Cardamom Layer Cake with Marmalade Mascarpone

Recently, I failed spectacularly at something. Not only did I fail, but I did so in front of one of my heroes. Want to hear about it? Of course you do. Schadenfreude is real. So get comfy, keep reading, and consider this a gift.

A few weeks ago I saw that my favourite bakery in London was in need of a new baker. Despite never having worked in a professional kitchen or having attended a cooking school, I decided to say what the fuck and give it my best effort. I composed the most thoughtful and succinct email I could and sent it off, never expecting to get a response.

Imagine my excitement when I received a reply inviting me to an interview and instructing me to bring along two different baked goods to taste. I thumbed through all my cookbooks for inspiration. I reread my recipes here. After days of waffling, I decided on a lemon chess pie or what I like to call a Blue Horizon pie and something completely new.

I wanted to bring in a layer cake as this bakery specializes in them, and while I do the classics rather well, I wanted this one to have a touch of the exotic. Cardamom sponge with marmalade mascarpone is what I made. The sponge was Melissa Clark’s from her Cardamom Cream Cake recipe featured in The New York Times (with omission of the rosewater), but the syrup to soak the sponge and the marmalade mascarpone were all mine.

The morning of my interview, Storm Doris was blowing up a gale. And there was a tube strike. I left the flat at 7:15 which I thought left me ample time to get to the bakery by 9 a.m. Keep in mind that my arms were full of an enormous cake box and a pie. Both of which I managed to carry north of the river and through three train stations without a hitch.

When I exited the last train station, I figured I’d get a cab the rest of the way. Nope. There wasn’t a single one. So I thought I’d do what any person living in a city in 2017 would do. I ordered a pickup from Uber. Due to the weather and the strike, traffic was terrible. The car took forever. My heart felt relieved when I got a notification saying it was arriving. Then, I got a notification saying it was cancelled.

The driver cancelled! I didn’t even know that was allowed. And I’d been standing in the rain. Holding a cake box and a pie. I didn’t know what to do so I just headed in the general direction I needed to go. That’s when I saw a cab. Who drove right past me.

I checked the time. It was 9 o’clock. I called the bakery to say I was so sorry but I’d be at least another 20 minutes. I kept walking. Finally a good Samaritan asked if I needed help. I explained everything to her and she said she was taking a bus to that area and I should follow her.

As I boarded the bus, a manchild with an enormous backpack pushed past me and I dropped my cake, I dropped my pie, and I almost started to cry. After picking them up, I reached into my pocket for my ATM card which is how I swipe in and out of public transportation these days. It wasn’t there.

I begged the driver to let me off. I took a minute and screamed like a madwoman in the street then I started to retrace my steps. Mercifully I found my card on the pavement three blocks back in the same spot where I had pulled out my mobile. As I stood there in my soggy coat, with my frizzy hair, and my busted baked goods, I thought about calling it a day and going home.

For whatever fool-headed reason, I decided to keep going. Call it my Elizabeth Warren moment because. . .

Nevertheless, she persisted.

When I made it to the bakery and they asked who I was I said I was the hot mess who was embarrassingly late to meet with the owner. Believe it or not, she ate my broken cake and my pie. She even had her staff sample them too and I got called in for a trial day. I didn’t get the job and if I’m honest, I never expected I would. Actually, I never expected an interview. But I am very proud of this particular failure. Without it, I wouldn’t have this story to share nor this recipe. I hope you enjoy them both.

Broken cake is the best cake.

Sponge ingredients:

170 g softened butter

330 g 00 flour

4 large egg whites

240 ml whole milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

300 g caster or granulated sugar

20 grams baking powder

the contents of 12 cardamom pods ground to a powder with a mortar & pestle

1/4 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C/Gas 4.

Grease, flour, and line two 9″ cake tins.

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the egg whites, milk, and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt with an electric mixer on a low speed. Only about 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and 1/3 of the milk-egg mixture. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium and beat until everything is smooth.

Add the remaining milk-egg mixture in three batches.

Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the tins on a rack for 20 minutes before unmolding them.

While the cakes finish cooling, make the syrup.

 

Syrup ingredients:

The juice of 2 oranges

the contents of 4 cardamom pods

3 tbsp caster or granulated sugar

1 tsp water

 

Method: 

Bring all ingredients to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Let the syrup cool completely before using it.

