Posted by: Stephlechef | December 30, 2012

Christmas canapés 4 – sundried tomato palmiers




Sundried tomato palmiers

These were pretty simple. I think they came from a Lorraine Pascale recipe.

Get a jar of sundried tomatoes. Drain as much oil from them as you can. (Don’t pour it down the sink! Put it in a bag and put it in the bin… or dip bread in it, but your arteries won’t thank you) Plonk them in a chopper/blender/joosh (my noise for a hand blender) them with a hand blender… and you will have a sundried tomato paste. (You could also use red pesto) Unroll a pack of ready-rolled puff pastry, and spread the paste all over it, right to the edges. Roll up from the long sides (not the way it came out of the packet)… to make the palmier shape, you need to roll from both sides into the middle. Chill it for a while, then slice it gently (don’t squash it, slide the knife across it) into 1/2 cm slices and lay flat on a tray. Then grate some parmesan over the top and bake in a hot oven until brown. Done!

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 29, 2012

Christmas canapés 3 – brie and cranberry parcels

brie and cranberry parcels

Brie and cranberry parcels

Again, not really going to bother with any words of wisdom here. I have never played with filo pastry before, and I didn’t really enjoy it. They exploded. I took two small squares of filo, plonked a little cube of cheese and a dollop of cranberry sauce in the middle, buttered a circle all around and wrapped them up. Baked them… and the cheese ooozed out. But they tasted ok.

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 28, 2012

Christmas canapés 2 – gougères


(Slightly deflated) gougères

Not going to bother with words of wisdom on these, because, well, look at them. But they tasted nice. Recipe here


Smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagels

These are lush little bite-sized treats, made with my mini doughnut tin. I imagine they would work quite well as a mini-muffin too if you don’t have a funny-shaped tin.

I use a recipe from this blog here: with a bit of adaptage.

For the grated cheese I used cheddar… I don’t know what the “seasoning blend” is but I used a little pinch of cayenne pepper, and to make buttermilk (a good thing to remember if ever you need it in a recipe) – put 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice in the bottom of a cup measure, and fill it up with milk. Leave for a few minutes and it goes all skanky and lumpy. Then use it!

Bake the mini doughnuts for 10-15 minutes (mine were a little overdone, blame over-enthusiastic canape planning), and then slice and fill with cream cheese and smoked salmon, or whatever else takes your fancy. Makes 12.

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 26, 2012

Christmas cooking – opéra cake

gateau opera

For our Christmas dinner dessert, I decided, as ever, to stress myself out by making something complicated. And which required a big long list of ingredients to send my Dad out to get (and I made half as much as the recipe was for). It takes quite a while (reserve a few hours), and quite a lot of effort, but it is definitely worth it. It is pretty rich – make small portions! It looks complicated, but it’s just lots of little elements – just make them all and assemble it carefully, and it works out 🙂

Opera cake

(makes 10-12 servings)

Taken from this recipe, quite adapted!

I made this in a big square tin which is 7.5 x 7.5 inches. Adapt accordingly if yours is different. I recommend a loose bottom (haha, you might have one if you eat it all :)) or I don’t know how easy it might be to serve.

Ingredients (take a deep breath)

For the Almond Cake:

  • 3 egg whites (4 if they are small)
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 overfilled cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 eggs (4 if they are small)
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
  • For the Espresso syrup:
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/6 cup sugar (sorry, call it half a third)
  • 1/2 tbsp instant espresso
  • Coffee buttercream:
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 egg (yeah, I know, whisk it and it makes it easier to split)
  • 1/2 egg yolk (shoot me)
  • 7 tbsp butter, at room temperature if you remember to get it out
  • Dark chocolate ganache:
  • 4 oz dark or plain chocolate, broken up
  • 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • Chocolate glaze:
  • 2 1/2 oz plain or dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup ghee (if you have it, or see original for how to clarify butter)

Now for the many elements! Just do them in order and it all works out.

Almond sponge (Joconde)

Preheat the oven to 220c.

Beat the egg whites until they become foamy and start to expand. Sprinkle in the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, until all of it is incorporated into the egg whites. Continue beating the meringue until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl, beat the ground almonds, icing sugar, and whole eggs on medium just until the mixture becomes light and foamy. Gently stir the flour into the almond batter.

Gently stir 1/4 of the almond batter into the whipped egg whites. Fold the remainder of the almond mix and the melted, cooled butter into the egg whites. If you are being slightly anal about it, measure 1/3 of the mixture (mine was 200g per layer) into the tin (which you have greased and lined) and bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove, re-line the tin and make the second layer. Repeat and cook the final layer. Leave all the cakes to cool.


