kladkakka dusted

You can eat it warm, with ice cream or whipped cream. I had mine with custard, though I doubt Swedes do this; we just had some fresh custard in the fridge that needed me to nobly step in to finish it. It’s also very nice cooled completely, to a more truffle-like texture, and eaten with a cuppa.

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Sweet Sussex stout chocolate muffins

Sweet Sussex and chocolate

Today, 16 June, is Sussex Day. It’s probably not a festival many people celebrate – especially as it was only invented in 2006. Though it is based on the saints day of St Richard, patron of Sussex, the land of the south Saxons. Richard de Wych was a 12th century bishop of Chichester, now the county town of West Sussex. I’m over here in Lewes, the county town of East Sussex. The historic county of Sussex, based on the ancient kingdom of the south Saxons, was divided into two modern, administrative counties in the 1860s. Chichester and Lewes are very different, notably because the former is a cathedral city of about 24,000 people, while Lewes only has about 14,000 people, and the only “cathedral” is Harveys brewery.

Later on today I plan to head down to Harveys and check out the new St Richard’s Ale, which they’re launching on Sussex Day, but in the meantime, here’s recipe made using another Harveys, county-themed ale: Sweet Sussex.

Ye olde stout vs porter
On the label and site, Harveys says Sweet Sussex is a “lush, sweet stout named after the county in which it is brewed.” It has an ABV of just 2.8%, which raises the interesting question of what truly defines a stout. Well, in linguistic terms “stout” originally meant proud, brave and courageous, but this segued into meaning physically strong, well built. As a description of people it evolved again to start meaning bulking, then fat, but in beer terms it stuck with strong. Specifically it was used to describe strong porter, the type of beer that emerged in London in the 18th century as a refreshing, nutritious, fortifying drink of hardworking porters

Dark brown or black ales, porters were made with well roasted malts, which lent them a sweet, charcoally flavour. Eventually, the term “stout porter” shifted again, with stout becoming its own town for a rich, dark ale – though not necessarily a strong one. Indeed, today, the terms stout and porter are fairly interchangeable.

Sussex Sweet may be called a stout, but it’s certainly not stout in the sense of strong. Indeed, it’s so weak, compared to those old historic stout porters which will have been 8% ABV or so, that it’s more defined by its sweetness. It’s almost like a kind of charcoal milkshake. And just the thought of thing that goes well with dark chocolate.

Muffin

Muffins vs cupcakes
I wanted to bake something chocolaty yesterday, but didn’t want something as rich as a full-on cake (like I made here with dark ale) or iced cupcakes, so I made some muffins instead. Like stout and porter, the terms muffin and cupcake have slightly blurred meanings, though broadly I’d say a muffin contained less sugar, less butter, and were broadly a tad healthier. A lot of muffins, of course, contain bran, or fruit, or are even savoury. These ones are only vaguely sweet, and have a hint of that charcoally flavour from the beer.

20g cocoa
230g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g butter, melted and cooled slightly
70g sugar (I used caster, but you could use a dark muscovado say)
150g dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Sweet Sussex or other stout or porter, or a mixture of stout or porter and milk

1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Light cacao
2. Sieve the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a bowl.
3. Stir in the sugar and chocolate chips.
4. Add the eggs, vanilla and beer, or beer and milk mix, along with the melted butter, to the flour mix.
5. Beat to combine.
6. Fill about a dozen muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes.
7. Cool and enjoy, with a cuppa or perhaps with a stout. Or porter.

Muffins, baked

A note on the cocoa
There’s only a little bit of cocoa in here, but I was also using a very light-coloured type of cocoa powder, hence the results aren’t very dark. This cocoa powder I’m using is actually the Raw Chocolate Company’s Raw (organic, Fairtade, thoroughly right-on) Cacao Powder. See here for more info.

Cocoa? Cacao? Whaʼ? Don’t worry about the difference. There isn’t really one. The English word cocoa is basically a synonym for the cacao, with Theobroma cacao the scientific name for the tree that yields the beans that produce those all-important chocolate products, with “cacao” coming from the Mayan and Mesoamerican language word for the tree and “Theobroma” from the Greek for “food of the gods”. Beer and chocolate – both worthy of that name I’d say.

