Archive for December, 2011

Last Christmas I had a bit of a rush of blood to the head, after realising that nice chocolates cost about a pound each. “I know!” I thought, crazed with the madness of the festive season, “I shall make my own!” So off I went to Waitrose and bought loads of dark chocolate and double cream (because that, gentle reader, is the sum total of what you need for this enterprise), and I switched on Radio 4 and made my own chocolate truffles. It was terrific fun. The first attempt seized irretrievably, and my kitchen ended up looking like it had been the setting for the Oompa Loompa Spring, but they tasted great. So I tried again this year, with more success. Next year’s will be even better, I hope. I’d make them more frequently, but at the rate we get through them I wouldn’t be able to fit through the door of Waitrose after a couple of weeks.

100g of chocolate (70% cocoa solids, natch – I have yet to attempt this with milk chocolate) and 100ml double cream gives you about 15-20 truffles, allowing for waste and picking. Allow extra chocolate for coating, if you’re going to attempt it. If you’re going to infuse the cream with anything, allow two hours for this.

Bring the cream to the boil and add flavouring. I made a batch of chilli, to which I added a pinch of dried red chilli flakes, and a batch of Earl Grey, to which I added a teabag. The flavour of the latter was v subtle – next time I will use loose leaf tea. Allow to infuse for two hours, then strain.

Process all your chocolate in the food processor until finely chopped/reduced to rubble. Divide it into bowls, allowing 100g to every 100ml of cream. (I made 150ml worth of chilli cream/150g plain chocolate; 150g of tea-infused cream/150g plain chocolate; and 150g of rum-flavoured cream, which didn’t need to be infused – I just chucked the rum in with the cream once it was hot, and mixed with 150g chocolate.)

Boil the flavoured cream again, or the unflavoured cream for the first time, and pour it over the chocolate while it’s still very hot, so the chocolate all melts and you end up with a homogeneous choclately goo. Mix well, and resist the urge to take it to bed with a spoon. Ideally at this stage you should leave the mixture for about four hours to cool at room temperature, but if you’re impatient you can stick it in the fridge, stirring it often until you have a smooth, moldable paste.

Use a teaspoon to scoop out lumps of the truffle mixture and form it into balls by rolling between your palms. Have a sinkful of hot soapy water ready, because this gets messy. Once each truffle is rolled, plonk it on to a plate with plenty of cocoa powder and roll it around a bit. Repeat and repeat and repeat until they are all done, washing your hands whenever you can no longer bear it, and chilling the chocolate if it gets too melty. It goes without saying that you should keep the batches separate if you’re planning to put different coatings on the different flavours. Once they’re all done, put them in the fridge to solidify for a couple of hours.

Make the couverture. There’s a lot of talk on the internet about the importance of tempering chocolate to give it the perfect glossy appearance and pleasing snap. Next year I might invest in a sugar thermometer and try to do this properly – for now I operated on the principle that as long as it didn’t seize it was good enough for me.

So, over a pan containing a little gently simmering water, set your chocolate to melt in a bowl. You do need to allow for a lot of waste here – 100g of chocolate covers maybe 20 truffles. I had to dash out any buy a slab of Co-op Truly Irresistable Orange Green & Black’s Maya Gold Knock-off to coat my chilli truffles, and actually it worked extremely well. Anyway, you want to get the chocolate off the heat before it’s all melted, leave it for a bit until it all has, allowing the water to cool slightly, then replace the bowl over the still warm water (off the heat) and get on with dipping.

I used two cocktail sticks, one to impale the chocolate, swoosh it about and fish it out; the other to push it on to the waiting non-stick paper-lined tray. Again, repeat until all your chocolates are done. I used plain chocolate for the tea truffles, orange as above for the chilli ones, just a dusting of cocoa for the rum ones, and dipped some marzipan left over from icing Satan’s cake into the remaining plain chocolate.

Now touch up your errors. The cocktail sticks will have left little holes in the tops of the truffles – you might want to drop a bit of extra chocolate over these to seal them. Refrigerate until the coating has set. The truffles will also have “feet” where the melted choc has spread over the baking parchment – if you are particularly anal you may want to trim this away with a paring knife, wearing latex gloves so as not to leave fingerprints on the chocolate. (Did I do this? Did I hell.)

Next, decorate your chocolates. I dusted the chilli ones with gold lustre powder, using a sponge applicator from an unused eyeshadow compact. A small paintbrush would have worked even better. My attempt to pipe white chocolate over my Earl Grey truffles was not altogether successful – they looked like the Oompa Loompas had held a post-revolution bukkake party. Oh well – lessons were learned.