 

Marmalade mascarpone frosting ingredients:

500 g mascarpone

85 g cream cheese

85 g marmalade (I use my own homemade which is not as sweet as most commercial brands. Take this into account when making your frosting. If your marmalade is sweet, you will not need as much sugar.)

the zest of 1 orange

2 tbsp icing/powdered sugar

 

Method: 

Use an electric mixer to combine the ingredients together until creamy. Do not overmix. Taste it. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar but only a small spoonful at a time. If you want it a little sharper, add more zest and marmalade.

 

To assemble the cake:

While your cake layers are still on the rack, brush them with some syrup. Be sure to get their sides as well as their tops. Beware you don’t saturate the cakes. You only want to add some moisture, not make them soggy. Leave them for a minute.

Select a cake plate or a stand that you want to use.

Put wide strips of wax paper around the plate.

Place your first cake layer on top of the paper. This will make cleaning up much easier.

Spread some of the marmalade mascarpone onto this layer. I like it about half an inch thick.

Put the second cake layer on top. Repeat with the marmalade mascarpone.

I coiled a piece of orange shred from my marmalade and placed it in the center of my cake. You don’t have to, but I think it looks nice.

Remove the strips of paper and you’re ready.

 

 

 

Sausage Rolls

There are two things that almost always make me feel better–Neil Young and sausage rolls. Before I moved to the U.K., I rarely ate pork. I grew up in Los Angeles where turkey bacon and chicken sausage were the norm. It’s not that I never ate pork, I just rarely did. For me, it was something to be enjoyed but once a year, usually covered in a spicy vinegary Carolina barbecue sauce on the fourth of July.

My first year in London, I went pork crazy. A fact I attribute to our flat’s proximity to The Ginger Pig. I wanted bacon every weekend and pork chops most nights. Fish? Sure. Just cook it with some chorizo. Then I discovered sausage rolls. Which can be horrible, but when done right are divine.

For a long time I stayed away as my only reference was the pre-packaged kind I saw in the refrigerator aisles of supermarkets. The pastry looked sad. The meat inside seemed a better fit for house pet consumption than human.

Eventually, it was a sausage roll from a local cafe that changed my mind.

Sausage rolls are amazing because they are made with humble ingredients but yield a taste that is all luxury. They are the ultimate bar snack or perfect picnic food. Or in our house, my daughter’s favourite for weekend tea.

Below is my recipe. It doesn’t call for homemade puff pastry because at 35, I cannot be bothered. Father Time is robbing me blind and I have got to get on with other things. But if you have it on hand or like to make it, please do.

Ingredients:

1 sheet of puff pastry

700 grams of sausage (I use my favourite sausages instead of plain minced pork because I like the way they’re seasoned)

6 rashers of pancetta or bacon

1 small tart apple (I use a cox)

1 small bulb of fennel and its fronds, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Tio Pepe sherry or dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

1 piece of toast put through a food processor and turned into breadcrumbs

2 eggs

salt/pepper

fennel pollen (optional)

nigella/sesame seeds

 

Method: 

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4/350°F/177°C.

Fry the pancetta in a skillet. When it’s done, remove the rashers but keep the grease. Roughly chop the pancetta and place it in a large bowl.

Cook the onion and fennel in the bacon dripping. Add the sherry and cook a minute more with the thyme.

Put the onions, fennel, thyme, and fennel fronds in the bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread crumbs. Squeeze the meat out of the sausage casings and add this as well, along with 1 egg, the apple, some seasoning, and a pinch of fennel pollen if you have it. Mix well with your hands.

filling

Unroll the puff pastry. Fill the center of it with the sausage mixture. Roll it up.

Lightly beat the 2nd egg and brush it on top of the pastry. Don’t use all of it. Just enough to lightly coat it. Sprinkle with seeds and cut into pieces. Usually 8 -10.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown.

While you can eat these hot, I think they taste better at room temperature and dipped in brown sauce or your favourite relish.

sausage-rolls-2 20170204_152846 img_20170204_150526_225

sausage-rolls

Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup with Cream

I once knew a Sicilian woman who used to say “garlic should kiss you on the lips, not slap you in the face.” I quite agree. Garlic is one of my favorite alliums but it is entirely possible to have too much of a good thing. This is why I like to roast it.

