Tag Archives: Chocolate

Macarons – easier than you’d think

23 Sep
Chocolate orange macarons

Chocolate orange macarons

When I was wee we called them macaroons, but I’m going with the zeitgeist and will refer to them as macarons. Whatever you call them, they are the most scrumptious light almondy sweetie bonbons you will ever come across.

I always had this idea that macarons were tricky to make, that they wouldn’t rise properly, that they would just be too solid and not light and airy like they should be. Or that they’d be dry and crunchy instead of deliciously softly moist.

So, what changed my world view of macarons? Firstly it’s that I love them, and wanted to be able to make them. But mostly it was getting chickens. And then once we had so many eggs, I started making my own mayonnaise. And once you make your own mayonnaise you have a plentiful supply of egg whites. And I don’t like meringues much, so macarons were the obvious solution.

Don’t you love your life when macarons are the obvious solution!!

Basic macarons

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 75g caster sugar

To make these properly you need a few bits of kit. For starters, a food processor. You know, the kind that whizzes round and round and chops everything up really fine. You’ll also need a piping bag with a large plain nozzle. And your life will be a whole lot easier if you have either a food mixer too to whisk the egg whites.

Before you start, get your piping bag ready with the right nozzle in place, and prepare your baking tray (I line mine with non sticking baking parchment, but you could use rice paper, or a re-useable silicon mat).

  1. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds and pop them in the bowl of the food processor. Whizz it briefly. Well not too briefly, get it all a bit more powdery and mixed together
  2. Put the egg whites into a scrupulously clean bowl (any hint of anything greasy and you will have a FAIL), and whisk them until you have soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, and get it all glossy and thick and gorgeous. At this stage I whisked in a few drops of orange essence.
  3. Now get yourself a big metal spoon (or a spatula) and fold half of the sugar/almond mixture into the egg whites. Once they are combined, add the remaining sugar/almonds and fold them in to make a light smooth mixture. Don’t over mix or you’ll lose all the air, but try to get rid of all the lumps.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and pipe even sized circles of macarons mixture onto your baking tray.
  5. Turn the oven on: 140C or GM3.
  6. Now leave the tray of uncooked macarons at room temperature for about 15 minutes so the surface dries out ever so slightly.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool still on the tray.
Macarons out of the oven

Macarons out of the oven

Make the chocolate orange filling…

  • 50g good quality dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • zest of an orange, and some orange juice
  1. Melt the chocolate
  2. Beat the butter, and add the icing sugar and orange zest. Keep beating
  3. Fold in the melted chocolate and mix together
  4. Mix in some orange juice or cointreau if you want an adult version – enough to make the mixture just squidgy enough

You know what to do now.. spoon (or pipe) some chocolate orange filling onto half of the macarons. And pop a second macaron on top of each, to make lovely macarons sandwich. YUMMY.

 

 

 

Boozy mini cakes for BozzyFest

10 May

We get the Sunday Times every weekend. And occasionally the Times on a Saturday too. Last weekend the Times promoted that it had recipes for Bank Holiday baking. So, of course, I didn’t see much of the rest of the paper (apart from the utterly ace column by Caitlin Moran).

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top mini pear cakes

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top of mini pear cakes

I was kinda sniffy about the Bank Holiday Baking initially. I mean, it’s just the very beginning of May and the first thing I’m being encouraged to bake is Blackberry and Crumble Cake. Now, I’m sure the Blackberry and Crumble Cake is lovely, but brambles are seasonal fruit, and this really  is NOT their season. Get real cookery writers! And please stop encouraging supermarkets to stock fruit and veg that is out of season – it is more expensive to produce and ship and probably doesn’t taste as good.

There, rant over.

Then I moved on and spied Pear Cakes with White Chocolate, and Lemon Curd. I had literally just made some lemon curd (in a bid to do something else with our glut of eggs – my girls laid seven in one day earlier this week). And I’d just bought some pears. Yup, I know, pears aren’t in season either. But there they were on the shelf at the farmshop, and they looked delicious. And they store better than brambles, so perhaps it’s not quite so mad to buy them out of season?

Anyway, given that I clearly don’t have a leg to stand on in the ‘seasonal rant stakes’ I’ll move on. The recipes are all from Andrew Dargue of Vanilla Black. I’d never heard of Vanilla Black before, but now I’ve looked at the website, they are ‘Michelin-recommended’ and they have a book coming out this week. So that’ll be why I’ve seen his recipes in various places.

I made the Mini Pear Cakes, complete with white chocolate frosting, but something made me add a slug or two of gin to the frosting. And it was ace.

