The ultimate chocolate cake

This month the We Should Cocoa challenge has been all about making a chocolate cake for less than £1 (NZ$1.97). I have to confess I didn’t even try.

Instead, I can share with you the way to make your favourite chocolate cake taste – and look – like a million dollars. It’s this – a cloud of chocolate meringue buttercream that will make people close their eyes in bliss as they eat it. It defies all current trends in that it is resolutely full of sugar, butter and eggs. And it is worth every single mouthful.

The ultimate chocolate meringue buttercream
If you find ordinary buttercream icing – the sort you make with icing sugar and butter – too sweet and somewhat gritty, then this is the icing for you. It’s still sweet and quite rich, but incredibly light. It’s stable enough to pipe, spreads like a dream and keeps well in the freezer if you don’t use it all in one go. I have to leave the house to stop myself eating it straight from the bowl before it reaches the cake. It’s THAT good.

320g caster sugar
170g water
4 egg yolks
2 eggs
350g butter, at room temperature, sliced into 2cm chunks
2 tsp pure vanilla
150g good quality dark chocolate, at least 60 per cent cocoa solids, melted and at room temperature

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir well, then boil until the temperature reaches 118C. While the syrup is boiling, put the egg yolks and eggs in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and whisk until they are light and fluffy. When the syrup has reached 118C, carefully drizzle it into the egg mixture (beating all the time). Beat on high until the mixture is thick and pale, and the sides of the bowl are cool to touch. At this point, switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment and start adding the butter, a piece at a time, until it is all mixed in. Don’t fret if it starts to look a bit like mayonnaise, just keep beating it.
When the butter is all in, and the buttercream is very light and fluffy, add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat until well mixed in. You can use this straight away, or leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours (as long as it doesn’t get too hot or cold). It also keeps in the fridge for a week, though you’ll need to beat it again.

Best Chocolate Meringue Buttercream Cake Recipe: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
If you want to make the ultimate chocolate cake, make two batches of this easy chocolate cake. When the cakes have completely cooled, chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes. Spread the surfaces of three of the cakes with good boysenberry jam, then a layer of chocolate meringue buttercream. Stack them on top of each other, then cover the lot with a thin ‘crumb coat’ of buttercream. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes to set, then cover in the remainder of the buttercream (you can go crazy here with a piping bag if you like). The cake can be left in the fridge overnight, but let it come to room temperature before serving.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Be my guest: Lavender and Lovage

One of the most serendipitous things that happened to us on our great European adventures last year was meeting up with Karen Burns Booth of Lavender and Lovage. There we were, mooching around in southwestern France, when Karen replied to an out-of-the-blue email I’d sent her. When we worked out there was less than 100km between us, we hopped in the car and sped over.

It was blisteringly hot – the photos we have of that day make us all look like we’re on the verge of heat exhaustion – yet Karen and her husband Malcolm welcomed us with open arms and a sumptuous afternoon tea. It was one of the nicest, least expected, things that happened to us.

Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth

When she’s not hosting impromptu visitors, Karen is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a freelance foodwriter, an extremely prolific blogger, a social media whiz and the proprietor of a charming French B&B. She also makes an extremely fine cup of Yorkshire Tea, even in rural France in 40-plus degree heat. In case you haven’t come across her blog, here’s a little bit more about her.

What’s your blog about?
Seasonal and local recipes with the emphasis on French and British cooking, with the odd drop of gardening, vintage kitchenalia, historical recipe research, book reviews and travel. Sort of food and European lifestyle!

When did you start it? Why?
After I lost my regular byline in a monthly UK magazine, Country Kitchen, I needed a creative culinary outlet to share my recipes and photos, so set up my blog. Regular readers of the magazine followed me and I am now writing for magazines and newspapers again, as well as online food sites.

Lavender And Lovage Strawberry Curd Recipe  Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Fresh Strawberry Curd (Photo: Karen Burns Booth)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
I am self-taught and have my grandmother and mum to thank for an early start! They were and are in my mum’s case, both amazing cooks and incredible bakers, all of which seems to have passed down to me, for the most part! I have taken short cookery courses, but nothing major.

Who’s your food hero?
I know it’s a bit old hat, but Delia Smith was my first food hero and inspired me to try new things, as well as Elizabeth David and Dorothy Hartley.

South African Street Food Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Karen’s ‘Bunny Chow’ (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Masterchef used to be hot, but not now so much, well for me anyway… and although I like some TV food shows, there are TOO many of them now, which has diluted the quality in my humble opinion.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
My most recent post about Bunny Chow, South African Street Food, a post about Fresh Strawberry Curd and the last post I really love is my Little Victoria Lemon Daisy Cakes Recipe.

Little Lemon Daisy Cakes Photo Credit: Karen Burns Booth
Little Victoria Lemon Daisy Cakes (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

What’s your day job? What else do you do?
My blog is almost my day job now, along with recipe development for major UK brands. I am also a freelance writer and have more and more work nowadays, so, my day job is a food writer and food stylist. We also have a B and B in SW France that we run with cookery school courses, fine dining weekends and local wine tasting trips.

Tell us about another blog you love.
I hate questions like this as I LOVE so many blogs and follow hundreds! But, a recent discovery, that I LOVE is Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things – she is an Aussie blogger who is generous with her comments on other blogs, is a fabulous photographer and has some amazing recipes. But, there are lots more out there that I love too!                

