Cakes for Hansel and Gretel

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The challenge for this year’s Clonter Opera (Cheshire’s answer to Glyndebourne) picnic was to produce a themed dessert which could be eaten during a 30 minute interval. This year’s production was Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”, so a selection of German mini-cakes, plus sweets and the obligatory gingerbread seemed to fit the bill.

I love proper cheesecake, so a traditional German-style baked cheesecake cooked in a rectangular tin and cut into dainty squares was first on my list. I chose my recipe from my newly acquired baking book, Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” and found it to be excellent. This was the “Classic Cheesecake” from p.458 and was everything a cheesecake should be – deep cream cheese flavour with hints of orange zest and vanilla and great texture. The Hobnob biscuit base was an inspired variation on the usual digestives and was neither too hard nor too soggy, but just right. You can see the cheesecake squares presented in pink foil cases in the picture above.

Talking of which, the dinky self-assembly cardboard three tier cake stands I used attracted at least as much interest as the cakes! These were a Caroline Gardner design, stocked by online supermarket Ocado and maybe also Waitrose and John Lewis too.

That much-bastardised 1970’s dinner party favourite, Black Forest Gâteau just had to be on the menu. Forget dry chocolate cake, too much buttercream and garish decoration, my version was constructed with featherlight chocolate génoise (I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from “The Cake Bible”); kirsch-infused syrup; luscious smooth chocolate custard (another winner from Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book); white chocolate ganache which tastes and behaves like a super-stable whipped cream, great for a cake which has to sit in a warm room for a little time. The final decoration was a griottine-style morello cherry, a chocolate stick and for a final touch of bling, a shred of real edible silver leaf. The result was a delectable little mouthful:

So good in fact that I just had to put together another batch the next day for afternoon tea, this time with a double layer of sponge, fresh cherries and grated chocolate:

Both the chocolate génoise and custard are really good versions of these classic components and I’ve given both recipes at the end of this post.

Strawberry tartlets presented German style on a sponge cake rather than pastry base, completed my trio of mini-cakes. I used more of the white chocolate ganache and incorporated my mother’s trick of glazing the strawberries with redcurrant jelly for extra sweetness and shine. The cakes were finished off with a little edible gold leaf:

You can’t do Hansel and Gretel without a gingerbread house. I didn’t think a fully assembled gingerbread house would survive the minibus journey along bumpy country roads from home to Clonter so used the templates for mini gingerbread houses from the BBC Good Food site recipe here to make house-shaped biscuits. I didn’t use their gingerbread recipe though, opting for yet another Dan Lepard recipe from “Short and Sweet”, the gingerbread biscuit recipe from p. 243. Another winner, producing a dark, deeply spicy biscuit, its colour coming both from muscovado sugar and also a tablespoon of cocoa powder added to the dough, a neat trick producing a deep colour and rich flavour pointing up the spices but not overpowering them with obvious chocolate.

I decorated the biscuits very simply with white royal icing and a number 1.5 writing nozzle producing a stylish black and white effect:

A selection of old-fashioned sweets from Altrincham market’s pick and mix stall and Hale’s fabulous Gobstopper sweet shop (sugar mice, chevron lolly pops, candy canes, bon bons, comfits, sugared almonds..) plus squares of home-made fudge completed the spread. Shame the opera director had a slightly different vision of the story and went for a pyschedelic Affleck’s Palace style emporium complete with skateboard gear rather than a recognisable gingerbread house. Ah well, you can’t win them all…

Recipe for Chocolate Génoise

Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible”. I’d recommend buying the book for all Rose’s invaluable tips and tricks though. This recipe is sufficient for a deepish 23cm diameter round cake. I wanted thinner sheets of cake so scaled up the recipe to a 7 egg version and baked two 25cm square trays of cake.

Ingredients

37g clarified beurre noisette
28g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
60g boiling water
4g vanilla extract
5 large eggs (250g shelled weight)
100g golden caster sugar
75g sifted plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (fan).

