This Friday past was time for a long overdue girls night reunion – what with one thing and another we hadn’t all managed to get together in weeks, perhaps even months, and we decided to make up for it by having a super cupcake night, on a Friday instead of a Thursday. It was extremely successful, with required levels of drunkenness achieved but not exceeded, bedtime postponed until 5am for some of us, presents by the bucketload and, of course, food. Lots of food. Our host, Miss P, had baked three kinds of cupcakes, a chocolate tray bake and a platter of cookies, as well as supplying sausage rolls and other savoury goods. This is what the table looked like:
There is an interesting red tinge to this photograph; I’m not really sure what that’s about. Certainly there are red items in the room, like the couch, but the lights are perfectly normal, and not loaded with red lightbulbs like a teenager’s bedroom. As you can see, there was enough food to kill more than one horse, and in fairness to us there were leftovers at the end. I should know, I took some of them home in a tupperware that I’d brought for just that purpose; waste not, want not, and all that.
It was a lovely night, and some of the aforementioned presents were for me, about which I was extremely excited and for which I feel joyously grateful. The presents are for another post, for now I want to talk about my contributions to the Double Birthday Cupcake Girls Night table of excess. I had chosen two recipes to test from LC that I knew would be good for a girls night, so this mega-sized girls night seemed an ideal opportunity to make both. The first, and one that took the most planning for, was one they call simply ‘Hedgehogs’, and can be found here. They are little chocolates with a biscuit base and a rum buttercream filling, apparently found commonly in Austria, Belgium and Germany, and known at least in Austria as Igels. I thought that they looked cute and a bit of a challenge, and I also liked the idea of being able to make some pig-shaped ones for Miss P, who loves pigs and whose birthday sadly had to pass without celebration, at least until Friday. I made the biscuit base and buttercream filling a couple of nights ahead. The buttercream is of a kind known as French buttercream, and is made using whisked egg yolks and sugar heated with water to the ‘soft ball’ stage – that means that when you drip some of the sugar and water mix into a glass of cold water, it forms a soft ball shape as it sinks. I was worried that I’d end up with scrambled eggs from adding something this hot to egg yolks but it worked perfectly, thankfully. In fact, this first stage went extremely well and without anything to comment on – no excessive mess, no scrambling eggs, no chocolate smeared the length and breadth of the kitchen… Like a dream. The *first* stage went like that.
The *second* stage, of piping the buttercream onto the biscuits, adding the pine nut ‘quills’, chilling then coating with a chocolate glaze and icing little faces on to the hedgehogs, was a bit messier. A lot messier, actually. I essentially ended up with a chocolate coated kitchen, including all plates and cutlery that were used in the making of the chocolates, all plates and cutlery that were just nearby, some plates and cutlery that were safe in cupboards and drawers, all the work surfaces, the sink, the floor and my hands, arms and face. I barely exaggerate. The glaze has a remarkably low melting point, and as such melted happily any time I touched the chocolates, whether purposefully or accidentally. At times I felt like simply looking at them started them melting, like I had Superman’s eyes in by accident. It was a bit like living in a gingerbread house, gave me a valuable insight into how that witch in Hansel and Gretel must have felt. I feel quite sorry for her now, being cooked in her own oven like that. She was just desperate for some savoury food, the poor soul.
I think my main mistake was trying to overwork the chocolates. I slightly heated the buttercream up to room temperature before piping it on to the biscuit base, because the recipe calls for it to be used as soon as it is ready rather than after it has been chilled. I thought that bringing it up to room temperature would be more according to the recipe, and also when I did try using it from cold it produced a solid line of buttercream that didn’t fit with the rounded, oval shape of the biscuits. I thought that if it was softened a bit it would be more likely to sit in a more fitting shape. However, even once it had been warmed, the buttercream was still pretty much a thin line, only now it was stickier, which as you can imagine wasn’t really what I needed. I then went over all of the chocolates – 28 of them – with a teaspoon, trying to flatten and shape the buttercream. I wish I hadn’t . It was time-consuming, and messy, and at the end of the day the buttercream spread out a little when the pine nuts were stuck in anyway so they probably would have been fine as they were. Lesson learned!
