Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Baking Sunday: Dairy-Free Hummingbird Cake

I love American baking. I love the variety and the flavours - I remember my mum had an American cookbook and the cakes were so exotic sounding when I was growing up: red velvet cake, key lime pie, german chocolate cake, boston cream pie and this beauty - hummingbird cake.

Hummingbird cake is made with bananas and crushed pineapple which makes it incredibly moist and one of the great things about the cake recipe is that it is dairy-free. It is traditionally slathered with a cream cheese frosting and this can be made dairy-free as well with just a few easy substitutions. There's quite a few decent vegan substitutions available now for nearly everything dairy and whilst it's relatively easy to get a dairy-free marge from the supermarket, you may have to make a trip to your local health food store to try and get a cream cheese substitution - I got mine from Holland & Barrett, and it's made by Tofutti.

This recipe is ironically by fabulous Southern cook, Paula Deen, well known for her "butter, y'all!" catchphrase. Hummingbird cake is known as a Southern specialty so it's no surprise her version is all over the internet. This cake gives out American sized portions too, and you'll need three 8 inch pans for the layers, and you'll also need cup measurements.

Dairy-Free Hummingbird Cake

3 cups self-rising flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Note: You could add just 1/2 cup of oil if you wish)
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
2 very ripe large bananas, mashed
1 small can crushed pineapple, with juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten
Cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
Extra pecans for decoration

1.  Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celcius. Grease three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.
2.  In a large bowl, stir to combine self-rising flour, sugar, oil, pecans, bananas, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs.
3.  Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertips, 26 to 28 minutes
4.  Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire rack. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.
5.  Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place the first layer of cake onto on the plate. Spread the top of the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another 1/4 of the frosting. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting (note: If, like me, you do not wish to spreak the entire cake with the frosting, spread a third of the frosting between the layers and on top). Decorate with remaining pecans; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting

6 oz dairy-free margerine, room temperature
10 oz dairy-free cream cheese, room temperature (Tofutti brand is generally available)
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix butter and cream cheese together with a mixer on medium speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar, one cup at a time. Add the vanilla extract to the mixture and mix until it has a creamy consistency.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Blog love: Recipe testing and Baking Sunday - Chocolate & Lime Tart

This post is about two other bloggers, both of whom write beautiful original recipes with stunning photography.

The first lovely blog is Prepped, written by Vanessa Kimbell, who left her job to write a cookbook which will be published next May. I cannot express how much I admire her for following her passion - I would love to have the guts to be able to do this! My dream job would be to run my own bakery with a bookshop (and recording studio for the boy) attached, but sadly that dream will have to wait until I win the Euromillions.

Vanessa needs testers for her recipes and I tried out her Spiced Lamb and Rhubarb Tagine. Now one of my favourites dishes to make is lamb and chickpea tagine with chillies so I was very excited to try this version with spices and it didn't disappoint - it wasn't too sweet and the spices smelt divine (and made the house smell good for the rest of the night). Like all good tagines it tasted even better the next day. I made a jewelled cous cous to accompany it and the extra sauce tasted amazing over it - even my cous cous-suspicious boyfriend ate the lot.

The second blogger is The Pink Whisk, which is written by a lady named Ruth Clemens who happened to be one of the finalists on BBC show The Great British Bake Off. Her blog is full of gorgeous inspiring baking recipes, all of which are accompanied with step-by-step photos and even a list of links to buy equipment - most helpful! I had quite a few leftover limes from a cocktail night and when I saw this Chocolate and Lime Pie on the blog, inspired by her love of chocolate lime sweeties, it was the perfect thing to make. It's a sweetcrust pastry covered in lime curd and a dark chocolate ganache. Ruth issues a wee caution about colouring the lime curd too vibrantly so I coloured it a drop at a time and I quite like the brightness that I ended up with. Very sweet and extremely more-ish! You can find the recipe on the Pink Whisk here.

Edit: I know have an official Prepped recipe testing badge! Thanks Vanessa!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Baking Sunday: Friands

Part of my Baking Sunday is that I'd like to make something I've never made before. Friands are little almond cakes and something I've seen in mostly Australian cookbooks but not something I've seen much of in the UK. They consist of egg whites, ground almonds and icing sugar, similar to a macaron but with the addition of melted butter and plain flour and any flavourings you may wish to eat. This makes them super light little buttery sponges, perfect for afternoon tea. I've had a pretty busy weekend as I'm helping to put on Edinburgh Popfest, an indiepop music festival next weekend (these things are always more work than you ever think they will be!), but these were made in super quick time. The egg whites don't require beating, there aren't lots of ingredients to measure out and no special skills are required. The only downside is that they leave you with 6 egg yolks to do something with, but egg yolks can be frozen for future use (custard or ice cream are the best things to make with them I reckon).

I made these with some orange blossom water and orange zest but they seem to be pretty adaptable for any flavourings you wish - see below the recipe for more ideas.

Friands (makes 12)

6 egg whites
185g butter, melted
1 cup (120g) ground almonds
1 1/2 cups (240g) icing sugar
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional - see below for more variations)

1.  Preheat oven to 200 degree C / 180 degree C fan forced. Grease 12 x 1/2 cup pans, place on an oven tray. (note: there are specific friands trays available but deep muffin tins are fine to use. This will probably make slightly more than 12).
2.  Place egg whites in medium bowl, beat with a fork until frothy (note: they don't need to be beaten, this will take about 3 minutes to get them frothy). Stir in butter, orange blossom water or other flavouring, ground almonds and sifted icing sugar and flour until just combined.
3.  Spoon mixture into pans, 3/4 full.
4.  Bake friands about 25 minutes. Stand in pans 5 minutes before turning, top side up, onto wire rack. Enjoy!

