Apple, Raspberry and Rosewater Sorbet

English: Apples on an apple-tree. Ukraine. Рус...

Apple tree, Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All winter our veg box has been turning up piles of little apples, week after week. There’s only so many I can put in my handbag ‘to snack on’ (ie forget about, find weeks later and guiltily throw away) and much as I would love to bake them all into tartes Tatin my arteries would give out after about a week.

This stylish sorbet, then, is a great solution –

  • it doesn’t matter if the apples are slightly past their prime
  • it’s healthier than other puddings
  • AND – the masterstroke – make it in advance and you get a really easy dinner party dessert. (though we always forget and just leave our ice cream maker to trundle away in the kitchen while we eat)

You can leave out the rosewater if you’re not a fan – but it’s really just a hint of flavour. You might even want to add more…

Ingredients

675g whole apples

250g caster sugar

250ml boiling water

Handful raspberries

1 tbsp rosewater

Method

  1. Put the sugar in a small saucepan and pour over the boiling water. The sugar should dissolve almost instantly (creating what’s known as ‘simple syrup’) – give it a quick swirl if not.
  2. Peel, core and roughly chop the apples, then add to the pan.
  3. Return the syrup to a low simmer and leave until the apples are soft – this will vary depending on what variety of apple you have and how fresh they are.
  4. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then add the raspberries and rosewater and blend to a puree.
  5. Add to your ice cream maker… and voila!

White and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cups

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I am a naff person. Whatever the trend for unpretentious soul food slopped onto trays or stuffed into paper bags (and don’t get me wrong, this year’s been a London street food pilgrimage) I will always have Brendan from GBBO’s weakness for the kitsch, the themed and the miniature. Though sadly without his beautiful, robotic execution as you can see from the picture (which in my defence was taken after a tough round of Gin Or Water)

However 1970s, these cutesy chocolate cases are the perfect dinner party pudding – you can make them ahead, they don’t need any more presentational fanfare than a few berries and they’re already perfectly portioned – what’s not to love? I filled them with white chocolate mousse, trying out a Nigel Slater recipe with the rather daring secret ingredient of cardamom. Without that, even the flimiest chocolate curl would have tipped this recipe over the brink of naffness (naffmageddon? the naffpocalypse?) but the mysterious, smoky cardamom flavour pulls it back.

Temper 200g dark chocolate, then load up a pastry brush and gently coat the inside of a silicone or paper cupcake case. Pop on a tray and leave in the fridge for ten minutes, then repeat and leave to cool for four hours. Don’t be tempted to do three coats like me – you’ll end up having to bash away at them with a spoon… Peel away the cases carefully and replace the cups on the tray.

Make the white chocolate mousse, then spoon into the cups, filling not quite to the top. Level off with the back of a spoon for a neat look.

Top with fresh berries (I used raspberries) – pop one or two berries on top, or completely cover the top so the mousse underneath is a surprise.

How to: Castle cake

Back in March, I volunteered to make the cake for a Game of Thrones birthday dinner. A sugarcraft Iron Throne was always going to be beyond me, but a nice square sponge Winterfell is doable for anyone with an oven and (too much) time on their hands.

I’m a cake decorating novice and cackhanded to boot, so this isn’t the most delicate or detailed of castle cakes, but I was pleased with it and I hope the birthday boy was too.

Winterfell castle birthday cake

Winter is coming… and it tastes delicious

Makes 20 slices, served on the point of a sword.

You will need:

  • Your favourite sponge cake recipe (use a sponge of sturdy constitution rather than a delicate crumbly one)
  • Equivalent quantity buttercream icing
  • Strawberry, raspberry or whatever fruit you fancy, jam
  • Ready-rolled fondant icing, or fondant icing sugar (depending on how skilled and brave you are)
  • Blue and black food colouring
  • At least 4 posh ice cream cones (ie the ones made out of waffle rather than dust)
  • At least 6 Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers
  • 3 large bags of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons
  • A small amount of normal icing sugar
  • Four clean baked bean tins
  • Cocktail sticks

Method

Turrets

White chocolate button turrets for a castle cake

First, get the turrets out of the way. This is a nice repetitive yet fiddly task to acclimatise you for the task ahead – and if you do more than four, it doesn’t matter if you break some.

1. Gently trim your ice cream cones to make them flat. Use a small sharp knife or nibble into shape, depending on how well you know the people eating the cake. That was a joke. Use the knife.

2. Make up a small amount of water icing, not too runny. Use a teaspoon to dab blobs of the icing onto the back of the giant buttons, and then stick them firmly onto the cone. They do not take kindly to being overlaid like tiles (they slide down) so stick on separately working your way slowly up each cone.

