Summer lovin’? Sunday, Aug 19 2012 

Definitely NOT having a blast over here with all this heat. I’m currently suffering from that peculiarly British compunction whereby now that it’s actually sunny, I’m complaining that it’s too hot. I wouldn’t mind. Really, I wouldn’t. I love swimming and barbecues and ice-cream. BUT I have no garden, my tiny fridge freezer is full to bursting with boring stuff (leaving no room for ice cream) and it’s too hot to turn on the oven to bake anything. Boo hiss.

So how can we compulsive bakists satisfy our baking urges without actually going near the oven? Here are my top 5 summer no-bake desserts and treats:

1) TIRAMISU. Super-easy, can be adapted for those who are paranoid about raw eggs, always delicious, and has the added bonus of our good friend alcohol (and can be adapted for those avoiding the stuff).

2) SUMMER PUDDING. Only the British could have invented a dessert that can only be eaten on a very limited number of days in the year. Again it’s incredibly easy, always refreshing, and even gives you one of your five a day.

3) CHEESECAKE. I was seriously considering this as an option for this afternoon, only to realise we had no biscuits 😦  (Yeah, I know…somebody pinch me!) Endless in its variety, it can be as healthy or as decadent as you choose and is simple to prepare as well.

4) RICE KRISPIE/CORNFLAKE CAKES. A great afternoon snack, these can be done with basically whatever cereal you have in the house and can be further jazzed up with dried fruit and nuts, taking you even closer to that elusive five a day (you only need 30g of dried fruit to meet that target).

5) CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. While slightly more complex to make than the above suggestions, it is still quite difficult to mess up and is always melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. (I would run with this – I do have all the ingredients – but only made it the other day, so…)

So what do you need in order to avoid my currently supremely unorganised state? Here are some things to always have in your cupboards (or fridge) so that you are primed for dessert-making at any time – rain or shine:

Milk

Butter

Flour

Sugar

Eggs

(just call me Captain Obvious)

Cooking chocolate (dark, milk and white)

Long-life cream

Sponge fingers

Basic supermarket biscuits (shortbreads, digestives and Rich Tea biscuits are good ones to have on standby. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to keep them under lock and key…then leave the key with someone else.)

Grape-Nuts cereal (you’d be surprised how many cheesecake bases use them. Delia Smith is also a big fan and uses this cereal a lot in her dessert recipes)

Jumbo oats

Cornflakes

A selection of dried fruits and nuts (I suggest hazelnuts, peanuts, dried apricots, raisins, dried berries, dates, coconut, and walnuts)

A bottle of rum or brandy

Golden syrup, honey, and treacle

Cocoa powder

Peanut butter

Nutella (you can’t go wrong in life with a jar of Nutella in your cupboard. If all else fails and you really can’t make anything because you’ve forgotten to buy all of the above ingredients, you can always eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon. WIN.)

Now, unless something goes horribly wrong in the interim, you’ll find me in the kitchen making these to nibble on after dinner. Om nom nom.

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Rousquilles! Thursday, Sep 1 2011 

Rous-what? I hear you ask.

Rousquilles (pronounced roos-keels) are round French cakes from the Roussillon region of France that taste of lemon and aniseed, are dusted in a thick coating of icing sugar, and are vaguely doughnut-shaped. Found in Catalan areas of France (for example, near Perpignan), you will have difficulty finding them elsewhere.

I personally discovered them thanks to my parents owning a house in this area of France, and also found that my husband liked them too, having had a childhood friend whose parents were from the region, and therefore having fond memories of sharing them with this friend. As well as being a slightly different taste experience, they are also relatively inexpensive at under €4 for 16 (so less than 25 centimes per rousquille) and available in French supermarkets in this area of France, often coming in a box of 16 divided into 4 handy sachets for lunchboxes and the like. However, they are also heartily recommended as a dessert, naturally with a local sweet wine as an accompaniment (try Rivesaltes, Banyuls or Maury).

The name comes from the Spanish for “little wheel” (rosquilla – thanks, Wikipedia!), but the Spanish-influenced desserts in the south of France don’t stop there. There’s the chocolate version of the rousquille, the choconine, which adopts an aniseed and vanilla flavour combination, and touron (aka Catalan/Spanish nougat). You can also try the Caprice du Roussillon or the Croqu’amande (both almond cakes) – but for me the jewel in the crown of Catalan cake after the rousquilles is the couronne (quite literally ‘crown’ – funny that), which essentially looks like a ‘plain’, uniced rousquille, with aniseed as its flavour.

The texture of the couronne is, to the best of my recollection, harder than the more crumbly rousquille. Another challenge that presents itself to the rousquille eater is the equally crumbly layer of icing sugar, which means that things can get messy (hence another reason why the 4 separate “étuis fraîcheur” are a good idea, so that you can catch the crumbs without incident and thus not make a mess of the sofa).

So, in short: all hail the regional speciality! (Story of my life, I think.)

Cupcakes! Tuesday, Apr 20 2010 

For my birthday, my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and I have thus spent many a happy hour drooling over it. My first attempt was the basic vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting:

(I know, the photo’s quite dark. I’m sorry 😦   My paws get in the way sometimes 😦  )

They tasted gooooooood. But they were extremely sweet and almost more frosting than cake. This was a shame really as I tasted a little bit of the cake when slicing off the tops so that they would be flat when I iced them, and the cake on its own was lush, but couldn’t be tasted in its full glory once the truckload of icing had been added.

The cake recipes, as far as I can tell if this one is anything to go by, are fairly idiotproof. The cake itself was light and fluffy and the instructions to get there were extremely straightforward. While a reduction in icing could be beneficial, these are a delicious, indulgent treat.

Going back to the book itself, it’s full of high-quality photos and a range of dishes – the bakery cookbook doesn’t just tell you how to make cupcakes, but also muffins, pies and brownies…and cookies…which I’ll be trying out later on today. I’m also much looking forward to my visit to the original Hummingbird Bakery in London next Thursday (the 29th). Bring it.