A month ago, my friend Natalia started having a coffee stall at a relatively new London art market, Stour Space, in Hackney Wick. The market promotes unknown and upcoming designers' work and is a really great initiative for young artists who are just starting out and can display their work in the exhibition areas. It takes place on the last Saturday of every month, and it’s well worth a look if you happen to be around East London.
This Saturday, 24th April, Natalia will be again selling her coffee, and when she asked me to make her some truffles so she could trial them out at the stall, I jumped at the opportunity! The coffee is a delicious single origin from Bolivian farm Colonia San Juan, and the beans are sourced from the independent East End roasters Square Mile, who trade directly with the growers, resulting in excellent-quality coffee (the owner, James Hoffman, won the World Barista Championship in 2007).
Some of my favourite chocolates in Britain are made by Paul A. Young, and his book Adventures with Chocolate is one of the very few cookbooks that I own and treasure (and actually regularly cook from, which I guess is the most important function of a cookbook!). Since Natalia explained that the coffee she had bought had caramel and toffee undertones, I decided to make some simple but delicious Muscovado truffles from Paul A. Young's book (you can also find the recipe and a helpful video online).
250g 70% dark chocolate (I used Tesco's Dominican Republic 70% plain chocolate)
250g double cream
100g light muscovado sugar
First, break the chocolate into small, even-sized pieces and place in a medium-size mixing bowl. Place the cream and sugar in a small saucepan.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 minute. This will fully dissolve the sugar and kill any bacteria that may be present in the cream.
Turn off the heat and allow the cream to cool for 1 minute. (Pouring the cream on to the chocolate while boiling will scorch it and cause the cocoa butter in the chocolate to separate, resulting in a split ganache.) Now pour your rested cream on to the chocolate pieces and mix well with a spatula or whisk until smooth and very glossy.
Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature, then place it, covered, in the fridge for at least 2 hours or until fully set.
Rolling the truffles
Remove the set ganache from the fridge. Using a teaspoon, scoop even-sized pieces of the chocolate and place on to a sheet of parchment paper.
Powder your hands with cocoa powder, and then, using your fingers, begin to roll the ganache into evenly shaped spheres. Take care not to take too long over this as the ganache will begin to melt and become impossible to roll.
Place the rolled truffles back on to the parchment paper. (If you are not eating the dusted truffles, place them in the fridge until needed.)
While I was browsing for party food ideas during my lunchtime in Tesco, I came across these new tiny pastry tart cases, which looked really cute, so I got inspired to fill them with the same mixture that I use for some of my favourite chocolate truffles.
I was planning a big party to celebrate the end of my PhD, and I had a lot of food to cook and very little time, so dessert had to be something quick and easy. Apart from tiramisú, which is always a quick favourite that disappears in seconds (therefore no photo!) the only thing I managed to take pictures of was these tartlets, which I made on the day before and put in the fridge to cool until just before serving. And since I made enough filling and had leftovers, I rolled some truffles with the rest of the mixture, very simply shaping them into balls and rolling them in a mix of cocoa powder and sugar.
Tiny Kahlua chocolate truffle tarts
Source: dulcis in fundo
1 pack of 24 mini all butter pastry cases (both Tesco and M&S sell them)
125g 70% dark chocolate
125g double cream
50g light brown caster sugar
1-2 tbsp Kahlua (or other liquer of your choice)
1-2 tbsp cocoa powder (for dusting)
Break the chocolate into small chunks in a heatproof bowl. Warm up the double cream with the sugar in a milk pan (low heat) until the sugar is fully dissolved. Be careful not to let it boil, but just keep it simmering. Pour the cream mix into the chocolate and stir quickly until all the chocolate is melted. Add the Kahlua (or other liquer) and mix again.
Place the pastry cases on a tray and carefully fill them with a small spoon while the chocolate mix is still liquid, as the more solid it gets, the more difficult it will become for them to have even surfaces. Leave to cool in room temperature and then put in the fridge for a couple of hours, until set. Take them out of the fridge half an hour before serving (or less if you prefer them cold) and dust with cocoa powder. I love them with some good quality vanilla ice cream.
If you have any leftover chocolate that you haven’t licked already while you’re filling the tarts, you can roll some truffles with it. Just put in the fridge until totally set, and then take small spoonfuls of the mix, quickly roll into round shapes in the tips of your fingers and then roll in a mix of cocoa powder and sugar. Put them on a plate and in the fridge again to cool, and don’t forget to take them out of the fridge at least half an hour before serving, there’s no worse waste than a cold truffle!
