Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Lunch

The desserts for Christmas lunch were a bit of a mixed bag! The Mocha Torte was a great success - due in part to a topping of popping candy, which provided much merriment. My mincepies were fine, although one or two were a bit heavy on pastry, due to my inability to roll pastry evenly. The disaster was the the Clementine and Saffron Cake - nothing wrong with the flavour but the texture was dense and heavy. I've no idea what went wrong, as I've made this sort of cake  - with whole boiled fruit - very successfully in the past!

I've no idea where the recipe for the Mocha Torte came from - it was passed to me by a friend, and I changed it slightly, so I think it's OK to pass it on unattributed. It consists of a light gelatine based mousse (no cream) on a biscuit base, with a topping of shards of chocolate covered popping candy. Sorry about the rough photo - I forgot to take one until it had been served!

Mocha Torte

200g plain chocolate digestive biscuits
100g melted butter

150g plain chocolate - at least 70% 
4 large eggs
4 fl oz (just over 100mls) strong black coffee, made with 2 teaspoons instant coffee, still hot
1 fl oz (about 2 tablespoons) Tia Maria
100g caster sugar
6 sheets of leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water to soften
4 fl oz (just over 100mls)just boiled water to dissolve gelatine after soaking

Chocolate Covered Popping Candy
100g plain chocolate - see link
25ml flavourless oil
50g popping candy

Crush biscuits and add the melted butter, mix well and press firmly into a 23cm (9") round deep springform tin. Refrigerate to cool.

Melt chocolate carefully over a bowl of hot water.
Beat egg yolks and sugar in processor (or with a hand mixer) until pale and smooth.

Pour in hot coffee and Tia Maria and re process, while whizzing slowly pour in dissolved gelatine.

Blend in the melted chocolate and allow mixture to cool for 20- 30 mins.

Whisk egg whites until quite stiff then fold into the chocolate mixture.

Pour on top of biscuit base and leave to cool and set.

Decorate with chocolate covered popping candy made following this method from Heston Blumenthal. I made it without the spices, which I didn't think would compliment the coffee flavour.

I'll skip over the Clementine, Saffron and Polenta Cake, except to say that I was following this recipe from Waitrose. I think my mistake was to try to make it nut free. I used SR flour instead of ground almonds. I did look at various recipes online, and found several of this sort which used flour, so I didn't expect it to turn out so badly. It was just about edible - most people tried a sliver out of politeness and my mother took home half of what was leftover to eat warm with custard!

The mincepies were made with my standard  sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, with the addition of the finely grated zest of an orange. Here's the pastry recipe, but I don't think there's any need to tell you how to make mincepies. This amount of pastry, plus one standard jar of mincemeat makes 24 mincepies, for me, but obviously the size of your mincepie moulds and how thinly you roll the pastry will make a difference.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry: 500g SR flour; 250g butter, or a mixture of butter and lard; 75g icing sugar; zest of one medium orange; 1 large egg; cold water to mix. Rub the fat into the flour, sift in the icing sugar and mix in the orange zest. Add the egg and enough cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead briefly, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes before use. The use of SR flour and some lard makes the pastry soft and crumbly.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Black Beer Gingerbread

This is Nigella Lawson's recipe, which I saw her cook this week on her current TV Series, 'Kitchen'. The Black Beer refers to stout such as Guinness, of course. She cut the gingerbread into small cubes, piled it haphazardly on a platter and stuck on a few Christmas cake decorations of small plastic fir trees and deer, before giving it a liberal dusting of icing sugar. The result suggested a rugged, wintry wasteland - but somehow it was still Christmassy.

I'm not sure whether I will go that far for my Christmas table (I'm not even sure I have any cake decorations), but this seemed an ideal cake to have around over Christmas. Gingerbread gets better with time and will easily last the whole week, if it's not eaten sooner.

I could only find the recipe online with cup measurements, so I'll list the metric 'translation' too:

150g butter
300g golden syrup
200g dark muscovado sugar
250ml stout - I used Murphy's
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
300g plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
300mls sour cream
2 large eggs

The recipe was simple to follow and everything was mixed in the saucepan used to melt the butter and sugars together, so it was easy on washing up too. I used an 11 inch square pan, as I didn't have the exact size specified in the recipe, and cut the gingerbread into 36 very small squares. I think I would cut it into larger pieces if it wasn't going to be part of a Christmas feast, when many people like small tastes of everything.

To be honest, I found the finished product slightly disappointing. It wasn't as dark as my usual gingerbread recipe, which uses a large proportion of black treacle as well as golden syrup. The beatings at each stage of mixing gave the surface of the cake a very strange holey appearance, almost as if excess gas was trying to escape. The recipe I usually use stresses not to beat the mixture; now I know why! The flavour was complex, and not too sweet, with the sour cream and stout countering the sweetness of the large amounts of sugar and syrup; I liked that result! The texture was quite light, but the cake had a slightly layered appearance, getting denser towards the bottom, as if that escaping gas was what should have been contributing to the light texture, but too much got away!

The delicious flavour just about redeems this recipe and makes it one to make again, although I think I'll go a little lighter on the whisking next time!

In fairness to Nigella, the surface of the cake looked better the next day, and most of the holes had disappeared, although the top to bottom texture still looked a little uneven. I don't think this shows on the photograph, though.

I've still got mincepies and two desserts to make, but those results won't be posted until after Christmas Day. In the meantime.....

......I wish you all a very Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Not everyone likes mince pies, and the other traditional Christmas goodies. We always have two desserts for Christmas  lunch - one is chocolate and the other something fruity and fresh tasting - no Christmas puddings here, although I adore them! I make sure both desserts can be made in advance and that they will keep for a few days if not eaten straight away. More about them later!

