Wednesday, 20 August 2014

'Purple Pansies' at The Peggy Porschen Academy

Not unlike a small child seeking your approval and praise after learning a brand new skill for the first time, I'd like to present these Mini Violet Chocolate Pansy Cakes.

To utterly misquote Thomas Edison, these beautifully elegant little chocolate cakes were 15% perspiration and 85% terrific tuition from Penelope, Masterclass Tutor at the Peggy Porschen Academy. I was invited to join one of the new floral classes, 'Purple Pansies' hosted by the Academy in celebration of the Peggy's new book 'Cakes in Bloom'.

The Academy is tucked away on a handsome tree-lined Belgravia street, an area of London that makes you long to be a lady-who-lunches with an oversized designer handbag and miniature pooch. I clearly spent too much time watching the world go by as I enjoyed a welcome coffee at the Peggy Porschen Parlour*, just opposite the Academy. When I wasn't imagining my new parallel universe life, I was unashamedly admiring (greedy eyes wide, tastebuds tingling, mouth watering; the full works) glass cabinets full of delectable cupcakes and shelves stacked high with sweet treats and delightful biscuits.

Once I was surgically removed from the Parlour's display unit, I joined my two lovely fellow classmates as Penelope, ably assisted by Nicola, introduced the day.

Firstly, we made the cake. Penelope promised us this would be the softest, fluffiest chocolate cake we'd ever bake. And boy, was she right; if this cake were a pillow, it would be premium, luxury Canadian Goose feather you only see in high end hotels. Penelope revealed the secrets of the cake: soft, brown sugar to add a deep caramelised flavour and ever so slowly, over several minutes, adding the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar.

A short break to sample a few of the Parlour's cupcakes (yippee!) followed and, after considerable consideration sampling, I decided Banoffee Pie was my favourite.

Then it was time to make the pansies. I was a little apprehensive about this. My experience of sugarcraft is almost zero and I was nervous I'd let Peggy and Penelope down by producing genetically modified pansies that looked more like undesirable weeds than beautiful blooms. I needn't have worried; Penelope's guidance and instructions were perfectly understandable and achievable; her patience and encouragement infinite as I kept interrupting with 'but, is this the right way to do it Penelope?'.

The process of making the pansies was wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable, if very delicate; from carefully rolling the veins into the petals, to thinning out the edges providing a ruffled, scalloped look to gently adding the iridescent edible dust.

After lunch at a great little neighbourhood cafe recommended by Penelope, we began assembling the mini cakes. Mixing the sweet violet buttercream resulted in the entire Academy smelling not unlike a Parma Violet factory. And the best bit about cutting out the mini chocolate cake was the excess sponge that, of course, for quality assurance we were obliged to tuck into. 

Et voila violet!

Our Perfectly Purple Violet Pansies. This was a very relaxed, informative and brilliantly taught class resulting in delicious and beautifully decorated, charming miniature cakes. And my pansies didn't look any thing like bedraggled, genetically modified weeds!

With thanks to Peggy Porschen, Peggy Porschen Academy and Penelope for a great day. Visit the Peggy Porschen Parlour at:

Peggy Porschen Parlour 
116 Ebury Street 

* See, in this part of the world, cafés aren't cafés. They are parlours. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Peaches, Cream, Almond, Honey and Crumble

It's been a great week for my sweet tooth. 

A large supermarket chain had my favourite Green and Blacks chocolate half price (cue unashamed whooping and greedy purchasing). The Great British Bake Off is back and, with it, a new spin off show and the inevitable rise in sales of featured baking gizmos and gadgets. That'll be the non-stick rounded fluted tin used in the Mary Berry's Cherry Cake Technical Challenge rather than Stormin' Norman's Swiss Roll skateboard presentation platter.

Plus, a new confectionery cooking show, Sweets Made Simple made its debut on BBC2. Hosted by the sunny Miss Hope and the affable Mr Greenwood, it is really rather enjoyable telly. Plus the sweets do appear quite achievable, straightforward and, erm, simple*.

And, with the remnants of Hurricane Bertha bringing cooler temperatures and rain of cats-dogs-and-goldfish variety, I finally feel its safe to switch the oven on again. The last few weeks, in the cloying, heady London temperatures, the oven has been out of bounds with salad and ice cream firmly on the menu. Thanks to Bertha, the quest to satisfy my sweet tooth can continue to march forth.

This pud was inspired by a visit to The Green Man and French Horn, a French bistro in Covent Garden where I enjoyed an almost exact copy of this delectable dessert. Perfectly ripe, juicy peaches, a few generous dollops of creme fraiche, a scattering of toasted almonds and crumble topping make this deconstructed pud a great summertime make-ahead recipe.

*Fatal words. No doubt if I attempt their English Almond Butter Toffee, I'll end up with a burnt-beyond-redemption saucepan, boiling sugar on every surface within a one metre radius and the sugar thermometer dumped unceremoniously in the bin.

Add caption

Peaches, Cream, Almond, Honey and Crumble
(Makes four)

100g cold butter, cut into cubes
100g plain flour
75g demerara sugar
75g ground almonds

50g flaked almonds
4 ripe peaches
4 teaspoons of honey
200ml creme fraiche

1. Firstly make the crumble: Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas Mark 4. Rub together the butter and flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and ground almonds. Spread the mixture out on a baking tray and bake until golden brown. Meanwhile dry-fry the almonds on a low heat, shaking the pan every thirty seconds or so, until toasted.
2. Slice the peaches into quarters and place onto the serving plates. Divide the creme fraiche and honey between the plates and sprinkle over the crumble and toasted almonds.

Baker's notes...

