Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Gateau

My mum asked me to make a chocolate-based pudding to serve alongside the traditional boozy-fruity-pyrotechnic Christmas fare. I spent a good while researching recipes and just couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I set about dreaming something up. This is very much a work in progress, so I’m predominantly blogging it so that I’ve got notes for when I embark on the second attempt. I was concerned it might be horribly rich but actually it was light and delicious. If I weren’t in polite company (well, my family, so relatively polite) I could’ve put away a heart-stopping quantity of it…

I used a 10″ tin. I might try a 9″ next time, which would obviously make it slightly taller.

Layer 1: chocolate sponge base
I made a 1 egg version of the sponge from the chocolate and raspberry cake I did in October (which also gave me eight bonus cupcakes as I wanted a very slim cake base):
25g dark chocolate
115ml hot brewed coffee
150g caster sugar (reduced from original to avoid sickliness)
100g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
1 large egg
55ml sunflower oil
110ml buttermilk / plain yoghurt
Spot vanilla extract

Method as in the other recipe. When the sponge is cooled, remove the baking paper, wash the tin then line its sides with acetate and drop the sponge back in.

Layer 2: chocolate mousse
170g dark chocolate
80ml whole milk
1 large egg yolk
4 large egg whites
2 tbsp caster sugar

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (in a large bowl) then leave it on the counter to cool a little. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over the chocolate, then blend using a small whisk. Add the egg yolk and gently work into the chocolate. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then increase the speed and add the sugar gradually. Continue whisking to stiff peaks. Add a third of the egg whites to the chocolate and beat to lighten. Carefully but thoroughly fold in the rest of the whites, then pour the mousse mixture into the tin on top of the sponge and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Layers 3 and 5: hazelnut meringue
40g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped in a blender
2 large egg whites
120g caster sugar

Preheat to 140C. Draw around the tin onto two sheets of baking paper, which will then line two baking sheets. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking the whole time, until you get a firm glossy meringue. Gently fold in the hazelnuts. Spread the meringue mixture onto the baking sheets as flat as you can, to about 1cm from the edge of the circles you drew on the baking paper. Bake for about 90 minutes (you want crispy meringue) then switch off the oven and leave the meringues inside overnight to cool completely and dry out. Place one meringue on top of the chocolate mousse and keep the other aside.

Layer 4: Chantilly cream (ish)
300ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
(Chantilly cream usually contains sugar too, hence the “ish”. I didn’t want this too sweet.)

Whisk the cream to soft peaks, then add the vanilla and continue whisking to firm peaks. Spread on top of the first meringue, reserving a big spoonful. Place the second meringue on the top, then top with the reserved cream and make the surface as flat as possible. Place in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes to allow the top surface to become firm enough to stay put when you spread the ganache.

Layer 6: chocolate ganache
105g dark chocolate, finely chopped
150ml double cream
1tbsp Golden Syrup
35g unsalted butter

Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle. When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted. Take the gateau out of the freezer and spread the ganache over the top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. [Note to self: try a more fluid ganache next time so it doesn’t set so firm?]

I finished this one with some salted caramel I happened to have left over, which I attempted to fashion into a snowflake-type motif with some gold edible glitter. Annoyingly, the ganache was too firm to recover from the skewer I dragged over it – I should’ve done this before refrigerating.

Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau

Layered Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau

Christmas Biscuit Tree

Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it’s a chance to spend time with some of my favourite people and to spend time in my favourite room: the kitchen. Having become quite the theatrical event in recent years, Christmas affords an enthusiastic baker the luxury to try out the most ridiculously camp culinary creations, liberally dusted with edible glitter.

I had set my mind on creating a tree of biscuits but gingerbread ruled itself out as a flavour option a week before Christmas. I made 25 gingerbread people for work, all of whom went in the oven looking perfectly wonderful but all of whom fell foul of some kind of obesity epidemic during the baking time. As appealing as a tree of randomly-shaped star-adjacent biscuits might be, I opted instead for a recipe that promised less bloating.

Orange & Cinnamon Biscuits (enough for a tree, including trunk)
350g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
125g granulated sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
125g salted butter
1 large egg
125ml Golden Syrup

Sift together the flours and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then add the sugar (which won’t go through the sieve – I tried) and orange zest, and mix together with a fork. In much the same way you do when making pastry, rub the butter in with your fingertips until it looks a bit like sand. Add the egg and syrup and use your hands to mix it all together until it forms a ball. Divide the dough into four equal portions, shape into fat discs, cling film and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 170C and prepare a few baking sheets by lining them with baking paper.

When it came to rolling, I found I only needed a little flour to stop it sticking but I often roll between two sheets of baking paper. Roll the dough to approximately 5mm thick, then cut out your shapes. You can re-roll the dough a couple of times but not too many, hence my dividing the dough into four batches. Theoretically, you should then refrigerate the sheets of cut-out biscuits for 20 minutes but who has that kind of fridge space in the week of Christmas? Bake for 14-18 minutes until golden, then cool completely on racks before icing or storing.

