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This is a very quick update to my last post about Cocoa Boutique.

I completely forgot to add a link to their monthly competition, which enters you into a draw to be a taster – you get free chocolates, and in return you score them as you would if you were a permanent member. I can safely say its good fun, requires barely any effort on your part and frankly… you would have to be a bit weird not to want free chocolate.

So it would be remiss of me not to share the opportunity.

http://www.cocoaboutique.com/free-chocolates

And if that plan doesnt work there’s also an introductory offer on the paying membership (£9.95 instead of £34.95) if you click here.

Right I’m starting to sound like a salesperson so enough of that. Recipes to feature again soon I promise.

Happy Tuesday! ♥

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I’ve posted this cake before when I first found the recipe on Orangette but I made it again this weekend and tweaked the recipe a bit so its now officially a part of the family. It’s still very young in cake years and it doesnt come with its own memory yet but hopefully one day I’ll be able to make it enough times and pass it to someone else in my family and it will remind them of something good and make them smile.

In the meantime, its just such a good chocolate cake recipe and I’ve got the quantities and weights right for one sensibly sized cake now (not that anyone is complaining about the surplus of cake batter)… so its worth sharing the love.

Perfect Chocolate Cake

I’m not blowing my own horn. It’s earned the title of the perfect cake because it’s every thing I think of when I think chocolate cake. Rich and dense… but in a good way.  You can eat it just on its own with a dusting of icing sugar or topped with chocolate butter cream and some fresh fruit like I did this time.

  • 50g semi sweet dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee (I used good Italian coffee)
  • 315g castor sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 65g melted butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Line and butter a 20(ish) cm spring form cake tin.

Break the chocolate in a bowl, pour over the hot coffee and stir until the chocolate is melted. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, cocoa, bicarb, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Beat the eggs in a stand mixer until foamy and pale and then beat in the butter, vanilla, buttermilk and coffee mixture. Slowly beat in the flour mixture until just combined and then pour into the cake tin. Bake for 50-70 min until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Cool in the tin for 5-10 min and then turn out to cool on a wire rack before icing and topping with fruit. Red currants are good for this because they dont wilt after more than a couple of hours out of the fridge.

Thank you again Orangette for helping me find the original recipe and for keeping me amused as usual! ♥

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There are a few recipes which I’m constantly on a quest to perfect and chocolate cake is one of them.

Cake is one of those things you need several people around to eat before you bake it otherwise you suddenly find that you’re sitting in front of an empty cake box with a guilty conscience and a stomach somewhat resembling the curvature of the earth.

So if I find a chance to try a new recipe without risking afore mentioned solo binge session, I grab it… queue Mother’s Day. This recipe was on my ‘to bake’ list although I cant recall when and where I discovered it and I had a surrogate mother in the vicinity to force it on so that was all the excuse I needed. I’m not going to ramble on with multiple superlatives to express how good it is but lets just say the title of this post would be the same had I baked it for any other occasion.

Despite a whole section on chocolate cakes in my copy of Nigella’s Feast this one is now officially my go to cake (sorry Nigella, you win some, you lose some…and some get rained out). The recipe is from Orangette (who happens to be my favourite food blogger for her style of writing) who in turn adapted it from Epicurious. I felt no need to tweak it any further and having successfully executed it with no complaints from the family members on who it was thrust, I think it can be described as perfect just as it is.

I did cheat in one respect by using a tub of Betty Crocker Chocolate Buttercream Style Icing (the link is to show what you’re looking for by the way, its easy to find in supermarkets)… not because of any fear of making the ganache but because I had just discovered it and was dying to see if it was as good on a cake as it was scooped straight out of the tub on a (clean!) finger.

Turns out the answer is yes, and its more chocolatey than sugary so its not as sickening as home made buttercream. I should point out that I was introduced to this delicacy by my previously-mentioned-baking-friend-Dawn who’s culinary skills are superior enough not to call for shop bought icing unless its just as good as the real deal. Do not feel ashamed.

 

Its too late to use your mother as an excuse to make it (for those of us in the UK anyway) but if its chocolate cake you are after, then it’s this chocolate cake you should have.