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Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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A bike ride, “gluten-free” cake, X-Men and orchids. Lots of orchids

Bank of orchids near Lewes

One of the things that bugs me about the whole anti-gluten issue is that bakeries are induced to label products as “gluten free” even if they’re traditional types of cake or biscuit that have always been made without wheat flour. It’s not like these things have just been invented to cash in on a food fad / epidemic of wheat-related health issues. Think things like the classic sachertorte, its south Italian cousin torta caprese, various Sicilian almond paste delights. Never mind other things made up by celeb chefs more recently, like this lovely citrus polenta cake that’s based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

I adore cakes based on ground nuts or featuring alternatives to wheat flour, like polenta, which is maize, Zea mays, or what Americans call corn (when I was growing up we still used the word corn in the old English sense as a generic term for cereal grain). Maize, being a cereal plant and a member of the Poaceae (grass) family does contain proteins related to those that people have issues with in wheat, which specifically contains gliadin, one of the proteins that forms “gluten”. I also enjoy things made with other non-cereal flours like potato and buckwheat, which isn’t a Poaceae cereal or grain, it’s the seed of a member of the rhubarb, sorrel family and Japanese knotweed family, Polygonaceae. They can create all sorts of interesting textures and moistness. But sometimes you just need wheat.

More orchids

So anyway, today I took a quick jaunt on my bike from home in Lewes up to Uckfield, about nine miles away. Not exatly being overburdened with employment at the moment, I don’t have any excuses to not keep relatively fit. I was also toying with the idea of catching a matinee of X-Men Days of Future Past. As a former film critic, sometime comics journalist and increasingly reluctant comics collector (that stuff is just so heavy!), I was keen to see it, especially as the original comic storyline the film is loosely inspired by, first published in 1981 and created by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, is an utter classic.

While in Uckfield, I checked out Hartfields Produce Store. It’s a cool little place with the right attitude – “a small independant produce store and cafe based in Uckfield. Our aim is to provide great, fresh food, locally sourced wherever possible and always full of flavour!” [Sic] As I love the aforementioned ground nut-based cakes I had to try their chocolate and almond torta, despite it carrying the now-essential sign declaring its gluten-free status.

I know this shouldn’t rile me, but I’m a baker, and wheat is the backbone of baking. I’m a firm believer that many people wouldn’t suffer their wheat-related issues if they ate properly fermented bread, and avoided any and all shit industrial wheat-based products, that are made in a rush without sufficient fermentation. I touched on the evils of the Chorleywood (so-called) Bread Process here, but also went into more detail about this subject here. So I won’t rehash here. Suffice to say, I don’t consider industrial wheat-based products fit for human consumption. And frankly, I wouldn’t feed white sliced “bread” to my pigs or chooks (if I had any).

Hartfields chocolate almond torta

Anyway, back to Hartfields. In total, my bike-ride apparently burned 697 calories – presumably kcals – according to Strava. I know nothing about the calories (ie kcals) in food, as I’ve always tried to have a sensible attitude to food and fitness, and not get hung up, but I’m guessing there were at least half the number of kcals I burned on the ride in the slice. But you know, that’s why I cycle and walk regularly – so I can enjoy cake. And this was great cake. Bravo Hartfields.

After the cake, I stopped by the cinema to discover it was a parents-and-babies matinee, so as I didn’t fancy earnest X-dialogue combined with potential squalling, and as it was a nice day, I headed home. Into a terrible headwind on the final five miles heading south down the Ouse river valley on the A26. But that’s fine – the whole stretch was utterly littered with orchids, with some patches of dozens, even hundreds. I’ll have to check with my brother, who’s the family expert on such things, but I believe they were common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), in varying shades of pale pink through to a darker almost-purple, some of them up to half a metre tall. Wonderful.

Orchid

Info
Hartfields Produce Store, 71 High Street, Uckfield TN22 1AP

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Cocoa and cookies

Cookies and cocoa

Or, “hot chocolate and biscuits”, if I’m being both more and less accurate, and true to my Britishness.

Having arrived back in Britain in the middle of the flippin’ winter, we’ve been drinking a lot of hot chocolate. Now, I’m quite fussy about my hot chocolate. So many cafes (especially those chain places) just fail straight off by serving tepid drinks that aren’t particularly chocolaty. Seriously, the description of the product is in the name: it needs to be hot, and it needs to be chocolaty.

It surprises me how long it’s taking for hot chocolate to be taken as seriously as coffee as a drink. Sure, it’s a hot milky drink, so is perhaps more of a winter drink – but having said that, most so-called coffees served by those chain places are basically just flavoured (warm, frothy) milks drinks too.

