Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sweet New Zealand # 34 Round-up

Sweet New Zealand Badge

It has been my privilege to host Sweet New Zealand once again this month - a monthly blog event, created by the lovely Alessandra Zecchini, which offers an opportunity for all Kiwi bloggers (whether you are living in New Zealand or overseas), as well as for non-Kiwi bloggers living in New Zealand, to connect and share some of those sweet treats from your kitchen.  As always, we have some wonderful entries this month, and I have certainly enjoyed discovering and visiting all of your posts.  Thanks to all of you for participating.

Our first entry this month was from our founder, Alessandra Zecchini, who shared these Hazelnut & Vanilla Verrines with Quince Jelly, Figs & Cape Gooseberry.  This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful desserts I've ever seen and, as an added bonus, Alessandra also shared some uplifting photos of the beautiful Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch.

Next up was my own entry for a Chocolate Beetroot Cake. This may not be the absolutely best chocolate cake you've ever eaten, because as everybody knows there are plenty of people out there who can bake a better cake than me. But this is hands down the best, most moist, dense, fudgy chocolate cake I've ever made, and it won't be the last time I make it either.

Feijoa season may be almost over, but there's still a bit of fruit around and if you've been wondering what to do with that over abundance then check out this gorgeous looking feijoa jam from Alessandra Zecchini which she says is just like guava paste.

Would you ever imagine that such decadent looking little morsels are in fact Healthy Vegan Cookies? Check out these gorgeous looking cookies from Arfi at HomeMadeS - seriously, if that's healthy, pass the plate my way!

And, since we're talking healthy, how about this Low Carb Baked Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache from Libby at Ditch The Carbs.  This is a quick and simple, yet low carb version of a New York style baked cheesecake, and I'm loving the idea of the chocolate ganache topping.

This stunning gluten-free Baklava Cake came from "new to me" blog, My Persian Feast by Sanaz.  After getting kind of addicted to baklava when holidaying in Greece, I can't wait to try it in cake form.   Looks amazing.

Do you, like me, have a secret passion for Bounty Bars?  Of course you do - how could anyone not love all that coconut smothered in dark chocolate.?! I'm thinking these homemade "healthified" Bounty Bars from Amanda at another new to me blog, Move Love Eat, could be dangerous, very dangerous indeed.

I don't know about you, but a good lemon tart is pretty much hands-down my favourite dessert, but I'm always a bit nervous about making it.  I think this utterly gorgeous looking Heston Blumethal Lemon Tart from Mairi at Toast just might be the one that helps me overcome my lemon tart fears. 

We've nearly all made the good old pineapple upside down cake at some time or another, haven't we? But how about this luscious looking Upside Down Caramelised Banana Cake from Frances at Bake Club. Now if that doesn't get you licking your lips I don't know what will. 

Lesley at Eat, Etc. always does beautiful baking, frequently serving up things that are a little different to the run of the mill, and often things I haven't come across before. Her gorgeous looking Dutch Ginger Cake this month is no exception

Is there anything better than a seriously decadent chocolate tart?  Well, actually, there just might be if that chocolate tart happened to also have a salted caramel filling!  Yes, you read that right.  I could literally feel my thighs expanding just looking at this gorgeous Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart from Gillian at So So Simple Food

Is it a muffin? Is it a doughnut? No it's a muffin which masquerades as a doughnut and is filled with jam no less!!  I just couldn't resist sharing these Jam Doughnut Muffins.  Seriously, once these muffins have been bathed in melted butter and then rolled in cinnamon sugar, they really do taste like doughnuts. 

Looking for the perfect little something to go with a cuppa on a wintery afternoon?  Our last entry for the month, this warming Hazelnut Ginger Loaf from Julie at Domestic Executive, could be just this thing. With ground hazelnuts replacing flour and sweet dates replacing molasses, you know this is going to be great on so many levels. 

And now I can't wait to see what you all cook up next month. Amanda at Move Love Eat will be hosting, and I know you'll all share lots of sweetness with her. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jam Doughnut Muffins

Jam Doughnut Muffins 4.jpg

Today is our Secret Recipe Club reveal, which means that I can now tell you the secret that I've been keeping for the last month ... the blog I was assigned this month was Food. Baby. Life.

I've had a month to poke around in Susan's blog, checking out lots of her posts, and getting to know her a little bit from afar.  And, actually as it turns out "afar" is not really that far, since Susan lives "just across the ditch" from me in Australia.