Happy Monday! ♥

p.s. In case you’re wondering why my cake tin is featured upside down in these pictures, this is my trick for getting your cake into a tin without leaving icing all over your hands (not necessarily a bad thing I know) and the sides of the tin (has less benefits) every time you go to steal a slice. If you put the cooled cake straight on to the upside down lid you can ice it in situ and put the tin itself straight on as the lid. Et voilà!

 

 

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A wedge of cake or a crumbly biscuit and a hot mug of caffeine to dunk it in can sometimes do wonders to lift the spirits… and if that cake can  raise some money for a charity that helps people who are really in need of a helping hand then the good feeling it brings is multiplied ten fold.

This post began with two biscotti recipes.  Seriously good biscotti recipes… but first I have to show you these cupcakes which were brought in for the comic relief bake sale at work because they really deserve to be given their due, as does the baker who made them.

I had such a horrible week that I didn’t even have time to bake anything this time and any amateur offering I might have touted in the name of charity would have simply paled in comparison so in a way my ego is glad I didn’t (I should point out that the biscotti were long gone by this point, I’m not that selfish).

The cupcakes were made by the wife of one of my colleagues at work, who has her own cake business called Regency Cakes and is clearly an amazing baker. Besides the fact that there were boxes upon boxes of the things, each one was perfectly and professionally formed and identical to its little neighbour so I can only imagine how many hours of sifting, beating, piping and sprinkling must have gone into making them all. I was so impressed and I thought putting so much effort into something with no personal financial gain, deserved a little recognition.

So if you need a cake fix or you just want some inspiration, stop drooling on my blog thank you and go and have a look at Lisa’s website.

Now… onto some other clever bakers.

I found these two biscotti recipes on completely separate internet wanderings but both immediately peaked my interest and when I finally got around to making them I landed up combining both. The first one from Tastefully Done grabbed me because it was so simple and the picture looked so delicious. The second from Yum!Therapy looked a little more complicated ingredient wise but had me sold from the minute I saw the words “lemon” and “white chocolate drizzle” (as you’ll see from the over excited exchange I had in the comments history!). Oddly enough, both recipes were adapted from  Giada De Laurentiis so that must say something about my tastes (and her baking).

A couple of weeks ago I decided I couldnt wait any longer to make the lemon ones but I didnt have any cornmeal in the cupboard or any almonds for that matter. Thankfully the dark chocolate recipe didnt need either so I decided to use that batter recipe and split to make a light and a dark version. I also had some pistachio nuts that were going to land up in the bin and they look so delicious on a dark chocolate background so they filled in for the almonds on one half. As it turns out, the dark ones go really well with coffee and the white chocolate go really well with tea so your dunking needs are covered no matter which beverage you’re in the mood for.

Without further ado, here’s my version of the two recipes combined and ever so slightly tweaked…

Dark Chocolate with Pistachio & White Chocolate with Lemon Biscotti

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 140g dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios (or 3/4 cup toasted almonds)
  • 140g white chocolate
  • zest of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 170°C.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, butter, and salt in a large bowl to blend and beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in e thalmond extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended.

Split the dough into two and add the lemon zest to one and most of the pistachios to the other (keep a few for sprinkling on the top).  If you are using almonds then add half to each dough or add them before you split it.

Place the two dough balls onto the baking sheets and shape into two flattened logs, about 20cm long and 5cm wide. Bake for 35 minutes until lightly browned and cool for 5 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into 2cm thick diagonal slices. Arrange the biscotti cut side down on the same baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn off the the oven, but leave the biscotti in for approximately 10 minutes longer. The biscotti should be pale golden. Let cool completely.

Melt the two chocolates in bowls set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts (I did mine one at a time so that the second one could melt while I was using the first). Spatula the dark chocolate on to the tops of the pistachio biscotti and sprinkle with the extra nuts. Leave the lemon biscotti on their sides on the tray and drizzle over the white chocolate. Put them all in the fridge for about half an hour for the chocolate to set and then store in an airtight container (they keep well if you can make them last long enough).

If you have any melted chocolate left over I suggest spreading it out on some kitchen foil and sprinkling over any left over nuts. Set in the fridge and break into shards to use on top of deserts or as a snack when your biscotti run out (they make good writing fuel when you are typing up the results of your baking expedition!).