Surely hot chocolate deserves as serious attention as coffee? Single estate and all that.

I was discussing this with Michael Temple, proprietor of the Coffee House on Fisher Street in the historic heart of Lewes, East Sussex, and he agreed, mentioning that hot chocolate was popularised in Europe before coffee. Coffee spread from Asia and Africa into Europe, via the Arab world and trade through Venice, in the 16th century, with coffee houses starting to open in England in the second half of the 17th century. Chocolate – which was a bitter drink of the Aztecs – reached Spain with Cortes in 1528, and was soon developed into a sweet drink. The first chocolate house opened in England in 1657.

I’m not a coffee drinker – I’ve never enjoyed the taste of coffee – but strangely I do prefer my chocolate, and by extension, my hot chocolate, to be bitter with coffee-ish notes.  (Talking of which, I’m on a side-quest to try chocolate with the highest percentage cacao; tried Mr Popple’s 88% Strong yesterday. It’s only sweetened with yacón syrup – no, I hadn’t heard of that before either – has a great, gritty crunchiness, and flavour that’s coffee-ish and sharp.)

Mr Popple's chocolate

Taking hot chocolate seriously

Michael takes his hot chocolate seriously enough to offer two types, which he calls “Italian” and “Spanish”. The former is made with (French) Valrhona and is 50% cacao. It’s very good, especially as he serves it suitably scalding. I’ve found another that pips it though, and it’s a local brand. This is Montezuma’s, a British chocolatier founded in 2000 and based just outside Chichester, West Sussex. Sure, the cacao’s not British-grown, but that doesn’t trouble my locavore inclinations too much. After all – this is chocolate we’re talking about. One’s personal ethics have to have some exceptions.

Montezuma’s do four hot chocolates at the moment, but I’m a purist so there’s only one for me: their Dark Chocolate, with 54% cacao. Years ago, I used to drink Green & Blacks, but by comparison that just seems too sweet and weak now (plus G&B sold out to Cadbury’s, who sold out to Kraft; meh). I also used to drink  stuff based on an original Sir Hans Sloane recipe that they sold at the Natural History Museum, but that brand was discontinued. Then we discovered Mortimer Chocolate Company‘s 70% chocolate powder. These guys take their drinking chocolate satisfyingly seriously, talking about blend and provenance in a language not unlike that used for coffee.

Leone and Venchi

In Italy, meanwhile, my favoured brand was first Venchi, then Fran found Leone, who did a 70% stoneground-coarse-granules hot chocolate. Montezuma’s comes in flakes and chunks, not granules, and is a thing of beauty, making a far superior drink to the other brand I bought recently – Clipper. Its powder form just seems oddly twee and lame in comparison to these chunky options.

Winter comforts

Drinking lots of hot chocolate is one of the great pleasures of winter, and has helped us through the past three weeks or so of largely miserable grey, wet, windy weather. It’s an even more pleasing, and comforting, experience when accompanied by some nice biscuits. So we had a little baking session. Fran did some shortbread from a Dan Lepard recipe in Short and Sweet. The results are good, though they have a little more chew than crunch.

I wanted something with a bit more snap, so I tried the Pain d’amande / Almond wafer cookies recipe in the American Academy in Rome’s Biscotti book.

As with most of the book’s recipes, it involves fairly large quantities and a fairly unclear, insufficiently tested, poorly edited recipe. Mine weren’t perfect, but dipped in hot chocolate they were yummy. They’re made with Demerara sugar, giving them a warm caramelly taste. The recipe called for slithered raw almonds but I only had flaked almonds, so used them. I think the cookies would have been better with the almond skin, so I’ll try that slicing whole almonds next time.

So anyway, here’s a recipe.

Almond wafer ingredients

40g water
110g unsalted butter
1/2 t ground cinnamon
150g Demerara sugar
70g whole almonds, sliced into slithers. Or flaked almonds if you CBA
150g plain/all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda
Pinch of salt

1. Warm the water, butter, cinnamon and sugar together in a pan. Melt, don’t boil!*
2. Pour the warmed mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in the nuts.
3. Sift together the flour and baking soda, and add, along with the salt, to the mixture.
4. Combine and form a dough.
5. Shape the dough into a rectangle. You want it to be wide and flattish, about 25mm deep.
6. Wrap up the rectangle in plastic and rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 160C.
8. De-fridge, de-plastic and the dough.
9. The slice rectangle across (not along) into pieces about 3mm thick.