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes ak the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes aka the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

This weekend I made the cakes again, adding some gin to the cake batter too, and took them along for the volunteers at the wonderful Boswell Book Festival.  It wasn’t an entirely selfless act, supporting both the literary and volunteering community, for I wanted to see Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown give a talk. He’s the most remarkable man – he has flown more different types of aircraft than any other person, living or dead. And it is unlikely (allegedly) that his record of 487 aircraft will ever be beaten. He also interrogated a number of Hitler’s henchman, including Goering, Messerschmitt and Himmler, and the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His description of what he witnessed at the camp, in its last few days was incredibly moving – after almost exactly 70 years to the day he still can’t stop smelling the stench of the dying and near dying in that awful place.

But anyway, I digress.  These cakes were just going to be called Mini Pear Cakes with Gin and White Chocolate Frosting. yes GIN! But they clearly need to be called the Boozy BozzyFest Cakes instead. They are utterly delish. I’ve adapted the original recipe, but only slightly, so thank you The Times and thank you Andrew Dargue. These rock.

And so long as you use GF baking powder, these are gluten free badboys.

Boozy BozzyFest Mini Cakes

Preheat the oven to 155C / GM3. Grease a large muffin tin – this quantity works well for 12 proper-sized mini cakes. Don’t bother with muffin or cake cases, you don’t need them if you prepare the tin well, with lots of butter to prevent the cakes from sticking.

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small very ripe pears, cut in half and cored
  • 1 TBsp gin
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence (or vanilla, depending on what mood you are in

For the boozy icing

  •  100g white chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 TBsp gin
  1. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl
  2. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well together
  3. Add the gin and essence
  4. Using a large grater, grate the pears into the mixture. This should be possible if you hold onto the skin side, and just grate the flesh – you should be left holding the skin, with all the flesh grated into the cake batter
  5. Mix again, but only lightly to combine everything
  6. The batter is pretty runny, but don’t worry – it’ll work out. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each hole about two thirds of the way to the top.
  7. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then use a knife to run around the rim of each cake to loose them from the tin, and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  9. For the icing: melt the chocolate in a microwave on the lowest power setting, or in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
  10. Beat the butter and icing sugar together. Add the gin.
  11. Fold in the melted chocolate until well combined
  12. Smoosh the icing on to each cake or if you want to be a bit posher, pipe it on (it’ll look smart but not too twee if you use a plain round piping nozzle).

Want other recipe ideas? Take a look at my index of recipes. It’s got everything from croutons (I kid you not!) and boiling an egg (twice) to spicy turmeric chicken, which I’m going to eat tonight. Oh, and more recipes for brownies than is strictly necessary.

 

Blondie

23 Jan

The first record I bought was Abba’s Arrival. The second was Blondie’s Parallel Lines. I was a little in love with Debbie Harry. Weren’t we all?

Blondie has stood the test of time. But these days Blondie is less of an aural treat and more of an oral one for me. I have at last discovered the Blondie (as opposed to the Brownie). It’s a squishy tray bake, like a chocolate brownie, but with a caramelly buttery flavour, almost like butterscotch. And of course the regular blondie can be pimped up, by adding all manner of bling. In this recipe I’ve added dark choc chips, brazil nuts, ginger and dried sour cherries. And they rock.

Pimped up blondies

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar, bashed to get rid of all the lumps (or use a soft brown or light muscovado sugar)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g crystallised ginger, chopped into wee nibs
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped into wee nibs
  • a handful of brazil nuts, chopped
  • a handful of dried sour cherries (or cranberries)

Grease and line an 8″ square baking tray. Pre-heat oven to GM5.

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Leave to one side.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and melted butter – this is easiest with an electric beater. Don’t worry if it’s still a bit bumpy and grainy.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and keep beating – it’ll change colour to a much lighter tan and will become fluffy and almost moussy.
  4. With a large metal spoon stir the flour mix into the buttery mix. Fold it in, without beating, or you will lose the lightness of the mix.
  5. Add the ginger, nuts, chocolate and cherries (or whatever you are pimping the mix with) and stir through.
  6. The mix will be relatively thick. Spoon it onto the baking tray, and spread it out.
  7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the blondies are smelling too good to leave for a minute more, and they look golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and cool for about 20 mins before removing from tray and cutting into slices.

Perfect with an afternoon coffee. A proper real strong coffee.

