Saturday, 30 June 2012

Pretty Victoria sandwich with fresh raspberries

It’s a fact that British desserts are the best. Okay the Italians have ice-cream and America has the New York cheesecake but I’m talking about hearty cakes, tea breads, crumbles and hot sponge puddings – proper traditional comforting treats. And one of the most popular British classics is the Victoria sandwich, named after Queen Victoria of course.

Now I know what you’re thinking – Victoria sponge is more of an afternoon tea kind of cake, to be enjoyed with a cup of tea drank from a dainty China cup (little pinkies sticking out dahhling), and I agree.

But that’s if you’re doing things the traditional way, and if that’s the case your Victoria sandwich will be made up of strawberry jam sandwiched between two light sponge cakes, no cream – the way baking queen Mary Berry does it.

But for me, no piece of cake is complete without cream, so my Victoria sandwich is a bit of a twist on the classic version (sorry Mary).

I use raspberry jam instead of strawberry, lashings of thick whipped cream, scattered with fresh raspberries (I know, I’m such a cake rebel aren’t I?).

Placed on a fancy cake stand and dusted with icing sugar, it looks much more impressive than it actually is as it’s really easy to make.

I recently made one for my birthday and if I did it again I think I’d double the quantities of cake mixture to make a really deep cake. After all, if you’re going to have a piece of cake on your birthday, you may as well go for a huge, calorie-busting sized piece and you can deal with the guilt the next day.

Here’s the recipe.

175g soft margarine
175g golden caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
3 medium-sized eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300ml double cream
3-4 tablespoons raspberry jam
3 tablespoons icing sugar
pack of fresh raspberries

Line two small sandwich tins with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Put the margarine, sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla into a large mixing bowl and mix with an electric hand mixer, starting on a low speed and gradually increasing until combined.
Split the mixture equally between the two cake tins and smooth over the top. Place in the oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. Then leave to cool on a wire rack.
In the meantime, use a hand mixer to whisk up the cream, adding two tablespoons of icing sugar to sweeten and continue to mix until thick.
Place in the fridge until needed.
Once the cakes are cooled, spread the jam over the bottom cake then add the cream before sandwiching the other cake on top.
Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with raspberries.
If you don’t have two sandwich tins you can use a deeper round cake tin and slice the cake in half once it’s cooled.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pancetta-wrapped monkfish with lemony potatoes and greens

Monkfish is a dish that sounds impressive – something that you’d have at a dinner party or restaurant. But it’s actually really easy to cook and can be packed with flavour.

For years I was slightly apprehensive about cooking monkfish, worried that I’d never be able to get it as juicy and tasty as I’d tired at restaurants (my favourite being the monkfish with crispy rice at Nick’s Restaurant in Bolton).

In fact it was only last October when Paul and I visited friends in Newquay that I cooked it for the first time – monkfish from a farmers’ market freshly caught that morning, which is ideal.

Although you can now get lovely fresh fish in supermarkets at the fish counter and if you do have a farmers market nearby, even better, it’s quite affordable too.

In our house we now have monkfish quite regularly for a healthy weekend tea which is matched perfectly with a bottle of crisp white wine such as Pinot Grigio.
It’s really easy to cook and I almost always roast it in the oven wrapped in parma ham or pancetta to enhance the taste and keep the fish moist.

As with any fish, you can get monkfish filleted and ready to cook, or just buy a tail and fillet it yourself. It’s really easy to do – I just searched for a video on YouTube and followed it step by step.

It’s just one back bone and there aren’t any of those annoying little bones that you would find with fish like haddock or sea bass.

This dish – which I’ve adapted from a Good Food Magazine recipe – is a great one to do for friends or family because it looks and tastes impressive but actually takes very little skill or time.

One monkfish tail or two fillets
300g new potatoes
100g green beans, trimmed
small broccoli head, chopped into small florets
handful of Kalamata olives
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
four slices of pancetta or parma ham
few sprigs of fresh tarragon

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put the potatoes in a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
Add the green beans and broccoli for the final two to three minutes. Drain well and slice the potatoes in half.
Tip the potatoes and greens into a roomy baking dish and toss with the olives, lemon zest, olive oil and half the tarragon.
Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and put in the oven.
Season the fish with a little salt and pepper and wrap each piece in the pancetta or parma ham.
Place the fish into a snug baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Put in the oven at the same time as the potatoes and cook for about 12 minutes until the fish is cooked.  
Add a squeeze of lemon and the rest of the tarragon and serve on top of the potatoes and greens.
(You could cook the fish on top of the potatoes to save washing up but I found that the juices from the fish made the potatoes slightly soggy so I find it best to keep them separate.)

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The most gooeyist, rich, jubilicious chocolate cake ever

In honour of Queen’s Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee I’ve made this rich (and I mean rich) chocolate, prune and brandy celebration cake.

Okay, that’s not entirely true - it’s got nothing to do with The Queen. I’m not really into all this pomp and circumstance but I do feel as though I owe Liz one for giving us two days off work.

It was my first free Sunday afternoon is weeks and despite a Prosecco-induced headache I wasn’t going to spend the day sat on the sofa watching Queeny on a barge sailing down the River Thames.

I found this cake recipe amongst a huge pile of Good Food magazines on the coffee table. The idea of prunes and brandy didn’t exactly draw me in, but the picture of the finished cake looked so gooey and calorific that I was starting to drool.

Minimal ingredients, minimum effort and one of your five-a-day – what’s not to love? Don’t quote me on the five-a-day thing I’ve just made that up!

I used the best dark chocolate available – Lindt Excellence 85% cocoa solids, which is quite expensive but currently on offer in Tesco!

It’s literally the nicest chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten. But it’s extremely rich so should be eaten in small doses, if you can stop.

I think it’s the perfect celebration cake if you’re having a jubilee party this Bank Holiday – the chocolate and brandy will lift spirits (no pun intended) if the rain is threatening to ruin the occasion.

Stick a tacky Great British flag in the top and serve with a dollop of thick cream on the side and a glass of something bubbly.

Happy jubilee everyone!

225g butter and a little extra for greasing the tin
100g chopped prunes from a tin
100ml brandy, or thereabouts
250g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
200g light brown muscovado sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 tbsp cocoa powder for dusting

Heat the oven to 160 degrees and grease a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin with butter. You don’t need to bother with greaseproof – the mixture is so moist that it won’t stick.
In a small bowl, soak the prunes in the brandy.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs yolks. Fold in the melted chocolate.
Separately, whisk the egg whites for about 5 minutes until white and frothy.
Add the brandy soaked prunes (but not the brandy) to the chocolate mixture then gently fold in the egg whites. Take your time doing this bit.
Tip the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes.
Leave the cake to cool. It will be very moist and cracked on top so take care when transferring it onto a plate. Once cooled, dust with cocoa.