Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Valentine's Bubbly Bundt

Valentine's Bubbly Bundt
Love is in the air! Whether it be for that special someone or just your love of cake, this one's a winner either way!

Last February I made my Achy Cakey Heart cake which has been published in the new Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook! (This is published on 14th February... how apt...) I adore this heart shaped tin so didn't need much of an excuse to whip it out again! Last year's cake was all about the glitz and glam, whereas this year's affair is slightly more refined.

I have developed a bit of a love affair with Prosecco of late. I blame this on our recent trip to El Celler de Can Roca and my friend Vicki. She tells me she buys this stuff by the case. Lush. It's not quite as tart as your usual champers, but please feel free to use either for this recipe. You could even use lemonade if you so wished!

Because this cake uses the bubbly stuff, it makes a frivolously fluffy cake fit for any posh soiree or romantic night in. Soft as feathers. Please don't feel that you can only use this for Valentine's Day either. It's too nice to keep to just once a year. Mine will probably end up with my pack of tame testers at work!

I used Booth's Prosecco which has beautiful baked apple undertones, so I complimented this with some apple juice and frosting. Sparkling wines are the perfect apéritif, so in theory it's the ideal cake to have before and after a meal! Perfect...

I finished my cake off with a little whimsical flowing icing and a smattering of pretty hearts... These cupcake decorations are available from Just Bake for a bargainous price of £2 per bag.

Ingredients
For the cake:
  • 225g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 110g vegetable fat like Trex or Cookeen
  • 650g golden caster sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 460g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 200ml Prosecco, Champagne, Cava or any other sparkling stuff (elderflower is nice too...)
  • 50ml good quality apple juice.
For the topping:
  • Icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp apple juice
  • Pretty sprinkles

Method
For the cake:
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch). I used my pretty heart tin but a plain one would do the trick.
  2. Soften the butter and vegetable fat together, then cream in the sugar in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting so it doesn't curdle - if it does, add a table spoon of the flour. This will look quite voluminous! 
  4. Mix in the vanilla paste.
  5. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  6. Measure the bubbly and apple juice in a jug. 
  7. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently... It's going to look a little curdled. This is just the fizz being a bugger.
  8. Give the whole thing a quick mix for about 10 seconds or until well combined. It no longer looks curdled! Magic.
  9. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin.
  10. TIP: If you are using a decorative pan like mine, spoon it in in stages to avoid air bubbles.
  11. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about an hour and 30 minutes. 
  12. It should be shrinking from the sides and a skewer should come out clean. If it doesn't look like this - back in for a bit longer.
  13. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.
  14. Once cool, either dredge with icing sugar or cover in glace icing with a few pretty sprinkles - see below...
For the topping:
  • Fill a medium sized bowl (cereal sized) with icing sugar. I don't give exact measurements here as it's not an exact science! 
  • Add enough apple juice to make a thick yet runny icing.
  • If it's very thick, add a few drops of apple juice at a time to thin it out.
  • If it's very runny, add icing sugar until its the right consistency.
  • Pour over the entire cake and leave it to run down naturally.
  • Whilst the icing is running willy nilly, sprinkle with a few edible cake decorations. Less is more...
Serve with bubbly...

Disclaimer: Jo at Just Bake was kind enough to send me a sample of heart sprinkles for me to use on this cake. I was given a bottle of Booth's Prosecco as part of my involvement with #BoothsCheersItalian. However, I had planned the recipe beforehand. 


BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

Great British Bakeware Giveaway!

Win a set of vintage style Great British Bakeware tins worth £55!


It's my blog's first birthday this week, so I though I'd celebrate...
Great British Bakeware Giveaway
Despite the fact my bakeware collection is now taking over our house, I just can't resist buying more. Imagine my excitement when I saw these? Why no-one has never made such pretty bakeware before is beyond me, but the new limited edition set of Great British Bakeware tins from George Wilkinson are pretty as a picture! And guess what...? I have a set to give away to one lucky reader! Oh yes I do! 
Great British Bakeware Giveaway
Made in the heart of Lancashire, these vintage style tins have a superior non-stick GlideX interior and a stunning duck egg and cream floral pattern on the exterior. They are just beautiful! They received a rather shrill sound from me when I first saw the pictures...

Great British Bakeware


So what can you win?

  • 8 inch cake tin (worth £13)
  • 2lb loaf tin (worth £8)
  • 14 inch baking sheet (worth £18) 
  • 12 cup deep muffin tray (worth £16)

If you just can't wait, you can get your mitts on this wonderful range at Amazon.

Great British Bakeware Giveaway

'How do I enter?' I hear you cry!

  • Simply follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget below - all entries will be checked and verified before a winner is announced.
  • You can increase your chances of winning by Tweeting on a daily basis.
  • Rafflecopter will pick a random winner.
  • The competition runs from 30th January to 28th February 2013.
  • Please see the Terms and Conditions on the Rafflecopter widget for more information.