Raspberry & white chocolate - stir in 100g white chocolate into the mix, top friands with fresh or frozen raspberries once poured into the pan before baking
Lime coconut - Stir 2 teaspoons grated lime zest, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1/4 desicated coconut into the mix, sprinkle unbaked friands with 1/3 cup flaked coconut before baking
Chocolate hazelnut - Replace almond meal with hazelnut meal. Stir 100g coarsely chopped dark chocolate into the mix. Sprinkle unbaked friands with 1/4 up coarsely chopped hazelnuts.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Baking Sunday: Orange Polenta Cake

Baking is a science. There are exact steps to be followed and the outcome can never be guaranteed until the final moment when the magical result is taken out of the oven. You can make a cake in what you think is exactly the way you've made it before and it comes out sunk or with a great big crack in it. This orange polenta cake was fairly straightforward to make but there were a few moments of near disaster which reminded me that you can't always get away with a slapdash approach and expect a perfect result. It is baked upside down, with a caramelised and marmalade glazed fresh orange topping. The potential for disaster was high.

I have to admit, I was not really in the mood for any complex baking - a combination of illness, too much work and inconsiderately noisy neighbours meant I was super tired. But I have recently been looking through my cookbooks and am ashamed to say that I have quite a number now that I've never made anything from. One particularly beautiful one is the Ottolenghi cookbook which I was given in February. I've pored over it in a food porn kinda way many times and pinpointed what I'd like to make but for whatever reason/excuse I've not yet made a single thing from it. Ottolenghi is a restaurant in London which I've been lucky enough to have been to a few times. They specialise in beautiful fresh produce and exquisite cakes and patisserie. Their deli food is presented impressively on huge platters and their baked goods are droolworthy. My particular favourite is the lemon marscapone tart but sadly they haven't released the recipe for that yet. Yotam Ottolenghi also writes a recipe for the Guardian weekend every week, the New Vegetarian. He also has a section on his website called Cake Geeks where he gives advice, recipes and answers questions, which is pretty awesome. Ottolenghi is one of my favourite places I've ever eaten.

Pastry display at Ottlenghi in Islington

The recipes in the book have long and detailed methods, but there was one thing I would've appreciated a bit more clarity on. It's been a while since I made caramel, and the instructions say to remove the sugar syrup from the heat once it turns golden, then add the butter. I'm sure I took it off the minute it turned golden however the resulting "caramel" was a sludgy butter toffee (not the worst result in the world), so I had to make it again. I was at a loss as to what had gone wrong so I decided to get my trusty sugar thermometer out which has a handy guide on the back as to what happens to sugar at certain temperatures. I clearly had left the syrup get too hot and so for the next batch, I heated to 110 degrees Celsius (syrup stage) - nowhere near golden but it turned out perfectly.

The other near disaster was the fact although the recipe calls for butter, I have to admit to using margarine instead - I just didn't have enough butter for the recipe. When I creamed the sugar and marge together, it instantly curdled. I freaked out a wee bit but after consulting Dr Internet I decided it should be ok. It seems that the water content of the marge can sometimes curdle the mix but it all came together after adding the dry ingredients. I guess the lesson is that you should always use what's specified in the recipe (though I'm sure I'd do it again, just with extra added worry about the cake sinking).

The cake is beautiful looking and tasting, and the caramel and orange combination works wonderfully. It's not a simple one-bowl affair but it's worth the effort. I might try and make the cake again with brown sugar instead to add a deeper flavour to complement the caramel. But I sure am happy that after everything it all came together today!


50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
200g unsalted butter
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange blossom water
240g ground almonds
120g quick-cook polenta

Caramel topping
90g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
20g unsalted butter, diced
2 oranges, plus a possible extra one

4 tbsp orange marmalade
1 tbsp water


1.  Lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment. If using a loose-based tin, make sure the paper circle you cut for the base is large enough to go some way up the sides as well, to prevent leaking.
2.  To make the caramel, have ready by the stove small pastry brush and a cup of water. Put the sugar for the caramel topping in a heavy-based saucepan and add the water. Stir gently to wet the sugar through and then place on a low-medium heat. Slowly bring the sugar to the boil. While it bubbles away, brush the sides of the pan occasionally with a little of the water in the cup to get rid of any crystals that from close to the bubbling sugar (note: do not stir the syrup). After a few minutes the water should evaporate and the sugar will start to darken. Be sure to keep your eyes on the sugar at all times as it can easily burn. As soon as it reaches a nice golden colour remove the pan from the heat (note: syrup stage is reached at 110 degrees Celsius if you have a sugar thermometer). With your face at a safe distance, add the chunks of butter. Stir with a wooden spoon and pour the caramel over the lined base of the cake tin. Carefully but quickly (so it doesn't set) tilt it to spread evenly.
3.  Grate the zest of the 2 oranges, making sure you don't reach the white part of the skin. Set the grated zest aside. Using a small, sharp knife, slice off 1 cm from the top and bottom of each orange. Standing each orange up on a board, carefully but neatly follow the natural curves of the orange with the knife to peel off the remaining skin and all the white pith. Cut each orange horizontally into roughly 6 slices. Remove the pips and lay out the slices tightly over the caramel. (You might need to peel and slice another orange to cover the whole space).
4.  Now move on to the cake batter. Heat up the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
5.  In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together lightly. Make sure they are well combined but do not incorporate much air into the mixture. Gradually add the eggs while the machine is on a low speed. Next add the reserved orange zest and the orange blossom water, followed by the almonds, polenta and sifted dry ingredients. As soon as they are all mixed in, stop the machine. (note: I used an electric mixer in a bowl and it worked just fine)
6.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin, making sure that the oranges underneath stay in a single neat layer. Level the mixture carefully with a palette knife. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out dry. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
7.  While the cake is still hot (warm it up a little if you forgot, otherwise the caramel will stick to the paper), place a cardboard disc or a flat plate on top. Briskly turn over and then remove the tin and the lining paper. Leave the cake to cool complete.y
8.  For the glaze, bring the marmalade and water to the boil in a small saucepan and then pass through a sieve. While the glaze is still hot, lightly brush the top of the cake with it.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Baking Sunday: Pear & Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding

Bread and butter pudding is one of the first things I learnt to cook and it is incredibly easy to make. There are plenty of variations to the basic bread & butter baked in custard version - spread with marmalade with citrus peel and orange liquour, fancy versions involving brioche and croissaints, super rich raspberry and white chocolate numbers and pretty much anything else you like on toast or in puddings. We had a bit of leftover bread and some eggs so thought it would be the perfect thing to make for the weekend. I wanted to make it with some kind of fruit and had some pears on the go so the result was pear & dark chocolate based. It was pretty wonderful with a really lovely crispy brown sugar topping. It's important to remember that eggs still cook a little after they're taken off the heat so if the pudding is a little bit wobbly, don't worry too much and just leave it to settle.

Layers of bread, pear & chocolate - not pretty but delicious

Pear & Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding

6-8 slices of bread
butter - enough to spread on bread
2 pears
70g dark chocolate, chopped
280 ml milk
1 vanilla pod split lengthwise, or 2 t vanilla extract
300 mL single cream
3 eggs beaten
3 T caster sugar
2 T brown sugar - enough to sprinkle on top

1.  Butter the bread and cut into halves or quarters and cover a greased baking dish with one layer of bread, overlapping each other. Cover this layer with half the sliced pears and chocolate. Repeat the layers, making sure there is a bread layer left on top.
2.  Put the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod or extract and bring to just below simmering point. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes then remove the pod if using, scraping out the seeds into the milk.
3.  Mix the milk, cream, eggs and caster sugar. Pour over the bread and butter and leave to stand for at least 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.
4.  Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top and bake for 40 minutes until golden and puffy. It might still be a little wobbly but it will be fine. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before eating.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Our Weekend Adventure: Isle of Eigg

I didn't do any baking this week, I was super busy going out and putting on a gig and then on Friday headed off to the Isle of Eigg for the Fence Collective's Away Game. It was all kinds of awesome - the bands were amazing, views were stunning and everyone was incredibly friendly. Neither of us had been to a Scottish island before, or been camping for a long time so it was a pretty big adventure for us.

We took a giant bag full of food and booze, but nothing could compare to one of the loveliest breakfasts I've ever had at the Eigg Tea Room. Hot bacon rolls, brown sauce, coffee, water, some fruit - pure hangover food heaven.

There was also no need to bring along the blackberries as there were brambles everywhere.

We had to leave on the Sunday so we could get back to Edinburgh for stupid work on Monday but it was heavenly to sleep in my warm comfy bed after two nights of freezing camping. We managed to stop off for some of the best fish & chips I've ever had at Spean Bridge. All sense of proportion is lost in this photo but it was huge, freshly cooked with amazing chips.

A fantastic weekend with so many great people and experiences, I feel very lucky indeed. This week is all about the detox and then back to baking on the weekend. I'm just going to look at these pictures and think about breathing in the beautiful cold crisp fresh air.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Nutty Apple Loaf

The weather has been typical Edinburgh weather this week - at turns miserable and grey, and then suddenly sunny and gorgeous. It's definitely dropped a few degrees and as a result I've had a wee bit of lurgy. So even though the remains of summer are still hanging on, I'm thinking about cold-weather food - crumbles, pies, roasts, gravy, anything vaguely comforting. I recently went to the Valvona and Crolla food hall at Jenners and picked up some passion fruit curd and savoiardi biscuits so went through a few of my recipe books for an interesting pavlova or tiramisu recipe, when I found something I just had to make. The tiramisu could wait, I needed to make this Apple & Nut Loaf!

There's something about cooking with apples which I associate with comfort food - maybe because they are usually stewed, or crumbles and cakes. Definitely weather-turning-in food. This humble loaf doesn't look like much - it's not flashy and doesn't even get tarted up like a lemon loaf might with some icing or syrup. It just sits on the plate, knowing it tastes damn good. It's full of warm brown sugar flavour, apples, walnuts, cinnamon and a wee bit of dark chocolate. The only downside to this is that the mix needs to be left in the fridge for a few hours, preferably overnight but the result of this is that the apple flavour really infuses into the mix and the loaf is incredibly moist and deliciously more-ish.

Nutty Apple Loaf

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
140g soft light brown sugar
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 eggs
140g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon shelled mixed nuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

1.  Put the butter, sugar and jam in a bowl and cream with an electric whisk or paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a separate bowl, then beat into the butter mixture. Stir the nuts, chocolate and apples into the mixture by hand until evenly dispersed. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight if possible.
3.  Preheat the oven to 170 degree Celsius.
4.  Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over with a knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until brown and the sponge feels firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean, but for a little melted chocolate. Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tin before turning our onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Double chocolate and raspberry cupcakes

It is National Cupcake Week! I love that National Cupcake Week exists. My boyfriend wonders who decides which food group gets specified a particular week to be celebrated but that's not really getting into the spirit of things. The spirit being - yay, cupcakes! Let's eat lots of 'em! Cupcakes are one of my favourite things to bake, there are so many flavour combinations and decoration possibilities all in one little portable treat to enjoy all by yourself.