3. Leave the finished cones on a tray to dry for a couple of hours while you make and assemble the cake.

The cake

1. Bake your cake! I made (as ever) Nigella’s Buttermilk Birthday Cake, using double the recipe’s quantities.

Make two rectangular/square/circular cakes depending on the architecture you’re going for and the tins you own.

Keep back some of the batter and cook it in the baked bean tins – these will form the turrets. Note that the turrets will take longer to cook than the rest of the cake – if you don’t give them enough time, they’ll be soft and fall over and people will laugh at them while you’re trying to make them sing Happy Birthday (this did not in any way happen to me)

Constructing the castle

1. Place the bottom main cake on a cake board or flat tray and spread with the buttercream. Spread the top cake with your choice of jam and then sandwich together.

2. Measure the height of your cake. Cut into each turret at right angles to this height and eat the leftovers.

3. Spread the inside of each cut-out turret with a generous blob of buttercream and then hold against a corner of the cake. Don’t worry if it looks a little messy – you’ll soon cover the whole thing with a layer of smooth, smooth fondant.

Turret with icing

Cake and one turret

You should end up with something that looks a little like this:

Unfinished castle cake

Icing and decorating

1. Mix your fondant icing to a smooth, rollable consistency and get the colour how you want it. I went for a bluey-grey. Don’t over-blend the colour – little streaks of dark and light here and there look authentically stone-like.

2. Roll out the icing and drape it over the cake. Start in the middle and then smooth it into the corners and over the turrets. My spatial awareness is abysmal so I iced the main cake and turrets separately but it looked a bit rubbish.

3. Using a cocktail stick, gently score brick shapes and little archery windows (the crosses)  onto the walls and turrets.

4. If you’re feeling brave (and this didn’t work for me) dab some green icing around the bottom of the cake with a sponge to look like bushes.

5. For a wintery scene like mine, make up some more water icing and apply to the corners in ‘snowdrifts’.

6. To make the imposing ‘wooden’ ‘door’, just cut the Cadbury’s Fingers to shape and stick together, and then onto the cake, with water icing.

How to: Skittles Vodka

Skittles vodka ingredients

Step one…

Before I share the recipe for Skittles vodka, I must warn you: the purple nectar is not to be trifled with.

Those who drink Skittles vodka must keep their wits about them, for it tastes of Skittles (like, JUST Skittles) and yet under’t lies NEAT VODKA.

The first time I tried making Skittles vodka, we only put the Skittles in for a couple of hours and didn’t filter the results – which left us sipping a thick, opaque, reddish-purple drink with a disconcerting layer of orange scum. The next day, my friend found herself puking on a bus in the middle of nowhere, then having to get off the bus to puke some more in a hedge while the bus waited and everyone on board looked. No coincidence, my friends, no coincidence.

After a couple more tries the method was refined by a very good friend to the one reproduced below, and we now just get very, very drunk.

When I made this for a house-cooling party (what, it’s a thing) I divided up the Skittles into ‘berry’ (purple, red and orange) and ‘citrus’ (green and yellow) flavours to produce two separate yet beautifully complementary drinks. Given enough Skittles and enough vodka, bottling all five individual flavours would be awesome.

‘Ingredients’

(easily multiplied)

70cl bottle of vodka (which gives 28 single-measure shots)

2 big bags of Skittles

You will also need at least one other bottle, a funnel, coffee filters or clean j-cloths.

Method

If required, divide the skittles up into bowls.

Pour the Skittles into one or more clean bottles. Add the vodka to the bottle/s, shake and then leave in a cool dark place for at least 48 hours.

When you retrieve the bottles, you will notice a disgusting layer of alarmingly bright scum on top. Put a coffee filter or new j-cloth in a funnel over a bottle or jug, and pour the vodka through it. You may need to do this more than once, but eventually you’ll be left with clear vodka of a colour not found in nature.

Decant back into the original (cleaned) bottle.

This is great on its own for shots, but if you really want to wave goodbye to your teeth you could use it for making vodbull or other, similarly sophisticated shooters or ‘cocktails’.

Vending Machines of Dreams

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And to think at school I put up with Galaxy Caramels and Tracker bars…

1. Cupcakes

 24-hour cupcake machine at Sprinkles Bakery, LA (and soon to hit the UK)

2. hot pizza

see how happy she looks!

Oh Dr Oetker, you think of everything! Hot pizza on demand in Germany.

3. mr kipling cakes (FREE!!1!)