Susan started her blog nearly 5 years ago as a creative outlet during some major life changes, including the loss of her mother to cancer.  Since then she has married and has three wee boys, and what originally started out as a mostly baking blog has developed into a lot of family friendly fare, and a more healthy approach to her baking.

But, in the end, it was Susan's Jam Doughnut Muffins (and I love the fact that she spells doughnuts the same way I do) that stole my heart.  Let's face it, a muffin is great for breakfast, or a snack on the run.  A doughnut is even better ... actually, a whole lot better, but they can be a bit of a faff to make, and you have to wait a good deal longer for satisfaction, and I have to admit that delayed self gratification has never been my strong suit.  On the other hand, something that cooks up quick and easily like a muffin but tastes like a doughnut has got to be the best of both worlds.

Jam Doughnut Muffins 1

I made a couple of small changes, replacing caster sugar with brown sugar, and melted butter in the muffins with coconut oil.  Coconut oil does solidify at low temperatures, so chances are you might have to dissolve it first - no biggie.  What I did discover though, was that as soon as I added the cold milk, the coconut oil started to solidify a bit - not completely, but a bit.  The upshot of that was that when I added the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, there wasn't quite enough liquid, so I added another 1/2 cup of milk.  As it turned out, I don't think this was a bad thing - the combination of the coconut oil and the extra milk delivered a muffin with a beautiful, moist texture and which tasted just as good the second day as they did straight out of the oven, and this my friends, as you probably know, is a rare thing in the muffin world.  (The quantities given in the recipe below are what I actually used.)  I also froze half of the batch, and I can tell you that once thawed they are every bit as good as the fresh ones were.  Only other changes I made ... I didn't have any buttermilk, so I used a combination of regular milk with a bit of natural yoghurt;   and I used homemade plum jam instead of strawberry jam in the middle - really any jam would be great, or even a dollop of nutella if you wanted to go the chocolate route.  Lastly, Susan says the original recipe was for six large muffins, and that is what she made.  She did however recommend making smaller ones, and since I knew that I would want to eat two of these babies in one sitting (no matter what their size), I decided it would be more prudent to make the smaller, regular-sized ones - smaller ones also give you, I think, a better jam to muffin ratio, which makes me smile.

Once the baked muffins are brushed all over with melted butter, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon, they seriously do taste for all the world like a doughnut, and I know for sure that this has become my go-to muffin recipe.

Jam Doughnut Muffins 6.jpg

Jam Doughnut Muffins Recipe
Adapted from recipe from Food. Baby. Life.
Makes 12
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

300g (10-1/2 oz) self-raising flour
pinch of sea salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup natural yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
good-quality plum jam
100g unsalted butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) and grease a 12-hole regular-size muffin tin.

Sift the flour into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the salt and brown sugar, and stir to combine.

In separate bowl, combine the coconut oil, egg, milk, yoghurt and vanilla extract.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until only just combined.

Put a spoonful of mixture into each muffin hole and make an indent in the centre. Fill each indent with a generous dollop of jam.  Top with the remaining muffin mixture and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter.  Combine the caster sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.

As soon as the muffins are just cool enough to handle, brush each muffin all over with the melted butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar.

Serve while still a little warm (the jam in the middle really holds its heat so watch out!).

Hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.

Secret Recipe Club

Also linked to Foodie Friday hosted by Designs by Gollam, Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and Sweet New Zealand hosted here at Couscous & Consciousness.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pan Fried Fish with Harissa & Rose Petals and A Taste for the Exotic

Pan Fried Fish with Harissa & Rose Petals 2

If you're one of my regular visitors, you will know that my absolute cooking hero is the highly inspirational Yotam Ottolenghi, and one of my favourite cookbooks is "Jerusalem: A Cookbook".  Good thing then that this week is Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, which means that we can cook any recipe we like from any one of our ten IHCC chefs, and for me that means checking back in with Ottolenghi.  It also means reconnecting with my friends in the Tasting Jerusalem group, where our special ingredient this month is harissa.

Now, I'm not going to tell you all about harissa here or tell you how to make it - I've done all that before and you can read all about it here.  I am however going to seriously recommend you do have a go at making some though, whether you use my recipe or Ottolenghi's (which is on page 301 of Jerusalem if you happen to have it).  Yes, store bought is fine, but seriously a very small investment in ingredients, effort and time will yield a substantial quantity.  It freezes really well, and once you've used it you will always want to have some on hand.

Wondering where or how you might use it?  Then check out some of these dishes in which I've used harissa for a little inspiration ...
Harissa Marinated Tarakihi with Lemony Couscous & Tzatziki
Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac
or try a little Green Harissa.

Now before I move on to telling you about this dish, I want to talk a little bit about a few unusual ingredients, and some great new finds.  This is really more for the benefit of my Kiwi peeps, so everyone else please feel free to skip the next paragraph or so.  Of course, those of you who live in the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are pretty well catered for when it comes to trying to track down unusual ingredients.  In fact, just yesterday, on a flying visit to Auckland, I discovered the Persian Trading Co on Mt Eden Road, where I found dried Persian limes, barberries, and dried rose petals, ingredients I had been trying to find for a long time.  So, if you happen to live nearby, this little Aladdin's Cave of wonderful ingredients is well worth a visit.

Persian ingredients.jpg

If, however, you happen to live in the provinces, as I do, and if your tastes tend to run to the exotic, as mine do, then sourcing more unusual ingredients can be challenging.  We usually have to turn to online resources and I recently discovered a great online supplier called Global Foods Direct.  They have a fantastic selection of products (including my beloved kosher salt) that I can't get where I live, their prices are reasonable, and they were a pleasure to deal with.  They will definitely be getting a lot more orders from me!

Kosher Salt

Now back to the dish.  In his introduction to this recipe, Ottolenghi says, "This dish originates from Bizerte, the northernmost city in Africa.  It is sweet and spicy and beautifully aromatic."  He's not wrong about that.  While this is cooking your kitchen will smell amazing, a world away from the usual kind of 'fishy" cooking smells you might encounter.  Ottolenghi also suggests that this dish can be served warm or at room temperature.  By virtue of the fact that dinner in my house is presently made in the middle of the afternoon in order to capture an even half way decent photo of it (I know you can all relate), mine was indeed room temperature.  I don't think it suffered any for that though, in fact I think it probably benefited from the opportunity for all the flavours to develop and mingle in the meantime.

This dish offers an intriguing combination of flavours, which you might not normally think to put with fish.  There is of course the obvious kick of heat from the harissa, some warming spices by way of some cinnamon and cumin, acidity from vinegar balanced out with sweetness from some honey, sharp, tangy bursts of flavour from barberries (which I used in place of currants), and the exotic fragrance of rose water and rose petals.

This would be a great dish to serve for company - it's quick and simple to prepare, and yet a combination of unusual ingredients and visual appeal will make it a stand-out dish.

My changes to the recipe were minimal - just subbing in barberries for currants as I already mentioned, replacing onions with leek (as that is generally my allium of choice), increased the amount of harissa a bit, and just adjusted a few other quantities to suit.  This would serve two people as a substantial main course, with some rice or couscous and a simple spinach salad, or four as a lighter meal.

Pan Fried Fish with Harissa & Rose Petals 1

Pan Fried Fish with Harissa & Rose Petals Recipe
Adapted (slightly) from recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
from Jerusalem:  A Cookbook
Serves 2 to 4
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

400g (14 oz) firm-fleshed, white fish (I used snapper)
2 tablespoons harissa
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
plain flour
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons harissa
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
rosewater (between 1 teaspoon & 1 tablespoon depending on your taste)
generous handful of barberries (or currants)
large handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons of dried rose petals

Begin by marinating the fish.  Cut the fish into serving size portions.  In a small bowl, mix together the first measure of harissa, cumin and flaky sea salt, to make a paste, and rub it all over the fish, making sure it's well coated.  Set aside to marinate for approximately 2 hours.

Harissa Marinated Fish

Set a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat, and add olive oil to the pan.  While the oil is heating dust the fish liberally, both sides, with flour and shake off the excess.  Add the fish to the hot pan (working in batches if necessary), and cook the fish until golden and not quite cooked through - about 2 minutes on each side.  Remove fish from the pan, retaining the oil in the pan, and set aside.

Add the sliced leeks to the pan, and saute gently, stirring from time to time, until they are completely softened - about 5 minutes.

Add the second measure of harissa to the pan, along with the vinegar, cinnamon, a generous pinch of flaky sea salt and plenty of ground black pepper.  Add the water, stir to combine everything well, reduce the heat and simmer gently until you have a fairly thick sauce - about 10 minutes.

