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Fancy something sweet? How about some watercress…?

Chilli with chocolate is generally regarded as a culinary delight, so why is the fiery pepperiness of watercress still relatively unexplored in sweet treats? 

The Watercress Company is determined to change this and through working with local chefs has developed a raft of recipes for cakes and desserts that demonstrate just how delicious watercress can be in a sweeter dish.

The distinctive peppery flavour of watercress is down to PEITC a compound which in recent years has been scientifically shown to help prevent certain cancers. 

Added to that, watercress contains over 50 vital vitamins and minerals, and gram for gram it boasts more calcium than milk, more Vitamin C than an orange, more folate than a banana and more Vitamin E than broccoli.  Watercress is also a rich source of fibre and of crucial antioxidants, both vital for gut health which is linked to immunity and mental health. 

Last, but not least, watercress is also high in Vitamin A and rich in iron.  The combined high levels of Vitamins A and C with iron makes watercress an essential source of iron for vegans and vegetarians.  This is because for plant iron to be absorbed, vitamins C and A are required to convert it into a more easily absorbable form such as haem iron as found in meat. Not all veg that contain iron have such high levels of Vitamin A and C that watercress has, and so the iron is not as readily available.

But while all that’s great, does watercress actually taste good in something sweet?  You bet!   And to prove it, try just one of these recipes and you’ll soon give chilli the cold shoulder!

Dark chocolate fondant with watercress sorbet and honeycomb (v)

Every element of this dish can be prepared ahead of time, simply cook the fondants at the last minute.

Serves 2

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cooking time:  45 minutes

Ingredients

For the sorbet (makes 1 litre):

600ml water

50g caster sugar

4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

170g watercress

120ml apple juice

60ml lemon juice

For the honeycomb (makes 1 tray):

200g caster sugar

60g golden syrup

200ml glucose syrup

20g bicarbonate of soda

For the fondants:

50g plain flour

85g caster sugar

85g dark chocolate, chopped

3 eggs

85g butter

Extra soft butter for lining moulds

Cocoa powder for coating moulds

Method:

  1. First, make the sorbet.  Bring the water and sugar to the boil, then add the apples and simmer until they are cooked through and soft.  Add the watercress then remove from the heat and leave to rest for 1 minute.  Place the mixture in a blender and blend until as smooth as possible, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool in the fridge.  Finally, pour the mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Transfer to a storage container, cover tightly and freeze for at least half an hour or until ready to serve.
  2. To make the fondant mix, add the chocolate and butter to a heat-proof bowl and place over a pan of boiling water until melted.  Remove from the heat then allow to cool for a few minutes before mixing in the flour, sugar and eggs.  Allow to cool.
  3. While the mix is cooling, use a pastry brush to evenly coat the inside of two 8cm metal moulds with soft butter.  Once coated with butter, add a tablespoon of cocoa to each and keep tipping the moulds round until the entire inside is coated with a fine layer of flour.  Tap out the excess.  Split the mixture evenly between the moulds and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before cooking.
  4. Make the honeycomb by first lining a deep 30cm x 20cm tray with parchment paper.  Add the sugar, golden syrup and glucose syrup to a large heavy bottomed pan, then place over a medium-high heat and cook until it turns a golden-brown caramel colour (or 165°C on a sugar thermometer).  With your lined tray ready, tip the bicarbonate of soda into the pan in one go and whisk in quickly.  The mixture will bubble up so be careful at this point, it will also be very hot!  Tip the mixture immediately into the lined tray, then give the tray a couple of taps to release any large air bubbles.  Allow to cool and set.  The honeycomb can be broken up and stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
  5. Finally, preheat the oven to 190°C.  Put the chilled fondants on a baking tray and place in the centre of the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until a crust has formed on the top and the fondant has started to come away from the sides of the mould.   Remove from the oven and rest for 1 minute before turning out onto a plate.  Serve with a scoop of watercress sorbet and scattered pieces of honeycomb.