Other ways to pimp your blondies:

  • Add smarties or M n Ms
  • Add any dried fruit
  • Try salted nuts if you enjoy that sweet-salt hit
  • Gobs of peanut butter stirred through once the mix is in the tray
  • Coconut
  • Chopped up mint toffees
  • Oh, just raid your cupboard, or the sweetie drawer (what you don’t have a sweetie drawer?) and see what inspires you

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Desert Island Bites

3 Jan

I love Radio 4. I can’t remember what age I was when I first realised that it was what I wanted as the soundtrack to my life, but now it’s on whenever I’m cooking. And I cook a lot.

Weekends nearly always include Desert Island Discs, while I’m baking or making soup, or stew or something that’s caught my eye in a cookbook. I’ve never quite worked out what my eight discs would be, but it would probably include more 80s hits than I’d like to admit. And maybe some early Genesis. Years ago I decided my luxury would be a pack of cards, and my book would be a compendium of games of solitaire. But I think I’ve grown up since then, and doubt that I would want to while away my hours (days? weeks? months?) on my desert island perfecting game after game of solitaire. Or not. Because how many of the games would actually be all about chance and not about my skill level? How frustrating would that be?

Anyway, I’m no longer sure what my luxury would be – perhaps some endless supplies of glorious perfumes, so I could make my own hand and body lotions, with whatever I can forage (I’m imagining coconuts here) and then I could perfume them as I wished. Or I could just spritz myself with something delicious in times of need. One of my claims is that all situations can be improved with a spritz of perfume, and an application of lipstick. Many’s the time I’ve been seen to do this ‘double’ at my desk.

There’s a chocolate bar in the UK called a Bounty Bar. It’s a lovely soft coconutty thing, smothered in chocolate, either dark or milk. In the 80s the Bounty advert was set on a desert island, with beautiful people in cropped tops (it was the 80s remember) having a hedonistic time and eating Bounty bars. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

So, here is my recipe for my version of a Bounty Bar. It’s not really the same, but it is delicious. And very easy to make. And your friends will be very impressed when you give them a wee bag of your home made desert island bites.

Desert Island Bites

  • 3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • a very large bar of good quality chocolate – milk or dark, whatever you prefer
  1. Mix coconut and icing sugar in a large bowl
  2. Add in the condensed milk and melted coconut oil
  3. Mix well together (using your hands is the easiest way to do this, perhaps the stickiest as well)
  4. Take about a teaspoon sized bit of the mixture and roll it in the palms of your hand to create a wee ball
  5. Place the ball of coconut truffle on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  6. Do this again and again and again until all the mixture is used up
  7. Pop the balls in the fridge or freezer for about half an hour
  8. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double boiler
  9. Now comes the messy bit. Drop the balls, one by one, into the melted chocolate and then rescue them out again with a couple of forks. They might need a sort of a shoogle to shake of excess chocolate.
  10. Pop the chocolate coated truffles onto another baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and when you’ve done them all, pop them in the fridge. Unless your kitchen is as cold as mine ,in which case you won’t need to.

Serve with an espresso after you’ve had a lovely relaxing supper. Or put them in a nice wee box with some tissue paper, to make them look a bit chi-chi, and give them to a friend who needs a wee treat. Or head off to your desert island and be a hedonist.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

Aside

Another chocolatey cakey thingie

6 Oct

Inspiration comes from many places.

Today it came from a special offer at my local supermarket: they were selling off nearly out-of-date buttermilk so I popped a carton into my trolley. I’d thought they would become scones, or perhaps muffins.

And several years ago that is probably exactly what would have happened. But thanks to the fabulous eatyourbooks website I can type in an ingredient and find all the recipes in all my cookbooks which use that ingredient. Yes, isn’t that amazing? Isn’t technology just genius.

So then it became a toss-up between Chocolate Spice Gingerbread, from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped or Sticky Chocolate Loaf from Ottolenghi. In the end the Chocolate Spice Gingerbread won, if only because I found that cookbook first. That gingerbread is ridiculously easy to make, and there was enough buttermilk left over to make Darina Allan’s White Soda Scones too. Now, how easy are they? Just flour, salt, bicarb of soda and some buttermilk all mixed lightly together and then cut out into scone shapes. They puff up beautifully, but have more of a bready texture than a light scone texture, which is fine once you know that’s what to expect.

The chocolate gingerbread led me to another recipe which had to be tried: Lemon Drizzle Choc Chunk Cake, combining the sharpness of the lemon with the depth of bitter dark chocolate. Possibly a bit like those Thorntons lemon chocolates which I absolutely love.  I think it’ll work. We’ll find out in about an hour.

And, having bought a couple of punnets of damsons again yesterday I’d intended to make Damson Cheese. And then came across Sweet Pickled Damsons. I love the combination of sweet and sharp, so the pickling vinegar has been spiced and is now cooling down; the damsons have been picked over to make sure all the goopy ones are discarded and we’ll finish them off and pop them in jars later.