Good luck folks!
Great British Bakeware Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to the winner... Danielle Woodman!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bolton Clandestine Cake Club -There's No Place Like Home

Bolton Clandestine Cake Club
Friday morning was a little chilly here in Bolton. The weather forecast had been wrong all week. On Monday it was supposed to be heavy snow, but we got a mere dusting. We had an amber weather warning for snow from 3pm on Friday, but few of us took it seriously. I went to work wearing my Cath Kidston pumps and we joked about getting stuck at work in Snowageddon. 

Karma got us back. Whist we jested about the white stuff, the bellies of the clouds over Bolton were swelling. As I travelled home at about 4.30pm, the snow had just started to get cranky. By the time I got to Horwich (which is famous for having its own crackers eco system) it was sticking... I wasn't too concerned about cake club, as the main roads seemed well gritted.

By 7pm it was about three inches thick. By 9pm, probably five inches, and by the time my husband and I decided to go out for a snowy walk at midnight it was pushing a foot in some places. Trees were falling over under the weight of the snow on their leaves, cars couldn't get out of Horwich, and cake club was very much off.
Bolton Clandestine Cake Club - Snow
Snow in Horwich Friday 25th January 2013
I had been plotting 'Plan B' all night... just in case. Many of us make our cakes the night before, so I knew members would want to come, but it just wasn't safe. After seeing cars sliding all over the show I just couldn't risk it. Most had already admitted defeat and cancelled their place, fearing the icy roads. 

I virtualised our meeting! Our venue was in a remote place, so was totally out of the question. I asked our friend Amanda at Thyme Deli in Horwich whether a handful of us could congregate there. As always, the helping hand was extended! Adam, Phil, Clare, Lucie, Kev, April and I met at Thyme as we live nearby. Huge thank you to Amanda and her little crew!
Bolton Clandestine Cake Club - Gathering at Thyme
Clockwise: Clare's Ginger Carrot Cake, My BL3 Honey Nut Bundt, Lucie's Apple Cake, Phil's Chocolate Mint Cake and our cake table.
Even though there were only seven of us at Thyme (one being a baby...) we still ate lots of cake and managed to take big wedges of each home in our 'troughs'. Adam was a huge fan of the honey bundt, so took a massive wedge! Haha! Busted...
Bolton Clandestine Cake Club - Gathering at Thyme
Over the other side of Bolton, Little Mo, Corinne and Michelle held their own meet up and Bev, Jenny and Matt sent pictures of the cakes they had made. All day we have tweeted, Facebooked, texted and spoken on the phone when we have been unable to meet in person! 
Bolton Clandestine Cake Club - Gathering at Little Mo's
Clockwise: Corinne feeding her face, Little Mo with her Chocolate and Lime Cake, Michelle with her Carrot Cake, Corinne with her Cherry Bakewell Cake and their lovely spread.
Bolton Clandestine Cake Club - Cake via text and email!
Clockwise: Bev with her Death by Chocolate Cake, Matt's Bury Black Pudding Cake and Jenny's Carrot Cake
Despite the fact today's meeting was 'cancelled', we still managed to get people baking, eating and talking about cake, just not all in the same place! We are a club who will be not be beaten! The show must go on, even if it is a little unconventionally... Our cakes rose to the challenge, and celebrated our local producers and traders. We made:
  • Carrot and Walnut Cake - made with carrots and walnuts from Preston Market
  • BL3 Honey Nut Bundt - made with honey from BL3 area of Bolton purchased from Thyme Deli, Horwich.
  • Spiced Apple Cake - served with Horwich Allotment Society Spiced Apple Butter.
  • Ginger Cream Cake - made with eggs laid in Blackrod purchased from the Salad Bowl in Horwich.
  • Chocolate Mint Cake - this must have the award for 'Most Local' cake! Eggs from the Fruit Shop, Chocolate, Cocoa and Flour all from Thyme Deli, double cream from Greeley's Butchers, butter and mint from the Salad Bowl and mints from Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe - all Horwich.
  • Cherry Bakewell Cake - made with eggs bought from one of Corinne's neighbours who has chickens and ducks!
  • Chocolate and Lime cake - made with fresh limes bought from Bolton Market
  • Carrot Cake - made with eggs and carrots from Hulton's Estate Farm in Westhoughton
  • Bury Black Pudding Cake - don't worry... it was ginger... made with eggs from Bury Market
  • Death by Chocolate Cake - made with Pennine Hills eggs from Bolton Market

Not bad for a cancelled cake club... Dedication eh?

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Honey Nut Bundt

Honey Nut Bundt
January's Clandestine Cake Club theme was 'There's no place like home'. The emphasis was making use of the fantastic produce we have in the area, and supporting our local shops and suppliers whilst we were at it. I love Thyme Deli in Horwich, and so went on an expedition to find something splendid for my cake. I had no idea what I was going to make, but wanted to be guided by what they had to offer.

I found some wonderful local honey, which even had the name and address of the producer on the sticker! I loved the fact that I knew exactly where it came from, and that there's a chap called Richard keeping bees and making honey in Bolton. I decided to call my cake club offering a BL3 Bundt®, because that's where it came from!

I took my 'test' cake into work this week, and it went down really well! Some of my friends have gone as far as to say that this is their favourite so far! It's really very simple, and creates a beautifully thick and moist cake. You need to put some welly into cutting it, but I assure you that it has a fantastic texture. They honey gives a natural almost floral sweetness and moisture, whilst the addition of a scattering of nuts accentuates the flavours.

