Raspberry Chocolate Pavlova

This was my first attempt at a meringue, for this dessert, requested by my friend Emma. I love meringues but they’re not terribly common where I am–not impossible to find, I think most Whole Foods carry them, but not everywhere. Also, they’re pretty and versatile; they go well with all kinds of toppings and fillings.

I started out full of enthusiasm and hope, despite all sorts of warnings about what can go wrong with meringues.


Ingredients and the basic meringue

  20160404_12590920160404_130313 Meringue with chocolate added, and shaped on the pan


It was even pretty when it came out of the oven…but then it fell. It was fine for a bit, then deflated slowly over the course of the two or so hours between taking it out of the oven and whipping the cream to go on top. I followed the directions almost exactly, except to reduce the sugar to one cup, as per the numerous comments on the original recipe page, so either the lower sugar content requires some other intervention no one offering the advice mentioned, or I should have left it in the oven longer than the instructions allowed for (always a possibility, with my oven).

It still looked pretty, and tasted good–it is a nice, light dessert, and the flavour berries came through very nicely, really balanced with the chocolate rather than being a highlight. I didn’t need as much cream as the recipe indicated, and I dusted a bit of powdered sugar over the top of the chocolate shavings. I’m quite pleased, even if it is a deflated and not-crisp meringue, but I’ll do more research on meringues and do better next time.


Update, April 5: Further research indicates that I beat the egg whites too quickly, and probably over-mixed them; there are also many recommendations for cooking at a lower temperature than the recipe recommended. My next attempt–a lemon meringue pie–should be better.

Sunday dinner and chocolate roulade

This past weekend was the first one in several weeks wherein I have been both at home and without an editing deadline breathing down my neck, so I celebrated by spending much of it in the kitchen. My back is not best pleased with me for this choice.

I cleaned out the refrigerator, disposing of the last of the jars and pots of condiments that we hadn’t used in years–in over a decade, in some cases–but which my mother would never permit me to get rid of, along with a very small volume of food that was no longer edible. (I’ve been trying very hard to stop wasting food for a number of reasons, primary among these being the amount that gets wasted in the U.S. every year; this has gotten easier as I’ve been replacing ready-made foods with simple ingredients and home-made things, but I did come across half a packet of hotdogs that I thought my father had consumed one week when I was away, but which had instead slipped down behind a drawer and really doesn’t bear thinking about…)

After that, I cooked. I did a batch of wheat bread, which turned out disappointingly soft–despite being baked all the way through, proved first by a thermometer and later by slicing through a loaf, as it cooled it began to sink under the weight of the top crust, so both loaves have sort of a squashed, rounded shape where they should be tall and crisp at the sides. I think I’m using water that’s too warm for the sponge. I did a batch of blueberry muffins, also disappointing–there was nothing wrong with the bake, but the recipe did not yield the results I was looking for. I like a cakey, dense blueberry muffin; these taste good, but they’re very airy and didn’t rise very well, just sort of spread out a bit over the top of the muffin cup and stayed flat. Also, the blueberries turned the batter entirely violet, despite being rolled in flour and added at the very end. (Both the wheat sandwich bread and classic blueberry muffin recipes can be found at the America’s Test Kitchen website, https://www.americastestkitchen.com/) I also made some tuna salad to go with the bread, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about your average tuna salad. A friend of mine does a delicious version with diced apple and walnuts–if I can get the recipe from her, I’ll post a picture of that some time.

Sunday is usually my big baking day, as I am insisting on reviving the tradition of the Sunday Dinner in my household, and I have started doing a fancy-ish dessert to go with it. This week I also woke up to find that we were out of the Mary B’s biscuits we usually have on a Sunday morning, so I made a batch of quick cream biscuits (also from ATK). They were good (and they keep well), but not as good as proper buttermilk biscuits.


I made a large batch of tabbouleh for the coming week–it looked much the same as my last batch, so I did not photograph it–then I got started on the dinner and dessert.

I used this recipe to start from for my Somerset pork, but all the recipes I looked at being so wildly different (and none of them matching my memory of the dish), I used it more as a guideline than a set of instructions. I used cubed pork tenderloin, floured and seared in a pan before baking, and one thinly-sliced onion, similarly (briefly) sauteed before adding to the casserole dish. I then added two cups of hard cider, about a teaspoon of dried thyme leaves, two tablespoons of cream, and about 3/4 a cup of flour (including what had been used for the pork) to whisk into a sauce. This was a little too much flour, I think, even though it was thinned out in the process of baking; 1/2 a cup would have done. Finally, I peeled and chopped two granny smith apples and stirred them in with the pork and onions before pouring the sauce over and putting into a 350 degree oven for an hour. It turned out quite well; I did roasted potatoes and carrots and creamed spinach to go with it. (The creamed spinach was supposed to be a spinach souffle, but under no circumstances could what I ended up with be described as a souffle–I didn’t chop the spinach up finely enough, and there was too little of it.)






