Rich chocolate cake

Rich chocolate cake with easy chocolate frosting

So there I was, minding my own business, working hard at the dining room table whilst refereeing the dog and cat because Mr E is painting the lounge ceiling, whilst also, y’know, keeping an eye on social media, when someone went and mentioned cake.

Then that was it.  I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted cake.  And the more I tried to concentrate, and stop the dog and cat wrestling, and come up with interesting ways to say ‘amazing’ without using the word 20 times in one article, the more my brain was going ‘cake… cake… caaaaake…’

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Cherry and chocolate roulade

A cherry and chocolate roulade for Valentine’s Day

Mr English isn’t the romantic type, so we’ve never really embraced the whole flowers and chocolates thing, although we do send a card to each other (not really the same when you’re pretty certain who your secret Valentine is).  People tend to fall into two camps Valentines-wise, they either love it or hate it.  I think that if there’s a day in the year when you’re reminded to tell someone how much you love them, then so much the better.  And what better way to express your love than with cake?

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James’ birthday double chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake This week, one of Charlie’s best buddies, James, turns 16.  They’ve known each other forever, well, since they started school, and James just feels like one of the family, basically.  He had a Halloween party yesterday (his poor Mum) and they also went up to Wembley to watch the Jags vs 49ers American football game too (which was amazing, apparently – ‘apart from the streaker. Legend’).

I promised to make him a double chocolate cheesecake (we class the chocolate in the digestives as the second chocolate – probably slightly tenuous, but hey), and even though it’s not officially his birthday yet, we let him blow out the candle.  We’re good like that.

Double Chocolate Cheesecake

100g salted butter

300g pack of dark chocolate digestives

500g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

200ml whipping cream

200g good quality dark chocolate

Cream cheese and icing sugar


So warm the butter in a small saucepan until it’s just melted and in the meantime whizz up the digestives, or if you don’t have a processor, just put them in a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin.  Stir the butter into the biscuits then press into the bottom of a springform tin (you’ll never get the bugger out otherwise) and leave to cool.

Now, melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), turning the pan off once the water boils.  Put the cream cheese in a bowl, beat it until smooth then beat in the icing sugar.

Now, and this is important, you must wait for the chocolate to cool back to room temperature.  Wait until it feels the same temperature as your finger when you dip it in.   While you’re waiting, whip the cream.

Add the cooled chocolate to the cream cheese and icing sugar.  Stir it in until the colour is uniform, then fold in the cream gently with a metal spoon so you don’t lose all the air you’ve incorporated.  Smooth the mixture over the prepared base.

And that’s it. Just let it set in the fridge.  I decorated mine with a bit of melted chocolate (excuse the rubbish photo – there was a bit of hilarity), but you can add whatever topping you like: grated chocolate, maltesers, raspberries, even a cheeky layer of chocolate ganache.

Happy birthday James.  Sweet 16! xx

Chocolate cheesecake



Win tickets and train travel to Cadbury World with new Cadbury Pebbles!

Cadbury PebblesAs you probably know, we’re all serious chocoholics here at English Towers.  Our latest obsession is the very peculiar range of Marvellous Creations bars (the Cola Pretzel Honeycomb one is ridiculously good).  Imagine our delight, then, when a delivery of new Cadbury Dairy Milk Pebbles arrived on the doorstep!  They’re yummy – think a combination of Cadbury Mini Eggs and Smarties (sorry, not Cadbury!) and you’re about there.  But because they’re absolutely nothing to do with Easter you can eat them ALL YEAR ROUND!  I’ve also recently seen glimpses of a special edition Winter Wonderland bar with milk and white chocolate trees.  Yum.

To celebrate the launch of these delicious little beauties, I’m giving you the opportunity to win a family ticket to Cadbury World, PLUS Cadbury have very kindly offered to fund off peak rail travel for the lucky winner too!  So even if you don’t live close, you can still experience the magical world of Cadbury!

All you have to do is leave a comment and tell me your favourite Cadbury product.  I’ll even throw in a bag of new Dairy Milk Pebbles too.  What are you waiting for?!

The Small Print

Usual English Mum competition rules apply.  Competition ends Friday 27th September at midnight.  UK only.  Prize comprises: one family ticket to Cadbury World (two adults, two children), plus rail travel costs funded from the winner’s home mainline UK railway station to Bourneville Station only, and return – off peak.  All other expenses to be covered by the competition winner.  New comments will not show straight away as they require moderation.


** This competition is now closed. Congratulations to Kirsty Caffrey for winning the tickets and travel! **

Step by step squidgy marshmallow chocolate brownies

Squishy marshmallow brownies

Regular readers will know that we’re HUGE chocolate brownie fans here at English Towers.  I was desperate to get back in the kitchen and do some baking after being away for three weeks and we were all craving a batch of brownies.  I chucked in a couple of handfuls of marshmallows and the result was rather pleasing.  Because they’re quite airy, they rise to the top, which gives you a nice gooey marshmallowy layer on top of your squidgy brownie.  The tops of the little marshmallows also brown which gives a little crispness to each bite.  They’re not the prettiest looking brownies but hey, you can’t have everything!

Here’s my tried and tested brownie recipe.  See what you think:

How to make chocolate brownies:

You will need:

200g dark chocolate

170g salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)

3 free range eggs (room temperature is always better)

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

About two large handfuls of small marshmallows

So firstly, assemble all your ingredients together, and preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

The method

Step one: melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie – basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water.  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature (if you pour very hot chocolate into the eggy mixture, you risk getting blobs of scrambled egg in your brownies. Ick).

Step two: meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, light and frothy.  There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.

Step three: pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.

Step four: lastly, add in the flour and the marshmallows..  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.  Less is more here.


I use a square silicone cake ‘tin’, given a little spritz of cake release spray, but any square or rectangular tin will do.  Make sure you line it very well as the brownies will stick.

Step five:  bake for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.

Leave to cool a little bit before slicing.

We also thought that maybe if you added little bits of digestive biscuit (Graham crackers, I believe if you’re in the US), they would almost be like s’mores.  Yum.

marshmallow brownies


Bee’s rich chocolate Bundt cake

Chocolate Bundt cake

Chocolate Bundt cake

As you might remember, I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for Nordic Ware.  My love affair started with my heart shaped tin and has since progressed to individual present-shaped tins, and of course the ‘holiday tree’ pan used in Nigella’s wonderful ‘spruced up vanilla cake‘ from her Nigella Christmas book.

