Monday, 18 February 2008

Valentine's madness: a gastronomic (and blogging) epic!

Okay, I admit it, I love any excuse to spoil N, especially when it comes to indulging him in nice food. However, whose stupid idea was it to attempt a four course Valentine's day meal doing everything from scratch?! Mine of course. It seemed like a wonderful idea: no expensive meal out in a restaurant filled with other smoochy couples drinking over-priced wine and eating over-priced food feeling under-dressed, or over-dressed. Instead we could just have a nice easy evening in, drinking our favourite wine and eating freshly prepared homemade food listening to our choice of music (not some hideous supposedly romantic Muzak) and retiring to the sofa in our pyjamas to watch a film. Just the two of us all night. A perfect evening if you ask me.

The only thing I hadn't factored in was exactly how much work a four course meal (and vaguely impressive presentation) would take! I basically spent the whole day in the kitchen (or in the streets of north London on the hunt for a cake dome and decent olives). I can't pretend that it wasn't fun though. In fact, it was great! I loved every chaotic minute of it, even the disasters, but especially the look of pleasure on N's face as I presented each course. That alone was worth every second of slaving over a hot kitchen.

So now I am going to re-live it all in great (and no doubt boring) detail. Be warned this is quite an epic!

I started the indulgence early with a special breakfast of raspberry pancakes with mascarpone and maple syrup. I'd had some batter left from Baking Day and thought a special treat was in order it being a special day. Little was N to know that raspberries (and their deep red colour) were going to turn out to be the theme of the day!

With N sufficiently fueled for the four mile cycle to work I ushered him out of the door, grabbed a shower, slung on my apron and at 9.15 sharp began the mammoth tasks at hand.

Having spotted the delicious looking Red Velvet Cake on Tartelette's blog I knew it was going to be the climax of my Valentine's day meal. It just looked so red and decedent, I knew it would be perfect. However, I wanted to adapt the recipe to use raspberries, not strawberries, as I prefer their slight tartness and deeper colour. Hence the three large punnets of raspberries in the fridge and thus the raspberry pancakes!

So by twenty past nine I was boiling raspberries with my silicon spatula, courtesy of the Queen of Posting, in order to have a raspberry syrup to form the basis of the colour and taste of my cake.

The raspberry syrup wasn't quite enough to give the bright red colour I was looking for, so I did resort to adding food colouring as well, but it still smelt amazing and the cake would retain the slight hint of raspberry flavour that I wanted.

The cakes were whipped in the oven and 35 mins later whipped out again, tested and left to cool. Knowing my tendency for not being able to leave cakes cooling for long enough I chose this opportunity to head out to buy the cake dome that would house the cake and be the Valentine's table centerpiece. I also picked up some really nice olives, the only part of the meal that wouldn't be handmade.

I returned to the carnage of a messy kitchen to discover the cakes completely cool and so readily extended the mess to the dining table where cake filling would commence.

Definitely the most indulgent cake I have ever attempted, three layers all separated by a thin layer of melted white chocolate, marscapone icing, raspberry puree and fresh raspberries! Total decadence!

It was around this point that the North London Kitchen experienced its second Serious Failure. The cream cheese icing that was to cover the cake was taking upon itself to re-enact the white chocolate mousse's rebellion: it refused to stiffen enough to be thick enough to cover the cake. Argh! Cue another emergency call to the domestic goddess hotline ("Mum, my icing's too sloppy, HELP!") Fortunately the fount of all baking knowledge had the answer, more icing sugar was added (a LOT more icing sugar) and finally it was ready. It still didn't pipe well - too stiff to go through the bag without lots of effort, only to fall over once I turned my head) - but once I'd stuck the mini-hearts on I think it looked pretty good:


One course down, three to go!

Actually, that's not quite how it happened, as I did prepare the other courses in between doing the bits of the cake, I just figured it would be simpler to treat each one separately in the blog.

Whilst the cake had been cooking I had made a white chocolate pudding that would be the pre-cake desert, and that was cooling on the side. It would be served with a swirl of raspberry puree on top - alas in the moment I forgot to photograph it.

Then I made the main course: Caramelized red onion tarts with goats cheese served with a pear and walnut salad.

I'm not usually one for twee little things, certainly not for main courses, but I couldn't help but make the tarts using heart shaped moulds, I mean, come on, it's Valentine's day!

So the pastry was made, filling prepared, all I needed to do was put one into the other and whack in the oven twenty minutes before we were going to eat.

Now I had three courses ready to rock. Only the final, and coincidently first, to prepare. I was doing bread and olives and houmous. It had to be bread didn't it, a meal wouldn't be right without it. So I made a batch of olive dough from Richard Bertinet's book, split it, and made rosemary and sea salt focaccia with one half and sesame breadsticks with the other. While these were resting and proving I threw together some houmous using an old Observer recipe. Although I forgot, yet again, to take pictures of these individually, you can see the breadsticks and houmous at least in this picture of the table.

And so, everything was finally ready. I wrapped the presents, printed the menu, set the table, put on the music and so began our wonderful evening!

We ate three courses, made some proper espresso and retired to the sofa with huge slabs of cake, coffee, a single Montezuma raspberry truffle each and Casablana on DVD. *sigh* Perfection.

I'm not going to post all the recipes here as this blog is long enough already. However I will post the Red Velvet Cake recipe as I have adapted it and didn't cook straight from a book, which is what I did for the red onion tarts (Delia Smith again). Also, the cake could be made as muffins (I reckon half the mixture would make at least six muffins, probably more) and so you don't have to be quite as over indulgent as us!

Red Velvet Cake

115 g butter
1/2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk
1⁄2 cup raspberry syrup
2 Tsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tsp. vinegar
1 t.sp soda (sifted)
2 1/2 C. cake flour

(NB: the aim of the raspberries is to turn the cake its red colour. Unfortunately it wasn’t red enough so I also added about 1tbsp of red food colouring to get the right bright red cake mixture I wanted)

For the raspberry syrup: cook a pint of raspberries with 1⁄2 cup sugar and juice of 1⁄2 a lemon. Let cool. Strain. If the juice is very liquid, reduce over medium heat to obtain a syrup consistency.

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add raspberry syrup and cocoa. Add salt to flour and sift. Add flour and buttermilk alternately, mix well. Add vanilla, mix well. Add soda and vinegar and don't beat, just blend. Bake in three 9" pans about 30 minutes at 180 C.

Cake covering: Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

In bowl of electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter, on low speed, until very smooth with no lumps. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. NB: I had to add loads more icing sugar to get it thick enough to spread over the cake.


250g Marscapone cheese
150g Fromage Frais
1 dsp caster sugar
250g Raspberries
melted white chocolate
leftover raspberry syrup

whisk together the marscapone, fromage frais and sugar with a balloon whisk until combined. Spread a layer of melted chocolate on the base cake layer, then add about half the cheese mixture and spread evenly, Add half the remaining raspberry syrup and spread evenly again, then top with half the fresh raspberries. Repeat for the second layer.

NB: You’ll need to store the cake in the fridge because of the fresh fruit and it’ll need to be eaten quickly – what a shame!

1 comment: