I have been so busy with work these past few months and I can see that my blog is suffering. This week end though, I was not working but I have another excuse… it’s sunny! London was hot hot hot! Sun shining, blue sky, and a really really messy garden!! So with that BBQ we have planned to host next week end, there was only one thing to do: GARDENING! Quick breakfast, garden clothes and crocs on, it is time to invest some time on these herbs, tomatoes, rhubarb, beans and much more that will eventually end up in my recipes!
Picture from our wedding photographer
Who doesn’t like the strawberries dipped in chocolate from the Christmas market!
We wanted a light dessert for our wedding lunch as we knew a massive dinner was coming in the evening, but I still wanted some wow factor and fruits and chocolate! A chocolate fondue would not have been very practical for 20 guests, especially if I wanted to keep my dress sparkly white!
I googled my idea and found some nice examples of the strawberry tower I had in mind. I bought a cylindrical polystyrene pyramid, a silver piece of fabric to hide the polystyrene, a packet of toothpick, some big strawberries, and white and dark chocolate bars. Try to buy strawberries roughly the same size, and loads of it! I bought them the day before to make sure they were as fresh as possible. Wash and pat them dry, make sure they are completely dry before dipping them into the melted chocolate.
Tip: Practice at least once before on a few strawberries. The tempering of the chocolate is not that easy at home, the mounting of the fruits is also tricky, and decorating the bride and groom strawberry is also quite hard. Make sure you’re happy with all this so you don’t ruin your beautiful strawberries on the day.
Tempering chocolate can be done at home, you just need to be patient. I bought belgian dark chocolate and white chocolate and followed the middle ground method to temper them. I have a normal cooking thermometer and it worked fine. Once you’ve achieved tempering temperature for each chocolate, make sure the chocolate cools down before dipping the strawberries in. Better loosing some shininess than cooking your fruits.
Have baking sheets ready, along with your toothpicks. Hold the strawberry firmly by the leaves and dip it in the chocolate of your choice, shake the strawberry to remove the extra chocolate, insert the toothpick through the tip of the strawberry and lie the fruit on its leaves, upside down, for the chocolate to set. The set chocolate will seal the toothpick to the strawberry.
For the bride and groom strawberries, choose the two best strawberries you have. Dip the fruits in the chocolate by first coasting one side, then the other one trying to create a triangular cleavage with the chocolate. These 2 strawberries should be perfect looking from all sides, so hold them down until most of the extra chocolate has dripped off and then add the toothpick. A spare piece of polystyrene could really help here to insert the toothpick while the chocolate sets. I didn’t have one so I just kept holding it until the chocolate was set. Wait for the chocolate to set completely to start drawing the pearls with a toothpick, the bow-tie and the buttons on the jacket. When the bow-tie is set, add the dot.
Secure the silver fabric around the pyramid while the chocolate sets. Create the pyramid starting by the bottom row and always try to pack the strawberries as much as you can. Add the bride and groom on top and store in a cool place, but I would not recommend to store it in the fridge otherwise the strawberries will shrink and the chocolate will break easily.
This window blind inspired me to make placemats and when we decided to renovate the spare bedroom, I just couldn’t trow it away. I have that problem for many many things and I accumulate lots of useful bits (my husband would call them by another name…), which sadly seem to fill up our storage cupboard too quickly. But isn’t it worthy!
To make these placemats you’ll need:
- a woody window blind like mine (see picture above)
- a pair of scissors
- a pair of secateurs
- a lighter and a candle
- Optional: a little cat helper (Vegas, our kitten, poses for the photo and helps, a bit)
I cut away the top and bottom of the blind and removed any damaged area. Cut a rectangle MUCH TALLER than the one you’ll use for your place mats because you need to remove quite a few woody sticks to have the string long enough to tie a knot. See pictures on the left, I removed about 6 sticks to have a comfortable length of string to work with, but it obviously depends on the kind of blind you have. Then make a double knot using 1 string from the top and the one opposite to secure the last woody stick to the rest. To seal the knot and make sure your place mats doesn’t fall to pieces light a candle and place the knots on the flame to melt the knots together.
