Icing on the Cake

Claire Ptak had planned to move to London with her then boyfriend, an English chap named Damian, then she was offered a job as pastry chef at the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California. This is any chef’s dream job, beautiful seasonal ingredients to work with and a passionate team of foodies to bounce ideas off. So she took the job and began a long-distance relationship.   

The desserts at Chez Panisse are not wild and fancy concoctions incorporating a trillion elements.  Instead they are simple fruit tarts, cake, fruit salads, fools and mousses that reflect the seasons and the produce of the local farmers and farmers market.  Alice Waters has been known to serve just one perfect peach in pristine condition from Frog Hollow Farm for pudding.

Claire finally married Damian and now lives in London where she has developed a cult following for her cup cakes.  She sells nine different varieties at her Violet Cakes stall at Hackney Farmers Market every Saturday morning


There are perennial favourites like Vanilla Bean, Valrhona Chocolate  and Salted Caramel and her signature cup cakes with violet essence buttercream icing and decorated with crystallized violets.   At present she has added an elderflower cupcake, raspberry, strawberry and cherry and blackberry will soon follow.

Recently she came along to the school and enchanted the students with her beautiful cakes.

The melt-in-the-mouth pressed chocolate cake was decorated with fragments of gold leaf.  The tender little poppy seed cake was iced with elderflower icing and served with a green gooseberry compote.

Claire chose her favourite Devil’s Food cup cakes with marshmallow icing to share with the students. 

Oreo Cookies are the quintessential American cookies.  Claire made a delish home-made version and sandwiched them together with espresso and vanilla bean filling.

She also made two delish sandwiches – radish and sea salt and garlicky egg mayonnaise toasts -  so  so  good

.Next time you are in London at the weekend, why not pop out to Claire at Hackney Market and join the queue for her cup cakes.   Alternatively you could make your own or seek out Phillip Dennhardt’s Stolen Diamond stall at Mahon Farmers’ Market on Thursday or Midleton on Saturday.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Gold Leaf and Chartreuse Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Serves 8-10
For the Cake:
100g (3 1/2 ozs) unsalted butter

120g (4ozs) dark chocolate, chopped into smallish chunks plus an extra chunk for decoration

3 organic free-range eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2 ozs) caster sugar

pinch salt

cocoa powder for dusting

real gold leaf for decoration, available from art supply shops (optional)

For the Chocolate Sauce:
100g (3 1/2 ozs) dark chocolate (at least 66% cocoa solids) eg Valrhona 70%
1 dessertsp. water

2 dessertsp. cocoa

1 dessertsp vanilla extract

For the Cream:
280ml (9 1/2fl ozs) double cream
6 teaspoons  caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3-6 teaspoons Chartreuse

1 x 16cm (6 1/4 inch) round and 6cm (2 1/2 inch) deep cake tinPreheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 (no fan). Butter the sides of a 16cm (6 1/4 inch) round cake tin and place a round of baking parchment in the bottom.Place the butter and chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl over a bowl of just simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl, until just melted. Remove from the heat and let it rest in an area of the kitchen away from any draft, which will cause the chocolate to seize up.Place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer (or use a hand whisk) fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for 1 minute then add half of the caster sugar (reserving the other half for the egg whites) and beat until light and fluffy. This will take a few minutes.Scrape the yolk and sugar mixture into the chocolate and fold together gently. It will be swirled, which is what you want. Don’t be tempted to over-mix at this stage.In a clean, dry bowl, start whisking the egg whites in the same manner as above. Once the sugar has been added, whip up to almost stiff peaks. This will also take a few minutes. Fold this into the chocolate mixture and transfer to the prepared cake tin.Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top of the cakes rises up, cracks slightly, and feels firm to the touch yet with a wobble. The skewer test does not work with this cake, because it wants to be quite wet inside when it is done. Over baking it will only dry it out. Let cool in the tin. The cake will sink quite a lot, which is what you want. Run a knife around the edge and place a plate on top of the cake before inverting it. Remove the tin and peel back the parchment paper before placing the cake on your desired cake stand or serving dish. Turn the kettle on and boil some water. Place your extra little piece of chocolate in a ramekin or small heat-proof dish. Fill a slightly bigger bowl with about 2 cm (3/4 inch) of boiling water and place the dish with the chocolate inside that. This is an easy way to melt a small amount of chocolate without burning it. Dust the cake with a little cocoa powder, scoop the melted chocolate into a little button on the top of the cake and let it cool and firm up. Take a piece of gold leaf the same size as your drop of chocolate and rub onto it or delicately lift it off of its paper and place on the chocolate. Use an art brush or pastry brush.For the Chocolate sauce:
Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water.
Whisk in the cocoa, water and vanilla.

