Friday, 12 February 2010

I 'heart' cake

When it comes to food, presentation is not my strong point. I know my cooking usually tastes good but it doesn't get arranged artfully on carefully chosen platters.  I don't put it in neat stacks. I don't create swirls of 'jus'. I just put it in piles on a plate.

You will therefore excuse this little exercise in showing off because, for once, I produced something culinary that looked beautiful. It was even more of an achievement because it was created for my friend S, she of the  effortless style. Usually, my sense of inferiority around S in matters visual means I just don't attempt anything meant to look pretty. But I was experimenting with possible desserts for her wedding, and wanted to try something out when she and her partner R visited last weekend.

Unsurprisingly, we were still riffing on the theme of violet and rose cremes. This stimulated the thought that I could amend my tried and tested rose petal ice cream recipe and use up some violet syrup I once bought in a deli. The addition of chocolate could come from the failsafe chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Bites. I could also, finally, justify the purchase of crystallised violet and rose petals from Waitrose.

Ta da!

OK. I realise that it should probably be on a plain white plate, which I don't possess. And my 'quenelles' of ice cream are a bit ropey - I made a half-hearted attempt with a couple of dessert spoons as I'd seen on Masterchef, and then gave up and just spooned out lumps. But for someone who doesn't do presentation, I think it's a good attempt.

By the way, the plate that the heart shaped cake is sitting on, pictured above, is the Wedgewood Mirabelle dinner service that I inherited from my much loved Auntie B last year. It is very her and reminds me of her on the rare occasions that I use it. It might not be particularly fashionable, but who cares.

But never mind the presentation. What about the taste? Well, the verdict was, in the main: delicious. No surprise really as I knew the rose petal ice cream and the chocolate cake recipe worked. The only disappointment was the violet ice cream.

I was trying to recreate some violet ice cream I ate in the Tuillerie gardens in Paris last summer, which was possibly the most sublime substance I've ever tasted. Velvety and oh so delicately perfumed. In my version, the taste of the violet didn't really come through. I suspect the violet syrup isn't strong enough. If anyone knows where I could get violet essence please let me know. We did discuss the possiblity of dissolving parma violets in alcohol or syrup, and I may yet experiment with that.

Violet Ice Cream in Paris (sounds like the title of a trashy romance!)

Let me give you the recipes that worked though.

The Rose Petal Ice Cream comes from Jane Newdick's Book of Herbs, which my sister gave me for Christmas years ago. It's a herb book, rather than a cookbook and is full of lovely ideas for home-made potions and cordials as well as foods. You are supposed to use real rose petals to infuse the ice cream. For years I only made the ice-cream once a year, when a certain richly scented rose was flowering in the garden. Then it dawned on me that I could just as easily use rose water, and make it whenever I felt like it. You can't beat the romance of using real rose petals though. I used to make this ice cream before I had an ice cream maker, using the freeze and beat method. It is the only ice cream recipe that ever seemed to work well using this method. It was always silky smooth with no ice crystals. It has relatively few egg yolks for an ice cream recipe and maybe this is what helps.

Rose Petal Ice Cream
375 ml/12 fl oz whipping cream
125ml/4fl oz whole milk
4 scented roses, rinsed and dried (or 3tbsp rose water)
2 egg yolks
75g/3oz white caster sugar
2 tsp runny honey
pink food colouring

If using rose petals, put the cream, milk and rose petals in a saucepan and bring to just below the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse until cool. 

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and honey together in a large metal or china bowl until pale and creamy.

Strain the rose flavoured milk into the egg mixture (or if using rose water, add it to the milk and cream now and add to the egg mixture) and place bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Cook very gently, stirring all the time, until slightly thickened (it doesn't thicken all that much). Add a drop or so of pink food colouring so that it is very pale pink.

Chill then churn in an ice cream maker or freeze the mixture in a tupperware box until just beginning to freeze, remove it from the freezer and beat, then return to the freezer. When just beginning to freeze, remove and beat again, then leave to freeze solid. Take it out of the freezer to ripen for 15 minutes before serving.

Chocolate Fudge Cake - Nigella Bites
This is soooo easy and sooooo delicious. I am a competent baker, no better than that, but this always tastes fantastic. Moist, chocolatey with a soft, dense crumb. I think  the fact that this is an oil based batter, like American cakes and muffins, rather than a creamed mixture makes it easier to do well.

