Right, so. Enough of this doom and gloom. As self-elected President of Chocolate for Ireland, I prescribe a healthy dose of feel-good… erm… fattening stuff. Here, then, to cheer you all up, is a big fat stack of Bourbons. This is adapted from an old Mrs Beeton recipe so it must be good.
First, then, grease and line a baking sheet, or use the wondrously fantastic non-sticky stuff that is Bake-o-glide. Preheat your oven to gas 3/160, grab your Homer Simpson apron (woo hoo!) and roll up thy sleeves.
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
200g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
and for the chocolate creamy stuff:
150g icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla extract
First, then, beat the hell out of the butter and sugar until it’s lovely and light and fluffy, then beat in the golden syrup (dip the spoon in boiling water first).
In a separate bowl, sieve the flour, cocoa and bicarb together :
and then carefully mix it into the butter and sugar with a fork, and then dive in with your hands. Bring it together into a slightly crumbly dough and roll it out (here’s where the Bake-o-glide comes in, you can roll it directly onto the sheet), pushing the edges straight with a knife, until you’ve got a rough rectangle about 1/2 cm thick.
Now gently cut the rectangle in half right down the middle and put it on your baking tray:
Bung it into the oven for about 15 minutes (it won’t change colour but will just feel firmer to the touch). When you take it out, gently cut each strip into fingers:
Leave them to cool while you make the creamy filling stuff by beating the butter until very soft, then carefully adding the sugar, cocoa and vanilla (watch out for low-level icing sugar clouds here). Beat it until it’s lovely and smooth and then sandwich your little bourbons together generously with the filling.
And yes, I know it’s easier to buy packet ones, but think of the satisfaction of making something better than Mr Tesco. These amounts will make around 20 biscuits (I divided my dough into two batches as my bake-o-glide wasn’t big enough). So that’s 19 for me and one for the dog, then. Result.
So you know how you can cook something with your eyes shut, and then the moment you invite someone round and do it, it all goes horribly wrong? The very thing happened when the Disreputable One visited once – I made the cheesecake I make successfully ALL the time, I presented it at the table with a flourish, tried to slice it and realised in horror that it was completely runny. Seriously dearest reader, you could have sucked the bloody thing through a straw. Gutted, was I.
Yesterday, then, the Lovelies came to Sunday lunch. And I decided to stick to stuff I can make well in advance, so as not to succumb to runny cheesecake syndrome. We got a fabilis chunk of Aberdeen Angus up at Enniskillen and roasted it along with some nice crispy roast potatoes (duck fat, baby), some buttery curly kale and just plain ol’ peas and carrots. I was going to do Yorkshire Puddings too, but I got a bit stuck into the Jacob’s Creek and kind of forgot. Still, it was all good.
For pudding, then, I went for apple crumble and cream, plus a chocolate fondant for the kiddlies (let’s face it, it’s MEANT to be gooey in the middle – how could you bugger it up?):
For 4 people (double it up to feed more)
115g dark chocolate
35g plain flour
150g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas 6. Butter your preferred dish (or 4 of those medium ramekin things) generously, then sprinkle with a little bit of flour.
Now in a bain-marie (heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water, blah blah), melt the chocolate and the butter. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, flour and sugar. Make sure the chocolate is just melted (and no hotter than finger temp), and stir them both together. Pour into your prepared dish and put to one side. Easy. As. Pie.
Now, just when you’re clearing up the main meal, bung the dish in for about 20 mins (less for the individual ramekins – more like 15) until it’s just past the wobbly stage and looks set on the top. Don’t leave it much longer as you won’t get the delicious gooey chocolate centre.
Serve with a flourish, and a bucket of cold, cold cream. And hopefully you won’t need a straw.
So as you know, I don’t get much in the way of girly conversation here at English Towers. I think the nearest we got was the recent discussion about whether that pathologist in CSI:Miami is really a girl at all (oh come on, her name is Khandi). Anyhoo, so Mr and Mrs Lovely were away for the weekend and we happily volunteered to cover a shift of looking after the little Lovelies yesterday afternoon. Little Miss Lovely and I decided to have a girly afternoon in the kitchen while all the boys killed zombies or whatever they were all doing crowded around the X-box. First of all we made pink muffins. I mean really pink muffins: pink sponge cake, pink royal icing and lots of pink bits and bobs on the top. After that we made biscuits, then we made chocolate chip biscuits, and then we smothered all them in icing and pink bits and bobs too.
At one stage Middle Lovely wandered in, and quite fancied joining in but no. He was firmly instructed that this was a girls-only baking session and any argument was followed by an instruction to talk to the hand by Madame, who was concentrating (tongue out) on a particularly difficult bit of pink glitter addition.
You know the drill on the muffins by now, but here’s the low-down for Little Miss Lovely’s rather lush biscuits.