For the Chartreuse Cream:
Lightly whisk the cream and add all the other ingredients. Stop whisking before you think it is done, as it will get a little thicker as it sits.  Keep soft.
To ServeDrizzle a little sauce and place a piece of cake on top of that and add a dollop of cream alongside.

Poppyseed Cake with Elderflower Icing and Gooseberry Compote

Serves 6Preparation Time: 25 minutes plus 35-40 minutes baking time, cooling time, and 10 minutes decorating time.For the cake:
165g (6ozs) unsalted butter, softened
110g (4ozs) caster sugar

zest of 1 lemon, (juice reserved for the icing, if making lemon icing, leave lemon out if using elderflower cordial in the icing)

25g (1oz) poppyseeds

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon orange blossom water

200g (7ozs) self-raising flour

140ml (5fl ozs) milk

3 organic free-range egg whites

For the icing:
125g (4 1/2ozs) icing sugar
9-12 teaspoons elderflower cordial

10g (1/2 oz) poppyseeds

elderflower blossoms to decorate

For the Compote:
300g (11ozs) gooseberries, topped and tailed
sugar to taste (maybe 100g)

80ml (3fl ozs) Elderflower cordial

1 elderflower head

1 x 16cm (6 1/4 inch) round and 6cm (2 1/2 inch) deep cake tinPreheat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2 (no fan). Butter the sides of a 16cm (6 1/4 inch) round cake tin and place a round of baking parchment in the bottom.Place the softened butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium for at least 5 minutes until pale and fluffy and nearly doubled in size. If you don’t have a mixer, use a wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease.Add the poppyseeds, lemon zest, vanilla extract and orange blossom water and mix through. Add half of the flour and mix, alternating with half the milk until all is incorporated. Take off the mixer and transfer to another large bowl.Clean and dry the mixing bowl, change to the whisk attachment, and whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. It should be quite loose, so underwhip, rather than overwhip. Alternatively use a hand whisk. Just be sure the bowl you use is free from any grease or oil residue, or your whites will not whip up. Stir in 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the batter, then fold in the remaining whites. Transfer to your prepared tin.Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes, until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool in the tin. Meanwhile, make the gooseberry compote by washing the berries, putting them into a small saucepan with a little water so that they don’t scorch, and the sugar. Cook over moderate heat and bruise them up with a wooden spoon when they are soft enough. Add the cordial and trim the blossoms from the head of Elderflower and stir it all together and let cool.  Add a little more cordial if necessary and taste for sweetness, add more sugar if necessary.Run a knife around the edge and place a plate on top of the cake before inverting it. Remove the tin and peel back the parchment paper before placing the cake on your desired cake stand or serving dish. Whisk together the icing sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice to form a thick paste. Spoon onto the cake and using the back of the spoon, push the icing to the edges, coaxing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle with poppyseeds and a few elderflower blossoms and serve with the compote.Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Fluffy Marshmallow Icing
 For the cupcakes:
220g (8ozs) self-raising flour
125g (4 1/2 ozs) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

450g (1lb) caster sugar

4 free-range eggs

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

350ml (12fl ozs) buttermilk (or if you don’t have that, semi-skimmed milk and a 3 teaspoons lemon juice

140g (5ozs) melted unsalted butter

100ml (3 1/2fl ozs) brewed espresso or strong coffee

100ml (3 1/2fl ozs) water

For the Icing:
3 free-range egg whites
450g (1lb) icing sugar

120ml (4fl ozs) water

4-5 teaspoons  golden syrup (can be used instead of corn syrup)

pinch salt

4 teaspoons  vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean

candied flowers to decorate, rose petals, violets or Johnny jump ups.
Cupcake tinsPaper cases

