Tuesday 21 February 2012

Chocolate orange pancakes

Happy Pancake Day everybody!!!  As a food blogger, today wasn't really a day I could allow to go unnoticed, nor quite frankly would I wish it to go unnoticed; a genuine excuse to eat pancakes smothered with Nutella and topped with sliced banana, or pancakes doused with maple syrup and then sprinkled with a handful of plump blueberries, not to mention pancakes with that old stalwart, lemon and sugar, should be embraced wholeheartedly methinks.  So, to honour the occasion, on Sunday, I made the recipe below for a family brunch.

Now I know that in my last post, I warned that a high number of recipes on this blog would be likely to feature chocolate and orange together, but I didn't realise at the time of writing that I would subsequently be posting two such recipes in succession.  I'd apologise for the chocolate orange overdose but that would be disingenuous of me, as you and I both know, I'm not really sorry; the more chocolate orange there is in the world, the better for everyone as far as I'm concerned.

I've been thinking about how to successfully marry chocolate and orange with pancakes for a while now and what I came up with is a fluffy American pancake that contains a hint of orange and a lovely smattering of warm, just-melting chocolate chunks in each biteful.  You could add maple syrup or Nutella to these pancakes as they come off the frying pan, but honestly, I think they're great just as they are, without any topping.  Besides, it would be a shame to detract from the delicate flavour of orange with something that will more than likely overpower it.

Adapted from Nigella's American Pancakes

Makes approx. 15 pancakes

225g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
30g unsalted butter, melted and left to cool
300ml milk
Zest and juice of 1 orange
100g plain chocolate (50%), chopped
butter for frying

Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the bowl, then fill the well with the beaten eggs, melted butter and milk.  Whisk vigorously until all the ingredients are combined and you have a nice, smooth batter.

Add the orange zest and juice to the batter and whisk again, before stirring in the chopped chocolate chunks.

Heat a small frying pan (ideally non-stick) and plop a small cube of butter on it to melt.  Once the butter is bubbling, pour on some batter until you have a pancake about 10cm in diameter.  I use a ladle to pour the batter onto the frying pan, but a jug or a measuring cup would work just as well.  Cook the pancakes for a couple of minutes on each side, until lovely and golden.  Once all the pancakes are made, you can keep them warm in the oven until you're ready to eat, but ideally, they should be eaten hot off the pan!

Saturday 18 February 2012

Chocolate orange biscuit truffles

It's a friend’s birthday this weekend.  She’s moving house and getting rid of a lot of clutter in the process.  This gave me cause for concern: what does one buy for someone who’s trying to get rid of everything?  Then I realised - something edible of course.  I decided that 'something' should be truffles.

Homemade truffles are perfect as a gift; they’re relatively simple to make but look so elegant and can be packaged up prettily for that extra wow factor.  Furthermore, let’s not forget that they're bound to be a hit because everyone loves chocolate...everyone except for those who say they don’t that is.  But I don’t believe them for one second, they're evidently in denial.

I mentioned in my very first post on this blog that I love the combination of chocolate and citrus.  In particular, I love chocolate and orange together (in time, it’s pretty much guaranteed that an inordinate number of recipes on my blog will bring together these two ingredients), so when thinking about what type of truffles to make, my immediate thought was chocolate orange.  “Can’t really get better than that” I thought.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Following a bit of online research, I stumbled across a truffle recipe that combined chocolate and orange and shortbread and cranberries.  I know, amazing right?! So below is my adaptation of said recipe.
These truffles are a sophisticated, grown-up chocolate, but be warned, they are not for the faint-hearted.  A friend who ate one commented that he thought it was going to kill him, accusing me of chocolate poisoning (yes, believe it or not, such a thing does exist).  He swiftly went back for a second though so he obviously figured, if he was going to die, this was a good way to go!

Adapted from BBC Good Food’s Chocolate biscuit truffles

Makes approx 45 truffles

  • 350g dark chocolate (70%), roughly chopped
  • 350ml double cream
  • Zest of 1 orange and approx. 2 tbsp juice of the orange
  • 75g unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 5 shortbread biscuits, broken up into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • Cocoa powder or desiccated coconut for rolling
Pulse the chocolate in a food processor until it's the consistency of breadcrumbs.

Place the cream in a saucepan with the orange zest and bring to the boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat.
Turn on the food processor again and pour the cream very slowly onto the chocolate, mixing until you have a smooth emulsion. If the mixture splits, process for a couple more minutes and it should rectify itself.

Add the cubes of butter, one by one, to the chocolate cream and beat until the butter has been incorporated, then add the orange juice and mix for a further few seconds.  You should end up with a smooth, beautifully glossy ganache.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the biscuit pieces and cranberries.
Refrigerate for an hour.