Espresso syrup

In a small saucepan, set over medium heat, bring water, sugar, and coffee to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes, and allow to cool. (This will be brushed onto the cake later)

Coffee buttercream

Stir together the espresso powder and boiling water and set the mixture aside for a moment. In a medium saucepan, set over medium heat, bring the sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a boil. Boil gently and cook until it starts to look thicker and syrupy. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg and egg yolk until they begin to get fluffy. Continue to beat the mixture and add the hot sugar syrup to the bowl in a smooth, steady, slow stream (sometimes this makes a fun little sugary spider web on the edge of the bowl). Once the syrup is incorporated, mix in the reserved coffee mixture. Continuing to beat on medium-high, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until it is fully incorporated into the buttercream. Keep on beating, beating and beating. This feels so wrong and like it will never, ever work. But it does. It suddenly starts thickening and you’re left with a lovely thick, creamy smooth buttercream. Yum. Try not to eat it all, as this will be layered onto the cake later.


Bring the milk and cream to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Continue stirring the chocolate for 2 minutes until smooth. Stir in the butter (v. important to do this afterwards – I didn’t [because I bought the wrong cream] and I ended up with a greasy ganache) and continue stirring the ganache for 90 seconds. Leave to cool and thicken.

Assembly of cake

Place one layer of cake in the bottom of the tin. Brush it with espresso syrup. Spread 3/4 of the coffee buttercream over the surface of the cake.

Place the second square of cake over the buttercream, and then brush them with espresso syrup. Spread the ganache over the cake in a smooth layer. Place the last layer of cake over the ganache, brush with espresso syrup, and then spread it with a thin layer of the coffee buttercream. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 1 hour before glazing it.

To glaze the cake:

Melt the ghee, melt the chocolate and then whisk both together until smooth. Leave in the fridge to thicken a little (not too much or it won’t spread). Pour the chocolate glaze over the cake and allow it to set in the refrigerator before serving.

gateau opera 2

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 18, 2012

Gingerbread cheesecake

Month two of baking club, and the theme was… Christmas! We did a secret santa thing, where people had to submit a word to do with Christmas, and then we were assigned someone else’s word to bake something on that theme! I suggested mulled wine, and the word I was given was… gingerbread. I was not the happiest, because I’d been hoping for something creative, and I felt like gingerbread was dictating what I should make… but then I looked around recipes online and found this: Yay! Fitted the theme but wasn’t a house! Goodie! (Unfortunately, someone else also brought in a ginger cheesecake under the theme “ginger”, but theirs was a lovely creamy version, so I figure they were different enough to be acceptable)




I love the little gingerbread men I found on Amazon for the top, they are so cute. The cheesecake wasn’t the greatest, texture-wise – due to oven-y conflicts (someone in my house cooking their dinner, how unreasonable :)), I wasn’t able to switch the oven off and leave it, as the recipe said, but it wasn’t nearly cooked enough to take it out, so I had to have it in the oven at least half an hour longer than it should have been. Add this to the fact that I didn’t have foil to make the strange baking contraption described in the original, and so balanced my cheesecake over a bowl of water, probably explains what went wrong. In conclusion, for cooking instructions, follow the link, but I did add a little more treacle and sugar and spices to my cheesecake mixture, and the flavour was definitely believable as gingerbread! For the base, I used leftover useless gingersnap crumbs (see previous blog for biscuitty failure), and gingernuts as a second layer. I didn’t bother making my own gingerbread just to smoosh it up.


Now to decide what to bake for January’s “healthy bakes” theme…

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 18, 2012

Raymond Blanc’s Onion Tart

So, the big news of a couple of months ago (yes, yes, I have been very busy), was that I found a baking club to go to where I live! Yay! I was a bit nervous to just jolly on down on my own and get involved, but I’m very glad I did. Each month there is a theme, and you bring some sort of baked good based on that theme – and then eat it, and try everyone else’s too! Here is the club’s blog – have a read, it’s great

The first month’s theme was birthday parties, as it was the club’s first anniversary. I (very wisely, as it turns out) decided to avoid making birthday cake, and stick with something savoury (met with delight, as I was the only one who hadn’t involved sugar…). Anyway, I made an onion tart. I figured quiche was pushing it on the birthday theme, but we definitely used to have quiche at family buffets, and didn’t want to plump for sausage rolls, so nerr 🙂

This tart is lovely. There is something so heavenly about the combination of creme fraiche, bacon and onions. (As an aside, I also use the filling for this quiche with pasta as a sort of stodgy pasta sauce. Lush) I realise it looks a bit sad in the photo. You can’t really prettify a quiche. (All credit to whoever took the photo at Cake and Bake club, as I did not)


The recipe is taken straight from here If you haven’t seen the tv show, try and catch it on a repeat, Raymond Blanc is utterly endearing, so enthusiastic and takes the snobby sheen away from the idea of TV chefs. It’s great.

Posted by: Stephlechef | December 12, 2012

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012!

This year I took part in this cookie swap, which I narrowly missed out on signing up for last year, but kept an eye out for, as I thought it was a lovely little idea. The idea is that you sign up and are matched with 3 people, who you have to send 12 cookies each to. You are matched to three other people, and in theory you will then receive 36 lovely cookies!

