Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chai cupcakes with marshmallow frosting

... that's what the best cupcakes are made of! 
While baking a test batch of vanilla cupcakes this week for a dear friend and bride-to-be I couldn't resist whipping in a sprinkling of spice. Since my two whirlwind work trips of the 'Spice Islands'; Seychelles and Zanzibar (which both happened in the space of 4 weeks - I know, I'm such a jet setter!), I've found my spice drawer overflowing with the most beautiful cinnamon quills, nutmegs, cloves, cardamom, juicy vanilla pods and white peppercorns. 

The markets in Zanzibar and Seychelles are packed with spice stalls and the heady aroma hangs in the thick humid air - it's intoxicating! The vendors all haggle for your attention and you're encouraged to get the best bargain whether it be in Seychelles rupees, Zanzibar shillings or dollars. Compared to Seychelles, the spice sellers of Zanzibar are far more persistent and I found myself purchasing spices I didn't even need just so we could continue our tv shoot in peace! 

The cinnamon quills were my favourite treasure - long, golden and perfectly curled they're unlike anything we get here in South Africa. Cinnamon is actually one of the spices first used in antiquity (along with francincense and myrrh) which of course only adds to it's charm. I love how it laces everything it's added to with a deep warmth. Vanna Bonta said it perfectly; 'Cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously'. Which is exactly what these spicy cupcakes will do! 

Chai cupcakes with marshmallow frosting
Makes 12

125g butter
150g castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp chai spice*

Marshmallow frosting
2 egg whites
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and beat well. Sift over the flour and spices and beat again. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with cupcake wrappers and bake at 180C for 12-15 minutes or until golden and a skewer comes out clean. 
Make the frosting by whisking the egg whites in a heatproof bowl until soft peak stage. Add castor sugar and whisk over simmering water until the meringue is hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and beat on high with a hand mixer until cool. Whip in the vanilla. Place in a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes immediately. 

*TIP: To make the chai spice mix, combine 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and cardamom then add 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp each of ground cloves, ground nutmeg and ground white pepper. Store in a sealed jar. 
I like to grind the whole spices myself in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar as the flavour is far more punchy than the store-bought ground stuff. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tomato, sausage and lentil cassoulet with basil

Everybody has those ‘clear-out-the-fridge’ days and more often than not they happen at the end of the month. I relish the challenge of these days! For me, a cook is only worth his or her salt if they can turn the most average ingredients into something utterly delicious. It’s easy to walk into a supermarket with a recipe and then purchase the freshest ingredients, but to open a half-bare cupboard and turn a few odds ‘n ends into a special meal is tricky. This is my quick, budget version of cassoulet which is really a very fancy French name for meat and bean stew. Traditional cassoulet is usually made with sausages and white beans, mine however features barley and lentils (because that’s what I had in my cupboard). What is your finest ‘clear-out-the-fridge’ creation?

Photography and styling by Katelyn Williams

Tomato, sausage and lentil cassoulet with basil
Serves 4

Olive oil
300g cocktail pork sausages
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
½ glass white wine (drink the rest of the bottle)
2 bay leaves
1 cup baby tomatoes, halved
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tin green lentils, drained
1 cup cooked barley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful fresh basil leaves
crumbled feta, to serve

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the pork sausages over medium low heat until golden and cooked through. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow to evaporate completely. Add the bay leaves, tomatoes (halved and tinned) with the paprika. Allow to simmer gently and reduce slightly. Add the lentils and barley and season well.  Serve in bowls with torn fresh basil leaves and crumbled feta. 

And yes, every now and then I do take a break between eating chocolate and cupcakes to cook something savoury and healthy :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Double decker chocolate brownies

What's better than a chocolate brownie? A double chocolate brownie that's what. 
A gooey moist chocolate layer, topped with a sweet and sticky blondie layer but not without a layer of Oreo cookies in between for good measure. A friend of mine labelled these 'slutty brownies' which is a little unfair and although I'd like to argue the crudeness of that statement, I can't really fault her logic*. These brownies are skanky in a lot of ways. Apart from being ahem, easy, if a brownie could wear a low-cut top AND an uber short mini skirt at the same time, these would be doing it while standing on a street corner 'shaking what their momma gave them'. Yes, they're double the trouble, and impossible to resist. Just look at them - piled on that cake stand, looking all decadent and delicious. So naughty, and wrong, but so so right. 

P.S. And if you thought that after Easter and all it's eggs I'd take it easy on the chocolate posts, then you'd be wrong! Remember, hollow chocolate, has no calories. 

Photography by Gunther Schubert of Vorsprung Studio

Double decker brownies
Makes 24

First layer
150g butter or margarine
300g brown sugar
80g cocoa
150g cake flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
100g dark chocolate chips

1 box chocolate Oreo cookies

Second layer
200g oats (not instant)
100g cake flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g butter or margarine, softened
100g Muscovado sugar
1 x 397g tin condensed milk
1 egg
170g dark chocolate chips

Melt butter over low heat; add sugar, stirring until blended.
Stir in mix of cocoa, flour, and bicarbonate of soda; remove from heat.
Whisk eggs with vanilla then add into pan mix.
Stir in the chopped chocolate and then pour into a lined baking tray.
Place a row of the cookies on top.
Prepare the blondies by mixing the oats, flour and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale then beat in condensed milk and dry ingredients followed by the egg and chocolate chips. Bake at 180oC for 30-35 minutes or until still gooey. 

*The original 'Slutty Brownies' actually consist of a chocolate chip cookie base, oreo cookies and brownie mix - see recipe here.