18 January 2019


Mascarpone, a delicious Italian cheese, is widely popular for its use in desserts such as Tiramisu or cheesecakes; but mascarpone has its use in savoury recipes, as well. It is very creamy and mild in flavour, making it perfect for recipes such as this one. The ingredients are humble, but once baked, these grissini are amazingly delicious, especially dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Although I have been making them this size for years, they are quite easy to be adjusted to your needs. You can make them larger, by dividing the dough into ten or less pieces, making them proper, restaurant-style grissini. Just be mindful of the baking time so they remain soft. The very best way to serve these breadsticks is, of course, with dips or as canapés with all cheese-based sauces, or as a simple, flavourful snack.

100 grams Mascarpone cheese
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
100 ml warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon dry yeast
250 grams plain flour
20 grams salted butter, for brushing

Place the mascarpone into a medium bowl, add in the salt and the olive oil, and mix very well, until combined. Pour in the warm water, and blend it well. Sift the flour into a large bowl, sprinkle in the yeast, and mix well. Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. The dough should be soft, yet it shouldn't stick to your hands. If it does, add another tablespoon or so of flour. Flour your work surface well, transfer the dough and knead it by hand for about 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a smooth ball, cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Once the dough has rested, transfer it to a floured surface and knead it for a minute or two, just to make it elastic.
Divide the dough by weight into 20 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a log shape, about a centimetre in diameter. Arrange them on a large baking sheet lined with baking paper, making sure you leave enough space between them. Cover with a kitchen towel, then tightly in cling film, and place them into the refrigerator to rise slowly, overnight. Next morning, take them out of the refrigerator an hour before baking, so the dough can come to room temperature and rise a tad more. Bake them in a preheated oven, at 200°C (400°F) for about 12-15 minutes. As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them with butter so they are nice and soft when they cool. Yields 20 grissini.

11 January 2019


Now that the winter is in full swing, the time is right to bring out the true winter classics – rich chocolate cakes full of nuts and spices. For me, the combination of chocolate and walnuts has always been a wintery dessert combination. Warm flavours pair wonderfully with chocolate and coffee, and just a dash of cinnamon, to accentuate the signature winter spices.
Even though chocolate cakes are traditionally seen as heavy or overly rich, with dense buttercream fillings, this cake is quite the opposite – the coffee mousse filling is marvellously light and airy, yet robust, with lots of white chocolate specks in a gorgeous stracciatella style. The whole cake is so soft and tender, making it a perfect addition to afternoon tea, or a wholesome after-supper treat.

For the chocolate cake layers
250 grams plain flour
20 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
200 grams granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
350 ml water
120 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
100 grams dark chocolate callets
100 grams walnuts, chopped
For the coffee filling
800 ml whole milk
150 grams granulated sugar
5 teaspoons espresso powder
80 grams cornflour
30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
250 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
200 grams real white chocolate
For the decoration
200 ml double cream
1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
100 grams dark chocolate

To make the cake filling, take a large bowl, and sift in the cornflour and the cocoa powder. Briefly whisk them, then add in half of the sugar, as well as the yolks, and blend really well. Finally, pour in 200 ml of milk, and blend everything together. Pour the rest of the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add in the rest of the sugar, and the coffee, and place it over medium high heat, so the milk can come up to a boil slowly. Once it starts boiling, add in the cornflour mixture in a thin stream, and cook, while whisking constantly, until it thickens up, and becomes a very rich, fragrant custard, about 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat and strain it through a mesh strainer, then cover the top with cling film, and let it cool down to room temperature.
While the filling is cooling down, make the cake layers. Take a large mixing bowl, and sift in the plain flour and the cocoa powder. Give them a quick whisk to blend, then tip in the granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda, and whisk again. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, espresso powder, vanilla, and vinegar. Add callets and the walnut pieces to the dry ingredients, and mix well, then pour over the wet ingredients, and mix until combined. Do not overmix, because the cake will be tough. Pour into four lined round cake tins (15 cm), and bake them immediately, in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for 20-25 minutes, or until they spring back when lightly touched. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then take them out, and let them cool completely on wire racks.
Once the custard is at room temperature, place the soft butter into a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high, until it becomes very light and creamy, and resembles buttercream, about 3-4 minutes. Take the bowl with the prepared custard, and mix it briefly with the mixer so it becomes smooth and creamy. Continue mixing the custard, while adding the beaten butter, a tablespoon at a time, until all of the butter is used, and the filling is smooth and lush.
Place the filling into the refrigerator while you melt the white chocolate. Melt it slowly, over very low heat, or in the microwave, making sure every last bit of it is melted. Let it cool down sufficiently so it doesn't melt the filling, yet is still pourable. When the chocolate is ready, take the filling out of the refrigerator, turn the mixer on the highest setting you have, and without stopping the mixing, pour in the melted chocolate in a very thin stream. This will create the stracciatella effect in the filling.
When it is ready, level the cake layers if needed, and place the first one onto the serving platter. Evenly spread one third of the filling on the first layer, and top it with the second one. Continue stacking the layers until all of the filling is used. If your kitchen is very warm, you might need to place the cake in the freezer for a little while between stacking, so it firms up, as the filling is very light and airy.
Place the assembled cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. When the cake is firm enough to decorate, whip the double cream with the sifted cocoa powder until stiff peaks form. Melt the dark chocolate using your preferred method, and let it cool down so it doesn't melt the cream. Generously cover the whole cake with the whipped cream, then drizzle with the melted chocolate. Place it back into the refrigerator until serving time. Yields 16-20 servings.