One day my Ukranian friend Natalia, with whom I share culinary (and especially baking!) passions, told me excitedly about an amazing cake she had during the weekend. An acquaintance of ours was invited for dinner at her place and brought with her this amazing cake, which – of all things – contained no butter, but vegetables instead. After she was wowed she looked up the book that the recipe came from, and before she had the time to order it, the cake-bearing friend had bought her a copy as a present!
Now my personal worldview is that the more cookbooks I own, the less I cook from them (come on, don't tell me that you don't own endless amounts of cookbooks which you excitedly bought, looked at once, made maybe 1 or 2 recipes from and then shelved for life!) so I try to avoid buying any, thus saving money and space. However, when Natalia brought the book with her to work, I couldn't resist the temptation and I copied the most yummy-sounding recipes from it.
Of course those in the know will have already figured out I'm talking about Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache, a cookbook that has elicited hundreds of raving reviews online, and has converted many to its butterless (and sometimes flourless) delights. As I happened to come across it at a time that my boyfriend has been trying to eat more healthily (without giving up his beloved cake though!) I thought I would give it a try, and being a "there can be no cake without butter" die-hard, I was pleasantly surprised.
One of the first cakes to draw my attention was the Lemon and lavender drizzle cake, which was accompanied by a perfect picture of Victorian indulgence. So, after a quick lunchtime stop at the Borough market to pick up some lavender from a French food stall and some swede from Turnips, I decided to try it out on one of the few recent sunny days.
60g white rice flour (I substituted with normal flour)
60g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
For the drizzle
3 tbsp golden granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
100ml lemon juice (approx. the juice of 1 lemon)
For the top
1 tbsp golden granulated sugar
a few lavender flowers
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the base of a 1.7 litre (19cm x 12cm x 8 cm) loaf tin with baking parchment and lightly brush the parchment and the sides of the tin with a little vegetable oil, then set aside.
Place the diced swede in a heatproof bowl with a splash of water and cover with cling film. Cook in the microwave on high for 7 minutes, until soft to the touch. Once cooked through, drain off the excess water and blend to a fine purée.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the honey and eggs for 2 minutes, until bubbly. Add the lemon zest, lavender flowers, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt, and whisk again for 20 seconds. Once all the ingredients are fully incorporated, whisk in the swede purée to combine.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and put in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. While the cake is cooking, prepare the drizzle. Dissolve the sugar in the water by heating slowly in a small pan. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and set aside. Add the lemon juice when the sugar syrup is cool.
Remove the cake from the oven, leave it in the tin and prick it right through to the bottom with a skewer so that it is covered in little holes (and we're talking about a LOT of holes, Eastwood recommends around 50). Drizzle the lemon syrup over the cake. Do this while the cake is still hot and at its most absorbent. Finish off by sprinkling with the remaining sugar and some lavender flowers.
A favourite part of my childhood was always the Easter holiday, which in Greece is celebrated even more than Christmas. While there's amazing traditional food to be had in Greece during the Christmas period, the Easter festivities bring with them so many special smells and memories. One of my favourites is a sweet Easter bread, tsoureki, which has a very distinctive taste that comes from the addition of mahlab (or mahlepi in Greek), a spice made from the dried stone kernels of a specific type of cherry (Prunus mahaleb) found in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
All the women in both my mother's and my father's family would make their tsoureki during the Holy Week leading to Easter, and they would take pride of place in their tables during the eagerly-awaited Easter dinner. Traditionally tsoureki is decorated with red Easter eggs (in Greece that's the colour of choice, meant to symbolise the blood of Christ), one - or more - of each being placed inside the bread, and baked along with it.
This is a simpler version that omits the eggs, and can be made into one larger bread, or into more smaller ones. A little twist in my mother's recipe, that has been handed down through the generations, is the addition of icing sugar on top of the flaked almonds. This dries in the oven and gives the tsoureki a "snowy" appearance and slightly sweeter taste which I love! Since I moved to the UK I try to make this bread every Easter; it's one of the very few Greek traditions that I try to keep alive, and it's even weirder that this recipe produces something very close to the taste of pan de muerto, Mexico's "bread of the dead" (according to my Mexican boyfriend, who devours it every time!). So, two birds with one stone, tsoureki and pan de muerto all in one!
The recipe might seem complicated and it takes a bit of time to make it (like all bread, it nee time to rise and some kneading is involved) but it's definitely worth it. My mom's recipe measurements come in cups and I religiously keep to them, as I can never get it right if I measure it otherwise. Use a medium-sized teacup, and it should work fine.