I experimented with different things to make the hedgehogs quills, and some of the chocolates in made into pigs instead. The pigs had chocolate chips for noses (I turned them backwards to give a flat, round snout) and little heart-shaped cake sprinkles for ears (these were turned upside down just to leave the pointy side sticking out). Here is a picture of the army of pre-glazed chocolates with their varying decorations:
As you can see, they’re quite squidgy looking due to the ministrations of my well-meaning teaspoon. I left two rows without any decoration so I could add biscuit crumbs to them to give the impression of quills – this is how I ended up doing all of the hedgehogs, as the cake sprinkles (third row) and the crumbs under the glaze (fourth row) didn’t stick up enough to give any shape once the glaze had been poured over them. The pine nuts looked pretty good, and added texture to the finished result without changing the flavour very much, so I would probably recommend sticking with those if anyone was going to try making them. I think that the pigs looked best, both before and after the chocolate glaze was added – look at this one’s quizzical expression, which he somehow achieve without and facial features. I’d like to make the hedgehogs another time and think that having made them once before will allow me to make them more quickly and more successfully, at least in terms of neatness.
Here is a picture showing the three different types that I made – they all used the same recipe with different decoration. The recipe says that the chocolates should not be refrigerated after glazing but I felt that they would have benefitted from it, as the buttercream was just too soft at room temperature. It’s possible that this was due to a flaw in my method, or it could be that they are supposed to be soft like that – in any case, I preferred them when they were better set.
Looking at this picture does make me happy. The pig is the best, he has a great expression on his face. I didn’t realise until afterwards that the recipe actually calls for them just to have eyes and a little dot for a nose. I gave them my own interpretation with a wee smiley mouth, they look a bit daft but well-meaning, I think. I wouldn’t say that they are the best-tasting things I’ve ever made, but I like the way they look and it has given me some practise in different areas of chocolate making, and some ideas for making chocolates in future. For one thing, I would never have thought of using pine nuts before as I’m not a fan of nuts, but they have a much milder flavour and less squeaky texture than peanuts so I would consider them again in future. I also liked the biscuit base, I am a fan of different textures alongside each other. I probably wouldn’t follow the recipe *strictly* another time, but it is a recipe that delivers what it says it will, and talks you through what is a fairly complex process one step at a time.
My savoury option for the girls night table was a goat’s cheese terrine with basil, rocket and tomatoes. I couldn’t get enough of this terrine; it went down well with everyone. I also took a baguette to serve with it – I felt a bit silly carrying it home from the shops, as I always do when I’ve bought a baguette. I’m just not French enough to carry it off – berets and baguettes, they just don’t suit me. It went a real treat with the terrine though, it was well worth the awkward bus journey trying not to prod anyone in the eye. The recipe is here and here is a picture of the finished item. I don’t have a picture of it sliced, but it didn’t slice easily – I think perhaps the tomatoes that I had were larger than those that the recipe writer had in mind when he suggested quartering them. Next time I would thickly slice them, and that will also make it easier to layer the dish up. It turns out that layering a mix of goat’s cheese, milk and gelatine is quite tricky. It was extremely thick, barely spreadable in fact, but so delicious and creamy that it was worth the hassle of layering it up, and once again getting myself and the kitchen covered, this time in what was kind of mashed goat’s cheese. The worst bit was when I put the whisk that I had been using to mix the cheese, milk and gelatine back into the pot slightly carelessly, so that it tipped backwards again, spattering me with the mixture and then landing on the floor, leaving me thinking ‘Oh, good’, or words to that effect. Spreading something barely spreadable on top of a salad mix that includes curved tomato quarters wasn’t really an easy task, but I got there in the end and I am so pleased and proud of the result – I would urge you to try the recipe, it’s seriously good, and it looks a bit fancy, too.
I think that is all I really have to say about these recipes – I was happy with them both, more so the terrine but I felt that the chocolates were more than presentable, especially for a first attempt. I have made chocolate truffles before, and a version of raspberry ruffles, pralines and sort-of fondants, but this was something different again and in this case I enjoyed the process more than the tasting. There are more new experiences to come, too; I got a number of new recipe books for my birthday, as well as a copy of McGee on Food and Cooking, so I’m hoping to come up with some good recipes of my own once I’ve learned the science, as well as trying new recipes that other people have tested out first. All this alongside my continued membership of the testing group at Leite’s Culinaria makes me feel sure that the future holds a lot of culinary treats in store.
Tunes: I’ve been going through all my CDs, putting my favourite tunes on to my laptop for inspiration and general merriment, and one particularly nice rediscovery was a three-part ska compilation that I had all but forgotten about. Here’s a favourite from that box set, and it fits in with the animal theme of my baking this week, too – Monkey Ska
Movie: *Yet* another present I got for my birthday was the IT Crowd series 2 and 3, woo!However, in terms of relevance to what I’ve been blogging about, there’s a scene in episode four of the first series which includes the lines:
‘You don’t like goat’s cheese?’
‘I don’t like goat’s anything. I don’t like goat’s being involved in any stage of the food production process…’.
I can’t get the clip on its own, so here is another from the same episode: The IT Crowd