A Farewell to Carbs

Doesn't the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Doesn’t the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Has something weird happened to time? It appears that I am now a mere nine days away from wedding bells and I am not entirely sure how that happened…

As is my wont, I set myself various ambitious goals at yon time when the wedding day seemed like an occasion far, far into the future. Most of them, in a purely shallow fashion, centred around being a size 6, sporting arms like Madonna and having come through the other side of the world’s harshest detox to guarantee skin so fresh, shiny and young-looking people mistook me for a 39-year-old instead of a… (er, ladylike modesty forbids me to reveal the truth dear reader).

Aye, all rather shallow hmm? So, what happened instead? There was wine, ladies and gentlemen. There were cakes and there was a lot of cheese. Yum! So, I’m now on Atkins*. Rumour has it that the 5.2 diet and the Cambridge diet are among those my guests are trying. Possibly I should contact said diet companies and ask for commission…?

So yes, Atkins, and carbs are now the mere daydream of mashed potatoes, or the enticing whiff of baked goods. To compensate for my carb-free life, I made millionaire’s shortbread today** to serve as favours for my wedding. I cut the normal sized-pieces into cute mini portions and I’ll be putting a couple of each into a china teacup and adding a hand-written note. Kitsch hmm?

I have to share the recipe for the shortbread as it’s one of the world’s nicest biscuits and three trillion times (at least) nicer home-made.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD (makes shed loads)

100g cornflour

250g plain flour

250g unsalted butter

110g golden caster sugar

2 tins condensed milk (397g each)

100g unsalted butter

100g dark brown soft sugar

150g plain chocolate

150g milk chocolate

150g white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease two 18cm/7-inch square tins (I find it’s easiest to use loose-bottomed cake tins – it makes removal of the finished shortbread much easier.)

Combine the flours and sugar in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Bring the whole lot together until it forms a bowl, divide in two and press into the bases of the two tins. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool, but do not remove from the tin.

Place the condensed milk, unsalted butter and dark brown soft sugar into a heavy based sauce pan and heat very gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Once it has boiled, turn down to a simmer and cook for five minutes. The mixture will turn a lovely fudgy colour. Pour half over one shortbread base, and half over the other. Leave to cool and set.

Melt the three chocolates separately (I favour 30-sec bursts in the microwave) and place spoonfuls of each kind over the cooled caramel and shortbread. Aim to roughly cover each surface in the three different kinds of chocolate and then lightly tap the tin on the surface so that the chocolates merge into one. Using a skewer or a knife tip, swirl the chocolates to create a marbled effect.

Leave to cool and cut into small squares. You’ll get roughly 40-45 squares from this, but mini ones look sweet. Tip – if you cut this up before the chocolate has fully set, the chocolate topping won’t crack.

*Atkins, for those of you for whom dieting is a blissfully unfamiliar habit, is a low-carbohydrate/ high protein diet. While unlimited eggs, bacon and steak sounds good in theory, without toast, chips and other starchy gloriousness it all gets rather tedious after a while. It does, however, produce results though if you do it and fall desperately ill, IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH MOI.

**Worry not, the said millionaire’s shortbread is currently residing in my freezer so it can be just-baked fresh on the day.

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The (Mucho) Joy of Chocolate

Ridiculously proud of the shine on those chocolates…

Friends, I experimented with the idea of home-made favours. I took my Lakeland chocolate mould, I made whisky truffles and I filled said chocolate mould (beforehand coating the moulds with a thin layer of plain chocolate) with the truffle mixture and I sighed in a Nigella Lawson style domestic goddess ‘I make my own’ stuff type contentment…

I did NOT. Yes to filling the chocolate mould, yes to the making my own truffles, but absolutely no to the ‘sighing in contentment’ thingie. Two-thirds of the way through lining the chocolate moulds I got bored and shortcuts were taken. The blasted truffles did not seem to stick together. My hands got seriously dirty. Chocolate worked its way underneath my nails and made me look like a dedicated gardener (reader, that could not be further from the truth).

In short, the whole exercise was a lesson in why people buy chocolates for their favours. Mind you, in true chef privilege style I did taste some of the truffle mixture and it was a bit wow-ee. It’s pretty easy too so here goes…

225g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids and above naturally)

75ml double cream

3tbsp whisky*

1 tsp vanilla essence

Finely chopped hazelnuts (or other ideas, see below)

Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a non-metallic bowl in the microwave. Put on for 30 seconds at a time until the chocolate has melted. Stir well, add the vanilla essence and leave to cool till room temperature. Add the whisky, then use an electronic whisk to beat the mixture for five minutes until it seems lighter and is paler in colour.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so until firm. Roll the chocolate mixture into balls (about walnut-sized shape) and then roll in either cocoa, chopped nuts, grated white chocolate or icing sugar. Eat within four days. They should be kept (covered) in the fridge.

If you do make them, please let me know and tell me what you think! You can substitute the whisky for Cointreu or Bailey’s too.

