November 21, 2016

The Ultimate Carrot Cake

it's been a long time coming since I made another carrot cake; the reason being that, even if it's my favourite cake, there are so many more exciting and unusual things I want to give a shot. This week however, I had no choice, as it seemed to be a week of broken promises and empty stomachs. 

You see, I train religiously (or so I like to think) with a group of strong, lean, carrot-cake eating machines every single week. They push me to work that little bit harder, throw me outside my comfort zone but keep my going through till the end. Each week without fail, I come away lighter, brighter and generally with an amazing weekend glow about me. I heard a rumour that the guys had been secretly whispering, debating the deliciousness of the promised carrot cake last week, which indeed was not plonked on the table of a nearby cafe in a pristine white cake box as originally promised. So this week, I had to deliver. No excuses. 

My Wednesday started at 5:30am when my alarm buzzed, the all too-familiar sound of gentle chimes ringing out in their monotonous rhythm. Warm and cosy, I reached over to switch on my bedside lamp, cursing as I knocked over a full glass of water in the process. I rubbed my eyes and hated every minute of getting out of bed but knew I'd feel better for it after. I soaked up the water that had seeped into the carpet and was dripping from the corners of the wooden table top, pulled on my gym leggings, laced my trainers, brushed my teeth then grabbed my gym bag and quietly tiptoed out the flat and into the night. 

My high-glow shimmered in the lights of passing cars, their headlights flashing past in quick succession. London was alive... at 5:30am. I made my 7am spin class, secretly racing against the guy next to me as we climbed the hill and then sprinted down the valley before calling it a day (yes, at 7:45am). I took the Victoria Line to work and treated myself to a flat white from the exceptionally cute Espresso Room in Covent Garden to give me a kick whilst going over my inbox. The day had begun. Except I'd be going for four hours already...

This was to be no ordinary carrot cake. Oh no. This would be THE carrot cake. Eyes would swivel, and mouths would water. Hopefully. I baked that night and adapted the recipe to cram as much goodness into the cake as I could. What kind of carrot cake recipe omits pecans, sultanas, cinnamon, ginger, orange zest? It seems most of them, which is bizarre since these are the things that make a carrot cake even more delicious. So I merged a few recipes and adapted the ingredients for a foolproof bake that anyone could attempt. 

Saturday morning beckoned and the anticipation was undeniable. Had I known that not a crumb would be left, perhaps I would've made another for me to enjoy with a cup of tea on the sofa at home later that day. Instead, I enjoyed the leftover icing scooped up atop crunchy pecan nuts from the bowl instead, which I have to say, was a little pleasure in itself. 


November 14, 2016

Chocolate Chestnut Cake
when I was younger, I used to enjoy coming home and attempting to persuade my dad that it really was cold enough for a real hearth fire. But more often than not, it wouldn't be until the frost started to appear on car windscreens and the box of scarves and mittens were taken out the loft that he would finally give in. As soon as the fire was blazing hot, I'd grab my packet of white and pink marshmallows, pierce them onto long metal skewers and sit cross-legged in front of the mantelpiece, toasting the spongey sugar squares until they were oozing and charred on the outside. I'd tentatively eat the sticky exterior and hold them back over the fire to caramelise once more until I had eaten all of the marshmallow and the process would start again. 

As I've grown up, the novelty has definitely not worn off and if I can find an excuse, I will still sit cross-legged and toast my marshmallows over the fire until they're a melting mess of pastel coloured fluff. Yet as I've grown older, I've also wished there was a little more sophistication to the activity. As a Londoner, I regularly pass the chestnut vendors who sit on the cobbled streets of Covent Garden, roasting their nuts in giant black carbon pans, the nutty aroma a satisfying scent for the nose, however I am ashamed to say, I have never in fact tried a roast chestnut. 

A friend recently told me her family would replace the traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate chestnut cake every year and honestly, this sounded like the best idea anyone has ever had. I pretend each year to enjoy the homemade Christmas cake or sticky pudding that we've doused in alcohol and set alight, a dollap of brandy butter melting beside the hot soft dessert. Though really, I just want to scoff a mince pie and eat cake instead of picking off the royal icing and donating it to whoever at the table might take it. 

Since it really feels as if winter is upon us, and it's time to bring out our puffa jackets, hats and scarves, a chocolate chestnut cake sounds sufficiently satisfactory for any evening of the week. Even if a little indulgent, this recipe calls for a real wood fire but sadly no marshmallows. And for the intolerant among us, it's entirely gluten-free. 


November 07, 2016

Chilli Almond Biscuits

bonfire night is for snuggling up; rosy cheeks and pinched noses, foggy plumes of breath escaping into the cold night. The 5th November is one of my favourite days of year; a time when the leaves crunch under foot and the warmth of a British pub roast is all you need after a long Autumnal walk. It is totally acceptable to carb-load on these kind of days, when the wind is roaring outside and chill in the air makes your knuckles turn white. 

This year, I stayed in, watching the glittering rockets of light soar into the air from my living room window. There's something gluttonous about cosy-ing up indoors, blanket wrapped round you, the kettle on ready for a warming cup of tea and not feeling in the least bit envious of those who've ventured out into the cold for the fireworks. Saying this, sparklers and mulled wine are totally my thing and wrapping up ready to embrace the cold for an evening where the sky is alight with shimmering brilliance is something I have done every year since I was a child. Perhaps there is a first for everything. 

Part of that affinity is the food stalls selling candy floss, caramel popcorn, cobnuts and barbecued bangers, mulled wine, hot ciders and frothy chocolate milk. And I'll take any excuse to slip on a pair of mittens and pack a thermos flask to keep everyone warm, along with sparklers and smiles. Though, on cold nights like these you need more than mittens to keep you warm: Food with a kick, that is entirely grown-up in the melange of sweet treats.

I have to say that this recipe was not my first choice. I had really wanted chocolate. Dark chocolate to be precise. A perfect bonfire night chocolate cake. However having searched high and low for one ingredient in particular, and spending most of my morning running from supermarket to organic food store with no luck whatsoever, I resigned myself to the fact that the bake was simply not meant for this weekend. So, with one packet of lonely blanched almonds peering at me from the shelf of aisle three, I grabbed them and got myself back in the warmth of my flat before my fingers got numb and my nose turned any pinker than it already had. 

Instead, I decided to bake something that packed a punch, full of warming flavours and home comforts. If I dared breathe the word "cheddar" to any of my French friends, I am sure they would gasp with shock, but yes - cheddar cheese, in a savoury biscuit with chilli and blanched almonds. The perfect pre-dinner delight on a cold winter night or beautiful as a gift parcelled in cellophane and finished with ribbon. Plus, who can resist a bit of cheese? Even if it is cheddar.