Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ndali and Fairtrade Baking

I’ve been a fan of fairtrade ingredients for a number of years now. If I have the choice of a fairtrade over a non-fairtrade one, I’ll always go for the fairtrade one. I like to think I’m fairly well educated about what I put in my trolley and what I use in my cooking. I’d done some research into fairtrade ingredients and they offer opportunities to farmers and producers to have a better life.

Vanessa Kimbell recently went to Uganda to see how Ndali grow their vanilla and to see the effects of being fairtrade producers. This was subsequently featured on Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’ and it was fascinating, as the growers and farmers were interviewed and said what being fairtrade meant to them. It was also the first time that I realised just what went into producing vanilla as I’d never really thought about where it came before. I sometimes see pods in the supermarkets and think ‘Crikey, that’s expensive,’ but had never known the process from seed to supermarket.

Vanessa organised the ‘Ndali Vanilla Gift Swap’ at Fortnum and Mason, in association with the Fairtrade Foundation to celebrate the launch of the Fairtrade Bake. All of those who participated, were sent Ndali vanilla pods and Ndali vanilla powder. We could enter up to three products in 4 categories – cakes, biscuits, preserves and sweets.

I made some Viennese whirls, which I filled with plum and vanilla jam and vanilla buttercream and I also made some hazelnut, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, with a whipped vanilla ganache icing.

It wasn’t exciting enough that we could talk to lots of lovely people and take someone else’s goodies home with us. Vanessa had arranged for Lucas Hollweg, Chantal Coady and two of the buyers from Fortnum & Mason to taste everything. The lovely (and very generous!) Kenwood and Fortnum & Mason had supplied prizes and Chantal also offered a class at her wonderful Rococo chocolates.

Fortnum & Mason had provided tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakey treats for all of us. They looked amazing, but a few months ago I gave up wheat and so I asked whether it would be possible to have something without wheat. I was looking enviously at the food on offer and knew I’d be peckish before I went home.

Time went on, I was chatting to lovely people and I’d given up hope on eating. I was also starting to feel more than just a tad peckish. Imagine my delight, when a lovely waiter from F&M came up to me with these two plates. The sandwiches had been lightly toasted and had had their crusts cut off (as all good sandwiches should!). I didn’t manage to eat everything (it would  have been very gluttonous!), but I was so touched by the thought and my tummy was very happy too!

So, as I was tucking into my sandwiches, Vanessa stepped to the front and told us all about her experiences in Uganda and the generosity of Lulu Sturdy (Ndali’s owner). We all felt moved by Vanessa’s tales and I knew that my support for fairtrade ingredients was absolutely the right thing and I will continue to use fairtrade ingredients in my baking wherever it is possible.

Before I knew it, the prizes were being awarded. There were some fabulous looking goodies around and I was sure that they were going to taste delicious too. I was pleased with what I had made, but the competition was fierce!

I was so chuffed when I realised that my cupcakes had won a ‘runner’s up’ prize in the best cakes and cupcakes category. I wasn’t convinced that the vanilla taste was there, but I thought that they did taste good and so I hoped for the best! As mentioned above, the lovely people at Kenwood very generously donated all of the prizes and I can’t wait for my new toy to come along, so I can have a play.  I already have a Kenwood k-mix food mixer (which is not only a thing of beauty, but a joy to work with as well), so I’m super-dooper excited to be having a new addition to my kitchen gadgetry!

When it was time to leave (after we all congratulated the winners and consoled those who didn’t quite make it on this occasion), it was time to swap gifts and go home. Just before we left, we were given a goody bag from the Fairtrade Foundation, which included some Green & Black’s cooking chocolate, some almonds, apricots, raisins, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, a Divine Chocolate cookery book and a Delicious magazine cookery book too.

I’ve already used the apricots and raisins – I made some Christmas cakes today. I’m also going to make some fig and vanilla jam in the next few days and I have to think of a use for my cinnamon sticks and cooking chocolate, but I’m thinking that either raspberries or cranberries may feature.