For the cupcakes, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate and set aside.Whisk together the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk.  Mixture will be very runny.Add the melted butter first to the measured out coffee and water, and then into the egg and buttermilk mixture. This will help to avoid the melted butter going into hard lumps when it hits the cold buttermilk. Whisk all together and sift in the dry and whisk again to incorporate fully.Pour the mixture into a small jug, a few cups at a time and use the jug to pour the mixture into your prepared cupcake tins.  Fill half way up.Bake at 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 until springy and firm. About 10 minutes for mini cakes and 15-20 for standard cupcakes.For the Icing:
In a heatproof (pyrex)  bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients and place over a saucepan of boiling water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will cook the egg whites). Heat until hot to the touch, remove and beat with an electric mixer until stiff.
Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round tip and pipe large blobs onto cooled cupcakes. Decorate with candied flowersChocolate Wafer Cookies
 These are like Oreo cookies
Makes 6 logs – this is for a big quantity – you can scale it down yourself if you like
– icing quantities would need to be adjusted also.
 12ozs (350g) butter
1lb 2ozs (500g) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 free-range organic eggs
5ozs (150g) cocoa powder

13ozs (375g) plain flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Vanilla Icing
2 1/2 fl ozs (65ml) milk

4ozs (110g) unsalted butter

1lbs 1ozs (475g) icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 scraped vanilla bean

Violet Icing
7fl ozs (200ml) milk

13ozs (375g) unsalted butter

 3lbs 5ozs – 4 1/2lbs (1.5kg – 2kg) icing sugar

6 teaspoons violet essence

Expresso Icing
3 3/4 fl ozs (112ml) cold coffee

1 1/4 fl ozs (38ml) milk

10ozs (280g) butter

1.5kg (3lbs 5ozs) icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons Armagnac brandy

2 1/4 teaspoons fresh coffee grounds

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

First make the logs.
Cream together the butter and the sugar together very well.  Add the vanilla extract and eggs.  Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt.  Roll into logs and freeze.
Slice the log into 1/2cm (1/4 inch) thick and bake at 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 for 8-10 minutes – let cool on parchment paper.For the icing.
Cream the butter and half the icing sugar.  Add the liquid.  Then cream in the rest of the icing sugar on a low speed – about 3 minutes until creamy.
Pipe a blob of icing in the centre of one biscuit, then press another on top so you can just see the icing coming through.Foolproof Food

Butter and Radish Sandwiches with Sea Salt

Very much like cucumber sandwiches, but with that little bite that radishes have. If you can get really fresh bunches from your farmer’s market with dark green stems intact, use the greens in your sandwiches as well. When they are young, the greens have a wonderful flavour of their own.Serves 6-8Preparation Time: 10 minutes2-3 bunches of the freshest baby radishes you can findfresh unsalted butter, softened

sea salt, such as Maldon

small loaf of sliced white bread

Undo the radish bunches, put them in a bowl and cover with cold water. The sandy dirt will sink to the bottom and the cold water perks up the leaves if you are using them. Set aside.Lay out your slices of bread and spread a nice even layer of butter on each.Remove the radishes from the water and pat dry with kitchen towel. Cut off the greens and either set aside or discard. Slice the radishes into thin discs.Arrange the radishes, slightly overlapping on half of the bread slices. Sprinkle with salt. Lay a couple of green leaves on each slice (if using), then place the remaining buttered slices of bread on top to form the sandwiches.Cut the crusts off with a serrated knife and cut each sandwich into three strips. Serve Immediately.Hot Tips
 L’Atmosphere Restaurant, 19 Henrietta St. Waterford. Tel 051-858426
Arnaud, Mary and Patrice Garreau run this great little French restaurant – delicious keenly priced food – like eating in a good French bistro – early bird menu, daily specials, a  la carte, good French breads – Arnaud runs his own French bakery – delicious desserts – friendly service and children welcome. 
Cooking Classes with Rory O’Connell at Snugboro, Ballycotton, Co Cork, now booking for the autumn
A day of cooking and gardening, 12 & 13th September, Autumn Cooking, 16th October
– special courses also arranged – www.rgoconnell.com rory@rgoconnell.com
Tel 086-8516917
Midleton and Area Chamber
present an  Exclusive Midsummer Party at Capella Resort and Spa, Castlemartyr

Sunday July 27th, 5pm till late

A 5 star evening not to be missed!  Sumptuous BBQ and fine wines. Renowned 10 piece band, Brass & Co. & much more fun and entertainment.  Special accommodation rates also available.  Tickets available through Chamber office 021-4613483



About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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