A month of sundaes- The Jaffa Cake Sundae.

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If you’ve never eaten a Jaffa Cake, there’s still time!  Despite its biscuit-like dimensions, the Jaffa Cake is just that; a cake.  Don’t believe me?  Simply leave one on the side for a day or so, and it’ll go hard, not soft like biscuits do.

If you’re still wondering what a Jaffa Cake is, well it’s a round little sponge cake containing orange jelly and topped with a thin layer of chocolate.  Actually, that description really doesn’t do any favours for what must be one of my most beloved treats.  There are few other snacks that I devour as quickly (popcorn, pretzels, honey roasted nuts and crisps are up there).  Jaffa Cakes are just so easy to eat and so much fun.

So where do they come into the realm of recipes?  Well, with spring beginning to gain momentum, I’m looking forward to the return of ice-cream and treats that refresh rather than stodgy puddings.  A recent meal at a nearby pub inspired me to come up with a fun sundae that I could enjoy.  Pubs have started to shift their focus toward good value meals and several chains have revamped their menus to include desserts topped with this and that and tagged with a catchy name.  Sadly, I’ve yet to taste one that lives up to the lively description in the menu.  My sundae arrived with little fanfare and amounted to three pieces of honeycomb floating in a pool of melted vanilla ice-cream.  Hardly the show-stopper pictured on the glossy menu.  I knew I could do better.  I knew my kids could do better.  Enter the Jaffa Cake Sundae.

It’s become something of a trend to use branded confection to sell below-standard food to the brand-loving consumer.  I wanted to avoid this kind of unimaginative approach.  I didn’t want ice-cream simply topped with a bar of my favourite chocolate.  Instead, I wanted components that would work together to give an overall taste and texture of things that I love.  The chocolate, orange jelly and sponge of a Jaffa Cake could be an interesting experiment.  With that in mind, I decided to load up on simple items that could create a satisfying sundae based on Jaffa Cakes.

What follows is less a recipe and more a description of what I did with several shop-bought items.  It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t do it before and it’s delicious!

Jaffa Cake Sundae

Packet of orange flavoured jelly (prepared according to packet instructions)

Madeira cake

Vanilla ice-cream

For the sauce

50g dark chocolate

50g milk chocolate

Lyle’s Golden Syrup

butter

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This is an out and out assembly job, hence the lack of detailed measurements.  In truth, you can add as little or as much as you like of each ingredient to suit your taste and whatever you are choosing to serve your sundae in.  This time, I chose a chubby tumbler to stuff full of Jaffa goodness!

Begin by making the chocolate sauce.  In a bowl, melt the chocolate with a little butter and a good table spoon of golden syrup.  Stir and set to one side to cool slightly.

Next, slice a thin piece of Madeira cake and press onto the bottom of the glass.  Add a generous layer of jelly.  Top the jelly with a few scoops of vanilla ice-cream and pour plenty of the sauce over it all.  You can repeat these layers if you’re using a tall glass.

This is now my new guilty, summer pleasure!

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Where’s the treacle?

Is the following recipe any good?  Well, put it this way; it’s so good, that my wife went back for a secret slice and accidentally destroyed my beautiful, sugary creation.  It slid off the plate as N was putting it back (with an unnoticable slither missing) and was sadly reduced to a crumpled wreck.  It wasn’t intentional, but the fact remains: this is a treacle tart you’ll go back to again and (if it’s still in tact) again.

As a child, treacle tart held no appeal for me.  It was always served hot (a no-no for Dimitri) and didn’t look particularly exciting.  Nothing looks as exciting as chocolate cake.  Even the name of this super-sweet pudding seemed strange to me.  What on Earth is treacle and why would anyone eat it? 

As an adult, I’ve spent time discovering the food that I rejected at earlier intervals in my youth.  The dishes eaten by my parents and grandparents, the food that was popular before the advent of television chefs and giant supermarkets.  My mum is the Queen of Puddings and describes her favourites with delight and a wonderfully descriptive style.  Listening to her describe a good treacle tart is enough to inspire anyone to make this classic pudding.  The ingredients are simple, widely available and for me, surprising.  For a start, where’s the treacle?

Perfect treacle tart

350g golden syrup

250g shortcrust pastry

125g wholemeal breadcrumbs

125g double cream

1 tspoon vanilla extract

Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 20cm cake tin.  Trim the edges and prick the base with a fork repeatedly.  Put the tin into the fridge for half an hour and set aside the pastry trimmings.

Meanwhile, put the breadcrumbs into a medium bowl and pour in the syrup.  Add the cream and the vanilla extract and mix well.

Use the pastry trimmings to make some shapes that you can place on top of the tart before baking.

After thirty minutes, take the cake tin out of the fridge, pour the mixture into it and place your pastry shapes on top.  Bake on the middle shelf of the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for about thirty-five minutes.  The tart will be golden and just set when ready.

If you value your tongue, let the tart cool for some time before attempting to taste it.  When baking, the tart itself is hotter than the surface of the sun.  I like to serve it with ice-cream, but some double cream would be good too.

If you decide to get a sneaky slice when nobody is looking, be careful not to let the tart slide off the plate.  I forgave my lovely wife, but I got the impression that she felt the loss of the tart more deeply than the pang of guilt.  I don’t blame her!

Natural sugars don’t count- part 2: Raspberry & almond smoothie.

