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30th Classic Car Birthday Cake

In the 10 years I’ve been with him, I’ve never known Hubs to have a proper birthday cake. He’s one of the lucky or unlucky people (depending on your viewpoint) who arrived on this earth just in time to interrupt Christmas Dinner. As this year was a significant birthday I wanted to make him a special cake. I subtly asked him many months ago as to what his dream cake was and set about making it. His brief was:

Victoria sponge and chocolate sponge with buttercream and topped with sugarpaste

Read the rest of this entry

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Shiny Disco Balls (aka Rum Truffles)

On Monday I was left with the quandary of what to do with left over cake trimmings, though to be honest left over cake in this house is a rare sight. As a child I had a fondness for Rum Truffles. The best ones being from a local bakery called Mellors. These rum truffles were huge, but that could also be due to nostalgic hindsight, just like Wagon Wheels and Monster Munch used to be bigger back then. We also used to make them at home. All I could remember was that is was cake crumbs, rum essence and not much else.

At 6am Monday morning when I was trying to remember the recipe, Google was no help. No help what so ever. A thousand and one recipes for cake pops and the like and fancy truffles with all sorts of ingredients added, but nothing like the simple recipe I could barely remember. Read the rest of this entry

What shall we cook today? Chocolate Salami

As I don’t have children of my own I’m very lucky to have a couple of Little Helpers that help me road test recipes, ingredients and cookery equipment geared towards children. Back in November they helped me try some ingredients to make cupcakes. A few weeks back they came for a whole day and we road tested two cookbooks, two sets of ingredient ranges and one piece of equipment. Read the rest of this entry

Chocolate, Banana & Fudge Muffins

Dr Oetker have kindly sent me a selection of their baking range. I will be testing most of the products in a few weeks with  my Little Helpers, but I couldn’t resist baking with the fudge chunks and we all know that fudge goes well with banana. Cooking with banana in cakes also helps to impart a lovely moistness to the cake. My Chocolate Banana Bread is one of Hub’s favourite cakes so I decided to alter this recipe.  If you don’t have any super ripe banana, peel and chop the banana then blast in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. This helps to soften and sweeten the banana. As for converting recipes a very rough rule of thumb is that a 2lb loaf recipe will make around 24 fairy cake sized cakes and these smaller cakes will take half the time of the 2lb loaf to cook. Read the rest of this entry

Chocolate Bran Flake Slice

I’m working on a workshop at the moment to help parents on low incomes pack nutritional lunchboxes. While doing some research I came across a fantastic resource on School Food Trust. They have three-week lunchbox menus and recipes that comply with the strict SFT nutritional standards for primary aged children. There is three sets of menus: low cost, low preperation and vegetarian. I’ve found the menus inspiring and have even tried some of the ideas for myself. These chocolate bran flake slices are the second piece of baking I’ve tried from the resource. I can also recommend the carrot and apricot cakes that appear in the printout. The standards give the advice that packed lunched should include:

  • at least one portion of fruit or veg everyday
  • meat, fish or other source of non-dairy protein everyday
  • oily fish once every three weeks
  • a starchy food everyday
  • a dairy food everyday
Also no:
  • Snacks such as crisps. Instead nuts, seeds, veg, fruit. Savory crackers or breadsticks served with fruit.
  • Confectionary such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets. Cakes and biscuits are allowed, but encouraged only as part of a balanced meal.
  • Highly processed meat products such as pies, corned meat and sausage rolls. Chipolatas can be included occasionally.

As the recipes featured in the pack are based on the nutritional standards you will notice that in this recipe butter is replaced with 60% fat spread. This is to keep both cost and fat content now. I know many people have a frankly snobbish attitude towards using ingredients like low-fat spread. It’s all well and good having wholesome, ‘real’, organic food but it’s worth bearing in mind that there are families out there where these foods are not always available or affordable. I know I’ve spotted the huge hike in ingredient prices and the price of butter has got to the point where I now only use butter in products where will be tasted. Just because an ingredient is compromised, if it helps a child to have a better diet should it matter? These bran flake slices or a piece of confectionery that helps you ‘work, rest and play’?  Ok, I’ll step off my soap box.