Slicing the slab
10. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment and bake until golden. About 10 minutes.
11. Cool on a wire rack. They will crisp up as they cool.

Eat dipped in the best quality hot chocolate you can find. And made with flavoursome full-fat milk.

Now if only Montezuma’s would produce a 70%-plus hot chocolate to their range I’d love them forever. (Or at least until they sell to an ethics-free corporation. Please don’t sell out Montezuma’s!)

Montezumas Dark  Chocolate

(Oh, and if anyone has any WordPress wherewithal – why on earth would uploading just this one image have WordPress changing it from a landscape format 1747×983 image into a portrait format 976×1747 image?)

* I’ve been corresponding with Ilse Zambonini about these almond “wafers”, which she dubbed “dentist’s joy”. When you melt the sugar and butter, don’t bring it to the boil or you could make a caramel or even a very hard toffee! Also, when you slice, make sure they’re nice and thin, and when you bake, don’t over-bake. Follow these tips, and you’ll get a biscuit that’s crisp, but not too-breaking!

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Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato

These are a long way from authentic ciambelline al vino – ring cookies that are normally made plain or flavoured with fennel or anise seeds. But hey, I love chocolate. Chocolate doesn’t seem to play a big role in Italian biscotti etc, but as we’re moving house soon, and I have a large pot of cocoa in the cupboard that needs using up, I thought I’d try chocolate ciambelline.

Plus, we had a bottle of red wine that also needed using up. This cost us the princely sum of €1.50 so was clearly seriously and definitely hardcore cooking wine; or very desperate-at-the-end-of-an-evening-wine; or Withnail wine (“This is a far superior drink to meths!”).

We also had a bar of chocolate and did chop it up and add it to the mix, but it caused problems with the rolling: the chips kept severing the dough. So if you do it, I’d recommend either chopping the chocolate up into small pieces (I’m talking chips of a just a few mm) or leaving it out completely. Ditto, some slithers of almond would be nice, but they’d have to be small or they’ll compromise the structural integrity. You don’t want a hull breach. (Sorry, going a bit Star Trek.)

Kitchen

Anyway, ciambelline are classic Italian cookies that are often served with a digestivo after a meal. They’re related to taralli, which are almost like hard-baked bagels (and, indeed, they’re boiled in water before baking), and tarallini, which are smaller versions thereof. I’ve generally encountered savoury taralli and tarallini, but in one seafood restaurant we like in central Rome, they serve you a Vin Santo desert wine with a few small, fennel-seed flavoured sweet ring biscuits that they call tarallucci.

So, as with so many Italian nouns relating to food, usage is fairly mutable! (Depending on region, slang, dialect, inclination, family etc.)

So anyway. Here’s my recipe. Bear in mind, these sorts of recipes are traditionally made with the whole qb approach: quanto basta, “how much is enough”. I always prefer to use grams but if you do make these, and you feel your dough isn’t quite right, just follow your instincts and adjust the amount of liquid or flour.

360g flour
50g cocoa
150g sugar
160g extra virgin olive oil
160g red wine
(Optional: 50g dark choc, cut in small pieces, or some small slithers of nut)

Red wine and chocolate ring cookies, or Ciambelline al vino con il cioccolato mix

1. Combine the wine, oil and sugar.
2. Sieve in the flour and cocoa, stirring.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
3. Form a dough. Add more flour if it’s too wet, more oil or wine if it’s too dry.
4. Rest the dough, for about half an hour, to let it relax.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
5. Preheat the oven to 180C.
6. Form balls, about the size of a walnut. I went for a scaling weight of 30g, but ciambelline are often bigger, so you could go for 60-80g. Whatever you prefer.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
7. Roll the balls into sausages.
8. Form the sausages into rings, pinching together the ends.
9. Dip the top in granulated sugar.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
10. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment.
11. Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

Red wine and chocolate ciambelline, Ciambelline al vino rosso e cioccolato
12. You can crisp / harden them more by leaving them in the oven, switched off, while it cools. Though these harder ones may need stronger teeth / liquids for dipping and dunking.

