Sunday, 8 August 2010

Nom Nom Nom - White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Mascarpone Cream

white chocolate and pistachio cake with raspberry mascarpone cream
The 11th July saw Tamzin Aitken from Animal Crackers and I sweating in a hot kitchen on a Sunday morning, preparing a three course, seasonal meal for the Nom Nom Noms. We rocked up at The Cookery School at 9:30 and were greeted with strong coffee, warm cheese scones and caraway seed muffins. Om nom nom. We were then unleashed for shopping at the posh and pricey local market, before queueing outside Waitrose (yes, that's right, queueing. Outside Waitrose), waiting for the doors to open so we could perform a speedy supermarket sweep to pick up last minute essentials not available at the market. We then hot-footed it back to the cookery school for a quick health and safety chat before the kick off of the cook off.

We had two and a half hours to cook three courses for four people. One of the rules was that one of the three courses had to be raw, with no cooking involved. We ummmed and ahhhed about what this actually meant. Could we get away with dressed crab? It has been cooked... Could we get away with making a jelly? There's some gentle heating involved... We thought about ceviche, but decided it would be difficult to practise, living, as I do, with a man who is allergic to fish - although we only practised once, so I think he would probably have lived to tell the tale. We considered seasonal salads, but, in the end, we opted for a simple, tasty gazpacho. Even then, we were worried that using bread (it's been baked after all) would be against the raw rules. It turned out, the rules were much more flexible than we feared and it was clear the uncooked course was necessary due to a limit of hob and oven space and pre-cooked ingredients were happily accepted.

For pud, it just had to be CAKE! We decided on a white chocolate and pistachio cake filled with raspberry mascarpone cream - light and fruity enough for a hot Summer's day, but still indulgent and decadent. The fragrant pistachios cut through the nursery sweetness of the white chocolate to balance out the flavours and make the whole thing feel a bit more grown-up and sophisticated. The mascarpone cream is rich and creamy, cut through with fresh, sweet and tangy seasonal raspberries. The baking of the cake was straightforward enough - and I should hope so too, making wedding cakes for a living. And we thought it tasted pretty good too, although the presentation was a bit slap-dash. Again, down to our less than perfect time management skills. Poor Tamzin had to build the cake (having never done it before) while I barked instructions from the other side of the kitchen, stressing over the duck. With about a second to spare, we cut a slice and chucked it on a plate and then scattered around some raspberries in an attempt to posh up the presentation. This was definitely a case of it tasted better than it looked. We just hoped the judges agreed! And they did. I received a lovely email from The Cookery School to let me know that the judges were very impressed with our cake.

For the main, Tamzin and I cooked duck breasts with gooseberry sauce, Pommes Anna and seasonal veg. This course didn't quite go to plan. We got confused by the kitchen clock that was set to the wrong time and thought the clock was faster than it actually was, so we forgot to get our spuds in the oven as quickly as was needed. The Pommes Anna were only just cooked through and didn't have time to get really soft with a brown top. The duck breasts are usually a total breeze to cook. Pound together some salt and toasted Sechuan peppercorns in the pestle and mortar and coat the scored skins with the fragrant pepper. Then place the duck breasts, skin-side down, in a pan over a low heat to render off most of the fat and, once the rendered fat has been poured off, turn up the heat to crisp up the skin for a few minutes, before turning it over to cook for a further few minutes. Once the duck breasts have rested on a warm plate, they should be pink and juicy with a crispy, fragrantly spiced skin. I have to admit, I haven't used an electric hob since Home Economics lessons at school and have always been used to cooking with gas. The electric hobs caused us no end of trouble. I needed two hobs for the duck - one preheated to high heat and the other on a gentle heat for the rendering of the fat, but with the hobs full of the other contenders' tasty dishes, bubbling away, I had to cope with just the one. The duck didn't seem to be doing anything! The pan was still cold after 5 minutes and the clock was ticking. I swapped hobs, deciding to forgo the rendering of the fat and just go for the crispy skin, so I bunged it on a hob that had already been turned up to the max for someone else's dish, but still there was no sizzling to be seen. The hob had been turned OFF instead of UP. Disaster!