Ingredients:
For the Cake
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 450g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200ml greek yogurt (I used one with honey in it)
  • 50ml good quality honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste (use extract if you don't have this)
For the topping (optional)
  • Icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • Warm water
  • 2 tbsp hazelnuts
  • TIP: you can always dredge with icing sugar if you don't fancy the topping.

Method:
For the Cake
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch). 
  2. Soften the butter and then cream in the sugar in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting so it doesn't curdle - if it does, add a table spoon of the flour.
  4. Mix in the vanilla paste.
  5. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  6. Measure the yogurt and honey in a jug. It's easier to add the yogurt first so the honey doesn't stick to the sides. Give it a quick mix.
  7. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently...
  8. Give the whole thing a quick mix for about 10 seconds or until well combined.
  9. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin.
  10. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about an hour and 15 minutes. 
  11. It should be shrinking from the sides and a skewer should come out clean.
  12. Note: this recipe doesn't seem to shrink from the sides quite as much as others do. You're looking at it being free from the side of the tin, although there may not be a gap.
For the topping (optional)
  1. In a medium sized bowl (cereal sized), melt the honey in the microwave until runny. 
  2. Add about 3 tbsp of warm water and mix well.
  3. Fill the bowl up with icing sugar. I don't give exact measurements here as it's not an exact science! 
  4. Mix like the clappers with a spatula. 
  5. Note: You're looking for a thick but runny icing.
  6. If it's very thick, add a few drops of water at a time to thin it out.
  7. If it's very runny, add icing sugar until its the right consistency.
  8. Pour over the entire cake. Don't feel you have to be neat! I do it in zig zags for maximum coverage.
  9. Whilst the icing is running all over your cake, put the hazelnuts in a plastic bag and beat the hell out of them with a rolling pin.
  10. Sprinkle over your finished cake.
I hope you enjoy it as much as my friends did!

BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

Please leave your comments below... x

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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Casa Marieta - Girona, Spain

Casa Marieta
Founded in 1892, Casa Marieta is Girona's oldest restaurant. It's situated in the pretty Plaça Independència; a now modern looking square with views of the cathedral which is just a short walk away.

After a flight from Manchester, we were starved by about 11am. We had a pepperoni pizza slice on the plane (don't even ask...) but needless to say there was very little actual food in that, so we were on the hunt for something filling. After persuading the boys that Burger King was not an option, we set off to explore Girona. Vicki and I had both found Casa Marieta when Googling decent places to eat, but decided to see where we found whilst wandering.

After managing to bypass the entire city by taking a wrong turn, we finally found the centre of Girona, and landed at Plaça Independència. It was like a ghost town! Whilst sulking like a pack of teenagers, Vicki noticed Casa Marieta was right in front of us. Nothing opens until about 1pm, with the exception of a few coffee bars and patisseries, so we had to wait... We decided to kill an hour by sampling the local cake shop - just to keep energy levels up.
Casa Marieta - Inside
Inside looked quite dated and very orange indeed. It also had the most sinister looking cuckoo clock I have ever seen. However, we were determined to try some Catalan cuisine rather than a beige looking burger which we would regret later. Despite its odd interior, the staff seemed friendly and made every effort to speak English. We were horribly ashamed of our total inability to speak even a word of Catalan.

We genuinely had no idea what to order, or what size the dishes were. There didn't seem to be a standard starter, main, dessert format, but it didn't seem to be tapas as we knew it either. Our lovely waitress did a stirling job of describing dishes (despite the fact she spoke little English) and won us over with her enthusiasm.

The dishes we started with (although not starters as such...) were quite large really. Working clockwise from the picture below: Paddy opted for sausages with cheese and bread (all bread is smeared with tomato juice and olive oil) which was actually lots of slices of continental meats, Wayne had chicken croquettes the 'ancient way', Vicki had a platter of Iberian ham with bread, and I had one of the daily specials, which was described as a vegetable omelette without eggs, served with bacon. Quite accurate really! We were also given bread sticks with an orange dip which tasted a little like cream cheese. We have no idea what it was. None whatsoever.

We all agreed that everything was fantastic, but even better when we shared a little of each others, as large portions of the same thing got a little too much!
Casa Marieta - To start...
For 'mains' (again, clockwise) Wayne had Botifarra (Catalan pork sausage) with potato and plum tomato, Paddy and I both had the lamb chops with garlic potatoes and Vicki had the squid. Once again, everything we ordered was great, but we preferred to share so we got a bit more variety.
Casa Marieta - Mains
We enjoyed all the dishes we had, but found that sometimes there was too much of just one thing on the plate. However, ingenious as we are, we started to nick each others. Crisis averted, toot sweet.

Just as we finished our meal our waitress came and asked what else we had planned for the afternoon. Despite the fact she was clearly struggling with her English, she went into lots of detail about the cathedral area across the bridge, and how beautiful it was.