Chocolate, Orange & Watercress Brownies with Chocolate Ganache Topping

Makes 16 squares

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

300g good quality dark chocolate, chopped

200g unsalted butter

Zest of one orange

350g caster sugar

4 large eggs

100g plain flour, sieved

50g cocoa powder, sieved

50g watercress, finely chopped

For the topping

250g good quality dark chocolate, chopped

250ml double cream

1 tbsp Cointreau (optional)

Method

1.       Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a square brownie tin with greaseproof paper.  Place 200g of the chocolate, all of the butter, and the orange zest in a heatproof bowl and melt in the microwave, using full power for 30 seconds at a time then stirring and repeating.  Be careful that the chocolate does not get too hot otherwise it will burn. 

2.       Use an electric whisk, or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, to beat together the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Leave the chocolate mixture to cool for at least five minutes before stirring into the egg mix, then mix in the flour and cocoa.  Stir in the remaining 100g of chopped chocolate, as well as the finely chopped watercress, then pour the batter into the prepared tin.  Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, using a skewer or knife to test if the brownies are cooked.  Once the skewer comes out clean, remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool completely.

3.       To make the ganache topping, gently bring the double cream to the boil in a saucepan.  Keep an eye on the cream as it will easily boil over once it starts to simmer.  Remove from the heat, then stir in the chopped chocolate, continuing to stir until melted and mixed thoroughly.  Finally stir in the Cointreau if using.

4.       Allow the ganache to cool slightly (but not too much or it will harden), then pour over the brownies while they are still in the tin.  Smooth the topping out using a pallet knife or spatula, then leave for 30 minutes for ganache to cool and harden before cutting into squares. 

5.       The brownies can be kept for 3-5 days in an airtight tin or frozen for up to three months

STRAWBERRY, WATERCRESS & LEMON PAVOLVA ROULADE

Serves 10-12

Prep Time 40 mins, plus cooling

Cook Time 30mins

Ingredients:

5 Large Egg Whites, room temperature

1/8 tsp Salt

1/8 tsp Cream of Tartar

45ml Cold Water

250g Caster Sugar

10g Cornflour

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Cider Vinegar

Icing Sugar to Dust

480g Double Cream

2 tbsp Icing Sugar

1 Vanilla Pod, seeds scraped

50g Watercress, finely Chopped

100g Lemon Curd

400g Strawberries, washed and finely chopped

Method:

  1. Begin with the meringue. Preheat the oven 170C, turn off the fan and grease and line a large (40 x 28cm) baking tray with non-stick paper, then re grease over the top. Set aside in the fridge.
  2. Add the egg whites, salt & cream of tartar to the base of a stand mixer (if your whites are not at room temperature, sit the eggs in a bowl of warm water for a minute or so.
  3. Whip on a medium high speed for 2 minutes then slowly drizzle in the water. Continuing on a medium speed, add the sugar 1tbsp at a time, making sure you don’t get any granules on the side of the bowl that will make your roulade grainy.
  4. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and whip 3-4 minutes or until it is stiff, glossy and shiny. Mix the cornflour with the vanilla and vinegar and gently fold in using a rubber spatula.
  5. Dollop mounds of the meringue onto the tray and smooth out. Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes or until risen and caramel coloured.
  6. Remove from the oven, dust with icing sugar and cover with a clean tea towel and allow to cool for 2-3 hours (up to 12).
  7. Meanwhile, mix the cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until thickened but still runny. Continue beating by hand until it only just holds its shape (bearing in mind if you are making this in advance it will continue to thicken). Fold in the watercress.
  8. Remove the tea towel from the roulade and dust with more icing sugar. Invert the roulade onto the tea towel and carefully peel off the paper. Spread with half of the whipped cream and then the lemon curd.
  9. Dot half the strawberries over the lemon curd then, taking a short side in front of you, roll into a tight log, you can remove any cream that spills out.
  10. Cover with cling film and pop into the fridge for 1 hour before finishing with the remaining cream, strawberries and a few sprigs of watercress if liked.

To discover more about the health benefits of watercress, visit www.thewatercresscompany.com

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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