No Bake Chocolate Mousse Cake

I belong to a group which meets once a month to speak French over a pot luck lunch. We take it in turns to host the lunch and the food is always amazing. All you have to do is let the hostess know you will be attending and whether you will bring a sweet or savoury dish, to make sure we don’t end up with too many desserts and not enough savoury dishes.

This delicious dessert was brought last month by Vanessa, one of the members whose husbands work at the French Embassy. It’s very easy to make and Vanessa kindly shared the recipe. It’s not really a cake, more a sliceable chocolate mousse. The texture is more like a panna cotta or a rich chocolate jelly than a mousse.

4 Tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup water
2 cups milk
1¾ cups cream
½ cup condensed milk
5 Tbs sugar (I cut it back to 3 Tbs)
200g dark chocolate, chopped
5 tsp gelatine powder
½ cup water
To serve:
Cocoa powder
Thick pouring cream
Fresh berries

Mix cocoa powder and ¼ cup water to a smooth paste. Heat milk, cream, condensed milk and sugar in a saucepan. Add chocolate paste and chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Mix gelatine powder with ½ cup water in a small bowl, then zap briefly in the microwave to dissolve. Add to the mixture in the pan.

Line a loaf tin with a capacity of about one and a half litres or six 250ml cups with non-stick baking paper. I used a triangular one, but a rectangular one is fine. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan through a sieve, in case there are any undissolved bits. Refrigerate overnight.

Tip the mousse out onto a serving platter and remove the paper. Cover with sifted cocoa powder. Cut into thick slices and serve with cream and berries.

Serves about 12

Gluten-free Banana & Nut Cake

This banana cake is moist and nutty. Give it a try, even if you’re not following a gluten-free diet. Regular self-raising flour can be used instead, if you’re not worried about gluten.

The mixture can also be used to make about a dozen banana muffins. Grease a 12-hole muffin pan, fill each one almost to the top with cake mix, arrange some banana pieces on top, then spoon over the topping. Serve as a cake or as a delicious dessert, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cake mix:
1 cup nut meal made in the food processor (almonds, walnuts or pecans)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs maple syrup
1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour (or ordinary SR flour can be used)
½ tsp baking powder
Topping:
4-5 ripe bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
¼ cup brown sugar
30g butter
To serve:
Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and bottom-line a shallow slab pan about 35x25cm. Or use a large loaf pan, two smaller ones or a 12-hole muffin pan.

Make nut meal in food processor by processing the nuts until they look like fine breadcrumbs. Add remaining cake mix ingredients and process till combined, scraping down the sides halfway through. You can use a balloon whisk to do this instead. Spoon cake mixture into the tin or tins and spread evenly with a knife.

Arrange banana halves over the cake mix, cut side up. Melt butter in a small saucepan and mix in the brown sugar, stirring to dissolve. Spoon butter and sugar mixture evenly over the bananas. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown all over and puffed. Check it’s cooked in the middle by inserting a toothpick which should come out clean. Individual muffins will take less time than one large cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.

Makes about 12 servings

Note: buy nut meal/flour or make your own by blitzing shelled walnuts, pecans, almonds, or a mixture, in a food processor.

Eton Mess

Looking for a quick and easy dessert to serve over the Canberra Day long weekend? Eton Mess, a traditional English dessert which makes the most of the summer berries is quick, easy and delicious.

A mixture of meringue, berries and whipped cream, this dish was first mentioned in print in 1893 and is thought to have originated at Eton College in England, where it’s served at the annual cricket match against Harrow School.

In the 6th episode of the TV series The Gilded Age, which I’m currently watching, the French chef is asked to prepare a British meal. For dessert he makes Eton Mess, which he describes disparagingly as a mess made by a bunch of schoolboys.

The traditional recipe for this sumptuous dessert uses broken up meringues, either home-made or shop bought. I prefer to use a pavlova base, because the meringue is crunchy on the outside, but soft and marshmallowy on the inside. In Australia pavlova bases are sold in most big supermarkets.  I’m not sure if they are available in other countries, except perhaps New Zealand, but you can always make your own or use broken up hard meringues, which are more readily available around the world.

I like to use half fresh cream and half sour cream or crème fraîche, but if preferred you can use all fresh cream.