I should really save this recipe until Christmas because it would be perfect baked in the next tin I’ve got my eye on, the Nordic Ware Yule Log Cake Pan.  Still, watch this space – I might still resurrect it.

My lovely Dutch friend Bee (you can find her wonderful Family Food Blog here)  is something of an expert on Bundt baking.  She gave me the recipe that this cake was originally based on, taken from a cute little book she has called ‘Kiss My Bundt’ by Chrysta Wilson.  Bee says ‘I’ve played around with it quite a lot so far – I’ve added rose water, strong coffee, almond extract, Earl Grey Tea – and most recently, Frangelico and hazelnuts‘.  Basically, she says, when you come to add the boiling water, this is where you can add whatever you like as long as it’s liquid, and you keep the amount the same.

I’ve adapted this recipe to UK measurements (and fiddled with it a tiny bit) and have made it LOADS. It always comes out well as long as you remember the golden Bundt rule: you must COPIOUSLY spray the tin with cake release spray (or butter it really well), then coat in a layer of cocoa powder (you can use flour but it shows up on the finished cake – hence the hasty drizzle of melted chocolate on my one, above), turning it and tapping so that it coats the whole can, then tipping out the excess.

You’ll be surprised how liquid the batter is, but that’s the thing with Bundt tins: becuse they’ve got that big hole in the middle, the cake cooks really evenly.  If you don’t have a Bundt tin, try using a large round cake tin and upending something like a ramekin in the middle.

You will need:

300g caster sugar

180g plain flour

50g good quality cocoa powder

1 rounded tsp baking powder

1 rounded tsp baking soda

1 level tsp salt

2 eggs

250ml milk

100g butter, melted, or 125ml rapeseed oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

250ml boiling water (or other liquid)

First, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and prepare your tin as above.  Stand it on a baking sheet and check that it will fit in the oven.

Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.

In the food processor, mix the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla well together, then add the dry ingredients slowly, a spoonful at a time.  Lastly, mix in the boiling water.  Give it a final stir to make sure there’s no thick batter left at the bottom, then pour into the prepared tin (sit the tin on a baking sheet first so it’s easy to manoeuvre it into the oven)

Bake for 45 minutes and COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE REMOVING IT!!  Pop a plate over the tin and tip over with one strong, confident movement.

Serve as it is (it’s lovely and rich) or cover it with foil and warm it gently, then serve it with pouring cream as a dessert.  Yum scrum.

Step by step spiced chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

We love a hot cross bun.  Well, some of us do.  The Death Wish Dude thinks all things dried fruit are a bit bleurgh.  So if you’ve got a dried fruit hater in your family, or if you just fancy something a bit different this Easter, here’s a recipe for some lovely chocolatey hot cross buns.

You’ll need:

  • 150ml milk
  • 150ml water
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 50g butter
  • 425g strong white bread  flour
  • 25g good quality cocoa
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 100g good quality chopped dark chocolate (keep the chunks quite large)

For the cross:

  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved
Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Step one:

Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients.  This will save you time and prevent things being forgotten.

So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.

Step two:

While the liquid is cooling, sift the flour, cocoa and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar and dried yeast.

Step three:

If you’ve got a mixer,  pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.

If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes adding the chocolate about half way through.

Because the chocolate is quite escapey, I found that it was best to knead it in the mixer for five minutes, then add the chocolate and knead by hand for a further few minutes. The chocolate just keeps escaping, but poke it back in.

Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (as usual, think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more).  Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.

Step four:

When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist (be careful – I found the chocolate quite jabby!) and cut it in half, then half again and half again.  Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Step five:

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp cocoa, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag.  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines.  Totally up to you.

Piping on the chocolate cross

Piping on the chocolate cross

Step six:

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom.  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven,  warm up the marmalade (or apricot jam) with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

And that’s it.  Hide them from your offspring until you’ve scarfed at least two.  You deserve it.  Oh, and here’s the reason you need to keep the chocolate chunks large. Nomnomnom:

Oozy chocolate

Oozy chocolate

If you’d rather make spiced orange hot cross buns instead, click here.

Foodie roundup: what I’ve been scoffing

I’m very lucky, and the postie often brings me all manner of yummy bits and bobs (he doesn’t miss out – he’s got a bit of a thing for blue cheese, which I’m not massively keen on, so he’s often rewarded).

Here’s the latest bunch of postal bounty that we’ve loved:

Abra-ca-Debora pancakesAbra-ca-debora pancakes made me my very own pancakes in time for Shrove Tuesday – isn’t that amazing?

But pancakes aren’t just for pancake day – these beauties are the perfect storecupboard ingredient all year round – fill them with creamy chicken and spinach, or roasted veggies in tomato sauce.  Scrummy.

SteenbergsSteenbergs Organic were established in 2003 and are based in North Yorkshire.  They sent me a fabulous selection of products from their amazing array of fairtrade and organic goodies.  The spiced chai sugar is absolutely gorgeous, and the flavourings are incredibly good quality.  Check out their website as I can’t even begin to list all the stuff they sell.

Villa MariaWe’ve been drinking a ridiculous amount of this delicious Villa Maria Gewürtraminer.  It was on spesh at Majestic but is sadly back up to £9.99.  I’ll be watching out for the next time it’s on offer.

CawstonCawston Press brought out a range of ‘grown up’ fizzy drinks (just in time for my failed attempt at alcohol free January): the sparkling apple & rhubarb was my favourite, closely followed by the sparkling lemon and lime (which tasted sublime with a dash of gin).

Mullion Cove fairingsLovely Sophie at Mullion Cove makes traditional Cornish fairings.  They’re gorgeously soft and spicy, and the fig and ginger had us all fighting over the last one.  Oh, and apparently the word ‘fairing’ comes from the fact they were sold at Cornish fairs and feasts and in Victorian times they were brought by a gentleman to give to his sweetheart as a love token!

French's new Smooth and SpicyFrench’s have brought out some new products this year: our faves by far were the Jalapeno Tomato Relish and the Sweet Onion Relish (scrummy on hot dogs, but I’ve taken to putting it in toasted cheese sandwiches too).  I’m not keen on mustard, but English Dad insists that the new Smooth & Spicy version of their original yellow mustard is fabulous too.

Elizabeth Shaw chocolateElizabeth Shaw have brought out two new scrummy new flavoured bars: Pear and Almond and Blackberry and Ginger.  We liked them both, but I would have liked to see larger chunks of nuts in the almond one that came across as slightly gritty.  I was, I admit, in the minority in this view, though, and they were both scoffed in seconds.

Farmison Cheese

The lovely chaps at Farmison sent me an ENORMOUS  British artisan cheese box.  Really well packaged, with lots of ice packs to make sure the cheese stays in perfect condition, the selection was varied, interesting and creatively put together. The Caboc Highland Cheese, which is covered in oatmeal, I think, was especially delicious (just as well as there were two of those in the box), and my other favourite was a sharp, but still creamy Keens of Wincanton Traditional Cheddar.  For blue lovers there’s a hand-made Yorkshire Blue and a seriously strong Colston Bassett.  The quince paste and water biscuits are delightful extras. The whole box would make an amazing present for any cheese lover.

WagamamaWagamama‘s new chilli, coriander and ginger dressing is fab on salads and in chicken wraps, but SUBLIME on avocados, mushed into rye toast.  Don’t question me, just do it.  We also tried Nando’s Smokey BBQ marinade which is lovely with chicken, sausages, ribs and any chunky white fish.

I think that’s it.  Go forth and get shopping!



As usual Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate brand, have brought all sorts of deliciousness out for Christmas this year.  I’m particularly taken by these milk chocolate Christmas tree baubles (so pretty, with gorgeous ribbons attached) and their fantastic advent calendars – nothing worse than hideous ‘plastic’ chocolate in your calendar – they look fabulous and festive too.  I’ll also be putting their chunky chocolate snowmen and chocolate snowballs on my list too. specialises in half bottles of quality wines.  The bottles are 37.5cl which is about one large glass each.  A lovely idea for a gift, and also handy if you’re matching your wines with each course and want to prevent wastage.  the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 shown in the picture was absolutely delicious – soft, rich and fruity. It comes part of their winter collection which, at a cost of £35.65 for four bottles: the red, a decent sparkling white, a St Emilion and a good Chardonnay is cracking value.

Joe & Seph’s

Gourmet popcorn makers Joe & Seph’s have bought out two amazing flavours in time for the festive season:  the new mince pie flavour has pieces actually coated with mincemeat and contains brandy infused fruit, caramel and almonds.  The brandy butter flavour is coated in a rich butter and Spanish brandy – it is quite alcoholic tasting though, so one for the adults!  Both flavours are available in lovely gift jars as well as 70g packs.  Really scrummy.

The Kraken is a fabulous black spiced rum (RRP: £22.99) from the States that is now available in some UK supermarkets (I’ve seen it in Waitrose already and, frankly, makes Morgan’s Spiced look like a bit of a sissy girl.  Try it  in this fab cocktail called ‘The Perfect Storm’: 50ml Kraken Black Spiced Rum + 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice + 5ml sugar syrup + 2 dashes Angostura Bitters.  Top up with ginger beer.   Serve with ice in a tall glass and garnish with two squeezed lime wedges.   It comes in a lovely flagon bottle too. Yummers.

Godminster has joined up with famous wine merchants Yapp Brothers to produce this lovely ‘Classic Red’ gift box, containing a 200g Godminster Organic Cheddar, 200g Godminster Smoked Organic Cheddar, a lovely jar of  Godminster Beetroot and Apple Chutney, and a bottle of Yapp Brothers’ Cotes du Ventoux Rouge: Chateau Valcombe 2008, which is a delicious soft red.  Scrummy.  The Classic Red Gift Box is available from for £40.00 inc postage and packing. send delicious little ‘letterbox cakes’ just three or four portion sized that, as the name suggests, fit through the letterbox.  The cakes come in gorgeous little tins, with all sorts of personalisation, and I can definitely recommend the double chocolate chip cake which is dark, moist and deliciously chocolatey.


 Soreen’s Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf

We’re massive malt loaf fans already, but this one is utterly delicious. It’s very moist, as usual, but with extra ‘Christmas Puddingness’ thrown in!  Gorgeous toasted with a splodge of butter too. Nom.   Available from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons nationwide, retailing at RSP £1.29.


The Christmas Countdown: BFFs – beautiful gifts for the girls!


Harrods Daylesford Indulgence Hamper

This beautiful hatbox is, admittedly, an expensive option, but it’s packed with loads of luxe goodies and would be a perfect present to receive from, say, your best friend or your husband.  There’s a romantic, heart theme running through the contents, including little shortbread hearts and chocolates, and a little gold heart on a ribbon too.  The toiletries are fabulously scented and really good quality and the candle, although quite small, packs a powerful punch and smells delicious.  There are also two bottles of rosé in the hatbox: an Italian frizzante and a very nice French from Daylesford’s own vineyards. £150 plus delivery at  Of course if you want non alcoholic food hampers, there are plenty of those too.

Verdict: luxe, but pricey

Yankee Candles have brought out this gorgeous woven basket wrapped in a lovely red ribbon, and filled with one of their scrummy jar candles, three of the small ‘Samplers’ votives and a glass hurricane votive holder, all in delicious, spicy Sparkling Cinnamon scent.  £27.99 from or call 0845 050 2623 for your local stockist.

Verdict: gorgeous, and Yankee Candles just mean Christmas to me.

Bouton stacker rings. Designed by Adrian Buckley – these beauties are £65 each and meant to be worn stacked (but obviously depending on budget, they’re beautiful on their own too).  On the website you can click on different ring designs to see how they looked stacked together too. Clever.

Verdict: perfect Christmas sparkle, and collectible too.

The Seagate External Drive is a fab gift for the techy girl in your life.  I’m not techy at all, but I can’t live without mine now.  It’s a little box about the size of a mobile phone (well, maybe a tiny bit bigger, but I can’t think of anything the right size), and you just plug it in to one of your USB ports with a wire and it basically becomes another drive on your computer.  Click control panel > system and security<backup and restore (Windows) and you can pick exactly what you want backed up, and even how often.  I’m impressed.  And now I can sleep easy at night knowing I won’t lose those precious photos, or all my stuff for my tax return either.  They do a Mac version and difference sizes too.  It’s priced at £54.20 and comes in a choice of colour – the pinky red is lovely.

Verdict: perfect for music, photos and other precious stuff you don’t want to lose.