However, for those who won't even look at a mince pie or a slice of fruit cake, I've baked some Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies to sit alongside the Biscotti I made a few days ago. I used my favourite Dan Lepard recipe, changing it slightly to use vanilla extract instead of almond and spelt flour instead of wholemeal. This was the first time I've used spelt flour on it's own and it gave a really interesting flavour - hard to describe it really - nutty, perhaps? It certainly made the cookies an unusual colour too!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Flapjacks with Apricots and Sultanas

This was probably the last routine baking session before Christmas - something to keep the cake tin full - and I chose something that could be prepared and mixed up in less than 5 minutes, and cooked while I was working on other things in the kitchen. Flapjack is so quick to make and satisfying to eat - I think the only reason I don't make it more often is that it is packed with butter and sugar and seems less healthy than other  baked goods. This is probably a fallacy though - this recipe is 50% fat and sugar by weight, which is no different to a standard Victoria Sandwich cake, before you fill it with buttercream or jam. Plus, it has oats in, which may reduce cholesterol levels, and you can add a healthy selection of dried fruit and seeds of your choice.

So - don't feel guilty about flapjacks - sounds like a good New Year's resolution to me!


250g salted butter
100g golden syrup
150g light muscovado sugar
350g rolled or porridge oats
150g dried fruit, seeds, or nuts of your choice - in this batch I used 55g dried apricots, 50g sultanas, 25g pumpkin seeds and 20g sesame seeds - chop any large fruit to the size of sultanas


Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 12 x 8 x 1" deep (30 x 20 x 2.5cm deep) baking tray with one piece of baking parchment, folding it into the corners, so that it comes up the sides of the tin. (You don't want any of the flapjack mix in contact with the tin.)

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar together, either in a large microwaveable bowl or a saucepan on the hob. Once the butter has melted, stop heating and mix together until the sugar has dissolved.

Tip in all the other ingredients and mix together thoroughly. When there are no dry patches of oats, transfer everything to the baking tray and press down firmly into an even layer.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the flapjack is just turning golden. This makes a chewy flapjack - if you like it crisper, bake for a few minutes longer until a deep golden in colour.

Cool for 10 minutes, then mark the flapjack into squares. Cool completely before trying to remove from the tin.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Biscotti with Chocolate, Nuts and Cranberries

I've only made biscotti once before; the recipe was such a disaster that it put me off trying again, as I didn't know how to judge a good recipe. Now that I've been blogging a while, I know there are bloggers I can trust; if they use a particular recipe and get good results, then I can be fairly confident the recipe will work as well for me. So when Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial posted her biscotti recipe recently, I knew I had to try it! Before I had a chance to get round to it, Celia posted about another batch of biscotti, with festive flavours, which made me even more determined to get round to making them. I've gambled that we are now close enough to Christmas for the biscotti to keep well until then!

Fortunately Celia usually gives metric weights as well as cup measurements for her recipes, and often shows stages of a recipe in great detail - all very helpful to a novice. I followed her recipe exactly, except that as I was gathering the dough into a ball it still seemed very wet, so I sprinkled an extra handful of flour over it - about a tablespoon more.

I used a 80g of coarsely chopped roasted pistachios and 60g of more finely chopped toasted hazelnuts to make up the 140g of nuts, and for the extra additions I used 100g 72% plain chocolate and 80g dried sweetened cranberries. Instead of demerara sugar I used Barbados Amber Sugar, an unrefined cane sugar which has similar sized crystals, but is a little lighter in colour. For the second bake, I only baked the slices for 20 minutes - this was enough to turn them golden brown.

The recipe worked very well, and I was really pleased with the outcome in terms of shape, flavour and texture - the biscotti were well shaped and evenly baked, and the Barbados Amber Sugar made a crunchy topping to the slices. The inclusions gave a good flavour, with the right balance of crunchy nuts to softer fruit and chocolate.

I was less pleased with the way the inclusions looked - the dried cranberries were really bright red in the packet but darkened during baking, and pistachios never look as green as you hope for! This meant that I didn't get the hoped for festive effect of red and green together. The chocolate also smeared in places when the logs were sliced which looked a bit messy - not sure how to overcome this except leave the logs to cool for longer. Would this be OK, or would the logs then be difficult to slice, I wonder?

Overall though, I think the recipe is great - no need to look any further for variations. Thank you, Celia! I don't think I'll need more for this Christmas, but I'll hopefully make a better choice of ingredients next time, so that they look as good as they taste.

PS - Celia forgot to mention the cook's perks - the ends of the logs, which wouldn't lie flat for the second baking. That's how I know how good they taste! ;)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

We Should Cocoa - December Challenge

Date, Chocolate and Orange Festive Tarts

The December 'We Should Cocoa' challenge was set by Choclette, at Chocolate Log Blog. She chose dates as the added ingredient to use in our chocolate product, in a bid to give the challenge a festive feel.

For anyone who would like to join in this monthly challenge, the rules are also on Choclette's blog, here.

I love the combination of dried dates and chocolate, but one of the drawbacks of the texture of cooked dates is that they can disappear into the background and not really be noticed in the final product. The flavours of chocolate and dates can blend too, so that it's difficult to tell where dates end and chocolate begins. For instance, I've used dates in these Chocolate, Date and Walnut Squares, and in Sticky Toffee Pudding, and it would be difficult to identify them as an ingredient, if you didn't know they were there. I wanted to make sure they stood out as an ingredient for this challenge. Happily, I think I succeeded!

