The Great Ancient World’s Bake Off – Rome vs Greece

The two contestants stood behind their benches, their stone ovens and fires at the ready. This challenge was going to determine their future, and the question of which country would win the baking crown. The competitors stood in silence – the time for trash talk was over. As the judges stepped forward, the bakers apprehension rose; what would they be asked to make in this challenge?

Terra cotta oven from Pompeii on display in th...

Terracotta Oven from Pompeii

The baking battle between the Ancient Romans and Greeks was at full throttle at present and tension was rife in the kitchen. The Roman competitors consistently mentioned their baking guild, how it was considered so important in their country that a member of the baking guild was asked to sit in on the Senate! They viewed the Greek baking cuisine as far less advanced – they didn’t even grow their own wheat flour, but had to import much of it from Sicily and Egypt. Not to mention most of their cakes were created for sacrifices – what a waste! However, the final was approaching, and it was between a Greek and a Roman – he had a chance to win this!

It had been a tough day. The signature bake has gone well on the whole, both of them managing to complete a cheesecake of their choice. Chrysippus felt that his recipe for placenta, a cheesecake layered with honey and filo pastry had been received a little better than his competitors effort of honey-soaked goats cheese balls (no soggy bottom!), however the technical challenge of a honey cake has possibly gone slightly more towards his Roman competitor. However, it now all rested on the showstopper challenge.

The judges announced the challenge; to cook a cake of their choice, representing themselves and their culture. The time limit was set and the competition started. Both bakers ran to the oven and started preparing their ingredients. Mad thoughts ran through Chrysippus’s mind – would they think that his cake was too simple, especially considering that it didn’t require any baking? Had he played it too safe? Should he have used beer to leaven his cake, or was that too Egyptian in style? Was creating a traditional round cake too boring – fit for the temple but not for the competition? He quickly shrugged this thought off – if it was good enough for Artemis the Moon Goddess, it was good enough for the judges!

Ancient Greek Cake

The time had come – the time was up. The cakes were presented and tasted. Positive comments were given for both his cake and his competitor’s egg and honey enriched cake. Now all they could do was wait.

Chrysippus’s Recipe for Gastris

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • ½ cup golden raisins, soaked overnight
  • ½ cup dark raisins, soaked overnight
  • 1 cup almonds, soaked and blanched
  • 1 cup dried apricots, soaked
  • 8 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • ½ cup walnuts, soaked overnight
  • 2 cups poppy seeds
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • A splash of water

Crust:

  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups sesame seeds
 Instructions
In a medium pan, dry toast the poppy seeds on medium heat for 1 minute. Transfer the poppy seeds into a bowl before toasting the hazelnuts
Add all the ingredients for the filling in a blender, starting with the soaked dried fruits, then adding the almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, then the honey and olive oil. At last, add the poppy seeds and the pepper. If the mixture gets too dry, add cold water, one tablespoon at a time. The mixture should not have a liquid consistency.
To make the crust, blend together the sesame seeds and the honey until the mixture is completely combined before dividing the mixture into two parts. Spread the first half on a parchment paper lined pan, add the filling on top, and press down to ensure an even covering.  Top with the remaining sesame mixture and refrigerate until completely set (at least a couple of hours).
Notes: To make this recipe completely vegan, substitute the honey for an appropriate sweetener.

Vegan Chocolate and Orange Mousse

I am really excited about this vegan dessert, and so happy it worked! Presenting number two in the vegan dessert duo – Chocolate and Orange mousse!

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I love chocolate mousse. One of my guilty pleasures is those chocolate mousses that come in yoghurt pots, but there is nothing to beat the deliciousness of actual chocolate mousse. However, I have a thing about using raw egg in anything and most recipes for chocolate mousse either have raw egg or so much cream that it turns into a ganache. This however, solves that problem! Four ingredients, 5 minutes and you are sorted with a delicious light pudding that almost feels healthy! Enjoy!

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Vegan Chocolate and Orange Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of chilled coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp orange liqueur
  • 1/2 cup icing powder

Instructions:

Place the sold layer of coconut cream in a bowl and add the other ingredients. Beat for five until doubled in size and light and fluffy. Serve in small dishes with chocolate shavings to decorate.