To adjust the width of the placemats I use a pair of secateurs to give a nice edge to the woody sticks! And check out how good they look with our tropical meal! I can’t wait to use them this summer on the garden table for a BBQ night! I have some left overs that I might use to do some glass mats….
Our wedding cake had to be made with ingredients we both loved! We picked our favorite cake at the time (it constantly changes…) and I tried to make a two-tier cake with both of our choices. Choosing the cake, baking it and building the whole thing was not the main worry for me. The issue was the final touches as we don’t really like sugar icing. I wanted chocolate and lots of it!
The plan was to make a Jaffa cake for the bottom cake: Orange infused sponge cake, with my own Seville Orange marmalade in the middle and covered with a glossy dark chocolate ganache. The top cake would be a polenta cake, with strawberry jam and covered with white chocolate ganache. Once built, the cakes was going to be surrounded by home-made white chocolate barks. I added some berries already used for my centrepiece to hide imperfections, 2 heart-shaped pieces of slate on the top and here is the result:
I regret not to have taken more pictures, this one really doesn’t do it justice at all. And I also didn’t take pictures of the transitions during the making of the cake but this site really helped me and I will try to write as much detail as I can to help you.
Equipment needed: one or two 23cm and 15cm cake tins, 2 round cake boards the same size as your tins, some wood rods and a palette knife.
I recommend to prepare the white chocolate barks in advance as it will take quite some time and you can store them for weeks in the fridge. I did my chocolate barks following these 3 steps:
WHITE CHOCOLATE BARKS
– Melt 500g of white chocolate in a bain-marie until it has reached 43C and then transferred it to a clean and dry bowl. Have 2 big baking trays covered with baking sheet prepared and set aside, and make sure they fit in your fridge! When the chocolate looks “cooler” and has thickened a bit, pour it onto the baking sheet and spread it with a palette knife to the desired thickness. I opted for thick barks because it was easier to control the hardening of the chocolate. Spread the chocolate to form a rectangle with a width much longer than the height of your cake, I went for 20cm. Place the tray in the fridge.
– Constantly check your chocolate. When it feels like a soft paste rather than a liquid, take it out of the fridge and cut your barks (mine took about 20minutes). The knife will go right through it and it won’t look like you’ve cut anything, but this is more of a “pre-cut” and it will make your life SO MUCH easier when the chocolate has set. With the knife draw a rectangle with curvy lines (so the cake doesn’t look too serious) and measure the width to make barks slightly taller than then cake (15cm for me). Now, if desired, add some little twirls on the barks if desired, or more advanced drawings, but be fast because the chocolate might soften again. Once done, cut the barks and place the tray in the fridge for at least overnight. I tried to draw it to help you with the pattern and the description. I managed to do 40 barks that way, which was enough to cover the whole cake.
– The next day take your chocolate out of the fridge. The pre-cut marks should still be there and they will be used as a guide to cut your barks. I started with a knife retracing the marks but quickly realised that the barks were detaching themselves quite easily one from another by bending them gently. Once all your barks are detached, store in an airtight container in the fridge for weeks.
JAFFA CAKE with home-made marmalade and dark chocolate ganache
This cake’s recipe is adapted from a recipe in my BBC Good Food magazine (July 2013). They’ve used orange jelly instead of marmalade and milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate. I made two of these cakes and stacked them up on top of each other with a good layer of marmalade in the middle.
For a 23cm cake tin, well greased with butter.
- 250g unsalted butter softened
- 300g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 100g yogurt
- 300g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- zest of 4 large oranges
- For mounting and topping: Seville Orange Marmalade, a pot of clotted cream, 300g good quality dark chocolate, 300ml double cream
I only have one 23cm cake tin, so I followed this recipe twice to create two identical cakes.
