Thursday 18 April 2013

Chocolate and Guinness cake

Today was the birthday of my daughter's teacher and, as Mme S is a complete chocoholic, I was keen to try out a new chocolate cake recipe: I was looking for something less brownie-ish than my usual one ("A tale of two cakes"), something more cake-y, yet also something - more "manly/bloke-y"... Then I remembered that my friend Emma had sent me a Nigella Lawson recipe which she was raving about - and which sounded really unusual: I've made beetroot and chocolate cake before - but with beer? But then, while I was going through my other cookbooks, I came across EXACTLY the same recipe in one of my favourite books of last year (Cake Days by The Hummingbird Bakery)! So I figured that three great cooks can't be wrong - and have now added this truly wonderful concoction to my repertoire (and my husband declared this one "another winner" too*):

250ml Guinness
250g butter
80g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
140 ml sour cream (or buttermilk or full-fat milk with a dash of lemon juice)
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
280g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180° (160° fan oven), and butter and line a 20cm square cake tin.
Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter and heat until the butter has melted.
Whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the mixture.
Finally whisk in the flour and bicarb.
Bake for ca 45 mins until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

*Oh and if you wondered how my husband and I were able to actually taste this chocolaty wonder: well would you believe it but a small piece was accidently knocked off from the bottom - oops there went another teensie chunk - and another... clumsy us!

And Mme S liked his cake so much that she squirelled it away tout suite and was planning to smuggle it straight home after school (thereby setting a VERY bad example for her pupils/other teachers in terms of (not) sharing...)

The original recipe(s) use a springform tin. If you want to switch one for the other, always use a SQUARE tin which is 2-3cm SMALLER than a round one (or, of course, a ROUND one which is 2-3cm LARGER...)

And both Nigella and the HB use cream cheese frosting as well - but I thought the cake was pretty enough "au naturel" - especially with my daughter's lovely decorations!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

"Who ate all the pies?"

Who indeed? Well I'm certainly one of the runner-ups for that position as I love savoury pies and pasties in any shape or form: Jamaican patties, South American empanadas, Moroccan b'stillas, Russian pirozhkis -  and, of course, the vast array of wonderful British ones: beef and ale pie, Cornish pasties... that list is endless. (I have however, to my shame, never tasted one of the famous "chicken balti pies" that my husband and other Brummie (Birmingham) Aston Villa fans like to imbibe in during half-time... I shall ask him to get one "à emporter" at the next match!)

But my favourite pies of all are these fabulous ones which I've been making for longer than I can remember - they are slightly adapted from my favourite Australian chef Bill Granger's book Sydney Food:

Individual chicken, leek and tarragon pies

Not only are they delicious, but they are also quick to make as they don't need the usual pre-two hour-long-stew which is required for meat pies. And the flavours just come together in the most warm, sweet, delicate yet deeply-scented way... utterly divine. Children love them too - my daughter regularly asks to take one for her packed school lunch! AND these pies also work extremely well with left-over cooked chicken - a brilliant way to use up the rest of the Sunday "farmyard scratcher". ( I also made them with the rest of last Christmas' turkey crown and, last week, with left-over veal chops - both an absolute triumph!)*

500g chicken breast, cut into smallish (3-4cm) dice
3 tbsp of well-seasoned plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
2 leeks**
2 cloves garlic, crushed
80 ml white wine
250 ml chicken stock
125 ml cream
250g frozen peas
1 heaped tbsp of chopped tarragon***
300g puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 180°.
Put the seasoned flour and chicken pieces into a ziplock bag and stir to combine.
Heat half the oil and butter in a large pan and cook the leeks and garlic over medium heat until soft (ca 5 mins).
Remove the leeks, add the rest of the butter and oil and fry off the chicken pieces until lightly browned and sealed. Add the stock and scrape off any pan stickings. Add the leeks, wine, cream, peas and tarragon and simmer for 5 mins.
While the mixture cools, line 4 loose-bottomed tartlet tins (10-12 cm) with baking paper. Roll out the puff pastry and cut 4 circles big enough to line the bases and sides of the tins. Also cut 4 circles for the tops. Line the tins with the 4 big circles and spoon in the filling. Place the tops on the pies and crimp/seal the edges firmly with your fingers.
Bake in the oven for 35 mins or until golden brown.

Serve with a green salad.

*If you use already cooked meat, just add the 3 tbsp of flour to the filling after the tarragon and stir to combine before simmering.
**I always save any leftover bits and pieces of leeks from previous meals in the freezer - and I often top this up with ready-chopped frozen leeks - Aldi (Trader Joe's in the US) sell 700g bags for 89 cents which is fantastic value. Use ca 350g for this recipe.
***I also use frozen tarragon as I haven't had any luck with growing them in my garden and a bought pot just goes to waste... A small container from Delhaize costs just 1.29€ and lasts for AGES.