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I always think about volunteering for a charity in my spare time but I never seem to have any spare time. The one thing I can always find time for though is cooking so I’ve started sticking my hand up when they are looking for volunteers to bake for the charity bake sale at work – the charity gets a small contribution and I get to try out new recipes and polish my halo.

Besides good karma and the warm glow that comes from a successful experiment, I have another recipe to share with the readers of my blog. This week you get chocolate toffee saltines and lemon meringue cupcakes!

For those of you unfamiliar with the saltine, it’s a salted cracker. Something that is normally friends with things like cheese, caviar, smoked salmon… well if these are its friends then chocolate and toffee is its lobster (i.e. soul mate, slightly confused food analogies there). I wish I had discovered ages ago that I could make what amounts to edible heaven, from a few store cupboard ingredients and some left over crackers. I found the recipe during a late night stumble (I should point out I’m not referring to a drunken wander round the cookery section of Waterstones, if you haven’t discovered Stumble already, click here) and although tempting, I didn’t jump straight out of bed but saved the link for my ‘to make’ list and decided to try it out on some charitable work colleagues. The recipe belongs to Lisa of With Style and Grace and was her grandmother’s. Delicious, and so simple – just crackers, butter, sugar and chocolate. This woman is a genius.

The finished product tastes something like a daime bar with a sophisticated hint of saltiness. Rather than clashing as you might imagine, the hint of salt is just brings out the flavour of the toffee and the chocolate in a way that’s difficult to describe. You just need to make these and you’ll understand.

I had no need to adapt or fiddle with Lisa’s recipe so if you are sensible enough to want to make them yourself just click on the link to her blog where you will find all the details (and a much better photo than mine of the finished biscuits, in case mine was making you wonder what all the fuss was about).

The second recipe is my own, although I was a little dejected to discover that I’m not the first person to think up the idea of a lemon meringue pie turned into a cupcake. Although I wont be able to trademark the first LMC, I’m still very proud of the result and I like to think mine have a little edge. In my humble opinion, the edge comes from…

a) a layer of home made lemon curd sandwiched between the lemon cupcake and the meringue, which oozes deliciously into the sponge and

b) a toasted caramel finish on the meringue by attacking the finished cakes with a blow torch to get the same effect as baking the pie in the oven.

If you have a love of cakes (i.e. you are human) and you have a love of lemons then I can  recommend these babies.

Home-made Lemon Curd

  • 75g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 230g caster sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons and a pinch of zest

Melt the butter in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Lightly beat the eggs and whisk into the butter (I take the butter off the heat while I do this to avoid scrambled eggs). Whisk in the sugar and then slowly whisk in the lemon juice and zest. Cook over the simmering water for about 20 min until the curd thickens, stirring often. Pour into a jar and cool before using.

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Sponge

  • 225g butter
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of 2 lemons (minus a pinch for the curd!)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and lemon zest and pour into lined muffin tins. Bake in the oven for 20-25 min until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Meringue frosting

(this version turned out to be fluffier and richer in flavour than the one I used for my gingerbread latte cupcakes so I’m afraid the last one gets the boot)

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups castor sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 tsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Put egg whites, sugar, water and syrup in a heat proof bowl and beat until mixed well. Place over a pan of boiling water and beat constantly with an electric beater while it cooks for about 7 min or until it will stand in peaks when the beater is raised. Remove from the heat and beat in the vanilla.

Spread each cupcake with lemon curd (to cram in extra curd, hollow out the top of the cupcake with a knife and pour the curd into the hole) and then pipe the meringue on top. Use a blow torch to gently caramelise the frosting and serve.

Ta da!

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First of all I should report back on what happened to the rest of my lamb. Remember this guy? What was left of him after I had made a roast and a lamb and white bean stew (see my last post) went into my freezer while I decided what would become of him. Thanks to my Aunt Judy’s suggestion he went from…

…A lamb, lentil and mint soup (soup crossed with a stew really) and I think it was a fine end to his existence. I’m not even going to post a proper recipe for the stew as it really was a “bung it” but here’s a rough guide if you need some idea of where to start.