Pastry (this makes a bit more than you need if you don't make full lids for the tarts; I hate trying to stretch pastry further than it wants to go! Pun intended! ;)):
200g SR flour
50g salted butter
50g lard
cold water to mix

200g dried dates
1 medium orange
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
60g plain chocolate, chopped finely - I used 66%
cocoa solids

To finish - a little icing sugar

First make the filling; chop the dates into two or three pieces (this is a useful way of checking there are no stones left), and place in a small saucepan. Add the zest of the orange, plus the juice and any fleshy pieces of fruit that end up in the juice. Add the water and bring the pan rapidly to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. When cold, add the cinnamon and the chopped chocolate.

Next, make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way - the use of some lard, and SR flour, makes the pastry crumbly(short) and soft. Rest for 20 minutes in the fridge, then roll out thinly and cut into 12 circles to line a mincepie pan. Re-roll the trimmings and cut a few festive shapes to decorate the tops of the tarts. Alternatively, you should have enough pastry to make full lids, as you would for mincepies.

Divide the filling between the pastry cases and level with the back of a teaspoon. Decorate with the pastry cutouts and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden. Cool for a few minutes in the baking pan, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. When cold, sieve over a little icing sugar.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Although the surface of the date filling dried out a little while cooking (which is why you might prefer to make full lids, and turn these into pies instead of tarts), underneath it was moist and richly flavoured. There was still enough texture in the dates to prevent them from being a bland purée, and by adding the chocolate only when the dates were cold, it stayed in discrete pieces rather than blending into the mixture. The cinnamon and orange added just the right festive notes, without either flavour overwhelming the chocolate and dates.

A good alternative to mincepies, I think, which is exactly what I'd been hoping for!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pear and Blueberry Cupcakes with Hazelnut Crumb Topping

These are big cupcakes, bursting out of muffin cases! This recipe came about as a result of having only 80g of blueberries left over from another recipe. Not enough for blueberry muffins, or any other sort of cake where blueberries were the main feature, but with added flavours there should be enough to taste.

I quite liked the pairing of pears with blueberries, in a cake I made a while ago, so decided to repeat that combination, adding some hazelnuts to a crumble topping for added crunch and flavour.

100g salted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
50g full-fat Greek style yogurt
1 pear, peeled cored and chopped into small pieces
80g blueberries

for the topping:
55g salted butter
70g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
25g finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

First make the topping by melting the butter in a small bowl(microwave) or pan(hob), then stirring in the other ingredients. This gives a soft dough, which you will be able to crumble, once it is cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C and put muffin cases into a 12-hole muffin pan

To make the cupcake batter, put all the ingredients, except the pears and blueberries, into a bowl and beat until well mixed and smooth. Fold in the chopped pears.

Distribute the batter evenly between the muffin cases, filling each one to just over halfway. I got 9 cakes out of this amount of batter. Divide the blueberries between the cupcakes, sprinkling them on the surface and pressing down lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten the mixture and embed the blueberries.

Use your fingers to crumble the topping dough over the cupcakes, as equally and evenly as possible.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm and golden brown. A probe will come out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes then move the cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

This recipe worked very well - the pear stayed evenly distributed throughout the batter, and putting the blueberries between the batter and the topping meant they didn't sink, and also gave some colour to the cupcakes. The crumble topping worked well, as it always does, adding a contrast in texture and some extra flavour to the cake. I've previously only used this recipe with added chocolate, and without it the cupcakes weren't quite sweet enough. In future I'll add an extra 25g sugar to the batter.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Chilli-Orange Chocolate Cake, again.

After my last baking session turned out a less than successful result, I had to quickly whip up something for the family to eat instead. No time for experimentation, but a return to a cake which I know is always successful - Sam Stern's Chilli-Orange Chocolate Cake - and one for which I already had all the ingredients. The only slight change from the recipe is that I use all the zest from the orange, and a second tablespoon of orange juice instead of rum. I don't add the marmalade glaze and use my own frosting recipe too.

As I've said before, this cake is near perfection - a moist close texture, but not too dense, and just the right balance of flavours. The chilli is evident, but not overwhelming. I wouldn't want to change a thing about it.

After eating it, daughter wondered if a Tequila, Lime and Chilli version would work, as she's a big fan of Montezuma's Revenge Truffles, flavoured with those three ingredients.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Marmalade and Poppy Seed Cake

This cake, which was made following this recipe for Bitter Orange & Poppy Seed Cake, was a disaster on so many levels!  It just shows that even a trusted source of recipes gives an occasional dud!

So what went wrong? Althought the cake rose well during baking, and a probe test came out clean, the cake sank dramatically as it cooled - that was an ominous start. When I took it out of the baking pan it had dropped so much that the sides were beginning to cave inwards. When I cut it, there was a really dense stodgy layer at the bottom - it would have been impossible to  notice this with the usual probe test for being properly cooked., my online bible, says the reason for this could be too much liquid or too many eggs - so a basic fault in the recipe.

The final problem was that the cake tasted of nothing in particular - it wasn't sweet enough and I couldn't taste the orange zest or the marmalade (I used a good quality marmalade, but a 'three fruit' flavour rather than orange, so perhaps that's my fault - an orange marmalade might have built up the orange flavour more). The poppy seed flavour wasn't very noticeable either, although they added their characteristic grittiness to the texture.