Baker's note: As with any cake, you can place it into the freezer for a bit before serving, so the filling takes on an ice-cream texture, or you can serve it with a lush chocolate sauce, such a chocolate-whisky sauce for example.

04 January 2019


Making frozen desserts out of fruit alone is not a new concept, although it has been gaining popularity rapidly in the last few years. It is very easy to see why ice-creams made without any yolks or dairy are so loved – they do not require an ice-cream machine, they keep very well in the freezer, they are beyond easy to make, and they are fully vegan, with most of them being gluten-free, too. A lovely addition is the vast number of ways to adapt the base recipe, and adjust the ice-cream exactly to your tastes and preferences.
One of my favourite ice-cream flavours is the Malaga ice-cream, made with Malaga sweet wine and raisins, and this is a version that combines that flavour with dark chocolate. With frozen ripe bananas as the base, it is very light and creamy, with a whipped texture, and a delightful, deep dark chocolate flavour, enriched with rum, and chopped raisins. This ice-cream can be served soft, right after blending, piped into a waffle cone, and generously sprinkled with chocolate shavings, or can be fully frozen, and scooped like classic ice-cream.

350 grams ripe bananas
20 grams pure unsweetened cocoa powder
100 grams dark chocolate
100 grams raisins
30 ml dark rum

Choose very ripe bananas, as they are the sweetest, and will yield the best texture, slice them into equal pieces and arrange them on a tray lined with baking parchment. Cover tightly with cling film, and place the tray in the freezer for at least 4 hours, or until the bananas are completely frozen. While the bananas are in the freezer, take the raisins, pour the rum over them, mix well, and let them soak for at least an hour, preferably longer. The more liquid they absorb, the better. Melt the chocolate either in a double-boiler or in the microwave, and set it aside so it cools down before adding it to the ice-cream.
Once the bananas are frozen and ready, add them to the bowl of your food processor, and let it run until the bananas turn into a wonderfully whipped soft ice-cream. Sift in the unsweetened powder and let the food processor run for a minute or two, until it blends completely. Transfer the ice-cream into another bowl, add in the melted and cooled chocolate, and chopped up raisins. Fold everything through gently, with a spatula, either fully, or with ripples of chocolate still visible. You can serve it soft, by piping it into waffle cones and sprinkling with additional chocolate shavings, or pour it into a freezer safe container, cover tightly, and let it freeze for another 30-60 minutes, or to your liking. Yields 600 of ice-cream.

28 December 2018


It is a well-known fact that during holidays, everything is more lavish and ostentatious; and this cake, with its five layers of biscuits, chocolate, cream, and liqueur, is the perfect symbol of the season. Modest enough to be an everyday cake, yet sumptuous enough to be the centrepiece of any party or celebration.
Chocolate and hazelnuts pair immensely well, especially with the nuanced noisette flavours highlighted by the Frangelico, and the vanilla custard base balances and lightens the flavours nicely. If you are anything like me, and you love ice-cream cakes, slyly place it in the freezer about 15 minutes before serving, and it will have a marvellous, ever so slightly frozen, texture.