Here's some I made earlier (for a school fete!)

Bakeries specialising in cupcakes seem to have swept off in the past few years, with originals such as Hummingbird Bakery now with a best-selling recipe book and newcomers such as Cox, Cookies & Cakes, launched by designer Patrick Cox adding serious glamour. There are a number of cupcake ordering services in Edinburgh(notably Ever So Sweet), but whilst there are some excellent bakeries that sell cupcakes, the only cupcake focused bakery I've been to is the Cupcake Caffe (which is not so much bakery as part of the Scottish Cafe) though I am more than happy to be corrected!

Chocolate and raspberry is a classic flavour combination and happens to be my boyfriend's favourite too. These are chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate raspberry icing, filled with chocolate and raspberry ganache and topped with a chocolate filled raspberry. They were pretty yummy.

Can you tell I iced them in a hurry?

The cupcake recipe is a basic chocolate one from the aforementioned Hummingbird Bakery book. It is a high sugar recipe and works well every time. I always fill the cases only halfway as they do rise quite a lot.

The icing is a basic cream cheese buttercream with raspberry puree, and I had some extra ganache so filled some spare raspberries with this and popped them on top. These are very easy to do and always seem to impress people too so worth doing if you have some ganache handy (you can store unused ganache in the freezer, I always seem to use only half the mixture every time).

Chocolate cupcakes (makes 12)

100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g soft unsalted butter
120ml whole milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and butter in a large bowl and beat on a slow speed with an electric hand mixer until well combined and a sandy consistency.
3. Whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract together in a jug and add half to the dry mixture. Beat slowly to combine and then more quickly to beat out any lumps.
4. Add the remaining liquid mixture and beat slowly to combine. Do not overmix.
5. Transfer the mixture into the cake cases until 2/3 full (I always do half) and bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven until they spring back to the touch. A skewer inserted should come out clean.
5. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

White Chocolate Raspberry Icing

85g white chocolate, melted and then cooled
115g cream cheese
50g butter (softened)
1 teaspoon raspberry puree (mash up a few raspberries in a bowl and then push through a sieve)
1.5 cups icing sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixer or with an electric mixer until well blended. Add cooled white chocolate and raspberry, mix well. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Putting it all together!

1. Using a small sharp knife, cut a cone from the top of the cupcake, to halfway - important: not so it reaches the bottom. Cut off the pointy end of the cone to make a little "hat" for it.
2. Spoon a small amount of ganache inside each cupcake. Do not overfill! Put the ganache in the fridge (if you are making the chocolate filled raspberries. Replace the top of the cupcake.
3. Ice your cupcakes however you please.
4. The ganache should be less runny now - put some chocolate ganache into a piping bag and pipe directly into raspberries. Place on top of the cupcakes, admire your pretty work and then eat!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cafe Piccante - disco chippy with deep fried Mars Bars!

Broughton Street is a bit of a foodie's haven - there are some lovely places to eat, some great places to drink, Real Foods, Crombies and various delis. But I have a confession to make: there is a place at the top of Broughton Street which I have never been into sober. I'd be surprised if half the people there in the evening are sober. This place of which I speak is also known as the Disco Chippy and here's why:

Piccante is an amazing place to go on a boozy night out. It's full of people, noise, IT HAS A DJ THERE (I can't get over how brilliant this is), the smell of chippy sauce and has plenty of good chippy grub to tempt you. Not only do they sell fifteen different forms of chips, ribs, pizza, kebabs and have a low fat fish special cooked in foil with olive oil, onion, peppers and tomatoes, they have a fish and chips deal which comes with wine or beer - pure class.

On a night out recently, I gave in to an altogether more unwholesome temptation. I don't quite know what came over me, other than morbid curiosity combined with booze fuelled bravado. Oh and this neon sign:

Even the smiley face doesn't look too happy...

So for £1.50 you can try a deep fried Mars Bar with two scoops of powdery white ice cream. The ice cream is that kind of awful-but-you-can't-stop-eating-it and as for the deep fried Mars Bar - well, it tasted as good as it looked.

Maybe if I'd seen it first, I wouldn't have ordered it! I could manage about two bits before the sickly sweet greasiness overwhelmed, and just ate the rest of the ice cream which was not a wise move - it just made that greasy feeling linger a little longer. But hey, it was an experience! Not one I would recommend necessarily, but I'm glad in a culinary adventure type of way that I tried it at least. That's what I told myself the next day when I had a sore tummy anyway. Piccante chippy is all kinds of ace though and they do home delivery too, but a disco chippy is surely best experienced on a night out.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Baking Sunday: Chocolate Meringue cake and Coca Cola cake

Baking is a massive love of mine. I think about baking a lot - what my next project will be, which seasonal fruit to use, what herbs would be nice in which dough and quite often I think about good old chocolate cake. I can go through phases of not baking very often to making three cakes in one day. I am going to try and bake at least once a week and have given myself a Baking Sunday challenge - making something different every week.

