Sunday, 30 November 2014

Mini Gateaux Paris-Brest

These little pastries are amongst the most delicious things I have ever made or eaten! That may sound a little over- the- top and quite a claim to make, but I am not kidding you. They are absolutely heavenly.

A Gateau Paris-Brest is a little French pastry made up of a ring-shaped choux pastry filled with praline flavoured crème patissière/mousseline. I know this sounds quite simple but words cannot properly describe how good it tastes. Traditionally, it would be made as one large cake/dessert which is then apportioned out in single servings.

The dessert was first created in the early 20th century to commemorate the Paris to Brest bicycle race which was first held in 1891. It remains one of the most popular French pastries to this day and it’s not hard to see why; it’s rich tasting but with a wonderfully light texture and the crisp choux pastry is perfect against the creamy sweet mousseline filling.

Many people find choux pastry a little daunting to make, but trust me…  once you get the hang of it you will be making all manner of delicious pastries and desserts such as éclairs, profiteroles and gougères  (little savoury cheese puffs). I have been making choux pastry for years, so I would feel quite confident and really I think that with most cooking and baking, confidence is the key to success. It is only fairly recently that I have started using bread/strong flour when making choux pastry because I do think it gives a slightly crisper finish, but you will still get good results using only plain flour.

Some recipes for Paris-Brest suggest filling the choux rings with coffee flavoured mousseline, which is also very tasty, but my favourite is definitely hazelnut mousseline. The mousseline is made up of a hazelnut crème patissière which is enriched with extra butter when cooled – this stuff is ADDICTIVE and could also be used to sandwich a layer cake together. I have been toying with the idea of making a chocolate and hazelnut bûche de Noël, using this mousseline, for Christmas and will of course post the recipe at a later date. This recipe makes more mousseline than you will need... so a wonderful excuse to experiment and try using it in other recipes as a filling etc. (N.B. if covered and refrigerated, the finished mousseline will keep for up to a week).

This recipe is based on one given by Edd Kimber - the first ever winner of the Great British Bake Off - in his book Patisserie Made Simple. For anyone who loves baking and in particular loves patisserie, this book is an absolute must and I have no hesitation in recommending it! Edd also has a great blog/website called the The Boy Who Bakes where he shares a lot of his recipes gives great baking hints and loads of step-by-step instructions, so do check it out if you get the chance.

The finished pastries can either be served as a delightful and delicious treat to be enjoyed with a good cup of tea or coffee, but they also work well served as a dessert – the choice is up to you. To be honest, I think they are absolutely delicious and would have no problem eating them for breakfast if they were put in front of me! I used hazelnut praline paste which I purchased from an online special catering supplies shop, but you can try making it yourself. Don't be afraid to have a go and I promise you that you will be rewarded with one of the yummiest pastries you will ever eat!


Hazelnut mousseline:
400ml milk
100ml cream
2tsp vanilla paste/extract
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
175g caster sugar
75g cornflour
250g butter, softened
75g hazelnut praline paste
Choux pastry:
120ml water
60g butter, cubed
50g strong white flour
25g plain flour
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
30g flaked almonds for sprinkling on the choux rings
To finish:
A little icing sugar for dusting


