Sunday, 30 September 2012

Cheshire Food Festival and my first Cake Off!

I love me a good food festival, and today I went along to the Cheshire Food Festival at Walton Hall, Warrington. I'd previously been to the Great British Food Festival there over the Jubilee weekend and decided to be brave and throw my hat into the Cake Off ring this time!

I entered the Chocolate Delicious category where the brief was 'whatever you like as long as it's full of chocolate!' I decided to enter my chocolate and peanut butter cake, which has proved quite popular in the past and made a couple of appearances on the blog before (here and here). As soon as I got there and saw the other entries though, I knew I should have raised my game - they all looked great but some were magnificent!

So I'm a little bit gutted to have to report that I was in the bottom 3 out of the 7 entries. I'm not very good at losing (as anyone who have ever played any kind of game with me and witnessed my jutting bottom lip will testify!), but once I got over the initial disappointment I was still glad I had taken part. It's an excuse to bake a cake without the guilt of eating it, after all! The main thing was, I was happy with the cake and managed to have a little taste of it at the end when the free-for-all tasting ensued to check that it tasted OK - so at least I didn't put up something that I wasn't proud of. Better luck next time!

Luckily there was plenty of delicious food on hand to drown my sorrows with, and so the rest of the day was spent wandering around the various stalls, hoovering up free samples, browsing the craft stalls, quaffing fizzy wine and watching the live music.

I picked up some cheese from the Cheshire Cheese Company - this is the stall that I always make a beeline for, and today I got some caramelised onion and rioja cheddar plus some ale and mustard cheddar for my dad for his birthday. My cheese allegience was challenged by the amazing Pickle Power that I tried from the Snowdonia Cheese Company but I remained loyal (although I might have to order some online once I've eaten the rest...). After tasting what seemed like every chutney in the tents I went for the spiced carrot and garlic chutney from The Jammy Cow which will go lovely with my cheese.

I was also happy to finally pick up some Matcha tea from Vitalife which I had never got around to ordering online, plus a book of recipes to try out, so watch this space!

Despite the mud and drizzle it was a great day out, and I'm looking forward to the Christmas Food Festival in November already!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Mocha marbled loaf cake

Marble cake is one of my favourite cakes - when I was little we always used to get iced marble half moon cake from Somerfield - but for some reason I've never really bothered with making it myself.

I'd done a marbled mocha cake before and it was delicious so when I saw a recipe for a mocha marbled loaf in the August 2012 edition of Good Food magazine I knew it had to be made! Mike's boss has been giving us eggs from his chickens and so I thought I would give them back to him in cake form to say thank you.

Although the cake itself turned out lovely, I completely botched the white chocolate ganache. I've really no idea what I did wrong as I thought I followed the recipe to the letter, but it was runny and awful and full of little lumps of chocolate. For some reason I still dumped it on top of the cake when I should probably have left it off. This is why there are hardly any photos of this cake!

I think this is definitely one to save and eat the next day if you can, the flavour was much richer the next day.

250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g self raising flour, sifted
30g cocoa powder, sifted
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

1. Beat the butter until creamy, then gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla.
2. Keep beating until light and fluffy.
3. Beat the eggs and add 1 tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 1 tbsp of the flour with the last two egg additions to prevent curdling.
4. Add the remaining flour and a pinch of salt and fold in.
5. Put half the mixture in a separate bowl, and add the cocoa powder and milk, and fold in.
6. Add the cooled coffee to the other half of the mixture and stir until combined.
7. Dollop alternate tablespoons of each mixture into a greased and lined 2lb loaf tin, scattering some chocolate chips in between each layer. Give the tin a couple of taps on the worktop to get rid of any bubbles, smooth the top, and then marble the two mixtures together by swirling a skewer through them.
8. Bake on 180c for 60 - 75 minutes until well risen and a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 20 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Now for the ganache...
100g white chocolate, finely chopped
80ml whipping cream
20g unsalted butter

1. Place the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl.
2. In a pan, heat the cream and butter until hot but not boiling, then pour over the chopped chocolate.
3. Leave to stand for two minutes, then stir until melted and smooth.
4. Leave to cool and thicken, then stir gently.
5. Spread over the cake and finish with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Cocoa Boutique - a review

Well, this is my 100th post!!! I know usually people do giveaways for these kind of posts, but being the selfish brat that I am, I decided to indulge myself by accepting a box of luxury chocolates to review from the newly established Cocoa Boutique! (sorry loyal readers... but there is an opportunity to get a free box for yourself though, see the bottom of the post for details!)

Cocoa Boutique is an artisan chocolate tasting club, where after purchasing an initial 'introductory selection' box of chocolates, you can then have boxes of chocolates dropping through your letterbox on a monthly basis, for £19.95 per month. And they really are just the right size for your letter box, so no need for screams of dismay when you get home from work desperate for a chocolate fix to find a 'sorry we missed you' card telling you that your chocs are at the sorting office which closed half an hour ago. Each month you will get a different selection, all of which have been hand picked and taste tested for you.

I liked the design and packaging of the box, which definitely gave the chocolates a luxury feel. They also looked mouth watering! The chocolates are created by award winning chocolatiers and my box included chocolates from Pierre Ledent, Claire Hicklin and Barry Colenso - who also had a hand in making William and Kate's wedding cake! There was a good selection of chocolates, and I was really happy with the balance and variety in the box - milk, white and dark chocolates were evenly represented and there was a good mix of types of chocolate - creams and truffles plus more simple options like plain buttons, honeycomb, caramels and coffee beans.

My favourites were:
Rum Cafe Cream: this felt like a grown up version of the old Roses coffee creams (which were my favourites, why did they have to get rid of them?!).
Raspberry with a hint of orange: a very unique (I think?) and very delicious combination.
Vanilla Irish Cream: Smooth, light and creamy.
Cocoa dusted dark chocolate salted caramels: possibly my favourite out of the box, the caramel was rich and runny with just enough salt to give it that distinctive tang.

Mike also enjoyed the Pink champagne truffle and the White strawberry cream and we felt these were definitely the prettiest looking ones (oh yes he goes for the 'man chocolates'!) - I loved the pink, slightly glittery hue on the white strawberry cream and the petal-like effect of the raspberries on the champagne truffle.

A slight complaint was that there was some definite 'cross contamination' between flavours - the coffee beans were so strong that you could taste the coffee in the chocolate honeycomb next to them, the white chocolate buttons had a slight orange tinge and Mike felt like he could taste brandy in the milk chocolate truffles. I guess this is perhaps unavoidable where you have a selection box that includes strong flavours.

To be honest, another negative would be the price. At £34.95 for the introductory box and £19.95 a month thereafter, to me these chocolates are pricey and you would really need to love your chocolate to justify paying this. It is worth noting though that you don't have to have them monthly - you can choose how often you receive your chocolates.

The chocolates are clearly excellent quality and there are some extra touches such as the range of chocolates, packaging and the information you receive with the box that give them an exclusive feel and go some way to justifying the price tag. Having said that, these are probably chocolates I would be happy to give or receive as a gift for special occasions rather than sign up for, but if a chocolate tasting club is your thing then I don't think you'd be disappointed with the quality of these chocolates.

At the moment the 'introductory selection' is available at a special launch price of £9.95 - to take advantage of this offer, go here and the discount will be automatically applied - there's no obligation to continue with the monthly chocolates. You can also be in with a chance of getting your mitts on some free chocolates by entering this competition to receive a box to taste test. Details are here and entry closes on 31st October 2012.

Normal cake related service to resume shortly!
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