Then came the chocolate roulade, which I actually had to work on in stages throughout the day. I used a Mary Berry recipe, which can be found here.

It went smoothly enough in the beginning. I let my eggs come to room temperature during the morning, and I measured the solid chocolate using a a scale and melted it exactly as the instructions said to, instead of being lazy and just putting it into a saucepan on low heat.

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It was all very pretty until I put it into bake, and found after 25 minutes that the batter was still very much batter. As I’ve mentioned before, I do have a talent for silly cock-ups. I realized later that when I had glanced at the required temperature, I had screened out the “C” in my mind and just assumed it read “F”–I’m used to using recipes designed for UK kitchens, but when I see a set of conversions I tend to assume the highest temperature given is the U.S. one, instead of reading it properly as I would if I were working. When I found my batter still wet, I increased the temperature to 300F and baked it another 25 minutes. This was not a good thing.

The end resulted tasted quite good, but did not qualify as a roulade by any stretch of the imagination. The heat should have been 350F, and I suspect 20 minutes will do rather than 25, next time. I managed to persuade it into something slightly resembling a log–at least Mary Berry said that the cracks would be “part of its charm”. This one turned out extremely charming by the time I was finished. It wasn’t so much light as a feather as rather dense, and the specified amount of cream was at least a third more than I needed, so there was plenty left over for my hot chocolate this morning. It did look a good deal more appetizing when sliced and accompanied by fresh raspberries, although still clumsy.





The Friday Fave: Hot Chocolate

I’ve always liked hot chocolate–I imagine there are few people who don’t. When I was growing up we always had packets of instant Swiss Miss mixes in the winter, and if we’d been to England to visit family, Cadbury’s cocoa or Drinking Chocolate. I discovered Droste cocoa when I was a teenager, and they finally started importing Cadbury’s products to Atlanta, and we stopped buying anything else.

I couldn’t shake the idea that I was missing something, though. In the children’s novel Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, set during the Seven Year’s War, there’s a reference to two of the characters getting cups of hot chocolate from a stall or a shop. This tiny detail bothered me deeply when I first read the book–I think I was eight–because I couldn’t reconcile the idea of the watery sweet stuff I was used to being consumed in the eighteenth century. I knew what the characters in the story were drinking had to be very different from what I was used to, but I couldn’t convince my mother to let me melt a bar of solid chocolate into a cup of milk to get an idea of what I was missing.

Later on I came across more detailed descriptions, such as the number of people (4, I think) and the steps required to prepare and serve Louis XVI his morning chocolate. Experimenting with Droste cocoa I tried to make something that resembled what I read about in books, but invariably I ended up with something that was much too sweet and badly mixed. (I did try to make a paste, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me to start with the cocoa and add the milk gradually; I started with milk–always a little too much–and ended up with a cup that still had clots of unmixed powder in it. I stopped trying for a few years, as for a long time during and after university I couldn’t often afford good cocoa powder.

I resumed my efforts when I developed an intolerance for caffeine. (Long story–if you use or have ever considered using caffeine tablets, just say no, they really aren’t worth it.) Once in a while I’ll try a few sips of regular coffee and not have hours-long bouts of heart palpitations, but the intolerance always resurfaces weeks or months later. Sometimes I can manage decaf coffee and tea, but the rest of the time I have hot chocolate instead. I usually have to avoid eating any other chocolate during the day, but I don’t mind this so much.

When I lived in Edinburgh there were a number of places where I could get a very nice cup of hot chocolate. There was a place called Chocolate Soup (now sadly defunct) that was pretty awesome, but their confections were more like consuming an incredibly rich dessert than anything suitable for a morning drink. The Elephant House on George IV Bridge served very good hot chocolate when I lived there (I can’t verify that this is still true, but fingers crossed), and there’s a shop in Bruntsfield called Coco Chocolatier (http://www.cocochocolate.co.uk/) whose rose and black pepper hot chocolate is still my gold standard for the perfect cup. If you are ever in the area, try some of their chocolate. You won’t regret it. I have tried to replicate this several times since I left, but my versions are poor substitutes. I’m lucky enough to have friends who send and/or bring me some once in a while (Thank you Caroline!)

When I lived in New York City, there was a cafe in Union Square that I relied on for my hot chocolate–although I was able to drink coffee again by that point–but that place closed down, and now I can’t actually recall the name. Back in Atlanta, I hit a dead end. There are plenty of places to go for good chocolate confections, but hot chocolate just isn’t a trend, at least in my neck of the woods. I’ve tried Starbuck’s, but it’s too sweet and not really strong on the chocolate flavor. I relied on Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and the Mexican-style chocolate that comes in discs (several brands; Taza’s are the best, in my opinion), but I find these either too sweet now or difficult to blend into the milk smoothly. After much experimentation, I settled on a favourite recipe. I hope it bears some resemblance to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cups of chocolate that Wedgwood, Limoges, and other makers of fine china created such lovely pots for, but I need to do more research to find out if this is actually so.