Warm the beurre noisette until almost hot and keep warm.

In a smallish bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside, covering the bowl with the whisk still in it with cling film if you don’t plan to use it immediately.

Mix the eggs and sugar together in the large mixing bowl from your Kenwood or similar mixer. Set the bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water and stir constantly until the mixture is just lukewarm. Take care and do not allow the eggs to coagulate or you will end up with hard little lumps in the finished cake. The heating of the eggs helps stabilise the mixture when whisked which is helpful when the dense chocolate is mixed in. I wouldn’t bother with the heating for a plain génoise.

Remove the bowl from the hot water, dry it off and return it to the mixer. Whisk at high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted.

Take a couple of big spoonfuls of the egg mixture and whisk them into the cocoa mixture using a balloon whisk.

Sift the flour over the remaining egg mixture and incorporate thoroughly but carefully using a balloon whisk. Add the cocoa and egg mixture and stir with the balloon whisk until half-incorporated. Fold in the beurre noisette in two batches by which time everything will be thoroughly combined yet still aerated.

Pour immediately into the prepared cake tin (greased and base lined for a deep round tin; fully lined with baking parchment if you’re baking a sheet of cake in a shallow square or rectangular tin as I was) and bake for about 30 minutes. You can tell when the cake is done as the cake shrinks away from the sides just a little.

Turn out straightaway onto a lightly greased cooling rack and peel off the parchment after a couple of minutes.

Recipe for Chocolate Cream Custard

From Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet”. Makes enough to fill 30 mini cakes with plenty left over.

Ingredients

100g golden caster sugar
25g cornflour
25g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
225 ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
2 egg yolks
50g unsalted butter cut into pieces
50g dark chocolate in small pieces (I like Valrhona Manjari buttons)
150ml double cream

In a heavy-based saucepan whisk the sugar, cornflour, cocoa powder and vanilla extract with the milk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk again. Heat gently over a low to moderate heat beating with a wooden spoon all the time. As the mixture warms, gradually add the butter piece by piece, stirring all the time. As the mixture begins to thicken, beat hard to keep it smooth.

Remove from the heat, tip the mixture into a medium sized bowl (you’re going to add cream to the mixture later) and cover the surface of the custard directly with cling film to stop a sking forming. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge until completely cold.

When you’re ready to complete the custard, take it out of the fridge and remove the cling film. Using a hand-held electric whisk, whisk the custard at a slow speed. When the custard is smooth, increase the speed to medium and gradually whisk in the double cream until the mixture is very smooth, shiny and thick. The mixture will thicken up further to a consistency which can be piped and will hold its shape if returned to the fridge to chill for a while.

Honours even: world marmalade awards 2012

April 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Once again, the World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain in Cumbria brightened up those last days of February just before spring proper arrives. Tim and I had both submitted our marmalades for judging, each using our favourite recipe. Tim favours a straightforward Delia Smith recipe with a firmish set, whereas I’m wedded to an alternative recipe with very fine shreds of peel and a softish set. You can find both of our recipes via the Recipe Index page.

We were delighted to discover that both of us had been awarded 19 marks out of a possible 20 this year. This gained us a silver award each and, more importantly meant marital harmony over the breakfast table was maintained.

So where did we each drop that final elusive mark? In my case the judge remarked that my marmalade was “just rather cloudy” which was true as this picture of my 2012 batch shows:

I don’t know what made my marmalade cloudy this year but the most likely tip I’ve found is to skim off the scum rigorously while boiling and NOT to add a knob of butter to the boiling pan to reduce scumming as this will cause it to be dissolved back into the mixture, thus making it cloudy. So that’s the change I’ll be making next year.

In Tim’s case, the judge quibbled that his peel “needs a little more cooking” something which can be pretty easily put right. I think this may have happened as his oranges were hanging round in the fridge for about a month before he got round to making his marmalade right at the last minute.

