Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Give a Little Love

The holidays are always a good excuse for baking, and it's one of many things that make this time of the year so enjoyable. Honestly, given the choice, which would you prefer: a three-hour marathon session of crowd-fighting at the mall/on the high street, or three hours of baking on your own, or with your kids (or your neighbours'/friends') and loved ones? I would definitely go the for the latter. The shopping just knocks me out and renders me useless for the rest of the week-end, whereas the baking leaves me wanting more! Although I am a little short on time this year, my holiday baking usually stretches over days, and what better way to wile away the time when the rambunctious nieces and nephew descend upon you?

Personal favourites at this time of the year are gingerbread cookies and fruit cakes. I know that fruit cakes have a bad rap, but, oh my! given the right recipe, these cakes are to die for! Seeing as I won't be baking any fruit cakes this year, I will save that recipe for another time. As for my preferred gingerbread cookie recipe, I've been using Martha Stewart's for nearly twenty years, and it's a good thing. This year I'll be veering away from tradition, and baking a few chocolate cakes...

Although I've already mentioned my dislike of chocolate, I realise that I am more the exception than the rule. Most of my friends are fans, and so why deny them the pleasure? The following recipe will have many a choco-holic falling head over heels for it, and it might even knock the socks off of a fervent choco-phobic!

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for this chocolate cake: this recipe is the first one I ever created myself from scratch. Back when I was teaching in Japan, a close friend of mine requested a chocolate cake. I obviously didn't have a recipe with me, so I had to concoct one by mixing and matching all the cake recipes I had with me. There were a few trials and errors, and it was quite an adventure: the first few times I made this tort, I used a stove-top oven, an object very much like a cooking implement one might bring on a camping trip! It has since been modified to be completely gluten-free, and it all the better for it.

Kids will most likely enjoy the chocolatey-ness, but there is something very grown-up about this tort. Use the best quality chocolate you can find, with a percentage between 56 and 75, depending on how much of a chocolate hit you want. 

Gâteau au Chocolat
Serves 6 to 8

250g/ 8.75oz  chocolate
112g/ ¼lb butter
100g/ 3/8 cup sugar
4 large eggs
icing sugar for dusting

Pre-heat oven to 175°C/ 345°F.
Butter and line with baking parchment a 15cm/6" mould. Set aside.
Over a hot water bath, melt the butter and the chocolate.
Beat sugar and eggs until pale yellow and frothy.
Slowly pour melted chocolate into egg mix, all the while whisking vigorously.
Pour batter into the buttered and lined mould.
Bake for about 45minutes.
Set aside until cool enough to chill in the refrigerator.

Dust with icing sugar, and serve fridge cold with a dollop of sour cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a drizzle of brandied custard. If icing sugar is too plain for your liking, top the tort with some caramel popcorn! That'll get it in the festive mood! To obtain pristine slices, use a sharp knife dipped in scalding-hot water and wiped clean between each slice. Although a 15cm/ 6" cake normally serves 4 to 6 portions, this tort is so dense, it will easily satisfy 8 people, or more.

Indulge yourself.

Bon app'!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Weather Outside is Frightful...


November is all a blur and whirlwind. While Americans were getting ready for Thanksgiving, and Canadians were gearing up for the Grey Cup, London was in the throws of Christmas. Yes, you heard right: I, myself, always thought the winter holiday was the preserve of December, but Britons start decking the halls in October, and restaurants all across the country hunker down for the assault of Christmas parties.

Hence the radio silence. Nevertheless, all is not lost; what is at its best in November is still around in December, and there is much to enjoy, despite the rain, snow and sleet.

Cabbage and Co.
The tender, flying saucer-like cabbages of summer are long gone, but the winter keepers are really the more versatile vegetables. Cabbage has always stuck around the winter scenery, pale, bland and not without its after-effects... However, cabbage is well deserving of a make-over, because it is a super healthy green with lots of cancer-fighting potential. For extra oomph in your plate, you can go for purple cabbage, but it is not a great keeper, so isn't always available throughout the winter. For real colour and pizzazz well into February, choose savoy cabbages and kale. Both have gorgeously dark green outer leaves that keep their colour and flavour even after a long and slow braise.

Root Vegetables
I consider the humble root the unsung hero of the winter table. We often relegate them to the rank of second fiddle, but they are the backbone of so many heart-warming comfort dishes: turnips, carrots, and daikon are indispensable in a hot pot, whether you serve it with meat or just stick to vegetables. Mashed potatoes are a favourite side dish, but if you look at what is happening in the catering world, chefs all around the world are mashing more than just spuds: celeriac, rutabaga/swedes, and parsnips are current stars on all the best tables.

And we mustn't forget about beets! Their iron content is vital to keep yourself energised during the dreary months, and the colour can only brighten your day.

Even though out of season imported fruits and vegetables were very much a reality when I was growing up, the sight of massive cardboard boxes of Sunkist navel oranges and wooden crates of clementines from Morocco still conjure up the spirit of Christmas for me. Soon, we will be seeing blood oranges, Meyer lemons and key limes.

Mulled Wine
The first chill in November brought back memories of hot mugs of wine, but it still seemed a little too early to be breaking out the bottles of red and the mulling spices... Well, I guess I was wrong: my friends posted pictures of Montreal snowcapes, and all that comes to mind is the pleasure of walking in to the warm wafts of spiced wine after a vigorous session of snow-shovelling.

Traditional mulling spices are cinnamon (use sticks, not powder), star anise, clove, nutmeg or mace, and some citrus zest, but anything goes really. Any wine will do, though I would avoid an overly tannic red or a flat white. Add sugar to taste, and bring up to a gentle simmer.

If wine is not to your liking, you can always mull beer -a stout or a lager seem most appropriate- cider or even sake. To be enjoyed while curled up on the couch, preferable near a roaring fire.

Bon app'!

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