Now of course, there’s something else about these ciambelline that’s so far going unsaid. It’s the elephant in the room of this recipe. If you don’t have appreciate scatological humour, browse away now! If you’re not easily fazed, scroll down and highlight the black.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
So yes, they look like poo. Especially when I was making them. All that cocoa and glistening olive oil – poo, or at least joke-shop plastic turds. And when I rolled them in the sugar, I couldn’t help thinking of the saying “You can’t polish a turd… but you can roll it in glitter.” But then, thought I, worry not: what could be more perfect in Rome, a city that’s totally and utterly and liberally decorated with dog mess, than a ciambelline of that resembles these pavement obstacles? (Our v borghese neighbourhood is especially bad – worse than Paris in the 1980s, and that’s saying something.)
Sorry.

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Italian breakfast, and why a cornetto isn’t a croissant

Cornetto, saccottino and cappucino at Baylon Cafe, Trastevere, Rome

Let the Games Begin (Che la festa cominci) is the latest novel by Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti. He’s probably best known for Io non ho paura (I’m Not Scared), the 2001 novel that became a film in 2003.

A pretty broad satire of contemporary Roman society, Let the Games Begin is passingly entertaining, but it suffers from less-than-perfect translation and editing. As well as some fairly rudimentary editorial errors, the idiomatic translation doesn’t feel quite right. It’s also quite haphazard with its translation of Italian food names. While it’s content to refer to supplì as supplì, it seems to determinedly translate cornetto as croissant.

A cornetto (“little horn”) is not a croissant (French for “crescent”). Nor is it an ice-cream. It’s an Italian relative of the croissant, likely with the same origins, but today a distinct product. Sure they look similar, but they’re slightly different. Read on.

No one is in agreement about the origins of the crescent-shaped pastry, but one abiding story (or myth) is that it was invented in Austria to commemorate the defeat of the Ottomans, who besieged the city in 1683. Wikipedia gives more background. Whatever the origins of the pastry (other variables include chiffel and kipfel), since its birth the regional and national versions have diverged.

Breakfast pastries
Both the croissant and the cornetto are breakfast pastries. The quintessential breakfast I witness being consumed day-in day-out in Rome is a coffee – either a simple caffè (espresso) or cappucino (often just called cappuccio in Rome) – with a cornetto, normally just a cornetto semplice (“simple”, ie plain).

Many cafés offer a large selection of different breakfast pastries, or lieviti (literally “yeasteds” or “risens”, meaning pastries made with a yeasted dough) and if possible I get a saccottino al cioccolato. In Italian, a sacco is a sack, so this literally is a “little sack with chocolate”. And yes, it closely resembles another French – or Viennese – pastry: the pain au chocolat, known by many ignoramuses as a “chocolate croissant” . Guys, it’s not a crescent-shape, so how can it be a croissant?

The cornetto semplice is also apparently also known as the cornetto vuoto (“empty”), to contrast it with various types of cornetti ripieni (“filled”). These include cornetto alla crema (with custard), alla marmellata (with jam, marmalade or other conserve), al miele (with honey; this is often made with an integrale, wholewheat, dough), and cornetto al cioccolato. The latter is an actual cornetto that is usually filled with that vile brown vegetable-oil product beloved of Italians, Nutella.

Choice of pastries at Baylon Cafe, Trastevere, Rome

The (subtle) difference
The French really don’t go in for all these filled variables, beyond ones with almond paste, but the biggest difference between cornetti and croissant is the lamination.

A proper croissant must be made with butter, and must be repeatedly folded and rolled, to achieve a lamination wherein the rolled dough contains several thin layers of the fat. When the croissant is baked, water in the dough is turned to steam, but this is trapped by the fat, causing pressure and rising between the layers. The resulting pastry, when done right, should be crisp and flaky, with a taste of butter but no greasiness.

A cornetto on the other hand isn’t so assiduously laminated, and can even be made with lard, not butter. The dough also contains more sugar. The result is a pastry that is just a lot sweeter than a proper French croissant, and can have a more enriched bread or cake-like texture, more like a French brioche. Some cornetti are very flaky and like croissants, but many others are more cakey; there’s a lot of variation.

Indeed, cornetti are sometimes called brioche in some northern parts of Italy, though in Naples, Sicily and parts of south with a historical French influence, the name brioche is used for a pastry more like the Gallic version. But that’s another story.

Cappuccio, spremuta, pastries at Caffe Arabo, Trastevere, Rome

A couple of cafés
Our lifestyle at the moment takes us to two cafes regularly for weekend morning cornetti. I’m not saying these have the best cornetti in Rome – how could I, without sampling cornetti in every single one of the thousands of cafés and pasticcerie in Rome? – but they’re places we enjoy.