1 pavlova base to serve 12 (or about 12 large individual meringues)
250 ml whipping cream
250 ml sour cream or crème fraîche
1 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
500g strawberries
2-3 tsp caster sugar
150-200g raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants etc)
Chocolate sprinkles (optional)

Wash strawberries, cut in half or slice if large and place in a bowl with the caster sugar. Mix and leave aside for an hour or two, so the juices start to run.

I used about three-quarters of a large pavlova base for this dish. Break off chunks and arrange about half of them in a large glass serving dish, or break up the hard meringues. If preferred, make individual servings using large whisky tumblers.

Scatter half the strawberries and half the raspberries or other berries over the meringue. Place the cream, sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whip using electric beaters until soft peaks form. Place blobs of the whipped cream over the meringue and fruit, then the rest of the pavlova/meringue pieces, the juices from the strawberries, the remaining cream and lastly the rest of the strawberries and raspberries. They are not shown in the photo, but if liked decorate the top with some chocolate sprinkles, which always look nice with berries and cream. Refrigerate until serving time and serve within a couple of hours.

Serves 6-8

Note: if liked, add a tablespoonful of a liqueur such as Kirsch, Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Curaçao to the strawberries and sugar.

 

 

Strawberry No Bake Cheesecake

This recipe is adapted from one called Narrabri Cheesecake which Matthew used to make before we met. Part of his bachelor repertoire, guaranteed to impress the girls. It’s quite rich and you will get at least twelve servings, enough to serve a crowd.

Crust:
150g plain sweet biscuits e.g. Digestives, Nice, Marie
100g butter, melted
Filling:
300ml whipping cream
750g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 can condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
Grated rind of one large lemon or two smaller ones
Topping:
250g strawberries, halved
Strawberry Sauce:
250g strawberries, diced
1-2 Tbs sugar, to taste
1 Tbs lemon juice

Butter a 22-24 cm (9-10 inch) springform cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Mix with the melted butter, then press evenly over the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Using a stand mixer (my preference with this recipe) or hand beaters, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Scrape out into another bowl. No need to wash the first bowl – just add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the condensed milk and lastly the lemon juice and rind. Use a spatula to scrape down the mixture stuck to the sides of the bowl, then mix a bit more. Fold through the whipped cream, scrape into the cake pan and smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Clean and sort the strawberries, keeping the best ones to decorate and the rest for the sauce.

Strawberry Sauce: place all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes then push through a sieve, discarding what won’t go through. Keep refrigerated.

Arrange halved strawberries over the top of the cheesecake. Run a knife with a thin blade around the sides of the cheesecake, undo the clip and remove. If you like, run a knife under the base of the cheesecake, under the paper, so you can remove the base. If preferred, just leave the base on. Slice cheesecake using a large knife dipped in hot water. Serve sauce (not shown in photo) separately in a small jug.

Serves  12-16

Variations: use other berries.

 

Apple Charlotte

Thick stewed apples surrounded by crisp buttered toast, this is another dessert to add to my list of ones that everyone, including the grandkids, loves. When all hands go up for a second helping I know I’ve found a winner.

When I served it over Christmas it was described by family members as French Toast with Apples and Tarte Tatin with crunchy toast instead of pastry.

My version is loosely-based on one by Rick Stein which he makes in a pudding bowl. I decided to use a metal cake tin, because it makes it easier for the bread to crisp up. Increase the ingredients by 50% and use a bigger 10-12 inch tin to serve a bigger crowd.

30g butter
2-3 Tbs sugar (to taste)
1 kg apples, peeled and sliced (see note below)
Grated rind and juice from 1 lemon or 1 small orange
Optional: raisins, cinnamon, ground cloves etc
About 12 slices white bread, crusts removed
125g butter, melted (you may need more)
To serve:
Icing sugar
4 Tbs smooth apricot jam (push through a sieve if lumpy)
Thick cream or custard

Preheat oven to 180°C. While you are peeling the apples, put the 30g butter and sugar in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until starting to caramelise. Add the apples, lemon or orange rind and juice and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the apples have become thick and pulpy. Some apple varieties break up more easily than others. Check for sweetness and feel free to add a few raisins and a good pinch of cinnamon or cloves.

Melt the butter and use a pastry brush to butter an 8″ (20cm) metal cake pan. Cut the bread slices in halves to form two triangles, brush them with butter and use to line the bottom and sides of the cake tin, slightly overlapping each piece. Scrape apple filling into the tin and smooth the top. Bring the bread slices from the sides over the top and use more pieces to fill any gaps, so that the filling is completely encased. Brush more butter all over the top. Can be made ahead to this point and kept refrigerated.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Carefully tip out onto a shallow baking tray and brush with any leftover melted butter. Put back in the oven for 10 minutes or until evenly browned all over.

