Hazelnut and Nutella Cupcakes

You know you’ve had enough of working when you find yourself day-dreaming about food. It happens to me way too often, which makes me wonder whether I’m rubbish at what I do or just love food a bit too much. Probably a bit of both. Anyway, today I got thinking about baking and chocolate and since my favourite chocolate (by far!) is praline, the Hazelnut and Nutella cupcake was born!

These are the most amazingly nutty cupcakes I’ve ever eaten. And they’re gluten-free. And like all cupcakes, really really easy to make. The recipe I was aiming for was the simple cupcake recipe with half the amount of flour substituted with ground hazelnuts. Maths got a bit complicated when I realised that the gluten-free cake flour I was using contained sugar.

Hazelnut and Nutella Cupcakes

Ingredients (for approximately 16 cupcakes)

3 large eggs
6oz butter
6oz sugar
3oz flour (if your flour mix contains sugar like my gluten-free one, reduce the amount of extra sugar appropriately- I only added 3oz of sugar rather than 6)
3oz ground hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
nutella for filling

I like doing my cakes without using a food processor or a hand mixer since I find they become fluffy enough if you just hand-whisk them. And there is less to wash up. So, I softened my butter, added the sugar and mixed it into a uniform paste with a wooden spoon. Next, I added basically all the remaining ingredients (dry ones first, although it probably made no difference) and whisked until smooth.

The idea with the Nutella was to have a little drop of it sitting in the middle of the cupcake, so I put half of the mix for each cupcake in the cases, topped it with a little spoonful of Nutella and then added some more cake mix on top of it. It didn’t work as well as I would have wanted, so maybe I needed to dilute the Nutella with something (milk? cream?) to make it less dense and force it to stay liquid even after baking. Any ideas welcome! Having said that, the flavour was amazing and I really had to stop myself from eating them all before managing to get a photo!

I’m sure you can do similar things using different types of nuts, but I like the matching hazelnut-nutella combo and I find that, although almond is nice, it is not strong enough. Here, the hazelnut taste was coming clearly from the whole cupcake, rather than just the nutella centre (ok, bottom).

I couldn’t find any ground hazelnut so I got some whole roasted ones and put them through the food processor. Apparently, if you do that with a bit of sugar it stops them from getting too greasy and forming lumps. I only found out about that when it was too late. It was still fine and I think it turned out nuttier that it would have done if I had used ready-ground ones, because of all the juices they released.

I’m definitely becoming more of a baking fan, and I’d like to think that I am getting better at it too. I try and bake gluten-free whenever I can, because of my friend Aimee, and in most cases you honestly can’t tell the difference. I “cheat” by using a flour mix, which includes all the essentials for gluten-free baking, like xanthan gum and I also find that using a bit of ground nuts helps with texture.

I also had my first successful loaf of bread baked today and I might post a few pictures if I can get over the fact that the lighting is horrible. That’s what happens when your kitchen is a basement and you mostly cook in the evenings! I’m not a very patient person either, which means I will not spend ages trying to get the perfect picture, especially when the food smells so good! And I clearly lack the equipment which means I have to deal with a lot of rejection from sites like Tastespotting or Foodgawker (but not Tastestopping)! Wait, what do you mean they don’t reject anyone?

Back in Bruges

Well, not literally, but we tried to recreate the “authentic” Bruges experience at home by making chips, drinking local beer and watching “In Bruges”.

Have you seen “In Bruges”? If you haven’t, you should. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. Not sure about the crying actually, since I do cry quite easily (like a big gay baby), but I don’t see how you wouldn’t be moved by it. And you will certainly laugh. It’s quite a dark film involving a good amount of black humour. And swearing.

And if you haven’t been to Bruges, you should go. We went this July, as a part of a road trip to Belgium and Germany. It’s quite a small place and we more or less saw most of the town in the two days that we stayed there, although I certainly wouldn’t mind staying for longer. Very quiet, you won’t find a great amount of nightlife but the food and the beers are great. It’s a beautiful town to walk around, if you’re into that kind of thing. And if you’re not, I’m sure it’s nothing a beer or two won’t fix.

Anyway, the chips. We had the best chips at the chip museum, at the cafe in the basement. We also watched a video on how to make the perfect chips and- of course- I kept notes. So, yesterday, we decided to give double-fried chips a go, although we have failed many times in the past.

