A while back, one of my Professors welcomed me back from long service leave with a copy of Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad, by Christine McConnell. I was particularly taken by her recipe for Screamberries, and my brother and I originally had evil plans to make this as a birthday cake for Elisabeth’s first birthday (just think of the photos!), but for some reason (possibly because my mother was appalled?) we decided to make the orange and banana cakes instead.
Well, this year, what with one thing and another, it became practical to have my brother’s birthday party and my niece’s both on the same day. Obviously, this necessitated two cakes, and when I asked my brother what he wanted for this cake, the answer was ‘tentacles’.
So that was easy, then.
I made a few modifications to McConnell’s recipe. Vanilla mousse seemed boring, so I filled the waffle cups half with vegan chocolate mousse and half with berry mousse. Stabilised whipped cream seemed like way too much like hard work for a relatively small result, so I didn’t do that. And my first batch of waffle cones weren’t great, so I had to make another double batch in the hour between getting back from cantoring in Middle Park and leaving for birthday shenanigans in Canterbury. So I signally failed to follow the instructions and just dumped everything in together. I can’t claim that they were brilliant waffle cups, but they were fresh and they did the job.
And really, who cared about the waffle cups? The mousse was delicious, and really, we were all here for the strawberries and the tentacles, right?
Incidentally, you can make this recipe in advance and take the components in separate boxes to wherever you are going, at which point it takes about ten minutes to put together.
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2 1/4 tsp gelatin (or Jel-it-In, if you are serving vegetarians)
500 g mixed frozen berries
150 g caster sugar
400g thickened cream
150 ml caster sugar
125 ml brown sugar
125 ml milk
60 ml butter
1 tsp vanilla
250 ml flour
olive oil spray
750g strawberries (try to find ones with fairly large bases, it will be easier)
200g dark chocolate (you probably won’t need all of this, but it’s really better safe than sorry, and you can use the leftovers in the mousse)
150 g white chocolate (you will also use this for the tentacles)
350 g silken tofu
1/4 cup non dairy milk of your choice
60 ml maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
340 g dark chocolate, chopped
Other bits and pieces
Chocolate cake crumbs (I needed to make half a chocolate cake as part of my niece’s birthday cake, so I used that. If you have chocolate cake hanging around in the house, grab a couple of chunky slices and use the food processor to turn them into crumbs. Or buy some chocolate cake at the supermarket and crumble it.)
Modelling chocolate for the tentacles (you can buy this, or make your own using 2 cups of chocolate melts and 30ml glucose syrup – there is a method here).
Now what will you do with it?
First, make the berry mousse, because it needs chilling time.
Soak the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water to soften. It will form an unappetising mass, but that’s what it is supposed to do, so carry on.
Heat the berries and sugar in a saucepan with another 1/4 cup of water, until the softer berries start to fall apart a bit. Put the berries into a blender and whizz until smooth, then push through a sieve back into the saucepan. Yes, you lose a fair bit in seeds, that’s why I said 500 g, not the 350g suggested by my original recipe!
Chop up the gelatine, and add to the berries, then bring slowly to the boil, stirring to make sure the gelatine is dissolved. Cook for one minute, still stirring, then remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Whip the cream until it is really stiff but not butter. Once the fruit is cool, fold it into the cream, then put it all in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.
Next, if you didn’t buy modelling chocolate, you want to make it, and let it cool for an hour or so. You’ll make the tentacles in a bit.
Now is also a good time to wash and hull the strawberries – make the hulls a bit conical – as you want them dry when you go to make them fierce.
Now make the waffle cones or cups. These are like a cross between pancakes and brandy snaps. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (I found fan-forced good, but then, I’m impatient and was doing double batches).
Heat the butter and milk together until the butter is melted, and let cool a bit. Mix the sugars with the eggs, then stir in the flour. Then mix in the liquid in about three batches – it’s easier to get a non-lumpy mixture this way.
Cover two baking sheets with baking paper, and if you are a perfectionist and not making this in a great rush, draw two 15cm circles well apart on each baking sheet (then turn the baking sheet over or you will have pen marks on your waffles).