To serve, dust with icing sugar. Heat the apricot jam, then drizzle over the top. Serve with cream or custard.

Serves 8-10

Tip: after removing the bread crusts make them into crumbs by blitzing in the food processor. Freeze in a plastic bag and use in toppings for recipes such as Seafood Mornay

Note: Bramley cooking apples are traditionally used in the UK  because they aren’t too sweet and cook down to a pulp. They are hard to find in Australia, so basically use whatever apples you have on hand. Rick Stein uses half Bramleys and half eating apples.

Chocolate Fondant Puddings

This quick and easy recipe for individual chocolate fondant puddings – the ones with delicious molten chocolate centres that were all the rage in restaurants some years back – is adapted from one by Australia’s best-selling cookbook author, Donna Hay.

I used individual silicone moulds, but any small containers, such as metal dariole moulds, ramekins or coffee cups, will do. To make them gluten-free leave out the flour and increase the almond meal by a quarter of a cup. Make your own almond meal by blitzing almonds, with or without skin, it doesn’t matter, in a food processor until finely ground. I made the full recipe of six puddings, but only cooked two and froze the rest uncooked and covered. They take a few minutes longer to cook from frozen.

¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup icing sugar
2 egg whites
100g butter, melted
160g dark chocolate, melted
12 squares dark chocolate, extra
To serve:
Thick pouring cream
Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 170°C and grease six individual moulds with oil or butter. Place almond meal, flour, sugar, egg whites, melted butter and chocolate in a bowl and mix well with a balloon whisk. Spoon half the mixture into the six moulds, press two squares of chocolate into the middle of each, then cover with remaining mixture. Bake for 12-15 minutes until set on top. Test by pushing with your finger. Stand for 3-4 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, tip out and serve with cream and a dusting of cocoa powder through a sieve.

Serves 6

Substitutions: if you don’t have almonds use walnuts.

Individual Rice Puddings

Rice pudding is one of my favourite desserts. Hot or cold, with or without additions or accompaniments.

Unfortunately I married someone who was put off rice pudding and all similar desserts (custard, tapioca, semolina) after spending time at a boys’ boarding school in his youth. This is why I rarely make something I love.

Browsing on the internet recently I found a post by someone who also finds themselves alone in a house of people who are anti rice pudding. So she just makes one or two, or three or four individual puds, just for herself. What a good idea I thought, so that’s what I did. If you don’t want to turn on the oven just to cook one or two individual puddings, wait until you’re baking something else and cook them at the same time.

Mum used to make one large rice pudding when I was growing up. A delicious dark skin developed on top, which I gather some people prefer to discard. In our house we argued over who got the skin.

Per serving:
1 level Tbs short grain (eg Arborio) rice
1-2 tsp sugar, to taste
½ cup milk
A pinch of nutmeg or ½ tsp vanilla (optional)
To serve:
Pouring cream

You will need one cup ramekins or tea/coffee cups to make these puddings. Grease them lightly, as many as you want to make, and arrange on a baking tray or in an ovenproof dish. Preheat oven to 170°C.

Place the rice, sugar, milk and flavourings in each dish and stir to combine. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cooked and browning on top. You can discard the skin which forms on the tops, but I like it. Serve hot or chilled with cream.

To reheat in the microwave, drizzle a little milk on the top to moisten, then zap on high for one minute.

Makes as many as you want

Swedish Almond Cake

Swedish Almond Cake (Mandeltarta) was made internationally famous by IKEA who sell it frozen in their stores. I decided to make my own.

The recipe makes a small cake which will serve 8. To make a bigger cake use two 24-25cm cake tins and increase the ingredients by fifty per cent, using 6 eggs instead of 4.

Meringues:
4 eggs whites
Pinch salt
80g sugar
140g ground almonds (see note)
Filling: 
4 egg yolks
75g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
125ml cream (½ cup)
2-3 Tbs flaked blanched almonds, lightly toasted by stirring in a dry pan over moderate heat
125g unsalted butter, at room temp
125ml cream (½ cup) extra
To serve:
Fresh raspberries and cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease and bottom-line two 20cm cake pans. Beat egg whites and salt with electric beaters until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, beating continuously, until you have a stiff meringue. Fold in the ground almonds.

