A birthday cake (and some food)

I still remember the first time I baked a birthday cake – it was about 4 years ago in my tiny little kitchen, where I impulsively decided to bake a simple chocolate cake for my flatmate. Being completely clueless about cake decorating, I just used halved strawberries along the sides of the cake, and was happy when it looked reasonably presentable. Fast forward to 4 years later, when I start planning what cake to make at least a week in advance, and inevitably ending up with too many ideas.

I went through the very same process during R’s birthday, and didn’t actually manage to decide which cake I would make until I was shopping for the ingredients. Shocking, I know. Anyway, I finally decided on Tartelette’s chocolate, mango and coconut cream cake. The vibrant colours just looked so beautiful, and I knew R would like the tropical theme of the cake.

(Edit: Just a note to say that all this took place more than a month ago, I just didn’t get around to posting till now. :P)

As you can see, I didn’t do terribly well with the cake as I am completely incompetent when it comes to splitting cakes into half. I have much to learn! 😛 Alternatively, I may just bake each layer in a seperate tray instead of trying to split an already thin cake into half… Despite the rather “uneven” look, the cake was delicious. The sponge layers were the best sponge cakes I’ve ever baked, and I think I’ll be using Helen’s recipe from now on. I did find that the mango mousse was not “mango-ey” enough for me, but this may have been because I used canned mangoes instead of fresh.

I topped the cake with some raspberries, lemon swirls, and dried mango slices (only thought of the mango once I sliced it up, which is why it’s not in the photo above).

And of course, it wasn’t just about the cake – there had to be some food as well…

A very simple proscuitto wrapped tomato/buffalo mozzarella salad, topped with fresh basil leaves and a dash of olive oil. This was inspired by a recipe in Donna Hay magazine (as always!), and was wonderfully delicious. I chose this primarily because it was very simple, and because I knew I would be spending a long time on the cake. Definitely something I will make again in the future.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with a mushroom sauce, served with cheesy semolina. This was also a Donna Hay recipe. I was originally slightly disappointed as my sauce was not as dark as it appeared to be in the photos that accompanied this recipe – but as it still tasted amazingly good, I just had to be content with less attractive photos.

In the end, we were so stuffed from all the food that we couldn’t even eat the cake. That’s saying something as I always have room for dessert. R just blew out the candles, and we had to wait till the next day to eat the cake.

The recipe of the chocolate mango and coconut cream cake can be found here.

Beer bacon wrapped beef fillet with mushroom sauce
Adapted from a recipe in Donna Hay magazine, issue 40

  • 2 rashers bacon
  • 3/4 cup dark ale
  • 2 x 200g beef fillet steaks
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 150g chestnut/white mushrooms
  • 150g oyster mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 2 slices of cheese (I used raclette)

1. Place the bacon rashers in a bowl, and pour the ale over it. Leave to marinade for at least 1 hour.
2. Remove bacon rashers from the bowl, and reserve the ale. Wrap a bacon rasher around each beef fillet steak.
3. Heat oven to 180°C. In the meantime, brush the steaks with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Cook the steaks in a hot ban for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until they brown. Place the browned steaks in a baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes (I like my beef to be medium-rare). Set aside and keep warm.
5. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the mushrooms until they are browned (should take 1-2 minutes). Add the beef stock and reserved ale, and cook for 2 minutes. If you want to make the sauce thicker, either add some cornflour to the mixture, or cook until it reduces.
6. Place the steaks on a plate, top with the raclette cheese, and spoon over the mushroom sauce.

Note: I also served this with some cheesy semolina. This was simply semolina cooked with milk and some soft cheese.

Upper Street @ Angel, Islington

First of all, I must sincerely apologise for the shocking lack of posts in the last two weeks. Planning R’s birthday present, meal and cake definitely took my (very) fickle mind a long time, but I was quite happy with how it all turned out. Will post about it sometime in the near future – I have a shocking backlog of posts like you would not believe. Eeep! This is precisely why I respect bloggers like Lorraine, she’s amazing and manages to find time to blog everyday – no easy feat, let me tell you.

But yes, let me stop rambling and introduce you to the yumminess of Upper Street. Now, I have to admit that I had never, ever eaten anywhere in Angel before this year. Shocking really, considering it’s actually not too far from where I’ve lived for.. well. Only five years. 😛 A friend who lived in the Highbury & Islington area was completely appalled by this, and thanks to her, I discovered some really interesting restaurants/cafes.