The strangest thing about this restaurant is the waterfall at the bottom of the stairs. You will only see this if you nip to the bathroom at some point. Basically, I'm insisting that you go for a wee if you visit Casa Marieta. It was really difficult to get decent pictures of how it works, so I will have to try and describe it...

In a corner of the landing there is a beautifully lit waterfall incased in glass. It then travels under the floor, where the viewing window then opens up to a deep drop which goes under the building. It must be some sort of ancient well, as the building has been there since 1892! So strange, but eerily pretty.
Casa Marieta - The Waterfall
This was the ideal meal to have before the mammoth tasting menu we had planned for the evening. Nothing too stodgy, yet filling enough to keep us going until the evening.

We did walk up to the cathedral area, and she was quite right. It was indeed beautiful!

Please leave your comments below... x

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Rocambolesc Gelateria - Girona, Spain

Rocambolesc Gelateria
When we booked our trip to El Celler de Can Roca in December last year, I thought I was going to burst with excitement. Then something happened. Around March 2012 we heard that Jordi Roca (dessert genius and all round sugar spinning witch) was opening an ice cream parlour in the middle of Girona. Can you just imagine that? Three Michelin stars. Number two in the World's 50 Best Restaurants. He decides to make ice cream. This was going to be spectacular.
Rocambolesc Gelateria - Outside
Rocambolesc doesn't directly translate to English, but from what I can gather it means something along the lines of the utterly bizarre and fantastical (yes, I did use some artistic license there). It fits perfectly with the vision Jordi had for the look and feel of the gelateria, and also encompasses the family name. Clever.
Rocambolesc Gelateria
Pictures - El Celler de Can Roca & Rocambolesc
The shop's interior is a magical mix of bygone times and modern day dairy mixology. The decor and hand drawn pictures adorning the walls, windows and mirrors are like something straight out of a Dr Seuss book, whilst the ice cream recipes come straight from El Celler itself. Nothing has been watered down, and everything is delicious. The only difference is the price tag. A tasting menu at El Celler starts at 135€ whereas four ice creams with three toppings on each set us back 15€. Bargainous!
Rocambolesc Gelateria - Inside
Every day there are just six flavours to choose from. This may sound limited, but I assure you every one is a little bit of heaven. You can also mix things up with toppings, although each option comes with its own recommendations to bring out the flavour. You can also get take away boxes, but I doubt ours would have survived the trip back to Manchester... One wall is filled with the beautiful take out tubs, which create a striking decoration.
Rocambolesc Gelateria - Take Away Tubs
It was -1 C the day we arrived in Girona. You would think the last thing on our minds would be ice cream... But, like the warriors that we are we went on an expedition to Santa Clara to find Rocambolesc. Since I was the only one in our group who had been stalking the website for months, no-one else knew what it was actually called. Granted, it is a bit of a funny name in English, and I kept thinking it was called Roshambo. This is actually an alternative name for the 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' game, but anyone familiar with South Park will know it as something very different. We'll leave it there. 

The ice cream doesn't come in the scoops we are familiar with, but is swirled into the tubs and cones using a Mr Whippy style pump in the wall. This means the ice cream is very soft. All the ingredients used are natural and it's made fresh every day. 

Both Vicki and I had already clocked the Poma al Forn (baked apple), but decided on slightly different toppings. We both had the cooked and stewed apple pieces, but Vicki had little butter biscuits whereas I picked the blackberries. This tasted like a baked apple dessert with thick cream, but was silky smooth with no detectable bits of anything solid which may have given it this intense flavour. Sorcery. 
Rocambolesc Gelateria - Baked Apple
The gents went for the robust flavours of Turró d'Avellana (hazelnut nougat) and Xocolata (chocolate). Wayne's was a creamy praline-like hazelnut ice cream topped with dulce de leche, caramelised hazelnuts and fudge pieces and Paddy's was intensely chocolatey and covered with chocolate sauce, brownie pieces and chocolate popping candy.
Rocambolesc Gelateria - Hazelnut and Chocolate
If it hadn't been quite so sub-zero outside, I would have been tempted to try them all! Well, there were only six... I can honestly say this is some of the best ice cream I have ever eaten. 

If you ever find yourself wandering round Girona, make a trip to Rocambolesc. I imagine there are queues out of the door when it's warm outside, but a bit of cold didn't stop us from scoffing a tub full of the chilly stuff. We are from Horwich after all...

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Saturday, 19 January 2013

El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain

El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain
Several years ago, the Horwich Fine Dining Society was founded. It consists of just four people; my husband and I, and our best friends Wayne and Vicki. It started by planning day trips to Michelin starred restaurants in the North West of England. We generally tried to do one a month, which was nice as it meant we went to the Lake District regularly! We were soon looking for something more, so began to drift further afield.

When my husband and I got married, we hated the idea of hen and stag outings so decided on a 'hag' do instead. The Horwich Fine Dining Society made a road trip to Bray for lunch in the Hind's Head and then dinner at the Fat Duck. We were married abroad, but when we returned we hired the private dining room at Northcote for our intimate reception. Since then we have travelled far and wide in search of culinary excitement!

