Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel and Chai Poached Pears

Chocolate Layer Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream, Salted Caramel and Chai Poached Pears

I get asked a lot where inspiration comes from, where do ideas for my recipes spring from. I would love to give you some romantic ideal of a writer who is struck by inspiration in a moment of clarity but the reality is much more mundane. Inspiration comes from everywhere; I carry a notebook with me most of the time because I never know when I might get an idea, and frankly I have a terrible memory. I can be in a restaurant or bakery and try something that sparks an idea, I can be reading a cookbook that gets an idea stuck in my head, I can be on holiday and see something I want to recreate, it really can be anywhere. But as well as these moments there is the opposite, the time I sit down and try to physically come up with ideas for new recipes, going over my notebooks, racking my brain and just trying come up with something new. 

As my job seems to be a source of curiosity and intrigue, when Victorinox asked me to join their campaign, #themakers, it seemed like a fun way to give you a window into that part of my job. The campaign is all about documenting my job and showing you what goes into my work, from how recipes come together, the ingredients that go into it and the tools that I use. In the video you can see a couple bits of kit that I think a good basic kitchen needs. A selection of knifes, from a small but very useful pairing knife, a larger chefs knife, a spatula for cake decorating and a bread knife for levelling cakes; basics but all extremely useful when baking. 

The recipe below is the one I made in the video and its a bit special, takes a bit of time to make, but its great for a celebration, trust me this went down brilliantly with the friends I made it for. 

Chocolate Cake

110g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
110g plain chocolate (around 60-70% cocoa solids)
280ml boiling water
3 tbsp cocoa powder
140ml buttermilk
280g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
340g soft brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Brown Sugar Buttercream
3 large egg whites
240g light brown muscavado sugar
360g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Salted Caramel
150g caster sugar
165ml double cream
large pinch of flaked sea salt
10g unsalted butter

Poached Pears
350g caster sugar
2 chai tea bags
750ml water
2 large pears, firm but ripe

For the poached pears place the sugar, tea bags and water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once the sugar has dissolved peel and slice the pears in half, add to the pan and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook the pears until they can easily be pierced by a knife, about 20-30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pears from the pan and set aside to cool in a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line three 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment, then grease the parchment too. 

Melt the chocolate in a microwave or a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Set aside to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk the water and cocoa powder together, then whisk in the buttermilk and set aside.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together into a medium bowl. In a separate bowl use an electric hand mixer beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, beating until fully combined. With the mixer on low pour the cooled chocolate down the side of the bowl and, once fully combined, add a third of the flour mixture followed by half the buttermilk mixture. Repeat and then add the final third of flour mixture. Divide equally among the three prepared tins and bake for 25–30 minutes or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out clean. 

Cool in the tins for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the caramel place the sugar into a medium sized saucepan and set over a medium/high heat. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar has started to caramelise around the outside of the pan. Use a heatproof spatula to drag the melted sugar towards the middle of the pan to help the sugar caramelise evenly. Once the sugar has fully melted and caramelised turning the colour of a rusty penny pour in half the cream. Once the bubbling has subsided add the remaining cream, salt and butter and stir gently until a smooth caramel sauce is formed. Pour into a heatproof bowl and set aside until needed.

To make the buttercream place the egg whites and sugar into a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of simmering water and gently whisk until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved. The easiest way to test this is to dip two fingers into the mixture and rub them together, if its smooth its ready, if there are sugar grains heat a little longer. Remove the bowl from the heat and using an electric mixer whisk the meringue until stiff and glossy and fully cooled 7-10 minutes. Once at room temperature add the butter a few pieces at a time whilst continuing to mix. Once all the butter has been mixed in the texture should have transformed into a silky smooth buttercream.

To assemble the cake place the first layer of cake onto a serving plate and use a serrated knife to level the cake so it is nice and flat. Top with a third of the buttercream. repeat with the second and third layer of cake. Pour the caramel on top of the cake and carefully tease it over the edge so it drips down the sides. Place the poached pears on top of the cake.