I would like to thank Lulu from Ndali for my fabulous vanilla, to Fortnum and Mason for not only being superb hosts, but for providing me with an excellent afternoon tea, to Kenwood for my shiny new toy, to the judges for giving up their afternoon and ‘having to eat’ lots of cake, to the Fairtrade Foundation for the yummy goody bags and finally, to Vanessa for organising such an amazing afternoon. I had such a fantastic day out and realised that the simple choices that I make in a supermarket can (and do) have a feel impact on lives in other parts of the world.

If you feel like baking in the next week, why not make it Fairtrade and take part in the Big Fair Bake? You’ll have something yummy to eat and be making a real difference to the lives of people who don’t want charity, they just want a fair deal.

Gluten free chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla cupcakes

This is the first of my 2 recipes from the Ndali Vanilla gift swap that I attended at Fortnum and Mason on 24 September 2012. It’s also the one I won a ‘runner’s up’ award for the ‘best cake or cupcake’. It was unexpected (there were some fabulous looking baked goodies!) and I was very proud! I got a bit carried away when I was baking and took lots of photos, but it’s nice to see what you’re doing, isn’t it?!

I saw somewhere ages ago, someone offering chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla cupcakes. They sounded interesting and something I wanted to try. Last Christmas, I made something similar – chocolate and hazelnut cupcakes and they went down very well. So, I revisited my recipe (once I found it from my ‘wonderful’ filing system!), tweaked it and the following cupcakes materialised!

I gave up wheat at the start of summer and I feel so much better for it. Occasionally I’ll eat it, as I have no reason not to eat it other than I don’t want to, but I am trying to bake and eat without wheat as far as I can. That’s another reason why I love these cupcakes. Most of the nuts I use in my baking are almonds, so it’s great to find another one to use! One day I’ll get round to making this as a big cake, but in the meantime, here’s the recipe I have adapted from ‘it pleases us

I added vanilla to the cupcakes and I have made a whipped ganache icing, which I think really works well. I also dipped my hazelnuts in chocolate before using them to top my cupcakes, just to make them that little bit prettier!

Finally, just before I get to the recipe, I wanted to add (as I haven’t stated it anywhere else!) that the chocolate, the hazelnuts, the sugar and the vanilla that I used were all fairtrade products. Using fairtrade products is something which is incredibly important to  me and when I post my write up of the gift swap, I’ll explain why. For now, happy baking!

Chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla cupcakes

Makes 9

70g dark chocolate, chopped

50g butter, chopped

2 eggs, separated

60g caster sugar

50g ground hazelnuts

1tsp ndali organic vanilla powder

For the icing

120g dark chocolate, finely chopped

90ml double cream

1tbsp caster sugar

1tsp ndali organic vanilla powder

9 whole (or half) hazelnuts

10g dark chocolate

Firstly, make the cupcakes. Put cases into your cupcake tray and preheat your oven to 150C. (NB, I have a very hot fan oven, so this is the temperature I used. If your oven isn’t a hot fan, I’d suggest using 170C.)

Put the chocolate and butter into a bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until both have melted together. Allow to cool slightly.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a bowl until thick and creamy. This will take several minutes. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.

Add the ground hazelnuts and vanilla and stir until well mixed. (To get ground hazelnuts, I used a coffee grinder and blitzed whole ones.)

With a whisk, beat the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until they are of stiff peak consistency. Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and stir carefully. Then add the remaining egg whites and fold carefully until just combined. You don’t want to lose all the air you’ve just created!

Spoon the mixture into your cases and bake for about 20 minutes. The best way to describe if your cupcakes are ready, is if you insert a skewer or sharp knife into one, it will come out still a little bit moist.

Leave the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Whilst the cakes are baking, start on the icing. Put your finely chopped chocolate into a large bowl. (You are chopping it finely so that it will melt easier – you don’t want lumps of chocolate in your ganache!)

Pour the cream into a pan and add the sugar. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and then increase the heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. (When I did this, I used 1/2tsp vanilla and although I could taste it in the cream, I couldn’t taste it in the finished ganache, so I would recommended that you use more vanilla.)