Gifts for Europe do these lovely gift boxes that you can personalise with different wine choices. This is a great site if you have friends in different places as you can order from anywhere in the world for delivery anywhere in Europe.  We tried the white wine and snack collection with a rather fabulous bottle of Bordeaux (you can choose other wines as well), lots of lovely little crispy snacks, cheesy biscuits and delicious macaroons too.

Verdict: scrummy and perfect for ex-pats or those with loved ones abroad


Arran Aromatics have the most delectable selection of Christmassy candles and reed diffusers. My favourite candle by far is the absolutely gorgeous Mandarin and Petitgrain which leaves the whole house smelling delicious and lasts for hours.

Verdict: A gorgeous gift for someone special

The big chocolate test. I know, right? Tough job but someone’s got to do it…

Chocolate by Genevie

These chockies are hand made, obviously with great care.  There is no guide to tell you what’s what, so it’s a case of diving in.  Sam got the coffee one: ‘oh noooo! I got coffee…’ turned quickly into ‘ooh, it’s lush though – like the froth off the top of a latte’.  They would make gorgeous gifts too, presented in a really pretty gold box with a little butterfly (£16.99 for 16 chocolates)

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw sent the biggest hamper of chocolates I think I’ve EVER seen to our house.  The boys fell upon it (I held back – a bit) and by tea time we all felt hideously sick…




They’ve released some yummy new additions to their chocolate crisp range : butterscotch, honeycomb, cocoa crunch and caramel in milk and dark chocolate and they’re all lush.  There were some really nice stick things (white chocolate latte flutes, to be precise) – the flavour is really lovely, and that’s coming from a coffee hater – but sorry, mint crisp will always have my heart!   They’ve got a competition running at the moment, giving away 7 boxes of chocolates a week if you’re feeling lucky:


We’re huge fans of Montezumas (and no, not just because they’re always sending us massive slabs of chocolate) and they have just brought out some great British pudding bars: the Summer Pudding one, Venezuelan milk chocolate with raspberries and blueberries, is utterly delicious but our favourite by miles is the absolutely gorgeous Lemon Meringue: Ecuador dark chocolate with lemon and meringue.  Seek it out and don’t share it with anyone.  (£2.49 for 100g bars).


Oreos (generally used in this house to make the best ice cream EVER – smash them into home made vanilla or chocolate ice cream) have just released new Oreo two biscuit snack packs.  Priced £1.79 RRP, you get ten multipacks of two in a box.

Hasslacher’s Hot Chocolate

Hasslacher’s Hot Chocolate comes in a big chunky block just like normal chocolate but is actually a solid bar of drinking chocolate made from 100% Columbian cacao.  It’s a national obsession in Columbia, with 4 million bars sold every month, and is brand new in the UK.  It isn’t sweet, so you need to add a bit of sugar but it’s just the best, chocolatey hot chocolate we’ve ever tried and is great fun to make t00 (you just melt a square or two into hot milk, then whisk like a lunatic for gorgeously smooth, intensely flavoured hot chocolate).  Look out for it in M&S’s International Brands section, priced £4.99.

Cocoa Boutique

Cocoa Boutique is a luxury artisan chocolate tasting club.  Every month they send out a collection of  chocolates to try, which have been tried by a team of dedicated taste testers (you can actually get the chance to become a taste tester if you want –

You can choose to have a box every month, two months, or whatever you like.  All the chocolates are handmade by Master Chocolatiers from both the UK and all around the world.


The Easter chocolate roundup – I’ve got everything remotely chocolatey for you!

First up, Hotel Chocolat sent us one of their new, and rather heavyweight, Extra Thick Easter Eggs to try.  The packaging is really glossy and attractive (it looks a little like a hatbox, decorated with ribbon) and the egg inside doesn’t disappoint either – we tried the Rocky Road to Caramel egg which had two really chunky halves of chocolate: one side was embedded with all sort of goodies like biscuity pieces and puffed rice and the other was a scrummy mixture of caramel chocolate and milk chocolate.  Inside were more delicious Hotel Chocolat chocolates.

The verdict? All round a heavyweight contender but, as usual with Hotel Chocolat, it’s a bit of a luxury item at £26, although weighing in at a hefty 500g there’s plenty of actual chocolate for your money.

Montezumas sent us a couple of their new Monkey Bars.  Celebrating all things British (a ‘monkey’ is Cockney rhyming slang for 500) in this the year of the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee, these bad boys are pretty enormous (I’ve provided you with a fork so you can get the idea) and were absolutely delicious.  They snap into big chunks (so you don’t feel overly guilty: ‘what? It’s just one square’!).  Our fave was the ‘Nanny Goat’ salted peanut and butterscotch.  Priced at a bargainous £13.99 they’re available from Montezumas shops and John Lewis, amongst other places.

The lovely chaps at Biscuiteers have added hand-iced chocolate eggs to their lovely range of biccies.  Quite pricey at £25 but their stuff is notoriously high quality (I often send their biscuits as presents and they’re always amazing)

Or maybe if a chocolate egg isn’t going to be quite enough, I could interest you in a break at the Chocolate Boutique Hotel?  Decorated in gorgeous chocolatey browns (of course), the hotel provides everything you could possibly need for a choctastic weekend away, including ‘choctails’, chocolate fountains in your room and even chocolate making workshops.  What’s not to love?

If you’re interested in shopping locally, I thought Big Barn was a good idea.  It’s kind of like Amazon or Etsy, but for local food.  Click on to find Artisan chocolatiers near you or online.

There’s loads of other chocolatey stuff going on this Easter including:

A free Easter fun day at the Boat House Restaurant and Bar in Chertsey on Saturday 7 April 2012, including mini cupcake decorating and an Easter egg hunt.  There are two sessios: 11.30am and 5.00pm.  Contact 01932 565 644 or email

An Easter egg treasure hunt organised by the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes London as part of their ‘Family Fun in the City’ package.  In true Sherlock Holmes style (deerstalker optional), the hunt takes you round some nearby attractions including the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussauds.  Everyone who completes the quest gets an egg too!  The package includes accommodation for two adults and two kids under 12 in lovely mini-suite style accommodation with loads of extras like in-room movies and meal vouchers.  Plus breakfast is free for kids!  A great little getaway

Chocolate orange brownies with bitter chocolate orangettes

Still in pursuit of the perfect chocolate brownie, then, I made these while my children were out making giant… erm.. appendages out of snow.  I would show you a video but they’re all disgusting and their grandparents might see.  I don’t know where they get it from.