As part of the project I have also been looking at the cost and calories of the different dishes. These chocolatey bites come out at a frugal 8p per serving (as of June ’11) and just 136 kcal. The best way I can describe them taste wise is that they are like slightly dry, crumbly brownies. They taste like they should have a great deal more than 136kcal in them! When I came to take photographs of them this morning there was only 7/16 left in the tin. Hubs has been snaffling them, though it is partially my fault as I told him of the surprising calorie content. It is worth trying this recipe as you may be pleasantly surprised.

Chocolate Bran Flake Slice
Makes 16
From School Food Trust

200g 60% fat spread (most light butter spreads are 60%) of course it will work with butter, but will be higher calories.

125g granulated sugar

160g plain flour

40g cocoa powder

100g bran flakes

1) Preheat oven to 180°c. Cream the spread and sugar together until it is light and fluffy.

2) Stir in the flour and cocoa powder. The mixture can be quite stiff at this point but keep going until it is well mixed.

3) Fold in the bran flakes.

4) Line a 20cm x 20cm baking tin with baking parchment, then press mixture into the tin.

5) Bake for 35 min or until set.

6) Once cool cut into 16 squared. Store in airtight container.

Just note that these can be quite crumbly so eat over a plate or napkin.

Light Chocolate Cake for Easter

Julia Parsons from A Slice of Cherry Pie has hosted an Easter Cake Bake since 2007. My previous entries have included Mini Egg Tiffin and Simnel Cupcakes. I was pleased when she announced she was hosting it again as I already had a cake in mind. Easter in the culinary world usually means chocolate and a lot of it. As we had visitors this weekend I thought it would be a great opportunity to make my first ever sandwich cake (yes you read that right, my first!) and bake something from my newest cookbook purchase – Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood.

Sometimes I’m a bit slow to jump on the cookery bandwagon, I haven’t attempted cake pops, whoopie pies or macarons yet. When Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache was released in 2009 I admit I didn’t pay too much attention to it even if I’d been baking vegetables in cakes for a while. Until someone on twitter was talking about this book recently I didn’t really appreciate what it was about. This isn’t just about baking with vegetables it’s about gluten free baking and baking cakes without butter. Shocking at first the thought of baking without butter, but this can be replaced in the cake by vegetables. As Harry points out only use butter in cakes where it is going to be tasted. With the ever-increasing price of butter this is good advice. In the case of the Light Chocolate Cake the butter is replaced with Butternut Squash. While the majority of the recipes featured in the book use rice flour this can often be substituted with plain flour if you wanted to. I haven’t had a problem sourcing rice flour. Sainsbury’s sells Doves Farm rice flour, but you won’t find it by the conventional flour it’s but the free from foods. Holland & Barrett also sell brown rice flour.

You would never guess this moist, fluffy cake was gluten free and tasted far from virtuous. In keeping with the slightly haphazard way I bake the two layers of the cake were slightly different sizes, I was too stubborn to go and buy two identical tins but being blinded by the chocolate no one noticed. I could have trimmed the layers to make them equal, but was running out of time.

I could put the recipe below, but if you followed it probably wouldn’t work as the recipes from this fantastic cookbook are not simply recipes they are a revolution in baking. To get the most out of the recipe you need to read the introduction in the beginning of the book that explains the ingredients and methods that are different to traditional baking. To give you an idea about the recipes in Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache Harry has put a few of the recipes on her website. I wholeheartedly recommend buying the book and look forward to baking from it again soon.

Artisan Chocolate at the School of Artisan Food

Lime Moulded Chocolates

Last weekend as a break from the house I travelled up to the Welbeck Estate near Worksop. This trip has been long-awaited. Ever since I heard about the School of Artisan Food way back in 2009, I’ve wanted to visit. Hubs gave me a voucher towards a course there and after spending a great deal of time deliberating as which course to do I settled on Introduction to Artisan Chocolate. It was certainly worth the wait.

When I arrived I was greeted by Joe Pilliero, SOAF’s Marketing Officer, then taken up to the canteen to meet the 14 other students on the course. Waiting for us was possibly the biggest pot of tea I’ve seen and a pile of freshly made pastries. It was interesting to see the age range on the course. I would guess I was one of the youngest with the oldest being mid to late 60s and around half of us were female. Everyone also had different culinary experience. One thing that bound us all was a love of chocolate.