The first is Baylon, which we started frequenting because… well, I can’t really remember. They’re so grumpy and resolutely unfriendly that even after we’ve been going there two years only one of the staff actually acknowledges us. The Ricardo Darin-lookalike is a particular sourpuss. Unlike many more traditional Roman cafés, however, it has space to hang out, and Wi-Fi. Plus, unlike many places in the tourist nexus of Trastevere, they don’t charge stupid prices.

So we keep on going back – partly for the space, partly as we can get our Saturday morning weekly English language paper nearby, and partly because they it has great selection of lieviti. Apparently it used to be a local landmark pasticceria (pastry bakery), so at least they have their own kitchens for the baking.

Our Sunday routine, on the other hand, developed as we used to go down to the farmers’ market in Testaccio’s Ex-Mattatoio every week. Although that’s now sadly been shunted further out of town, at least a direct-from-farm shop has opened near Ponte Testaccio, on the Trastevere Station side of the river, where we can get many of the same quality fresh products. There’s also Porta Portese market every Sunday, with its enormous selection of tat, junk and bric-a-brac.

Case of pastries at Caffe Arabo, Trastevere, Rome

On our route down the hill from our house, via the massively grand 19th century, weed-infested, broken-glass strewn, graffitied Ugo Bassi steps, we go to Caffè Arabo on Viale di Trastevere. This is a more traditional Roman café, no Wi-Fi or anything of that poncy nonsense, but it’s still kinda idiosyncratic. Plus, a couple of the staff not only recognise us but are friendly, even amiably laughing at my ordering a (hot) tea on a hot day. “The British drink tea in every season, every weather,” I shrugged.

They don’t have a kitchen, so their cornetti are bought-in, but they’re not bad. And occasionally they even have saccottini al cioccolato to satisfy my chocolate cravings.

Neither places, however, has croissant. A few Roman cafés do apparently do French-style croissant, but I’ve yet to sample them.

Of course, not everyone has a coffee and cornetto for breakfast or elevenses here in Rome. We sat down at Arabo last Sunday, Fran ordered a cappucino and cornetto, I ordered a spremuta d’arancia (freshly sqeezed orange juice) and a saccattino al cioccolato – then two guys sad down beside us and ordered beers. It was 10.30am.

Info
Baylon Café
Via San Francesco A Ripa 151, 00153 Rome
bayloncafe.com

Caffè Arabo
Viale di Trastevere 20, 00152 Rome

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Filed under Cakes (yeasted), Discussion, Other food, Restaurants etc

Torta Caprese

I see a lot of sachertorte in Roman pasticceria, but the other day I spotted a torta Caprese in the window of a place that seems to just be called Pasticceria Trastevere. It’s a pasticceria. In Trastevere. Not very imaginative. (Specifically, it’s on Via Natale del Grande 50, opposite the wonderful Cinema America building. Currently Occupato).

It’s not a cake I’ve encountered before, oddly considering I love chocolate cakes. And love cakes made with ground nuts. (And considering even a certain middle-class UK supermarket even does a brand version, I discover now.) My friend Rachel described it – and frankly it sounded much like a sachertorte, but without the apricot jam and chocolate glaze. That is a rich, flourless chocolate cake made with ground almonds.

Now that was something I had to try. And make. Without ever having eaten it before.

Pasticceria Trastevere

Some considerations

I scoured the internet for recipes, mostly in Italian. There seemed to be a some variation, notably in the question of what sort of almonds to use. Some used pre-ground almonds (or farina di mandorle – almond flour), some used blanched almonds that you then ground, others used skin-on almonds that you blanched and peeled yourself (a labour intensive job) before grinding, and others used skin-on almonds, ground as is.

Almonds

I liked the idea of the latter, not just as it’s less labour intensive, but because the skins add depth of flavour. (Much like I prefer my peanut butter wholenut, not skinned. Even though peanuts aren’t nuts, of course.)

Almonds, ground

The other key factor with a cake like this is the egg whites. The most important thing is to get the egg whites whisked to soft peaks, then be very gentle when you add the egg white to the nut/choc/fat/sugar/tuorli (egg yolks. Such a nice word. Sounds a bit like “twirly”). Seriously: be gentle when you fold in the egg whites, as this is only your way of lightening the cake, as there are no raising agents and it’s full of fairly dense ground nuts. Sure it’s going to be a fairly heavy cake, that’s the nature of nut-based, flourless cakes, but you don’t want it totally dense and biscuit-like.