I started with chopped pancetta in a large saucepan, fried until crisp and then added chopped celery, onion, potato and  carrots (whatever veg you like or have left over). Gently fry the veg until soft and then add a teaspoon or two of dried mint, a few sprigs of rosemary and/or other herbs and your lamb bones and meat. Make sure you cut your lamb leg in half at the joint so that it fits into your pan properly! Top up with water to cover the lamb, bring to the boil and simmer for at least two hours until the lamb is falling off the bone and has flavoured the water to become stock (if you are making with just lamb meat you could also use a lamb stock cube but I recommend the real McCoy). Fish out the bones and pick off any bits of meat (you could actually leave them in but this just makes it easier to serve). Finally add two tins of cooked green or brown lentils, a glug of soy sauce (my aunt’s tip), a glug of Worcestershire sauce and a splash of red wine vinegar and simmer for another 20 mins or so before serving. Easy!

Now onto sweet things.

I am trying to restrain myself at the moment and make healthy meals during the week but the weekend is my excuse for two things. Puddings and special breakfasts. This weekend I made both. The breakfast was apple spice muffins from a recipe  in this book. The recipe was given to me by a friend at work who makes amazing muffins and he recommends the book which I now do too. I was very faithful to the recipe for once but I did use currants instead of raisins (purely because they were in my cupboard), left out the walnuts, added extra spices and used demerera sugar and cinnamon to top them because it gives more crunch.  The apple makes them lovely and moist and they feel just healthy enough to stop you feeling guilty whilst still being a pleasure to eat.

Apple Spice Muffins

Adapted from “Muffins: Fast and Fantastic” by Susan Reimer. Makes 10-12.

  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 apple peeled, cored and grated
  • 85g melted butter
  • 80g raisins (or currants soaked in boiling water and then drained)
  • 2 tbsp demerera sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon to dust

Line a muffin tray with papers and preheat oven to 190°C. In a large bowl, whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Mix in castor sugar.

In a separate bowl combine the egg, milk, grated apple and melted butter and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined and fold in raisins/currants. Spoon into the muffin papers and dust with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake in the oven for 20-25 min until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Delicious warm from the oven with a mug of tea.

Breakfast over, my sights turned to pudding… chocolate and thyme mousse. I know this sounds odd but I’ve seen it somewhere before and I was dying to try it. Weirdly it works. The thyme somehow enhances the chocolate flavour, giving it a fresh accent that cuts through the richness of the mousse. I made the mistake of making it at first without infusing the thyme in anything so it didn’t impart enough flavour to the mousse unless you got a mouthful with a little thyme leaf in it, which was delicious. To get the full fresh hit of thyme I have adjusted the recipe to infuse it in a little milk before cooling and adding this to the cream (I didn’t try to infuse it in the cream itself as I needed to whip it and boiling the cream can make it split and refuse to play ball). Adding a few fresh thyme leaves to the mousse as well is optional but as long as you don’t go mad you wont feel like a cow with a mouthful of meadow I promise.

Chocolate and Thyme Mousse

Serves 4.

  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) chopped
  • 60ml full fat milk
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100ml double cream
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 1 large egg

Put the milk and thyme in a small pan and heat gently until almost boiled. Take off the heat and leave to infuse as it cools. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally.

Add the sugar and vanilla to the cream and whip to soft peaks. Separate the egg and add the yolk to the whipped cream and whip the white in a separate bowl until stiff. Add the cooled infused milk to the cream and egg mixture and mix through (add extra thyme leaves removed from the stem as optional). Fold the melted chocolate into the cream and then gently fold in the egg whites. Place in the fridge or freezer to set, depending on how fast you need to serve it. Garnish with a sprig of thyme to serve.

Before I go there’s one last bit of news to share. I have created a facebook page for my blog… partly to stop bombarding my friends and family with updates every time I write something but also so that I have another way of communicating when I have something shorter and more immediate to say about what I’m cooking or eating. I’d love it if everyone used the page too to post their own food related thoughts and photos too so feel free to pop past and leave a message or add a picture as the fancy takes you…

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So Christmas was a success, more or less anyway. Creamy Pea Soup and Prawn Cocktail with melba toast to start, one Citrus Butter Turkey and all the trimmings, and finally boozy (and I do mean boozy) Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse topped with Spicy Cocoa Biscuits. All prepared and served to guinea pig family with no adverse effects (besides the adverse effects of eating a three course meal only a few hours after polishing off a proper salmon and scrambled egg breakfast, several Bucks fizz and an Apricot Queen), although I was still disappointed that despite all my efforts of butter under its skin and a white wine bath it was still on the dry side so that will need some tweaking and practising but not bad for a first attempt.