Filling the moulds with lime and milk chocolate ganache

Ross Sneddon led the workshop and was assisted by one of the students who is on the year-long Diploma offered by SOAF. We learnt about different types of chocolate and tasted some amazing Venezuelan white chocolate that was unlike any I had tasted before. It was unique in that it didn’t leave a greasy film in my mouth. After being talked through the theory and how to temper in the microwave we moved on to making our moulded chocolates. It was interesting to learn that tempered chocolate will set after 2 minutes at room temperature.

First job was to polish the moulds, then paint the inside of the moulds with chocolate friendly food dye (must be oil based). After that we set about creating the chocolate shells by filling the moulds with white chocolate, then pouring the excess chocolate out. While the shells were setting we made a lime milk chocolate ganache that was piped into the set moulds.

After superb lunch of roast lamb, potato dauphinoise, carrots along with a glorious cheeseboard, including Lincolnshire Poacher and Stichelton, we returned to the kitchen to cap the lime truffles along with making chilli chocolate bars (the other flavour you could make was tonka bean & thyme) along with some chocolate orange truffles. Towards the end of the day we rolled the truffles in our chocolate coated hands then tossed them in cocoa. This gives them a very subtle crunch when you bit into them. Delicious. Spot the past tense. These chocolate didn’t last long because they were so good!

Chocolate truffles waiting to be dipped

During the course Helen Grace Ventura Thompson was around taking photographs of the day. She’s an incredibly talented photographer, currently studying BA (Hons) Photography; Editorial and Advertising, and it is her photos that illustrate this blogpost. It wasn’t practical for me to take my camera in the class so I was very pleased she was there! Make sure you check out her blog her work is fantastic.

At the end of the course Ross commented at how good my chocolate moulding skills were. Maybe there is a hidden chocolatier inside me waiting to get out! I really enjoyed the course and would like to return to SOAF soon. It’s unique place in that is teaching the dying art of artisan produce and it’s fantastic to have a place like this in the Midlands. Well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Banana Bread

I will openly admit, I’ve always been a Nigella fan and I don’t care what people say. Her cookbook How to be a Domestic Goddess was one of the first books I bought for the house when we moved into it 5 years ago. It ended up igniting a passion for cooking and is one of the most used books in the house. My favourite recipes from it have to be the brownies and banana bread. The banana bread being totally fail safe and, I think, the first recipe I cooked from it. Even me, a chronic recipe fiddler, sticks very closely to her recipe as it’s so good.

Well I say I stick to the recipe, with baking recently I’ve been cutting back on sugar. As much as I love baking I surprisingly don’t have a sweet tooth. Offer me a chocolate bar of bag of crisps I will unashamedly take the crisps. I don’t like sweeteners for various reasons so prefer to use the real thing, but use less of it. With the majority of cakes you can cut back on the sugar as much as 50% without ruining the cake. Of course this won’t work with food like jam and meringues where the sugar is essential.   Now I make the majority of things we eat from scratch the biggest thing I’ve noticed is how over-sweet the majority of shop-bought cakes and biscuits are. So much so I can no longer eat the once-loved chocolate digestive as I find it tooth-achingly sweet. This banana bread certainly doesn’t lose anything from the sugar being reduced as so much sweetness comes from the banana and sultanas. If anything it brings out the rich chocolate taste. One thing I will say is that the banana does have a tendency to sink to the bottom in this cake, but don’t worry as this gives it a delicious gooey fudgeyness.

Chocolate Banana Bread
based on Nigella Banana Bread recipe

100g sultanas

75ml dark rum

150g plain flour

25g cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

125g unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

4 (300g) ripe bananas, mashed

50g chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Place the sultanas and rum in a bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.

2) Preheat oven to 170°c then grease or line a 2lb loaf tin.

3) Mix the melted butter and sugar together until well combined then beat in the eggs one by one followed by the mashed bananas. Stir in the chocolate chips, vanilla and sultanas

4) In a separate bowl mix together the remaining dry ingredients then carefully stir into the wet ingredients. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the cake passes the skewer test.

Fresh from the Oven – Kringel

This month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge was hosted by Jo from Jo’s Kitchen. In the UK this recipe was brought to our attention by a Hairy Bikers programme where they gathered recipes from mothers throughout the country. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to make it so I was glad Jo chose this recipe.