Pour the cream mixture onto the chocolate and beat quickly until the chocolate has completely melted. Leave to cool completely. (This is the cooled ganache, just before I whisked it; it’s my ‘before’ shot!)

At this time, melt your remaining chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of water on a very low heat. Then, dip your hazelnuts into the chocolate and allow to cool.

When the ganache has cooled completely, get your whisk out and on a high setting, whisk the ganache until it has a very pale colour and is of a light and smooth consistency. This will take several minutes. (This is the ‘after’ shot – what a difference a whisk makes!)

At this point, put the icing into a piping bag and pipe onto the cupcakes. (If you make your icing before you’re ready to pipe, whisk for a few seconds before you put into your piping bag, as it tends to go hard otherwise.) Place a hazelnut onto the top of each cupcake and enjoy!

* Edit. After pressing ‘publish’ I realised that not everyone will be as confident with piping as I am. To get the swirl on my cupcakes, I used a Wilton 1M nozzle. It’s a great nozzle as if you pipe from the outside of the cupcake to the centre in an anti-clockwork motion, you get a swirl and if you start from the centre of the cupcake and pipe in a clockwise motion, you will pipe a flower. The piping bag I used is a reusable bag, though you can buy disposable ones from cake decorating shops, the internet etc.

You need to pipe when the icing has just been whipped, though be careful as the heat of your hands will melt the ganache towards the end (you may notice that cupcakes 7, 8 and 9 did not make the final photograph!).

If you don’t have piping bags and fancy nozzles, then a palette knife, or simply a small knife will be fine.

Finally, if you don’t use all of your icing, pop it back into your fridge and after an hour or two, you have vanilla truffles. Yum!

Plum and Vanilla Jam

Hello! You may have noticed that summer is over and I’ve been a bit quiet of late. Well, for the duration of summer actually! I’m sorry about that. I have been busy and I have been working, I just have been doing it very quietly! I hope to be a bit more vocal in the autumn and winter and certainly in the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll more than make up for months of silence!

You may remember last Christmas, when the very lovely and talented Vanessa Kimbell organised ‘Let’s Make Christmas’ at Fortnum and Mason? (To refresh your memories, I made some amaretti biscuits and won a Kenwood food processor and a Fortnum and Mason Christmas hamper!) Well, she’s done it again! Vanessa was recently in Uganda and on her return, has highlighted the plight of vanilla producers and has championed ndali vanilla

So, to get people using ndali vanilla and to bring awareness to their wonderful produce, Vanessa has organised a vanilla gift swap at Fortnum and Mason tomorrow.

So, it stands to reason that I should join in. I love baking, I adore vanilla and meeting fellow bakers and bloggers is always fun. So, what could I possibly make? I’ve decided to make some chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla cupcakes, with a whipped vanilla ganache icing and some Viennese Whirls, filled with a vanilla buttercream and plum and vanilla jam. If I’m going to celebrate vanilla, I’m going to make sure I use a lot of it!

Today, I’ve made the jam and the ganache. I’m not entirely convinced that either have enough vanilla, though I thought I was being generous! I imagine (I hope!) that by the time I’ve made all of the constituent parts, that they will all be sufficiently vanillay, and hopefully I’ve not gone for overkill. There’s a line between not having enough and having it so strong that it’s all that you can taste. I’d like not to cross that line!

So, today I’ll share my jam recipe. Over the next few days, the recipe for the biscuits and the cupcakes as well as my thoughts of the day will follow. After that, I’m hoping to rediscover my love for this blog and I’ll share more thoughts and recipes with you all.

Plum Jam (enough for 5-6 7oz jars)

1 kg plums (I used Victoria)

800g sugar

2 Ndali vanilla pods

300ml water

Begin by ‘preparing’ your pan. Before I make jam, I always wash my pan in hot, soapy water. Once it has dried, I then melt some butter (enough to coat the base of the pan). This helps to stop the jam from sticking to the base, which also makes washing up easier! Then, pre-heat your oven to 120C and once you have done this, place a small saucer into your freezer.