Use a 1/4 cup measure to ladle the mixture into the centre of each circle, and then a wide pastry brush to spread it out to just beyond the edge of each circle (or more, just make sure there aren’t gaps).
Bake each batch for 8-10 minutes, or until golden in the middle and browning at the edges. While the first batch is cooking, get four small dessert bowls, the more conical the better, and line them with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray.
As soon as each batch of waffles is done, use an egg flip to lay them into the bowls, gently folding and pressing down a bit to make cups and cones. They will harden fairly fast, so be quick. Take each waffle cup off the dessert bowl and place upside-down on a cooling rack as each new batch is ready to come out – you might need to refresh the spray in between.
OK, that’s the most stressful bit over. Actually, no, it’s not, the strawberries were a pain. But by now, your modelling chocolate should be ready to use, so pinch off small pieces and roll out into tentacles. I found that there was an optimum point where they were just soft enough to roll without breaking up in a weird flaky fashion, and I don’t know how to describe it, I’m afraid!
Put the tentacles in the fridge to harden up, and work on the strawberries.
Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave – I do 1 minute batches at 50%. Lay baking paper on a large tray. Use a teaspoon to fill the ‘mouth’ of each strawberry, where you hulled it, with dark chocolate, and upend it immediately onto the baking paper to set.
Here’s where it gets tricky – the strawberry is wet on the inside, and the chocolate would be really very happy to detach from it and stick to the baking tray. So once the chocolate is mostly set, you will need to use a butter knife to work under each strawberry and sort of lift it while pushing the chocolate back into the strawberry, and then set it on its side. At this point, the chocolate should stay, except for a few recalcitrants.
Once the dark chocolate is fully set, melt the white chocolate, and pour it into a piping bag. The trick with white chocolate is that you need it to be fully melted but not too liquid, or it will just run everywhere, so I’d give it five minutes to rest before you attempt piping, unless your kitchen is super cold. Cut a very tiny aperture in the piping bag, and pipe teeth on your first strawberry, or onto the baking paper directly. If it’s too runny and messy, wait another few minutes. It’s OK if you have a few sacrificial strawberries. You can eat those ones to make sure they work. It’s also OK if individual strawberries don’t look so great. For some reason, the effect en masse is really good regardless.
Once you are done piping teeth onto your strawberries, take out your tentacles, and pipe suckers onto them. Put strawberries and tentacles back into the fridge, and move on to your chocolate mousse.
This one is easy! Melt the chocolate in the microwave (1 minute bursts on 50% for about 3 minutes). While that’s happening, put all the other ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.
Add the chocolate and blend again. Put directly into a piping bag with a fairly boring nozzle.
OK, you are ready to serve!
Get a big plate and sprinkle with cake crumbs. Put a few of the tentacles around the edges. Arrange your waffle cones in a sort of bouquet – you don’t want big gaps between them (I only used eight cones, because I had eight people to feed, and it was a good number, aesthetically).
Pipe a bit of dark chocolate mousse into the base of each waffle cone (you will have leftovers). Transfer the berry mousse to a piping bag with a fancy nozzle, and fill the cones with the mousse. Scatter more cake crumbs into each cone.
Arrange 4-5 fierce strawberries in each cone, and put the rest of the tentacles between and emerging from the cones. Serve immediately!
Jel-it-in makes the berry mousse vegetarian, but there is no easy fix to make this recipe vegan or egg-free. If you have a vegan crepe recipe, cooking it in the same way I do these waffle cones might work quite well, and there are vegan berry mousse recipes online. At which point, all you need is vegan white chocolate and you are sorted.
You could probably make the waffles with gluten-free flour mix, at which point you are home and hosed for gluten-free and for low-fructose. Dairy free is a bit tricky, unless you have easy access to a cream substitute (I know, I know, there is the coconut cream trick, but it is *so* coconutty that I can’t cope with it).
In terms of flavour, you could do all sorts of different mousse recipes, of course.
Also, I sort of want to do a fierce fruit salad, by making a watermelon shell with teeth and then lots of fanged fruit. But that might be a recipe for another day.