Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Brownie tiramisu recipe June 14, 2013

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 4:21 pm

brownietiramisuThis is an utterly unorthodox recipe that would never be served in Italy, but it is delicious. It’s about six years now since I first made this, and the recipe has been tweaked over the years so I thought I would share my definitive version. If you’re on any kind of diet, look away now.

It’s a brownie tiramisu, rather than a tiramisu brownie – by this I mean that it’s a tiramisu made with a base of brownie instead of the more traditional sponge finger biscuits. The brownies are not tiramisu-flavoured – I just use my favourite brownie recipe.

For the brownies

  • 150g butter
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 125g plain flour
  • 30g cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 20cm square cake tin (ours is rectangular, but it doesn’t seem to matter).

Melt the butter and chocolate in a pan over a low heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together (using a wire whisk) in a large bowl until well combined. Sift the flour and cocoa together.

Whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, and then stir in the sifted flour and cocoa; do not overbeat.

Pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes (or 25 minutes, if you prefer them to be moist and fudgey) until slightly risen and just firm to the touch. I always underbake them, taking them out of the oven after 25-30 minutes – I like them to be gooey.

For the tiramisu

Serves six – you will have brownies left over

  • 200ml of hot, strong black coffee
  • 4 tablespoon of Kahlua
  • 3 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 150ml pot of double cream

You can make this in one big dish (ideally one with a flat bottom), of make individual servings in bowls (again a flat bottom would be better, but the ones in this picture are in normal curved bowls). If you’re using individual bowls, put a slice of brownie at the bottom of each.

Mix the coffee with the Kahlua and a tablespoon of the sugar, and pour over the brownies. While that cools, whip the cream until it just holds its shape. In a separate bowl, beat the mascarpone with the two remaining tablespoons of sugar (an extra tablespoon of Kahlua at this point won’t do any harm…), then fold in the cream.

Spoon the mixture over each of the brownies, and top with some grated dark chocolate.


At last April 16, 2013

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 3:20 pm

hummingbirdbookThat was the longest winter I have experienced.

I dread to think how much our heating bill will be – but at last the heating is off, the windows are open, and there are flowers in the garden. Until very recently, our pond had been frozen over every morning, but now the temperatures have climbed, it’s back to its liquid state. I’ve been checking most mornings to see if there is any frogspawn (we only put the pond in last summer, so this is the first opportunity we’ve had to see frogspawn in it), and so far I’ve not seen any. But today I saw a frog, once this morning and again this afternoon. I shall be checking the pond extra carefully tomorrow.

At the end of this week it’s my 35th birthday, and so baking has been stepped up a notch. I made tiramisu cupcakes yesterday, ready for a visiting friend (though there will only be a couple left by the time she visits…), and tomorrow I’m going to make chocolate rice crispy squares to take in for friends at work. And then the big baking project will start: candy bar pie, from the latest Hummingbird Bakery book. The book arrived a few weeks ago, but this is the first recipe I’ll be trying out. The ingredients are most encouraging: Oreos, Snickers bars, peanut butter, double cream… I’ve booked Friday off and so will have plenty of time to work on it – I’ll let you know how it goes. Can’t promise to save you a piece though.


Light Night February 12, 2013

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 1:31 pm

milkshakeFriday was Light Night in Nottingham – an annual event to encourage people to make the most of the city in the depths of winter.

This year the official focal point was a show at the Castle – a very large animation was projected on the castle walls, accompanied by music and fireworks. There were also fire-based installation pieces all round the castle grounds – it’s surprising to see so many flames at a public event, in these days of health and safety and caution.

For me, the real highlight of the night was this milkshake from Homemade, which hosted a 50s diner night. The light show was good, but this was better. It’s brownie, amaretto and chocolate ice cream. No amount of fireworks can compete with that.


Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies January 31, 2013

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 6:50 pm

peanutcookiesThe cake tin needed filling up this weekend, and I wanted to try a new recipe. I have quite a large collection of baking books, and in some ways that can make it harder to choose a new thing to cook – there is so much to choose from and it’s easier to keep flicking through the pages than to make a decision. So I picked out a few books and decided the recipe I tried would have to be in one of them. It didn’t take long to settle on peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from the Hummingbird Bakery book, and I was very happy with my choice.

I halved the recipe, as it seemed like it would make an awful lot of cookies, possibly even too many (as hard as that may be to believe). That was the right thing to do – I ended up with 16 quite large cookies, which is just enough to eat up while they are still at their best.

