Winter comford food; quick macaroni cheese with a twist

While pondering what to cook for a friend last night and browsing my housemate’s Nigella, I came across her quick and easy recipe for macaroni cheese and hit upon a great idea. Actually, I lie, I can’t claim the idea was totally mine, but the addition to her basic recipe was inspired a recent meal at the Living Rooms, where they had added the indulgent treat of truffle oil to the mix.

I don’t know what it is about truffles that makes them so damn good; I’ve been lucky enough to sample them in ravioli and a delicious ‘white’ pizza in Italy, and, even more indulgent, with steak here in London. Whatever you put them with, it seems to work, so it’s no surprise really that it gives a luxurious dimension to this otherwise humble dish. Toast some little croutons in a bit of oil and a splash of the stuff too, then sprinkle on top to add a bit of texture and crunch. Et voila; quick macaroni cheese with a twist!

Jan 13 iphone pics 121

The magic ingredient

Add to your mix, then stir well in the pan

Add to your mix, then stir well in the pan

Add your croutons on top, et voila!

Add your croutons on top, et voila!

RECIPE (adapted from Nigella Express)

INGREDIENTS

250g macaroni, 250g mature Cheddar or Red Leicester, or a mix of both, 350ml evaporated milk (Nigella’s recipe says 250ml but I did not find this enough), 2 eggs, a grating of fresh nutmeg, salt & pepper, AND… 1 1/2 tablespoons truffle oil, plus 2 slices of white or brown bread for the croutons

METHOD

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas mark 7. Cook the macaroni according to packet instructions, drain and pour back in to the hot pan
  2. While the pasta is cooking, put the cheese, evaporated milk, eggs and nutmeg in a processor and mix. Or grate the cheese and mix everything else by hand
  3. Add in your magic ingredient, the truffle oil, and stir well. Then pour the whole mixture over the macaroni, stir well again and season with salt and pepper to taste
  4. Tip in to a 25.5cm diameter dish, or a rectangular one roughly the same length, and bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes
  5. While this cooking, roughly chop the slices of bread in to little cubes, and fry in a shallow frying pan with a little olive oil and a splash more truffle oil
  6. Remove the macaroni cheese from the oven, scatter the croutons on top, and then bake for a further 5 minutes or until the croutons are going brown on top

ENJOY!

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Marshmallow & Chocolate Goodness: S’mores Cupcakes

After reading a couple of articles about how “s’mores”, an indulgent roasted marshmallow and chocolatey concoction from the US, have recently been taking the UK by storm, I thought this would be a great first recipe to try from my recently purchased Hummingbird Bakery book; ‘Cake Days – recipes to make every day special’.

A s’more is an American campfire or bonfire treat which consists of toasted marshmallow and chocolate chunks sandwiched between crackers or biscuits, so as the dark nights of Halloween and Bonfire night loomed, I thought these would be a fittingly sweet, comforting and gooey treat!

I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out, considering I haven’t done much baking before. But, oh my, did I make a mess! I must remember to wear my pinny next time, as by the time I was finished I was covered in chocolate from head to toe. Well, not quite, but it was on my face, up my arms, and down my top!

It was well worth the effort though, although somehow I ended up with 24 cakes instead of 12 to 16 as the recipe suggests. Hence, both sets of neighbours received a bunch, which, I’m delighted to report, resulted in some reciprocal cake love from both sides.

I made one tiny addition to this recipe, which I think works well – I bought some mini marshmallows for the top, as although the topping is kind of marshmallow-like (it’s actually meringue), I kind of felt it needed some actual real marshmallows too. Enjoy – and don’t forget your pinny if you make these too! ~ Sarah

Getting prepped…

The finished articles

RECIPE & METHOD

For the sponge:
30g (1oz) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), chilled
5 digestive biscuits
80g (3oz) unsalted butter, softened
280g (10oz) caster sugar
200g (7oz) plain flour
40g (1 1/2 oz) cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
240ml whole milk

For the topping:
200g (7oz) caster sugar
4 egg whites
100g (3 1/2oz) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids),
broken into squares, to decorate

Plus mini marshmallows (mine are by Fiddes Payne from Tesco)