Hazelnut mousseline:
1. Pour the milk and cream into a medium sized saucepan and add the vanilla paste/extract.  Bring the mixture up to the boil, over a moderate heat. Separately, place the eggs, yolks, caster sugar and cornflour into a bowl and whisk together until smooth and everything is completely mixed together. Slowly pour in the boiling milk, whisking all the time.
2. Return the mixture to the saucepan (over a moderate heat again) and whisking all the time, allow to cook until the mixture thickens and becomes very stiff. This should take 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 125g butter, whisking it in so that it is fully incorporated.
3. Pour the mixture into a clean bowl and cover the surface directly with some cling-film to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least an hour.
Choux rings:
5. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment, onto which you have drawn 8 x 10cm circles, and set aside.
6. Place water and butter in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Allow the butter to melt and just come up to the boil. Remove from the heat and immediately add all the flour to the saucepan and using a wooden spoon beat well until well combined.
7. Place the saucepan over a low heat and allow to cook, beating constantly until the mixture begins to form a ball and come away from the sides of the saucepan. This will take approximately 60-90 seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
8. Add the eggs gradually to the flour mixture, beating vigorously so that it is well incorporated. (You may not need all the egg, so do add bit-by-bit). The mixture should fall from the spoon, but still be relatively stiff and still hold its shape.
9. Place the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle. Using the circles you previously drew on the baking parchment as a guide, pipe out rings of the choux pastry. Using a pastry brush lightly brush the choux rings with a little extra beaten egg and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
10. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes and then turn off the oven but do not remove the choux rings. Let cool in the oven for a further 30 minutes and then remove and allow to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
11. Remove the mousseline from the fridge. Using a hand held electric mixer beat the remaining 125g butter in a mixing bowl until softened. Gradually add the chilled mousseline mixture, making sure that it is fully combined. Add the praline paste and also mix this in well.
12. Place a quarter of the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle. Separately, slice the choux rings horizontally in half and then pipe some of the mousseline on the bottom half of each ring. Replace the top half of each ring on top of the mousseline and lightly dust with icing sugar.

Makes 8.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Chocolate Concorde Cake

People always seem to go weak at the knees for meringues… and who can blame them? Meringues and pavlovas are a beautifully light but sweet way to finish a meal and provided you follow a few basic rules they are incredibly easy to make. At their very simplest meringue is made using beaten egg whites and sugar, but once you understand how they are made you can add other flavours and ingredients to create the most fabulous confections. I have been making pavlovas to the same basic recipe for many years and it never fails to surprise me how much people seem to like them because, as I have said, they are so simple to make!
Macarons – those brightly coloured little bite-sized delights which look so frivolous and inviting are also essentially meringues (with added ground almonds or other nuts) and although a little tricky to make are absolutely delicious to eat! Once you have mastered them, you will be churning them out by the dozen at a fraction of the price you pay for them in bakeries and up-market delicatessens!
The golden rule when making meringue is to ensure that you use scrupulously clean utensils and that you don’t allow anything contaminate the egg white until you have whisked them until they stand in peaks. Any lingering grease, fat or moisture will hinder their ability to whisk up to the required volume or texture; you also have to be very careful that no egg yolk creeps into the egg whites when you are separating the eggs. If you follow this rule, success is more-or-less guaranteed!

Anyway, it is very easy to get stuck into a cooking or baking rut, and whilst this is understandable because it makes sense to revisit recipes that have worked and taste good, sometimes it is nice to extend your culinary horizons. In many ways, I forced myself to do this by entering this year’s MasterChef Ireland, where I was constantly challenged and put under extreme pressure to try out new ingredients, flavour combinations and techniques that, as an amateur, I wouldn’t necessarily have tried out! The following recipe is an example of one that before, I would have thought too complicated or fussy to make but it is actually very simple and has an intense chocolate flavour that will satisfy the cravings of any chocoholics out there.
Chocolate Concorde Cake is made up of chocolate flavoured meringue filled with a light, but rich chocolate mousse. I think it’s amazing! There are conflicting opinions on where the cake got its name; some people believe it was created to celebrate to supersonic passenger jet plane Concorde, but others including Pierre Hermé the renowned French pâtissier claim that it is, in fact, named after the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Either way, this is a stunning-looking and heavenly-tasting cake, which looks far more complicated than it actually is to make. Dusted with icing sugar, this meringue cake has a very festive feel to it and in my opinion would make a stunning Christmas dessert.