250g butter (best at room temp)
125g icing sugar
375g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Teeny pinch of salt
This is best done with an electric whisk, but you can do it the old fashioned way if you’re a bit of a martyr. So first beat the hell out of your butter until it’s lovely and soft. Next, sieve the icing sugar into the butter and mix well. It’s best not to whizz it at full power at this stage unless you want your kitchen looking like an icing sugar bomb has exploded. Then sieve in your flour, baking powder and salt. It’s best to switch to a metal spoon now. Mix it all together gently until it starts to come together, then dive in with clean hands and squish it all together until it forms a dough (have patience, it will).
Now roll the dough into a sausage shape, wrap with clingfilm and chill until firm. Then just slice it up into about 1cm slices and bake on a baking tray at 180/gas 4 for about 15 mins. The biccies won’t spread too much so don’t cut them too thick or they’ll be like bricks. If you like you can add about 100g chopped chocolate (or chopped nuts, lemon zest, sultanas, whatever) to the mixture too.
Then just allow to cool and either ice (we used royal icing turned a delicious pink with a little red food colouring), dip in melted chocolate, or eat them as they are. Pink glitter is, obviously, optional.
So lovely Kieron the postie’s back at work today. And true to form this morning found him whizzing up the drive to English Towers in his little green van. He bought me a parcel. Not just any parcel though; the best parcel a girl could possibly wish for. Four big fat slabs of chocolate from the divine, sublime Hotel Chocolat from the Disreputable One. He may well think I’m still 18 but bloody hell, I don’t care if he sends parcels like this little baby. Hell, I’ll even backcomb my hair and sing ’99 Red Balloons’ if it makes him happy. First up, then people, we have the classic fusion of milk, dark and plain chocolate – a big, huge, chunky wodge of it:
Bit ‘conventional’ for you, maybe? Okay, perhaps you’d prefer the scrumptious Caramellow: “caramel milk chocolate drops, cinder toffee and tiny pieces of caramelised hazelnut stirred into a swirled fusion of caramel chocolate and milk chocolate”. Oh yeah. Drooling yet? But hang on, maybe – just maybe - you’d prefer some Rocky Road…
“Handmade chocolate chip cookies, generous white chocolate chunks and lively pieces of puffed rice all stirred into a silky smooth Belgium 70:30 milk and dark chocolate fusion”. My favourite, by a country mile, though, is the Praline White chocolate. I can’t find the official description on their website, but no matter, because shortly it will have been devoured.
Pop round and share it. No, really. I’ll save you some.
So it’s half term. And Middle Lovely came for a sleepover with #2. He’s a happy little chap; talks ten to the dozen like #1 and he loves to cook. So last night I got talked into having chocolate pancakes for tea, and this morning we all made a cake. He could never live with us full time as our arteries would probably explode. Here goes with the pancakes, then:
For the basic breakfast pancakes:
1/2 pint milk
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
Then for the cranberry and orange ones, you’ll need:
Handful dried cranberries
Zest and juice of one large orange
So sieve the flour and stir in the sugar. If you’re making the grown-up version, it’s really nice to heat the cranberries in the orange juice and zest in a small saucepan to soften them up a bit. Then just make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs and milk to make a thick batter. Now, remove most of the cranberries from the orange with a slotted spoon and stir them into the batter. Add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the remaining orange liquid and bubble gently to reduce into a fruity syrup.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil. Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. The first one will be a disaster, it always is, but after that you’ll get light, fluffy pancakes studded with beautiful soft little fruity jewels Serve with your orangey syrup. These also make a lovely dessert with a slug of Cointreau added to the fruit juice, and served with mounds of whipped cream.
Or if you’re Middle Lovely, make the basic mixture, then stir in 50g chopped chocolate. Make the pancakes in exactly the same way and serve them with more chocolate in the shape of chocolate spread, or gag-making amounts of golden syrup. Nice one, Lovely.
So we woke up this morning to the wonderful smell of baking. ‘Mmmm’, I thought, ‘I love baking in the morning’. Then, ‘that’s strange, though’, I thought after that, ‘I’m baking and yet I’m still in bed’. Of course, it was the smalls in the kitchen: Head Chef #1 was knocking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, ably assisted by his slightly grumpy Sous Chef, #2. And very nice cookies they were too, except… ‘they need a bit more butter’. ‘What?’, says #1, ‘why? They seem perfect to me’. ‘Meh’, says I, ‘I just think they’d be nicer a bit more buttery. Whose recipe did you use?’. ‘Yours’, said the little sod, with just a small hint of triumph.
