This is a diary of what I cook and what I eat.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Our love for the Cupcake

If you type 'cupcake' into any major search engine, what would you anticipate back? Its quite shocking to find that you would retrieve 9,390,000 answers in just under 0.23 seconds. Cupcakes have come a long way since they were an accepted dessert at a kids party. Their nostalgic edge has now been given a sophisticated front with piping tricks a plenty and just when you thought that was fancy enough: a touch of gold leaf.

We as a nation are pretty much obsessed with cupcakes and you can read 10,000 plus blogs declaring this. We can buy them almost anywhere and they feature in most major supermarkets in some form. Waitrose's sophisticated deli counter serves a variety of cupcakes and weddings are adorned with cupcakes as an alternative to the more traditional fruit cake offering. So what has brought us to the point where a simple mixture of eggs, sugar, flour and butter creates such a buzz and a stir?

The cupcake has long been the decorated and celebrated cake of the US and there are plenty of cupcake shops, cafes and bakeries selling theirs around the various cities. The one I'm sure many women will know of is the one featured in a 'Sex and the City’ episode, the 'Magnolia bakery' at 401 Bleecker street in the West Village where the ultra fabulous Carrie devours a vanilla iced cupcake decorated with tiny flowers.

Yet you do not have to travel to New York to get a taste of the best as even in my local area near Mossley Hill, Liverpool there are plenty of places offering these pretty little cakes including 'kupcake kingdom'.

Popularity however, will always bring with it something unwanted in my opinion, and in this case it’s the price. A cupcake can reach the heights of the £4.00 mark is some bakeries in London. Which is why I have created my own at home and while I assure you I definitely am under no illusion: these cakes will look homemade. I reckon that might be just what the cupcake needs to give it a good old British makeover.

Makes 8 large Cupcakes

For the cakes:

125g caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, very soft
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:

75g unsalted butter, very soft
250g icing sugar
75g sweetened condensed milk
75ml double cream

1. In the bowl of an upright electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla for three minutes on the highest speed until light and fluffy.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder two or three times, then add to the butter mix and beat for 30 seconds.

3. Spoon into eight muffin cups placed in the pockets of a muffin tray, and set aside to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and firm. Leave to cool.

 5. For the frosting, get the butter as soft as possible without melting, then put in a bowl with the other ingredients. Whisk until smooth and fluffy, then top each cupcake with a large dollop and smooth with the back of the spoon. I topped mine with some little marshmallows but you can literally let your imagination go.  Using piping bags is difficult with the frosting but if you're very confident with it you should be fine.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Perfecting the Bolognaise

If you were to ask for a Spaghetti Bolognaise in any trattoria, ristorante or osteria in Italy, then they would either: graciously oblige, or they could tell you the truth: it doesn’t exist.

In actual fact Spaghetti Bolognaise as we know it is an amalgamation of Ragu sauce and spaghetti pasta. The Italian Ragu sauce, which originated in the Italian city of Bologna, is cooked with red wine, onions, celery, tomato and ground meat. This mixture can be cooked for anything as long as seven hours to truly develop the rich flavours from the meat and allow the wine to enhance the sauce. This combined with the emphasis on sourcing locally grown ingredients creates the time-honoured sauce.

Undeniably the love affair with this dish is an ongoing one in the UK and almost every foodie has their own version. I have worked my recipe for Ragu and after several attempts I believe this is the perfect version. The balance of flavours works a treat for any midweek meal or indeed can still be an impressive meal to serve at a dinner party and is a bonus for people that like to get their prep done prior to their guests’ arrival.

This makes enough for 4

2 medium tomatoes pureed with a touch of water
1 jar of passatta
2 cloves garlic (crushed/ pureed in pestle and mortar)
1 large white onion finely chopped
4/5 slices of pancetta
100g pepperoni diced or if bought in slices cut into quarters
4 sausages (pork at least 78% pork, avoid strong herbs in these) de-skinned
400g lean beef mince
250ml red wine
Generous pinch of salt and pepper

1. Fry the onion in a tablespoon of Olive oil for two to three minutes or until the onions start to develop a ‘glassy’ appearance over a medium heat.

2. Rip the pancetta or slice into strips. (Don’t worry if this looks scruffy, it cooks down a considerable amount). Add the pepperoni and brown off for two-three minutes over a high heat.

3. Add the sausage meat and the mince meat and allow to brown. This process could take up to six minutes depending on the size of your pan bottom.

4. Add the fresh tomato puree, garlic, red wine and passatta together and then reduce the heat. You should now keep the heat on a very low setting and allow to simmer for at least 1 hour. Mine happily sits on my stove for up to two and a half hours. If you see the pan getting a little dry then add either some more red wine or a little water.

5. When you have reduced the mixture, taste and then add the salt and pepper to your liking.

I serve this with linguine pasta cooked with boiling water and plenty of salt, no oil! Its also good minus pasta with some garlic break and a salad. Either which way I challenge you to find a tastier plate of pure food indulgence.