Rinse the plums in water, then halve and stone. Cut in half again and put into your prepared pan. Add the water and the vanilla pods. Before you add the pods, score one lengthways and open up to reveal the seeds. Scrape these out using a sharp knife and add to your pan. Cut the pod in half (so that you can later add this to your jam jars) and repeat for the other vanilla pod.

Put the pan on a low-medium heat and leave for the fruit to soften, which will take about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the jam jars. Start by washing your jars in hot soapy water. Then rinse them in hot water and place in your pre-heated oven. Ideally, you need to leave them for between 15-20 minutes and this will sterilise them.

Once your jars are in the oven, your plums should be nicely softened and you are ready to add the sugar. I have used granulated sugar. You could use vanilla sugar if you choose; as I’ve only just thought about this, I didn’t! You can warm your sugar to help it dissolve. You don’t have to do this and it’s not something I always do, but I do sometimes. (If you wanted to do this, weigh your sugar out, and then pour onto a large baking tray. Put in the oven on a low heat – no more than 100-120 degrees – and leave for about 5 minutes. You don’t want to cook the sugar, all you want to do is warm it up. Remove from the oven and then add to your pan.)

Put the sugar into the pan and stir occasionally. You don’t want to turn the pan up – you want to leave it at its low-medium temperature. Before you start to boil the fruit, you want to ensure that the sugar has fully dissolved, otherwise you will be left with a very grainy jam. It will take somewhere between 5-10 minutes for the sugar to dissolve fully. Once you are sure that there are no little grains of sugar in your jam, turn up the heat. I had my hob at 4 for this (it goes up to 6) and I felt that was high enough. You want your jam to come to boiling point and then to boil for about 5-10 minutes, but you don’t want your jam to burn and I feel that by having a slightly lower temperature, I’m more in control.

Once you have turned the temperature of your jam up, you need to watch your pan like a hawk! Stir occasionally too. After about 5-10 minutes, take the jam off the heat, remove the saucer from the freezer and then test your jam. Take a teaspoon of jam from the pan and put it onto your saucer. Leave for about 20 seconds. Then, push the jam with your finger. If you notice that when it moves it starts to wrinkle a bit, it’s ready. If not, return to the hob, return the saucer to the freezer and try again after a couple of minutes.

When your jam has wrinkled, you can turn your hob off and you’re ready to pot the jam! Before you do this however, move your pan to your work surface. You may notice that there is a light ‘skim’ on the surface of your jam. If this is the case, stir a small knob of butter into your jam and this will disappear. Leave your jam for a couple of minutes before you jar it. This will ensure that when your jam has cooled, the fruit hasn’t all risen to the top, but remains evenly dispersed throughout your jam.

Remove your jars from the oven and you’re ready to jar the jam! You can use a funnel, but I tend to use a tablespoon and just spoon it in. As you’ve cut your vanilla pods in half, try and get a pod in each of the jars. Once you’ve reached the top of the jar (you don’t want to go right to the top – leave a gap of about 3mm), I always place a waxed disc before sealing. This isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re using new jars, but if you’re using second hand jars, it is advisable. (As an aside, if I were making plum chutney, I would always use wax discs, so the vinegar in the chutney does not react with the lid.)

Place the lid on the jam and then screw. Once the jam has cooled, you can tighten the lid and voila! Your plum jam is ready!

(Another quick aside. You can and probably should, remove the skins from your jam before you bottle it. As I went to remove one, I noticed vanilla seeds all over it and I thought it would be criminal to take them out. So, although when the jam is cool and I go to eat it, I won’t eat the skins, in the meantime, I don’t think it will do any harm to add a little more flavour to my jam. It’s really up to you though, whether you remove the skin before you jar your jam, or later, when you eat it.)

I’m not going to enter the jam in the gift swap (I only have 3 jars of it!), but I will use it to sandwich my Viennese Whirls together and I’ll post the recipe for that over the next few days.