But that’s the thing about cooking, you see. Nothing’s ever quite perfect is it? Take my Bounty Cake. I was so pleased with the result, I thought I’d try and make a chocolate version, but when I replaced the coconut with cocoa, the result was all horrible and powdery. Back to the drawing board then. So anyhoo, no, you’re not getting the cookie recipe just yet as it obviously needs a bit of tinkering. Instead, I’ll let you into the secret of my chocolate chip muffins. I make hundreds of these, often for breakfast. My thinking being that I’d rather have my children eating something homemade in the morning, than some fat-soaked cereal bar, the ingredients of which I don’t even understand, let alone approve of. The recipe for these, then, has been tinkered to death, and I’m pretty sure it’s foolproof:
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g granulated sugar
50g muscovado or dark brown sugar
100g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, chopped
So get your oven on to about 190 degrees, gas 5, and put a dozen of those little paper muffin cups into a muffin tin. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb together, then stir in the sugars.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork, then add the melted butter, milk and vanilla, whisk briefly to combine them, then pour this into the dry stuff. Add the chocolate, then remember the golden muffin rule: mix as briefly as possible until everything is just combined.
Put a spoonful in each paper muffin thingy, then bake then for about 20 minutes or so, until they spring back to the touch and they’re a lovely golden brown.
Give them a try. Oh, and feel free to burst my bubble if they’re a horrible failure for you, though. Nobody’s perfect, eh?
So you’ll like this. For my new job, I do all sorts of bonkers things (like cooking Christmas dinner in October, but that’s another story), but it does give you lots of new ideas. I’ve been working on cupcakes recently, and this is how I started with the Bounty cake idea. I was trying to think of a nice icing to go with a coconut cupcake. I have a really nice lemon cream cheese icing recipe, which would be fab with ginger or carrot cupcakes but somehow it just didn’t seem right with the coconut. And then it hit me: what better combination is there than coconut and chocolate? And so the Bounty cupcake was born. This is its older brother: just as nice, you just get to have bigger portions. Result.
For the coconut cake:
150g soft butter
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
300g self-raising flour
40g desiccated coconut
250ml buttermilk (if you can’t find it, make your own by squeezing the juice of half a lemon into 250ml milk)
For the ganache:
175g bar dark chocolate (or white would be lovely)
Leftover buttermilk (or cream)
So preheat your oven to 180/gas 4 and line a baking tin with greaseproof paper (one with a removable bottom – ooer – is good here). Give it a brush round with some soft butter too, just to make doubly sure it won’t stick. Whack it in the mixer, or just beat the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy, then add in the vanilla and the eggs, beating well after each addition. Then just bung in all the dry ingredients, pour over the buttermilk and stir gently until just combined. Pour the mixture into the buttered tin and bake for about 40 minutes until the top is golden and a knife poked into the centre comes out clean. Mine was going a bit too brown on top, so I covered it with foil for the last 5 or 10 minutes. (Obviously if you’d prefer, you can spoon the mixture into about 12 cupcake papers. They’ll only take about 20 minutes to cook.)
Take the cake out and leave it somewhere to cool. Then make your ganache. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water (turn the heat out once the water is bubbling otherwise it will spit boiling water at you). As soon as the chocolate’s about there, take it off the heat and let it cool a bit, before whisking in a splosh of buttermilk, then another, until the mixture gets to a spreadable consistency. Put the icing in the fridge. You’ll get the same result if you use cream, but somehow the buttermilk gives it a more ‘grown up’ tang which works well with the dark chocolate.
When the cake is cool, take the icing out of the fridge and whisk it, preferably with an electric whisk. This will incorporate a bit of air and make it fluffier and paler. Don’t worry if you whisk too far and it goes grainy and solid – splosh a bit more buttermilk in, whisk it a bit more and it’ll recover. Spread all over the cake, sprinkle on some desiccated coconut and stuff into face, preferably with a latte, a roaring fire and a very fat, spoilt greyhound for company.
So. It’s happened then. I have to say it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I opened #1′s door that particular morning – half expecting to see some embryonic teenager emerging from a particularly stinky chrysalis, complete with already formed armpit hair and foot odour. Happily, a rumpled but still cheery greeting from under the duvet confirmed that the small, perky and strangely random mad professor is still amongst us. J, who already being the owner of a fledgling teenager, has experience in such matters, assures me we have until they’re at least fifteen before the fun really starts. Phew. Anyhoo, the little sod tried to find something nice and difficult for his birthday cake but luckily, having a blog has its privileges and none other than Martin Dwyer, Waterford Superchef Extraordinaire, stepped up to the line with a fantastic recipe and bailed me out. I’m not worthy:
Martin Dwyer’s Chocolate Meringue Recipe
4 large eggs, separated
Pinch Cream of Tartar
8oz golden caster sugar
1tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa, sieved
Whisk the egg whites with the salt and the Cream of Tartar until stiff. Add your sugar spoonful by spoonful until glossy and it holds a peak when you lift out the beater. Stir the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla together to dissolve the cornflour and whisk into the meringue. Add your finely sieved cocoa and stir in.
