We were all super excited at Ballymaloe Cookery School this week — we’ve just had our first guest chef for almost two years.
Claire Ptak from Violet Cakes and Café on London’s Wilton Way taught a sparkling class for the current 12-Week-Course students and it was beamed out to her many fans all over the world on Ballymaloe Cookery School Online.
Claire, who comes from California, started her career on a market stall in Broadway Market in Hackney in 2005, and soon she became known as the Cupcake Queen. People flocked to buy her adorable mini cupcakes in many flavours, made with beautiful, mostly organic ingredients. All were cooked in her tiny home kitchen but in 2010 Violet Bakery and Café was born. Claire baked a range of beautiful cakes with exquisitely pure ingredients, best Madagascar vanilla pods, pure cane molasses, Valrhona chocolate and limited-edition buttercream flavoured with freshly brewed espresso, homemade fruit cordials and dark caramel with sea salt. The flavours of the cakes reflect the season. She constantly experiments with flavour combinations as new foods become available.
Claire has a very unique flamboyant icing style that looks effortlessly rustic but is quite difficult to achieve. She is the acknowledged master of the delicious ‘imperfect cake’ — no fondant icing here!
Claire didn’t just ‘pop-up’. She had her first holiday job at a bakery when she was just 14. Some years later, when Alice Waters tasted her baking, she offered her a job on the spot and Claire became pastry chef at the iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. Here, she was intrigued by the variety of exquisite seasonal berries and peaches, five different types of limes, and the nuanced flavours that influenced the food.
Word spread around London. But it wasn’t until she was chosen to make Harry and Meghan’s cake that her fame went global.
Claire introduced us to several new ingredients in her class. She used blonde chocolate from Valrhona to make her Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies: it tastes like caramelised white chocolate — a new flavour for me but destined to become a new favourite.
She loves to use spelt and kamut flour and dark brown sugar for some of her cakes and is really into sheet pan cakes at present. Sheet pan cakes are made in a rectangular tin and are brilliant for portioning and icing. Try this bubble cake that blew everyone away at the class. The Roast Quince and Mascarpone Cake took quite a bit of making but was so worth the effort for a really special cake. You’ll also love the Autumn Carrot Cake with prunes and walnuts and the killer Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies.
If you’d like to watch Claire’s class, you can sign up on the website to view the recording via ballymaloecookeryschool.online or call the Cookery School on 021 4646785 for more information.
Meanwhile, check out Violet Cakes on Instagram - @violetcakeslondon
Triple chocolate chip cookies
Crisp outside, gooey inside…these might just be the ultimate choc chip cookies — plus they can be cooked from frozen
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 14 mins
Total Time 24 mins
200g (7oz) light brown sugar
150g (5oz) caster sugar
350g (12oz) plain flour
100g (3 ½ oz) cocoa powder (Dutch)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate powder
¾ tsp sea salt
250g (9oz) unsalted butter, soft
350g (12oz) blonde (caramelised white chocolate)
OR USE 180g blonde Valrhona chocolate (caramelised white chocolate) or white chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite) and 180g milk chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Maldon sea salt for sprinkling on top
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 (Fan – 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3).
Combine the dry ingredients in your mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment fitted, don’t overmix.
Add the soft butter and mix until a sandy texture forms.
Add the chocolate discs, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until a dough forms.
Use a cookie scoop to scoop the dough into balls.
You can bake right away or from frozen.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Arrange just 6 cookies on the tray to allow them to spread during cooking. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.
Bake for 14 minutes, tapping the tray on the oven rack twice during the baking time. This helps the cookie to flatten and the chocolate to spread, whilst remaining gooey in the middle. Leave to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Serve chocolate chip cookies warm or a room temperature
Note: Uncooked dough keeps for up to 3 months in the freezer.
Autumn carrot cake with prunes and walnuts
A delicious riff on the usual carrot cake
Preparation Time 20 mins
Cooking Time 55 mins
Total Time 1 hours 15 mins
4 eggs, separated plus 1 whole egg
100g (3 ½ oz) caster sugar
200g (7oz) light brown sugar
125g (4 ½ oz) unsalted butter, softened
120g (scant 4 ½ oz) oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
500g (18oz) grated carrots (700g/1 ½ lbs before peeling)
150g (5oz) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
150g (5oz) Armagnac-soaked prunes, turn into quarters
zest of 1 orange
315g (10 ½ oz) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
For the frosting:
375g (13oz) unsalted butter, softened
600g (1 ¼ lbs) cream cheese, brought to room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
200g (7oz) icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 walnuts for decoration (untoasted)
Butter and line a deep baking tin (24cm x 32cm/9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inch) and heat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan - 150°C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2).