Orangey goodness.

Orangey goodness.

Cutter set. Serious.

Cutter set. Serious.

This rapidly became confusing.

This rapidly became confusing.

Lovely.

Lovely.

Royal Icing
450g icing sugar
3-6 egg whites
Lemon juice

Beat three egg whites until frothy, then add the icing sugar and beat. I confess I haven’t yet perfected the art of getting royal icing to the right consistency so you might wish to consult someone more reliable on this, but I added egg white and lemon juice until I got a toothpaste consistency. I splurged about a quarter of this stuff into a bag with a 1.5 (fine) tip to pipe borders, then carried on adding egg white / lemon juice until I thought the rest was fluid enough to be flooding icing. It turns out I was wrong, but a wet paint brush helped me to push it around a bit. Beware: if your icing isn’t sufficiently fluid, your poor wrists and hands will have to work very hard. But if, like me, you’re doing this at midnight on Christmas Eve, the motivation to slop it back in the bowl and dilute it further will be wholly absent.

Keep the leftover icing for the build stage.

The cause of quite an obnoxious cramp.

The cause of quite an obnoxious cramp.

Manual control had suffered a fatal blow from the piping work, hence the somewhat slapdash application of red edible glitter.

The following morning (once the icing had set hard), I built the tree.

Building the tree, complete with trunk.

Building the tree, complete with trunk.

Finally, I put a slightly bigger tip (2, I think) on the border icing bag – the thicker stuff – and piped strings between star tips. Quite pretty.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

Trunk view.

Trunk view.

A weekend of test runs: Santa Hat Brownies & Red Spiral Biscuits

Through the wonders of Pinterest, I have found a couple of festive baking projects I want to serve this Christmas but I am always keen to do a test run of something new, to get my inevitable rookie mistakes out of the way so that I’ve got a better chance of achieving something lovely the second time.

My first festive baked treat is Santa Hat Brownies. I only used the original recipe for its presentation idea, opting for a tried-and-tested brownie recipe (the best I’ve found so far) instead of the recommended one:

90g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter
2 eggs
300g soft light brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
15g cocoa
1/2tsp baking powder
Pinch salt

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(Preheat to 180c; Bain Marie chocolate & butter then cool a little; beat eggs then add sugar & vanilla; fold in chocolate; stir in dry ingredients; bake in lined tin for 25mins.)

Instead of the usual vanilla extract, I used this paste, in which you can see the teeny tiny vanilla seeds. Lovely flavour and worth investing in.

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I used a small round cutter to create canapé-sized bites. The original recipe used buttercream to create the white fur trim on the Santa hats but I suspect this might be a bit of a sugar overload so I have chosen whipped cream instead. It’s brilliantly simple: pipe cream onto each brownie bite, top it with a (in my case, environmentally-unforgivable Egyptian) strawberry, and top that with a whipped cream bobble. Pleasing.

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The other idea I half-inched from Pinterest was one for festive-looking red spiral biscuits. The recipe was written by an American blogger (with gorgeous culinary ideas), so required a little conversion/translation into UK terminology [yes, I know cup measurements are not British but we can at least get cup measures here which, to the best of my knowledge, is not the case for cake flour]:

2 cups cake flour (measure 2 cups plain flour, remove 2 tbsp from each cup and replace with equal amount of cornflour)
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup unsifted icing sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
283g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp flavouring (e.g. strawberry – I didn’t bother with this)
½ tsp food colouring
Hundreds & thousands
Have a 2 tbsp flour on hand in case your colouring and flavouring knocks the texture out of whack.

This recipe required a little creativity as I don’t have a food processor. I started by using a stick blender, which I hoped would do the same job but unfortunately its little blades got rather clogged up with the butter and it started to buckle under the pressure of the job, so I used a combination of wooden spoon and Kitchen Aid to finish combining. The batter is pretty sticky which makes it tricky to handle at times, but it produces a wonderfully light,short, buttery biscuit. Must remember next time to roll the layers more thinly (and more precisely) so that it’s easier to roll up into a uniform spiral.

Spiral Biscuits - the uneven layers are revealedRather unattractive log of goo, complete with pretty sprinkles Looking relatively good, if slightly uneven

Must also remember next time to give each biscuit much more space, because they spread quite a lot when baking. Square-ish spirals – not so pleasing.

Oops.  A bit crowded.

Also must line the sheet – as the recipe states – with baking paper rather than Lakeland’s wonderful foil-backed parchment, as the edges of the latter start to curl in the oven and push the edges of the biscuits back, which does not a perfect batch of biscuits make.

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A bit odd-looking but tasty, and valuable for the lessons I have learned in the process.