Draw around two dinner plates (or 3 tea plates) onto baking parchment, place onto baking trays and dollop on your mixture, smoothing it out roughly to the edge of your circles. Bake at 150 degrees/gas mark 2 for about 45 minutes, then just turn the oven off (door ajar) and leave to cool.
My chocolate creamy custardy stuff:
I was going to do Nigella’s recipe for chocolate crème patissière but honestly, it’s so bloody complicated I couldn’t be bothered. So I bunged a few things together and it worked okay. The only trouble is, I’m not exactly sure what I did, so I’m not absolutely guaranteeing that I could repeat it. I apologise for the verbosity of this recipe, but hey, if you’re my Disreputable Dad and not really interested, you’ll have moved on anyway by now. If you’re still hanging on in there, it goes something like this:
4 egg yolks left over from the meringue
100g caster sugar
¾ pint full fat milk
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
½ bar dark chocolate
Get yourself organised first (learn, as usual, from my mistakes) and have a clean saucepan ready, and a couple of inches of cold water in the sink. So whisk together your egg yolks, caster sugar, flour and cocoa. Whisk into a thick paste with a splash of the milk. Put the rest of the milk on to boil. Just as it fizzes up, pour gently into the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Add back in to the clean saucepan and heat, whisking, until it thickens up (or if it doesn’t thicken, whisk in a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with some milk), then turn off the heat and stir in your chocolate. To stop it getting a skin, it’s best to cool it by bunging the saucepan into the cold water in your sink and whisking. Once cold, store in the fridge, covered in clingfilm. To assemble, sandwich your layers of meringue with the chocolate custardy stuff and whipped cream, adding raspberries, strawberries, grated chocolate…hell, whatever you fancy.
So Happy birthday #1, thanks for not turning into Kevin just yet. And thanks to Martin. You’re a total ledge.
So you know my sneakiness knows no bounds, but while #2 continues to refuse everything healthy apart from carrot sticks, frozen peas and the odd apple I need to keep one step ahead. Breakfast is a particular problem, as he hates milk and smoothies make him gag (we made raspberry and mango ones yesterday and they were absolutely gorgeous – he tried a sip but no, same result: think Dean Gaffney on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’). Tea is slightly easier, I made spaghetti the other day and used the same tomato sauce I make for pizza and he did eat that, but grudgingly. So in order to stave off rickets or mange or whatever it is malnourished children get, I figured even a little healthy stuff is good, even if it’s disguised with chocolate, and these little babies even surprised me.
8 oz plain flour
1 oz dark cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 oz brown sugar
6 fl oz milk
1 egg, beaten
4 oz butter, melted
Large handful dates, stoned
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
So, as usual with the muffins, sieve your flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then add the sugar. The darker the sugar the more toffee-ish the end result. Now here’s the sneaky bit. Take a big handful of the dates, and whiz them in the blender with the milk until they’re unrecognisable. Then melt your butter in a jug in the microwave, mix in the date/milk mixture and the beaten egg and stir into the dry stuff. Remember, the less you mix, the lighter the result. Finally, bung in the chopped chocolate. A couple of ounces of walnuts would be a good addition here, too. Give them a hint of a stir to combine, then divide into 12 muffin cases. I found that you get a large serving spoonful in each one.
Bake for about 25 minutes at 200 degrees, then serve warm, explaining that the little glistening golden pieces in the muffin are toffee (they do taste remarkably toffee-like, well, that’s what you use to make sticky toffee pudding, right?). Oh and remember, lying in a maternal, nutritionally responsible way isn’t really lying at all.
Chocolate and Banana Loaf
#1 was off to a choir competition yesterday evening (they came 4th – not bad for their first competition), so I thought I’d make something yummy for them to come home to. I had a couple of leftover bananas that were a bit past their best, so I shoved them into the usual 4/4/4/2 cake mix and I have to say it worked quite well. Here we go then:
4oz caster sugar
4 oz self-raising flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
2 mashed bananas
Bar of Green and Black’s dark chocolate
Cream the butter and the sugar until pale, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and the cocoa (sieved). I added a teaspoon of baking powder to compensate for the heaviness of the bananas, but not sure what it would be like without it (it was quite dense and moist). Fold in your mashed bananas and your smashed up chocolate and pour into a lined loaf tin (I turn the loaf tin over and cut two strips, one the same width as the bottom, one the same length, then cross them into the bottom of the tin) and bake. It needs about an hour at 180 degrees, gas mark 4, but stick a knife in a bit before and see if it comes out clean.
I proudly presented a slice to #2 when he came home from school and his response was suspicious: ‘hmm, what’s in this?’ Seeing as he’d actually got the first mouthful in, I took a gamble and told him it was banana. ‘Yuck’, came the reply as he pushed it away, ‘gross’. I despair.