Separate your eggs. Put the whites aside to whip up later with the 100g (3 ½ oz) of caster sugar.
In another bowl, add the yolks, whole egg, brown sugar, soft butter, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk well together and to this add your grated carrots, toasted chopped walnuts, torn prunes and orange zest. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.
In a large bowl, weigh out the remaining dry ingredients and whisk them together well. To this add your wet mixture. Mix together well.
Finally, whip your egg whites with the caster sugar into lovely soft peaks. Fold this mixture into the cake mixture until fully combined. Spoon into your prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake has some spring. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.
To make the icing, whip together the very soft butter and cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffy. Cover the cake with the frosting.
Decorate with grated walnuts. Alternatively, with a sharp serrated knife, slice the cake into 12 squares before frosting and pipe a wiggle of cream cheese icing diagonally with a petal tip or your favourite nozzle. Then grate a little fresh walnut over the top with a fine microplane zester. Serve on flatted cupcake cases if desired.
Chocolate bubble cake
This is a showstopper cake if ever there was one
Preparation Time 30 mins
Cooking Time 1 hours 10 mins
Total Time 1 hours 40 mins
For the cake:
330g (generous 11 ½ oz) plain flour
150g (5oz) cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
2 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
520g (scant 1.1lbs approx.) caster sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
300g (10oz) plain yoghurt
150g (5oz) vegetable oil
340g (scant 12oz) hot water
For the marshmallow icing:
5 egg whites (200g/7oz)
340g (scant 12oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) golden syrup
a pinch of fine sea salt
1 ½ vanilla extract
gold leaf (optional)
fresh flower petals for example Marigolds and/or Johnny Jump Ups
Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/Gas Mark 3/ (Fan - 140˚C/275˚F/Gas Mark 1). Butter and line your cake tin with enough greaseproof paper to come up the sides of the tin, this will help to remove the cake later.
Measure the dry ingredients, including the sugar, into a large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.
In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water).
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Don't switch direction or you'll end up with lumps. Gradually whisk together until you have a smooth but thick batter.
Whisk in the hot water until smooth.
Pour the batter into your pan right away and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin.
Once the cake has cooled, prepare the marshmallow. Have ready your mixer with a whisk attachment.
Measure all of the ingredients into a metal bowl 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). Whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very warm to the touch. Use a thermometer and whisk continuously until it reads 72°C or 70°C (162˚F or 158˚F) for two minutes, whichever comes first. Transfer the mix into the bowl of your electric mixer and whisk on high speed until nearly stiff peaks form.
Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round nozzle and pipe 20-24 big bubbles in rows over the top of the cooled cake. Use a tiny sieve to dust a strip of cocoa powder lengthwise across the cake. Decorate with flakes of gold leaf and a scattering of fresh flower petals.
Voting is now open for the An Post Irish Book Awards 2021. My latest cookbook, and Rachel’s Cookbook have both been shortlisted for the Irish Cookbook of the Year Award. We’d love you to cast your vote via irishbookawards.ie/vote/
Breda Murphy, 12-Week student based in Lancashire (UK) ‘Food by Breda Murphy’ has just won yet another award — a Northern Enterprise Award for their frozen online food box delivery service @eva_awards to add to her Enterprise Vision Hospitality Industry of the Year Award for Breda Murphy Restaurant bredamurphy.co.uk
The Ballymaloe Craft Fair is taking place this year over two fantastic weekends, November 19 – 21 and November 26 – 28. If you love Irish craft and design as I do, then pop the dates into your diary.
See @ballymaloe_grainstore on Instagram
Rachel has just launched her newest cookbook published by Michael Joseph Penguin — it’s a gorgeous collection of 120 delicious recipes.
‘A bowl of soup can do so many things. A cosy, comforting meal on a cold, dark winter’s day. A gentle broth to heal and soothe. A fresh, vibrant celebration of spring produce, or a simple and nourishing way to use up leftovers. For feeding many mouths, for lunch in a hurry, for a dinner-party starter, or for filling the freezer: no matter your need, there’s soup to solve it’.
‘Rachel also shares an array of wonderful homemade breads to serve alongside, as well as easy and delicious garnishes, drizzles, salsas, croutons and crumbs to add the perfect finishing touch’.
I love the photos too and guess what, I’ve voted for it in the An Post Irish Cookbook of the Year Awards and deservedly so!