The technique of shaping dough was simple and effective. Not a method I had thought of using before and may use again with other breads. One thing I did find about the bread although there was lots of sultanas and sugar sprinkled over the dough I would have liked the dough to have been a bit sweeter. In typical me style I made a splattered mess all over the kitchen when applying the chocolate topping. I’m tempted to try the cheese version at a later date.

Given there is only two of us living here we were struggling to eat it all before it went stale so yesterday the remnants were reincarnated into a bread & butter pudding. And a very good kringel & butter pudding it was!

Kringel
(Makes 1 Loaf)

Dough

  • 40g fresh yeast
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 250ml milk, lukewarm
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 600-700g flour

Filing

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 3 handfuls of raisins
  • 10 tsp sugar

Topping

  • 150g dark chocolate (at least 50% cocoa solids)
  • 75g butter

Method

Mix the yeast and sugar in a bowl. Add the lukewarm milk and egg yolks, then mix in the flour and melted butter and knead well. Shape the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°c/Gas 6. Dust your work surface with flour. Take the dough out of the bow, knock it back and roll out to a thickness of 1cm. Spread the softened butter evenly over the rolled sheet of pastry, then sprinkle with raisins and finally sugar.

Roll up the dough like a swiss roll and cut it in half with a sharp knife. Starting from the uncut end, plait the dough, lifting each half over the other in turn. Finally, shape the plaited bread into a B shape and transfer to a buttered baking tray. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.

In the meantime, prepare the chocolate topping by melting the chocolate and butter in a bowl over boiling water. Once out of the oven, let the bread cool down a bit, place on a serving plate and drizzle with chocolate sauce.

Cheese Kringel

To make a savoury version, leave out the raisins and sugar and sprinkle the Kringel with grated cheddar instead. Add more grated cheese on top instead of the chocolate sauce.

Snowball Truffles

I’ve had this recipe hidden in my recipe file for years after I made them for Christmas pressies a few years back and the recipe resurfaced a few weeks back for a maths evening I did in school where maths was taught through different means including cookery. I had forgotten how easy these truffles are to make and they certainly went down very well with both pupils and parents alike. It’s such a simple recipe. Minimum 2 ingredients and can be easily altered depending on your tastes. For speed it can be done in the microwave making it perfect to make with children…of course minus the alcohol!

When it come to melting chocolate I’ve discovered that if using dark chocolate use either supermarket basics brand or a decent brand of chocolate (like Green & Blacks) as these melt the best; though with dark you will notice a significant difference in taste between cheap dark chocolate and the more expensive brands. With milk chocolate stick to cooking chocolate as Galaxy, Dairy Milk and the like have a tendency to seize when you don’t want them to and for white chocolate I really like G&B as it isn’t too sweet, but I have also used Milkybar with success.

I’ve been making these truffles quite a few times over the last week and given the snow we have at the moment I thought it was quite apt to have a go at making Snowball Truffles by playing around with variations including dark chocolate rum truffle dipped in white chocolate, rum & coconut truffle and white chocolate & raspberry liqueur truffles. My favourite being the white chocolate dipped ones. The sweet white chocolate really brings out the rum in the dark truffle. As it’s Christmas it also means one thing – edible glitter and lots of it. Just remember you can never have too much glitter…or maybe that’s the magpie in me.

Be warned these are very rich so don’t feel bad about being stingy when it comes to the size of the truffles.

Snowball Truffles
Makes 30 (approx)

200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 tbsp condensed milk
flavourings e.g. 2 tsp orange extract or 2 tbsp rum
Cocoa/icing sugar/desiccated coconut for rolling truffles in

1) In a microwave proof bowl mix together chocolate, condensed milk and flavouring.

2) Heat the ingredients. At 10 second intervals stir the chocolate. When the chocolate has melted remove the bowl from the microwave.

3) Continue to stir until the ingredients turn into a fudge-like consistency. It does begin to look like the chocolate has seized but don’t worry, it is meant to do this. Allow it to cool for a few minute.

4) Take tsp of the mixture and roll into balls. Roll in coating then place on baking parchment to set and harden.  If wish to dip the truffles in chocolate allow the truffles to first cool then dip in melted chocolate and leave to set on parchment.

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