Its a little late to share all the recipes with you as I’m sure you need 12 months to recover before you even contemplate another Christmas dinner but since the theme of this post is a little break from all the decadence before new year finishes us off, I decided I would give you the pea soup recipe (at the end of this post) as it was definitely a keeper. It works really well as a little side with a prawn cocktail but a big bowl and some crusty soup would be just as good as a simple healthy meal on its own. The creaminess comes from adding half a can of coconut milk which isn’t exactly low fat (I did use the light version though) but definitely feels lighter than cream and has a much fresher, less cloying taste. You could add chilli or different spices as well but I quite like the full and unadorned pea flavour and brilliant green colour.

Despite a brief pea soup respite, after three days of drinking and eating I had to give my poor body a chance to get back on the band wagon before I bludgeon it over the head with a bottle or six of champagne so this week  I raided the healthy end of the store cupboard and made up a couple of new granola recipes in an attempt to restore normality.

Dark chocolate and chilli granola might not sound like normality but trust me it works. I got the most brilliant cookbook for my last birthday, The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. It gives you suggestions for flavour combinations by grouping ingredients into flavour families and it’s so useful when you are trying to come up with a recipe or use up ingredients and cant decide what to pair them with. Some of the pairings like chilli and chocolate are more common but I’ve learnt some unlikely new ones or finally found an explanation for why some things work together. This granola recipe is great because apart from barely requiring any cooking at all, you can add anything you want to the basic granola to make different versions and you can actually try the raw ingredients rather than having to cook them first and hope for the best.  I developed these combinations by tasting bits of fruit, chocolate and spices before I started to see what works the best. I was originally going to put cinnamon in with the white chocolate and cranberry but nutmeg was just perfect because the nutmeg adds a fresh balance to the extreme sweetness of white chocolate (think about what it does for a creamy white sauce). The ginger in the dark chocolate version is another classic pairing which adds a second gentle heat behind the chilli and brings out the orange flavour from the zest grated into the oats.

Anyway I’m getting a bit scientific about granola. Here are the recipes, enjoy the rest of your holidays and I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

 

Dark Chocolate and Chilli Granola

If you are making both of these at the same time then you can half the ingredients but I’ve given amounts for a full batch of each.

  • 250g rolled oats (preferably jumbo)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g butter (if I am halving the recipe then I use 30g butter)
  • 6 tbsp runny honey
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • a large handful of dark chocolate chips (or as much as you like)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine the oats, nuts, seeds and spices in a large bowl. Melt the butter with the honey and add the grated orange zest. Stir into the oat mixture until the oats are properly coated. Spread over a baking tray lined with tin foil and bake for 15-20 min, stirring every 5 to 10 min so that the oats brown evenly. When toasted, remove the granola from the oven and allow it to cool completely before adding the chocolate chips and storing in an airtight container.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Granola

  • 250g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 50g butter (if I am halving the recipe then I use 30g butter)
  • 6 tbsp runny honey
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • a large handful of white chocolate chips

Repeat as above, adding the white chocolate and cranberries once the granola has cooled.

Creamy Pea Soup

This recipe makes enough to serve 4 as a light meal or at least 6 as a starter, depending on how much you serve. You can make it ahead and freeze as well if you are pushed for time.

  • 1/2 a leek, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock
  • 50g butter
  • 750g frozen or fresh peas
  • 200ml coconut milk

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onions and celery over a low heat until soft (do not brown). Add the leeks and fry for another 2 min. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then add the peas (I run the frozen peas under water for a bit before I add them to get rid of some of the ice). Boil the peas for about 4 min until just cooked and then add the coconut milk. Allow the soup to stand for a couple of minutes before blending in batches. You can now store in the fridge or freezer (defrost before you try to heat it) or put it back on the heat straight away to warm slightly. Just avoid boiling at length at any stage or the peas will lose their bright green colour and fresh flavour.

Happy eating! ♥

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