Baking, Cakes, Catering, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Meringue Gateau – a cake for all seasons!

A few weeks ago on twitter Evin was looking for suggestions for an alternative Christening cake and I suggested this one. This is a cake that I’ve used for christenings, birthdays, First Communions and even a small wedding. It’s versatile, elegant and relatively simple to make but it does look impressive!

I made one for a ‘surprise’ birthday recently and decided to go for three layers rather than the normal two. You only need three things to assemble this cake – meringues, butter cream and whipped cream , lots of it!

For the Meringue Discs, I used 8 egg whites and 16oz caster sugar whisked together in the Kenwood until mixture formed stiff peaks (NB make sure your bowl is clean and dry before adding the egg whites !)

Btw meringue measurements only even seem to work for me in imperial – 2 ozs sugar to each egg white.

Draw 3 20cm/8″ circles on parchment paper – turn the paper over so pencil doesn’t get on cake and pipe the meringue mix evenly over the three circles. Don’t worry there will be some leftover – I just pipe these as baby meringues.

Now comes the part where everyone seems to disagree – I cook the discs at 130 C Fan for 30 mins, check to see how they’re doing and normally end up leaving them for another 10-15 mins at 100 C Fan. You’ll know the meringues are done when you can lift them off the paper easily. I always leave my meringues to cool in the (switched-off!) oven.

Please note  it’s very useful to stick a tea-towel in the oven door to remind yourself that there’s something in there – twice baked meringues are not good – trust me I know!

Next you need to make Chocolate Butter Cream. For three layers I used 9 oz butter, 13oz icing sugar and 3 oz Green & Black’s Cocoa Powder  – blend all three ingredients in a food processor and add in good dash of rum or brandy to loosen the mixture.

You also need to whip lots of Glenisk cream – I think I used at least a litre on this cake (see I’m incapable of sticking to one measurement system – must be the engineer in me!)

Now to assemble the cake, sorry gateau!

Use a little butter cream to keep the base meringue layer in place on the cake board , then carefully spread butter cream over the first meringue disc.

Then cover the butter cream with whipped cream (I never said this was going to be low calorie, did I ?)

Place the next meringue disc on top of the cream and then repeat the chocolate butter cream and whipped cream layers. Top with the final meringue disc

Then just in case there isn’t enough cream – you need to cover the entire cake in more of it!

I put it in the freezer to set overnight at this point – if time is of the essence you can skip this step and decorate it straight away.

Now came the tricky bit – I normally just decorate the top with lots of chocolate and baby meringues but something made me want to write on the top this time (never again!). I did lots of practising……….

and I got lots of twitter support from Arnelle  and  Rosanne on how to pipe writing, freeze it, lift it off paper onto the cake, use stencils…… I even tried following Zack’s instructions for making a mini piping bag….

And this is what I ended up with ….

I may need more practise on my writing but the cake itself went down very well even if the birthday girl wasn’t as surprised as she should have been!

I hope you like it too!

Happy Cooking!

Chef, Christmas, Cookbooks, Cooking, Recipes

Looks aren’t everything when it comes to Christmas Trees, especially the chocolate variety!

I can’t believe it’s 9 years ago since I did the 12 week course in Ballymaloe Cookery School! After the stress of the exams and as a parting gift Darina gave us signed copies of her Christmas cookbook.

A Simply Delicious Christmas

In my enthusiasm I decided that straight away I had to make the cover recipe – the Chocolate Christmas Tree.

I have two memories of this experiment:

  1. Why did I try ? – it was incredibly fiddly and I think my language may have deteriorated over the process! At that stage I was still insistent on boiling and peeling almonds and hazelnuts…….
  2. That it was a very expensive tree and my family did not fully appreciate my efforts!

So why 9 years on did I decide to try again? Well I thought I could try a child friendly version so with my junior chef visiting for the weekend I set to………

We melted 300g of chocolate (200g milk and 100g dark) with a  packet of mini marshmallows and then the junior chef stirred in masses of rice krispies – no quantities I’m afraid but you need enough to use up the chocolate. At this point I should say the constant question was ‘may I lick the bowl now?’

I had marked out parchment paper with 8 crosses for the tree branches – 7cm, 9cm, 11cm, 13cm, 14cm, 15cm, 16cm and 17cm. The engineer in me loved this bit and even dug out my scale rule to make sure all measurements were accurate. The junior chef took the opportunity to make a Christmas card for her parents.

I laid the chocolate mix out along the axes and the junior chef decorated each branch with candy snow and stars

Junior Chef at work
The upper 'branches'

Then came the tricky bit – assembling the tree! We let the branches set and then having covered a large plate with tinfoil I melted some more chocolate, put a little on the plate to hold the largest branch in place, Then I added the branches in descending size, making sure that each alternate branch had it’s arms between the arms of the bottom branch (like a real tree!!)

Assembling the tree

We  ‘glued’  each branch in place with the melted chocolate – this is where my nerves got a little fraught as some of the branches drooped. Darina suggests supporting the branches with matchboxes until they set – I only have a large box of matches for candles so that wasn’t an option!

I should point out at this stage the junior chef was very busy – licking the bowl!!

The best part - licking the bowl... and the spoon!
Snow Mountain

We finished off the decorating with melted white chocolate, sparkles and mini snowmen….but at this stage between falling branches and sneaky tastes by the junior chef we decided to rename it a chocolate mountain!!

It's a tree honestly!

Nana came to visit for tea as did the Junior Chef’s Daddy who came to collect her and her baby brother aka Taster No 2!

The cake may not have looked like the one on the cover of Darina’s book (as Junior Chef pointed out!) but I’d just like to say that there’s very little of it left!

Maybe, just maybe, I might try another tree before Christmas………..

Happy Cooking!