Fig & Olive is a pretty restaurant located halfway along Upper Street, which serves what they describe as “Modern European” cuisine. I’m a complete sucker for good decor, and Fig & Olive ticks all my boxes. Just look at those cool lamps!

[Please be forewarned that I could be making up the names of the following dishes as this meal took place quite a while ago.]

First up is the crabcake served on a bed of creamed spinach and mayo. I know crabcakes seem a tad boring, but this one was seriously good. The breadcrumbed exterior is beautifully crisp, and you are greeted with gooey crab goodness when you cut through it. The spinach (or what I remember to be spinach – please correct me if I’m mistaken) was a great pairing, as it had just the right amount of salt to complement the sweetness of crab meat.

The vodka flame grilled calamari salad is seriously good, and is one of my favourite ways to eat calamari. The salad itself is nothing special, but it’s worth a try for the calamari alone. There’s just the right amount of burnt-ness in the calamari, and although the you get a mild hint of the vodka, it’s by no means overwhelming.

The duck served with a cherry sauce and sauteed potatoes was interesting, but if I remember correctly – it was a little on the salty side. R felt that there were too many potatoes served on the side, and had to leave quite a bit behind.

The slow roasted pork leg with mash looked like a ridiculously huge dish, but in reality, there wasn’t too much meat on the bone (and I actually managed to clean my plate). Again, there may have been (possibly) too much mash, but I have never been one to say no to potatoes. Another thing to note that the sauce for this dish seemed remarkably similar to the sauce of the duck dish….

Fig & Olive does serve desserts, which are displayed beautifully by the entrance of the restaurant. However, we decided to not have dessert here as I had something else in mind…. cakes from Ottolenghi! 🙂 This restaurant is serves simple yet delicious food with a Mediterranean influence. Now, I have never actually eaten the food at Ottolenghi as I have always been too hungry to wait it out in the long queues for a table, but I’ve had the cakes and pastries (taken away and slowly devoured at home), and I must say that they are absolutely gorgeous.

The pastries at Ottolenghi are displayed in the most beautiful fashion, with platters of delicious looking creations sitting atop colourful stools of varying heights. I didn’t manage to get a photo of the displays, but trust me when I say you’ll find it hard to not swoon if you’re a dessert lover such as myself. But it’s not just the way they display the desserts which has me constantly raving about Ottolenghi, it’s the yummy desserts….

Raspberry mascarpone tart, topped with a berry jam/coulis. The crumbly pastry crust was just delightful, especially when paired with the sweet mascarpone filling.

Vanilla cupcake, topped with a vanilla bean frosting and some blueberries. The cupcake was light and fluffy, and I really enjoyed this. I also liked that the frosting was not overly ‘sickly’, which sometimes happens with some cupcake frostings.

Lemon semolina tart. I got this because I love polenta in cakes and muffins, and I figured that semolina would taste similar. I actually find that I prefer polenta to semolina when it comes to cakes as the texture of polenta is more evident (I hope that makes sense!). It doesn’t take anything away from this tart though, as it was very refreshing – a tad too much lemon sugar syrup over the top though.

Carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. This was lovely – just the right amount of spices to balance out the sweetness of the carrots. I think they also used cardamom in their spice mix, which I’m not a huge fan of, so that meant the cake lost some of it’s appeal. The cream cheese frosting was awesome though.(which cream cheese frosting isn’t?) 😛

Now this is where is gets tricky. I think this was a custard tart…. but I can’t say for sure. This is what happens when you buy too many desserts. I might have also semi-erased this from my mind as this was the pastry I liked the least. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t live up to my high expectations of Ottolenghi.

And whilst I’m on the subject of Ottolenghi, here are some photos of other sweet treats I’ve had here in the past: (I try something new everytime I go there, and they have such a wide selection that it’ll be a while before I revisit these)

Passionfruit custart tart, topped with a soft meringue frosting. Just look at this tart, it’s so beautiful that it was I knew I had to try it the moment I laid my eyes on it. How I wish I could pipe that well! The crumbly tart case is baked to perfection, and the passionfruit pips add texture to the soft meringue which is already delicious.

Lemon (I think) polenta cake, topped with a lovely simple sugar icing. This was the first time I had eaten polenta in a cake, and I fell in love almost instantly. I really enjoyed the textures in the cake, and I suspect there may have been some sort of ground nuts in it as well. This is a cake I would buy each time I visit Ottolenghi (unfortunately they didn’t have any the second time I dropped by, sniff).