Low Calorie Cauliflower Crust Pizza Recipe And Photo: Karen Burns Booth
Low-calorie cauliflower crust pizza (Photo credit: Karen Burns Booth)

Who do you cook for?
I cook for Malcolm, my husband, and my daughter Hannah when she is home, as well as some feisty free-range chickens and two cats – Cherie who is a Korat cat and Nina who is a Burmese Blue. I also cook for my parents when I am back in North Yorkshire in England.

What’s for dinner tonight?
It’s a fast day today (I am on the 5:2 diet) and I am making my famous Low-Calorie Cauliflower Crust Pizza, but for yesterday, which was a feast day, we enjoyed good old bangers and mash with a shallot and cider gravy!  

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A chic French carrot salad

When it comes to seemingly effortless chic, you have to hand it to the French. It’s evident in what they wear, how they act, what they eat – whatever you think of their politics or their pop music, they’ve got it all over the rest of us. Only the French could make shredded carrots and vinaigrette seem chic, n’est-ce pas?

Last month in Paris (see how I just slipped that in there?) I fell back in love with carrottes rapees – which must be the simplest of all salads. It doesn’t sound much on paper – just shredded carrots dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette – but it’s sweet, crunchy and refreshing, just the thing for a hot summer night. It’s about 20 degrees cooler here than it was in Paris in late July, but I made a batch of this up the other day and can report that it’s equally good in the southern hemisphere. The views aren’t quite the same, but you can’t have everything.

Chic carrot salad
A bowl of this manages to be quite satisfying, which is probably handy if you’re having a French Women Don’t Get Fat sort of moment. It’s a good accompaniment to fish, or rice, or rolled into sushi, or tucked into a peanut butter and alfalfa sprout sandwich. Just one thing – I think it’s best made with carrots shredded in a food processor or with a mandolin. Using a box grater doesn’t quite yield the same result – like having a Chanel couture dress made in a factory.

4 medium carrots, peeled and finely shredded
For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed
a good pinch of salt
4 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

To make the dressing, put the garlic, salt and lemon juice in a lidded jar (I use an old Maille mustard jar for extra authenticity – and because we have dozens of them) and shake well. Add the mustard and honey and shake again. Add the oil and shake until it has emulsified. Taste – it should be slightly sharp.
Put the shredded carrots in a large bowl and pour over half the dressing. Toss gently, then drizzle over the rest if you think it needs it. The carrots should be damp, not drowned.
Serve at once or keep well covered in the fridge for a day.

What’s your favourite French food? Nul point for whoever says ‘French fries’…

Home sweet home

It is a truth universally acknowledged (even in secret) that there is nothing worse that other people’s travel photos, except perhaps other people’s travel stories. So as much as I am tempted to mark the end of our grand adventures abroad with an endless parade of photos and a stream-of-consciousness piece about the joys of frolicking around Europe for two months, I’m going to restrain myself. I’m going to pretend that we’ve just bumped into each other:

You: ‘Oh, so you’re back. Did you have a good time?’

Me: ‘Yeah, got back last Thursday. We had the best time ever. Honestly, it was just fantastic. We…’

You (eyes glazing over, hatred mounting): ‘Oh. Great. Oh look, I have to go… (rushes off)

Jetlag, what jetlag?

We ate, we drank, we caught up with old friends and made new ones, we laughed, we walked miles and miles, we watched my beautiful niece marry her lovely partner, we read thousands of stories, did oodles of colouring-in and dragged the Small Girl away from every playground/carousel/toy shop/ice cream merchant in greater London/Paris/Berlin/Hong Kong. Every now and then, just to make sure I remembered how, I cooked. Or at the very least I pottered around in a strange kitchen, enjoying the novelty of it all.

Kreuzberg, Berlin, August 2013

Best of all, I got to do it with these two. I won’t pretend that there was never a cross word between us (and, I do admit that on day two, crippled by jetlag and the sudden switch from 9C to 33C in temperature, I did think, ‘what have we done?! This is a terrible idea!’) but we actually had a ball. Aren’t they great?

Now though, it’s all about channelling that holiday love into catching up with normal life. I’m certainly not expecting any sympathy, but it is REALLY hard returning to the daily grind. I feel like I’m acting out the lyrics in that Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself

How do I work this?

And you may ask yourself

Where is that large automobile?

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful house!

And you may tell yourself

This is not my beautiful wife!”

I can’t use the jetlag excuse any longer but I am still not match fit in the kitchen. Tonight I made sushi that would make Jiro Ono cry, while yesterday I decapitated a silicon spatula by absentmindedly sticking it into a running food processor. On Friday I made my first loaf of bread in two months and forgot the salt. But, like the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I’m getting there. Slowly.

In the meantime, what I’m really dying to hear is what you’ve been up to in my absence. No, really, I am! What’s the best – and the worst – thing that’s happened to you in the last two months? Fill me in!

Oooh la la…

So on Saturday night we celebrated la Fete de la Bastille, with a lot of champagne, a rustic pork terrine (thanks, Elizabeth David) with Dijon mustard, cornichons from Maison Therese, Raymond Blanc’s coq au vin mopped up with lots of baguette, more vin rouge, salade verte, three feisty French cheeses, more vin rouge, not-so-petit pots du chocolat and a Rutherglen muscat.

Then our guests departed into the wild night and we surveyed the destruction while pondering whether a digestif or a tisane would be the best course of action. It was quite a feast. So do excuse me if I look a little pale at the thought of having to think about food today. Thank goodness Bastille Day comes but once a year…

How was your weekend?