Add the honey, rosewater and barberries to the pan and simmer for another minute or two.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Return the fish to the pan, spooning some of the sauce over the top, and simmer gently for a few minutes until the fish is warmed through - add a little more water if your sauce has become too thick.

Remove from heat and sprinkle over the coriander and rose petals.  Serve with plain rice or couscous.

If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...

IHCC Ottolenghi Leek Badge resized

... or check out Jerusalem and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.

Have a look also at what my "Tasting Jerusalem" friends have been doing - you'll find plenty of other great uses for the harissa you now have in your spice cupboard, along with other interesting ingredients as well. (“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest.”)

I'll also be sharing this post at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely, and very amusing, Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and at Foodie Friday hosted by Designs by Gollam.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Spinach, Orange & Goat Cheese Salad

Spinach, Orange & Goat Cheese Salad 3.jpg

This week, at I Heart Cooking Clubs, we're getting cheesy - cooking up Nigel Slater dishes that feature cheese as an ingredient.

After last week's Gnocchi with Chorizo, Gorgonzola & Spinach, which really knocked it out of the ball-park for full-on creamy, cheesy indulgence, I thought I would bring you something a little lighter this week.  Nigel's spinach, orange and feta salad from "Tender, Vol. I, A cook and his vegetable patch" seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Of this dish, Nigel says, "A favourite salad of mine is one where the spinach leaves are matched with oranges and feta.  Lush, salty, refreshing, I use it to lift the spirits."  And he's right.  It is all of those things, and the "sunny" burst of tangy orange slices amongst the velvety spinach leaves, spiked with sharp, salty goats' feta, cannot fail to be uplifting on a gloomy late autumn day.

This salad of course would make a great side to just about anything you can think of, but it can just as easily make a meal on its own.  You can easily "trick it up" with a few add-ins to make it a little more substantial if you like.  Nigel suggests toasting some torn up bread or a few sprouted seeds as possible additions.  Since I happened to have some beautiful fresh beetroot from a friend's garden on hand, I chose to add some roasted beetroot along with some toasted walnuts. Satsuma mandarins are also available here in abundance right now, so I included some mandarin segments as well.   Some black olives would also be a nice addition I think, and you could of course swap the goat cheese for some other cheese such as a gorgonzola or other blue cheese.

This recipe is more of a guideline than anything too specific.  It is infinitely variable, and you really don't need to be too fussy with quantities.  I do hope you try it.  This is really perfect for a simple lunch, and I will definitely be making it again.

Spinach, Orange & Goat Cheese Salad 2.jpg

Spinach, Orange & Goat Cheese Salad Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Tender, Vol. I
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For each person you will need:
1x medium-sized beetroot
olive oil
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2x generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1x medium-sized orange
1x mandarin
1x handful of crumbled goat cheese
1x handful walnuts, toasted
walnut oil
red wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).

Wash and dry beetroot, and cut into wedges.  Place beetroot wedges on a large piece of tinfoil, drizzle liberally with olive oil, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Close up tinfoil, place package in a shallow baking dish, and roast in the preheated oven for approximately 45 minutes or until beetroot are tender.  Remove from oven and leave to cool.

Remove skin and all white pith from the orange and cut crosswise into slices.  Work over a bowl or a plate to catch as much of the juices as you can.  Remove all skin and pith from the mandarin, and divide into segments.

Arrange spinach leaves on a serving platter.  Tuck orange slices, mandarin segments and beetroot wedges in amongst the leaves.  Sprinkle goat cheese over the top.

Make a dressing by mixing together the reserved citrus juice with walnut oil, in approximately equal parts.  If you don't have much juice from the oranges, top up the "acidity ratio" with a little red wine vinegar.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle over the salad.

Top with a sprinkling of toasted walnuts and serve immediately.

If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see all the other cheesy dishes that are on the menu this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...

... or check out Tender, Vol. 1 and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays hosted by my lovely friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum, and at Cook Your Books hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gnocchi with Chorizo, Gorgonzola & Spinach

Gnocchi with chorizo, gorgonzola & spinach 3

For the first two years of writing this blog, I didn't have a proper kitchen.  I churned out all my meals using nothing more than a small toaster oven (just big enough to roast a chook, if you spatchcocked it first), a single hot plate, a Breville benchtop grill, a crockpot, and a kitchen bench the size of a postage stamp (does anyone remember those?).  Of necessity then, I became the self-proclaimed queen of the "one pan wonder", and a quick and simple one pan meal is still my benchmark of the ideal mid-week dinner.