I received my cookies safe and well, and am very happily chomping my way through some as I type. Unfortunately, due to the manic nature which is my life at the moment, I was unable to be quite as artistic and creative as I would have liked with mine, but nevertheless, here is my contribution to the recipe pile, and this is what 3 (lucky?) people around the country received from me.


Chewy ginger cookies


For my first admission – these were supposed to be gingersnaps. I had such a disaster with these, I cannot tell you. I made the cookies straight from this recipe last Christmas, and they were delicious. Crispy, snappy, ginger-y. Lovely.

Batch number one of this year hit its first hurdle when I realised I only had one shelf in my oven. To make 36 cookies. Humhum. But nevertheless, I started. Second snag – wanted to soften my butter, didn’t have a working microwave (the joys of living in shared accommodation really are never-ending, aren’t they?)… I was running on a very strict make-cookies-in-between-placement-and-writing-assignment-and-moving-house schedule, so I pressed on, and sort of melted the butter a little bit. Unfortunately, this meant that the mixture was far too soft and didn’t harden as quickly as it otherwise might have done.

Nevertheless, I pressed on. Plonked the first batch in the oven, and waited. Took them out ten minutes later… and they had done that horrible thing that cookies do when you don’t leave them growing room… yep, they had melded together into one massive cookie. (And an an aside, they were totally the wrong texture) Realising that this might be problematic to post, I tried cutting them out into fun shapes. But no cigar, they looked awful.

I decided to give up on this batch and went to the pub instead to calm down. Re-planned my weekend of packing to do them a couple of days later. Get up bright and early on Sunday morning ready to bake… and… I didn’t have enough treacle. I used it all in my first batch. And it was 8 o clock. On Sunday morning. When the shops are shut. And I had a lesson to teach at 11. Getting worse and worse. Cue desperately wandering around convenience stores looking for treacle, giving up and buying golden syrup (in one of those horrible old school tins) at the newsagents instead.

Made the dough, decided I was too stressed to bake them, went to tutor, packed a little bit of my life away into boxes (literally, not metaphorically)… and set to it again (with a calm friend to help me through). Made them in VERY small batches, they didn’t stick together… and they were still completely the wrong texture. Chewy not snappy. But never mind, no time. Packed them away in thankfully cute boxes and sent them on their merry way. Forgetting to include any of my details, or indeed what the cookies were supposed to be.

So I’m not saying that the people who received my cookies should be grateful, because they weren’t that impressive… but hopefully they can taste the stress that went into baking them. In a delicious, ginger-y way, obviously.

I’m sorry cookie people, I will try harder next year.

Posted by: Stephlechef | November 24, 2012

Chocolate mint crackle cookies

I am a terrible blogger. I really am a little bit sorry.

This post is about chocolate mint crackle cookies, which are fun to eat and fun to say! (if you can tell me who I am thinking of who says that in some TV show or film, I will give you… something nice. Because I can hear it in my head, but my head won’t tell me the answer).

I am horribly ill. These biscuits are probably riddled with cough germs. I never knew how much I sang during the course of a day until suddenly I couldn’t do it anymore (I haven’t had some horrific accident and tragically lost my talent, I have lost my voice, and everyone other than me is probably fairly pleased about it…)

Anyway, you, my two dear readers, don’t have to eat them, you can just appreciate the mediocre photography and then make your own 🙂

They are taken straight out of this Martha Stewart recipe, so I won’t bother typing it out here. Advice:

– when it says space them out, take heed. Some of mine did that terribly sad merging together thing that claustrophobic cookies are wont to do.

– you kind of have to re-do the icing sugar on some of them before you bake them – because you use your hand to roll them, they get a bit melty again, and then the icing sugar starts to dissolve. To properly get nicely defined crackles, it needs to be a good layer of icing sugar (otherwise they get that slightly dirty-snow look about them [see bottom right of the photo above]).

– when it says chill for 3 hours, don’t listen. Put it in the freezer and it only takes an hour or so. Much quicker cookies = much happier days.

– when it says bake them for 15 minutes, do them for a bit longer. Mine are a bit too soft.

Posted by: Stephlechef | October 23, 2012

Viennese whirls

Mini-celebration again, blog has passed 6,000 views. My two readers must have been very busy. (But seriously, eep!)


This are so incredibly satisfying to make. (Mostly because they involve piping but are easy)… I just followed the recipe straight from BBC Food, here

They really do taste like Mr Kipling ones, which also makes them seem genuinely Viennese-y and not just any old biscuit, they really are lush.

A couple of bits of advice:

They cook quickly and change VERY fast – browning them makes a big difference to the taste -so either rotate them around the oven OR take them out at different times. Don’t be tempted to wait until they’re firm, they will harden up when they come out.

When it says pipe “rosettes”, use a big piping hole, hold it down near the tray and let a big squidge out (this gives a nice flat piped biscuit with clean sides), then lift it slightly while still piping to get the peak on top.

Don’t be tempted to “squidge” the buttercream – the ones on BBC Food look nice all big, but I wanted them a bit flatter – the biscuits are too delicate and you end up breaking some!


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