Chewy chocolate brownies

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A fudgey layer topped with a shiny, crispy crust

When I was young, an old lady at the bottom of our garden used to bring us brownies. Not literally, of course – she lived on the next street along and her house backed onto ours – but I used to love the silly image this reference conjured up; a little old lady tucked away amongst the shrubs and fairies, happily baking brownies somewhere between the garden shed and the compost heap.

This neighbour of ours lived alone – her kids had worked abroad, eventually settling in the States – and every so often she’d come round to babysit, armed with a plate of dark, chewy brownies. I don’t know if it was something to do with the seeming exoticism of her far flung family, but I always associated these treats with America. I knew they were brownies, but their crisp crust and chewy texture felt a far cry from the cakier, fudgey version I sometimes made with my Mum.  Continue reading

Gianduja ice cream chocolate chip cookie sandwiches

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Hazelnut heaven: creamy gianduja ice cream sandwiched between chewy chocolate chip cookies

What could be better than a scoop of gianduja ice cream, velvet-smooth and creamy with sweet chocolate undertones and the richness of roasted hazelnuts?

If you’re an ice cream purist, not much. But if you enjoy the sweet things in life on a scale of decadence just tipping into over-indulgence, I’d suggest trying a scoop of gianduja ice cream sandwiched between two crispy, chewy chocolate chip cookies. It’s heaven. Or as close as you’re going to get through a mouthful of frozen dessert anyway. Continue reading

Chocolate biscuit birthday cake

birthday_chocolate_cakeA 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_refrigerator_cakeChocolate 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.

chocolate_birthday_cakeMaking 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)

Ingredients:

625g butter
375g golden syrup
1kg dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
5 eggs
500g digestive biscuits
250g walnuts

Method:

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.

Buttercream frosting

Ingredients:

500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder

Method:

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…)

Salty Snickers macarons

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Salty chocolate & caramel macarons

There’s no denying it, the Americans know how to do dessert. The rise of mouthwatering confection meccas like The Hummingbird Bakery means we’ve come to think nothing of putting away giant slabs of brownie, cupcakes smothered in inches of icing and whoopie pies the size of cricket balls. Dessert has become super-sweet, super-sized, and certainly not subtle.

Continue reading

Squid stuffed with garlicky prawns

This month Carniverous Boyfriend has decided to ramp his protein obsession up a notch by moving onto a strict no carb diet. A kind of crazy cross between Atkins and Dukan, it’s intended to turn him into a lean, mean, muscle-beach-bound machine in time for our trip to Spain in early June. Good for him. Possibly a little less good for me as I’ll no longer have a partner in crime to share the breads, brownies  and other spoils of my baking obsession. Never mind, I guess my inner greedy child should see that as a positive anyway.

spicy_prawnsOn another positive note, this new-found protein obsession means I’ve been experimenting a little more in the kitchen. Although CB seems pretty content to chow down on multiple chicken breasts, tins of tuna and dozens of eggs, I think it’s nice to tuck into something a little more adventurous of an evening. This weekend, I stuck my nose into our local fishmonger and came back laden with beautiful specimens; a crab shell packed with freshly picked meat, a dozen giant head-on prawns, thin opaque fillets of gurnard, some gorgeously glossy squid tubes and a little pot of tiny peeled prawns.

squid_prawnsOne of my favourite blogs at the moment is Food Stories written by Helen Graves. I’ve been eyeing up her various recipes for stuffed squid for a while now (recipe here), and thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. Squid is one of my all-time favourite ingredients – flash-grilled with chilli, lemon and rocket a la River Cafe or slow-stewed with soft, melting ingredients like fennel and chorizo – but can be so easy to get wrong.  A few minutes over or under and the resulting rubbery consistency is as pentitential as it gets. I was therefore a little concerned as Helen’s recipe called for baby squid, and my tubes were more of the giant variety. However a little common sense prevailed and I got the cooking time pretty much spot on, creating a dish of wonderful contrasts – melt-in-the-mouth squid packed with firm, textured prawns and punchy flavours.

What follows is  recipe I pulled together using a few basic ingredients – pungent crushed garlic, fiery chilli, a zing of lemon and freshly torn parsley. If I hadn’t been under strict no-carb intructions from CB, I’d be inclined to throw in a handful of breadcrumbs or pulses (lentils or the black beans that Helen uses would be good) to help bind the filling (it slightly fell apart as you cut into the tubes), but if you’re looking for simple, strong flavours over presentation, what follows is more than adequate. My photo of the finished article is a little dodgy as by this point I was more interested in eating than snapping, but please take my word for it, these really are very nice. Perfect with some steamed woody green veg and a splash of fruity olive oil.

