Blood oranges, for some reason, are so much more exciting than regular oranges. I always find the vermilion flesh a surprise – somehow I’m never really expecting it to be so bright. Blood oranges live up to their name by spurting out copious amounts of red liquid when squeezed. They have a pleasant grapefruit-like tartness, and seem to deserve much more of a fanfare than the common orange.
Sometimes I get a real hankering for cake. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I need to do something. What I love about syrupy drizzle cakes like this one is that there’s no tedious wait for the cake to cool: you can just tip the syrup over and dig in. There might be people who would suggest waiting until even this cake has cooled before you eat it, but i’m going to choose to ignore them, in favour of the nirvana that is oven-warm cake. Luckily, I had some willing volunteers to help me eat it, so I didn’t end up eating the whole thing myself, which would have been entirely possible.
I decided to go down the same route as lemon drizzle, but with blood oranges and honey, simmering down a syrup of blood orange juice and honey to pour over the warm cake. I added an extra sliced orange to the syrup, which goes marmalade-y and sweet when simmered with the honey. Using ground almonds in the cake as well as plain flour helps the cake soak up the flood of syrup that is poured over it.
I made these when my friend Jenny came round. She is gluten intolerant, so brownies seemed like an obvious choice. Wheat flour can easily be substituted for another flour, such as rice flour, or ground almonds, as I’ve used here. Adopting a gluten free lifestyle seems to be all the rage nowadays, whether or not you actually have coeliac disease. Two of my favourite food blogs are by people who don’t eat gluten – Tartlette and La Tartine Gourmande.
Gluten seems to be hidden in a remarkable amount of things. According to a quick Wikipedia glance (the extent of any ‘research’ I do for this blog) gluten is found in cosmetics and hair products. Baking powder often contains gluten – although I’m skeptical of how useful baking powder is. Especially in brownies, as I’ve made them with or without, and can’t see any discernable difference, so I was happy to leave it out here. I’m still a little uncertain as to what gluten actually is – in my local healthfood shop you can buy large packets of a flour-like substance that is simply, and a little bizarrely, just called ‘gluten’.
This recipe was inspired by something I had from the Hummingbird Bakery in London. They produce an amazing concoction: a layer of brownie, topped with a layer of cheesecake, then a layer of vibrantly pink raspberry-flavoured cream. I did away with the separate layers, and swirled a mixture of cream cheese, egg and crushed raspberries into the top of the brownie batter before it goes in the oven. Doing my bit to make coping without bread and pasta a little bit easier.
Food, for me, is about so much more than something we need to consume to stay alive. It has the power to evoke memory: to immediately transport us back to a particular time or place. Nutella, for example, instantly takes me back to childhood summers spent in France. My friend and I would secretly stuff ourselves with as much fresh baguette smothered with far too much Nutella as we could before our parents caught us.
So Nutella was the inspiration for this mousse. As any Nutella addict will tell you, chocolate and hazelnuts make a good team. I have made many a chocolate mousse in my time, but never tried adding hazelnuts. It makes sense: the earthy sweetness of the roasted hazelnuts complements the dark bitterness of the chocolate. And the occasional crunch from the nuts alongside the velvety smoothness of the mousse is a winner.
I made this to serve at a dinner party for my birthday. It’s ideal for this, as it can be made the day before and left in the fridge to firm up – just remember to take it out of the fridge a little before serving, so that it’s not too cold. We had a mushroom and pesto lasagne, followed by rather ridiculously large helpings of the mousse. We had such a lovely time, so from now on the taste of chocolate mousse will instantly bring me back to that evening.
If I had to pick a country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would have to be Italian. Disregarding the resulting enormity of my thighs, of course. There just seems to be infinite possibilities surrounding a love of simple ingredients. Endless varieties of pasta and risottos to keep me entertained for a long while. And Italian puddings are often so decadently creamy, and don’t have the fiddly precision of French desserts – both epitomised by this recipe.
