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:

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

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


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.


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)


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. 

A note on meat…. and a pudding!

I am not one to vehemently advocate a particular ingredient over another.  I am likely to be enthusiastic, yes, but I would never veer into any territory that resembles preaching.  And there is one food topic I definitely won’t go near: the politics of meat.  But mostly that is, of course, because I don’t need to.  We all know the score:  eat less of it and when you do, buy the good stuff.  Organic, free range, steer clear of anything resembling a CAFO, so on and so forth.  Nuff said. 

But the unavoidable issue comes down to money- the good stuff is pricey.  And even if you don’t buy it as often, paying what sometimes amounts to double (I had a quick comparison on stings, especially in these cash-strapped times.
 I find the answer lies in going ahead and buying high quality meat, but the less popular cuts.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a chicken breast, for example.  I find chicken thighs and legs are not only more flavoursome, they are generally less dry and more forgiving to cook with, not to mention a great deal cheaper.  I also use lamb neck in my harira, and I’ll roast a piece of fashionable pork belly (by now ubiquitous on gastropub menus) and serve it with spicy plum sauce.  I’m also looking forward to trying out recipes for ham hock and brisket.  
The other week we had our lovely newlywed friends, Pete and Anna, for dinner and I had a real craving for some pâté.  I do on occasion order liver when eating out as I like the taste, however, it is quite rich and as such not something I would necessarily buy and cook a whole packet of.  But for a deep and smooth pâté, I made an exception and headed to the liver section of the meat aisle.   It took me a half hour to find.  Who would have known chicken liver is most logically filed next to minced lamb?  In any case, when I finally found it I was delighted by how cheap the good quality stuff was- for a measly £2, I got twice the amount I needed. 
Here’s the recipe I used. 
Chicken Liver Parfait. 
Makes one cereal bowl full (but you may want to double the recipe for leftovers)
You will need:
225 g unsalted butter
225g chicken livers, trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove,  minced
2 tbsp calvados or brandy
1 tbsp crème fraiche
sea salt, pepper
freshly grated nutmeg.
Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the chicken livers, bay leaf, thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the livers for about 3 minutes until they are golden on both sides but still pink the middle- do feel free to check by cutting the livers in half, it doesn’t matter as they are all going to be whizzed up into a paté anyway.
Discard the herbs and pour the livers and any juices from the pan into a blender.
Melt another knob of butter in the pan and add the shallot and garlic, sweating until cooked through.  Add the booze and simmer, enjoying the wonderful fumes, until almost completely dissolved.  Tip all this into the blender with the livers and purée until smooth.  Add the crème fraiche and blend again, making sure that the mixture is well-incorporated.   
At this point, add the remaining butter and a good grating of nutmeg.  Continue to blend until you have a thick, paté-like consistency. 
Spoon the parfait into a bowl and leave in the fridge until required.  It will keep for a couple of days but may need 10 min or so out of the fridge before serving, just to soften a bit.
Serve with sourdough bread, radishes, celery, red onion marmalade.  For this starter, I also made a goats cheese dip by mashing the cheese with some garlic, sea salt and mixing with crème fraiche and chopped spring onions, which provided a fresh counterpart to the meaty density of the parfait. 
For a pud, I wanted something sweet and creamy and managed to dig out an old favourite recipe for Panna Cotta.  This is a honey and almond flavoured one that is at once velvety and grainy, with a nutty bite from the ground almonds that gives it a bit more substance.  It’s one of those puddings that never fails to impress, but is extremely easy to make.  The only tricky part is getting your gelatin just right- it needs to have dissolved completely.  If you don’t like the idea of using gelatin, agar-agar flakes are a seaweed-derived substitute you can find in most health food shops and even larger supermarkets.  
Honey and Almond Panna Cotta
You will need:
1 sachet gelatin, 7g (or equivalent substitute such as agar-agar)
200ml double cream
250 g greek yoghurt
6 tbsp runny honey
50 g ground almonds
1 vanilla pod
4 ramekins, lightly oiled and lined with clingfilm
In a large bowl, combine cream, yoghurt and honey, mixing until smooth before adding the ground almonds. 
Cut your vanilla pod in half length ways and then scrape out all the seeds.  Add to the mixture.
Prepare your gelatin or agar-agar flakes, following the instructions on the packet.  If you aren’t quite sure, add about 3 tablespoons warm water to a large bowl, add the gelatin and stir to dissolve before leaving to cool.  Make sure to add the gelatin to the liquid and not the other way around and that all the gelatin has dissolved completely.  Otherwise you may end up with strings of squid-like rubber in your pudding.  Which is rather unpleasant.  Once you’ve prepared the gelatinous water and are sure it has completely dissolved, add to the creamy mixture.  
Divide this into your prepared ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours until set.  To serve, turn out onto plates, removing the cling film. 
I accompanied mine with a simple orange, mint and toasted flaked almond fruit salad, but you could just as easily serve it with other fruits- summer berries would work particularly well.   

Brilliant Banoffee

Office pie! For when your holiday is still two weeks away and you need a little lift.

This old school banoffee pie is a serious contender for my favorite pudding. I think it might have something to do with the textures as well as the flavours (I love a banana split and the flavours here aren’t dissimilar, really). There’s the satisfying crunch of the biscuit base, the silky caramel centre, soft fruit, cool cream and just a hint of chocolate (nothing too cloying). Two of my poor, deprived colleagues had never had this expereince before. Luckily, that situation was easily rectified.

OK, so a note on the recipe method here, first of all. I know the whole exploding tins of boiling condensed milk sounds a bit scary… OK, totally petrifying… but honestly, it’s never happened to me. I’ve never even heard it happening to anyone (you?). The trick is to use a HUGE pan and just keep it full throughout. I mean, it’s simple, really.

Banoffee Pie:

You will need

  • 1.5 packets of chocolate hobnobs or digestives
  • 1 pint double cream or whipping cream
  • 2 400g tins of condensed milk
  • 4-5 bananas
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter

Do This:

Boil a huge pan of water. Massive. The biggest you can find. Plonk the tins of condensed milk in, just as they are, no shaking or piercing or opening or anything. Keep the water topped up and simmer for 2-3 hours. So keep checking- make yourself something nice for dinner, watch the next episode of Mad Men, but keep checking (ad breaks are good).

While this is going on (but before dinner and Mad Men) you can sort out the base. You need to get those hobnobs or digestives to a crumb consistency. I put them in a bag, wrap it in a tea towel and let out any of the day’s tension with a rolling pin. But any method will do.

Melt the butter and add this to the crumbs, mixing very well indeed so that all the crumbs are coated before putting this into a cake tin (preferably one of those 9″, loose-bottomed ones). Distribute evenly and use your knuckles to flatten the crumbs out so they fit snugly in the tin. Pop in the fridge. Now dinner. Now Mad Men.

Once the tins are done boiling, leave them to cool (running water is good or a sink full) before opening to reveal the toffee. Pour this onto the crumb base, smoothing out with a knife to get a nice even layer.

Add sliced bananas- at least one layer, two if you prefer.

Add the whipped cream.

Grate some chocolate over the top. Refrigerate until you need it.

Or bring it in to the office.

Or just tuck in.