Death by Chocolate Cherry Cream Pie

I have been doing my best lately to be a bit more health-conscious.  Having spent the best part of this year totally immersed in cooking lots of rich, buttery, salty food (a.k.a. ‘fine dining’), taking a step back and making a concerted effort to eat better seemed like an appropriate summer resolution.

However, there have been some notable set backs.  Like this chocolate cherry cream pie.  Yes, all those things, together.  In a pie.  I brought this along to a friend’s dinner party recently and accidentally put everyone into a food coma and lugged myself home with a renewed commitment to leafy greens.  

Having said that, it was pretty tasty, so do give it a go.  After all, life really is too short not to eat pie and sometimes an indulgence is just what the doctor ordered.  Just maybe serve a salad first.

By the by, heart-shaped dish, below, was a birthday gift from my cousins and is made by the Swedish company, Bruka.

Chocolate Cherry Cream Pie
 as ludicrously decadent as it sounds…

You will need:

Pastry:
200g flour
35g cocoa
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
110g butter, fridge cold and cut into cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Filling:
200g cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla
60g caster sugar
200ml double cream
Cherry or raspberry jam (I used sour cherry jam, you could also make your own compote*)
1 punnet black cherries, pitted
Small bar of very dark chocolate

Method:

1.  Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl.  Add the sugar and salt.

2.  Work in the butter to consistency of breadcrumbs, either by transferring to a magimix or by hand.

3.  Add yolks, cream and vanilla and mix well.  Bring dough together on work surface, shape into a flat round, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate.  If dough seems very dry and like it won’t come together add a little more cream (1/2 teaspoons at a time)- be careful not to add too much cream, though, it should not be sticky or it will be impossible to work with. 

4.  Preheat oven to 200 C.  Dust work surface liberally with cocoa.  Roll out pastry to the thickness of 1/2 cm.  Line a x cm pastry or flan tin.  A loose-bottomed cake tin will also do.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  

5.  Blind bake your pastry case- approx 15 min** and allow to cool completely.  Meanwhile, make your filling.  Beat cream cheese with vanilla and sugar.  Add cream and whisk to form soft peaks. Refrigerate until needed.

6.   To assemble, spread jam over the base of the pastry case.  Add the cream cheese mixture.  Arrange cherries over the top and finally grate over some dark chocolate. 

* Simply pit a large handful of cherries and place in a pan over a low heat with a little lemon juice and sweeten to your liking.  Simmer until soft and oozy. 

**At the risk of sounding patronising, but just in case- Place a crumpled circle of baking parchment into the case/on top of the pastry.  Fill with beads, beans, lentils, rice, whatever you have to hand.  Bake in the oven until pastry is almost cooked and the sides have set.  Remove the parchment and beads/beans/lentils/rice/whatever you have to hand and continue to bake until bottom has cooked too.  The exact timing of this will depend on your oven and thickness of the pastry.

 

A Chocolate Caffeine Fix

I made these for Ed, our old flatmate, on his birthday.  He likes coffee and good chocolate, so when I stumbled upon this recipe for Mocha Fudge Brownies, it seemed like the gods were trying to tell me something.  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have enough time to let the chocolate set properly (or even to take a decent photograph, as the above attests), so the results were pretty gooey.  Forks would have been appropriate.  However, Ed, being a clever sort of fellow, told me he later froze the remains that hadn’t been devoured at his party.  I can only imagine that the resulting ice-cream sandwich-like treat must have been heaven- like a coffee flavoured frozen mars bar.  A tip!

Mocha Choc Brownies

Brownies:
90g good quality chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids)
115g butte
170g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
3 tbsp coffee-flavoured liqueur or very strong espresso
1 tsp vanilla
100g plain four
2 tbsp 100% cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt

Frosting:
75g butter, softened
260g icing sugar
2 tbsp coffee-flavoured liqueur like Tia Maria
2 tbsp very strong espresso

Glaze:
120 ml whipping cream
1 tsp golden syrup
160g good quality chocolate (at least 60% cocoa solids)

Method:

1.  Heat the oven to 175 degrees C.  Line a square tin with baking paper and grease.

2.  To make the brownies, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Leave to cool while you combine the brown sugar, eggs, liqueur or coffee and vanilla in a small bowl.

3.  Add this to the cooled melted chocolate.  Stir in the flour, cocoa and salt, whisking until you have a smooth, thick batter.

4.  Pour into your prepared tin and smooth the top to even out.  Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

5.  Leave the cake to cool while you make the frosting.  Beat the butter, icing sugar and coffee flavour in a medium sized bowl.  Use an electric mixer if you have one.  You can adjust the flavouring if you like, adding more coffee or sugar.  Put in the fridge for at least an hour. 

6.  To make the chocolate glaze, combine the syrup, cream and chocolate in another bain marie.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients have combined to form a shiny, smooth mixture.