This cake will get eaten, as I can't abide waste - I think if it's warmed through in the microwave and served with some natural yogurt it might make a passable pudding - but I won't be trying the recipe again!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Cheesecake Brownies

What is the point of a recipe which leaves a single egg white lurking forgotten in the fridge? I can understand a recipe using say, 6 egg yolks - at least then you have a decent amount of whites to use up in a different recipe. But one egg white hangs around until you finally throw it out three days later, or find it at the back of the freezer a year later, along with all the other single egg whites you froze, intending to use eventually. By then, they are so old that you still throw them out!

It was this annoyance which made me adjust the quantities of ingredients in David Lebovitz's recipe for Cheesecake Brownies, to incorporate what would be a leftover egg white (from the cheesecake mix) into the brownie batter. It worked really well too! The unintended change to the recipe was finding the packet of chocolate chips still under my oven gloves, while I was clearing up!! I chose this particular recipe because David Lebovitz uses metric measurements as well as cups, in his recipes. There are plenty of other Cheesecake Brownie recipes around - all very similar.

So, this is how I made Cheesecake Brownies

For the Brownie batter:
90g unsalted butter
125g dark chocolate - I used 75g of 85% chocolate and 50g of 72% chocolate
140g caster sugar
2 whole large eggs plus one egg white
80g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the Cheesecake mixture:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
75g caster sugar
a few drops vanilla extract

Line a 8"(20cm) square cake pan with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then beat in the sugar, followed by the eggs.
Fold in the flour, cocoa, vanilla extract and salt. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin. (The original recipe added 80g of chocolate chips to the batter.)
Beat together all the cheesecake ingredients until smooth.
Spoon the cheesecake mixture, in 9 blobs, onto the brownie batter. Use a blunt knife to swirl the cheesecake into the chocolate mix.
Bake for around 35 minutes, until the centre is just set. Cool in tin, then cut into portions - I cut into 12 generous pieces.

This looked really alarming when it came out of the oven, as the cheesecake mixture had risen well above the surface of the brownie. Fortunately, everything settled down to the same level as it cooled. There were one or two cracks in the surface where the cheesecake and brownie should have fused together, but nothing too disastrous. The brownie had a smooth fudgy texture and the cheesecake mixture added a clean, almost lemony flavour, to the brownie - a great contrast to the rich brownie. I'm not sure they really needed the chocolate chips!

Naughty, naughty - no eating and drinking at the computer!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Winter has come early this year, with sub-zero temperatures here and snow in many other parts of the country. It's very rare for this to happen before late December, or even January. Here is one of the joys of winter - not feeling guilty about the occasional hot, calorific pudding! Sticky toffee pudding could even make you feel almost virtuous, as puréed dates replace some of the fat in the pudding itself. If you are restrained with the toffee sauce and cream (HA HA!) then it's not so bad. ;)

The original of this recipe made seven individual puddings, but I bake it in one 9" square dish and get at least 9 servings from it - which brings me to the other great feature of this pudding - it reheats beautifully, either in the oven or as individual portions in the microwave. This recipe was once online, on the GoodFood site, under the name The Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding, and I think it is published in The Ultimate Recipe Book from GoodFood. I've made a couple of small changes in both the method and ingredients, but want to acknowledge the original.


225g stoneless chopped dried dates
175ml boiling water
1 tea bag
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g SR flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
85g softened butter
140g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
100ml semi-skimmed milk

For the Toffee Sauce:
175g light muscovado sugar
50g butter
225ml double cream
1 tablespoon black treacle

Cut the dates into halves (a good way of checking for missed stones) and place in a small bowl. Add the tea bag and the boiling water. After ten minutes, remove the tea bag, but leave the dates soaking until cold - most of the liquid will be absorbed. Whizz briefly in a blender or mini-chopper to give a coarse purée.

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 9" square baking dish which is at least 2" deep. Mix the flour and bicarbonate of soda together. Beat eggs in small bowl.

Beat the butter, sugar, black treacle and vanilla extract together. Add the eggs in three portions, together with a teaspoon of flour with each portion, and beat until well mixed. Fold in the rest of the flour alternately with the milk, then stir in the date purée. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes until well risen and firm (a probe should come out clean).

Meanwhile make the toffee sauce by bringing the sugar, butter, and half of the cream to the boil, in a small saucepan, stirring continuously. When boiling, add the treacle and cook for a few minutes, until it begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and beat in the rest of the cream.

When the pudding is cooked, prick all over with a cocktail stick and pour over about 1/3 of the sauce. The pudding can be served immediately with extra sauce poured over, and with cream or custard.  It will also reheat well if required, as will the extra toffee sauce. I reheat individual portions of the pudding for about 45 seconds in the microwave and reheat the sauce in 30 second bursts until it is hot and runny again. 

This pudding is surprisingly light, and the dates melt into the texture of the sponge, unless you have left any really large chunks when puréeing. The addition of black treacle to both the pudding batter and toffee sauce cuts through the sweetness so that it's not too sickly.

The photo doesn't do this justice - I don't have the best equipment for taking photographs with no natural light, for one thing. It's also not a pretty dessert when made in one dish.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Maple, Pecan and Cranberry Cookies

Happy Thankgiving to anyone celebrating this holiday. These cookies have what I consider to be some of this season's flavours from the USA - maple, pecan nuts and dried cranberries, so could be considered my virtual contribution to the feasting.

This is another version of the cookie from this Dan Lepard recipe. I used 100g of each of chopped pecans and dried cranberries, and left out the chocolate altogether. For the maple flavouring I replaced 60g of the sugar with the same amount of dried maple syrup flakes which I brought back from my holiday in Canada, and I used two teaspoons of maple syrup instead of almond essence.