5 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
150g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
Chocolate mousse:
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g butter (preferably unsalted)
3 large egg whites
75g caster sugar


1. Preheat oven to 90C/Fan Oven 70C. Draw three 15cm circles onto three sheets of non-stick baking parchment and use to line three large baking trays. Set aside.
2. Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk together until they have almost reached the stiff peak stage. Gradually add the caster sugar, mixing well after each addition.
3. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together and fold into the meringue mixture with a large metal spoon, making sure that no pockets of the dry ingredients remain.
4. Spoon the meringue into a large disposable piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Using the circled you previously drew on the baking paper, pipe out three 15cm spirals of the meringue mixture, starting at the centre of the circle and working your way out.
5. Separately, using the remaining meringue mixture, pipe out 8- 10 x 15cms long thin strips of meringue. You should be able to fit 3 or 4 of these strips beside each spiral on each respective paper lined baking tray.
6. Place in the oven and bake for 60 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the meringue for a further 30 minutes after which time you can remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
7. Place the butter and sugar in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.
8. Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage and add the caster sugar, whisking until it is completely incorporated. Fold 2 tablespoons of the meringue into the melted chocolate and butter to ‘loosen’ it little and then fold in the remaining meringue. Make sure everything is well, but gently mixed together.
To finish:
9. Place one of the meringue spirals on your serving plate and spread with a thin layer (about 2cms thick) of the chocolate mousse. Place another meringue spiral carefully on top and also spread this with a layer of the mousse. Place the final meringue spiral on top.
10. Cover the sides and top of the assembled cake with the remaining mousse and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the mousse to set.
11. Remove the cake from the fridge and using a sharp knife, cut the meringue strips into 3-4cm pieces and embed them in the mousse in a random fashion, all around the tops and sides of the cake. Serve.
Serves 8-10.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ginger Crunch

When I was a child, my favourite biscuits were Gingernuts. I have never been a fan of dunking biscuits into tea – my beloved beverage of choice, as they invariably get all soggy and disintegrate into an unpleasant looking sludge at the bottom of the cup. The only biscuits that I occasionally dunk are Gingernuts as their soakage capacity seems far superior to that of any other biscuit or cookie! The love of a tea/ginger combination has stayed with me into adulthood and, to this day, I still have a soft-spot for anything ginger-flavoured to nibble on with my cup of tea and I am always eager to try new recipes that include ginger! I have been experimenting with recipes for a tea brack with added ginger and once I have perfected the recipe, I will, of course, post it on the blog.

The great thing about ginger is that in comes in a number of different forms, each of which can be used in baking. I often make a ginger cake which uses ground ginger (the root is dried and then ground to a powder), stem ginger (ginger preserved in syrup) and fresh ginger (which can be grated and is very fragrant). In the following recipe I use both ground ginger and ginger syrup and the result is an intensely ginger-flavoured biscuit.
These biscuits consist of a ginger flavoured shortbread, topped with ginger icing, which sets to a fudgy consistency which is absolutely addictive. A version of these biscuits is hugely popular in Australia and New Zealand, but to be honest, I had never come across it before and after a little tweaking was delighted with the results. The biscuits are sweet, but the fiery warmth of the ginger prevents them from becoming sickeningly so. What I really loved about them was the contrast between the crunchy shortbread base and the fudgy topping! Yummy!

This is a fairly straightforward recipe. I used Opies ginger syrup to flavour the icing, but if you can’t get this just substitute the same amount of golden syrup.


150g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
225g plain flour
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp baking powder
150g butter
60ml ginger syrup (or golden syrup if unavailable)
300g icing sugar
1tblsp ground ginger


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line a shallow 20x25cm (or similar sized) baking tin with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and ground ginger together and add to the butter mixture, mixing everything together with a wooden spoon until a dough just starts to form. Press the dough evenly into the prepared tin and level the surface with a back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes until a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (do not remove the shortbread from the tin). Once completely cooled, cover with the shortbread with the icing.
4. Place the butter and syrup in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Once the butter has melted add the icing sugar and ground ginger and stir with a whisk over the heat for a further 2 minutes until you have a smooth icing with no pockets of icing sugar remaining. Pour the icing over the cooled shortbread and set aside to cool and set. Once the icing has set, cut the shortbread into bars/squares.

Makes 20-24 squares.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Pork Fillet with Butternut Squash Purée, Brussels Sprouts, Chestnuts & Quince and another #AAFoodies event at the Maryborough Hotel & Spa

I recently had a wonderful evening and overnight stay in the Maryborough Hotel & Spa located in Douglas, County Cork. The Maryborough was awarded Hotel of the Year for 2014 in the AA Hospitality Awards which were held last October.