From 700g of chocolate and 450ml of cream, at a cost of about a tenner, I ended up with more than 60 gorgeous chocolates. It’s a fun way to spend your Christmas kitchen pottering time, if you’re into this sort of thing, and the truffles, prettily boxed, would make fantastic presents. I’m sure I’ll get better at this with practice, so watch this space for next Christmas’s attempt. The Oompa Loompas are getting restless already…


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The Christmas files

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the food blogosphere explodes with everyone’s marvellously inventive recipes for slow-cooked belly of this and tea-smoked that. Fair play to you all – even though there will only be the boyfriend and I for Christmas dinner this year, I still find the prospect of festive cooking stupidly stressful, and rely on tried and trusted recipes (and smoked salmon. And huge amounts of fizz).

However – and this may of course be Just Me, the problem with tried and trusted recipes is that just when you need them most, you find they have gone AWOL. As part of the mission statement of this blog was to provide a useful resource for such go-to gems, I am going to stick a few of my favourites on here over the next few days, in the hope that next time I find myself googling “Satan’s cake”, I will, well, find this.

Satan’s cake

A friend of mine didn’t get on with her mother-in-law. The lady in question was, however, an ace cook, and so this recipe was named. Apparently it’s a version of Delia’s, but the useful variations are all the work of Lucifer himherself.

225g plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 x 5ml spoon ground mixed spice
200g butter
200g dark brown sugar
2 x 15ml spoons black treacle
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
800g mixed dried fruit
100g chopped mixed peel
150 g glace cherries halved
100 g blanched almonds chopped
3 tbsp brandy

Line an 8” round cake tin with non-stick baking parchment and tie a double layer of brown paper or corrugated cardboard around the outside.

Sieve together the floor, salt and mixed spice. Cream the butter, sugar, treacle and vanilla essence together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, adding a tablespoon of the floor with the last amount. Fold in the remaining flour, then all the fruit and almonds. Turn into the prepared cake tin and make a slight hollow in the centre. Bake in a cool oven for 3-4 hours, testing after 3 hours by inserting a skewer into the centre; when it comes out clean the cake is cooked. Remove from oven and leave in tin until cold. Make a few holes in the top of the cake with a skewer and pour brandy over the cake while it is still warm. Wrap cake in greaseproof paper and store.

The above is the original version. Satan’s variations:

Use just a hint of salt
Use a very good quality soft margarine
I am a bit liberal with the two tablespoons of black treacle
Soak the fruit brandy for a few days and use less currants
Never use peel
Never use chopped almonds always ground
Use more brandy
Never take the cooking greaseproof wrappings off until I marzipan the cake
Tend to be heavy handed on the dried fruit

I followed most of Satan’s instructions, except I:
Used butter as per the original
Did use peel, and also dried sour cherries, cranberries and a bit of crystallised ginger
Soaked the fruit in rum
I did remove the wrapping from the cake and shrouded it in more baking parchment and foil

I also burned the crap out of the poor cake, owing to using my new oven for the first time, but thanks to the corrugated cardboard the outside was fine – I just cut off the burned top, which became the bottom of the finished cake.

To marzipan and ice the cake, I used bought stuff. Rolling out the marzipan and sticking it on the cake with the aid of warmed apricot jam is dead easy, just use plenty of icing sugar to roll. I used pre-rolled icing but rolled it a little thinner as I was worried about not having enough extra for the decorations.

American apricot stuffing
This is the traditional stuffing I always used to make at home as a child – I think I was first put on stuffing duty aged about 12, and made it every year until I moved to London when I was 28. That’s a lot of stuffing. It’s fabulous stuff – even though we’ve having beef this Christmas I plan to make some anyway, as it’s so delicious cold.

Use 6 sausages and 250g chicken liver and 1 large onion to make enough for 12 people at least, plus cold.

Finely chop one very large onion or two small, and two or three sticks of celery. Saute in plenty of butter.

In a separate pan, bring to the boil the juice of an orange and a good slug of bandy or cointreau. Add some chopped dried apricots (maybe 12?); remove from the heat and leave to cool/plump up.

Remove the onions and celery from the pan and add six good pork sausages, skinned and broken up with a fork. Fry until no longer pink. Add 250g chopped chicken or turkey liver.

In a large bowl, mix everything together. Add flaked almonds (half a packet or more if you like), tarragon, sage, S&P, fresh white breadcrumbs (lots – maybe a quarter to a third of a loaf for this quantity) and enough chicken stock to make a hard-to-stir stuffing texture.

Put it into a well-greased dish and dot with butter. Cover with foil and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.

At this point it can happily be left overnight or even for a couple of days in the fridge. When you are ready to serve it, spoon some of the cooking goo from the turkey over and heat, covered with foil at first if there is a lot of it. Remove the foil for the last bit of the cooking time and blast under the grill if necessary to give a crisp, brown top.

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