Meanwhile, Tamzin was struggling to get the greens on. They had been steaming for 15 minutes, but were still completely raw and crunchy. The hobs had worked their nasty mojo on us again - they clearly had something against Team Greedy and we weren't too keen on them either. In the end, we managed to plate up with half a sweaty second to spare, but neither of us could pretend it was the best meal we'd ever dished up. Our duck was slightly too fatty, only a little bit crispy, but still pleasingly pink and juicy. Our potatoes were underdone, but still had a nice, buttery, well-seasoned flavour. Our greens got cooked, buttered and plonked on the plate at the eleventh hour. Our gooseberry sauce reduced well, was sweet but still tart and was suitably gooseberry-y. All in all, it could have been worse, but it should have been better. And if we could get in the Back to the Future DeLorean, we would certainly ensure we had left some time for prettifying our plating-up style. Having said that, the gazpacho looked pretty in its chilled, china bowl.

We didn't win, but we had a ball. We got to keep our cookery school aprons and went home with goodie bags, stuffed full of treats. The other teams were lovely and there was a genuine sense of support and comaraderie. After the cook off we got the chance to fill our bellies with plates piled high with the delicious food cooked by all the excellent contenders. We had our glasses frequently topped up by the lovely staff at The Cookery School, so staggered home very merry little cooks indeed. Tamzin and I loved being a part of The Nom Nom Noms and were warmly looked after by the wonderful staff at The Cookery School. Particular thanks must go to Ros and Claudine for making the day such a total pleasure and a triumph to boot. Also a big thanks to the brilliant Mecca for having so much passion, not to mention uber organisational skills, to make the event such a success and for such a worthy cause: Action Against Hunger.

Action Against Hunger works in over 40 countries to carry out innovative, lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, health and advocacy. Every year, their 6,000 aid workers help over 4 million people worldwide. Please support their amazing work by entering the Nom Nom Nom raffle. For just £10 you could be in the running to win amazing foodie prices. And while you're at it, please vote for Team Greedy in the Viewers' Choice Awards. It takes less than a minute and you can vote every 24 hours if the mood takes you.

White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a 15" x 10" roulade tin with baking parchment.

Ingredients

for the cake

150g good quality white chocolate (eg. Divine or Green & Blacks)
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp whole milk or single cream
125 g caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
100 g plain flour, sifted
50 g pistachio nuts, blitzed in a magimix or smashed in a bag with a rolling pin.
A pinch of salt

for the raspberry mascapone cream

1 tub of full fat mascarpone
A generous splash of vanilla extract
A small tub of double or whipping cream
icing sugar, to taste
A punnet of fresh raspberries

Method
  • Melt the chocolate and milk/cream in a heat proof bowl suspended over barely simmering water.
  • Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the butter to melt and leave to cool slightly.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the chocolate mixture and ground pistachios and stir briskly.
  • Fold in the plain flour until thoroughly combined.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.
  • Fold the whisked whites into the chocolate and pistachio batter and pour the mixture into your prepared roulade tin. Smooth over with a palate knife and bake on the middle shelf of your oven for 15 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake to cool in its tin on a wire rack.
  • To make the raspberry mascarpone cream, stir a generous splash or two of vanilla extract into the mascapone. Sift over icing sugar and mix in until you get your desired sweetness, a tablespoon or two should be ample. This must be done by hand and not with an electric whisk, otherwise your mascarpone will go too runny.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the double/ whipping cream until stiff and fold it into your vanilla scented mascarpone.
  • Slice the cake horizontally into 3 strips, discarding any uneven edges first.
  • Layer the cake up by smoothing vanilla mascarpone cream over the first section of cake and top it with raspberries. Continue to layer the cake up in this way and then smooth the vanilla mascarpone cream over the top and sides. Your cake is ready to slice and serve.

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