These brownies are utterly lush and slightly more ‘grown up’ than the version I usually make (George’s chocolate brownies) but the recipe is mostly the same.  I think they benefit from being served warm as the ‘oranginess’ comes out more.

You will need:

200g dark chocolate (as dark as you dare – see below)

170g salted butter (MUST be salted – or add a pinch if using unsalted)

3 tablespoons marmalade (I used rindless for a smooth result)

3 eggs

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

Preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

Melt the butter, chocolate and marmalade in a bain-marie (you know the drill… bowl over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water).  Don’t use the microwave – I’ve no idea why but melting chocolate in the microwave REALLY offends me.  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and frothy, then pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture, stir well, then add in the flour.  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.

Pour into a well-lined baking tin (I use a lasagne tin, but a square cake tin will do).  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft.  Serve warm or allow to cool and place in an airtight container

For the orangettes, choose a really dark chocolate – try Green & Black’s or Montezuma’s do a brilliant, rich Ecuador 70% dark chocolate that I’m just slightly addicted to.  Melt two or three squares in a tiny jug and just dip small pieces of Orangette into them.  If you have any trouble buying the orangettes (basically, candied orange peel – I got mine in my Good Fork hamper), you can make your own, or try Amazon (believe it or not).

These would be beautiful served at the end of a dinner party with the dark chocolate orangettes, little cups of very strong espresso coffee and maybe some freezing cold shot glasses of Cointreau too.

(Best get rid of the snow willies on the front lawn first, though).

George’s perfect chocolate brownies

Moving swiftly on from healthy eating, then, we must remember there are those of us at English Towers (the gangly, floppy haired ones and the skatery types) that still want a little something after school or dinner and demand treats, preferably piled up in an ungainly, chocolatey tower when doing A level revision.

This, and I don’t say this lightly, is my best chocolate brownie recipe ever.  I make it such a lot that I know it off by heart.  Oh yes, it’s been tweaked and added to (pistachios, chopped up Cadbury Fudge bars, rum-soaked raisins), but the plain old dark chocolate version is the one we love.  I also have to make this whenever the Death Wish Dude’s lovely mate, George, comes to visit as he’s a bit of a fan.  You’ll need:

200g dark chocolate (I swear by Bournville – already in a handy 200g size, dark but not too bitter)

170g salted butter (MUST be salted – or add a pinch if using unsalted)

3 eggs

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

Preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (you know the drill… bowl over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water).  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and frothy, then pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture, stir well, then add in the flour and any extras you’re adding (nuts… raisins… smarties… whatever).  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.

Pour into a well-lined baking tin (I use a lasagne tin, but a square cake tin will do).  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft.  Serve warm with ice cream (or if you’re serving as a dessert, whisk some cream with a bit of icing sugar and a slug of booze) or allow to cool and place in an airtight container

One word of warning: cut them small.  They won’t last long.

Jaffa Cake Christmas Trees

So you’re going to love this. No, really, it’s a winner.

How about…

Home made jaffa cakes? Wait… wait…

In the shape of Christmas trees!

I know, right?

If, like me, you’re now wild with excitement (or even if you’re not) do have a go at making these little beauties. They taste absolutely fab and can be made in normal paper fairy cake wrappers if you’re not imbued with quite as much Christmas spirit as me.

On to the ressup, then. You will need:

115g butter

115g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g self raising flour

To decorate:

Rindless marmalade

100g dark chocolate

So make the sponge in the normal way: beat the butter and sugar until really light and creamy, then beat in the eggs a dribble at a time and then the vanilla. Finally, stir in the sifted flour.

If you’re using one of these silicone moulds (I got mine in John Lewis), give it a spray with some cake release (mine’s Dr Oetker and is incredibly good) to stop the little suckers sticking. Plop a scant dessertspoon of cake mixture in each ‘tree’, and bake at 180/gas4 for 10 – 15 minutes until just golden.

Allow the cakes to cool and then turn them out. If they’re a little rounded on the top, you might need to just cut off the very top (which will actually be the bottom, if you see what I mean) so they sit right.

Now, take a spoonful of the marmalade and pop it onto a board. You should then be able to cut little slivers off this blob to pop on top of each tree. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie (bowl over just –simmering water, but you knew that, right?) and spoon over each blob of jelly.

And there you have it. Chocolatey, orangey AND Christmassy. I’m LOVING that.

I’ve entered these into Choclette’s ‘We Should Cocoa’ chocolate challenge, the theme of which this month, unsurprisingly is… orange!

Salted caramel double chocolate cupcakes (what? I eat in a crisis)

So after all the emotional turmoil of Monday’s blog post (thank you, from the bottom of my heart, if you took the time to comment), my thoughts obviously turned to cakey buns.  What I needed was some serious yummage. Stat.

Firstly, a little admission: they went wrong.  Oh yes, spectacularly so.  What I intended was a soft chocolate spongey muffin, topped with a dollop of salted caramel and enveloped in a gorgeous piped swirl of chocolatey meringue icing.

Sadly, my meringue icing ended up looking like a large pile of gritty snot in the bottom of the KitchenAid.

Ah well, onwards and upwards.  I whipped up some ganache, dolloped it on and it was just as good. Just don’t ask me to make meringue icing EVER again.  Mkay?

For the muffins, then, you’ll need:

200g chocolate, melted (half of this is for the ganache)

170g butter, room temp

150g caster sugar

3 eggs

150g self raising flour

1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder

Basically, just cream the butter and sugar together until it’s really light and fluffy.  Mix the eggs gently with a fork, then dribble them slowly, a bit at a time, into the mixture until they’re all combined.  I find sometimes that if you lob in a whole egg it can curdle the mixture (although, this can be rescued with a spoonful of flour, admittedly).

Now stir in the flour and sifted cocoa, then fold in half of the melted chocolate.  Dollop a tablespoon of mixture into each of 12 muffin cups placed into a muffin tin and bake at 180/gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until just springy to the touch.

For the ganache, you’ll find the recipe here.

When the cakes are cool, dollop a teaspoonful of Marks and Spencer’s quite delightful salted caramel sauce (an extortionate 4 Euro a pop – no wonder I felt the need to use it up), then cover with a blob of your cooled ganache (feel free to pipe it – I’d lost the will to live by this stage).

Stuff into face, sighing gently and pondering the meaning of life, the universe and everything.  A cup of tea can help too (it was too early for gin).