This is going to sound terribly immodest, but these really are some of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten, let alone baked. I’m not taking all the credit for that, as it’s clearly just a very good recipe. But I do feel a bit smug about having made them. They are chewy and crunchy, salty and sweet, all at the same time. The recipe can easily be found online, and if you don’t have the book, it’s certainly a good investment – their vanilla cupcakes are also the best ones around. And the good news is that I’ve just spotted they have a new book out next month, called Home Sweet Home.


Warmer winter food January 15, 2013

Filed under: Food,Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 2:08 pm

prashadI am looking out onto a garden that is both covered in snow and filled with birds. It’s my day off, and I’ve spent much of it watching the birds and filling up their feeders – and hoping that the extra bird food I ordered will arrive soon. This morning I counted 15 blackbirds on the lawn, which I think is a new record for our little garden. Since then we’ve had fieldfares, starlings, blue tits, great tits, and lots of finches. It’s the finches who are running out of food: the ones in this area are very picky and like sunflower hearts. I’ve topped their feeder up with mixed seed and am hoping they will tolerate it until the new stuff arrives – there are dozens of them out there though, and I fear they will be tapping on the glass to complain any moment now.

But I am safely indoors where it is warm and cosy, and I’ve had time to do some baking – the first time the cake tin has had something in it for a week or two (tiramisu cupcakes, in case you’re wondering). I’ve also been going through a new cookbook and putting sticky notes on the pages of recipes I intend to try. It’s a bit of a new thing for me – an Indian cookbook. I’ve always avoiding cooking Indian food, fearing it would involve buying dozens of esoteric spices that go off before they get used. But I made one recipe at the weekend, and only had to buy two new spices for it (turmeric, and cumin seeds).

Now that I’ve flagged up a few more recipes, I think I’ll only need to add garam masala and mustard seeds, which won’t exactly break the bank. If I’m feeling particularly brave I may venture out to an area not too far from here where there are lots of Indian and Pakistani grocers. I managed to track down one of the ingredients for Sunday’s meal of pea and paneer curry in Tesco – the shop assistant asked me what it was wheh he scanned the paneer through the till, which made me feel better about the fact that I’d never tried it either. I have now, and it was delicious – though one of my wooden spoons is now stained yellow from all that turmeric…


Baking for Britain October 30, 2012

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 10:47 am

I don’t know if it’s the influence of the Great British Bake Off, or just simple greediness on my part, but I’ve been putting my baking abilities to the test this week. It’s all gone quite well, which has been encouraging. I’m not saying I’ll be auditioning to be in the next series or anything, just that things were edible.

First up was a Swiss roll, which I filled with Kahlua whipped cream. (Which reminds me: I need to buy more Kahlua, I add it to everything. I’m not sure if this is a problem.) This was the second time I’d made a Swiss roll, the first attempt being a couple of months ago. They both worked out well, but this second one didn’t crack when I rolled it up, so I think that makes it the winner. They were both delicious though. Unfortunately I think I had the camera on the wrong setting when I took pictures of it, as they all look very blurry. Or perhaps all that Kahlua starts to have an effect on you after a while? Either way, no photos to show you other than a quick Instagram snap.

And then at the weekend I decided to try the Gooey Chocolate Stack, from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess book. This involved making two things I’d never tried before: meringues, and creme patissiere. And they both worked! I did a bit of reading about the recipe online before getting started, and found the general consensus was that you should assemble it just before serving. This was a good tip, as by the second day, the leftovers still looked fine but the meringue in the middle had pretty much dissolved, leaving a chocolate mousse-like substance (not a bad thing, but I think the dish was more interesting when it was fresh and you could see all the layers).


Inside America’s Test Kitchen October 9, 2012

Filed under: Food,Travel — lauravw @ 1:37 pm

While we were in Boston, our friends Megan (Not Martha) and Scott flew over from Seattle to spend time with us, which was a real treat as it had been two years since we’d last seen them. Megan had been invited to tour the offices and studio of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated while she was in Boston, and we all got to tag along.

They are not brands we’re familiar with in the UK, but there were some similarities to Good Housekeeping. The recipes are tested and tested and tested – I was interested to see how rigid their processes are for doing this. They produce everything on a domestic scale, using domestic ovens – because all the recipes are aimed at the home cook. I loved seeing a noticeboard by the kitchen featuring photos gathered from Flickr and Twitter, each showing people’s successes at following the recipes. One of their founding principles is that they test everything, from ingredients to tools, and then use whatever their tests reveal to be the best – steering very clear (with a few noted exceptions) of product placement and freebies.