I've decided to start with Edinburgh baking lady Sue Lawrence's Book of Baking. After winning Masterchef when it was in its original form, Sue Lawrence wrote for the Sunday Times and for Scotland on Sunday and often has an emphasis on traditional Scottish cooking - her other books include Scots Cooking, Scottish Kitchen, and A Cook's Tour of Scotland. There are a mix of sweet and savoury recipes and range from the very Scottish haggis bread, cullen skink bridies and Dundee cake, to more traditional favourites like Victoria sponge, olive oil loaf and chelsea buns. There are a few quirky inclusions which are really interesting too: lemon berry damper, chocolate-crusted lemon tart, focaccia stuffed with taleggio and ham and sour cream raisin pie. In typical enthsiastic fashion, I picked two chocolate cake recipes to make from the more unusual side of things chocolate meringue cake and chocolate coca cola cake.

The chocolate meringue cake was amazing, light chocolate cakes with a meringue topping sandwiched together with a lemony creme fraiche. I used an orange curd instead of lemon and if I'd had raspberries to hand, I would have added them in the middle as well. A version of this was published in the Sunday Times and apparently was one of the most popular which is not a surprise. It's easy and straightforward to make and tastes divine.

Chocolate Meringue Cake recipe

For the cake:
115g unsalted butter, slightly softened
115g golden caster sugar
3 large free range egg yolks
55g cocoa powder
100g self-raising flour
50mL milk

For the meringue:
3 large free range egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
140g golden caster sugar

For the lemon curd cream:
2 heaped tablespoons of lemon curd
200g creme fraiche

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C/325 degrees F/Gas mark 3, and grease two 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar by hand for 4-5 minutes or with an electric beater for 2-3 minutes; it must be light and fluffy.
3. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then gradually sift in the cocoa, flour and a pinch of salt. Pour in the milk and stir lightly until smooth. Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tins, smoothing down.
4. For the meringue, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form, the gradually add the sugar and continue to whisk until thick and shiny.
5. Spoon the mixture over both cakes and bake for 20 minutes until the meringue is golden. Cool completely in the tins on a wire rack.
6. Remove from tins and carefully place one cake, meringue-side up, on a serving plate. Beat together the lemon curd and creme fraiche and spread this over the top of the meringue. Top with the second cake, again meringue-side up. Either refridgerate or eat within a couple of hours.

The chocolate coca cola cake I just had to make. It's coke! In a cake!! Despite having cola in both the cake and the frosting, it's not an obvious flavour, combined with all the cocoa, but gives a deep richness to the cake - it is super dark, dense and moist with a very fudgey texture. The frosting is particularly delicious but I would add the coca cola mixture in a litle bit at the time to the icing sugar (as always) and you probably won't want to use all of the liquid. The only other thing I would add is this cake doesn't freeze very well (I am in the habit of freezing all of my cakes) - I found that the texture doesn't really recover when defrosted. Very rich so only wee slices required!

Chocolate Coca Cola cake

250g self raising flour
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
280g golden caster sugar
200g unsalted butter
250mL coca cola
100 mL milk
2 large free range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

150g unsalted butter
50mL coca cola
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa, sifted
400g golden icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/Gas mark 4, and grease a 24cm/9 1/2 inch springform cake tin.
2. Sift the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, and stir in the caster sugar. Slowly melt the butter and coca cola in a pan over a low heat. Add this slowly to the dry mixture, with the milk, eggs, and vanilla, stirring all the time.
3. Once thoroughly (but gently) combined, tip the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted until the middle comes out clean. Leave in the tin on a wire rack for about 10 minutes then remove the sides of the tin. Cool on its base on the rack.
4. To make the frosting, slowly melt the butter with the coca cola and cocoa in a pan over a low heat. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and slowly pour the liquid over it, beating until smooth.
5. Wait until the cake is cold then remove to a plate and top with frosting.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Tangs Gohan Japanese restaurant

Every day when I'm at work, at some point in the morning my thoughts will turn to one big question: What am I gonna have for lunch? This usually begins at 11am (but has been known to start a lot earlier), and by 12 o'clock my tummy is rumbling and if I have the time to go out of the office for a proper hour long lunch break it is a good day indeed. I am lucky enough to work in the city centre so have plenty of places to choose from. Recently I met my gentleman friend for such a lunch and I decided I would like to have sushi. We decided to go Tangs, on Candlemaker Row. It is right by the wee dug Bobby so super convenient for a city lunch break.

It was a pretty quiet lunchtime, with a table of people just leaving and two other couples there. With no one around to show us to a table, we seated ourselves by the window and picked up a menu ourselves. The (very nice) server apologetically came over after about 5 minutes and cleaned the table but the service didn't really pick up from there and it was another 10 minutes before our order was taken. Not the longest wait I'd ever had but considering it was a lunch break visit, it seemed like a quite a while. But never mind, there was a good selection on the menu so I had my usual indecision to keep me occupied when there are too many delicious things to choose from.

Japanese green tea

The menu had a good variety and included some local meats - grilled Scottish sirloin beef in the yakiniku, local mackerel in the yakisaba (sprinkled with sea salt). There were lunchtime faves teriyaki and katsu curry (both £7.50) and I was quite tempted by the noodles too - udon with tofu in miso soup for £6.95. The bento boxes also looked good too but with the prices starting from £9.50, they were a little bit more than I wanted to spend for lunch. On the more unusual side of the menu there was grilled miso black cod and the miso chashu ramen also available but the sushi was too tempting for us.

Seabass, salmon, tuna nigri sushi

Salmon and avocado maki rolls

We decided upon some classics to share - salmon and avocado maki rolls (£4.50 for 6), salmon, seabass and tuna sushi (£3-3.75 for 2 pieces) and pork gyoza (£5.50 for 5). The kitchen lagged behind along with the service and we waited a good 20 minutes for our food. For a relatively quiet lunchtime this was not impressive. The sushi did make up for it though - good sized maki rolls, super fresh fish, it was soft and velvety and delicious. The gyoza was served with a vingar dipping sauce and were filled simply with minced pork and had a good flavour. The skins did seem to fall apart on contact with chopsticks but were still had a bit of crispness to them.