The idea is to cook them for 10 minutes at 130 degrees, take them out and, just before you want to eat, cook them for a further 3 minutes at 190. Since we haven’t got a sugar thermometer there was a lot of guess work involved. For the first stage, we wanted the oil to fizz up just slightly when they went in, but the chips to stay as pale as possible throughout the 10 mins. For the second stage, we just got it as hot as we could. We used a combination of vegetable oil and olive oil and, although I could pretend there is a scientific reason behind this, the truth is that was all we had in the kitchen. The chips turned out perfect; really fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Dare I say we made Belgium proud!

It wouldn’t be a real Belgian night without a lot of Belgian beer. We drank 3 big bottles of local beer we picked up from the Bruges brewery. A blond one, at 6% was the weakest but by no means weak. The brune version was a double fermented one at 7.5% and it was actually my least favourite, although not bad at all. The highlight for me was the triple fermented one and the strongest (surprise, surprise) at 9%. Blond, strong tasting and hoppy but really really smooth. It went down a bit too quickly actually- was feeling a bit headachey this morning!

The St. John’s Chop House

If you are a foreigner in England and quite snobbish about the food (it’s always better back home), you should visit a Chop House. Great British food and local ales, served in a very nice environment by helpful, friendly and polite staff. Kind of the opposite of your average curry place.

This is the second Cambridge branch but for some reason I haven’t visited the first one yet. We went there last night with my boyfriend to celebrate our anniversary. It was actually on Sunday, but he was too hangover to talk, let alone go out for dinner.

I hope you appreciate the increasing quality of the pictures, going all the way up to boring mediocrity.

Starting from no picture at all, our starter was Potted Venison. I haven’t had anything like it before and, although I always think that meat isn’t anywhere near as flavoursome as it should be when it is served cold, this one was very good. It wouldn’t have worked hot anyway because there was a layer of solid fat on the top, to preserve it I guess. It was served with some toast and some kind of sweet chutney that I can’t remember the details about, but it went really well with the venison.

My main was an Oxtail and Wild Mushroom Faggot with Parsnip puree, which was brilliant, with really nice tasty meat wrapped in some kind of salty membrane (stomach lining?). The parsnip puree was a great alternative to normal potato puree and I’m definitely going to try making it myself.

Alex had a Steak and Kidney Suet Pudding. I hate kidneys and this didn’t really change my feelings towards it, but the rest was very nice and the sauce went so well with it, being some kind of sweet syrupy gravy.

We somehow found space for pudding, and I found the correct white balance setting on my camera, so the pictures are slightly more presentable. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla ice cream which was sweet and sticky and spongy (quite predictably really) but the right amount of each one making a great dessert.

The other one was a Baked Apple Cheesecake which tasted great but was a bit too stodgy for my liking.

All in all, a great meal for under £50 for two. I will certainly be going back.


Almond Macaroons

These are my dad’s favourite biscuits and I’ve loved them since I was little as they were a bit of a treat in our house. I think this is where my love for everything almond-flavoured comes from, especially Amaretto. Is it wrong to blame my drinking habits on my father? Well, I suppose so, but then again, he doesn’t read my blog.

My auntie, though, has to take the blame for completely putting me off making my own macaroons. Being quite a good cook herself, with a particular skill at puddings and cakes, I always considered her failure to produce edible macaroons as proof that they are impossible to make.

We made a key lime pie the other day and, having several egg whites left over I thought I’d use them in some macaroons. They were going to waste anyway, so I didn’t really mind if they didn’t turn out amazing. I didn’t trust any recipes that I found online thinking that my mix will be too dry but it is amazing how much almond powder you can incorporate in a single egg white. So, I spent most of my time trying to add more things to the mix to make it into some kind of consistency that I could shape into balls.

They were pretty good but didn’t last for long so the next day I tried to reproduce the recipe. Given how sketchy the first one was, I am surprised they turned out so similar! Well, this is Take 2:

Almond and Coconut Macaroons
makes about 20

3 egg whites
200 gr ground almond
(up to) 100 gr coconut
200 gr sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp almond extract

Whisk the egg whites slightly and then add everything else together, leaving the coconut last to control how wet your mix will be. You basically want it to still be moist but to be able to shape it into balls. Place them on some baking paper on a tray and then press each one down with the back side of a wet spoon.

Bake for approximately 15 mins or until golden. Let them cool down for a little bit before you eat them – if you can resist! And please, don’t try and balance one on your forehead, it will burn you. It has happened before.