Changing the sugar seemed to alter the texture a bit, or perhaps it was removing the chocolate, because these cookies didn't spread much and reamained almost exactly the shape which I put into the oven. If I'd known that I would have flattened them a bit more before baking. Being thicker, they took about 5 minutes longer to cook through. Although they were too thick, they were well flavoured, but a little dry without the chocolate melting in the mouth. Perhaps a change, or two, too far!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Pistachio and Cocoa Nib Shortbread

Back to baking, albeit nothing too rich yet! My daughter brought home a pack of cocoa nibs on her recent visit. What a treat - it's impossible to get anything like that around here - we're so provincial! Mail order is a possibility, but adding on the postage costs of  relatively heavy items often makes it prohibitive.

I thought the characteristics of cocoa nibs would be best showcased in a crisp biscuit, and decided to also add some pistachio nuts, chopped into pieces about the same size as the cocoa nibs. The number of shortbread recipes around only  bewildered me, so I went right back to basics and used Delia Smith's recipe from The Complete Cookery Course, first published in 1978. It has the classic proportions of 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter and 3 parts flour (in Imperial measurements!). The only change I made to the basic recipe was to use a small proportion of cornflour alongside the plain flour, which is supposed to make the biscuits denser and crisper.

110g butter, at room temperature
50g caster sugar
125g plain flour
50g cornflour
25g pistachio nuts, finely chopped
20g cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 150C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, in a medium sized bowl, until soft and creamy, then beat in the caster sugar.
Sift in the two flours and stir in with the spoon until the mixture is stiff and crumbly - not all the flour will be incorporated at this stage.
Add the nuts and cocoa nibs, then use your hand to gather the dough into a ball and knead together to make a soft smooth paste.
Roll out on a board sprinkled lightly with caster sugar, to 3mm thickness. Cut into circles with a 75mm round cutter and place biscuits on the baking tray. Re-roll the trimmings to cut more biscuits.
Bake for 30 minutes, when the biscuits will be cooked through but barely coloured. Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. The biscuits will become crisp as they cool. Store in an airtight tin.

These biscuits were delicious, with a crisp and delicately crumbly texture. The cocoa nibs, which originated in Peru, were crunchy, bitter and smoky and together with the nuts enhanced the crunchiness of the biscuits. The little flecks of pale green and dark brown looked pretty too. These would be a lovely addition to a traditional afternoon tea!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

We Should Cocoa - November Challenge

We are all feeling slightly unwell, at the  moment. I don't think it's anything too serious, but no one feels like eating rich cakes, and I don't feel much like baking. I think I'm going to run out of time to try anything else for the We Should Cocoa challenge. This month's challenge, set by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, was to use caramel in a chocolate goodie, so I'm submitting the Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel Bars I made earlier in the month. The rules, for anyone interested in joining the We Should Cocoa challenge, can be found here, at Chocolate Log Blog

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hazelnut Prune Cake

It's not often that Hubs asks for anything specific in the food line - except that if I ask what he wants for dinner, the answer is always sausages! LOL! So when he looked at this recent Dan Lepard recipe for Hazelnut Prune Cake, and said he wanted to try it, what could I do but obey? (Don't answer that I could have made him cook it - I think he can cook, but he's never baked a cake and hasn't cooked a meal since the time I was incapacitated after an operation, which was probably 15 years ago!)

Another excuse to give in to him is that I'm baking Dan's Chestnut Brownies again this weekend, and he didn't really like them. He certainly liked this cake, though, and so did I! You do need to like prunes, however, as the other ingredients don't hide the flavour of 300g of prunes - that's a lot of prune in each slice! As usual it was a simple recipe to follow, although toasting and chopping hazelnuts, and snipping sticky prunes into pieces with scissors was quite time consuming.

I had a slight worry that the cake batter was too stiff, bearing in mind the prunes would absorb liquid as the cake cooked, but decided to trust Dan, and not add any extra milk. I used a slightly larger cake tin but the cake still took 60 minutes to cook against the suggested time of 50 minutes in the recipe. While the cake was cooking I dithered about which alcohol to use to finish the cake as I didn't have any brandy; the choice came down to rum or Amaretto and in the end I went with the Amaretto - drizzling about 3 tablespoons over the hot cake, after pricking a few holes with a cocktail stick. This turned out to be a good choice - it really enhanced the nuttiness of the cake.

The finished cake was moist and sticky, and the nuts and prunes really stood out as dominant flavours. However, the  brown sugar, nutmeg and a little cocoa, together with the liqueur, gave a subtle background flavour which was hard to identify. A really delicious cake which would make a good Christmas Cake if you want something lighter and moister than a traditional cake.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Apple, Fig and Almond Pie

This pie was a last minute idea, to use up the last windfall cooking apple, and to make a change from fruit crumble. I was in a rush to get it into the oven before the F1 Grand Prix started, so decided to go with a free-form pie, as it wouldn't matter too much if there was any pastry shrinkage. I did have time to rest the pastry after it was mixed, but I don't think it was entirely  necessary in these circumstances.

I added chopped dried figs and ground almonds to the apples to soak up any excess juice and provide a bit more texture and flavour to the filling. I also made the basic shortcrust pastry with SR flour as I like the soft, crumbly result it gives. Using lard in the pastry also adds to the 'shortness'.

