Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The story of panettone: Don't buy it, make it

One of the things I like the most about Christmas time is that I get to eat panettone. I have a great aunt in Italy who traditionally provides me with the best one you can buy. I then eat it with indecent greed and guard it jealously so noone gets more than me. Yes, I am that childish.

However, I always really wanted to try and make it at home as we all know that home-made is generally better. Panettone has a reputation for being extremely tricky to make. My grandma, who is a sort of an authority when it comes to baking with yeast dough, told me that it's supposed to be really hard, that it takes a lot of time, and that I shouldn't even bother. Fortunately, I rarely listen to any advice, so I decided to make my research and at least give it a try.

I really did make my research. In the end I felt like I read and watched everything that the internet could provide on the topic of panettone. I decided on a recipe by Laura Vitale that seemed both traditional and simple enough. I made only two alterations. I substituted the active yeast with 14g of fresh yeast as fresh yeast is a traditionally used by Italian bakers, and left out any candied fruit because I just don't like it.

My first panettone. Don't listen to anyone who tells you it's too hard to make at home. It's not.

There are two things that I found were crucial for success when making panettone:
  1. Being gentle with the dough.
    It's okay to be not so gentle when you're making the dough, but once you put it away to rise you should really be careful what you do with it. Don't poke it. Don't slam the oven door once you put it in. Pretend the dough is asleep and any fast movement would wake it up.
  2. Creating a warm enough rising environment.
    The warmer your kitchen is the better. If it's too cold, the dough won't rise properly.

I have to say that when I try out new recipes, even if they are good in essentials, I usually always find something that I'm not completely satisfied with - the taste, sweetness, texture, you name it. This recipe, however, is perfect. There is not a single thing that I'd want to change. Needless to say, the panettone was of course better that the store-bought one.

Panettone admittedly does take a lot of time to make, because the dough has to rise twice. Altogether the process takes about 8 hours, but don't let that discourage you. It's more than worth it.

There are still two days till Christmas. Get your aprons on!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Chocolate mousse cake with sour cherries

I spent the last few weeks experimenting with different types of chocolate creams and fillings. I like this one especially because of its mousse-like texture as well as amazing flavour. Paired with sour cherries and simple chocolate sponge it makes a killer cake that is easy enough to make.

You will need :

For the cake base (16 cm Ø springform pan):
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp powdered sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder

For the filling:
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp (or 2 or 3…) rum
100 g dark chocolate
200 g mascarpone
150 g Greek yoghurt
250 ml whipping cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar
200 g sour cherries (frozen or canned, either way put them in a strainer but save the liquid/syrup)

For the chocolate wrap:
100 g dark chocolate

Make the cake base:

First beat the egg whites with half of the sugar until it forms stiff peaks.

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until the mixture is quite pale yellow.

Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites, flour and cocoa powder into the egg yolk mixture. 

Pour the batter into a spring form pan lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 180°C for about 20 minutes.

Let the cake cool slightly than cut it into two layers. Let them cool completely.

Make the chocolate mousse cream:

Put a bowl with the egg yolks, brown sugar and a dash of rum over a pot of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water). Mix them using either a whisk or a hand mixer (on very low speed). Make sure the water is just barely simmering and that you’re mixing constantly. This will take from 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and let the cream cool.

Now melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water. Let that cool too.

In a large bowl combine the egg cream, mascarpone and Greek yoghurt. Mix them all together with an electric mixer until the mixture is smooth and lump free. Mix in the chocolate.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with a tablespoon of powdered sugar. Then add the cream to the chocolate mixture.

At this point it’s a good idea to taste the cream you’ve made. It might not be sweet enough for your liking so you can add some more powdered sugar if you wish.

Assemble the cake:

Brush the bottom layer of cake with the sour cherry syrup you saved, than place a cake ring around it.
Fill the cake with a layer of mousse cream, add the sour cherries and cover with another layer of cream. 

Cover with the other layer of cake. Save some of the cream for decorating the top of the cake.
Let the cake rest in the fridge for about two hours.


Melt about 100 g of dark chocolate over a pot of simmering water.