At I Heart Cooking Clubs this week, we're all about "weeknight favourites", cooking up Nigel Slater dishes that are perfect for those nights when you have neither the time nor the inclination to come up with anything other than something simple and fuss-free.

Leafing through "Tender, Vol I, A cook and his vegetable patch", a simple dish of gnocchi with spinach, cheese and cream looked promising.  It didn't hurt either that the recipe was titled "A filling, carb-rich supper for a winter's evening".  Seriously, how inviting does that sound, and let's face it, who of us doesn't like to load up on a few carbs on a chilly autumn evening?!  And, although I rarely go in for creamy pasta sauces, once in a while a serving of those aforementioned carbs smothered in cream and cheese is a delightful thing.

Gnocchi with chorizo, gorgonzola & spinach 1

As is my usual bent, I did make a few minor changes to the recipe.  Firstly, I added some chorizo because, well ... if you're going to have all that pasta and cream and cheese, you might as well throw all calorie-counting caution to the wind and throw a bit of sausage into the mix.  I also simplified the cooking process a bit.  Nigel firstly has you pre-boil vacuum-packed gnocchi in one pan of water, and steam the spinach in another pan, then assemble all the ingredients and cook them in another dish.  I say "fiddle-dee-dee" to all of that - I was pretty confident I could do all of this in one pan, and I think I pulled it off.  Fear not, between a bit of time hanging out in a saute pan and then half an hour baking in the oven, with plenty of liquid, the gnocchi will cook perfectly well without needing to be boiled first.  I didn't have as much cream on hand as was called for in the recipe, but I did have some creme fraiche, so I changed things up a bit there.  Lastly, I used quite a bit less blue cheese than called for and found the amount that I used to be more than enough.  Nigel says, that this makes two servings.  Personally, I found that this was pretty rich and satisfying and with a bit of salad on the side this made three decent sized portions - and, honestly, I have a pretty voracious appetite, so if I say you can feed three out of this you can believe it.  I really do recommend a simple but fresh salad to go with this, as it will help to cut through the richness of all that cheese and cream.

This is definitely not the kind of dish I would eat on a regular basis, but, like an itch that needs to be scratched, every once in a while nothing less than something so decadent and deeply satisfying will do.

Gnocchi with chorizo, gorgonzola & spinach 2

Gnocchi with Chorizo, Gorgonzola & Spinach recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Tender, Vol I
Serves 3
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1x chorizo sausage - about 110g (4oz), thinly sliced
500g (1 lb) vacuum packed gnocchi (I use De Cecco)
200g (7 oz) creme fraiche
1/2 cup cream
150g (5 oz) baby spinach leaves
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
100g (3-1/2 oz) Gorgonzola (or blue cheese of your choice), crumbled
freshly grated Parmesan, plenty of

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).

Heat olive oil in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium heat.  Add chorizo to the pan and saute until golden and beginning to crisp.  Add gnocchi to the pan, and saute until the gnocchi are coated in the oils released from the chorizo (there's loads of spices and flavour in that oil), and beginning to brown a little.  Add cream and creme fraiche to the pan, and stir until the creme fraiche is melted and bubbling.  Remove from heat, season with flaky sea salt (not too much as the blue cheese will be salty) and freshly black pepper, add spinach and stir until the spinach is evenly distributed and wilted.  Add Gorgonzola to the pan, and poke it into the crevices around the gnocchi.  Grate Parmesan cheese liberally over the top.

Place pan in the preheated oven and bake until bubbling and golden - about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...

... or check out Tender, Vol. 1 and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum, and at Cook Your Books hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

Chocolate Beetroot Cake 3

We're doing the "Rootie Patootie" this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, preparing any Nigel Slater dish using root vegetables.

I know most of you out there would probably find it hard to go past the potato if asked to name your favourite root vegetable.  For me, however, much as I love the humble spud, it has to be beetroot.

Finding a suitable dish to make was as simple as hauling Nigel's book "Tender, Vol I, A cook and his vegetable patch" off the shelf, and heading straight to the beetroot chapter.   As with every other chapter in this book, each sentence is so beautifully crafted I find myself longing to read late into the night, and at the same time shuddering with my own ineptitude as a food writer.  Here you will find Nigel not only offers recipes for using beetroot, but also offers advice on growing them, the various varieties of beets, simple advice on preparing them for the pot or oven, and some "quick fix" uses and great pairings.