El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain
Photo: El Celler de Can Roca
Every year we all go away for my husband's birthday. It falls over the festive period, so it's always nice to get away for a couple of days. Last year we were looking forward to our trip to L'Enclume in Cartmel. It's been one of our favourites for years, but fancied something a bit different for this year because my husband was turning 30. So in December 2011 I booked a table at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. It seemed forever away...

El Celler de Can Roca holds the prestigious three Michelin stars, and was also re-elected as the second best restaurant in the world in the 2012 World's 50 Best awards. The Roca brothers could literally rule the culinary world. It's most definitely a family affair. Josep is their Sommelier, Joan the head chef and Jordi the pâtissier. They grew up in their parents' restaurant, practicing perfection from an early age. Each table in their restaurant has three rocks in the centre; one for each Roca (which translates to rock in English) brother. Even the 'R' in their logo has three tails. Being OCD with the number three, I like this a lot.

The 17th of January 2013 finally came, and despite the threat of heavy snow we made it to Girona in one piece. Granted, it was freezing there too! You may think it is a long way to go for your tea, but let's face it, it takes two hours to get to London on the train from where we live. It was only an hour and fifty minutes on a plane. During the day we had a nice walk around Girona, and even had chance to sample Rocambolesc; the brothers' gelateria. Yes it was freezing, but we suffer for our cause...
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Outside
Our reservation for dinner was at 9pm. The restaurant only opens late so we were actually the first to arrive. The building looks like an old Spanish villa, surrounded by perfectly pruned trees and walls decked with old timber. You have to walk through a garden lounge to get to the main restaurant. A wonderful fire pit roared in the middle of comfortable seats, which I imagine is a lovely place to sit when it's not -1 C! The walls of the restaurant are made of glass, so they overlook this pretty courtyard.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Menu and WineWe were welcomed into the dining room, which was warm and welcoming after bracing the chilly winds outside. We were given a choice of the feast tasting menu, or one that was slightly smaller. We did not travel all the way to Spain to have the smaller menu! No way José. At this point the wine list was wheeled over to the table. Yes, it's so big that it has to be split into white, red and liquors. Each is a large book split by country. Our menu was fourteen courses long, with a further four courses of appetisers. We started proceedings with a glass of fizz...
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Inside
First came a corrugated cardboard globe, held together with a black satin ribbon and a fanfare of 'ooh' and 'ahh' from our table. The globes were removed to reveal five small balls which represented cuisines from around the world, covering Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Japan and Thailand. I think my favourites had to be the wasabi flavours from 'Japan' and the sublimely sweet yet warming spices from Morocco. Each was just a bite but was perfectly formed. Cheeky.

Next came their famous olive tree. Olives stuffed with anchovies and covered in a crisp caramelised coating. I should have detested these, but they were just too good! Joan Roca appears to be some sort of witch. He has somehow captured the ability to perfectly balance flavours in a way that satisfies all the taste buds in one swoop. You may not enjoy each component, but when combined they are something of wonder. Plus, we really liked the little tree...
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Appetisers 1
A spoon was placed on our plates with a long, smooth, olive green wibbly thing on it. We were told to eat it in one go because it was actually liquid inside. I didn't fancy its texture at first, but was soon a fan of the thick artichoke cream served just warm. It came with hard shelled bon bon with a liquid centre and the most amazing 'crisps' I have ever tasted. Imagine a prawn cracker meets something sweet and salty all in one go. I could have gone for a bowl of these!
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Appetisers 2
The next two were truffles in different guises. Truffles are one of my mortal enemies as they cause me to have a storming migraine. I sniffed the chocolate truffle and decided it didn't smell that strong. I was going in. Mistake! For those of you who are truffle fans, you would be all over this. I on the other hand had to neck my champagne to get rid of the taste. You can take the girl out of Horwich... I donated my cream truffle ball to my husband. Crisis averted.

I always get over excited about bread. I have been to some fantastic restaurants, only to be disappointed by the bread. Vicki has a one slice rule. I have no such restraint. My favourites include the huge selection at Fraiche, the Lancashire cheese rolls from Northcote, the black treacle buns from Sat Bains and the simple split loaf from Noma. Look at the tray below... wholemeal, mini baguettes, red wine bread, apricot and walnut, tomato rolls, black olive rolls and one that tasted a little like brioche. My favourite had to be the tomato one. Soft like a croissant but not quite as buttery, with a strong tomato paste rolled into the dough. I loved these!
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Bread
Just look at that colour! Green wheat with smoked sardine, grapes, toasted bread with olive oil ice cream and yeast foam. I started to taste bits individually at first, but then decided to eat a little of each together. What's really clever is the taste combination. On their own they are pleasant. Put them together and they take on a completely different form. It's like some components of the dish are there to season rather than to add flavour of their own.

The pretty pink dish below was 'olive paste'. This was black olive gazpacho, spicy gordal-olive mousse, black olive fritter, manzanilla-olive ice cream, toasted bread with oil, fennel jelly, winter savoury jelly and picual olive. This was a lesson in 'turns out I actually like olives'. The texture of that black olive fritter was heavenly.

