With 31st October just around the corner, my mind is turning to bite-sized snacks. If you’ve bought my book or read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of packaged treats. If there’s a shop-bought something I’m craving, I’ll likely try to recreate it at home. Every Halloween as a child, in amongst the fang-shaped Haribo and fun-sized Mars Bars that filled my trick or treat bag, I’d almost always end up with a Penguin bar scrabbled from the biscuit tin of an unprepared mum. Penguin bars were pretty much a staple 1980s snack in every household except ours, so while it might have seemed boring to some, the addition of this run-of-the-mill chocolate bar to my seasonal stash was always very welcome. Continue reading
The last few weeks have been full of celebration. We’re at that stage in life where everyone is turning thirty, getting married or engaged with the various drinks and parties and hen dos that go with it. In between all the socialising there’s been little time for baking, so what I end up making tends to involve minimal time and effort for maximum results. Continue reading
Apologies straight up: I haven’t got a recipe for you today. As I mentioned in this post, things have been a rather busy round here of late and it doesn’t look likely to let up until we sort out our new flat and various other things. Busy in a good way though. There’s lots of smiling.
One major cause for smiles is the fact that we have a new oven. Just a cheapo unit to tide us over til the house move, but the temperature gauge works and it doesn’t leak over 50% of it’s heat directly into the kitchen. In celebration, I made Jaffa cakes. Recipe’s still in development, so just photos for now. Wishing you all a wonderful week. Continue reading
Being at University does odd things to your eating habits. Having always eaten dinner at about eight in the evening while I was at school, moving into catered halls with sittings at 5.30 and 6pm was almost as much of a shock as the nearly inedible food with which we were presented. Midnight pizza or chocolate cereal for supper became the norm, anything left in the communal fridges a free-for-all and pasta, pesto and peas a student staple based on the fact that it was quick, filling and green (so it must be stopping us from getting scurvy, right?).
Spare a thought for the humble homemade biscuit.
Baking in Britain has never been more popular; in the last few years it’s become a borderline obsession. While some might argue that it never really went away – from traditional tea rooms to high street bakeries, cakes and baking are something inherent in our culture – the recent resurgence of interest has taken home baking in a whole new direction. Spurred on by shows like The Great British Bake Off, The Hummingbird Bakery’s cutesy cupcake creations and the jewel-like confections on show in shops like Ladurée, people at home are taking their baking to a higher level.
Out go the simple sponges, scones and rock buns, and in come the macarons and millefeuilles, fancy fondant decorations, perfect petit fours and triple tier cakes. Increasingly, if we’re going to make the effort to bake we want it to be a showstopper, not an every-day-eat. In a kitchen where chunky chocolate cookies and iced éclairs reign supreme, something to nibble mid-morning and dunk in our tea just doesn’t make the grade. It’s a bad time to be a biscuit. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago one of our friends managed to shatter his leg jumping off a wall.
This weekend just gone we went up to visit, and I wanted to bake something suitably delicious to take his mind off things (this littleloaf isn’t really a bunch of grapes kind of girl). Sugar is a good remedy for trauma – hot sweet tea always seems to be offered up to people in shock – so maybe it was some kind of subconscious association which directed me to this restorative, tooth-itchingly sweet recipe. That, or the fact that the ‘short’ from which ”shortbread’ takes its name has been used to describe a ‘friable, brittle, crumbling texture’ since medieval times . . .
A couple of weeks ago a certain young couple tied the knot amidst a media frenzy. As they prepared for the big day (I imgine thanking a higher being for their respective soon-to-be enlarged bank account and expanded gene pool), the nation (and beyond) became obsessed with every detail of the wedding; who would be attending, what they’d be wearing, the flowers, the food, the drink and, of course, that dress.
The hot topic closest to my little loaf heart, however, was who would be making the cake. This honour fell to the fabulous Fiona Cairns, who produced a suitably stunning creation, but, not being a huge fruit cake fan, what really caught my eye was Prince William’s chocolate biscuit groom’s cake. Apparently this simple slab of unbaked chocolate, butter and biscuits is a childhood favourite of William’s. Not hugely regal or royal – I love the thought of dignitaries from around the world munching on what is essentially a glorified Rice Krispie cake – but totally delicious and a funny insight into a slightly more human side of the Windsor family.
Chocolate biscuit, or refrigerator, cake is a firm favourite in my family, and has been since childhood (nope, I’m not secretly a member of the royal family, although we clearly share a similarly sophisticated palate when it comes to cake. . .). My mum used to make it for birthdays in a bunny-shaped mould, presenting the giant chocolate rabbit shape on a bed of green jelly grass. The height of six year old sophistication. Over the years our biscuit cake has matured and we now serve it in thin, rich slices, laced with dried fruit and booze as an alternative to Christmas cake. But at heart it’s still a birthday treat, so when my aunt asked me to bake a cake for my cousin’s 21st, we knew it had to be chocolate biscuit.
Making a cake for fifty people is no mean feat. This concoction required a kilo of chocolate, a tin of golden syrup, enough slabs of butter to block your arteries just by looking at them, a vast packet of digestives (McVities take note, apparently Will’s cake was made with Rich Tea biscuits. Schoolboy error.) and a whole box of eggs. Chocolate biscuit cake, while incredible to eat, is hardly very elegant, so I also whizzed up butter, sugar and cocoa to create a thick buttercream frosting to mask the lumpy bumpy bits – totally unnecessary but actually rather delicious to have that contrast between the cool, crunchy cake and soft, creamy icing. I topped the whole thing off with some beautiful homemade chocolate roses (actually really easy, read my earlier post for instructions here) and was pretty happy with the final result. It certainly got polished off pretty quick by the hungry crowds.
A cake fit for a King? Who knows, it might just make the grade.
Chocolate biscuit cake for 50
(For a more manageable recipe simply divide each quantity by 5)
375g golden syrup
1kg dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
500g digestive biscuits
Grease and line two large cake tins (I used one 20″ and one 22″ square) and set aside.
Melt together the butter and golden syrup in a large pan. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then mix throughly with the butter and syrup mixture. Pasteurise the eggs by beating slowly and continuously into the hot chocolate mixture.
Put the biscuits in a large plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin until broken into a mixture of powder and larger chunks. Do the same with the walnuts then add to the chocolate mixture and stir until fully incorporated. You could also add raisins or other dried fruit at this stage if you wish, along with a splash of rum or other alcohol.
Press the mixture into the prepared tins and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours.
500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder
Blitz the sugar and butter in a blender. Add vanilla extract and enough milk until a thick, creamy frosting is formed. Transfer approximately 1/4 of the mixture into a small bowl and pop in the fridge (this is for the paler piping you can see in the pic). Add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and blitz until fully incorporated.
Remove the cakes from the fridge. Transfer the larger cake onto a plate or cake board and layer the next one on top, securing together with a small amount of icing. Cover the cakes in a smooth layer of chocolate buttercream, then pipe the plain vanilla frosting round the edges. Decorate with chocolate roses, then return to the fridge and chill. Remove from the fridge around 40 mins before you want to serve to allow the flavours to really come through.
Did you know? When googling Will’s groom’s cake I read that while a classic wedding cake is served to the guests at the wedding reception, the groom’s cake is meant to be sliced up, placed into packages and given to them as favours when they leave. Single women at the wedding would take their pieces of cake home and sleep with it under their pillows in hopes of dreaming of their future husbands… (!) Bizarre advice and not something I’d recommend. Chocolate biscuit cake is meant for eating and will likely result in a hugely sticky mess if left under your pillow (although on reflection it would provide a pretty good midnight feast…)