Blowtorch (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 170C (325F), Gas mark 3, and line a muffin tin with muffin cases.  Use the finest blade of a cheese grater to shave the chilled chocolate, then set aside.  Crush the biscuits in a food processor with the blade attachment or in a plastic bag using a rolling pin.
2. Using a hand-held electric whisk or a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt on a low speed until resembling fine breadcrumbs.
3. Mix the eggs and milk by hand in a jug, then pour three-quarters of this into the dry ingredients and mix on a low speed to combine.  Increase the speed to a medium and mix until smooth and thick.  Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the remaining milk mixture and keep mixing until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.
4.  Fill each paper case two-thirds full with batter.  Sprinkle the chocolate shavings and three-quarters or the crushed biscuits on top of the cupcakes, reserving the remaining biscuit crumbs for later.
5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes or until well risen and springy to the touch.  Leave to cool slightly, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
6. Put the sugar into a saucepan with 150ml of water and bring to the boil.  Meanwhile, using an electric hand whisk or freestanding mixer with paddle attachment, whisk the egg whites until foamy.
7. When the sugar has boiled for 5-10 minutes and reach the soft-ball stage, pour onto the beaten egg whites while mixing on a medium speed.  Once added, adjust the speed to high and whisk until the underside of the bowl feels lukewarm.  At this stage, the meringue should have increased in size and become, white, smooth and shiny.
8. Smooth the meringue on to the cooled cupcakes, then swirl into decorative spikes using a palate knife.  With a cooks’ blowtorch, lightly brown the meringue to give it a baked appearance.  Alternatively, pop the cakes under a hot grill – but only for a few seconds, as the meringue will brown quickly and you don’t want it to burn.  Decorate the cupcakes with biscuit crumbs and squares of chocolate.

YUM!

Floral Engagement Cupcakes and the Cake & Bake Show

The other Sunday I went to the Cake & Bake Show in Earl’s Court with my friend Sarah who has, over the last year, discovered a huge talent for baking. As my 5-year dream is a café or cake-shop-come-florists, I figured I should get with the baking scene too and so off we trotted in search of inspiration and cake (or so I thought!).

The show was absolutely heaving, and full of cakey gadgets and stunning creations to whet the aspiring baker’s appetite. There was also an ‘Edible Beach’ competition (very appropriate for my blog, I thought!), with entries from professionals and novices alike. From Brighton Pier, beach huts and sandcastles, to whimsical scenes and desert islands, the entries displayed an amazing range of creativity. I ask Sarah, ‘Is it time for cake yet…?’

The winner in the professional category, Sarah Hardy

The winner in the professional category, Sarah Hardy

Soon, she promises, as first she has a mission to fulfil. Having promised to make some special cupcakes for our friend Rachel’s engagement, she is in search of more tools to whip up her most beautiful, girly and generally fantabulous creations yet. At various stalls she picks up pretty cupcake cases, stencils, glitter and edible pearls, and I follow suit, buying some cases and pearls too so I can attempt some ‘Seaside Sweetheart’ themed cakes.

My purchases of wave, seahorse and heart cases, and edible pearls

‘Now is it time for cake?’, I ask. OK OK she says, so off we go, but, hmf, hang on, where are the cakes TO EAT?! For despite all the wondrous tools and stands, it turns out there is a distinct lack of cake to buy! I do eventually find a brownie stand, but I am not impressed. I will, it seems, have to wait until the engagement party to enjoy some seriously dazzling cupcakes.

The next week, Sarah does not disappoint and we arrive to the party to see her most impressive work yet. Decorated with immaculately hand-crafted flowers, customised initial stamps, mini flags and love-bird stencils, I think you’ll agree these are quite a sight to behold, and they tasted great too! The flowers, Sarah promises, she will teach me as in a café-come-florist I feel this would be a good theme. That and maybe some star-fish, pinwheels and boats. Watch this space for my own attempts soon!

Engagement cakes by Don’t Call Me Cupcake, aka my mate Sarah

Me enjoying one of Sarah’s cakes. The flowers tasted great too!

Yes, those flowers really are hand-made!

You can see more of Sarah’s work over at Don’t Call Me Cupcake on Pinterest.

Supplier stands we liked

Cake decorating company: Courses, cases and many unique products such as Sugarveil mats, dispensers and tools which enable you to mould edible lace, comb lines, cut ribbons, stencil monograms or make smooth edible fabric.

Squires Kitchen: A range of magazines and books, plus all the products, information and news you need to keep up to date with everything going on in the world of baking

Blossom Sugar Art: Cutters, stamps, moulds, edible shimmer to help you create quick and easy flowers and other super pretty girly things in marzipan, icing or modelling chocolate.

Getting inspired by brochures from the companies above

Now… I bet you fancy a cake….?! ~ Sarah