Sunday, 17 August 2014

Choc-a-holic birthday cake

I was at a birthday gathering today at the Leather Bottle in Earlsfield for which I provided an impromptu cake. When I say impromptu, I mean that I offered to bring cake only yesterday afternoon...

Now the birthday boy is a big chocolate fan, so it was obvious what sort of cake to make, the only question was how to make it a stand-out birthday cake? Embellishment with an assortment of chocolate-based biscuits and sweets seemed to be an appropriate answer

It was an 8" chocolate Victoria sponge with a dark chocolate ganache filling, covered in chocolate butter cream and encircled by white and milk chocolate Cadbury Fingers. The cake was then topped with four different types of chocolate confections:
  1. Minty Aero balls;
  2. Peanut M&Ms;
  3. Smarties; and my favourite
  4. "The Danger Quarter" - Revels!
I'm always a bit worried in situations like these*, when there seems to be a high level of expectation, that people will be disappointed. Thankfully I don't think they were.

*This definitely wasn't made any more stressful by running out of enough Fingers four fifths of the way through decorating the cake on a Sunday morning when the only local shop that sells white chocolate Fingers doesn't open until 11am and you are supposed to be at the event at noon...

Monday, 11 August 2014


Last month at the Canary Wharf summer Lunch Market, whilst I was buying an empanada, I spotted some rather intriguing sandwich biscuits. These turned out to be "alfajores": shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche and lightly dusted with dessicated coconut. Apparently these little treats are eaten all over South America not just Argentina (although that may be where the originated).

Clearly as I am not one to turn down a new sweet treat, I had to have one. And glad I was that I did. Melt in the mouth shortbread with a rich caramel filling. What's not to like? A very satisfying little treat. I an quite understand how they are devoured all over an entire continent. The real question is just why have I never had one before?

It also became quickly apparent, that these would be perfect for (what is quickly becoming) my regular fortnightly work cakes.  

Finding recipe was pretty easy. Finding a jar of dulce de leche was more taxing. Now, I know that I could have taken the condensed milk route, but I wanted something more "authentic". I eventually tracked down jar of Merchant Gormet Dulce de Leche from Asda(!).

These turned out rather well. Given how very short the biscuit dough was I had my doubts but the were ill-founded. The biscuits were crazily short and had that smooth melt-in-the-mouth quality that cornflour brings. The lime in the biscuits perfectly offset the richness of the caramel. The caramel itself provides a very long finish. I could have been slightly more generous with my caramel, but I was worried about running out before I made all the sandwiches.

Recipe for Alfajores (adapted from Cooking with Books)

200g plain flour
300g cornflour
1/2tsp baking powder
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 medium egg yolks
1tbsp vanilla extract
Fresh lime zest
Juice from 1 lime
A jar of Dulce de leche
Dessicated coconut, toasted

1. Sift the flour, cornstarch and baking powder together and set aside.
2. Cream the (very) soft butter and sugar together until pale.
3. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, lime juice and zest.
4. Add all the dry ingredients at once and mix until completely incorporated.
NB The dough is VERY dry (resulting in a very short cookie). However, add a dessert spoon of water at a time to ensure the dough fully comes together. DO NOT work the dough as you'll develop the gluten and make the biscuits tougher.
5. Form the dough into a fat disc, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30mins.
6. On a floured board, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time. Aim for about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into 2" circles.
7. Place the dough circles on a lined and greased baking tray. They can be placed close together as the biscuits will not spread.
8. Bake for at 160°C for10-12 minutes. (Don't let them brown.) Cool.
9. Meanwhile in a dry pad gently toast the coconut until lightly browned. Set aside and cool.
10. Once both biscuits and coconut are cool, it's time to assemble. Slather dulce de leche on the underside of a biscuit and sandwich using another biscuit.
11. In a wide bowl take 2dsp caramel and mix in 2tsp of water to lightly slacken the caramel. Roll the biscuits in the runny caramel sauce and then the shredded coconut.
12. Try not to eat them all at once...
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