The site they work from is not huge and not fancy – I was amazed at how much they produce from what seemed to be fairly limited surroundings. (It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind now I’m home and back at work!) They seem to get an awful lot done – magazines, books and TV programmes – we were lucky enough to be given copies of some of their newest books. One features a recipe for Boston cream pie, which I may try out over the winter to remind me of our holiday. I make Boston cream pie occasionally already, using a Nigella Lawson recipe, so I really should try a more authentic version. I may still buy the creme patissiere for the filling though – I’m not sure I can face the effort of making that.

Speaking of Nigella Lawson, has anyone else got the new book, Nigellissima? I pre-ordered a copy and so it was waiting for me when I got back from Boston. As a vegetarian reader, there’s not a great deal in it for me – I had expected more, since Italian food is so varied. There are certainly recipes in it I will be trying, but not as many as I’d hoped. And, reflecting the changes in Nigella herself over the past year, this is a much slimmer volume that her previous books.


The Hummingbird Bakery July 10, 2012

Filed under: Books,Food — lauravw @ 1:33 pm

When we were in London last month, we managed to fit in a visit to the Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill.

I was very excited about visiting the bakery in person, because ever since I got a copy of the first Hummingbird Bakery book last year, I’ve been really impressed by all the recipes I’ve tried from it. The recipe for vanilla cupcakes is the best one I’ve ever used, and I always use that recipe now if I want to make simple cupcakes.

The branch in Notting Hill is small, but it does have a few seats inside so if you time your visit just right, you might be able to sit and enjoy your cake indoors. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at around about the time school finished for the day, so the seats were all taken by yummy mummies and their offspring – we had our purchases boxed so that we could take them away. I tried the black bottomed cupcakes, which are chocolatey concoctions with a swirl of cheesecake built in. No pictures of the cake itself: once I started eating it, sitting in a park in Notting Hill, my hands were so messy and sticky that to get the camera out would have been a big mistake. It was delicious though.

My mother tried the brownies – I can’t tell you how good they were as she demolished hers so rapidly that I didn’t get a taste, but I assume that means they were very good indeed…

I now have a copy of the second book as well, Cake Days, and last weekend I tried making the Earl Grey tea cupcakes, which were very good. The Earl Grey taste seemed to fade a bit as the week went on, but they were still the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea. The second book seems to have as many interesting recipes in it as the first, and I’m looking forward to trying a few more when I get chance.

And if you’ve not seen it already, take a look at their blog, which often has useful baking tips, and is worth a read.


My Michelin-starred lunch June 27, 2012

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 8:07 pm

As a child, I was a very fussy eater. I survived for several years on little more than beans on toast, scrambled eggs, fish fingers, and chips, supplemented by chocolate and crisps. Fortunately I was quite hardy, and it didn’t seem to do me any harm. I was wary of trying new foods, and it was only really when I learned to cook for myself that I was able to get over this – if I knew exactly what went into something, I was more willing to give it a try. I was almost 20 by the time I first tried Chinese food of any description (and it was only a few years ago that I tried Indian food).

This week I was fortunate enough to be invited to lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant: Sat Bains, on the edge of Nottingham. It has not just one Michelin star, but two – I’ve never eaten anywhere like this before, so I can’t tell you what it is that lifts the food from getting one star to two, but I can tell you about my experience. And I can tell you that I feel quite proud to have tried every single dish I was offered – it’s not so long ago that the thought of sitting down to a meal like this would have terrified me.

The lunch, which was yesterday, was being held to promote the Slow Food Movement in and around Nottingham – most of the guests were chefs, as well as representatives from Slow Food. I took a taxi to the restaurant, and as I approached the door, it opened. There was a member of staff always positioned near the door, so that whenever you entered or left the building, they opened it for you – it seemed impossible to get near the door without someone helping you through it.

I was ushered into the bar area (always a good start), and offered a whisky-based cocktail (even better). It was made with local ginger beer, Highland Park whisky, and lime – and it was delicious. (They even sent us home with a bottle of the whisky, so I’ll be making this cocktail again at the weekend!)