Roasting garlic gives it a sweetness. You can use a whole bulb and it won’t overwhelm you.

Below is my recipe for roasted garlic tomato soup with cream. You can omit the cream if you like but as I live in Northern Europe and it’s winter, I’ll be keeping it in probably until summer–all three days of it. One of the reasons I love this recipe, other than the taste, is that it’s extremely easy to make. The ingredients are few and most of them are kitchen staples you’ll have on hand.

Roasted garlic tomato soup with cream

Roasted garlic tomato soup with cream

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic

olive oil

2 x 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes

1/2 c to 3/4 c chicken stock

1/4 c dry sherry

salt/pepper/red pepper flakes

2 tbsp to 1/3 c. double cream

basil

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6/

Trim the top off the garlic bulb. Drizzle it with olive oil. Wrap it in tin foil and place it on a baking tray. Roast it for about 45 minutes or until the cloves are soft.

While the garlic is roasting, heat some olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes then the tomatoes. When they start to thicken, stir in the sherry. After five minutes, add the chicken stock. Simmer for half an hour.

Once the garlic cloves are cool enough to handle, squeeze them into the soup. Season to taste and add the cream a spoonful at a time.

Use a hand blender to blend until smooth. Top with basil chiffonade and serve.

 

Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Ooh Baby I Like It Raw. . . A Chopped Winter Salad Recipe

 

So this isn’t exactly my mother-in-law’s winter salad recipe and not just because I can’t make it without singing a bit of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Mine is a little flashier. The flavours are brighter. The textures more varied. Nothing is grated. It also includes oven roasted nuts and goats cheese.

Each bite offers a lot of crunch and color as well as a good dose of sweet, sour, and savory. It’s a salad that’s as balanced as it is beautiful.

Ingredients:

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1/3 small red cabbage, chopped

1 tart apple, chopped (I prefer Cox. Say it again and laugh. It’s alright.)

1 bulb of fennel, chopped (fronds too)

the arils from half a pomegranate

1/2 cup pecans

1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 tablespoons goats cheese (I like Moody’s Rosary Ash from Waitrose)

1 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

meyer lemon vinaigrette = 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard emulsified with 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil + 1 teaspoon honey + 1 tablespoon meyer lemon juice

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas 6/4000°F/200°C.

While you wait for it to warm, chop your vegetables and fruit. Squeeze some lemon on the chopped apple to prevent it from discoloring. Set the fruit and vegetables aside in a large bowl. Add the pomegranate, cheese, and poppy seeds.

When the oven is ready, place the pecans and pumpkin seeds on a baking tray. Pour the maple syrup on them and toss lightly to coat evenly. Salt and pepper them. Toast them for about five minutes.

Make the vinaigrette while the nuts roast. When the nuts are ready, remove them from the oven and add them to the other ingredients. Toss and serve.

 

Winter salad

Winter salad

 

 

 

Frank Day (a chicken parmigiana recipe)

When I was in college my friends and I used to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s birthday, the 12th of December, with a feast we called Frank Day.  Frank Day was the perfect excuse to listen to lots of Ol’ Blue Eyes whilst wearing pin stripes and carnations and eating copious amounts of Italian-American classics like ragu bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken parmigiana.  This year, I’ve decided to bring it back. Below is my recipe for chicken parm and I hope you like it.  I love it.

 

Ingredients for the sauce:

800 g finely chopped tomatoes

1 heaped tbsp tomato paste

half an anchovy

2 cloves of garlic

a pinch of red pepper flakes

bay leaf

1/4 c dry white wine

salt/pepper

caster sugar

olive oil

 

Method for the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan.  Put the garlic cloves and anchovy through a garlic press and briefly saute for no more than a minute.  Add the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Stir in the finely chopped tomatoes and wine.  Bring to a simmer.  Allow this to gently bubble for at least an hour.  Season to taste.  If it’s a bit bitter or sharp to you, add a pinch of sugar.

 

Ingredients for the chicken parmigiana:

the tomato sauce from above

4 chicken breasts

bread crumbs from 3 pieces of toast

1 egg, beaten

1 c all purpose flour

2 tbsp grated parmesan

2 large balls of buffalo mozzarella, broken into pieces

1/2 tsp dried oregano

fresh basil and flat leaf parsley

olive oil

salt/pepper

 

Method: 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.

Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Use a rolling pin to pound them until they are thin.

Combine the bread crumbs on a plate with the parmesan and oregano.  Season with salt and pepper.

On another plate, have the beaten egg.

On a third plate, the flour.

Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Take the chicken breasts and dip both sides in the flour.  Then dip it in the egg.  Then coat both sides with the bread crumb mixture.  Fry the chicken over medium-high heat until crispy and golden on both sides.

Pour the tomato sauce in a large baking dish.  Place the chicken on top of it.  Scatter the mozzarella on top of the pieces and add a bit more grated parmesan.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and brown in places.  Serve with basil and parsley, a green salad, and your favourite pasta.

img_20161212_190245

img_20161212_192726

 

 

 

Peppermint Bark

“Gargamel to Jokey.  Come in, Jokey.”

“Jokey Smurf here.  Go ahead, Gargamel.”

“There is Charlie all over the place.  I repeat: There is Charlie all over the place.”

“What do you want me to do?  Head north on Rossmore?”

“Yes so we can pick you up before Muirfield.  Can you copy?”

“Ten-four.”

“Hurry!  Over and out.”

This is how my parents picked me up from school one year the last Friday before winter break.  It was 1997.  Ally McBeal was all the rage.  Everyone smelled of CK One or Thierry Mugler’s Angel and car phones were the size of small laptops.  When I rang my parents from school it was via the pay phone in the hall for which we had a Sprint pin so I never required quarters.  The conversation above was thanks to the Motorola walkie talkies we had.

My family always went away someplace snowy for Christmas.  We would leave the moment school let out.  This is why my parents were anxious to pick me up as soon as possible.  15 hours in the car is a long time.  Add a moody teenager and a Maltese who gets carsick and that’s a really long time, like the Magi’s trip down the Silk Road to Bethlehem long.

How did we pass the hours?  Eddie Floyd, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Dead President’s soundtrack, slurpees, Red Vines, Cool Ranch Doritos, Algerian pop music, I spy with my little eye, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, beef jerky from Chevron, turkey jerky from Chalet Gourmet, The Rolling Stones, Vegas!, Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, Dire Straits, Dwight Yoakam, The Judds Christmas album, Blur, Elvis, The Home Alone Soundtrack, Paul Simon’s Graceland, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on CD, sandwiches from Greenblatt’s, Evian, Gatorade, Fish Lake, pit stop, pee stop, stretch your legs, walk the dog, In-N-Out, Grand Junction, Aspen.

Aspen is beautiful no matter the time of year, but I love it most covered with snow.  It was a weird place though in that we would drive 900+ miles to escape Los Angeles only to be surrounded by all the same people we’d usually see back in Los Angeles.  All that had changed was the scenery.  Not that I’m complaining.

I loved going to Aspen.  I loved how on the first night, my dad would give my mother and I new flannel pajamas.  I loved that their ice skating rink had a women’s hockey team called the Mother Puckers and that not only did I start landing my first axel jumps there, but I also mastered a mean sit-spin with the help of a coach called Lisa.  I loved dog sledding and lunch at Krabloonik.  I loved that the Christmas tree we got in Aspen was different from the one we got in Los Angeles.  There we’d always get a sad little Charlie Brown tree, one that was small and lopsided and missing lots of pine needles.  The tree no other family would have chosen, that’s the one we chose.  We’d take it home and decorate it with strings of cranberries, popcorn balls, cookies, and millefiori beads my mother helped me make with a craft kit from Klutz.  And for the next two weeks, we’d tell it it was the most beautiful tree in the world.

There was a producer my father worked with who invited us to his house near Snowmass. He had reindeer and kept it decorated like Christmas year round.  The thing I remember most about this house was the endless supply of Williams Sonoma peppermint bark.

Williams Sonoma was the gold standard for kitchen shops in America when I was a child and their peppermint bark was the ultimate Christmas candy.  It still is.  Essentially, it’s a thin layer of minty chocolate topped with a thin layer of white chocolate and on top of that are crushed peppermints.  There are lots of copycat recipes.  Here is mine.