In addition to the annual Hospitality Awards, the AA through their team of Secret Inspectors assess and award those hotels judged to be providing the finest food in Ireland with a system of Rosettes, ranging on a scale of 1-5 Rosettes. Hotels who wish to take part can renew/sign-up to the scheme and, when they do so, are automatically assessed, with Rosettes being awarded to those that reach the required standards.

This scheme is a well-respected and popular way for the public, AA members and its guidebook readers to get information on the best places to eat in Ireland. Unlike other assessment systems, the AA focuses solely on the quality and excellence of the food served and not on the overall dining experience. Inspections happen throughout the year with any Rosettes that are bestowed being awarded in the period soon after the actual assessments have taken place.
Following on from their success in the Awards, the Maryborough teamed up with the AA to host an #AAFoodies event. I was lucky enough to be invited along and can tell you that I had the most fabulous time; meeting with other bloggers, food producers  and enthusiasts, chatting about the food and wine we were sampling and just… well… having a fun-filled evening! If you want to be in with a chance to attend future events (and believe me, if you love food, you WILL want to) all you have to do is sign up here to become an #AAFoodie.
On arrival, we were welcomed by the hotel’s owners Dan and Jo O’Sullivan, General Manager Justin McCarthy and Head Chef Brendan Brosnan who presented us with samples of the Hotel’s new menu ideas for the winter months. Our opinions were welcomed and we were encouraged to give feedback about the dishes we were eating. It was fascinating talking to Brendan about the food he had prepared and about where he got his inspiration from. We got to sample 12 dishes in total – 4 starters, 4 mains and 4 desserts and YES; I did manage to eat them all! It was hard not to as they were presented beautifully and looked so inviting. Brendan’s desire to be innovative is never at the expense of the quality of the ingredients he uses and his commitment to using locally sourced, Irish produce is commendable.

I found the whole evening very inspirational, and came away from it brimming full of new flavour combinations and recipe ideas that I wanted to try out. I honestly believe that whilst you can get inspiration from television cookery programmes, from articles in magazines and from recipes in cookery books, the very best way to get new ideas is by actually eating out, trying different foods and experiencing what some of the talented and hard-working chefs here in Ireland have to offer. I am an enthusiastic amateur cook and love all things to do with food, cooking and eating and I really admire and respect all those who work so hard in the food and hospitality industry in Ireland.
I would like to thank the owners and staff in the Maryborough Hotel & Spa for treating me to such a great evening and I can recommend it, without a hint of bias, as a great place to visit and dine in. The Maryborough’s recent success in the AA Hospitality Awards is very well deserved and I can’t wait to revisit… I may even bring my hubby and three children next time!
I would also like to thank the AA’s Vicky Sargeant and the Secret Inspector we met - whom I won’t name in the interests of preserving their anonymity - for inviting me along. I was completely captivated chatting to the Secret Inspector and hearing about how inspections are carried out and the things that they look for when carrying out their assessments. It sounds like hard work but great fun and as far as I’m concerned, THE dream job!
This was our menu:

  • Pan-Fried Scallop, Cumin Roasted Pork Belly, Cauliflower Purée
  • Seared Pigeon, Golden Beetroot, Orange Velouté
  • Salmon Mi-Cuit, Whiskey & Soya Lacquer, Herb Crème Fraîche 
  • Potato Espuma, Crispy Potato Skins & House Pancetta
  • Seared Venison Loin, Braised Haunch, Swede Purée, Cassis Jus
  • Pork Fillet, Apricot & Chestnut Stuffing, Butternut Squash, Sage Crisp
  • Roasted Monkfish, Parma Ham, Mussel Infusion
  • Chargrilled Vegetables, Cumin Yoghurt, Halloumi
  • Earl Grey Tea Crème Brulee, Cinnamon Crisps & Floral Tea
  • Mulled Wine & Pear Trifle
  • Gingerbread & Lemon Curd Cup, Hazelnut Meringue Cap
  • Chocolate Taster Plate
Whilst all the dishes were very tasty, I particularly enjoyed the Potato Espuma starter, the Pork Fillet main and - although quite sweet - the Pear Trifle dessert. The latter just screamed ‘Christmas’ at me!!!