250g SR flour
60g lard
65g salted butter
cold water, to mix
1 large cooking apple
1 large eating apple - or more, see note at end
about 10 dried figs, each cut into six pieces
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons ground almonds
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Rub the butter and lard into the flour, and use enough cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough. (I find it easier to rub in the fat if it has warmed up a bit from the fridge temperature.)  Gather the dough into a ball, knead lightly, wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Prepare filling - peel core and slice the apples and put into a bowl. Add the zest and the juice of half a lemon, and mix to coat the apple slices. Mix in the sugar, ground almonds and fig pieces.
On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rough circle shape about 40cm (16") across, and transfer to a baking sheet. 
Heap the filling into the centre, leaving a 8-10cm margin all round.
Fold the margin of pastry up over the filling, gathering any excess into folds. This should leave a small area in the centre not covered with pastry - if you have too much pastry, break away a little from the edges to leave a hole in the centre.
Brush the pastry with water and sprinkle thickly with sugar.
Bake in a preheated oven (190C) for about 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

Serve warm, with cream or Greek yogurt.

I'm happy that I judged the added figs and ground almonds correctly - there were no excess juices to make the pastry base soggy. The figs added a lovely flavour and texture to the apples, and the lemon could be tasted too.

Note - You can see from the cut pie that the filling is not very deep. This amount of pastry could easily have taken more filling - at least another apple - but I had to go with what I had available.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Caramel Bars

This might be a 'We Should Cocoa' entry for this month, but it seems a bit of a cliché to cook a Caramel Bar. My excuse is that I've only made caramel this way once before and it was a disaster, as it didn't set. In preparation for November's challenge of using caramel in a chocolate goody, I thought I ought to have another attempt at a basic caramel. I was fairly sure that jars and cans of ready made caramel wouldn't work in this sort of recipe - they are all fairly runny.

I chose this recipe from Rachel Allen, as it added a couple of extras to the basic Millionaire's Shortbread recipe - a chocolate base and hazelnuts in the caramel. I couldn't tell from the recipe whether the chocolate base was going to be like a brownie or a cookie, but I could tell that it wasn't going to be the usual biscuity shortbread. In the end, it seems to be more like a cookie than a brownie - soft, chewy and slightly crumbly.

The recipe was straightforward to follow and I didn't encounter any difficulties. I guess it's always a little tricky to make caramel of the right texture without a sugar thermometer - I stopped the cooking when I could see that the caramel was thickening and it was starting to pull away from the sides of the pan as I stirred. I was anxious that it didn't become hard and brittle when it cooled. The hard part was waiting for each stage to cool before going onto the next. I started at around 1pm, and only got the bars ready to cut and eat  at 6.30pm by setting the chocolate in the fridge.

These were delicious, and considering the amount of sugar in the chocolate base and caramel, not as sweet as I expected them to be. The caramel was just right - soft and chewy but still holding it's shape. I wasn't completley happy with the way the chocolate topping had set - I think in future I might use an idea from other recipes - marble a mix of milk, plain and white chocolate together so that it doesn't matter if it isn't smooth and shiny.

One point to remember is that you need to use chocolate that you like to eat on it's own, as the flavour really comes across -  I ate a piece of the Green and Black's plain chcocolate that I often use in cooking but decided it was too bitter on it's own. I ended up using Waitrose Continental Plain Chocolate.

If I decide to use this as my We Should Cocoa entry, I will edit this post, but I have one other recipe which I want to try before making up my mind.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

An Old Favourite - Chocolate and Orange Loaf

My Chief Taster has had a rough few days; 36 hours starvation, an inner cleansing and an uncomfortable examination. Fortunately the results showed a marked improvement with his medical condition, but such an ordeal calls for comfort food and a favourite cake, not some of my experimental cooking!

I rolled out this chocolate and orange marble cake recipe, but instead of baking it in a round tin, I baked it in a long loaf tin, with a 2lb capacity. Rather than putting blobs of cake batter into the tin and swirling them together to give a marbled effect, I used the batter in alternate layers. I had hoped the layers would make more of a swirly effect as they baked, but overall, I'm quite pleased with the results, which looks good in slices from the loaf shape.

This is a lovely rich tasting cake, with a high proportion of fat and eggs to flour, kept moist by ground almonds in the batter and melted chocolate as well as cocoa in the dark portion of the batter.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

My Chocri Prize

Chocri sell customised chocolate bars. Starting from a base of plain, milk or white chocolate, or a milk and white combination, the buyer can choose from a multitude of toppings to make a bar to their own specification. As well as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices there are luxuries such as gold leaf, and fripperies such as tiny sugar flowers or gummy bears. According to Chocri, there are over 27 billion possible combinations. The chosen bar can then be further personalised  by choosing a name for your creation.

The average bar, with up to 5 topping choices, costs around £5.00, which is expensive for a 100g bar, but not so expensive as to make it prohibitive for special occasions such as birthday presents. If you think a recipient would prefer to chose their own favorite combination of flavours, gift vouchers are available.

Even if you don't want to buy, a chocoholic can have hours of fun making chocolate bars, looking at suggested combinations of toppings or seeing what people have ordered recently.

I was lucky enough to win a competion on the blog Kavey Eats, for a £10 voucher and free P&P. My competition winning suggestion was for my ideal bar, called Tropical Temptation; dark chocolate with ginger, dates, mango, macadamia nuts and cocoa nibs.

As my daughter's birthday is looming, I allowed her to choose one bar, then used what money was left to choose a bar for myself. Any money left on your gift voucher  can be donated to a German charity which supports homeless and orphaned children in the Ivory Coast, Africa. I can't yet comment on the taste but the bars certainly look very appetising. The chocolate was very well packed, to avoid the possibility of breakage, and the parcel also contained a cool pack to avoid damage by excess heat in transit.