Fold a long piece of aluminium foil two times horizontally (it should be at least as wide as the cake is tall), than place it onto another piece of foil or parchment paper (that will catch any excess chocolate).

Pour the melted chocolate on the folded piece of foil and spread it evenly. Let it cool for a bit, but it should still be soft or you won’t be able to work with it.

Take the cake out of the fridge and remove the cake ring. Place the chocolate covered foil around the cake. 
It shouldn’t be very tight, because we’re going for the “crinkly paper look”. Then take the top part of a springform pan you used earlier and place it around the foul wrap. Close it so the foil gets wrinkled and pushed towards the cake. Put it back in the fridge for about 45 minutes, than you can remove the foil.

To finish the cake, decorate the top any way you like with the mousse cream you saved earlier.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Strawberry and chocolate sponge cake

This cake might not feed 10 hungry people but it is one of the prettiest cakes I've ever made. The sponge is soft and the cream with tiny bits of chocolate compliments strawberries fabulously. I made this cake as a birthday present for a friend and I was told it was “too good” so it might be worth it to give it a try and find out just how good it really is for yourself.

You will need:

For the sponge (16 cm Ø tin):
For the sponge:
4 eggs, separated
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
4 tbsp flour
3 tbsp ground dark cooking chocolate
1 tsp cocoa powder

For the filling:
150 ml whipping cream
150 g mascarpone
4 tbsp ground dark cooking chocolate
2 tbsp vanilla sugar
150 g strawberries

For the strawberry sauce:
50 g strawberries
1 tbsp vanilla (or regular) sugar
juice from ½ a lemon
1 tbsp water

For the chocolate icing and decoration:
approx. 50 g dark chocolate
50 ml whipping cream
4 strawberries (not too big)
about a tbsp melted white chocolate
Optional: additional strawberries to place in the middle of the cake

Make the sponge:

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form stiff peaks.

In a different bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla sugar for a few minutes until the mixture gets very very pale and fluffy.

Sift the flour, chocolate and cocoa powder together and mix them thoroughly. With a spatula fold the flour mixture and egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Do it very gently and very slowly, altering between the flour and egg whites and adding only a spoonful of each at a time. Don’t over mix.

Pour the batter into a spring form tin, lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 180°C for 20-25 min until the top is golden brown.

Once it’s done, cover the tin with a piece of aluminium foil and let it cool completely. The sponge will deflate during the process of cooling down so don’t be alarmed if the previously round and firm top becomes all wrinkly. It will still taste just as good.

Once it’s cooled, remove the tin. Cut the cake into three even layers and cut a hole in the middle with a small (7 cm Ø) cake ring.

Make the filling:

Whip the cream with some vanilla sugar, then add mascarpone and ground chocolate. Let it sit in the fridge while you prepare the strawberries.

Wash and dry the strawberries. Choose the prettiest ones – you are going to use them on top of the cake. Make sure they are of approximately the same size.

Cut the rest of the strawberries into smaller pieces.

Strawberry sauce:

For the sauce, put 50 grams of strawberries into a small saucepan along with lemon juice, about a tablespoon of vanilla sugar (you can also use regular sugar here) and a tablespoon of water. Let it simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes, then mix it with a stab mixer or in a food processor. Before you use the sauce, strain it to get rid of any solid bits.

Assemble the cake:

Now you can assemble the cake. Place the first layer of sponge on a cake base or a serving plate. Place a cake ring around it and a small cake ring (the one you used to cut out a hole), covered with parchment paper or foil in the middle.

Brush the sponge with strawberry sauce before covering it with a layer of cream and mascarpone filling and strawberries.

Cover it with the next layer of sponge and repeat. Let the cake rest in the fridge for at least an hour before you remove the cake ring.

Prepare the icing and decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water. Cut the strawberries into halves, dip them in chocolate and place them on a sheet of parchment paper to cool.

Use the remaining chocolate to make the icing: add a splash of whipping cream and mix until you get a smooth and thick chocolate sauce. Let it cool slightly.

Remove both cake rings and ice the cake and top it with strawberries. For that final touch, drizzle the strawberries with a bit of melted white chocolate.

If you wish, you can also put strawberries in the middle of the cake, into the hole you cut out, like I did.