Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Death by Sugar Overload

As most people would know, I am usually the first one to criticise the effects of sugar on people's diets. There is much information available out there that we should all seriously consider in order to become aware of the serious effects that sugar has on our diets, health, energy levels, mood changes, etc.

However, once in a while, I have to let go of this 'crazy' attitude, and allow my other passion to thrive, the pleasure of baking. I love being in the kitchen, making, baking, creating something aesthetically pleasing and equally ravishing on the taste buds. Since it is Christmas, and we are all overeating and indulging, here is a recipe that never fails to impress. Two recipes in fact, so feel free to make one or the other, or go absolutely crazy for two days and do both of them as shown in the pictures below.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Cake

Chiffon Sponge: 200ml veg oil, 7 large eggs, one vanilla bean paste or a tsp vanilla extract, 400g golden caster sugar, 50g cocoa powder (mixed with 225ml hot water and then let to cool), 400g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder.

Mix egg yolks, oil, vanilla, sugar, cocoa mixture, blend until the sugar has dissolved. Then mix the flour and baking powder until all mixed together and smooth. In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until nicely stiff. Mix the egg whites to the rest of the sponge mixture, very slowly in order to maintain the air in the mixture. Put in a 25cm tin (prepared with butter and grease proof paper) and bake for 1.5hours or until in springs back when touched, at 170C. If oven is not too even, perhaps switch to 150C after an hour and bake for longer so the bottom and sides do not get burnt.

Caramel decorations: Caramelize sugar. (200g of sugar) . I have used some almonds to get some caramel on their rounded side, then I have poured some caramel in star shapes (cookie shapes) and then I have mixed almonds with the remaining caramel and poured onto some grease proof paper in order to make some almond praline. Make your own caramel decorations.

Salted Caramel Cream: 150g sugar, 100g butter, 2 egg yolks, 3 tbsp corn flour, 1 tsp salt, 250ml milk.
Caramelise the sugar. Pour 100ml water over the sugar and let boil until dissolved and forming a nice sugary brown syrup. let it cool for a few minutes. Mix the corn flour, egg yolks, butter and salt until nice and smooth. Then add the milk and boil until nicely thick like a creme patisserie. Let it cool.

Chocolate Buttercream: 100g dark chocolate, 200g butter, 400g icing sugar, vanilla extract, a few spoons of milk to loosen the mixture if it is too thick.
Beat the soft butter with the icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add the melted chocolate (over the steam of boiling water). Whisk everything together for a few minutes until very smooth and fluffy. Add a couple of spoons of milk if too thick.

Chocolate Ganache: 100g dark chocolate, 200ml double cream.
Chop the chocolate and mix with the cream. Put over low heat in a pan and mix until smooth and shiny.

Ensemble the cake:

Once the sponge is out of the oven and cooled down, cut into 3 or 4 layers. This should be a thick sponge, and it should be easy enough to cut into 1.5-2cm layers. Choose a nice plate on which you can put everything together. Lay the first sponge layer. I use either a very thin layer of apricot jam or lemon jam in order to make the sponge better for the cream. Then put some of the chocolate butter cream and top up with some of the almond praline. Put the second sponge layer, thin layer of jam, layer of salted caramel, third sponge layer thin layer of jam, chocolate buttercream and almond praline. Last sponge layer, spread evenly the last bit of chocolate buttercream. Put in the fridge for half an hour. This is a good time to make the ganache. Take the cake out of the fridge, spread the ganache, add the praline to the top and the stars and other decorations around the top layer. Chill for another half an hour and the see if any more piping and decorations are needed.

Lemon Drizzle Cake with Salted Caramel:
3 large eggs
175g plain flour
175 caster sugar
175 softened butter
baking poder
zest from 1 lemon (finely grated)

Beat eggs, sugar, butter together. Add one spoon of flour at a time so the mixture does not curd. Add baking powder with the flour and the lemon zest. Prepare a 15-20cm diameter tin, by using butter and grease proof paper. Heat up the oven at 170-180C. Put the mixture in the tin and bake for 35 minutes or until baked. Check with a skewer. 