My daughter chose a very classy dark chocolate, raspberry, blueberry and real gold combination, and I went with dark chocolate topped with sour cherries, pistachios, ginger and cocoa nibs. Unfortunately I didn't have enough money on the voucher to see how my competition winning suggestion would turn out!

I'm certainly looking forward to trying my custom made creation! Will I be able to resist temptation until Christmas?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Chestnut Brownies

There were mixed feelings here, about Dan Lepard's  recent recipe for Chestnut Brownies. Yes, they tasted rich and decadent, boozy and well flavoured, but they also had such a soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture that they didn't fit into either of the usual brownie categories - they weren't moist and cakey nor dense and chewy. Eating one was more like eating a mousse - it was almost a surprise that you weren't spooning it out of a dish.

We weren't too sure about the chestnuts, either. I liked the added texture of the almost-candied little chunks, but felt they didn't add much to the flavour, whereas Hubs really disliked them and felt they spoiled the brownies and were a waste of an expensive ingredient. If the recipe had been promoted as a dessert, and served with a scoop of ice cream or creme fraiche then I'm sure we would have liked it more! Expecting a more  traditional brownie, we were slightly disappointed!

The recipe wasn't really complicated, although there were several unusual steps, such as making a meringue from egg whites and brown sugar and then beating in the egg yolks. Because I didn't think things through very carefully, I used several bowls more than I needed to, as I had to move some ingredients into bigger bowls before I could go onto the next stage. My only deviation from the recipe was that I only had 200g of chestnuts - not the specified 240g. I used dark muscovado sugar to mix with the chestnuts and light muscovado sugar with the egg whites, as my dark sugar was a bit lumpy! Although I cooked the brownies until a cocktail stick was clean when poked into the centre, they were still very moist - I think a minute or two more cooking might have been better.

Because I can't make up my mind whether I like these or not, I think this is recipe which will probably eventually just get forgotten about - although not for a while, as my daughter wants  them for her birthday visit home in a few week's time.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Apple Gingerbread with Cinnamon Glaze

Sometimes recipes are just too vague - I should have learned by now to be suspicious of any recipe which starts with 1 large cooking apple. What does that cook call large? Are my apples large or medium by my standards, let alone someone elses? I should also learn to read a recipe and have some idea of how big the finished cake is going to be; this one was much smaller than I expected! I think I was influenced by the fact that the recipe claimed to be from the Women's Institute - that should be reliable, surely?

 I followed the recipe quite closely, the only change was that I used 2/3 black treacle and 1/3 golden syrup, and added half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the cake batter too. I cooked the apples with a pinch of ground cloves, until they had collapsed and the purée was quite dry. I cooked the gingerbread in a 7" round tin - it rose quite a lot in the oven but fell back as it cooled. I glazed the cake with icing sugar flavoured with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and mixed to a flowing consistency with clear apple juice

The gingerbread was very moist and tasty, but a little too dense. I think that was probably due to too much apple and possibly not enough raising agent because of the acidity of some of the ingredients such as treacle. Next time I will double all the cake ingredients, err on the side of caution with the apple and perhaps add a little bicarbonate of soda to neutralise the black treacle and give a better rise.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Pear and Chocolate Pudding

This is simply a chocolate flavoured sponge mixture studded with lumps of chocolate and topped with pear slices. Eaten warm, the chocolate is still molten and provides an interesting contrast in texture. Serve with cold whipped cream for maximum delight!

Use more pears if you have them - I was using the last of my neighbour's windfall gift and would have been happier with a few more slices to strew around. These pears were very ripe by the time I got round to using them - if they were still hard I would have poached them gently first.

3-4 ripe Conference pears, peeled, cored and sliced ino 6-8 slices depending on size. Hold the prepared pears in acidulated water to prevent browning. (As mentioned above, poach in sugar syrup until soft, if not ripe enough)
150g butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pan
150g caster sugar
180g SR flour
20g cocoa
3 large eggs
150g plain chocolate (I used 85%)
milk to mix, as necessary

Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 9" (22cm) ovenprooof dish or skillet with butter, if not non-stick.
Chop the chocolate roughly and reserve about a quarter of the pieces for toppoing - I picked out the larger pieces.
Put all the ingredients except the pears and chopped chocolate into a  large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended, adding a tablespoon or two of milk, if necessary, to give a dropping consistency.
Fold in the larger portion of the chocolate pieces, then transfer the batter to the baking dish, levelling the surface.
Drain the pear slices and arrange on top, then dot the reserved chunks of chocolate between the pear slices.
Bake for around 30-40 minutes, or until the cake mixture is dry when tested with a probe.
Serve while still quite warm, or cover and reheat in a low oven when needed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Maple and Pecan Squares

I've said before that Autumnal cooking, with its use of spices, nuts and seasonal fruit such as apples and pears, suits our tastes better than the more delicate flavours of Spring and Summer. This cake is a case in point, even though I'm borrowing flavours from another part of the world, and I'm not sure maple syrup is even Autumnal - don't they harvest as the sap rises? Anyway, it's something that I probably wouldn't think of making in the Spring.

The original recipe for these packed the cake batter with cocoa nibs and butterscotch chips, and called the result Maple Blondies. I replaced these additions with a smaller amount of chopped pecan nuts and am going to call the result a cake, because it was far too light  to fit in with my ideas of what a Blondie should be! The  simple flavours of pecans, maple syrup and vanilla made this cake delicious and somehow pure, for not having a range of competing flavours jostling together.