Pork gyoza

I would visit again but it's a little bit on the pricey side for a regular lunch. I'm looking forward to trying some takeaway or sitting down to a sushi platter when I have a longer than usual lunch break. They also have sushi classes on a Sunday morning which sound interesting too. Just need to get myself a very tall hat first...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Wannaburger and the Best Burger Quest

I like Heston Blumenthal for a number of reasons. He does unexpected and interesting things with food and kinda looks like a mad scientist. His series In Search of Perfection appealed to me hugely and it was fascinating seeing him dissect every single ingredient in a recipe to make up the most perfect dish possible. This appeals to me as I love searching out new recipes, where to go for the best dishes and trying and comparing new variations of old favourites. It was when my boyfriend & I were in Wannaburger on Queensferry Street, a place which proclaims itself to be Edinburgh's best burger restaurant, that I thought about the best burger I'd ever had, and what actually makes up the perfect burger. So I have decided to search Edinburgh for the best burger I can find. A simple and tasty journey to seek out a hamburger I can love, order again and again, and rave to friends about.

My requirements are not as complicated as Heston's. His hamburger ended up consisting of: burger meat made of a mix of three different cuts of meat, aged for a month; plain white bun with sesame seeds; cheese slices made with sodium citrate; onion rings blanched for 20 seconds in boiling water; crisp lettuce, gherkins and beef tomatoes; and some tomato concentrate. I'm a bit more flexible with my burger needs but I do like: a non-floury white bun, decent sized chunk of burger (none of the McDonalds pancakey stuff); red onions preferred, crispy lettuce, tomato ketchup and mayonnaise. If I have bacon (depending on how gutsy I am feeling), it should be crispy and not a chewy challenge. There are sometimes additional extra options such as pineapple, beetroot, roasted peppers or avocado to name a few but I'm more of a traditionalist. I may just go wild one day and have a fried egg on a burger or something. Imagine!

On with the quest! Wannaburger is a pretty large space with leather booths and windowed walls. Burgers are all 100% Scotch beef, and are priced from £4.50-£5.95 with extra topping available, and the £7.50 Double Cheese option which is a double cheese-double beef heart attack. I decided to go a bit nuts (see above) and have MOS burger (£5.50), which is fried mushrooms and onions, Swiss cheese, slice of juicy tomato and fresh green lettuce.

The burger was juicy and tasty, the cheese melty, and the fried onions and mushrooms add great flavour however the mushrooms were leaking juice a little bit which is visible on the plate. This in turn made the salad a little bit mushy and the bun soggy as well so even though it was flavoursome, it was a little bit moist.

My boyfriend chose the chicke burger (£5.95). The chicken burger gets a good review - the chicken is moist and doesn't suffer from the stringy dryness you can sometimes get.

The veggie options are a beanburger, halloumi burger and a portabello mushroom burger (at a vaguely outrageous (£7.50). There's also the 'diet' carb-free version - on a bed of lettuce instead of a bun for an extra £1.50. Fries with a burger are obviously obligatory were crinkle cut and freshly cooked, but a bit pale and not exactly golden crunchiness.

Wannaburger have a few drinks option - red and white wine and a few beers, but I wanted to pretend to be an American teenager for a bit and had the peanut butter and banana milkshake (£3.50). It was easily the best part of the meal for me, with fresh banana and a hint of salty peanut butter.

If you visit Wannaburger at lunch, there is usually someone outside handing out vouchers nearby for an offer of a burger with one topping, fries and a drink for £6.95 or with a shake for £7.95 which is a pretty good offer. Is it Edinburgh's best burger though? For the price, it's a great option but there are a few minor touches which keep it from being the best. The service is super quick and efficient. Wannaburger is vaguely reminiscent of chains such as GBK or Hamburger Union but is not quite as slick - not a bad thing as it retains it's home grown charm. Wannaburger are also doing a full breakfast menu and I would love to go along and try their short stack pancakes with bacon. Their location and excellent service make them a West End must visit for a quick burger fix.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Afternoon Tea at Eteaket

It would be something of an understatement to say that I love cake. I am a cake-addict, passionate about baking and consider afternoon tea as my version of going to church. So yes, I have a mildly unhealthy obsession with cakes and when I first came across Eteaket on Frederick Street I was stupidly excited, mostly because of a sign outside proclaiming an amazing concept: take away afternoon tea in a box for £10.95. Takeaway afternoon tea, what a fantastic idea - like the best kindof picnic. As Eteaket does get quite busy around afternoon tea time, it would be perfect for a sunny day and a trip to nearby Princes Street Gardens. However, this being Edinburgh things do not always work to plan weather-wise and sadly this was not an option but as luck would have it, there was a table free for us.

Eteaket is laid out like a traditional cafe cake shop but is so much better. For instance there are a gazillion different teas on offer. There are charmingly mismatched vintage teacups and saucers which is used for service and also available to buy. It's a stylish white modern space with brightly coloured interiors which mixes well with the vintage aesthetic. The cakes on offer are all beautifully decorated and the slices are big.