7.  Once the brownies have completely cooled, frost with the coffee icing.  Refrigerate until set.  Finally,  carefully spread over the glaze to form three layers- brownie, frosting, glaze.  Pop in the fridge until ready to serve. 

Cocochoc cherry

I was working as an assistant on a shoot for M&S recently, using ingredients from their Simply range.  It was a digital campaign and so really fascinating to watch as it came together- the results are coming to a website banner near you soon.  

I particularly enjoyed the wonderful food from the caterers they use on their shoots, but totally forgot to get their names.  Apart from a glorious array of salads and nibbles, there were some absolutely beautiful flapjacks with coconut, oozing dark chocolate and dried cherries.

As the shoot coincided with the end of the cherry season, I decided to make the most of it and re-create the golden little beauties using fresh cherries.  The results are rather worth a crack, I think.

Cocochoc Cherry Flapjacks
You will need:
A large handful of cherries
150g bar of dark chocolate 

125g butter, plus a bit more
1 tbsp golden syrup
125g porridge oats
50g dessicated coconut
125g sugar

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F/ gas mark 4.  Grease the baking tray with a little extra butter. 

2.  De-stone the cherries and chop roughly.  Be careful not to get their deep purple juices on your clothes as they stain like a mother.

3.  Roughly chop the chocolate.

4.  Melt the butter and syrup in a pan over a low heat.  Combine the oats, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.

5.  Pour the melted butter and syrup over the dry and ingredients and mix to soak all the oats completely.  Mix in the cherries and the chocolate. 

6.  Pour into your prepared tin and bake for about 20-25 minutes. 

7.  Cut into squares while still warm and leave to cool before tucking in. 

Stockholm i mitt hjärta (Stockholm in my heart)

It’s been some time since my last post (apologies).  My excuse is that I’ve been on holiday and took so many photos (on that crafty new camera), it has taken ages to sort through them all.  But, finally, to Stockholm and another summer holiday.  I have spent at least some part every summer there, so for me the two are inexorably linked.  Summer and Stockholm forever hand in hand.   One is not quite the same without the other.  
And of course, it is perfectly possible to pass an entire trip to Stockholm in city break mode, browsing boutiques and museums, surrounded by the achingly hip locals who seem to have come straight out of central casting.  And as much as I enjoy sipping a designer coffee on a terrace or pavement café, ogling the eye candy while contemplating my next course of window shopping, this is not what pulls at my heart strings.
Goodbye, Stockholm.  Hello, Archipelago.
For me,you have to leave the city, preferrably on the Vaxholm Bolaget’s boat service and head out, out, out into the sea for at least an hour. The further you go, the more remote the landscape becomes,  but even just an hour’s trip will land you pretty deep into the Stockholm archipelago or skärgården. 
 
  
Here, the islands come in as many sizes and shapes as you can imagine, each with its own character.  While some are covered in troll-like forrests or open fields, others are barren and craggy.  Some are densely populated with summer houses or whole towns and villages.  Others have only the occasional visiting seagull or seal.  
The island I call home is relatively accessible, only a handful of bridges and a short ferry ride separate it from the mainland.  It’s also very close to the lovely seaside town of Vaxholm.  Once on the island itself, there’s not a whole lot to do but read, relax, maybe have a swim for the brave and, of course, cook.
 
To begin this recipe roster, allow me to introduce my grandmother, or ‘mormor,’ Thorborg.  She doesn’t live in the archipelago, but she does make a mean chocolate cake which I enjoyed on her sunny balcony in Södertälje.  It’s a dense, gooey cake that lies somewhere between a brownie and a torte.  For some reason it is often given a french moniker in Sweden, so I’ve always thought of it as Mormor’s french chocolate cake.  Surprisingly, it’s incredibly easy to make and gets its intense choclatey flavour just from cocoa powder.
Mormor’s chocolate cake. 
 Mormor’s French Chocolate Cake
You will need:
2 eggs
300g caster sugar
125g butter, melted
1 pinch of salt
100g plain flour
4 tbsp good quality cocoa
1 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla essence
Method:
1. Whisk the egg and sugar until frothy and light in colour. 
2. Add the melted butter
3. Stir in the salt, flour and cocoa and vanilla.
4. Beat or whisk until smooth. 
5. Pour into a round, greased and floured tin.
6. Bake in a 175 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Serve with a dollop of cream. 
On Mormor’s balcony
Time for some coffee and cake in the archipelago town of Vaxholm
Cake at Hembygdsgården, Vaxholm
 

 

The streets of Vaxholm
Lingonberry red.
Famously, the Scandis are big foragers and we had timed our trip to straddle the berry and mushroom seasons.  This meant that we could enjoy the last of the blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries and blackcurrants that were left on the bushes of the island’s forrest.  The chanterelle season, by contrast, was in full swing, although not on our island as some keen mushroom pickers had got there first (possibly my godmother, who admitted to hiding a patch of young mushrooms with branches in order to come back later and get them at their plumpest).  Fortunately for us, Vaxholm’s market were selling them by the punnet full.