The next dish was a little bit of fun! Remember over Christmas when I kept banging on about Viennetta being ace? I was mocked like a common fool. Well... How about this? White asparagus Viennetta! I'm obviously bang on trend without even knowing it... I'm not mad on savoury ice cream, but this was delicate and really thick in texture. Genius.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Feast Menu 1
We then moved on to the section which sits in the 'fish course' territory. I only ever eat fish on tasting menus. Lots of people tell me they hate this or that, so could never have a full tasting menu. I like the fact a tasting menu makes me try new things. I may not always like them, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

First came a porcelain shell filled with oyster covered with game meat (pigeon) hollandaise sauce. Oysters are not my bag, so it was donated to my husband. However, that game hollandaise was a tour de force! Gorgeous.

The masterpiece below is another signature dish; a whole prawn served with head juice and seaweeds, seawater and sponge cake plankton. See those red things...? Caramelised legs and pincers. I tried them, but that was a little too much for me. I draw the line at eating pincers. Supportive as ever, the rest of the HFDS found this hilarious. My husband put a leg near my hand whereas Wayne decided to have a pincer sticking out of his mouth. Vicki did not take part in these limb shenanigans.

The red sea bream with endive, gentian and citrus was much better! Soft, delicate fish with bitter leaves and a sweet sauce. Plus, it was served on a very pretty plate with faux fossils lined with silver. Each one was different too.

The salt cod brandade consisted of braised salt cod tripe, salt cod foam, olive oil soup, shallots and honey, thyme and chilli pepper served with 'vegetable contrast'. The olive oil soup was just divine. Not at all greasy, I'm sorry to say that we all mopped this up with our remaining bread. We are from Horwich. Cut us some slack.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Feast Menu 2
We then moved onto the classic 'main' type dishes. First was the Iberian suckling pig blanquette, Reisling with mango terrine, melon and beetroot, beetroot puree, black garlic, onion and orange concentrate. Jesus wept this was good. We had something similar at é by José Andrés in Las Vegas, but this one had a beautifully caramelised topping. Beetroot is normally mortal enemy number two, so I was a little fearful of this dish. Once again, the combination of flavours when eaten together was just brilliance. Sweet skin, bitter orange, fresh melon and earthy garlic and beetroot just made the whole thing pop!

When a fish tail was put in front of me I could have squealed. I don't like my food to look like animals. Saying that, this is why I like tasting menus. They make me try it. If allowed to be, I am a very fussy eater. This was served with vegetable gnocchi and a wonderfully meaty sauce, This might have been referred to as 'gravy' at one point. No, not by the waiter. I am so glad I tried this! Soft and sweet gnocchi with delicate, slow cooked fish. Just look at the colours!

It may seem odd putting a picture of orange juice on here. I don't drink wine (I know...) and drinking spirits with a meal leaves me with the fear of being hammered whilst everyone else is still sober. Our sommelier offered to make some freshly squeezed orange juice instead. It was so good the whole table tried it. The only problem is, I can never drink orange juice ever again for fear that it will taste rubbish in comparison. Damn you and your Spanish oranges.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Feast Menu 3
There's something quite exciting about a glass cloche filled with smoke. Even though we were suffering from food fatigue at this point, our senses were reawakened by the scent of intense barbecue coals. This dish was charcoal grilled lamb breast fillet with sweetbreads and eggplant, coffee and liquorice. Thankfully this was quite small, otherwise we may have dropped dead on the spot, knowing we still had pigeon and desserts to follow. Although it was small, flavours were intense. I donated a little of mine to my husband (he's an excellent Dusty Bin).

The pigeon was accompanied by liver and onions (a thick sauce underneath), curry caramelised walnuts, juniper, orange peel and herbs. Because pigeon is quite a strong flavour, nothing in the rest of the dish was too over powering. I particularly liked the soft onions and curried walnuts.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Feast Menu 4
By this point, we were suffering from minor death and quite possibly the beginnings of gout. But, being the sweet-toothed greedy pig that I am, I cannot help but get excited at the prospect of desserts. This was exacerbated further by the fact one Roca brother deals solely in the sweet stuff. Delirium had set in...

Just look at this first dessert. I'm by no means religious but I'm telling you now, if I was that snake and was faced by an apple like this... I'd have eaten it myself. Eve would have had no bloody chance! Shiny, bright and sparkly... it's the stuff fairy tales are made of. I'm now beginning to understand why Snow White ended up poisoned. How could I resist? Girona's fair candy apple is served on a bed of candy floss. It was demolished within seconds. Gone.

Still reeling from the shock of sugar several ways, the next dish was chocolate with milk consomme, butter ice cream, praline cream and chocolate candy. We all agreed it was very much like a chocolate Mini Milk! This dessert really helped to cleanse the palate after consuming so much sugar.

The last of our desserts was maple syrup cream with pear, walnut and cardamom. By this point we were almost dead. I think I managed half! The pear sorbet was just beautiful. I would never think of putting it with maple syrup, but it just worked. The little white 'rocks' were a crisp shell encasing some sort of spirit, possibly calvados.