In many ways the dish that surprised me the most was the Chargrilled Vegetables and Halloumi. Rather than searing the Halloumi, It was coated in a light tempura batter and briefly deep-fried. I had never eaten halloumi cooked this way and really enjoyed it. Although tempura batter is most often associated with Japanese cooking, here it was included in a dish which drew its flavours primarily from the Middle East… and, in its simplicity, it worked! I especially liked the cumin spiced yoghurt and can see a variation of this being included in my cooking in the not-too-distant future.
Anyway, the recipe that I give here was inspired by the food that I ate at the #AAFoodies event. All too often pork fillet (AKA pork tenderloin) can be very disappointing to eat as it tends to dry out quickly and become tough and tasteless. In the right hands, it is succulent and flavoursome. This is a very simple dish, where all the accompaniments can be prepared in advance and kept warm whilst you pan-fry the fillet. The brussels sprouts coupled with the chestnuts with their nutty sweetness, complement the pork wonderfully whilst the slight acidity of the quince cuts through the overall richness of the dish. I had forgotten how wonderful pork fillet could be as all you seem to see on menus these days are dishes such as pulled pork or slow-roasted pork belly made using cuts of meat that require long slow cooking.


Quince purée:
75g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
200ml water
2 quince, peeled, cores removed and quartered
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Butternut squash purée:
1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
100g butter
50ml water
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Brussels sprouts:
25g butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
150g brussels sprouts, peeled and finely shredded
50g cooked chestnuts, chopped
1tsp of finely chopped fresh sage
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Pork fillet:
25g butter
A splash of vegetable oil
1 pork fillet, cut into 4 even portions
50ml madeira
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


Quince purée:
1. Place the sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to simmering point over a moderate heat and wait until the sugar dissolves. Add the quartered quince pieces and allow to simmer, uncovered for approximately 20 minutes until the quince is tender.
2. Place the poached quince along with a little of the poaching liquid (about 25-50ml) in a liquidiser and blend to a smooth purée. Pour into a small saucepan and keep warm until ready to plate the finished dish. Taste and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Butternut squash purée:
3. Place the butternut squash, butter and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring up to simmering point over a moderate heat. Cover the saucepan and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender.
4. Place the contents of the saucepan (the squash and any liquid) into a liquidiser and blend to a smooth purée. Pour into a small saucepan, taste and season well. Keep warm until ready to plate up.
Brussels sprouts:
5. Melt the butter in a small frying pan over a moderate heat and add the chopped shallots. Allow to cook until the shallots have softened, but not coloured. Add the shredded brussels sprouts and chestnuts and season generously. Sauté until the brussels sprouts are just beginning to wilt a little. Add the chopped sage and set aside in a warm place until ready to plate up.
Pork fillet:
6. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
7. Heat the butter and oil in an oven-proof frying pan over a high heat and sear the pieces of pork on all sides until nicely brown (about 2 minutes each side). Add the madeira and cook over a high heat for 1 minute, basting the pork as the madeira reduces a little.
8. Place the frying pan containing the pork in the preheated oven and allow the meat to roast for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through. (Squeeze it with your fingers - it should still have a little give).
9. Remove from oven. Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
To serve:
10.Place some butternut squash purée on each plate and top with a generous spoonful of the sautéed brussels sprouts. Slice each portion of pork into 4 or 5 pieces and arrange on top of the brussels sprouts. Using a disposable piping bag, pipe little blobs of the quince purée onto each plate. (If liked, you can serve a few quickly blanched brussels sprouts leaves on each plate – just half the sprouts and using your fingers peel away individual leaves. Plunge into boiling water for 20-30 seconds and immediately drain before the leaves wilt. Season well and arrange on the plates).

Serves 4.