For the cake:
400g plain flour
250g golden caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
50g best quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
142ml/small tub sour cream
1tbsp vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted then cooled
125ml corn oil
300ml chilled water

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Butter and line 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb and salt. In a wide-necked measuring jug, mix the eggs, soured cream and vanilla until just blended. In another bowl or mixer bowl, beat the butter and corn oil until blended, then beat in the water. Add the dry ingredients and mix gently to blend, then mix in the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into the 2 cake tins. (It's quite a runny batter - not a dropping consistency). Bake the cakes for 50-55 minutes, until firm and a cake-tester (i.e.a cocktail stick in my case!) comes out clean. Don't overbake them. You want them nicely moist. Leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then turn them out on a rack to finish cooling.

For the icing:
(In the Nigella version, she just uses buttercream. I think that's too much, so I use the amount of buttercream here to sandwich the cakes together, and then cover it in the chocolate ganache below).

115g good dark chocolate (70%)
165g unsalted butter
180g icing sugar, sifted (yeah right - but you know you're supposed to!)
2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, or in a bowl above a simmering pan of water. Leave to cool slightly. Cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and melted chocolate and mix well. Sandwich the cakes together using the butter cream icing. (I've sometimes added a thin layer of good strawberry or damson jam as well, just to cut the chocolatiness slightly with something a bit tart).

Chocolate ganache:
150g good dark chocolate
150ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract

Chop the chocolate into little pieces. Put the all the ingredients into a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate melts. (I confess I have had problems with splitting doing it this way recently for some reason. For added safety - chocolate and cream are too expensive to waste - I would recommend doing this in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.) Remove from the heat and immediately whisk the mixture vigorously as it cools slightly, and it will become thick and glossy. Spread it luxuriously over the cake and leave to cool.

[ Added later: Watching Raymond Blanc on tv reminded me of a far easier and more foolproof way of making a ganache. Chop the chocolate very finely -if you can be bothered, whizz it in the food processor. You want it in crumbs/flakes not chunks. Bring the cream to the boil, then chuck in the chocolate and the vanilla essence and whisk like crazy. The chocolate will melt in the hot cream, and as it all cools slightly whilst you whisk, it will become thick and glossy. There's no risk of the chocolate separating and spoiling if you do it this way.]
Truly magnificent and - trust me - very easy.

I once had the audacity to make this cake for a wedding. Our lovely friends C & A were getting married. It was a small wedding, and the cake was a surprise rather than a planned centrepiece, so the decision wasn't quite as hubristic as you might imagine. And as I've said, it really is a failsafe recipe, which reduced the risk factor.  The cake isn't weirdly misshapen, but in a heart-shape, which you can't really make out because of the angle of the photo. Nice though with the flowers, and turned out, the bride was wearing red, so it all looked carefully planned!


  1. looks gorgeous- thanks for the recipe too. I just got an ice cream maker and I want to re-create a turkish delight ice cream I once had in Callendar of all places. I suspect it was the rose petal icecream with lumps of rose turkish delight chopped into it. I have a feeling that there is an obscure french violet liquer- I wonder if thatwould work for violet icrecream? Also Baldwins herbs online have all kinds of plant exctacts you could try there for violet extract maybe-

  2. there is an obscure violet liquer! but alcohol can inhibit the setting of ice cream so maybe it wouldn't work?

  3. Thanks Gill! I actually have a bottle of obscure violet liqueur (of course!) but I didn't want the ice cream to taste of alcohol. I'll try the Baldwins Herbs site. There's another recipe in Nigella Bites, for Turkish Delight Syllabub (which I think I once made for a Wild Women weekend, but some years ago!). It uses orange flower as well as rose water, and a little bit of citrus to add to the fragrance. You could use it as the basis for an ice cream recipe. If you're interested, I'll send you the recipe. Mmm. Turkish Delight ice cream!

  4. thanks but I already have the recipe for the syllabub as I enjoyed it so much when you made it for ww. what is the obscure violet liquer like? Is it like alcoholic parma violets? If so I want some!

  5. ps on the trail- I googled and found this through a cookery forum that complained that most violet flavouring is weak and they reccomended you go here

  6. Gill - I think you are more of a violet freak than my friend S!! I would say the violet liqueur does taste like alcoholic parma violets. It's not quite a liqueur It's 'Creme de Violette' - like Creme de Cassis. I don't think it's as alcoholic as a proper liqueur. I can easily bring you some from Edinburgh. They sell it at the local deli. I don't think it was that dear - around £10? Thanks for the tip about violet essence! I don't even like violet that much - but I seem trapped in this violet exploration!

  7. poets can't work withour parma violets- it says so in Rilke Tattoo!

  8. er -I meant to write without !