Saturday, 20 December 2014

Orange and Rhubarb Chocolate Canapés

Chocolate Canapes
Some time ago, I received a set of chocolate making kits from Chocolate at Home. I made the milk chocolate truffles almost immediately and was impressed, both with the kit and the resulting chocolates. I was saving the other kits up for Christmas. With the party season in full swing, I was pretty sure there would be an occasion to use the Dessert Canapé Kit and I wasn't wrong.

Sadly and rather frustratingly, both CT and I have been hit by the flu - a result of overcrowding on the trains I suspect and no easy escape from contagious fellow passengers. I can only assume that the old saying, "coughs and sneezes spread diseases" did for us. The result being a rather low key Christmas with no outings in site. Tomorrow our friends hold their annual Solstice dinner and I was saving the canapés for the occasion. Well, we can't go now, but I'm hoping the canapés can.

This kit was just perfect in my time of need. Cooking and baking is still beyond me at the moment and if truth be told, I don't fancy eating that much. I was able to make the canapés simply and easily, but still feel I had a hand in the creative process. Both the effort required and the washing up were minimal and I finished the task feeling a lot better than when I started. Contents:

  • 15 chocolate canapé cups
  • 100g dark chocolate mousse powder
  • 40g caramelised hazelnuts
  • 50g candied orange peel
  • piping bag
  • instructions


Unlike the first kit, when I followed the exact instructions, I thought I'd add my own twist on this one; I created an orange and rhubarb flavoured chocolate mousse, with a bit of a kick to it. I added some organic orange zest and a little of my rhubarb liqueur.

This is how I made:

Orange and Rhubarb Chocolate Canapés

  • Poured 125g milk into a bowl and added 1 tbsp rhubarb liqueur.
  • Added the mousse powder and whisked briefly.
  • Grated in the zest from half an organic orange and whisked again for a few minutes until the mousse was smooth and silky.
  • Spooned the mousse into the fifteen chocolate cups provided. A piping bag was provided for this, but as my mousse wasn't that firm due to the added liqueur, I didn't think this bit necessary.
  • Allowed the mousse to settle and firm up slightly, then removed the cups from their holder and placed on a serving platter.
  • Decorated the mousse with the candied orange peel and caramelised hazelnuts provided, then dusted with a little edible glitter (not provided).
Chocolate Canapes
The mousse tasted like a sophisticated version of Angel Delight. It was very chocolatey and the orange and alcohol fortified without overwhelming. The chocolate cups were all set at a slight angle, giving an elegant tilt to proceedings and making for a stylish end to any feast.

Things are a little tight, but you still have until midday on the 22nd December to order any of the kits and receive them in time for Christmas; canapés, truffles or chocolate lollipops. Any one of them would be a great introduction to the budding chocolatier. They cost between £6.95 and £14.95.

Thank you to Chocolate at Home for the kits. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Gesundheit Birmingham

Yo ho ho, all the fun of the festive fair. If you can't get to Germany for a Christmas market, let the German Christmas market come to you. Well that was my rationale for taking a trip up to Birmingham anyway. The German Christmas Market has become something of an annual attraction in Birminham's city centre at this time of year. I'd heard the hot chocolates were a must. It was time to sample one or two, do a spot of Christmas shopping and take the opportunity to visit friends in nearby Leamington Spa.

It's a bit of a long haul up to Birmingham, so I was pleased to find that the hotel I was staying in, was only a three minute walk from the station. In fact the Ibis Birmingham Centre New Street, is very conveniently located, making it ideal for the German Christmas Market as well as many of Birmingham's other attractions. I'm never quite sure what to expect in city centre hotels, but I was pleasantly surprised. The room was comfortably sized, clean and surprisingly quiet for a hotel in the city centre right next to China Town.

Once divested of my baggage, I took off to find something to eat. I was trying to find a vegetarian restaurant that I'd heard about. Many years ago, when I lived in Leamington Spa, I was quite familiar with the centre of Birmingham, but goodness how things have changed. The place has undergone a transformation and whilst it now looks much smarter, I found it completely disorientating. I quickly gave up on the veggie restaurant and passing a Wagamama, I decided I'd give that a try instead - another new experience for me. The place was absolutely heaving and it was only 5:30 pm. I found myself sitting opposite a local woman who was dining there on her way home from work. We struck up a conversation and ended up not only enjoying our respective meals but the company too. When we'd finished, she very kindly, went out of her way, to take me to the Christmas Market, which I had been unable to find, but was actually only around the corner.

What a splendid way to experience the market: the streets bustling with shoppers and glühwein enthusiasts, the Christmas lights aglow and the jolly strains of Christmas music. It truly felt most festive. I hadn't expected the market stalls to look just like a German woodcutter's cottage; this just added to the general charm. All sorts of wares and comestibles were on display including decorations hanging from the stalls, crafts, handmade wooden toys and cakes. But hot chocolate? I couldn't find a single cup.

Unable to locate my hot chocolate and not having had any pudding, I decided to indulge in a box of large flavoured marshmallows covered in chocolate. Judging by the lengthy queue I had to stand in, these were a much sought after delicacy. A box of 12 cost £6, which, quite frankly, I thought was a bit of a bargain. I decided to reward CT with his very own box.