And this… this has blown my tiny mind. Kind old Mr Kipling is giving away his (exceedingly good, let’s not forget) cakes for FREE!
You press a button on a poster and A CAKE APPEARS.
If your understanding of engineering/science/thinky-brainy stuff is as remedial as mine, just  think of it as a low-tech, low-risk Wonka Snack Teleportation system.

(grudgingly) 4. FRESH VEGETABLES

Last but not least, the kind of vending machine my waistline (and a lot of cities) could actually do with.

52 Cookbooks, 52 Weeks: March

THE BOOKS

February 27-March 4: How to Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (read my review and the recipe for Rainbow Cake – an adaptation of one of her recipes)

5-11: No cooking this week…

12-18: Kitchen by Nigella Lawson

19-25: 101 Budget Dishes (BBC Good Food series)

26 March-April 1: The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

Just thought I’d add: there is method to the madness of reviewing ancient cookbooks. For me, this is all about actually using the books I already have. For you, well, I hope it’s useful to anyone looking for cookbooks worth buying. And as David Brent once said, ‘A good idea is a good idea… forever.’

How to: Rainbow cake

rainbow sponge cake

Know this – the itch to make a rainbow cake demands to be scratched. I don’t know when or why I got the notion, but once the idea was planted in my head it was all I could do to wait for a suitable occasion (it’s not exactly a Sunday-afternoon-with-a-cup-of-tea cake).

It is however much less faff than you’d think, and the payoff is spectacular. Go mad on the exterior decor and keep the filling a surprise – it’s totally worth it for the oohs and aahs when the first piece slides out. My gleeful face and inability to resist shouting “Yes! It’s a rainbow! Of cake! I KNOW!” at this point did nothing to quell my fiance’s suspicion that cooking for me is one big attention-seeking glory hunt.

The only recipes I could find online were American and although they looked beautiful, as I don’t know what ‘white cake’ is and refuse to consider baking with Sprite Zero or Instant Jello I decided to turn to my trusty favourite, Nigella’s Buttermilk Birthday cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

It’s a classic, a sugary vanilla sponge that has served me well for many birthdays and as Nigella herself says, ‘can bear the weight of as much icing as you want to drape it with and is, after all that, the best-tasting birthday cake you will ever come across’. If you’ve got the book, you’ll need double quantities of the cake and buttercream icing. You’ll also need decent quality paste food colouring – the cheap liquid stuff won’t have enough heft. I bought pots of Egg Yellow, Ice Blue and Christmas Red from Jane Asher, along with a load of different sprinkles.

Makes one huge rainbow cake (six 8″ layers)

Ingredients

For the cake:

500g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
400ml buttermilk (or 150g plain yoghurt mixed with 250ml milk)
3 tsp vanilla extract
250g soft unsalted butter
400g caster sugar
6 large eggs

For the icing:

500g butter
1-1.5kg icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Method

Preheat oven to Gas mark 4 / 180 C / 170 fan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and a pinch of salt into a bowl. In another bowl or jug, stir the vanilla into the buttermilk.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl or electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds in between each egg. Once they’re all in, add alternating amounts of the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, mixing well each time.

Divide up the batter into six bowls, one for each colour. I weighed out 300g cake mixture per bowl. Using a cocktail stick and teaspoon and keeping all implements very clearly segregated, carefully add the food colouring to the mixture. Decent paste colour is ‘true’ – ie, the colour you make the batter will be the colour of the finished cake – which makes things easier. Start with the primary colours to get an idea of how strong the colouring is, and then mix the orange, green and purple.

Bake in round tins for 20 minutes or until a fork comes out clean. I only had two tins the same size, so I did three shifts in the oven – if you line the tins well enough you shouldn’t need to wash them each time.

If you’re anything like me you’ll need to keep muttering the order of the colours to yourself as you assemble the cake – because however jazzy it looks, and however good it tastes, you will look like an utter plonker if you reveal yourself in such a public fashion to be a grown adult without a solid grasp on the colours of the rainbow.

Spread a generous splodge of buttercream between each layer, and then a thick layer on the top and around the outside. To avoid pulling half the cake away with the icing, spoon on big dollops and then gently join them up using a spatula or palette knife. Once you’ve got a solid carapace of icing you can start to smooth it over.

Cover in sprinkles, working your way around and up the cake (this is the toughest part of the whole operation) spooning them on with a teaspoon and then gently pressing onto the cake with the other hand. Top with Haribo/dolly mixtures/jelly babies (gilding the lily, moi?) and candles. Feel proud of yourself.