Once everyone had arrived, we went into the restaurant proper. There were tables of six, with smart white linens and plenty of cutlery and glasses – I think we were served four different wines during the course of the meal, each carefully matched to the food in front of us. (I was a bit sorry to miss out on the wine – I have an allergy to wine and so don’t drink it, but I had a sip of each one with my food so that I could enjoy a bit of the experience of having wines and foods so carefully chosen.) We were served six courses (!), starting with one I’d read about: NG7 2SA. This is the postcode of the restaurant, and everything in this dish is foraged from within that tiny area. I don’t know what it was that we ate, but it started with something described by the server as an ice cream sandwich. Alongside that, we had a small glass jar filled with something white, and there were also crunchy bits in it. Just before we started to eat it, a server poured a warm green sauce into the jar. (I don’t think there is a career for me as a food writer – but honestly, I think you’d struggle to know what it was as well!)

Next up, while the meat-eaters had scallops, I was served a dish of roasted watermelon – which actually looked like a piece of very rare meat. It was very sweet and had an interesting texture to it. That was followed by turnips and mushrooms, served with goats’ cheese and lemon. I tried the goats’ cheese first, and found it a bit too strong. But when I tried it with each of the other foods on the plate, it blended perfectly. And the lemons were the thinnest slivers of whole lemons I can imagine – so thin you could eat the whole thing, rind and all.

Then there was a cheese course – which was the only thing I couldn’t finish. I found the cheese just too rich and strong for my tastes. It was served with a small fruited bread, which had been soaked in port. We then had a break from food to sample an older vintage of the whisky we’d tried before dinner, learning a little about what made that particular one so unique (it’s made on a remote Scottish island).

If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I have a serious chocolate habit, and I was delighted to see that the first dessert was chocolate based – I had expected the restaurant would be far too grown-up to serve chocolate. And yes, I did say ‘first dessert’ – there were two dessert courses, something I could get used to. It was a small chocolatey disc, topped with a similar disc that was described as being yogurt-based – but it was more solid in texture that a yogurt, and mousse-like. On top of those was a droplet of cumin-flavoured caramel. An odd-sounding combination, but one I enjoyed very much. The dish was dressed with coriander.

Dessert two was blueberries and ice cream – but not as you’d expect. The ice cream had been freeze-dried, and there were tiny little meringues mixed with it. Underneath it all was a spoonful of a gooey vanilla-scented marshmallow, which was a real treat. As the plates were cleared away, I started to feel a little bit sad that the experience was over, but there was actually a bit more to come: tea and coffee were served from pots that resembled old-fashioned metal diving helmets. And I was excited to see they were accompanied by significant amounts of chocolate – thin sheets of five different kinds of flavoured chocolate, with tastes ranging from orange and cardamom to aniseed. Even though I’d already eaten six courses, I still managed to put away more than my fair share of the chocolate…

It was a particularly memorable meal – and as a guest of the event, I was allowed to take plenty of pictures, something I would not have felt comfortable doing if I’d simply been visiting the restaurant for a meal. I’ve stuck a whole set of them on Flickr if you fancy a peek. The room we dined in had rather atmospheric lighting, which wasn’t great for photos, but I’m glad to have pictures as a souvenir of my experience.


Afternoon tea January 23, 2012

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 2:45 pm

On Saturday afternoon we had two friends round for afternoon tea.

As you can see from this photo, I even borrowed a cake stand. I don’t have a cake stand of my own, and it’s not something I can use often – let’s just say our cat requires constant supervision, and it would not be wise to leave cakes on display for more than three seconds. It may sound like I’m being unfair, but she has a track record with this sort of thing… (Also applies to: lasagnes.)

These are tiramisu cupcakes, made using a recipe from a book I was given for Christmas – Life’s Better With A Cupcake. They were delicious – I shall be making them again very soon.

You make a simple cupcake mix using brown sugar, and then when you’ve baked them, you use a skewer to poke holes in the top. You mix up a simple sweetened coffee syrup, and drizzle it into the holes. The frosting is a mix of sugar, mascarpone cheese, and marsala wine (or, in my case, Kahlua). Happily, there was too much frosting, so I had to finish the leftovers.

We also served fondant fancies, as for some reason I find these to be a key component of afternoon tea. I love the lemon ones, and the pink ones, but can’t really understand why they bother with the chocolate ones – they don’t taste very chocolatey, and they clash a bit with the other flavours. Maybe some day they will be phased out, and I will be able to buy boxes of just the pink and yellow ones. Or maybe I should stop rambling and get on with some jobs round the house…!





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.