Once assembled the cake is best served on the day it is made but all the elements can be prepared in advance. 

Post in Collaboration with Victorinox


Cherry Pie


Cherry Pie

I may have gone a slightly overboard with cherries recently, I can’t seem to get enough. There seems to be an endless supply of them in my kitchen and I am far from bored of them. I am lucky enough to have an absolutely fabulous greengrocers close to my house and each and every time I visit, I am tempted to buy another bag, he even sells my favourite variety – the Rainier, which I always snap up but never quite manage to get home and cook with before devouring the bag! 

Shortcrust Pastry
400g plain flour
1/2 tsp of salt
200g unsalted butter, diced and well chilled
3 tsp white vinegar (any pale vinegar will do)
8-9 tbsp ice cold water

Cherry Filling
800g pitted sweet or sour cherries
150g caster sugar
2 1/2 tbsp ground arrowroot
1 tsp almond extract (optional)

To make the pastry place the flour and salt into a large bowl and mix together.

Add the butter and toss in the flour to coat. Using a pastry blender or two knives cut in the butter until it is mostly in pea sized pieces, if the butter gets much smaller the pastry won’t be flaky, so err on the side of caution.

Drizzle over the vinegar and half the water and using a knife or fork stir together. If the mixture looks dry keep adding water and stirring together until all of the flour looks moistened. Tip the shaggy mass onto the table and gently bring together into a ball. Cut the dough into two portions (one slightly bigger than the other) and wrap in clingfilm, pressing into flat disks. Allow the pastry to chill for at least an hour and up to three days (can be frozen for up to a month).

Whilst the pastry is chilling you can make the filling, pit the cherries if using fresh (but don’t discard the pits pop them in the freezer – more on that soon) and in a small bowl mix together the arrowroot and the sugar. Pour the sugar mixture over the cherries and mix together to combine, if using add the almond extract too. Set this aside whilst the pastry chills.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan).

Remove the larger piece of pastry from the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, roll out into a 12 inch round. Roll the pastry over your rolling pin and carefully drape into a 9-inch deep dish pie tin (I prefer pyrex). Trim the overhang so that there is about an inch or so left. Remove the second piece of dough from the fridge and as before roll into a 12 inch round, but this time do this on top of a piece of parchment paper. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife cut the dough into equal sized strips, a couple centimetres wide. Slide the parchment onto a baking tray and chill both the strips and the pie in the fridge for 15 minutes.

When ready to bake remove the pastry from the fridge and pour the filling into the pie pan.

To create the lattice effect lay six strips onto the pie, leaving a little gap between each piece. Fold back every other strip and then lay the longest remaining strip parallel across the unfolded pieces. Unfold the strips back over this parallel strip. Take the strips that are now underneath this parallel strip and fold these back, adding another parallel strip – repeating this process until you reach the edge of the pie. Now repeat this again on the other side of the pie, until all of the pie is covered with the lattice strips. I know that all sounds complicated so here is a little clip of how to do it (the video only shows 5 strips in each direction but the method is the same, I just prefer 6 strips now).

Trim the strips so that they finish on the edge of the pie tin, then roll the pastry overhang so that it sits on the edge of the pie tin (the lattice strips should be rolled up into the overhang, securing them in place). Crimp the pie as you prefer. Brush the pastry with a beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with demerara or sanding sugar.

Place the finished pie onto a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes before turning down the temperature to 200C (180C fan) and baking for a further 45-60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Remove from the heat an allow the pie to cool for at least 4 hours before serving – the filling sets more as it cools so you risk a wet filling if you serve it any earlier.

Tips – If your cherries seem especially juicy up the arrowroot to 3 tbsp

- If you are worried about a soggy bottom you can sprinkle the base of the pie with a handful of ground almonds which will soak up some of the juices as the pie bakes.

- If your pie is browned to your likening before the filling has fully cooked place a piece of foil over the top of the pie.