My recipe for the perfect hot chocolate:

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons demerara (turbinado) or coconut sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons cream

1 cup milk (low-fat or skim)


Put the milk on the stove to heat. I have a small cast-iron pot for this–it’s actually designed to heat up barbecue sauce on a grill, but I couldn’t find the kind of copper pot I was looking for at the time. This isn’t really necessary; I know every good kitchen should have a dedicated milk pan which is never used for anything else, but I don’t have the storage space for such a thing. I sometimes heat the milk in the microwave when I’m in a rush. Next, mix a bit of the milk (five or six large spoonfuls should do it) into the powder to make a paste. When the milk is just starting to simmer (you should be able to see the steam coming off the surface, and signs of tiny bubbles in the center), pour it into the cup with the paste and stir until thoroughly mixed.


If you’re using whole milk, probably best to leave out the cream. Also, I like my hot chocolate just barely sweet, so you may find more sugar necessary, it’s up to you. You could replace the cardamom with cinnamon and/or nutmeg, or a pinch of ancho chili powder, or add a drop of food-grade lavender or rose oil. Sometimes I a little battery-powered cappuccino whisk to mix the milk into the cocoa, which makes a nice froth when you pour in the rest of the milk, but most of the time I just use a spoon, it requires less clean-up. If you have any cash to spare for kitchen staples and you like chocolate, I recommend investing in a high-quality cocoa powder; it really does taste better than your average Hershey’s stuff, whether you’re making hot chocolate or using it for baked goods. I like Callebaut and Valrhona, but there are several good brands. The drink is rich, but for me this is generally a breakfast in itself. I like this so much I actually look forward to getting up in the morning now.


P.S. Suggestions for chocolate shops in other cities are always welcome–I haven’t done much traveling lately, but I have plans. If you have a favourite place, post a message and let me know!

Apple Rosemary Upside-Down Cake

This was my second attempt at apple-rosemary cake, but I don’t think I documented the results that time (it’s been a while). On my first attempt, I followed this recipe to the letter: http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/apple-rosemary-upside-cake/ and while I liked the topping, I found the cake too dry and lacking in flavour, so this time I made some changes.

I kept the topping pretty much as is–I tend to use a bit less salt than most recipes call for, and I used two apples this time, because the first time they shrank so much that they looked skimpy on the finished cake. I used honeycrisp apples, as the recipe calls for, although I noticed that most other similar recipes specify granny smith. For the cake, I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for plain apple upside-down cake. (ATK is strict with access to their recipes if you don’t have one of their cookbooks, but you can find the one I used here, if you’re willing to do a free trial or you already have a subscription: https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/4872-apple-upside-down-cake.) It suited my taste perfectly–a little like a pound cake in texture, although a bit lighter, and soaked up the caramel topping. It was a bit too soft in the middle, but this was the result of either because I didn’t cook the apples beforehand–the PBS recipe says not to, the ATK recipe says do–or because I didn’t leave it in the oven quite long enough. This is actually a common issue with my oven, and I find that many of my projects require 10 to 15 minutes longer than the recipe specifies. (I have no idea whether this is because of some issue such as altitude or humidity, or if it’s just that my oven is is a bit crap.)

Here are most of my ingredients. I got to use fresh rosemary from the garden, which always makes me feel sophisticated even though where I am our rosemary grows like a weed and requires little care. (Although it does have to be cleaned and checked for gremlins before use, unlike store-bought herbs.) The jar on the left-hand side contains light brown sugar–I should have opened it.


For future reference, I will rarely include flour in any picture of ingredients, because I keep my all-purpose flour in a massive 2-gallon jar in a corner and it’s usually too heavy to move about.


I used a 9-inch cast iron skillet to bake the cake in, because it allowed me to make the caramel and then just layer the apples and pour the batter on; the PBS recipe allows for the use of a cake pan, if you prefer it, and the ATK recipe actually specifies that. The recipe(s) involve a few steps, but none of them are particularly tricky. Here’s the caramel:


The apples go straight in over the caramel. I like putting them in a pinwheel pattern, but this is by no means necessary. The batter went straight over them–the batter barely covered the top of the apples, and I actually had to smooth it over with a spatula a few time to make sure the apples were all coated properly. The cake rose enough so that the apples were still more towards the top of the cake when it was turned out onto a plate. The finished cake reached just about to the top of the pan, but the only overflow was a little bit of the caramel that bubbled up near the handle.


The completed cake, before turning it out onto a plate and after. I let it cool in the pan about 15 minutes before turning it out.

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This is definitely becoming one of my go-to desserts; it’s easy, relatively quick, requires little clean-up, and I really like the hint of savoury from the rosemary and salt. My father will not say that he liked it, but he had two large slices and asked what it was called, which is usually a sign that he’ll ask for me to make another one at some point.