  • The first stage of this recipe can be made in advance and plated up when ready to eat with the peaches and creme fraiche. 
  • Other summer fruits would work really well, including apricot, plums and a collection of summer berries

Monday, 4 August 2014

Great British Bake Off 2014

 Image courtesy of BBC/Love Productions

Cancel all plans, clear your diaries, turn off your phones, in just over 72 hours The Great British Bake Off is back!

The BBC has been teasing us with trailers over recent weeks, including, my favourite, The One Where Mary Berry Cartwheels Across The Lawn. Forget cooking; hand that woman a Commonwealth Gymnastics Gold Medal.

But what to expect from Series Five?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Cherry Chocolate Fondants

Remember when all it took to win a television cookery show such as MasterChef was an unburnt scallop, a thin slice of black pudding and a decadent chocolate fondant? The glory days of twitter hashtags such as #ScallopWatch and 5 million viewers watching with bated breath to see if the centre of a fondant was appropriately, gloriously, gooey?

For the last five years, every time I've made a chocolate fondant I've envisaged a miniature Gregg Wallace on my shoulder simultaneously licking his lips while jovially repeating the one line he will forever be associated with: 'Cooking doesn't get tougher than this'. I've laid siege at the oven door, crossing fingers, toes and spatulas for a soft, molten middle and a risen sponge. I've wanted to play a recording of the sweaty-palm, racing-heart MasterChef Countdown music as I serve the puds (erm.... in my defence, Monday nights can be quite slow around these parts). 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Raspberry and Yogurt Loaf Cake

Raspberries are having the year of their lives. If they were sprinters, they'd be gloriously winning the Olympics in world record breaking time. 

If they were musicians, they'd be celebrating Grammy award winning albums, platinum record sales and Chris Martin would be forced into spending his time touring burger joints rather than international stadiums with Coldplay. 

If they were authors, JK Rowling's book sales would be left in tatters and the Harry Potter theme park, hit by downward spiralling attendances, would be torn down in favour of 'Raspberry World'*. 

*Think M&M World, Leicester Square but pinker and more squishy. 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough No Churn Ice Cream

Despite writing a blog that is, quite frankly, sweeter than the inner most depths of a Haribo factory, I've yet to include an ice cream recipe. Partly I've been discouraged as we don't own a one of those unwieldy ice cream maker-machines, partly because we've only the teeniest of freezers and mostly because the corner shop five minutes away has yet to run out of Twisters.

But then I read loads of great no-churn ice cream recipes, it got to hot to switch the oven on and we ate loads of frozen peas one night, freeing the teeny freezer for sweeter stuff.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Konditor and Cook Cake School Review

There is probably only one cake in the entire world that has been seen by an estimated 125 million television viewers. The Curly Whirly Cake from Konditor and Cook was arguably the standout star at the Eurovision Song Contest 2014. But then of course a decadent dark chocolate sponge cake enveloped creamy vanilla frosting would be the leading light:

Image courtesy of Konditor and Cook

And one evening last week I popped along to the Konditor and Cook Cake School to learn all about the infamous Curly Whirly Cake. I'd been invited to the Introduction to Cake Decorating class, a two hour class packed full of brilliant tips and tricks to decorate biscuits and cakes, including the Curly Whirly. 

We headed behind the scenes at the Borough Market branch, through a door marked 'Cake School', the confectionery equivalent of walking through the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Our fantasy land beyond held tempting trays of Konditor and Cook nibbles. I for one tucked into with an alarming greed and gusto; apologies to my fellow course mates who probably did not have the chance to sample the bite sized brownies, delicate Parmesan shortbreads and the perfectly layered noisette sponge cake.

After we I had devoured the welcome snacks, Zera, Head Decorator at the branch, ably assisted by her colleague Alex began the class with an instruction to make a dozen mini parchment piping bags each. I'm not the most dexterous person at the best of times; this was like entering the world's most complex origami competition. But under Zera's expert and infinitely patient tutelage within a few minutes we'd all produced our piping bags:


Once they were filled with a variety of bright Royal icings, Zera demonstrated how to write and pipe the icing. It was just as well my first efforts were on a practice board. My writing was so wobbly it was as though I'd spent the previous two hours in the local pub hell bent on devouring their entire gin supply.

My wavy, childlike writing soon filled the board and it was time to progress to decorating biscuits. We were enthusiastically encouraged to decorate self-portraits and the faces of loved ones. Mine looked like the love child of Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart whilst my husband questioned his new orange beard when I presented him with his portrait later that evening:

(I'd like to confirm the biscuits were utterly delicious and my husband doesn't look anything like his biscuit portait.)

And then, then it was time to bring out the big gun: the undecorated Curly Whirly Cake. We all stood utterly transfixed by the gloriously perfect, naked cake, initially not daring to tarnish the smooth silky icing with wobbly lines and uneven decorating:


Eventually, inspired by Wimbledon I plumped for a strawberry decoration. I reasoned this was possibly more achievable that an iced image of Andy Murray Roger Federer fist-pumping his way to the final of the tennis. With Zera's invaluable assistance, this was my creation:

The class was incredibly enjoyable, relaxed, and taught with huge enthusiasm and warmth. The skills and tips are eminently transferable to the home kitchen ... just as soon as I figure out how to make the piping bags without Zera's close supervision and reassurance! 

If you’d like to visit Konditor & Cook there are four branches dotted across central London:

Waterloo – 22 Cornwall Road, SE1 8TW
Borough Market – 10 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD
Holborn – 46 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8LR
The Gherkin – 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8BF

And a full list of their brilliant Cake School classes can be found right here.

PS: They've an awesome range of July 4th American Magic Cakes to celebrate today's Independence Day in store right now:

Image courtesy of Konditor and Cook

With many thanks to Konditor and Cook for inviting me along to the class and Cake School.