As is often quoted, ‘tiramisu’ means ‘pick me up’ in Italian. This is due to the fact that it is laced with coffee and a more than generous (in this recipe, anyway) amount of booze. This is one of my go to recipes when I bring a pudding to a party, and has, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit, made a perfect hangover breakfast the next day.
The combination of alcohol suggested seems to vary a bit in between recipes. One most have in common is Marsala wine, a sweet fortified wine originally from Scicily. So I used this, along with amaretto liqueur, as I have a long-abiding love of the stuff.
One of my more specialised Christmas presents this year was a cook’s blowtorch. We have been trying in vain to come up with uses for it other than caramelising the sugar on top of a crème brûlée, tentatively suggesting things like charring the outside of aubergines, but it really only has one purpose. I love this particular dessert so much, though, that having a piece of rather expensive kitchen gadgetry designed solely to make it seems fine to me.
Crème Brûlée originated in England, in Cambridge, under the appellation ‘Burnt Cream’. The dessert was then adopted, and probably perfected, by the French, and given a much more elegant name. On a recent trip to Paris I opted to try many incarnations of the dessert, ranging from passable to sublime. The exact combination of a thin layer of crisp caramel hiding a luscious, wobbly underneath is surprisingly hard to come by. Often they are fiddled about with, and things like ginger, blueberries or cardamom are added. For me, the most successful crème brûlée will always be one flavoured purely with vanilla.
The blowtorch took a bit of getting used to: the rushing of gas and the sudden ignition are slightly alarming – my first couple of attempts definitely deserved the description ‘burnt cream’. After a few practices and some YouTube tutorials, I was able to get something resembling gently caramelised. A few black patches are fine though- the slight bitterness greatly complements the creamy, sweet custard.
Sometimes, recipes swirl around in my head for days. They start off as one thing, then morph into another, as I add or take away elements. At two in the morning, I’m often wide awake racked with indecision about whether to use mozzarella or goat’s cheese, white or dark chocolate, basil or oregano, cherries or peaches in a particular recipe. Not all in the same one, you understand, that would be too much like crazy fusion cuisine for my taste.
This recipe started life in my brain as a sort of lemon curd trifle, then I decided to add marscapone to make it more like a cheesecake, then I did away with the biscuit base all together, added some whipped egg white and voila– a mousse. Naming things can be a struggle sometimes, as I often want to just say it’s a lemon curd and marscapone….thing. But I guess a ‘thing’ sounds less appealing than the sultry vowels of a ‘mousse’.
I have already waxed lyrical about the joys of fruit curds in my Passionfruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake post, and I’m afraid here I go again. I am mildly obsessed with making lemon curd. As well as lemon curd, I have tried orange, passionfruit, blackcurrant (and those are just the ones I can remember making off the top of my head). But lemon curd is always a winner – it’s cheap to make, unlike passionfruit, and goes so well with so many things.
One of the joys I remember vividly from childhood summers spent camping in a friend’s garden in the Pyrenees was the breakfast. We would wake up to find yards of thin, fresh baguette and fluffy brioche to dip in hot chocolate. I was surprised, and delighted, to find that this was a legitimate breakfast. Even with our parents present.
I went to Paris recently, having been to the south of France many times, but never the capital. I composed a mental ‘food list’, which included snails, duck confit, Nutella crepes (all accomplished). One of my first things to tick off was that lovely breakfast, evoking memories of lazy, sunny mornings with nothing to do for the rest of the day but eat.
Happily, we found this lovely bakery near our apartment in Montmartre. We had brioche rolls and hot chocolate, along with pistachio and almond croissants and pain au chocolat. It’s fair to say we returned to this bakery with obsessive, waistline-troubling regularity during our stay in Paris.
I arrived home intent on recreating the delicate little brioche rolls. Brioche works just as well as part of a savoury meal; these rolls are adapted from a recipe for brioche burger buns. I ate mine both dipped in hot chocolate (of course) and spread, a little smugly, with homemade plum and amaretto jam.