One taste and I feel like I’m young and back in Aspen at Christmastime again.  Waiting with my dog in the backseat of the car to pick up my dad from the base of Ajax.  Mama belting out “Beautiful star of Bethlehem” with Wynnona and Naomi in the driver’s seat.  Her pointer finger raised telling me to shush a minute until she’s finished singing.  Little do I know that years later Mama’s version of this song is all I’ll want hear once December rolls around.

Ingredients:

400 grams of good chocolate (I mix 250g Lindt milk with 150g Valrhona dark)

peppermint extract

5-10 Oreos, pulverized (I remove the white creamy filling first)

200 g white chocolate

5 mini candy canes, smashed

Method:

Line a jelly roll pan with foil then non-stick baking paper.

Sprinkle cookie crumbs all over the paper.

Oreo crumbs.

Oreo crumbs.

Heat the milk and dark chocolate in a double boiler until melted.

Stir 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract into the chocolate.  Taste it.  If you want the mint stronger, add a drop more.  Be careful not to add too much.

Pour the chocolate over the Oreo crumbs.  Smooth the surface with a spatula.

Allow the chocolate to cool for 30 minutes.

Now heat the white chocolate in the double boiler until it is smooth.

Pour the white chocolate on top of the dark chocolate.  Smooth the surface before sprinkling smashed candy canes over the top.

I know. It l

I know. It looks like Christmas elves are about to go on a bender.

Cool completely.  I allow mine to rest overnight.

Slice into pieces and store in a tin to serve at a later date or enjoy straight away.

Peppermint bark cross section.

Peppermint bark cross section.

I store mine in a tin then keep it in the refrigerator.

I store mine in a tin then keep it in the refrigerator.

Mincemeat

My daughter’s birthday is in early December.  This year, we are hosting an elf workshop party to celebrate her turning five.  The kids will decorate cookies, makes ornaments, play pin the nose on Rudolph, and inevitably have a strop or two whilst playing pass the parcel because let’s face it–there is always a child who is slightly unhappy about the sweetie or small toy they got.  There will also be limbo and musical statues and a playlist that is not exclusively from Disney movies.  Because I just couldn’t cope with that.  Thank God, she loves T. Rex and Tim Tim and Grieg.

Most importantly, there will be mince pies.

Mince pies were not part of my life until I moved to London.  For one thing, they don’t go with fish tacos and margaritas which is how my poolside Southern California Christmases were spent.  For another, I hate cooked raisins.  Or so I thought.   Then one holiday party a few years back, my eyes were opened wide and I was forced to admit “I like green eggs and ham!  I do!  I like them, Sam-I-Am!”

From Elizabeth David to Delia Smith to Mary Berry, there is one commonality where mince pies are concerned–the best require homemade mincemeat.  Some recipes call for suet. Others, use butter.  Some are simmered stove top.  Others are not.   For the sake of experimentation, I have done both.

I’ll let you know in a few weeks which I prefer, but I have a feeling my answer will be ALL OF THEM.  Until then I’ll be working on a gingerbread biscuit recipe whilst Helena continues to swan around in this amazing party dress my mother gave her.

elf-party-dress

 

 

Ingredients for mincemeat with suet and rum:

125 g raisins

100 g currants

75 g dried cherries

1 tart cooking apple (I use a Bramley), peeled, cored, and grated

40 g mixed peel

3 pieces of stem ginger, minced + 1 tsp of the ginger syrup

1/4 tsp freshly grated ginger

125 g dark brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

150 g shredded suet

the zest and juice of 1 lemon

the zest of 1 orange

75 ml rum (I used Pusser’s)

 

Method:  Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl then pack into sterilized jars.

20161118_101551

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients for mincemeat with butter and Armagnac:

200 g raisins

150 g currants

100 g pitted dates, finely chopped

100 g dried cranberries

100 g slivered almonds

2 tart cooking apples, peeled, cored, and grated

the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange

75 g pecans or chestnuts, finely chopped

50 g slivered almonds

2 pieces of stem ginger, minced

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

125 g unsalted butter

220 g light brown sugar

140 ml Armagnac or brandy of your choice

 

Method:  Combine all ingredients, except for the Armanac, in a large saucepan.  Simmer and stir for about 10 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before stirring in the Armaganc.  Seal in sterilized jars.

20161122_165608 20161122_171554