Next appeared a beautiful birthday 'cake' for my husband, complete with candle! This was a crisp chocolate ball filled with gooey chocolate wonderful stuff, surrounded by little rounds of chocolate and crumbled brownie, topped with gold leaf.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Feast Menu 5
At this point in any tasting menu I am fighting two emotions; despair at the thought of having to eat ever again, and exhilaration at the thought of petit fours. Having seen the trolley filled with mini delights, I knew this was going to be something special.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Petit Fours
Our tea and coffee came with the best selection of petit fours I have ever seen. I cannot imagine anywhere ever beating this. It was a mixture of home made boiled sweets, madeleines, cookies, jellies, macarons, candied fruits and truffles. They went perfectly with my 'Super Fancy Oolong' tea. I'm not even joking. That was its real name.
El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain - Petit Fours
Out trip to El Celler de Can Roca will go down as one of my favourite meals ever. This isn't based on its star rating or what position it came in the World's 50 Best, but because it was made special because of good food, lots of surprises, amazing surroundings, welcoming staff and going with my favourite people. I loved every minute of it.

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Monday, 14 January 2013

In Search of Perfection... Heston's (Healthy) Chilli

In Search of Perfection... Heston's (Healthy) Chilli
A few months ago my husband made Heston Blumenthal's chilli from his 'In Search of Perfection' series. I have to say that he wasn't wrong. As you would expect, Heston concocted one mind blowing dish packed full of flavour. We made it again on New Year's Eve, but this time teamed it up with my jalapeno cornbread bundt. The combination was so good it got promoted into the 'what could you just eat?' part of my memory bank.

I could eat it every day of my life, but I am sure it would kill me. The original recipe uses up to 250g of butter. You heard. This weekend we set about making a healthier version that we would still enjoy without the fear of a heart attack. Some of the naughties have stayed to ensure it has the same depth of flavour, but unnecessary fats have gone.

This dish divides into six large portions, but I'm sure most mere mortals could divide this into seven or perhaps even eight servings, bringing the calorie amount down even further. Allow a good three hours to make this to ensure the flavours can develop slowly. This is also much quicker to make than the original, which takes about six hours...

Ingredients

Spice Paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp Tomato Ketchup
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Marmite
  • 2 tbsp hot Peri Peri sauce
Chilli
  • 900g lean minced beef
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 shallots - diced
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 large carrot - diced
  • 3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
  • 2 green chillies - deseeded and diced
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 750ml red wine (yes, that's a whole bottle...)
  • 4 medium tomatoes - roughly chopped
  • 2 x 400g tin kidney beans
  • 2 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 3 red peppers - deseeded and chopped
  • Seasoning
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • Juice of 1 lime

Method
  1. In a small bowl or ramekin, mix together the ingredients marked 'spice paste' above. Put to one side.
  2. Heat a large, wide bottomed pan or casserole to 'inferno' level and then brown off the mince.
  3. Once it is browned, drain into a large bowl and set aside. Disgard the fatty water...
  4. Deglaze your pan with a little water then tip that into the mince.
  5. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan, then add the diced shallots and star anise. Cook until soft and browning slightly - about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the diced carrot, garlic and chilli. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the carrot softens.
  7. Add the tomato purée and cook for another 5 minutes.
  8. Pour in the wine and reduce by two thirds. When it's ready it will look thicker in texture than before. 
  9. Remove the star anise (you don't want to bite into one of those blighters...) 
  10. Stir in the spice paste from earlier, the mince, tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, kidney beans, stock and peppers, then leave to simmer gently with no lid for two hours. There should be no pools of liquid and it should look visibly thick. If it's not, give it a bit longer.
  11. At the end add the seasoning (to taste), the zest and the juice.

All done! Kick back and enjoy a guilt free version of perfection...

Nutritional Information
Per Serving
 (based on six)
Calories
469
Carbs
41
Fat
10
Protein
37


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Nutritional information worked out using MyFitnessPal.


An Interview with Lynn Hill

An Interview with Lynn Hill
Without her, none of these cakey shenanigans would happen. In 2010, Lynn Hill decided to start her own cake club. Locations would be kept a secret and each would have a special theme. The result would be a beautiful variety of cakes, people having the courage to tweak recipes or create their own, and eventually an army of members who bake, eat and talk about cake.

The Clandestine Cake Club has a very special place in my heart, as does the lady who created it. Lynn works tirelessly to keep the club going; from updating the website with our many events, to hours of promotion to ensure the club goes from strength to strength. Lynn has just written our very first Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, complete with members' recipes and some of the prettiest cake photography you ever did see. 
An Interview with Lynn Hill
Picture by Mike Wallis
Lynn has been kind enough to answer some of my nosy Parker questions...

We're sitting comfortably. Tell us the story of how the Clandestine Cake Club began... 
Some of the story is in the new Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, so I won't give too much away. But in a nutshell I loved the idea of people getting together over tea and cake. The social aspect of it intrigued me, but after an unsuccessful search on the internet to find a baking club for me to join, I decided to create one myself. A simple concept of finding a venue, where people can bake, eat and talk about their home made cakes - while making friends at the same time. I'm pleased that people understand and love the sharing aspect that only a large cake can bring. Clandestine Cake Club is about sharing.