Some foods should not be tampered with.  Fresh, juicy tomatoes; a little salt, maybe some olive oil, but nothing more should detract from them.  Freshly made sweet pancakes; fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar to make them perfect.  Freshly baked bread; some good butter is all you need.

My problem, is that I mess things up by over-complicating them.  I look for new ways to enliven familiar dishes.  Putting twists on classic meals gives me a secret buzz, but inevitably ruins the meals I’m trying to bring to life.  There’s a reason that some things become “classic”.  They were good in the first place and they don’t require a tune up.  Why can’t I just leave things alone?

You know what I’m talking about, right?  That unnecessary topping on an otherwise perfect pizza.  One ingredient too many in the smoothie that would have been fine.  It’s sad to say, but I’m so guilty of messing up perfectly good combinations that it’s a wonder anybody in my family is still willing to try my creations.

There is, however, one bit of tampering that I don’t feel guilty about and one that yields good results every time.  It’s what I could refer to as “The Excess Sugar Technique”.  Spotting a legitimate opportunity for sugar, I simply crank up the amount until it is sweet enough to qualify as a dessert and therefore sweet enough for me.  Exhibit A; my raspberry and almond smoothie.

I realised that smoothies could be enjoyed in a way that is not really intended or endorsed by those with an interest in health.  It wasn’t long before I was having a ‘treat smoothie’ every now and again, instead of the usual healthy glass of fruit and yoghurt.  Far be it from me to recommend this as a regular alternative to your protein-packed blended wonders.  Instead, the next time you are feeling subversive, reach for the caster sugar and load up.

Raspberry & almond smoothie

300ml semi-skimmed milk

2 scoops raspberry ripple ice-cream

150g frozen raspberries

4 tblspoons caster sugar

2 tblspoons Greek yoghurt

1 tspoon almond extract

Blend everything together until smooth.  I sometimes add a couple of soft Amaretti biscuits before blending, but this is optional.

Where’s the skill in that?

Not long ago, I used to watch a programme called Market Kitchen that showcased recipes using seasonal, well sourced ingredients.  Every now and again, short clips of famous chefs and food writers would be shown in which they were asked to tell viewers what their guilty (food) pleasure was.  Since the show championed home cooked meals and fresh ingredients, it was a nice little reminder that even the most dedicated of chefs enjoy the odd bit of commercial rubbish.  Answers ranged from kebabs to fish finger butties with ketchup to shop bought coleslaw.

For the average viewer, there might be a few raised eyebrows.  “What’s wrong with shop bought coleslaw?”  Chefs and food writers obviously want their eating habits and their opinions on food to be respected.  I love fish finger sandwiches with ketchup, but I don’t run a restaurant in London and people won’t question my palate if I admit to it.  It was nice to hear that French trained, fussy chefs were humans with childhood memories and the odd craving for something they ate in their days as students.

Food snobbery is definitely rife on television and perhaps in our kitchens.  I’m definitely guilty of it.  In one instance, I can look down my nose at someone stocking up on boxes of frozen meals, and in the next, shove a frozen pizza in the oven after work.  That kind of hypocrisy is easy to spot and rather dumb.  Convenience has come to define late twentieth Century food, and this, combined with the global impact of growing, farming, processing, packaging and transporting food on a massive scale, has led to a growing interest in the origins and quality of food.  It also means that foodies like me have become very judgemental about food that might be processed, artificially flavoured, microwavable or worryingly cheap to buy.

I’m making an effort to be less snobby and more realistic about what is possible in the kitchen when working full-time and trying to have a life.  Does one really have to make stock from scratch?  Am I a barbarian for using Oxo cubes?  Should I be shot at dawn because I sometimes use a jar of Thai curry sauce instead of blending my own paste?  There has to be a balance.  I’d like to say that the food I make on a daily basis combines lots of fresh ingredients with a few of the conveniences we’ve come to rely on in modern times.  I don’t have the equipment to make my own sausages and I’m happy to get mine from the butcher.  I will, however, make my own bread when the mood takes me.  I love throwing in a frozen pizza when time is against me, but there’s nothing like making your own dough and the satisfaction that you get from pulling out a bubbling home-made pizza from the oven.  Essentially, it comes down to being able to control what is on your plate.  How much salt, fat or sugar do you want?  How big do you want your portions to be?  How does your family like a dish to be served?  What is the best way to cook it?  How can you use what’s in the fridge so that nothing goes to waste?  Do your meals give you what you need each day to lead a healthy life?  Does what you eat taste exactly the way you want it to?  If the answers to these questions aren’t important to you, then shopping for and cooking food is going to remain very straight forward.  For me, it’s a daily consideration.  Trying to balance my best intentions with a realistic and manageable approach to cooking is challenging at times, but it is extremely enjoyable.  In writing this blog, I’m keeping a record of the recipes which I feel achieve that balance.

Feeling naughty?  I am.  Especially after making this little pudding using a few bits that I had in the kitchen.  There was zero effort and so much guilty fun in eating it.  I was almost too embarrassed to write about it, but it was so good that I have to.

Toffee crumble sundae

3 scoops vanilla ice-cream

2 all butter shortbread fingers

handful of pecans

toffee fudge sauce

I poured some toffee sauce into the bottom of a dessert cup and then crumbled shortbread on top.  Then I pushed a scoop of ice-cream in and repeated these layers until I got to the top.  I toasted the pecans for a couple of minutes in a dry pan, threw them on top and poured lots more toffee sauce on.  I know what you’re thinking, “Gosh!  What a skillful cook!”

Definitely a guilty pleasure.