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
When the chocolate mixture has set, spoon into truffle sized chunks.  Working quickly (and ideally with cold hands that have been dusted lightly with cocoa powder), roll the chunks lightly into circular balls and then drop into cocoa powder or desiccated coconut, ensuring an even overall coating.

Place on the baking tray and refrigerate to set.
The truffles will keep for one to two weeks if kept in the fridge.

My chocolate orange biscuit truffles, packaged up in cellophane, tulle and ribbon for the birthday girl

Tuesday 7 February 2012


Given the focus of the 'A cup of tea solves everything' blog, it will come as no surprise to you dear reader, that when I go on holiday my focus remains, resolutely, food.  Even whilst I am still at home in London planning my holiday, you will find the 'Where to Eat' pages are the ones my Wallpaper guide automatically falls open to, and once I arrive at my destination of choice, my itinerary is usually based around the restaurants, cafes, tea rooms and food markets I want to check out.  Forget museums and historical landmarks, the local food drives my sight-seeing.

So when I got to go to Argentina and Brazil last September, I was excited.  Not just by the prospect of Argentinean steak (though seeking out the best local parilla was high on the agenda), but by the potential of a whole new world and culture of food.  One of my first discoveries in Buenos Aires was dulce de leche (literally translated as 'sweet milk').  Now I know that dulce de leche can be found in a certain make of ice cream here in the UK, so strictly speaking, it wasn't a discovery that I was making, but what was a discovery was just how many different foods it was found in in Argentina.  The stuff was everywhere - in cakes, in tarts, in biscuits, in ice cream, on toast.  I even saw people eating it on its own, by the teaspoonful.

One of the biscuits I found dulce de leche in was the Alfajor.  A very popular biscuit in Argentina - indeed, almost as ubiquitous as dulce de leche itself - the alfajor, or at least the Argentinian variation (apparently it is of Arabic origin and can also be found in Spain and across Latin America), is two sweet biscuits sandwiched together, more often than not with dulce de leche, though sometimes sandwiched with mousse or jam, and then coated in chocolate.  The biscuit is of a soft, crumbly texture - akin to that of a Viennese Whirl - which melts in your mouth.

When I returned from my holidays, I was determined to bake something using dulce de leche, so after paying through the nose for a tiny jar of the stuff from a well-known London food market (I've since realised that an easily-obtained, relatively inexpensive tin of caramel from your local supermarket will work just as well), I went about making my own alfajores.  I'm pleased to report that these bad boys have turned out pretty darn tasty (even if I do say so myself!) and they go down a treat with family, friends and colleagues whenever I make them.  Try them yourself with your mid-morning caffeine hit, you won't be disappointed.  In fact, you'll probably find yourself reaching for another...

Makes 18-22 sandwiched biscuits

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
55g icing sugar, sifted
1tsp vanilla extract
55g cornflour
250g plain flour

1 jar/tin dulce de leche (or caramel)
200g milk chocolate

It's helpful to create a template of circles on a piece of card, which you can use to guide you when piping the biscuits so that they are all the same size - useful when it comes to sandwiching them together!  I used a cereal box, onto which I drew 12 circles approximately 5cm in diameter.

Preheat the oven to 170C fan.  Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy.  If using a freestanding mixer, use your K-beater attachment and beat for about five minutes.

Add the vanilla extract and mix again.

Sift the cornflour and plain flour together, then add to the butter and sugar mixture and beat further until smooth and light.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag.  If you can, use a canvas piping bag for this as the mixture can be stiff, requiring firm pressure when piping.  I found when I used a nylon piping bag, the pressure from my hands warmed up the mixture and made the butter in it melt through the seams of the bag.  Don't worry, the biscuits still turned out nice, but a canvas bag prevents this from happening!

Place your cardboard template underneath the parchment paper on one of the baking sheets and use the circles as guidelines for piping your mixture into swirls onto the parchment.  Repeat with the remaining baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, or until the biscuits start to turn a nice golden colour, then remove from the oven.  Allow them to cool on the baking trays for a few minutes before transferring the biscuits onto a cooling rack (if you try to transfer them while they are fresh out of the oven, they will fall apart.  I speak from experience).

Once the biscuits have cooled, sandwich them into pairs with a generous layer of dulce de leche/caramel, which you can spread on gently with a palette knife.

Finally, melt your chocolate either in a bain marie (break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not come into contact with the water.  Stir the chocolate slowly.  Remove from the heat once it has melted), or in short bursts in the microwave.  Using a palette knife, spread generous amounts of chocolate over the top of each biscuit and leave to set.