I think this might be the easiest recipe in the world. Delicious, simple and very addictive! Come back in two days for a return to cake, and most specifically a Eurovision-themed post! Cannot wait!

Vegan Coconut and Vanilla Panna Cotta, Macadamia Tuille and Pineapple

Over the next few posts we are going on a slight diversion from the cake-based goodness you are used to, and instead will be talking about dessert. Specifically, vegan desserts, and I will be giving you the recipes for two that I tried recently. This was a new challenge for me, as I am not vegan myself, and have had basically no experience in this type of cooking. However, I was asked to make dessert for a family dinner and one of my cousins who would be in attendance is a very committed vegan. Now, whilst the easy option was to make a fruit salad or the like I decided that I didn’t really want to do that – rather I wanted to make a dessert that everyone could eat and enjoy – one that was vegan without looking vegan!

Now this is easier said than done, as the majority of desserts include some form of animal product, whether it be eggs, butter, cream or honey. Coupled with the fact that Max is strongly allergic to banana (another ingredient often used in vegan cooking) made it quite a large challenge! So I did what every sensible person does in this situation and hit Pinterest.

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I decided that I would make a trial run of several desserts, having never attempted vegan cooking before. I selected three contrasting desserts, made mini tests of each of them and had a taste test! The three recipes were a coconut and vanilla panna cotta, a chocolate and orange mousse and a lime cheesecake. Two out of the three were successful, and the third (the lime cheesecake) was not unsuccessful – it tasted great, I just need a better blender!

Today then, I present the first of these recipes – a vegan coconut and vanilla pannacotta served with a caramel macadamia tuille and both dried and macerated pineapple. This recipe could also be used successfully for non-vegans as the flavours themselves are lovely (I actually adapted the recipe from a non-vegan version!)

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Vegan Coconut and Vanilla Pannacotta, Macadamia Tuille and Pineapple (Two Ways)

Ingredients:

Panna cotta:

  • 20g vegetarian gelling agent
  • 150ml/5floz rice milk (or your preferred milk equivalent)
  • 150ml/5floz cream substitute
  • 25g/1oz caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 100ml/3flz coconut milk

Tuille:

  • 50g macadamia nuts
  • 50ml/2flz orange liqueur
  • 100ml/31/2floz water
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp liquid glucose
  • Pineapple and edible flowers to decorate

Instructions:

Panna cotta:

Place the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla pod and heat until the sugar dissolves, before removing the pan from the heat. Stir in the coconut milk, ensuring the mixture is completely smooth. Add the gelling agent to the pan and bring to the boil, ensuring that you stir constantly. Cook for two minutes before removing from the heat and pouring into metal ramekins. Place in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

Macadamia Tuille:

Crush the macadamia nuts in a pestle and mortar, before placing on a baking sheet and gently toasting for a few minutes (keep your eye on them – I can promise you that if you even think of leaving them, they will burn!) Place the liqueur, water, sugar and glucose in a pan and cook over a high heat, swirling the pan occasionally. Allow it to become a nice amber colour, before removing from the heat and pouring onto a silicone baking mat. Spread it with a spatula until it is very thin,and sprinkle with the macadamia nuts. Cut out four discs (about 2in in diameter) and allow to cool completely.

Pineapple Crisps:

Peel and de-eye the pineapple, before cutting very thin slices using a large broad-bladed knife. Lay these on a foil lined baking sheet and bake in the oven at gas mark 1 for about 1 hour until they have started to dry out and the edges have gone golden, turning occasionally. Remove from the oven and leave to dry completely. You can create pineapple flowers by placing the slices in muffin tins to cool. Cut the remainder of the pineapple into cube and place in a bowl with a little lime juice and sugar.

To complete the dish, Remove the panna cotta from the fridge and remove from the mould, loosening with a sharp knife as necessary. Place in the centre of the plate and place the tuille on top. Position pineapple flowers to one side, and add cubes of pineapple. Finish with an edible flower.

And there we go – my first vegan dessert! In two days time, return for chocolate mousse – vegan style!