And… breathe.

The scary spider cake (toddler styley)

Okay, so we’re clear that cake decorating is not my forté, evidenced by this hideous monstrosity that practically made my husband weep on his 44th:

I don’t know what it is.  I mean, I love cooking, love baking… but I just don’t seem to have an artistic bone in my whole body.

Still, it’s Hallowe’en and I thought ‘sod it, I’ll give it another go’.  Here, then, is my Hallowe’en scary spider cake.

The first bit’s easy.  It’s just a lovely rich chocolate cake.  You will need:

150g dark chocolate, melted

170g butter

170g soft dark brown sugar

3 eggs

145g self raising flour

25g cocoa powder

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees/gas 4, and grease and line a medium cake tin.  I use bits of Bake-o-Glide that I have already cut to shape:

Melt the 150g chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (remember not to let the bowl touch the water and turn it off as soon as the chocky starts to melt).  I used Dark Chocolate Toblerone, thinking it would look a bit ‘muddy’, but use whatever you like.

Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time (remember if it curdles just bung in a spoonful of the flour).  Next, sieve the flour and cocoa and stir gently into the mix, then add the cooled, melted chocolate.  Bung the mixture into the tin and bake for around 20-30 minutes (it will depend on how wide your tin is).  I always think it’s best to take it out a little earlier than you think as this keeps it more moist.

For the ganache:

150g chocolate, melted

Double cream

3 or 4 tbsp icing sugar

A little water

Now, allow your cake to cool while you melt some more chocolate (you can melt 300g in the first place and just use half for the cake if you like).  Pour in enough cream to get a smooth, quite runny ganache, and pour it all over your cake.  Allow this bit to firm up.

Then mix up the icing sugar (don’t overdo it with the water, you want it to be dribbling consistency not runny), and pipe in concentric circles on your cake.

With a cocktail stick, and starting at the middle, drag lines out through the icing to the edge of the cake to get your ‘web’ effect.

For the spider, I used fruit pastilles (who knew you could roll out a fruit pastille eh?).

I rolled out two black ones as flat as they would go, then snipped them into strips.  I then gave them a little roll with my fingers to make them ‘leggy':

Then I used another one, with some red bits snipped off, for the head:

I know, it’s pathetic, and I sincerely hope you can do better.  In fact, I’m hoping you’ll be joining my Autumn Bakeoff. There’s a beautiful cookbook from Diana Henry to win, and a special Chef Bear from Build-a-Bear for the winner of the Hallowe’en children’s section.  There’s still a couple of weeks to go.  Go on, make me look shabby, see if I care.

Rocky Road Easter Nests

Barely a recipe this one.  More an exercise in getting the kids into the kitchen and allowing them to become covered head to toe in chocolate .

Still, they taste quite nice, which is always a bonus.  Firstly, then, you’ll need:

150g Green and Black’s Milk Cooking Chocolate

1 tbsp golden syrup

100g Rice Krispies

30g mini marshmallows

50g Maltesers

50g dried cranberries

50g brazil nuts

1 pack mini eggs

Firstly, then, melt your chocolate very gently over a saucepan of water.  Turn the heat off as soon as the water is simmering.  Remember, treat your chocolate gently!

When it’s melted, stir in the golden syrup.  You can add a knob of butter if you like but I never bother.  Then stir in the rice krispies making sure they’re well covered.

Now just add in anything you like, really.  I used marshmallows, Maltesers, dried cranberries and brazil nuts, but you could use any combo of dried fruit/nuts/sweeties.  Try to keep the volume roughly the same though:

Stir it all together, then pop into paper cases and add your mini eggs on top.  Set aside for a while so they have a chance to set before you scoff them.

Happy Easter!

Chocolate, oat and apricot cookies

One of my golden rules here at English Towers 2 (and there aren’t many, in fact, I think that’s the only one – oh no, hang on, there’s the no saying ‘eurgh’ at the table… oh and then there’s not referring to one’s wedding vegetables as ‘nads’ – I hate that…) is that everyone has to have breakfast.  I will never complain if I’m asked to cook poached eggs and toast first thing in the morning (which I often am) as I’d so much rather they ate something.   Sometimes it’s just a biscuit or a slice of toast and a quick mug of hot chocolate (oh, there’s another golden rule – there’s a 5 marshmallow limit to each mug).

But here’s the rub: if they’re going to eat biscuits, or worse, force down a cereal bar first thing in the morning, wouldn’t you rather that you had: a) some control over the contents and b) the chance to sneak in some healthy stuff, even if it’s covered up by the taste of chocolate?  Yes?  Here, then, are my ‘not very healthy but better than a Weetos bar’ breakfast (or anytime) cookies:

You’ll need:

125g butter

150g dark brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract, never essence)

150g flour (make it wholemeal if you like)

50g oats

50g chocolate, chopped

Handful dried apricots, chopped

So cream the butter and the sugar until it’s light and creamy.

Then add in the egg, beating well, and then the vanilla paste:

Chop the chocolate:

then gently stir in, along with the flour and the oats…

and the apricots (chop finely first):

Blob the hideous-looking mixture onto a non-stick baking tray (a dessertspoon per cookie is about right):

…and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 12 minutes.  They’re better when they’re still a bit soft in the middle.

Store in an airtight container.  They’ll last a couple of days (what am I saying?  they’ll last about ten minutes).  Serve as a last resort ‘oh Mum, I don’t want any breakfast’ kinda thing with a glass of milk or a hot chocolate.

Sticky ginger ‘Guinness’ cupcakes for Paddy’s Day

So today is a happy and a sad day. I’m happy, because I love all things Irish, and we’d always have a wonderful day out at a parade or a mad boat race or somesuch nonsense, and then a special St Patrick’s Day dinner at English Towers to mark the occasion. Sad, because I miss our lovely Irish home and even lovelier Irish friends. So this post is dedicated to all of them: wonderful, bonkers Jen, D&D Next Door, to the scrummy Mrs Lovely, and to Poppy’s Mum. I miss you all.

Guinness cupcakes, then. This idea was more to emulate the ‘look’ of Guinness, rather than the actual taste, which I have to admit I’m not a great fan of. Still, their dense gingery fudginess is certainly Guinness-like, and the light, soft topping of whipped cream adds to the effect. They don’t taste too bad, either, which is a bonus.

