Saturday 29 October 2016

Gin tasting at The Winchmore

The shot was set up by Adam of Glendalough Gin. No way would I have had the nerve to do this.

Gin is back. And it's big. OK, so it never went far but it is big now. There are thousands of micro-distilleries popping up offering all manner of variations. The Winchmore Pub stocks a fair few of them and to facilitate our discernment, they held a tasting. Very decent of them.

Look, this might end up sounding like a puff piece, and damn, maybe it should as few things swell my chest like fine, local endeavours in food and drink (sorry kids!) and learning that people have bought old bourbon barrels off eBay leaves me all a-flutter. After taking over the Winchmore pub last year, brother and sister team Mark and Eimear have foisted some of their love of spirits on us punters in the form of tutored tastings and, on this occasion, a boutique style gin evening. Great fun, superb spirits, boundless enthusiasm, loquacious men with big beards, and a bit of an education; my kinda night out.

A range of 'botanicals' to scratch and sniff.
By boutique style I mean there were several tables each representing different distilleries or merchant companies. Each had a range of gins to try, neat or with a splash of one of the many Fever-tree tonics. Each gin also came with a complementary (and complimentary) canapĂ©. Let's not drink on empty stomachs.

Gratifying to meet many guests from the supper club but not surprising. This sort of event is a natural draw for Enfield foodies. And maybe, just maybe, they are on the increase. Holtwhites - bakers of excellence - are hosting more of their cheese and wine evenings this winter.

Back to the Winchmore and a busy, bustling and (by the end) rather blurry evening. My only problem was the lighting, and this is by way of apology for the quality of my photos. The pin points of illumination were great for ambiance; less so for a clumsy man with a Canon and an entirely inappropriate lens. "Use a flash." Urged my drinking partner Joanne. Yeah but only if you really want that 'crime scene' vibe. 

Mark (the manager, below) had also brought a barrel of his... dunno what to call it... cocktail? An unlikely sounding blend of sloe   gin, rioja and port which (of course) proved to be delicious and probably my drink of the evening. A wonderful complexity of sweet and sour. It's probably on sale in the bar. Maybe not. Ask Mark. I wish I'd taken more notes. 

I was really pleased to finally shake hands with Ian who makes a gin - Old Bakery Gin - in Palmers Green, not half a mile from my house. I'm still not sure what the story is there but the important thing is that the gin is delicious. It will definitely feature on my menus sometime. Maybe a G&T sorbet?

Waking in the morning with a mixed recollection and a slight tremor, I regret not making notes. Tricky though with a glass in one hand and a heavy camera/ big lens in the other... I could have hung it over my shoulder but then the strap pulls and separates in that rather unfortunate manner that blights the flabby pecs of fat men. Or I could have put down my glass...


The Winchmore has an array of events upcoming. If you live locally, make the effort. Puff, puff, puff.

Ian and Mark. For some reason, gin seems to lift people's arms.
Old Bakery Gin made to an original 1758 recipe.
From Geneva to Gin. A drinkable history lesson. My favourite sort.
East London Gin, numbers 1 and 2. I loved both.
No idea. This was after several samples. See what I mean about the arms though?

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Chocolate cake and children / spiced rum cake

With chocolate syrup, honeycomb ice cream, chocolate tuile and cocoa nibs

This began because Fabian and Etien kept nagging me to serve my honeycomb ice cream on its own as a dessert. Flattered as I was, a simple three scoop bowl is not a fitting finish to a New River Dining evening. But I did want to highlight the ice cream rather than just serve it on the side. It is one of the best things I've ever made. An obvious choice would be a little chocolate sponge underneath. A good contrast of texture, colour and flavour but not so rich (well...) that it detracted from the star.

I have a long history with chocolate cake; Guinness cake to be exact. It was for many years my children's favourite (Belinda was quite partial too). There were several birthday cakes where Guinness was the foundation. The most memorable and successful was probably the penguin at Etien's (count 'em) ninth birthday.

Fabian and I use to sell cakes to friends and neighbours to fund raise for his Scouting trips too. The best loved was our Chocolate rum sponge, based on devil's food cake. Sadly this was in the days before smartphones, so no picture.

For the honeycomb partner I decided on a spiced rum cake based on a devil's food recipe. These can be either light and airy like a traditional chocolate sponge or dense and fudgy like a brownie, well almost, but much more tender. Mine is somewhere in the middle. Using almost a half bottle of rum bumps up the cost of course and I should point out that not all the alcohol is removed by the boiling and baking.

But I didn't want a dry cake underneath so I made, for the first time, a chocolate syrup to pour over. The ice-cream looks great melting into this but it also helps with the transit from kitchen to guest. 

You can make several variations using this recipe. Omit the rum and/or the allspice for a more traditional flavour, especially for a children's party cake - unless you want a really successful, but legally problematic, bout of post prandial sleeping lions.

This was a test bake, quite a fudgy one.

Devil's food rum cake.
Makes one twin layer cake or at least a dozen small ones as pictured.

In a bowl add 250ml boiling water or a water/dark rum mix of your choice to 50g Valrhona cocoa powder and 120g dark muscovado sugar. Mix thoroughly until a smooth, thin paste. Allow to cool.

In another bowl, cream together 125g soft unsalted butter with 120g caster sugar. When pale and fluffy, mix in two large eggs, then fold in 250g plain flour with a half teaspoon each of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of allspice powder.

Now add the cooled chocolate/rum mix, along with two teaspoons of vanilla extract or paste

For a large cake, line the bottoms of two round 20cm/8" cake tins with baking paper and butter the sides. For the small, I use something similar to a muffin tin. This should be well buttered.

Bake the large cakes for around 30 mins mins in a 180°C oven, until a wooden sewer comes out clean and the cake is just starting to come away at the sides. The small cakes only need about 18 mins for fudgy or 21 mins for spongy.

Small cakes about to be painted with syrup and topped with ice cream.

Chocolate syrup. 
Makes about 400ml. That's a guess. I didn't check and I kept tasting so maybe 400ml and several spoonfuls?

The quality of the cocoa powder and chocolate is fundamental to this. I always use Valrhona (sadly they don't sponsor me). Green and Blacks is the next best and more available. I say 'next best', but it's not nearly as good. This is a wonderful, dark, glossy pouring sauce. It will coat the top of your cake and slowly dribble over the edges in thick, sexy rivulets. (Yes, sexy. Hey, I'm 50 this year, give me a break.)

Gently heat 100ml of water with 200g of caster sugar. When dissolved, add 50g of cocoa powder to make a chocolate syrup. Allow to cool.

In another small pan, gently heat 100ml of double cream until just bubbling. Stir in 150g of 70% dark chocolate broken into small pieces to melt in the warm cream. Stir until smooth.

When the syrup is cool, mix in the chocolate cream mix. Blend until glossy and thick.