Saturday, 26 June 2010

Chocolate Praline crunchy bites

It starts by making Nutella from scratch. It ends with matcha green tea lightly sprinkled above, mainly for a colour contrast. This is the ultimate dark chocolate hit with a sufficient crunch and just the right amount of roasted bitterness, coated with a smooth chocolate ganache. Its pure and its evil and far too simple to make, considering the instant gratification. Using the finest ingredients is a must. No shortcuts here. Or ever. Really. When I come to think about it.

The recipe calls for praline powder. This can usually be found in specialty shops, or it can be made at home from scratch using hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts or almonds. Here is a recipe. The general idea is roasting the nuts, caramelizing them and grinding to a fine powder.

Chocolate praline crunchy bites

(recipe adapted from here)

Makes about 40 bites


Chocolate praline

125g praline powder

125g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), chips, or coarsely chopped

chocolate crunch

65g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), chips, or coarsely chopped

30g unsalted butter

125g plain cornflakes, crushed

chocolate coating

150 ml cream

30g unsalted butter

200g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), chips, or coarsely chopped

cocoa powder

matcha green tea

Heat a saucepan 1/3 full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt the chocolate, stirring over the barely simmering water until smooth. Remove from heat and add the praline powder. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Set a clean bowl on top of the simmering water and melt the 65g dark chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.

Add the chocolate praline and stir well. Mix in the crushed cornflakes.

Transfer the mixture to a loaf pan, and smooth out the surface gently with a spatula. Place in the fridge and cool for several hours, until set and solid.

Prepare the chocolate coating:

In a sauce pan, heat the cream and butter until the cream begins to simmer and the butter has melted. Remove from heat, add the chocolate and stir until smooth, allow to cool.

In the meanwhile line a tray with parchment paper and set aside. Remove the chocolate crunch from the fridge and release from the loaf pan. Using a sharp knife, cut the bar into fingers, cubes or irregular shaped.

Dip each piece in the chocolate and place on the tray. When all the piece have been dipped and coated in chocolate return the tray to the fridge and allow the chocolate to set.

Before serving sprinkle with cocoa powder and matcha green tea.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Apricot cardamon sour cream cake

Summer is almost here. Then again, oh no, its almost summer! There is a fine line between a pleasant warm sun and a scorching heat drenched in an underwhelming humidity. This fine line is right now. Right here. I suppose I can mark it as apricot season. Barely a transition season, blink and its gone.
I had to hurry writing a newspaper column about it. Its always the case with apricots; the rush, the hurry to get to it and make the most of it. This year apricot season coincided with a visit to London. That’s me hanging on to some overcast, cloudiness with a possible chance of precipitation.
The day I made all the apricot dishes for the article had put a lid on my desire for apricots until next season. The general theme was, seasonally, expressive of both apricots as well as my anticipated visit to London, accounting for the apricots, walnuts and stilton salad as well as the colonial flavours of apricots, cardamon and yogurt in a local adaptation of Eaton mess. that right.
In addition to compote and several jars of preserves I simply had to bake an apricot cake. Needless to say dinner was many, many apricots. I can now travel in peace, knowing I had made use of the short apricot season. Should there be any left on my return, well, that’s just bonus.

Apricot cardamon sour cream cake

6 Ripe apricots, stoned and halved

3 cardamon pods, ground

1/2 cup caster sugar

100g unsalted butter at room temperature

2 Tsp dried or candied orange peel, chopped

1 egg

200 ml sour cream

1/4 cup semolina

1/2 plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

8 ripe apricots, stoned and diced

preheat the oven to 180C and butter a loaf pan.

Scatter the apricot halves, cut side facing down, over the base of the pan to cover it completely, and then sprinkle over the ground cardamon and a tablespoon of the sugar.

In a bowl beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the remaining sugar in a steady stream until the mixture increases in volume and lightens to pale yellow. It should look light, fluffy, and creamy.

Add the chopped orange peel and beat in the egg until just combined.

Beat in the sour cream until just combined.

Stir in the semolina, sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold through.

Lightly fold in the diced apricot cubes through the mixture.

Spoon the batter over the apricot halves and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer poked in comes out almost clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then flip over on to a plate.

Allow to cool before serving.

The cake can be stored, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for several days.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Cheesecake Brownies

The Mediterranean sea water are not quiet. Its been a difficult week and a reminder to the complex reality of the region. Enough to remove any shred of optimism. This is when food becomes a form of escapism and perhaps an allegory to how things can be done with a difference.

Not a big fan of brownies, me. Nothing personal. Don’t get me wrong, if they’re there, I’ll have one, perhaps another. It is also true that sometimes a chocolate hit is all that is needed, however I cannot say that thinking of brownies keeps me up at night, as opposed to pastry that is.

Cheesecakes are a different story. They’re tricky to get right, and less forgiving to bake. Spoilt, one might even say. They’re rich, lactic and costly to make, ie high maintenance. Being a lover of all things efficient to the max, cheesecake has not managed to fall into this category.

So far, not so good.

I was pleased to find that 2 minuses (-) (-) equal a major plus (+) in the kitchen. The marriage of chocolate + cheese resulted in wonderful cheesecake brownies. Once they both agreed to leave their egos behind to create a hybrid whole bigger then the sum of its parts, that is.

The brownie base is a rich dark bitter chocolate with chunky pieces of roasted walnuts. The thin cheesecake layer does a balancing act with its creamy tang.

A finishing layer of chocolate fudge rounds it all up. Like the coating of a pill, it goes down smoothly and swiftly.

Now all that’s left to figure is, if cheesecake and brownies can find a way to get along, surely so can people?

Cheesecake Brownies

Recipe adapted from David Leibowitz

1 Brownie pan

The brownies:

85g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

115g dark chocolate (70%cocoa), coarsely chopped

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup flour

1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 Tsp salt

1 Tsp vanilla extract

½ cup walnuts, lightly roasted

The cheesecake:

200g cream cheese, at room temperature

1 large egg yolk

5 Tbs sugar

1/8 Tsp vanilla extract

The chocolate fudge coating:

100g dark chocolate (70%cocoa), coarsely chopped

1 Tbs Golden syrup

25g unsalted butter

Line the pan with foil, making sure it goes up all four sides and grease lightly.

Preheat oven to 180C°.

Make the brownies batter:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and beat in the 2/3 cup sugar, then the eggs.

Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, then the vanilla and the roasted walnuts. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Make the cheesecake batter:

In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, the yolk, 5 tablespoons of sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife or spatula and smooth the cream cheese mixture over the chocolate batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the batter in the centre of the pan feels just set.

Let cool, then make the chocolate fudge coating.

Melt the chocolate in a bain marie (aka double boiler).

Meanwhile, heat the water to boiling in the small, heavy saucepan. When the chocolate has melted remove from the heat and add the butter and golden syrup.

Stir until smooth and allow the mixture to cool, stirring from time to time.

Spread the fudge over the cheesecake and allow it to cool.

Lift out the foil and peel it away.

Cut the brownies into squares and, unless serving right away, keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

Note: to create the pattern I used cocoa powder and a stencil bought from an arts & crafts shop.