What's the best cake you have ever tasted and where was it? (I asked Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood the same question...) 
I like most cakes, but my favourites are usually citrus based, especially if they are a three tiered Pistachio and Lime cake. The one that's on the cover of the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, it's my recipe.

What's your favourite cake to bake? 
The Clandestine Cake Club CookbookMy most favourite cakes to bake are the ones I make for the first time, I find a recipe book and decide what to make, but I often add my own take on it and sometimes come up with something completely different.

How did the book come about? 
I was approached by a literary agent nearly two years ago with a view to creating a cook book. From that first email to print date it's taken nearly two years. During those years I set about building Clandestine Cake Club into what it is today, and with all the media coverage it was getting, lots of publishers began to take an interest. The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook is published by Quercus books who have been a wonderful team to work with, and so have Stuart and Claire of MetroStar media.

How many recipes were submitted? Was it hard to choose? 
Off the top of my head there were nearly 200 recipes submitted from a then membership of 2000, which is quite a good uptake! There are well over 6000 members currently registered with Clandestine Cake Club. Choosing which recipe should go into the book was very difficult and some had to be set aside to make way for the ones you find in the book, there just wasn't enough room for them all. I'm very proud of the recipes that are in the book and sad that we couldn't include the rest, they were all amazing cakes.

The photos in the book are fantastic. Tell us about the photo shoots... 
Attending a photo shoot really brought home the amount of hard work that goes into creating a cookbook and the amount of people involved in it. So the next time you pick up a cookery book take a look at the credits page to see just how many people were involved in it. Designers, stylists and photographers. Everything was planned meticulously by the design team. Getting that perfect shot can take hours, and some shots took longer than others, the attention to detail was amazing and it shows in the book. We visited an actual Clandestine Cake Club event in London which was fun and at one point we were actually out on the street taking pictures. More photo shoots were held in Bath, Leeds and Wiltshire. With pictures needed for nearly 120 cakes, it was quite a task for the design team to work on, but they did a wonderful job in the end. I'm very pleased with it all.

How much testing did you have to do at home? 
I was involved with a small amount of recipe testing but on the whole all of it was done by a professional, Jane Middleton. Take a look at some of your cookery books and I bet you'll see her name in the credits.

What's in store for CCC in 2013? 
Some of it I will have to keep very close to my chest for now, well I am in the business of keeping secrets! But hopefully the membership will continue to grow with more clubs opening on a regular basis, including new ones overseas. As long as people continue to want to Bake, Eat and Talk about cake, then I'll be happy with that.

A big thank you to Lynn for taking time out of her busy schedule!



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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dwight's Beet Bundt

I'm always plotting new bundt flavours. It's always on my mind. Yesterday, my husband joked that I should make a Beet Bundt after watching several hours of the American version of The Office back to back. Our favourite character is a chap called Dwight Schrute; a beet farmer from Scranton.

Dwight Schrute
Dwight Schrute (photo NBC)
Now then. Beetroots are my mortal enemy number two, therefore this would always be a bit of a challenge. I would need to touch them and maybe even taste them in the cake. I know most people like them, but personally I think they taste and smell like soil. I had my independent taste tester do a quick appraisal after I didn't manage more than a mouthful, to which he concluded this is a beautifully moist cake with a soft texture, which isn't overly sweet.

The addition of cocoa powder, melted chocolate and chocolate chips gives this cake the look and feel of a chocolate fudge cake, just with a bit of a twist. The beetroot also gives the cake an amazing dark colour. Perhaps a sneaky way of getting children to eat vegetables... as long as you don't mind a shed-load of chocolate being in there too!

Ingredients

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 50g of good quality cocoa powder
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 60ml maple syrup
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 300g of cooked and pureed beetroot (I bought it ready cooked in a vacuum pack)
  • 100g milk chocolate broken into chunks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g milk chocolate chips


Method
  1. I used a standard sized bundt tin (10 inches, 10 cups or 2.4 litres) - prepare by greasing and dusting with cocoa powder. It's best to use a fairly plain tin, as the chocolate chips can disguise detail. 
  2. Mix the butter and sugar until it is well combined then add the maple syrup. It's easier to start by hand as it's a bit sloppy!
  3. Whisk the eggs together in a jug. Start to add to the mix gradually. It's a real bugger for curdling! Don't worry too much if it does though, the flour will help.
  4. Melt the solid chocolate using either a Bain Marie or by popping it in the microwave and put to one side.
  5. Measure out the flour, cocoa, salt, bicarb and cinnamon into a bowl.
  6. So in front of you, you now have your main mixture, the melted chocolate, the pureed beets and the flour mixture.
  7. Pour half of the beet mix and the all the vanilla extract into the main bowl and give it a quick mix until combined. 
  8. Now add the all of the melted chocolate and mix again.
  9. Sift in half of the flour. Fold it in.
  10. Add the rest of the beets and mix lightly.
  11. Sift in the rest of the flour. Fold it in.
  12. Now fold in the chocolate chips.
  13. Pour the whole thing into your bundt tin and bake for 1 hour on 180 C/Gas 4.
  14. When the cake is shrinking from the sides of the tin and a skewer comes out clean, the cake is done.
  15. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out.
  16. Once cool, dredge with icing sugar.


BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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