200g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
180g salted butter - softened
150g light muscovado sugar
125mls maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150g chopped pecan nuts - a mix of fine and coarse pieces

maple flakes - optional

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a 9" square tin with baking parchment.
Whisk the baking powder into the flour.
Cream the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour.
Fold in the rest of the flour and the chopped nuts. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface.
Sprinkle the surface with a thick layer of maple flakes. (Most of these dissolved during cooking to give a crisp sugary topping to the cake.)
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a test probe comes out with a few moist crumbs still clinging.
Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then cut into squares and leave to cool completely.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Hazelnut Mocha Cream Biscuits

This is my entry to the October 'We Should Cocoa' challenge - to make a product containing chocolate in some form plus an added special ingredient - in this case hazelnuts or cobnuts. This month the challenge is hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and full details of the 'We Should Cocoa' challenge can be found there.

These biscuits are a crisp hazelnut, shortbread type of biscuit, sandwiched with a coffee-flavoured, chocolate cream filling.

Ingredients - biscuits
100g whole hazelnuts
190g plain flour
175g butter
115g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling (based on a recipe by Dan Lepard)
100g plain chocolate
125g icing sugar
50g butter - softened
25ml double cream
25ml Tia Maria or other coffee liqueuer
1 teaspoon instant coffee of coffee extract flavouring

To make the biscuits
Finely grind the hazelnuts with 3 tablespoons of the flour.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then mix in the nuts and remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Wrap the ball of dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough, in two batches, to roughly 3mm thick and cut into circles with a 6cm cutter. Re-roll the trimmings to make more rounds, trying to get an even number! Place the rounds on baking sheets lined with parchment, allowing a little room for spreading, and bake at 170C for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
Leave on the trays for 3 minutes to firm up, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.
To make the filling
Dissolve the teaspoon of coffee in the cream and liqueur. Melt the plain chocolate and leave until barely warm but still soft. Beat the butter into the chocolate, followed by the cream mixture, then the icing sugar. When the mixture is smooth, use it to sandwich two biscuits together.

This filling recipe has been in my mind since I first made it nearly a year ago. It sets fairly firm, so is ideal for sandwiching biscuits together; no messy squirting when the biscuit is bitten into! This was the first hazelnut shortbread recipe I tried, and although it worked quite well and made a crisp biscuit, they spread more than I expected while cooking. If I had more time (and if hazelnuts were cheaper!), I might have tried other recipes to find a better one, but this will have to do for now!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Chocolate Crumble Date Bar

Dan Lepard describes his recent Guardian recipe  in this way "Hazelnut and milk chocolate fragments are buried in a layer of chocolate shortcrust, under a stratum of soft dates and a crumble crust". What more do I need to say?

I followed the recipe exactly, even to the extent of using the dreaded milk chocolate, except I baked in a fractionally larger tin. The resulting bars were still thick and gooey so I don't think it made a lot of difference. As there were no instructions in the recipe, I cut the tray-bake into 16 squares while still warm, but cooled completely in the tin before removing.

Using only a little cocoa and milk chocolate, rather than plain, allowed the flavour of the dates to come through properly. Together, the orange flavoured dates, hazelnuts and chocolate made a very pleasing combination, with the gooeyness of the dates offsetting the crispness of the crumble topping. My only worry is that the shortcrust base and topping will soften in storage, as the date layer is so soft, meaning this needed to be eaten fresh - only time in the cake tin will tell.

Using both hazelnuts and chocolate this could have been my entry for this month's 'We Should Cocoa' challenge, but I want to make something where the flavour of the hazelnuts is more dominant, so instead I will dedicate this post to National Chocolate Week!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Gianduia Brownies

Unfortunately, by the time these Gianduia (Nutella and Hazelnut) Brownies  (recipe from Epicurious) were cooked, cooled and cut, the light conditions weren't right for a photograph. It was also the day before I went off to Cornwall for a week's holiday, so I never did get a photograph of them.

From what I remember of them, the flavour was excellent but the brownies were a little too cake-like and crumbly for my taste. However, here's the gripe - why do so many American brownie recipes produce such shallow brownies? I cooked these in a 8" square pan, rather than the 9" one stipulated in the recipe, and they were still shallower than I like. I think a shallow brownie looks so mean on a plate!

Here's what they should look like - carefully photographed to avoid showing any scale, I think!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Chocolate Orange Crumb Cake

This could so easily have been a disaster! A last minute panic after a day of indecision about what to cook left me no time to chop chocolate or nuts, no time to bring the butter up to room temperature and no time to faff about with a complicated recipe. So after a short burst of microwaves for the butter, all the ingredients for this cake were thrown into one bowl and beaten until smooth. I also had to bake with the fan on, as I was starting to cook dinner while the cake was baking - I much prefer to bake cakes in a conventional oven.

Fortunately things worked out OK. Thanks to the yogurt, the cake crumb was moist and close textured, but still light. In an ideal world I would have added more chocolate chips to the cake mixture (I only had 50g), but the chocolate crumb topping helped the balance between chocolate and orange flavours.The cake was still warm when the CT ate his first slice, but I told him to think of it as a pudding!

Crumb Topping
Melt 55g butter in a bowl in the microwave, then add 50g caster sugar, 70g plain flour and 20g cocoa. Mix with a fork until all the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Put the following ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. 150g unsalted butter (softened), 150g caster sugar, 3 medium eggs, finely grated zest of 1 large orange, 225g SR flour, 80g natural yogurt. Stir in 50-100g plain chocolate chips.

Transfer the cake batter to an 8"(20cm) prepared springform tin, level the top then use your fingers to break the topping mix into crumbs and scatter it evenly over the surface. Bake at 180C(160C fan) for 60-65 minutes or until a test probe comes out clean and dry.