Baking · Desserts

Chocolate Chestnut Pavlova (A Holiday Miracle)

This year, I was allowed to cook dessert for Christmas Day. Now this is a big honour in our house, my dad guards the kitchen zealously, and it is very unusual for him to allow cooking rights to anyone else! This pressure is high as well – he does an amazing Christmas lunch and dessert has to live up to it!

This then was my creation, a decadent chocolate chestnut pavlova. One of my favourite combinations, this delectable dessert was a fitting centrepiece, converting even the meringue-haters amongst the diners – thus providing a holiday miracle!

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 This may be completed in a variety of styles – I made a two layer rectangular pavlova, sandwiched with the cream and ganache filling. However, you could also make a smaller three-layered circular pavlova – whatever floats your boat really!

 Chocolate Chestnut Pavlova

 Ingredients

  •  4 egg whites
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 115g icing sugar
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 200g double cream
  • 50g chestnut puree
  • 100g double cream
  • 20g icing sugar
  • Cocoa powder, to decorate

 Instructions:

Preheat the oven to gas Mark 2. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment and draw three 10-in circles on the parchment. Please don’t use pen – ink and meringue is not a flavour combination I would particularly endorse…

In a scrumptiously clean bowl, whisk your egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add in the sugars, a spoonful at a time until it has all been incorporated and the mixture forms stiff peaks. Spoon the mixture onto the preprepared baking trays, doing your best to stay within your pencil-drawn lines! Use a fork to create a jagged top to one of the meringue circles – the extra peaks will give a greater surface area to create the lovely caramelised sugar topping, and add a delightful golden colour to the top of your pavlova.

Turn the oven down to Gas Mark 1/2 (basically as low as it will go!) and bake your pavlova for 1 hour 30 minutes until the layers have a crisp top, a light gold colour and slightly darker points. Remove from the oven, cover with a tea towel and leave to cool completely overnight.

The next day (a few hours before you want to eat it), make the chocolate ganache by melting together the chocolate and chestnut purée. Add the double cream and mix until completely combined. Leave in a cool place for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer until doubled in thickness.

To assemble the final dish, start by whipping the cream and icing sugar together until it forms a soft mass of whipped cream. Place the bottom layer of meringue on a serving plate and then alternate layers of ganache, cream and meringue, ending with the top layer you made earlier. Finish with a final dusting of cocoa powder, and serve in big, delicious wedges.

Baking · Cupcakes · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations

Italy: Rosemary and Olive Oil Cupcakes with Chestnut Frosting

English: Italian Flag

Ok, I know that I have already completed a cake for Italy, but I couldn’t resist trying this combination, and my goodness, it works! Loosely based on the Tuscan speciality Castagnaccio, this cake combines the flavours of chestnut, rosemary and olive oil into an intriguingly-delicious flavoured cupcake. The original castagnaccio is a very traditional poor-mans dessert in Italy. Chestnuts have a history of being a crucial food source for the poorer communities of Italy, as the fact that they grew wild meant that anyone could collect and prepare these nuts. The earliest example of castagnaccio can be traced back to Roman times, when they would make a paste from chestnut flour, water and salt and top it with rosemary and pine nuts. Whilst no doubt practical for long marches, I am rather glad they have improved slightly since this point!

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The cupcake base is a dense olive oil and rosemary cake, which is topped with a chestnut frosting. Decorated with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings and a sprig of rosemary, these cakes are beautifully rustic, yet classically delicious in their design. Eat these and dream of being in the beautiful tuscan towns, getting the sun that we are missing dreadfully in the grey cloudy country that is England.

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Rosemary and Olive Oil Cupcakes with Chestnut Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 6oz/56g caster sugar
  • 158ml olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 7.5 oz/225g plain flour
  • 1 tsbp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g chestnut puree
  • 100ml double cream
  • 10g caster sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C/Gas mark 3 and line a cupcake tin with liners. Beat the eggs until foamy and the gradually mix in the sugar. Slowly pour in the olive oil, beating constantly. Add the rosemary, flour, baking powder and salt and mix until well combined. Spoon into the cupcake cases and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whip the cream and sugar together until it is holding soft peaks. Add the chestnut puree and mix until well combined. Pipe onto the top of the cupcake and decorate with chocolate shavings and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

 

Baking · Europe · Macaroons · Nation Cake Challenge

France: Mont Blanc Macarons

Flag of France

Of all my baking achievements up to this point, mastering macaroons is definitely one of the ones that I am most proud of. This was a difficult technique to master, not in the least because most recipes for macaroons are made using the Italian meringue technique, which involves whipping boiling sugar syrup into beaten egg whites. This technique terrifies me – I have visions of it spraying everywhere, covering me and the kitchen in red-hot sugar, a total kitchen horror movie. I spent a long time searching for a recipe which didn’t involve this technique but couldn’t find one. Then Max’s aunt in Phoenix, Arizona came up with the goods, sending over a lovely book of macaroons made without Italian meringue. I was so excited that day – I think she must have an amazing ability to read minds across the Atlantic!

With this book in my possession,  the (macaroon) world was now my oyster, and I became intrigued by the beautiful delicate sweets. It was through the recipe for tiramisu macaroons that I discovered my addiction to sweet sherry mixed into marscapone cheese, and reminded myself of the wonderful combination of chocolate and hazelnut (macaroons and nutella – so good!) At my recent masters graduation I sampled all the flavours provided at the drinks reception (to the great amusement of my family) and I love the fact that my hometown now has a macaroon stand in the shopping centre. However, there is nothing like making them yourself, and the confidence that making something more complex can give you.

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This recipe is one of my favourite combinations, that of chocolate and chestnut. This delicious, rich combination provides a wonderful decadent dessert which contrasts with the crisp shell of the macaroon. The Mont Black itself is a dessert of sweetened chestnut puree topped with whipped cream, and was apparently often served at the house of Lucrezia Borgia! (I suppose it is to die for… baboom!) Combined with the chocolate macaroon shell this makes a bite-size treat made in heaven!

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Excitingly, the Classic French Challenge of the Month, which is being hosted by A Kick at the Pantry Door is focusing on macaroons – perfect timing! I couldn’t resist therefore submitting these as an entry.

Mont Blanc Macaroons

Ingredients:

  • 3oz/78g ground almonds
  • 5oz/125g (1 cup) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2oz/56g caster sugar
  • 8floz/240ml double cream
  • 1/4 cup sweetened chestnut puree
  • 2 tbsp dark chocolate, grated.

Instructions:

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a pencil to draw 24 circles approximately 1-1.5 inches in diameter. Turn the paper over so that the lines show through, but you aren’t eating graphite!

Process the ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa in a food processor for 15 seconds, before sifting into a bowl. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage before gradually beating in the icing sugar until the mixture forms stiff peaks, and turns very glossy. Fold the almond mixture in a third at a time and continue to fold the mixture until it forms a thick shiny consistency, which forms a ribbon when the spatula is lifted out of the bowl.

Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 0.5in round nozzle and pipe onto the prepared baking sheets.Holding each end of the tray, lift it up and sharply tap it onto the work surface – this will remove any air bubbles that may be present in the mixture. Leave them to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Whilst they are resting, preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/ .

At the end of the 30 minutes, bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes before carefully peeling off the baking parchment and allowing to cool completely.

Make the filling by whipping the double cream to the soft peak stage before folding in the chestnut puree. Pipe the puree onto half the macaroons and top with the chocolate shavings before sandwiching with the remaining macaroon shells. To finish, sift over a light shower of icing sugar.