For the base
200 grams vanilla biscuit crumbs
75 ml double cream
75 grams unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the Ganache layer
100 grams dark chocolate
60 ml double cream
For the filling
600 ml whole milk
60 grams cornflour
100 grams granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
100 grams dark chocolate
150 grams unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
100 grams ground roasted hazelnuts
100 ml Frangelico, divided
For the ganache glaze
50 grams dark chocolate
50 ml double cream
For the decoration
200 ml double cream
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
50 grams ground roasted hazelnuts

Because the custard base will require some time to cool down, start by taking away about 150 ml of milk, and whisking it really well with sifted cornflour, egg yolks, vanilla, and the sugar in a medium bowl, and set it aside. Pour the rest of the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place it over medium high heat, so the milk can come up to a boil slowly. Once it starts boiling, add in the cornflour mixture in a thin stream, and cook, while whisking constantly, until it thickens up, and becomes a very rich custard, about 2-3 minutes. Remove it from the heat and strain it through a mesh strainer, just in case there are some pieces that have not cooked properly or have not dissolved. Divide the cooked base into two parts, and add finely chopped dark chocolate to one part. Mix well until the chocolate melts into the custard, then cover both parts with cling film, and let them cool down to room temperature.
For the biscuit base, place the biscuit crumbs into a large bowl, pour in the melted butter, double cream, and the vanilla bean paste, and start mixing with a wire whisk or with a fork, until the crumbs are moistened. Once the base is prepared, place the cake ring (15 cm) on the serving platter, line it with a tall strip of acetate, and press in the biscuit base. It may be slightly crumbly, but be patient with it, and press it down evenly and firmly, then set aside.
To make the ganache, chop up the chocolate and bring the double cream almost to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate and set it aside for a minute or two. Once the chocolate has started to melt, mix vigorously with a small spatula until everything is melted. Pour the Ganache over the biscuit base, and tap the cake gently on the counter a few times, so that any possible air bubbles come up to the surface. Place the cake into the refrigerator while you work on the fillings.
Once the custards are at room temperature, and ready, place the softened butter into a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high, until it becomes very light and creamy, and resembles buttercream, about 3-4 minutes. Divide the whipped butter in half, and add each half into the cooled custards. Blend this well, at least 2-3 minutes per filling, so they have a light and airy texture. Add the ground hazelnuts and half of the Frangelico to each of the fillings, and blend them well separately.
Take the cake base out of the refrigerator, and very gently spread the vanilla filling over the ganache. I strongly suggest not pressing the filling down into the ganache, so it retains its mousse-like texture. Place the platter into the freezer for about 10 minutes, then spread the chocolate layer in the same fashion. The edges might seem a tad untidy, but it is well worth the sacrifice for the mousse texture. Place the cake into the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, so it can fully firm up.
Once the cake is ready, chop up the dark chocolate and heat up the double cream almost to a boiling point, then set it aside for about 10 minutes, until it is chilled, but still pourable. Whip up the double cream with the vanilla and the cocoa powder until soft peaks form, and set it aside. Take the cake out of the refrigerator, carefully remove the cake ring and the acetate, then drizzle the cooled ganache all over the edges of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Place the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle (1M), and pipe a decorative border on the top edge of the cake, and finish everything off by sprinkling ground hazelnuts all over the top of the cake. If you have any unused ganache, drizzle it messily over the hazelnuts and the cream. Place the cake back into the refrigerator until serving time. Yields 16-20 servings.

21 December 2018


The season of gift-giving is upon us, and what better way to show your affection than with a lovely, soft gingerbread chocolate cake. Gingerbread is a holiday classic, enjoyed by many across the world, so it seems perfectly fitting to create from it something loved even more, a chocolate cake.
Flavoured by the timeless Christmas spices, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, as well as unsweetened cocoa powder and coffee, and enriched by soured cream and rum, this lovely holiday cake will stay moist and delicious for days, and it will be a perfect companion for the afternoon tea or brunch coffee. If you feel so inclined, serve it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream, it pairs incredibly well with the spices and chocolate.

For the cake
250 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
250 ml hot coffee
30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
150 grams sugar
100 grams butter
3 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
50 grams sour cream
150 ml oil
30 ml dark rum
For the chocolate glaze
150 grams dark chocolate (70%)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Sift the flour twice with the baking powder, baking soda and spices and set it aside. Pour the piping hot coffee over sifted cocoa powder, add rum and mix really well, then set aside. Beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on high, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until only incorporated, then add in the molasses, sour cream, as well as one third of the flour mix, one third of oil and one third of coffee mix. Beat well, then repeat until all of the ingredients are used up.
Grease and flour well your bundt cake pan (1.2 litre), pour in the mixture, level it and bake in a preheated oven, at 190˚C (375˚F) for the first 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 170˚C (340˚F) and bake for 10 more minutes. Check fore doneness with a skewer or a butter knife after about 25 minutes of baking, just to make sure the cake doesn't overbake. Let it cool down completely. For the chocolate glaze, melt the dark chocolate in a double-boiler or in the microwave, then add the oil, and mix really well. Glaze the cooled cake, and serve it as soon as the glaze sets. Yields 16 servings.