 

 

*I want to love whisky. It’s such a romantic drink. Think whisky, think sitting in front of a roaring log fire having hiked four or five hours up and down hills, think ancient clan chiefs sneaking the distillery away from the excise men (and Rabbie Burns was one!). Unfortunately, it still tastes pretty cough mixture to me.

Artistic Pretensions, Moi?

Fate festooned me with many blessings.

I was born in the western world – hunger, financial hardship and violent war haven’t been anything I have ever experienced. I was born to parents who absolutely adored my sisters and I and distributed love, money and time with largesse. I keep good health, as do most of those around me, and I have met with many wonderful people I am lucky enough to call friends.

Plus, all the things I like – cats, books, wine, good food and company – are all readily available to me on a weekly basis. Joy!

Before this gets a little too sickly, do know that there is something I still hanker for, even though it seems a might ungrateful.

I wish I had artistic abilities…

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late and how this might apply to a budget wedding. If I was artistically inclined, for instance, I would find flowers at wholesale and create my own beautiful table decorations. A friend recently commented that I could make my own favours for my wedding using the colour theme and I thought to myself: “blimey, a colour scheme, I never even thought of that!”. See, she has aesthetic sensibilities (her flat is decorated par excellence) and I’m 300 light years away from even getting a ‘c’ grade in school level art.

This is the before version - not yet cooked

The extent of my artistic ability; home-made pizza with careful basil leaf arrangement

Let’s take decorating my own cake, say. (Determined to make my own cake – that bit doesn’t require too much in terms of an imaginative eye, just patience and the ability to measure properly.) I picked up a book recently: The Busy Girl’s Guide to Cake Decorating – and perhaps this is the answer to the non-artistic person’s desire for creativity.

The Busy Girl (aka Ruth Clemens) suggests lovely ideas such as butterfly biscuits – you make them using cutters. Foolproof surely, even for the Pictionary dunce that I am. Then, you get smaller cutters and stamp out sugar paste before giving it a light dusting of powder and glitter and then placing on top of the biscuits. So, quite simple and possibly a favour idea…?

Ms Clemens is self-taught and her cake decorating ideas look relatively simple – so long as you can perfect that covering cakes with sugarpaste/marzipan technique. [It’s a lot flamin’ harder than it looks – smoothness is your goal, lumpiness, air bubbles, cracks et al are often the reality.]

In my ideal world*, I’d be sticking flower stems into chunks of oasis (no, not the band, but this weird, green & spongy stuff you use in flower arrangement), throwing colour co-ordinated scarves elegantly over my shoulder, and using a mixture of icing sugar, egg white and colouring to create some moulded sculpture sitting atop of cake guaranteed to make guests go “mmm” and “ahhh”.

But surrendering the ego – who but me will care that the cake is home-made? Who but me will be bothered by the fact that the favours have been out-sourced? Who but me will remark that the floral decorations weren’t created in-house (so to speak)?

Aye, no one!

 

 

*I’d also have upgraded to the design pro bit of WordPress! I could have my own fonts! I could juggle around text boxes (I think) and upload videos! Er… these might be limited to cookery demonstrations so posibly, dear reader, you aren’t missing out.

 

Fortune Favours the Spendthrift

Favours – again, what’s with weddings and daft names..? Wedding breakfast when you probably don’t mean bacon and eggs eaten at 9am and favours when you mean small gifts dished out to guests.

Should the budget bride splash out on such extravagances? You can pay a small fortune for customised miniatures, bottle stoppers*, chocolates et al. Again though, the pink, frothy tidal wave that is wedding planning may well sweep me off my feet and I’ll feel as if my wedding just isn’t right without some wee piece of kitsch to give out at the end of proceedings.

Sweet, sweeter, sweetest? On sale at Lakeland. Diabetics, look away now

So, I could make my own… I visited Lakeland at Windermere recently. Any bakers out there? If so, you’ll know what a huge deal Lakeland Windermere is; the mothership of baking. Here, all kinds of wonderful things are available to buy – moulds, tins, chocolate melts, sugar paste, sugar craft. If baking and all things creatively culinary is your thing, best leave the credit card safely at home.

I picked up a handmade chocolate mould at said store, so I’m wondering about venturing down the home-made chocolates road. This could get really serious! I could temper the chocolate for a smooth, glossy finish. Then there could be a variety of fillings:

Alas, my concentration span isn’t the longest**. I fear I would embark on this fine endeavour and get really, really bored half-way through, quality control would dip rapidly and the guests would end up with half a chocolate each. This probably needs a re-think…

LATE NEWS

Flash update! I’ve been diet coke free for two weeks. So, my teeth feel better (less sensitive), my stomach feels flatter and I feel as if my energy levels are more evenly spaced throughout the day.

There is an awful lot of miraculous things written about deserting the D-word, including the weight loss one. Y’know, you stop drinking something rammed packed full of nasty chemicals and suddenly you lose three or four pounds. Sadly, not true in my case…

 

 

*I love these bottle stoppers, but they would cost in excess of £300 for all of my guests…

**Personally, I blame the iPhone. Instant access to all those apps has ruined me forever.