Week 9: How to Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

About the book

Cakes, pies, biscuits, bread, baking with children and baking at Christmas – How to Be a Domestic Goddess covers the lot. Though perhaps not as foolproof as a comprehensive book from a baking specialist like Dan Lepard or Mary Berry, it’s packed with super-sweet, kitsch and American-influenced baking – for which I can’t help sharing Nigella’s weakness.

What I cooked

I turned the Buttermilk Birthday Cake into a rainbow cake and a castle (*mumbles* Winterfell from Game of Thones) for friends’ birthdays. This cake has also come into service as a giant cake version of our house among other ridiculous birthday designs – it really can take whatever you can throw at it.

I’ve had this book for a few years and have also had success with the fairy cakes (which make great Hummingbird Bakery-style cupcakes), Butterscotch Layer Cake, madeleines, Irish Blue biscuits, molten chocolate babycakes (aka a Masterchef-style ‘fondont’ that actually works), cappucino cupcakes, rocky road, Norwegian cinnamon buns… Yeah. Domestic Goddess erm… it works for me.

Does it deserve a place on my shelf?

Without it, baking for birthdays and family occasions would be harder and much less fun.

Bling-tastic Edible Gems

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Pink edible gems

HOW amazing are these?! I spotted them in Jane Asher’s cake decorating shop last week and have since been frantically trying to find a reason to buy some.

They come in traditional jewel colours (clear, pink, green) and I think they’d look beautiful on top of a restrained, plain white royal-iced little cake.

For an even girlier option, use them to decorate jewellary-shaped biscuits – think of the necklaces and rings you could make! Get inspired by the insane range of cutters and fun icing designs at Biscuiteers (and use their cookbook to make your own).

Biscuiteers wedding cake biscuitIf that’s all a bit fairy princess for you, I reckon jazzier bright pink gems would look fabulous on orange icing – quite the look for a Bollywood or Gypsy Wedding-inspired do.

And if you’re brave enough to risk the sugar burns (ouch) you can even make them yourself!

Week 8: Arabesque by Claudia Roden

Arabesque by Claudia Roden cover

About the book

I love Claudia Roden. A sort of food anthropologist, Roden has spent decades since leaving Egypt for (depressing pre-garlic) London examining societies through their cooking – and then generously giving us the results to try for ourselves. (She explains it all much better than me, to the strains of Edith Piaf, in her Desert Island Discs)

As someone more comfortable as a kitchen tourist than actual, feet-on-the-ground-and-wearing-a-ridiculous-money-belt traveller, I love this approach to food writing.

Packed with fascinating details but never ever waffling, Roden’s writing is a light but firm hand on the tiller – I always feel confident that her recipes will work (and taste seriously good).

As well as the more recent Arabesque (which covers the food of Lebanon, Morocco and Turkey – a kind of Middle Eastern greatest hits), she has produced magisterial works on  Jewish food, Mediterranean cooking, the food of Spain and, I’ve just noticed, PICNICS. Claudia Roden writing about picnicking is about as good as it gets for me, food wise.

What I cooked

Arabesque makes perfect food for a crowd – and the more people you invite, the more dishes you get to throw into the mix! This week, I made the chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemons for a birthday party. I served it with couscous and the beautiful Afghan aubergines from Veggiestan, which did double duty as a main for veggie people and a side dish for everyone else. Another night, we had a newly vegetarian friend over for dinner. I thought it’d be the perfect book but actually every vegetable recipe I turned to was stuffed with lamb or chicken or something. In the end I made tabbouleh with the roasted aubergines and peppers with yoghurt and pine nuts. The idea of serving tabbouleh in mini gem lettuce cups was genius – it looks much more attractive and less like a big pile of carbs. I also did Nigella’s cucumber, pomegranate and mint salad (looks beautiful, always a winner) and some grilled halloumi (because why not?).

A couple of years ago, when we ended up with 20+ people coming for a Christmas dinner party (everyone we asked said yes…) Arabesque was put to service in spectacular manner. It actually worked so well (in that I managed to cook for all those people despite coming back from some work Christmas drinks too drunk to use a knife) that I followed up with more of the same for new year’s eve! Over those couple of weeks I made, variously, the sweet potato salad, chicken bstilla (an AMAZING pie made with layers and layers and layers of buttered filo), slow roasted shoulder of lamb (delish with or without the stuffing), mashed aubergine and tomato salad, mini spinach pies and Turkish yoghurt cake (a kind of biscuitless cheesecake affair that divided opinion – I loved it though).

Does it deserve a place on my overflowing cookbook shelf?

I think I answered that question above… Arabesque is full of beautiful food, clearly explained (it always works) all set in its fascinating cultural context.