I was sorely tempted to try the lamb, cracked wheat and beetroot meatballs paired with a yoghurt, cucumber, mint and caper dressing.  The chickpea patties with beetroot tzatziki sounded equally tantalising.  And, although I've had an absolute horror of beetroot soup ever since a rather wretched experience in my early 20s, I flirted briefly with the idea of trying the chilled soup of goat's cheese and beetroot.  But once I got to the recipe for "An extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake with creme fraiche and poppy seeds" I was completely seduced.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake 2

In his introduction to this recipe, Nigel says: "Keeping a cake's heart on the verge of oozing is down partly to timing and partly to the ingredients - ground almonds and very good-quality chocolate will help enormously.  But there are other ways to moisten a cake, such as introducing grated carrots or, in this case, crushed beetroot.  The beetroot is subtle here, but it is a lot cheaper than ground almonds" (at  $4.50/kg compared to $29/kg, he's not wrong there) "and blends perfectly with dark chocolate."  He goes on to say, "This is a seductive cake, deeply moist and tempting."  And I can tell you that he is absolutely right about that too.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe.  Firstly the recipe called for 200g of dark chocolate, but chocolate here comes in 250g blocks, and it would have been churlish to hold back just a few squares.  I also replaced golden caster sugar with coconut sugar, which happens to be my favourite sugar right now.  Lastly, there were a couple of steps in the method which seemed either unnecessarily complicated or at odds with how I would ordinarily have done things, so I made changes to the method accordingly.

The end result:  When Nigel calls this an "extremely moist ... cake", he's not kidding.  Around the edges this is like a dense, fudgy brownie, and at the centre almost like a rich chocolate mousse.  This is hands down the best chocolate cake I've ever made - admittedly I've not made a lot of chocolate cakes, but this is still the best.  You will definitely want to eat this with a spoon, and it would make a great dessert.  That said, given that it contains a vegetable (beetroot), I wouldn't be opposed to eating it for breakfast.  I have also heard that eating chocolate with vegetables cancels out the calories - ok, we know that's not true, but I'm not above kidding myself.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake 4

Nigel serves this with a side order of creme fraiche mixed with poppy seeds.  I got so excited by the cake I completely forgot about the side, but I'm pretty sure they would be great together if you can exercise enough restraint to mix it up before being overtaken by cake lust.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Tender Vol. I
Serves 8
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

250g (9 oz) beetroot (approx. 2x medium sized beetroot)
200g (7 oz) butter
250g (9 oz) dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana), broken into small pieces
4 tablespoons espresso
135g (5 oz) plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa
5x free-range eggs
190g (7 oz) coconut sugar

Cook whole beetroot in boiling, unsalted water until tender to the point of a knife - approximately 45 minutes depending on the size of your beetroot.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).  Lightly grease a 20cm (8 inch) springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, and line the base with baking paper.  Set aside.

Drain beetroot and cool under cold running water until you can handle them.  Peel the beetroot (skins will slip off easily with your fingers), remove stems and roots, roughly chop, and blitz in the food processor until you have a coarse puree.

Cut butter into chunks and add to a large bowl set over simmering water until melted.  Remove from heat, add chocolate and espresso, and stir until chocolate is melted and everything is smooth and glossy.

Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a large bowl and set aside.

Lightly whisk the egg yolks, and add them to the chocolate mixture, along with the coconut sugar and pureed beetroot.  Stir to combine.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the chocolate mixture.

Lastly, sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and gently fold into the wet ingredients until fully combined.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and put into the preheated oven.  Immediately turn heat down to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).  Bake for 40 minutes, by which time the edge of the cake will be feeling quite spongy but the centre will still have a wobble when gently shaken.

Remove from the oven.  Set the tin on a rack and leave to cool.  Loosen around the edges with a palette knife after 30 minutes, but allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...

... or check out Tender, Vol. 1 and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

I will also be submitting this post to Sweet New Zealand.  Inspired by Alessandra Zecchini, and hosted this month right here on Couscous & Consciousness, Sweet New Zealand is an event for all Kiwi bloggers (whether living at home or abroad), or all foreign bloggers living in New Zealand, to link up their sweet treats.

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I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum, and at Cook Your Books hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours, and at Hearth & Soul hosted by the gorgeous April at 21st Century Housewife.

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