Vintage crockery for sale

My choice is seemingly an easy one - afternoon tea. But there is a huge 2 page list of over 40 teas to choose from: fruit infusions, flowering, oolong, black, green or white tea and on top of this tea lattes, coffees and milkshakes. They take their tea very seriously here, and all of the loose leaf tea is available to buy in caddies too. I decide upon the Rose Flower Bloom flower tea which is described as "Premium green tea and rose petals are expertly sewn and crafted together by an artisan skilled in the ancient craft of hand-sewing leaf tea." There's the fun part of watching the bloom open up and the tea is gorgeously rose scented. My cakey companion chooses the Marvellous Green Tea: "Sencha green tea, coupled with mallow and sunflower petals, rosebuds, vanilla, strawberry and raspberry pieces with slightly sweetened, steamed milk." It looks wonderful and white and pure, smells heavenly and tastes a little bit sweeter than expected.

Rose Flower Bloom tea, about to bloom

Marvellous Green Tea latte

I am definitely sold on the afternoon tea, and my boyfriend decides to butch it up a bit and have a sandwich instead. In a pretty girly cake shop, of all the places! I hadn't even considered anything savoury, having clapped eyes on the cake display. But there is a proper food menu indeed. Breakfast is served until 11:30am with a good selection of croissants, bagels and hot breakfasts. After that is sandwiches, croissants and salads and everything is decently priced, with nothing over £5.95.e chooses the ham, cheddar and caramelised onion chutney toasted ciabatta (£5.75). It comes with a herb salad with balsamic dressing and some crisps, and frankly it looks like a pretty good rival to my afternoon tea.

But to me, there is no competition. Afternoon tea is something to be enjoyed as a ritual. working from the bottom to the top levels with maybe a few cheat nibbles inbetween. The Eteaket afternoon tea consists of sandwiches, a freshly baked scone with clotted cream and jam and some mini-patisserie.

The sandwiches were certainly not delicate crustless bite-sized affairs and were stuffed full of ham, cheese and pickle on soft white bread. They were good but I'd have been happy with just two quarters, and something a little less filling or with a bit more variety would have been nice. Having read some other reviews of Eteaket compaining about the freshness of their scones and cakes I have to say that was not something I experienced at all - the scone was fresh and the patisserie delicious.

Afternoon tea patisserie selection

To be honest, I was not overwhelmed with excitement at the selection I received: a mini cupcake, brownie and honeymoon slice. There was absolutely nothing bad about it however (and perhaps I'm just being a bit spoilt), it just seemed like a rather plain selection. With the cost at £11.95 however I can't really complain - it really was excellent value and very much enjoyed. Now I just need to wait for the weather to clear so I can enjoy my takeaway afternoon tea in a box picnic...

Eteaket on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Indigo Yard

A sunny afternoon, and after a lazy hour or two of wandering round town, we needed lunch, a drink or two and a comfy space to lounge about and chat. Cue Indigo Yard: perfectly placed in the west end of the city, it's a stylish bar with an impressive 8 page drinks menu and a wallet-pleasing 2 for 1 deal on main meals. There are different sections within – an outdoor wooden deck; a glass canopied bar with greenery and glowing lights; a dining area with booths and exposed brickwork; and a small mezzanine level. The bar in particular makes the venue stand out – it is airy and the natural light from the glass ceiling lifts the whole space.
We arrived for lunch on one of Edinburgh’s sunnier days and the outdoor deck was full with people enjoying the good weather (though when we left it was predictably grey again) and so we asked to be seated in a booth. Lunch is served from 12-6, with breakfast all day on weekends. There’s a good selection of bistro style lunch options and, with all main dishes under a tenner (aside from an 8oz steak with chips), the 2 for 1 deal is budget friendly. 

We decided on relatively light lunch options: the steak sandwich with onion rings and horseradish (£7.50) and crisp coated chicken with lemon and chilli noodles (£8.95). I was originally going to order the mussels starter in white wine, cream and garlic (£4.95) to share but they had run out. The portions were so large that this was a blessing in disguise. The sandwich I ordered came with fries so there was no need to order sides, however when I go back I will definitely try the zucchini fries with basil mayo (£3.00) which sounds delicious. 

The steak sandwich came in a supersize ciabatta with perfectly cooked minute steak, plenty of lettuce, horseradish and onion rings inside the sandwich. Onion rings inside a sandwich! Along with the skinny fries, it was greasy decadence. A bit more salad would’ve worked here, but it was delicious dripping juicy meaty goodness.
As for the other plate, this seemed like the neverending noodles – it was a huge portion for lunch but was surprisingly light. The chicken pieces was indeed crispy, and peppers and other veg were mixed in with the noodles. The lemon and chilli sauce was the slippy slurpy kind (technical term) that suits udon noodles so well, with fresh chilli. My boyfriend rated it very highly and finished the whole plate, a testament to how good it was (whilst I cannot bear to see uneaten food wasting away on a plate, he just stops eating when full – a happily symbiotic relationship which means I get to sample his leftovers).
As a cocktail lover, their drinks list is one of the big draws of Indigo Yard for me. The list is already impressive with a large range of range of reds and whites (ranging from £16.50 - £37.95 per bottle), 13 types of champagne, a variety of draught and bottled beers, and I’m very happy to see there is a 2 page list of cocktails available. There are mostly the classics to be found with a few specialties such Preston’s Fizz is a mix of vodka, Chamboard and raspberries, with Prosecco to top it off (£7.95), and Pretty in Pink, which sounds as supergirly as you would imagine it to be with muddled strawberries, melon and butterscotch liqueur (£6.95). We opted for the simple summery classics of a mojito (£6.95 or £8.95 with premium rum) and raspberry mule (£7.25, pictured). Both were yummy and very drinkable indeed.
After all of my talk of gut busting portions, you may be surprised that I ordered dessert. There was football to be watched at the time, and looking at the options, my extra dessert tummy kicked in and I couldn’t resist the passion fruit tart with clotted cream (£5.50). My boyfriend, sensibly, ordered a single espresso (£1.70).  The slice was not hugely satisfactory. The passion fruit curd layer was thin and the top of the tart had been bruleed but not particularly thoroughly - there were clots of unburnt sugar sat on the surface. The passion fruit flavour was nice but not enough to rescue it from a poor rating. Next time I would just order another cocktail instead.