Here’s one of the judges giving Tim a few tips to achieve that elusive gold next year:

It’s human nature to dwell on the one point lost but perhaps it’s more constructive to focus on what we did right.

We both used beautiful organic oranges delivered via our Riverford veg box man. This was really top quality fruit which was bursting with zesty flavour. I bought my fruit early and used it straightaway and found the peel was quick to soften (ready in half an hour or so whereas older fruit can need an hour or more to soften) and a set was achieved relatively quickly once sugar was added. I think a shorter cooking time means a fresher, zingier citrus flavour.

I experimented with a sugar thermometer this year and stopped boiling once my marmalade reached 104.5 degrees C in order to achieve the wobbly softer set I was looking for. I think if I’d used the chilled saucer and fingertip wrinkle test alone, I’d have been tempted to boil the mixture for a good 5 minutes or so longer.

I potted while the mixture was still extremely hot, filling the jars to the brim, hoping that the peel would be correctly saturated with sugar and would therefore be suspended in the marmalade in perfect equilibrium. It didn’t work and infuriatingly rose to the top! This was soon put right by making sure the lids were on firmly and gently inverting and rotating the jars once the marmalade had cooled a little to help redistribute the peel.

Enought navel-gazing and what of the marmalade festival itself? As well as viewing the hundreds, nay thousands of jars of marmalade on display in the house itself, I attended three additional events this year.

The first was food historian Ivan Day’s talk on the history of marmalade and its links with Dalemain. He then proceeded to cook “Lady Westmoreland’s White Pot” a recipe for an enriched bread and butter pudding from a collection within the Dalemain archive. He’s a fascinating man with a laudable devotion to authenticity and an evident passion for his specialist subject. I’ll be checking out his website http://www.historicfood.com/portal.htm for details of food courses next time I feel like treating myself.

The second was celebrity baker Dan Lepard’s breadmaking workshop. One might have expected Dan to talk about baking the perfect loaf of bread to set off a pot of award-winning marmalade, but this session was more of an improvisation on the theme of bread prompted by audience questions. Lots of interesting tips for the serious home-baker with a good deal of previous experience, but I’d defy a novice to be able to bake a simple loaf after this 2 hour session!

My final special event was a marmalade-making workshop run by The Jam Jar Shop team. Our little group of four actually made a batch of marmalade in less tanusing the boiled whole orange method under the watchful eye of our friendly Jam Jar Shop tutor who took this picture:

In case you’re wondering how we managed to prepare a batch of marmalade in less than 2 hours, the whole oranges had been precooked in order for us to be able to complete the marmalade making process in a reasonable timescale.

What did I learn that was new? Well, making marmalade with soft precooked oranges is something I don’t do often. It’s pretty easy to cut up the peel and scrape out the pith using this method but I still prefer to begin with raw fruit as I think ease of cutting is outweighed by a slight loss of flavour.

I learned how to refine my muslin bag-making technique. First, we enclosed all the pith and pips in a big square of muslin and tied the square securely with string to enclose all the contents and stop them escaping. So far so good. Next, we were told not to trim the string but to fold in all the loose raw edges forming the neck of the bag then roll it back down towards the knotted string. Next we wrapped the string around the resulting roll of fabric and tied securely thus enclosing all the raw edges and stopping any loose threads escaping into the pan of marmalade. Finally, the long ends of string were knotted together to form a loop secured to the pan handle for easy retrieval. Very professional looking and a tip I’ll be using again.

This method forms a robust bag that can stand up to the all important squeezing to extract as much pectin as possible so that the marmalade achieves a good set.

The peel was a little irregular as four different people had cut it up each according to their own preference and skill level but the end result of the workshop wasn’t at all bad:

If you fancy giving this marmalade-making method a go next year (or maybe you have some Sevilles stashed away in the freezer), you can download the recipe directly from the Jam Jar shop website by following this link http://www.jamjarshop.com/makingjam/marmalade/index.asp

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