Adding the egg whites

I have seen a few recipes with some baking powder, but it shouldn’t really be necessary for a cake with whisked egg whites. Plus, if you’re hoping to make a gluten-free cake, adding baking powder can be problematic. Why? Because baking powder often contains some starch, which absorbs moisture during storage. This can be from potatoes, or corn/maize, but it can also be from wheat. The stuff I’ve got in my cupboard, is clearly labelled: “Ingredients: Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Wheatflour (contains Gluten)”.

The other variable is how the other ingredients are combined. Obviously. This is interesting as frankly, I’m not sure it would make much difference if you did any of the following – as long as things are well mixed and you were gentle with the whites.

So, the recipes I read involved these various approaches

1 melting together the butter, chocolate and sugar, then adding the ground nuts, then beating in the egg yolks, and folding in the egg whites.
2 melting just the chocolate. Creaming together the sugar and butter, then adding the egg yolks, then the nuts, and melted chocolate, then the whisked egg whites. (This is how it’s described on English Wikipedia, but not in the majority of the Italian recipes I’ve looked at.)
3 melting together the chocolate and butter, beating together the sugar and yolks, then adding the ground nuts, then the liquid chocolate and butter, then folding in the whites.
4 Reversing the addition of liquid choc/butter and ground nuts. Theconcern here is that if the melted liquid is still hot, it could cook and scramble the egg yolk, unless you’ve cooled it somewhat first. So I’ve plumped for 3.

Some observations

The torta Caprese in Pasticceria Trastevere had slightly sloping edges – ie, it’s not baked in straight-sided cake tins. I was planning to use a 20cm straight-sided cake tin for this, to make a deeper cake, but my wife had left it at work. Which turned out to be helpful in the end, as I looked around for other tins and found one (not mine I believe, but belonging to our landlady) that seemed more appropriate, despite being somewhat shallow. I suppose it’s more like what we’d call a flan or pie tin in the UK, though it’s not got fluted sides.

Components 2

Also, the version I saw in Pasticceria Trastevere had flaked almonds on the top. Though this top was clearly the bottom, which was then inverted for serving. This seemed like a lovely idea, though I didn’t really use enough almonds, so I also decorated the finished cake with some icing sugar, which seems to be the norm.

Use good dark chocolate, at leat 65% cocoa solids. I used Venchi Cuor di Cacao 75%. Serious stuff.

Serious chocolate, chopped

One final note. Some of the recipes also call for some Strega (“witch”), a digestivo liquer traditionally made with herbs, but these days is probably mostly just made with E-numbers (as most of the “traditional” liquers seem to be). Not many of the recipes I’ve looked at, and indeed none of the Italian ones, include it. So I’m not bothering.

The recipe

4 eggs, separated
250g almonds, shelled but skin on
200g butter
200g dark chocolate
170g caster sugar
A good handful of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven 180C.

1 Grease and line the base of a 22cm round tin.
2 Generously sprinkle flaked almonds in the base of the tin.
3 Grind the whole almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor. (If you’ve not got a food processor you could, for example, use half ground almonds and half whole almonds that you’ve chopped… fairly comprehensively.)
4 Melt together the chocolate and the butter in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water.
5 Beat together the sugar and egg yolks. It’s quite a thick mix, but beat until creamy.
6 Beat the ground almonds into the sugar and egg yolks.
7 Add the melted chocolate and butter to the eggy-almond mix and beat.
8 Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. That is, when you lift up the whisk, and a peak is formed, it sags over slowly.
9 If the main mixture feels particularly stiff, you can beat in one tablespoon of the beaten egg whites. Gently fold in the egg whites.
10 Gently pour into the prepared tin.
11 Bake for around 45 minutes, until firm to the touch. This time will vary according to the character of your oven. With a fan oven, you might want to lower the temp to 160C.
12 Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
13 Turn out and serve inverted. Decorate with sieved icing sugar if you like.

Enjoy.

Addendum, 27 Feb 2013.
I want to try this again, but with an extra egg. Not sure I’ll have time for a while though, as I’ve started volunteering on the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and it’s pretty full-on, hours-wise. After separating four eggs for this recipe the other day, yesterday I seperated 120 for 6kg of pasta… My home baking will be a bit of a back burner for a few months, so the blog might be a bit quiet.

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