Turn the oven on at 140C fan. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix with an electric hand-whisk until smooth. Pour it all in the tin and bake for 1h until an inserted knife blade comes out clean. Let it cool down for 10minutes, then remove the cake from the tin and leave it to cool down completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, you can keep the cake in a airtight container for up to 3 days.
The cakes will be hidden by the chocolate barks so it didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfectly round and the top perfectly flat. If the cake has created a substantial dome during cooking, then cut the extra to have a relatively flat top and do the same for the second cake. When the cakes have cooled down, stack them up with marmalade in the middle. Make your own Seville Orange marmalade or use some shop-bought marmalade. Be generous as the cake is very sweet and a little freshness and tanginess will be welcome.
I used clotted cream to fill the gap around the cake created by the two cakes put together. Clotted cream has a neutral taste and I just love it! Leave the cake in the fridge to cool, it will help the ganache to adhere. Prepare your ganache by heating the double cream in a pan. When the cream starts to form little bubbles (Do not boil it), pour it onto the chopped dark chocolate. Leave the cream on the chocolate for a minute or so and mix well until all the chocolate has melted. Place in the fridge for 30minutes. The ganache should be spreadable, but not too liquid otherwise it will slide off the cake. If you leave it too long in the fridge it will solidify but this is easily reversible by heating it back slowly. Cover the cake with the ganache and if the ganache is too liquid place it all in the fridge for longer and try to spread the ganache again. If the ganache is sticky and stays on the cake, you have achieved the perfect consistency! Keep in the fridge until your top cake is also ready.
POLENTA CAKE with strawberry jam and white chocolate ganache
My paternal grandma was italian and I used to spend my summer holidays in her family’s house in the italian’s Alps near Bergamo. A beautiful region for hiking, climbing and all kind of mountain activities. I started to go to this house when I was probably around 7, and all I cared about at that age was the cows in the field in front of the house that we could milk in the morning. THAT was fun! Growing up though meant that I had to participate to prepare the meals and this is one of the reason why you will find lots of Northern italian recipes on my blog.
Polenta is widely used in the North of Italy, which also gives the name Polentina to the ladies of the North. I have learned many recipes during these summer holidays cooking with my grandma, but as we didn’t have an oven, the only cake we would eat was the polenta cake from the neighbour. I remember this cake being warm, sweet and crunchy with little grains of polenta. This is the cake I tried to reproduce here.
Ingredients for a 25cm cake tin, or 2 smaller 15cm tins:
- 150g polenta
- 100g self-raising flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp of baking powder
- 180g butter
- 200g granulated sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 200g yogurt
- For mounting and topping: Strawberry jam, clotted cream, 150g white chocolate and 150g double cream.
Heat the oven at 180C and grease a 25cm cake tin.
Melt the butter and mix it to the sugar. Whisk in the eggs one by one and the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt and keep whisking to have a very aerated mixture. Fill the tin and cook for 35 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. This cake is delicious slightly warm and also very good a little stale dipped in tea 😉
For the wedding though, I split this recipe in 2 and filled two 15cm cake tin. Like for the Jaffa cake I trimmed the top and stacked them on top of each other with strawberry jam in the middle. Some clotted cream to hide the holes, and cover with white chocolate ganache, done the same way as for the jaffa cake.
MOUNTING AND DECORATING
When both of your cakes are covered with their respective ganache, place them on their cake boards. Cut 4 pieces of wooden rod to the exact height of the bottom cake and insert them evenly spaced in the middle: they will provide support for the top cake. Place the top cake firmly on top and place the white chocolate barks around. If the ganache is too cold the barks won’t stick well so make sure the cakes are at room temperature. Starting with the smaller cake, overlap the barks to hide the ganache and finish by the bottom cake. If needed, use a ruban to hold the barks together while the ganache solidifies again in the fridge.
Keep the two-tier cake in the fridge and place it at room temperature a few hours before being served. I went for berries and 2 heart-shaped pieces of slate to decorate it simply. But go ahead and add sparkles, food paint and some proper bride and groom figurines on the top!