Would it be rude not to give you the chocolate spiced gingerbread recipe? I think so. It smells divine, and I suspect will keep well, if given the chance, which seems unlikely.

Chocolate Spiced Gingerbread

Adapted from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped, which was a Christmas gift from my brother and his family Christmas 2006 (according to the inscription inside, I don’t have that good a memory!).

Grease and line a deep 7″ square cake tin. Or a round one. I used a bigger round one, so ended up with a shallower cake shaped gingerbread. Just as tasty though.

Preheat your oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  • 125g / 4oz unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (feel free to use a chilli chocolate, or Maya Gold with orange – I just used plain)
  • 75g / 3oz dark muscovado sugar
  • 4 TBsp treacle
  • 150ml / 1/4 pint buttermilk
  • 125g / 4oz ready-to-eat prunes
  • 175g / 6oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Cut the butter into chunks and pop it into a heavy based pan.
  2. Add the chocolate, sugar, treacle and buttermilk
  3. Heat gently until the ingredients have melted and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Snip the prunes into small pieces – scissors are the easiest way to do this
  5. Sift the flour, bicarb of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl (this is the bowl you will use to make the batter, so make sure it’s big enough to take all the ingredients)
  6. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon
  7. Add the beaten egg, and beat again
  8. Fold in the prunes
  9. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface of the mixture
  10. Bake for around 50 minutes
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cook in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely
  12. Wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in an airtight tin.

It’ll be even better tomorrow. Or even the next day, and unlike many cakes will keep for a week if you haven’t eaten it all.

This would be perfect for a bonfire party. Or with hot chocolate in front of the fire after a vigorous, rigorous walk, kicking Autumn leaves.

I suspect it can take some messing about with the flavours too – perhaps add a wee hint of ground cloves, or star anise or cardamom? And why not some nuggets of crystallised ginger for a wee extra kick? If you were being fancy you could probably cut it into wee bite-sized pieces and drizzle lemon icing on them for sweet canapes or as part of an afternoon tea.

Talking of drizzling lemon, I’m off to make that lemon drizzle cake with chocolate chunks in it now.

Orange almond and chocolate cake

12 Mar

Baking for colleagues is incredibly rewarding. Baking for colleagues and asking them to make a donation to charity is even more rewarding. And when the charity is the organisation we all work for, it feels like some kind of virtuous (although slightly insane) circle.

I wanted to make a chocolatey almondy cake… and when I came across a chocolatey, orangey almondy cake recipe I knew it was The One.  I’d never tried a recipe where you boil the orange in water for half an hour and then smoosh it up in a food processor (or liquidiser in my case) and add the whole thing to the cake mixture. But I have now!  And so can you, it makes for a deliciously moist and tasty cake.

The other brilliant thing about this recipe is that it is ridiculously simple – it doesn’t need any elbow grease, beating butter and sugar till fluffy. In fact it is like a carrot cake recipe in that it uses oil instead of butter. Try it and see – but make sure you have lots of friends who want to eat it, it’s a big beast of a cake!

Chocolate truffle icing on the orange almond chocolate cake

Orange almond and chocolate cake

Pre-heat oven to 180C / GM4

Prepare a 24cm deep (or springform) tin

  • 2 oranges
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 5 eggs
  • 400g vanilla caster sugar
  • 350g sunflower oil
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 375g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  •  3-4 TBsp grand marnier or cointreau

for the icing

  • 350g dark chocolate
  • 225ml double cream
  1. Put the whole oranges in a pan and cover with water. Bring tot he boil and simmer for about 30 mins.
  2. Whizz them to a pulp in a food processor or a liquidiser (if you go down the liquidiser route you may have to cut them up into chunks before you put them in the goblet)
  3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water
  4. In a very large bowl (this is the bowl the cake batter will all end up in) beat together the eggs, sugar and the oil (I used a balloon whisk)
  5. Gradually beat in the orange puree, then the melted chocolate
  6. Sift the dry ingredients together (or whisk together with another balloon whisk) and then mix into the egg mixture
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes (a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean)
  8. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool, and spoon over the orange liqueur to soak in while it is cooling
The icing
  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool briefly
  3. Stir in the cream and keep stirring till smooth and glossy
  4. Set aside to cool and firm up slightly then spread over the cake with a palette knife

Serve with creme fraiche if you have any, if not, just eat it. In small slices, with a fork. It’s a VERY rich cake. But deliciously tasty – and usually I don’t approve of orange and chocolate together but this is my exception to that rule.

Nom nom nom – really moist chocolate cake

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