Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Afternoon Tea at Balthazar, Covent Garden, London

Afternoon Tea makes eating cake for dinner completely legitimate. Therefore I love it. That and the pomp and ceremony of those tiered plates, heavy with colourful pastries, delicate finger sandwiches and pillow soft scones.

I wanted to share some photos of my most recent indulgence at Balthazar in Covent Garden which my sister kindly organised. If you are looking for a slightly less formal Afternoon Tea at a reasonable price (£25) without skimping on quality then Balthazar is an amazing find. The decor is that of a classic Parisien cafe and as is expected in Covent Garden the place is bustling. See the menu here.

To the food.... 

Sandwiches- possibly a little bit cold but there was a lovely selection of interesting combinations. Crab, tarragon mayonnaise and lemon on soft white Pullman bread was my favourite.   

Plain and raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam- I have been spoiled by my Mother's fresh scones over the years and so the scones are rarely a gem in the crown of Afternoon Tea for me. However these scones were exceptional. Beautifully glazed, the top was slightly crunchy while the interior was mallowy soft without any hint of under-baking. Smack the clotted cream on there you have got a scone Walter Mitty would be dreaming about. 

Selection of pastries- The pastries are, of course the stars of the show. The classics featured heavily (Gateau Opera, Fresh Fruit Tartellette and Lemon Raspberry and Rose Macaron) with some individuality shining through in the more unconventional choices (Passion Fruit and Coconut Fool, Banana Spice Cake and Almond Rocher). 

The macaron was possibly a highlight for me with the Almond Rocher (sponge topped with almond mousse covered with chocolate and chopped almonds) coming in close behind. In fact even the seemingly innocuous Fruit Tartellette was delicious. Too often a tartellette has a soggy bottom or the fruit is too bitter. The Balthazar Tartellette suffered from neither of these afflictions. 

Oh and the Banana Spice Cake was great. Cinnamon sponge hollowed out for a dollop of caramel and topped with a slice of banana and a pecan nut. Divine. 

As you can see I have trouble picking a favourite(s). 

Excellent Afternoon Tea reasonably priced in the centre of London.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Zucchini Cream Cheese Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

5 food combinations that just shouldn't work but so do: 

1. Let's start with a pure winner- maple syrup and bacon, preferably with pancakes. Thank you Canada, we almost forgive you for spawning Justin Bieber... I said almost.

2. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar - Try this refreshing taste on strawberry shortcake with this recipe for strawberry shortcake with a balsamic reduction from Neven Maguire (apologies in advance for the photography on this one! My first ever post).

3. Chili andchocolate - add some pizaz to the family favourite by putting some dark chocolate into your chilli con carne, sortedfood.com chilli con carne

4. Beetroot and chocolate- I adore this Beetroot and chocolate cake I started making a few years ago

5. Zucchini in cake

See my segway (apparently the correct term is 'segue') there?? Seamless.

I think it's fair to say that zucchini (which I think we Europeans refer to as courgette) is an unsuspecting cake ingredient. But hey why should carrots get all the vegetables-you-can-put-in-a-in cake glory. This cake is deliciously moist, lightly spiced and super comforting.

From Joy the Baker Cookbook

Makes one large 2L bundt cake

For the cake 
3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
8oz/200g cream cheese, softened
2 cups caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8oz/200g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups grated courgette/zucchini

1. Preheat the oven to 180oC. Grease your bundt tin thoroughly but brushing with butter, dusting with flour and then placing in the fridge until required.
2. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until well incorporated, around 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat briefly again.
3. Pour in the melted butter while the beater is going and beat until the mixture is smooth.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a clean bowl. Add the salt.
5. Tip the flour mix into the wet mix all in one go. Beat until just incorporated and then fold in the zucchini carefully.
6. Spoon/Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

For the brown sugar cream cheese frosting:
8oz/200g cream cheese softened
4oz/100g unsalted butter softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp treacle
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups icing sugar sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream cheese with an electric bear for 1 minute until soft. Add the softened butter and beat for another minute.
2. Add the brown sugar and treacle and beat briefly.
3. Turn the mixture to low and add the salt and powdered sugar following by the vanilla.
4. Beat on low until the mixture is smooth and there are no traces of icing sugar.
5. Spread over the cake and decorate with whole walnuts.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Pecan and Maple Tart

5 Things that only exist when you acknowledge them 
1. New Year crazies. We all know them. We might even be one. Those people who, in the cold light of January have turned from being the Amanda Bynes of Christmas to the Gwyneth Paltrow of 2014. Here's to lunches consisting purely of hot water and lemon. You go girl!.... Also see you in the pub on Saturday night.
2. That tangled mangled assortment of clothes in the airing cupboard that you said you would tackle 'during the Christmas break'.
3. The fact that you have exactly one pair of socks left and a grocery sized bag full of singles. Unrequited sock love. #possiblystartingtobelieveintheborrowers...again.
4. Miley Cyrus. Enough said.
5. Those sneaky Christmas pounds. Damn washing machine shrunk my jeans again. Only at the waistband though, not the leg length. Weird.