Divide evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 mins then cool. Meanwhile in a non-stick milk pan, mix the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and cream with a balloon whisk. Turn on the heat and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened. Scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cake can be prepared to this stage the day before or several hours ahead.

With electric beaters mix butter until light and airy then mix in the refrigerated custard in two lots. Add the extra cream and continue to whip for a minute or so. Remove paper from meringues and place one on a serving plate. Cover with half the filling then place the second meringue on top. Use remaining filling to cover the top of the cake. The original recipe covers the sides as well, but  I just covered the top. Sprinkle flaked almonds all over. Refrigerate until serving time.

Serve alone or with fresh berries and cream.

Serves 8

Note: make almond meal by blitzing shelled almonds (blanched or unblanched, your choice) in a food processor.

Apricot and Almond Cake

Suzanne, a fellow-subscriber to a Facebook cooking site for fans of Yotam Ottolenghi, kindly sent me this recipe.

With a dollop of thick cream it doubled as a 90th birthday cake and dessert at a celebration lunch I hosted recently. The original recipe was made in a 7 inch square cake tin and as I used a 9 inch one, I increased all the ingredients. It worked out perfectly.

The recipe uses canned apricot halves (or peaches), but I am pretty sure you could use fresh apricots, peaches or plums. As the fruit contains quite a bit of moisture I would tend towards overcooking this cake, rather than undercooking. The more cooked edges were chewy and tastier than the middle of the cake.

This cake is gluten-free and if you want to make it dairy-free use margarine instead of a dairy spread.

250g icing sugar
5 eggs
250g soft spreadable butter (or margarine)
250g shelled almonds (blanched or un-blanched)
2 x 400g cans apricot (or peach) halves (or one 800g can)
½ cup flaked or slivered almonds
1 Tbs sugar
To serve:
Icing sugar (optional)
Thick cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9 inch (22cm) square cake pan. Place one piece of baking paper one way, covering opposite sides and the bottom and leaving a bit extending above the cake pan to make it easier to lift the cake out after cooking. Then use another rectangle of baking paper to cover the other two sides and the base. So the base will have two layers. Spray or brush with a little oil.

In a stand mixer or using electric hand held beaters whisk the eggs and sugar until thick, creamy and doubled in volume. Add the butter and continue mixing until combined. Place shelled almonds in food processor and process until fairly fine. Add almonds to the egg, sugar and butter mixture and carefully combine. Scrape batter into cake pan and smooth the top.

Thoroughly drain the apricots and pat them dry with paper towels then arrange over the top of the cake, pushing them in slightly. Mine were small and I used 5 halves each way, 25 in total, with 3-4 left over. Sprinkle flaked or slivered almonds over the cake and lastly the sugar.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Test with a skewer in the middle – when cooked it should come out clean. Cook the cake for a bit longer rather than risk undercooking it in the middle.

When completely cool lift cake from the pan onto a serving plate using the paper, then carefully peel or cut it off. You may have to leave the paper on the bottom. If liked, dust a little icing sugar over the top. Serve as it is or with cream. This cake is best served the same day.

Serves about 12

Note: if. you want to make a smaller cake using a 7 inch (18-20cm) cake pan, use 4 eggs and 200g of icing sugar, spreadable butter and almonds instead of 250g.

Rhubarb Pie

We grow masses of rhubarb and I always like to cook what we grow, before going to buy ingredients.

With several grandkids staying at our farm with their parents for a few days during school holidays I needed to serve desserts with general all-round appeal. This rhubarb pie ticks all the boxes and, once second helpings had been fought over, there were no leftovers.

2 or 3 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry
About 5 cups rhubarb (600g or so) cut into 2cm (½ inch) slices
1 cup plain flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbs butter
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water
Extra sugar
To serve:
Cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 9-10 inch (20-22cm) pie plate or tin and line with pastry. You will probably need more than one sheet, but just press the pieces together where they join. Use mostly the red part of each rhubarb stick – you need enough to fill the pie shell and mound up a bit. Mix rhubarb with flour, sugar and cinnamon, then tip into pie shell and spread evenly. Dot with small pieces of butter.

Cut 2cm strips of pastry and use to cover the pie with a lattice, pinching to seal them to the sides. Brush all over with the beaten egg and water, then sprinkle with some extra sugar. Bake for 45 minutes, or until nicely browned and you can see the rhubarb in the middle of the pie is bubbling. Serve warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8-10