I passed a comfortable night in the hotel. The mattress was just how I like them, firm yet giving at the same time. My back felt nicely rested and I ambled down to breakfast. I have to admit I wasn't really looking forward to this bit. I love a good cooked breakfast, but my experience at budget hotels has been disappointing - watery eggs, flavourless tomatoes and not much to tempt us vegetarians. How wrong I was. There was a choice of hot food and everything I had was well cooked and flavoursome. There was also plenty of cereal, yogurt, fruit, pastries, toast, cheese and meats of various kinds. I would have liked to have had some wholemeal bread for toasting, but eating white bread was something of a novelty.

I had until midday to check out, which meant I could look around the market again, unhampered by baggage. In the morning light and without the evening crowds, I was finally able to find that elusive hot chocolate; the Bailey's and pile of whipped cream at 10 am was perhaps a little decadent, but so worthwhile. I did think the price a little steep: £4.30 + a £3 refundable deposit for quite a diminutive mug. But hey, it was all part of the experience.

As the morning drew on and activity around the market increased, various living statues, buskers and other street entertainment started to appear. It was a very different place from the evening before, but no less enjoyable. Chocolate was what I was there for, so I bought a box of individually chosen chocolates for the friends I was going to be staying with that night. They looked and sounded intriguing, but I have yet to hear any feedback on whether they were any good. Other markets spilled out from the main German market in all directions adding to the bustling festive atmosphere.

Before catching my train to Leamington Spa later in the afternoon, I had a wander around the city centre. I wanted to see the famous new library and I'd also been urged to visit the museum by my previous night's dining companion. I was impressed by both. The library was thronging with people and I got vertigo on the freestanding escalators which headed forever upwards much like Jacob's Ladder. At the museum I saw the Staffordshire Hoard - the largest hoard of Anglos-Saxon gold ever found.

My overwhelming impression of Birmingham was just how friendly and helpful everyone was. From the staff at the hotel, to my dining companion to the ticket clark who went out of his way to make sure I got the very best deal and train to Leamington Spa. So if you can't make it to Munich this year, Britain's second city won't disappoint.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Panettone Meets Panasonic - My First Bread Maker

An old hand at bread-making I may be, but I was a little daunted when I was recently sent an automatic Panasonic bread maker to try out. I have never used a machine to make bread before, other than an oven and I was a little concerned I would fall at the first hurdle. In truth I've always been a bit wary of bread makers as I'd heard they weren't great for the flours I like to bake with - spelt and rye.

The rather sleek machine that landed on my doorstep really didn't look scary at all. I soon realised I needn't have worried about my flours, this model comes with a speciality mode for the more unusual flours as well as a special kneading hook for rye bread - hooray. Likewise it has a gluten free program which makes it accessible to pretty much everyone. In fact it seems that virtually anything can be made in this machine: big loaves, small loaves some as big as your head, even cakes and jam, it's what the showman said.

Specifications

  • model SD-ZB2502
  • raisin nut dispenser - additional ingredients can be placed here for automatic addition later in the baking cycle. It does not work for all programs.
  • two kneading paddles, one for rye and one for all other breads.
  • comes with measuring cup and spoon
  • crust colour can be chosen: dark, medium or light.
  • varying size loaves:  medium, large or extra large.
  • timer delay to enable overnight baking or something warm and delicious awaiting you when you get home from work.

Photo courtesy of Panasonic
What to try first was the big dilemma. It would probably have been sensible to have made a basic loaf, but hey, it's Christmas. Perusing the rather extensive list of recipes, I saw one for panettone - decision made. I've never made panettone before, or brioche, which was really the essence of the recipe. I decided to substitute the currants with chocolate - well why wouldn't I? I also used my own candied orange peel and thought I'd add a little orange flower water too. But I was careful not to mess with the quantities; I didn't want my first machine bake to be a dismal failure.

This is how I made

Chocolate Panettone

  • Weighed 400g strong white flour and poured into the bread pan.
  • Added 4½ tbsp vanilla sugar (golden caster), 1 tsp Cornish sea salt and 50g cubed unsalted butter.
  • Poured in two medium sized beaten eggs and 200 ml milk.
  • Added 1 tsp orange flower water, 50g chopped candied orange peel and 50g of dark chocolate chips.
  • Placed 50g raisins in the raisin/nut dispenser and 1½ tsp instant yeast in the yeast dispenser.
  • Closed the lid, chose the programme for brioche and waited about an hour for the machine to beep at me alerting me to the fact it was time to add a second lot of cubed unsalted butter - 70g this time.
  • Set it on its way once again and waited a further 3 hours for the bread maker to do its thing.
  • Eight beeps signalled the end of the process. I removed the bread pan and turned the panettone out onto a wire rack to cool - no problems at all. I was pleased that I could hardly see the hole where the paddle attachment was, a feature not shared by my mother's bread maker.

As it turned out, there were no hurdles to fall at, well maybe just a little one. The instructions were clear and the bread maker was easy to use - phew. The slight hurdle I stumbled at was that the raisins did not come out of their dispenser - this was a little annoying. It seems that this feature only works with some programs; as I later read,  I was meant to add the raisins, along with the other additions, when I added the second lot of butter - oh well! The loaf tasted absolutely delicious anyway. CT, who is a big fan of brioche, was delighted. It was light, buttery and fragrant. I think everyone may be getting chocolate panettone for Christmas this year.

The bread basket and dough paddle were easy to clean and really there was very little fuss involved at all. I am genuinely pleased with this bread maker. If only it would do the washing up as well.

I was sent a Panasonic bread maker to try out. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

I am sending this Xmas Chocolate Panettone off to AlphaBakes with Caroline Makes and Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.

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