Overall though it was a good meal and though the service was somewhat slow it was still attentive, and we left refreshed and ready for a l-o-n-g walk. Indigo Yard isn’t pretentious. It’s the kind of bar I would go to for after work drinks (and it gets very busy with these) and it’s in a great location for post-shopping refreshment. It’s not trying to be a high-end bar for city folk or a fine dining establishment and that’s just fine. This isn’t destination dining but their tasty bistro food and cocktails mean that it’s definitely worth keeping in mind for those lazy weekend afternoons.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Tasting Edinburgh and A Taste of Edinburgh

I have recently moved to Edinburgh, a city I have loved for many years and one of my favourite thing about Edinburgh is all the fabulous places to eat and shop. There are lots of websites recommending shops and restaurants but I haven't found a great resource of Edinburgh restaurant reviews on the world wide web and so I have decided to blog about all the wonderful restaurants, cafes, shops, events and foodie things in Edinburgh as I visit them. I am armed with a charming dining companion/super photographer, a copy of the List's Eating and Drinking Guide 2010/11 and extra tummy space for dessert. Always.

A great starting point is the A Taste of Edinburgh event held 28-30 May at Inverleith Park - a festival dedicated to food. We went on the afternoon of Saturday the 29th and, after a long day at a school fete and a few drinks to wind down, we were eager to start the afternoon of gluttony. It was a beautiful day in Inverleith Park and as we walked in we were greeted straight away with a sample of ale from Ghillie Dhu, and this set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. With over 100 exhibitors, most with free samples, we went from stall to stall seeing what was on offer.

The best of the samples has to be the Seafood Scotland stall, which produced 6 different types of fish to try - if you hung around for long enough and didn't mind queueing. We managed to get a sample of a mackerel in cous cous and cod in thai broth. Worth the wait, the fish was cooked perfectly and recipe cards were collected.

Another sample highlight was from legendary icecreamery S Luca (yes, ice cream can be legendary), with a toffee and fudge mini-scoop served from their summery looking ice cream van. How excited would I be to see this coming down my street!

There were a number of restaurants selling taster plates, little versions of their main dishes and desserts. We tried the classic burger from Malmaison (£6) and Tony's Table's Butts in Buns (I couldn't help myself - £5) - pulled Perthshire pork in foccacia bread with spiced slaw.

Though small, both were satisfyingly meaty which is what we needed to keep us going on with our many samples of wines, liqueurs and sweets. The burger was great quality with a juicy pickle tickling the savoury taste buds and the pulled pork was moist and delicious. The spiced slaw didn't quite live up to its name, it could've done with more of a spicy kick to go with the pork pitta.

Another notable stall was the Authentic American Food (available from Lupe Pintos in Edinburgh) selling gourmet US goods - a selection of barbeque and mesquite sauces (Slap Ya Mama cajun seasoning anyone?) and as many jalapeno condiments as you could ever want. There were exotic looking mixes such as praline pancakes and pumpkin muffins, fruit flavoured syrups and I was tempted into buying some sour cherry preserves (£4).

There was a battle of the Edinburgh boutique chocolate shops: Coco Chocolate had a beautiful stall, as to be expected from Edinburgh's premier chocolatiers; Chocolate and Love, the new girl in town had an amazing selection of different chocolates and sweets; and The Chocolate Tree had their own artisan organic range. The chocolate coated liquorice (£6) from Chocolate and Love were delicious and they have a pop-up shop on George Street for the rest of June. Coco Chocolate was perhaps a victim of it's own success and I didn't really have the space to browse their stall sadly but it did look pretty indeed. The Chocolate Tree also had a beautiful display, pictured below, and had some delicious chocolate and hazelnut spreads.

There were also cooking demonstrations organised from L'escargot Bleu, Launceston Place, the Rutland, Hotel du Vin and Wedgwood the Restaurant. I watched the Yo! Sushi 'ninjas' for a little while however there was a distinct lack of ninja style in their sushi preparation. They could've used ninja stars to chop the salmon at least. I must confess that on such a beautiful sunny day it was far more appealing to leisurely walk around with Pimms in hand.

A Taste of Edinburgh was £12 entry, with a 'crowns' payment system used as money on the stalls. This amounted to 1 crown = 50p, with all stalls accepting crowns and a few also accepting cash. This was slightly annoying as it was obviously a ploy for punters to spend more money than they would have (and we did). But the entry fee was worth it as there was a huge variety of samples on offer.

My only disappointment was that there was not a great deal of baking stalls, this being a particular passion of mine. It was interesting to see a macaron stall there, Bougie, as macs are currently being hyped as the new dessert du jour. The samples we had were nice but not spectacular and the pricing was far too high in my opinion so I did not purchase any.

Oh, and Fire Food's Nitro sauce nearly finished off the tasting session for my boyfriend however a handy Pimms saved the day - if a hot sauce has a warning sign on it, approach with caution.

By the end of the day we were seriously impressed and very full. There was just about enough room for this divine blood orange gelato from Stewart Tower Dairy to leave us very happy Edinburgh Tasters!