When cool, slice the sponge in two layers. Put one layer down, spread some lemon curd or lemon jam then add some of the salted caramel mixture from above. Add second half of the sponge layer and spread the last bit of caramel cream over. Put the cakes in the fridge for them to set well: a couple of hours.

Lemon Buttercream:
200g icing sugar, the juice and zest from one lemon, 50g of soft butter. Mix together until nicely smooth. Add more icing sugar if not solid enough. Pipe the top of the lemon cake with the icing. Create nice patterns at the top and on the sides.

I am afraid I do not have a vegan option for this 2 tier cake, all I can say is that everybody, even people who are not that much into eating cake, absolutely loved this. There is something for everyone and it keeps fine in the fridge for 1 week, and freezer for 2 months. ENJOY!!!!

Enjoy and don't blame me for putting on the Christmas weight!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Where do all French people go on a Saturday afternoon? Not to the Fernand Leger Museum!

Since I live in such an amazing place, and all my friend keep saying they envied me, I am making a conscious decision that I truly have to make the best of this experience and do all in order to benefit from being in the South of France.
So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to go and visit a museum that I have heard of, an artist I have often used in my art lessons as I believed students might get inspired by his chunky figures and bright colours, I went to Biot to see Fernand Leger's work. Large building; brightly decorated with several monumental mosaics; with lovely maintained gardens; ripe olive trees, it looked majestic.....

Entrance full fee was 5.50 euros. The Museum looked peaceful. I even took an audio guide, to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I was as excited as a young child going on a lady bird carousel. The building had so much light, the rooms had tall ceilings and later I found out that the building was site specific, designed to host these particular artworks. Leger himself had spent many of his last years between 1949 and 1955 ( when he passed away) in Biot creating many of his ceramic monumental pieces.

 The large outdoor pieces were created with local stone and ceramics by craftsmen after Leger was not longer around, based on his drawings and sketches.
While I did my very keen tour around the grounds and the large rooms of the museum, listened to the guided tour in French, in my constant try to learn more of the local language, I came across very bored museum attendants, killing time searching and typing on their mobile phones. At the desk, the very polite gentleman was watching a cultural program on his laptop. The museum was totally quiet. While I was there, nobody else entered the museum. A private view, that was incredibly special. After many paintings, mosaics, ceramic pieces, I eventually found myself in front of this painting called 'Le Campeur' 1954. It seems Fernand Leger was promoting the idea of the time spent outside, relaxing and enjoying the nature. Although there is a man in the picture who goes across carrying a large pole, looking busy, the rest of the characters are enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the sun, by the river, playing and having a good time. So it seems that was the good idea every French person living in the South of France had that Saturday afternoon. 

So, where all the French people go on a sunny Saturday afternoon? To the Beach!!!!! Enjoying the sun and what nature gives them every day: pleasant warm weather with a slight breeze by the sea.
I kept going around the museum and being amazed by the simplicity and the freshness of some of the pieces. Leger was really honest with his works. He followed his dream of creating large monumental pieces which he carefully planned in various stages. 

After my quiet and fruitful visit, I went to the beach, where most people were sun bathing and enjoying the fresh air. Bought myself a pan bagnat, picked up a blue chair and sat down like the old English did on the Promenade des Anglais, enjoyed the view and indulged in my fat sandwich. What a wonderful afternoon indeed! I felt special. My father told me he would have never dreamed that his children would have ended up travelling the world and doing so well for themselves. He is a proud father. I am a proud daughter and I do indeed appreciate having these special opportunities in my life. Fernand Leger, I salute you, your work, your ambition and your freshness!

Fernand Leger had a good point, enjoying the nature is an important part of life. And as the French do say here, we all get paid in sunshine. I am sure the English would agree with that....