Tsoureki (Greek Easter bread)
Source: My mother's recipe, passed down to her by my grandmother
Makes 1 big bread (or 4-5 small ones)
1.5 cups of milk
1.5 cups of sugar
1.5 cups of butter
0.5 tsp salt
12 cups of flour (around 1 kilo + 1 cup)
50g of fresh yeast (or 14g of dried yeast, I used 2 sachets of Allinson Easybake Yeast)
0.5 lukewarm water
1.5 tbsp of ground mahlab (you can find it in Greek/Turkish or Middle Eastern shops, if not, substitute with finely grated lemon zest, but you won't get the same fragrant special taste)
6 eggs (3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks), beaten
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
4 tbsp icing sugar
Warm up the milk with the sugar, butter and salt, and when fully incorporated move to a large bowl. Add the yeast to the lukewarm water and let it dissolve, then add this to the bowl with the milk mixture (which should be also lukewarm) and stir until combined.
Add half the flour to the bowl and beat with a mixer until it becomes smooth. Add the beaten eggs (3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks) and the mahlab (or lemon zest).
Keep mixing and pouring in the rest of the flour (change to a dough hook attachment as soon as you see the dough starting to form) until a smooth dough forms. Knead for around 15 minutes.
Cover the bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place, until the dough doubles in size. Knead again for 10 minutes and form into different shapes. Traditionally the Greek tsoureki is shaped into a braid or twist. You can make the braids by shaping the dough into long ropes, and then braiding sets of three ropes to form loaves, tucking the ends in underneath each loaf. For the twist start in the same way, but make a longer rope and fold it in half, twisting the two ends gently.
Put the breads on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and leave until they rise again. Mix the egg yolk with the milk and brush the breads with it. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and sieve the icing sugar on top.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 35-40 minutes (the big ones) or 20 minutes (the smaller ones). They shouldn't become too browned, otherwise they'll be hard. If you piece them with a skewer and it comes out clean, that means they're done.
Since this is a "fresh" blog, I needed to start posting with one of my favourite sweet recipes. Up until about a year ago, I cringed at the sound of the word "custard" since, in my head, it was associated simply with some gloopy artificial yellow substance that came out of a supermarket carton with the words "Ambrosia" on it (and neither the look or taste of it came close to what I imagined to be the mythical food of the Greek gods).
That was before I discovered these wonderful little tarts, which look so perfect, yet are so easy to make. The first time I made them I almost ate them all myself, the second time people paid for them. Well, not really paid me, but paid nevertheless. As one of two only resident bakers in my office (the other one being a Greek man=something of a walking oxymoron, if you're Greek or have ever met an average Greek male you'll know what I mean!), I was asked by our lovely receptionist if I could bake something for our charity bake sale, and two dozens of these little tarts made Marie Curie Cancer Care some extra cash. The best bit was when two of my colleagues bought one each, ate them and then ran to the reception to buy more before they were all gone... I couldn't help but smile when they came back with a plate stacked with them!
These tarts have a lot of history behind them. They are descendants of the Pastéis de Belém and although the original recipe is a secret of legendary proportions, you can still make this pretty-good-substitute at home.
Caveat: Custard as a "substance of pouring consistency" that accompanies and drenches cakes and other desserts still fails to move me, but once you bake it and combine it with cinnamony flavours...ah....yum.
Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts)
Source: Simon Rimmer
3 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
30g cornflour (about 2 tbsp if you don't have scales)
a glug of good quality vanilla extract
170ml full-fat milk
225ml double cream
300g ready-rolled puff pastry (1 sheet of the Jus-Rol variety does it)
cinnamon, for dusting
flour, for dusting
a little bit of butter for greasing the tin
In a pan, heat the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour over a low to medium heat, whisking continuously until thickened and well combined. I find that an electric mixer makes the job much easier than an egg beater. Add the vanilla extract and then gradually whisk in the milk and cream, until the mixture is smooth.
Continue to stir the custard mixture until it comes to the boil, then remove from the heat and cover the surface with cling film. (You have to make sure that the cling film is touching the whole surface, otherwise a nasty skin will form on top of the custard.) Leave to cool slightly while you prepare the pastry.
Cut the pastry sheet in half and put one sheet on top of the other. Roll the pastry sheets tightly from the short end and cut the roll into twelve x 1cm rounds (see how to do it @Not quite Nigella). Lay each of the rolled pastry slices onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out with a rolling pin until they are around 10 cm in diameter. Press the pastry rounds into a lightly buttered 12-hole muffin tin and spoon the custard equally among the cases.
Bake the tarts in a preheated oven at 200°C for 20-25 minutes (or until the custard has set and is forming brown patches, careful don't overdo it!). Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin then sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy at room temperature or cold.
My name is Venetia and I'm a self-exiled Greek, "mentally married" to a Mexican and living in London. Apart from the dreary weather, this city is one of the most exciting capitals in the world, and I couldn't imagine of a more diverse place to live (and eat) in.