You will need:

170g Irish butter, softened
200g dark brown soft sugar
3 eggs
2 tbsp black treacle
170g self raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger

First, then, beat the butter and sugar.  Soft brown sugar is the way to go here – you want the toffee, fudgy taste that it adds:

Make sure it’s really pale and fluffy before you move on to the next step:

Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition, then add the black treacle. Mix well.

Now, sieve the flour and ginger, and add in to the mix.

Stir gently, without overworking the mixture. Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 15 – 20 minutes until just springy in the middle.  Remove to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, if you want to make cream cheese icing, just whisk about 100g of cream cheese like Philadelphia with a squeeze of lemon and 200g sieved icing sugar.  Or you can just spoon over some whipped cream.  Or ganache. Or just normal glacé icing. Or just leave them plain.  I’m all-encompassing on the topping front. It’s just how I roll.

Obviously you can use ganache (click here for how-to guide with Green & Black’s), but then you’ll lose the ‘pint of Guinness’ effect:

If you’ve got far too much time on your hands like certain people I know *cough*, then you can make really pathetically bad shamrocks out of chocolate to adorn your cupcakes, or pop on a little bit of greenery (make sure it’s edible – this is lemon thyme).

NOTE: As a little trial, I did reserve a bit of the mixture and add in a couple of tbsp of Guinness. The result is pleasingly earthy and not at all unpleasant. I would suggest that it was more of an adult taste, but well worth a try.

However you make them, and wherever you are in the world, I hope you enjoy them and have a wonderful St Patrick’s Day.

Oh, and this is especially for my wonderful BFF, Jen:

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

(See, Jen, all your teaching wasn’t in vain – look at those ‘fodders’! LOL xxx)


My sister in law (who is a sweet, gentle creature) once told me that many moons ago, during a lovers’ tiff with my brother, she was so cross she took the tomato sauce bottle and wrote ‘SHIT’ on the kitchen floor in ketchup.  You see?  Naughty words are a form of therapy.  And with this in mind, laydees and gentlespoons, I bring you the arsebiscuit.

I’ve been banging on about them for so long, and have now persuaded so many of my Twitter followers to rush out and purchase arsebiscuit kits (nope, I’ve no idea why they don’t do them on either), I thought I’d better crack on and get you all a good recipe upon which you can work out all that existential angst (or just write rude words).

Here we go then:

100g butter
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
200g plain flour
30g cocoa
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Firstly, preheat your oven to a measly gas 3/160 degrees. Make sure you have either a well-greased baking sheet or a sheet of Bake-o-glide, as these buggers will stick if you let them.

Now, beat the butter and sugar really well until it’s pale and fluffy. Then beat in the golden syrup (remember, dip the spoon in boiling water first):

Sieve all your dry ingredients, then work them into the butter mixture with a fork (don’t use the processor, you want crisp, snappy biscuits, not concrete).

This does make quite a crumbly dough, but remember you’re going to mess it about with your hands, so be patient, it will come together.

If you’re using the bake-o-glide, you can roll and cut straight onto it, otherwise, you’ll have to be brave and make your biscuits then transfer them to your baking sheet with a spatula.

So just roll your dough out until it’s about 1/2 cm thick, pushing the edges in with your fingers until you get a rough rectangle.

Now you can let rip with your lettering machine, or just use biscuit cutters to make shapes (if your children aren’t quite at the ‘SHIT’ biscuit stage), or even just a knife to cut them into squares.

Bake for about 15 minutes. They obviously won’t change colour much but will be firmer to the touch.

For your delectation, I produced for you (insert fanfare):

The ‘tidy your room or else’ biscuit:

The ever-popular ‘shut your face’ biscuit:

Or maybe you prefer the brevity of the ‘shut up’ biscuit?:

Sadly, the ‘oh shit’ biscuit cracked a bit, but somehow this adds to the overall message:

…the biscuit:

And sadly my actual ‘arse’ biscuit didn’t come out very well:

First one to provide photographic evidence of selling these beauties at the school fete gets a prize.

In which my mojo returns and I make ganache with Green & Black’s

Green & Black's Milk Cook's Chocolate

So as you know, I kinda lost my blogging mojo.

It all started to really bug me.  I mean, what am I exactly? A foodie blogger? In which case, should I concentrate on food, and not talk so much arse? Or am I a ‘mummy blogger’ (how I hate the term)? A foodie mummy blogger? A foodie blogger who’s also a mummy? A doggy blogger?  A foodie doggy mummy blogger?  A blogging mummy foodie… er… dogger?

I think I’m kind of ‘none of the above’, really. I’m a blogger who happens to be a mother of two ridiculously fantastic and hilariously funny boys of whom I’m immensely proud. And I’m a foodie. But I’m also a wife, a very occasional journalist (One article this year so far, count it: one.), and a daughter of quite the most spectacularly mental parents you could wish for. I write about food, yes, and I write about kids, but then I write about all sorts of old rubbish besides those two things and an awful lot more besides: greyhounds, chickens, ‘bollocks’ pies, sexual gymnastics

So I decided I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself. I would let my verbal vomit run free.  I would practice ‘no holds barred’ blogging – ‘blogging sans frontieres’, if you would.   And do you know what? My mojo came back.

The return of the missing mojo was also partly due to the lovely chaps at Green & Black’s sending me a mahoosive parcel of chocolate. I mean, whose mojo could remain missing when surrounded by about ten different flavours of the most fabulous chocolate in the world?

Green & Blacks

And seeing as we’ve got the ginormous Cupcake Challenge in the offing, I thought I’d say a few words about chocolate and a few more about ganache:

A few words about chocolate

Chocolate, especially decent chocolate like Green and Black’s needs gentle treatment.  That means that melting it in the microwave is a bit of a no no in my book, as the microwave can create hotspots and burn the chocolate or turn it grainy.  The best way is to place it in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, and when the water starts to bubble, just turn it off and allow the chocolate to melt gently.  I’m a bit anal, but I don’t like to stir until it’s completely melted:

Melt chocolate

Furthermore, there’s no point in bunging in a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (as nice as it is) – you need something good quality with a high cocoa content, and for cooking, good cocoa butter content will make for easier melting.  I tried Green and Black’s Milk Cook’s Chocolate (one of many in my stash) and was really pleased with the result: melted easily? Check. Nice milky taste? Check.  No hint of graininess?  Check.  Furthermore, each little square weighs exactly 5g.  Magic!