Lets talk ditching unrealistic January health plans and embracing pecan pie. In moderation of course.


Ever since I had a pecan tartlet in Le Petit Parisien on Dublin's South William Street I have been itching to make my own and this Avoca Cookbook recipe did not disappoint.

Crisp shortcrust pastry is topped with a dark maple flavoured toffee and studded with whole pecan nuts. Stop me when you hear something you don't like....

From the Avoca Cafe Cookbook
Makes a 28cm/11 inch tart

For the shortcrust pastry 
225g plain flour 
150g cold butter, diced 
25g caster sugar 
pinch of salt 
1-2 egg yolks

For the filling
200g dark brown sugar
200ml maple syrup 
3 eggs
Pinch of salt 
1/2 tsp vanilla extract/essence
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
175g pecan nuts

For the pastry
1. Preheat the oven to 200oC. Sift the flour into a bowl or food processor. Add the butter and rub in with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. If using a food processor pulse quickly. 
2. Stir in the caster sugar and salt. 
3. Add in the egg yolks and mix until it just starts to clump together. Add a teaspoon of cold water if the dough is too dry and doesn't come together. 
4. Dump the dough onto a large piece of clingfilm and use the clingfilm to bring the dough together into a ball. Don't overwork or else the dough will be tough. 
5. Place dough the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 
6. Roll out on a lightly floured tabletop and use to line a 28cm/11 inch tin. Push the pastry into the edges or flutes of the tin with a piece of leftover pastry. Prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork. 
7. Cut out a piece of greaseproof paper to roughly 28cm/11 inch circle. Scrunch up the paper (tip from Ed Kimber that prevents the greaseproof cutting into your pastry while it bakes) and then put on top of the pastry. Fill the tin with baking beans or rice or pasta until full. Put back in the fridge for 30 minutes if you have time. 
8. Bake for 12 minutes, then take out of the oven and remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper. Bake for another 12-15 minutes until the pastry is golden. 

For the filling
9. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 170oC. 
10. Put all the ingredients for the filling except the pecan nuts in a bowl and beat with a whisk until smooth. 
11. Arrange the pecans in the tin (they will move around when the filling goes in). 
12. Carefully pour in the filling and then bake for 1 hour until the filling is just slightly wobbly. Allow to cool and then serve with lightly whipped cream. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Parisien Adventures- Part I: Pierre Hermes

Just before Christmas I was fortunate enough to get to go to Paris for a few days. Paris is THE European city of culture, art and of course patisserie! So many of the world's most iconic cakes, pastries and sweets come from Paris and many of the world's most famous pastry chefs are based in Paris. 

A visit to Pierre Herme's shop was top of my list and while wandering past the San Sulpice church (most recently made famous by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code) we looked up his boutique on Rue Bonaparte. Pierre Hermes is probably best known for his macarons (see the addition of foie gras to the filling of the macarons below!), but the shop features so many other beautiful creations from innovative buche de noel to glossy tarts. Stunning is a word used without any hint of exaggeration here, the immaculate finish and precision of all the pastries was most striking. 

Almost overwhelmed by so many beautiful options we finally chose two pastries. The first was 'Desire' which Pierre Herme's website describes as "Brittany-style sablé pastry, lemon cream, strawberry and banana compote, tender lemon biscuit, whole strawberries". 

The second was an equal feast for the eyes, a gargantuan slab of caramel coloured layers: 2000 Feuilles. Herme describes this as  'Flaky caramelized puff pastry crust, crispy praliné with Piedmont hazelnuts, praliné mousseline cream'. 

We devoured ate both sitting on a bench in the nearby Luxembourg gardens. It was pretty cold. We didn't care. 

Desire was light and zesty, 2000 Feuilles more filling and sweet but both shared a common factor in their 
excellence: contrast of texture. The crispiness of the puff pastry in the 2000 Feuilles was stunning; it was almost as if each layer of pastry was baked individually and then painstakingly layered. The caramelised nuts also provided a crunch that elegantly complimented the silky praline mousse. 

Similarly the zestiness of the lemon cream in Desire was off set by the sweet strawberries and the crumbly biscuit.

Elegant. Delicious. Inspiring.  

Pierre Herme's Desire

Pierre Herme's 2000 Feuilles