Hazelnut meringue, with gooey caramel on the inside. I could not resist buying one of these giant meringues as they looked sooo inviting (I seriously think I have a problem). The meringue was beautifully crisp like how all meringues should be, with a great hazelnut aftertaste. The caramel slathered on the innards of the meringue was a pleasant surprise, but one I only enjoyed for a few mouthfuls as it got seriously too sweet (i.e. it hurt my teeth) after a while. Didn’t stop me from eating up the rest of the meringue though, I just left out the caramel-y bits.

So yes. These are two of my favourite places to eat in Islington, and I hope I’ve managed to convince you that they are worth a try if you happen to be in the area. 🙂 If anyone has tried the (non-sweet) food at Ottolenghi, I would be very interested to hear what you think about it.

Don’t you just love the look of the stacked meringues? So pretty.

Ottolenghi
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Fig & Olive
151 Upper Street
London N1 1RA
020 7354 2605

(Not so) red velvet cupcakes

Cupcakes have taken the world by storm, and a flavour that’s right on top of that list is the red velvet cupcake. I remember seeing it on many American food blogs, and being very intrigued by the bright colour. Now, I’m normally not a fan of food colourings, but for some reason red velvet cupcakes are on my list of exceptions. 😛

I made these cupcakes because I had some leftover chocolate frosting from a birthday cake I baked. I won’t write an individual post about the cake as I have no good photos of it (as I only finished decorating it an hour or so before leaving for dinner, and it had to sit in the fridge to set, and then I had to get dressed…. you get the picture), but I must mention the recipe as it was simple yet very good. I used this yellow cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and really liked it. Do remember to use cake flour though, you can add corn flour to plain flour to achieve this.

A quick (and bad) photo of the cake, right before wrapping it up in the foil (which was how I transported it to the restaurant).

Red velvet cupcakes are normally paired with a cream cheese frosting, but I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with flavours…. so I decided to try this to use up the leftover frosting as I’ve never made red velvet cupcakes/cakes before. I have to admit that my red velvet cupcakes looked more like brown velvet cupcakes, as I didn’t use much red food colouring (and what I did use I suspect was expired…), but it still tasted divine though! Just a little less attractive to look at. Just a note – the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook suggests using Dr Oetker’s “red” food colouring, and not “natural red” or “scarlett” as the latter two makes the cake come out brown.

Red velvet cupcakes
from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook

(I know the recipe seems ridiculously complicated as there are so many steps, but it’s actually much simpler than it looks)

  • 60 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150 g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10 g cocoa powder
  • 20 ml red food colouring (preferably Dr. Oetker Red Food Colouring)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120 ml buttermilk
  • 150 g plain flour
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 11⁄2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2. Put the butter and the sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed.

3. Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.

4. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste.

5. Add the food colouring mixture to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).

6. Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added.

7. Scrape down the side of the bowl again.

8. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture.

9. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.

10. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean.

11. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

12. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. I topped the chocolate frosting with chocolate shavings (more leftovers from the cake), and the peanut butter ones with crushed amaretti biscuits (as I didn’t have any peanuts to hand).

 

Chocolate frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Dessert Bible
Makes 5 cups of frosting (to frost and fill a two layer 8-9 inch cake) – I think you’d probably need 1/3 of this amount for these cupcakes

  • 15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Green & Black’s)
  • 3-4 teaspoons mixed berry jam (I use Bonne Maman)
  • 2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, and stir until chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and let chocolate cool. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each until the chocolate is melted.) – I prefer the double boiler method as I find it’s easier to accidentally burn your chocolate when using a microwave. Maybe it’s just me though.

2. Whisk the sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract until combined. (I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer.)

3. Add the cooled chocolate slowly, and mix on medium speed (or with a spatula) until mixture is uniform.

4. Let the frosting cool in the refrigerator until it is of a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

 

Peanut butter frosting

  • 1 cup peanut butter (either crunchy or creamy, depending on what you prefer)
  • 1 cup light cream cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Mix peanut butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whisk, until well combined. Alternatively, mix with a hand held mixer.

2. Add icing sugar to the mixture, and mix. Feel free to add in more icing sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting.

3. Lastly, add the lemon juice and whisk/mix the frosting for about 1 minute.

4. The frosting should then be ready to use, but if it does get too runny, place it in the fridge to let it thicken.

(Please note that you won’t be able to pipe the frosting if you use crunchy peanut butter due to the nut pieces which get stuck in the nozzle – which is what I learnt when I tried to pipe it!)