Melted Green & Black's

A few more about ganache:

There’s some kind of ridiculous snobbery about ganache.  I mean, just because it’s got a poncy French name it doesn’t mean it has to be poncy itself: it’s just cream and chocolate for goodness’ sake.  If you make it runny you can pour it over things as a glaze, or if you make it stiffer you can make truffles, you can chill it and whip it and then pipe it on things too, but it’s still just chocolate and cream.


Anyhoo, so just whisk your cream into your melted chocolate until you get the required consistency (as above), then pour or spread over your cake as required.  For piping, bung it in the fridge, then give it a whisk before filling your piping bag.

Whipped ganache piped onto red velvet cupcake

Et voila. Ganache.  Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?

(Oh and these little beauties are red velvet cupcakes, taken from an awesomely, beautiful new book called ‘Eat Me’ by Xanthe Milton which is due to be published on Mar 4th – and guess who’s getting a review copy?!)

English Grandma’s special spiced rum and raisin brownies


So English Grandma was visiting last week.  It was her birthday and as usual here at English Towers, this meant that the birthday person had the honour of choosing their own cake.  Except of course English Grandma didn’t really want a cake, in fact, didn’t really want to be reminded that she was 70 at all.  It’s a great age, though,  I reckon.  It’s the same age as Raquel Welch (about whom the term ‘looks good for her age’ equates to calling the north pole ‘a bit nippy’) and Ralph Lauren, for goodness sake, who’s classier than Ralph?

Plus, there are so many bonuses to being 70: you can be as outspoken as you like, wear odd socks, shave your dog’s hair into weird patterns, use beer towels for curtains (Hubby actually had an aunt that did that) or walk around with your hair sticking up like Fr Jack out of Father Ted, because, let’s face it, who’s going to say anything to you about it?  And even if they do, you can club them with your handbag and get away with it.  Bonus.

Anyhoo, digressing.  So I had to think of a nice dessert which would please the chisellers, who insist on cake at birthdays (what child doesn’t) and be unbirthdaycakey enough to please the mother.  I know she likes rum and raisin and I toyed with the idea of rum and raisin ice cream, but then the cake-ish issue reared its ugly head again.  ‘I know!’, said #2,’ birthday brownies!’.  Fabulous.  And for an added twist, I thought I’d get the rum and raisins in there too.  Here goes, then:

3 tbsp rum (I used Morgan’s Spiced Rum)

Couple of handfuls (about 50g) raisins or sultanas

200g dark chocolate (this one was from Lidl and had a very pleasing ‘snap’ to it)

170g butter (salted is best with chocolate, or add a pinch of salt)

3 eggs

225g caster sugar

110g plain flour

1/2 tsp ground mixed spice

So first preheat the oven to 180/gas4 and plop the raisins into the rum to soak.  Melt the butter and the chocolate in a bain-marie (yes, I know you know, but some people don’t, so I still have to point out that we’re talking about a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, not touching the bottom of the bowl): 


When the butter and chocolate start to melt, turn the heat off and let it melt gently using the residual heat.  When it’s all melted together, put it to one side to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, take out your Very Special Anniversary KitchenAid (or a whisk and a bowl, if you’re not as lucky as me).  Crack in the eggs (if you don’t have a small red chicken with an attitude problem who lays eggs that are approximately half her body weight, don’t worry, they sell eggs in Tesco too)…

Eggs (c) Minnie the Moocher (c)

…and whizz them together with the sugar until they’re nice and fluffy:


I’d just like to point out that this is a complete excuse to use the KitchenAid as I’ve actually just mixed the eggs and sugar with a fork before now, and it comes out exactly the same.  Still…

Fold the flour and mixed spice in to the eggy sugary mixture – nice and gently because (altogether now): working the gluten in the flour too much will make the end result tough: 


 …and finally, stir in the melted chocolate and butter and the rum and raisins:


Put some bake-o-glide or greaseproof paper in the bottom of a lasagne tin, pour the mixture in:


… and bake for about 35 minutes until the top is all cracky and shiny, but the inside is still retaining a hint of gooeyness. 

Leave to cool slightly. 

Fight off children, reminding them that this recipe contains alcohol and is therefore for the over 18s only, and serve with a flourish, or some vanilla ice cream, to 70 (shhh) year old birthday girl.

Oh, and absolutely no singing of ‘happy birthday’, okay?  She might hit you with her handbag. 

Happy (belated) birthday, Mum!

Rum and raisin brownies (c)

The perfect chocolate cupcake

National cup cake week

So this week is National Cupcake Week (as if we needed an excuse to eat cupcakes anyway), so I thought we’d go ‘back to basics’ today with a ressup for the perfect deeply darkly chocolatey cupcake with added… (you can get this)… chocolate!  ‘Tis dead easy and a thing of beauty. Brace yourselves, then:

For the cupcakes, you’ll need:

200g bar dark chocolate (something with high cocoa solids is best) – remember only half is for the cupcake mix, the other half is for the ganache.

170g butter, softened

170g caster sugar

3 eggs (fresh from the chicken, preferably, but if not, room temperature is better than straight from the fridge)

115g self raising flour

55g cocoa powder

Double cream

First, then, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  Snap the chocky into squares and melt it in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (bain marie, blah blah). 

Leave it aside to cool slightly while you beat together the butter and sugar until they’re really light and fluffy (did I mention I have a shiny new KitchenAid to perform this task?  Yes?  Oh okay then). 

Now add in the eggs one at a time, beating really well after each addition. 

Sieve the flour and cocoa into a bowl and fold them gently into the mixture. 

Now, grab your melted chocolate and pour HALF of it into the mixture.  Stir briefly to combine. 

Dollop into paper muffin cups in a 12-hole muffin tray, or if you’re really greedy and want to make MASSIVE cupcakes, then just make 8 and stuff them very full. 

Bake them for about 15/20 minutes (the bigger ones will take longer) or until the centre springs back up when you push it with your finger. Leave them to cool on a wire rack.

Now, for the ganache, take the rest of your melted chocolate, place it into your shiny new KitchenAid (oh yes, okay, you can use a bowl and a whisk if you don’t have one) and whizz whilst gently pouring in just a slosh of double cream.  Don’t go mad – you need it thick enough to pile lusciously on top of your chocolatey cupcakes:


Finally, lock the door, take your cupcakes and sit in the corner of the kitchen, stuffing them into your face in a slightly deranged manner.  Or if you’re really mental I suppose you could even share them.