Chantarelles


Chantarelle Toast
Carefully brush the mushrooms with a clean paintbrush, pastry brush or similar. 
Heat a large frying pan until really hot.
Add the mushrooms just as they are, no oil or butter at this stage.   
Leave them to cook for a couple of minutes and to release some of their juices. 
Toss occasionally, don’t crowd. Add a knob of butter, a splash of really top quality olive oil. 
Cook until slightly golden.  Sprinkle with sea salt and some chopped parsley.  
Serve on toasted and buttered sourdough. 

Picking berries- rasp and blue
A-foraging we will go


Raspberry tart

Breakfast on the back porch.
Blackcurrants in the garden

Blackcurrant Jam
Crepes with blackcurrant jam and crepes
  
Blackcurrant Jam
For about 2 L of jam
You will need:
1 kg black currants
250ml water
1.5 kg sugar
Method:
Wash the berries carefully.
Add to a large pan with the water and bring to a boil.  Cook for about 20 minutes over a gentle simmer. 
Add the sugar and wait until dissolved, stirring occasionally.
Do the jam test.
Pour into sterallised jars. 

Cassis
Afternoon tea on the veranda.  The view.

A slice of princess cake- sponge, jam, custard, cream and green almond paste.  What’s not to love?

Burgers and beer on the jetty. 

 
The end of July and begining of August is also traditionally crayfish season in Sweden.  Although these delicate little critters are now available all year round, the tradition of gathering your friends together at this time of year to gorge on the lobster-like creatures and sing snaps songs lives on.  My cousin and her friends treated us to a feast and we also enjoyed the island’s annual crayfish party in the local park.  They set up tressle tables and you bring your own chairs, crayfish and booze.  A band of local old timers kept everyone dancing till the wee hours.   
Crayfish
Crayfish party in the local park

Old timer band take to the bandstand. 

Cookies, Coffee and Cream

Espresso granita with hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

I think coffee is one of my favourite ice cream flavours- so smooth, so creamy.  And it particularly comes into its own when you have people round for dinner- dessert and coffee in one.  Badda bing, badda boom.

The only thing is, I don’t have an ice cream maker.  I would love one, but don’t really have the room to store it (or the freezer space to hold all the  different flavours I would inevitably make).   This espresso granita is a pretty good compromise.  It’s ridiculously easy- just brew some strong coffee (decaf, in this case), pour into a shallow Tupperware container and leave in the freezer for 4-6 hours, stirring and scraping the ice crystals when you remember (at least three times).  Serve in espresso cups or shot glasses, with single cream on the side for those who like their coffee white. 

Because I like something sweet with my cuppa (whether that’s tea or coffee), I made these mini chocolate chip hazelnut biscuits to serve with the granita and to make the whole thing a bit more of a pudding.  The wonderful thing about these cookies is that you have to freeze the dough, for easier cookie-cutting, then cook them from slightly thawed.   So making an extra batch to leave in the freezer and have on hand should anyone drop by for tea (or whenever you fancy a couple of biccies) is a bit of a given, really. 

Cookies, coffee and cream.

Mini chocolate chip hazelnut cookies
(makes 3 rolls of dough, about 20 cookies each)

 You will need:*

150 g hazelnuts (whole and preferably shelled, to make life easier for you)
125 g butter, softened
3 dl icing sugar
zest of 2 oranges
3 tsp ground ginger
2 small eggs, beaten.
4.5 dl plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
300 g dark, quality chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids,  I used Greens & Blacks)

Method:

1. If you are using un-shelled hazelnuts, heat a large frying pan and roast the nuts until their ‘skins’ start crisp up and come off easily.   Put onto a plate or some kitchen roll too cool before rubbing with your palms, letting the skins fall off.

2.  Beat the butter, sugar, ginger and orange zest until smooth.  Add the eggs. 

3.  In a small bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together before slowly adding this to the buttery mixture to form a sticky dough.

4.  Chop the chocolate roughly (or bash or wizz quickly in a food processor) add this, along with the hazelnuts, to the dough.

5.  Pour the dough onto a floured surface and divide into three balls.  Roll each of these into long, sausage-like shapes.  Remember, you are making mini cookies, so don’t make the sausages too thick.  Wrap in cling film and freeze until needed.

6.  When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 180 C.  Unwrap a the cling-film dough and slice into 1-cm thick rounds.

7.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies, until golden but still ever so slightly gooey in the middle.  Keep an eye on them as they burn in seconds.   The remaining dough will keep in the freezer for up to a month or so. 

* I’ve gone and used decilitres (dl) again.  Sorry about that.  A dl is 100 millilitres.  Get a measuring jug and measure 300ml worth of icing sugar and 450ml worth of flour.  Sorted.