Squid stuffed with garlicky prawns
(Serves 2)

2 medium squid tubes, cleaned
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 birdseye chillis including seeds, chopped
Handful pinenuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 large handfuls tiny prawns, shelled and finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large bunch parsley, chopped
Handful breadcrumbs or lentils (optional)

Heat a lug of olive oil in a small saucepan and gently fry the crushed garlic and chilli til coloured. Add the pinenuts and prawns and continue to cook a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and breadcrumbs/lentils if using to form a thick, coarse mixture.

Stuff each squid 3/4 full with the mixture, securing the end with a cocktail stick. Heat a heavy based grill pan with a little oil until smoking, then grill the squid for around 3 mins each side, adjusting depending on the size of your tubes. This would also work really well on the BBQ, with the black grill marks adding extra flavour.

Test that the contents are warmed through by inserting a skewer. Serve drizzled with fruity olive oil and accompanied by earthy rich greens.

Chunky chocolate, raisin & walnut cookies

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The perfect chocolate chunk cookie?

A couple of weeks ago I posted the results of my recent quest for the perfect chocolate chunk cookie. Dense and chewy, with a crispy edge and large dark chocolate chunks, these giant cookies were definitely up there. But perfection isn’t a finite thing, and yesterday I decided to rustle up another batch, using the lessons I’d learnt from last time round.

Continue reading

Banana, chocolate & walnut loaf

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Sticky, moist banana loaf

Over the last few days I’ve seen quite a few blog posts cropping up with recipes recommending what to do with leftover Easter chocolate. Rocky road, tiffin, brownies, rice crispy cakes, chocolate cake, chocolate sauce and more; these are all suitably worthy resting places for those sad little eggs and shells that didn’t quite make it into the Easter morning binge. But to be honest, I’ve never really had this issue of ‘egg-cess’ (sorry), having subscribed to more of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to anything sweet from a young age. Consuming my own body weight in chocolate before Easter breakfast has now become pretty much standard practice.

Having said that, yesterday a little bit of Easter egg chocolate did manage to sneak its way into the mixing bowl as I was making my favourite banana loaf recipe. I’d returned home after Easter to a pile of soft, slightly blackened bananas and needed a recipe to salvage them pretty quickly, This sticky, moist banana loaf was the perfect answer- in fact, it simply doesn’t taste the same if the bananas you use aren’t blackened, squidgy and sickly sweet. And the addition of a few nuggets of deliciously dark chocolate prevents the richness of the banana from becoming overpowering.

chocolate_walnut_banana_loaf

Banana, chocolate & walnut – the perfect combination

I mentioned a few weeks ago my discovery of a delicious banana, chocolate and walnut loaf recipe on Gourmet Traveller ‘s blog. I’ve made it a few times since, tweaking the ingredients here and there, and the result is always spot on – dense, moist and nutty inside, crusty and golden on the top, with a richly intense banana flavour and little hits of chocolate. This loaf is delicious as a dessert with natural Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, the perfect tea-time snack served straight up, or an incredible indulgence toasted and smothered in butter. It’s really more of a cake than a loaf though, so arteries take heed if you do decide to go for this final option.

Banana, Chocolate and Walnut Loaf
(adapted from a Gourmet Traveller recipe)

4 large ripe bananas
100g unsalted butter, slightly soft
140g soft brown sugar
2 large free range eggs
50g walnuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), chopped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
140g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Peel and roughly mash the bananas with a fork. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Crack in the eggs and whisk further to combine, then stir in the mashed banana, walnuts, chocolate and milk. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients – the banana means there may be a few lumps.

Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and gently fold into the wet mixture until just combined. The key here is to work carefully to preserve the lightness of the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour – you’ll know it’s done when a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. If it’s still wet with batter, pop your loaf back in the oven for another 15 minutes, covering with foil if the top is browning too much. When cooked, remove from oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes before transferring the loaf out onto a wire ack to cool completely.

Rocket & Basil Pesto

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Artichoke ravioli with homemade pesto

You might wonder why I’m posting a recipe for pesto. Pesto is something that appears on menus and food packaging around the world. Over-used and under-appreciated, there’s most likely a sweaty jar of mass produced pesto lurking in most people’s deepest cupboard space (am I right?). As a student it certainly formed an essential part of our storecupboard staple of pasta, pesto and frozen peas (the 3 P’s), possibly washed down with a pint (make that 4 . . . P’s, not pints that is). The ‘middle class ketchup’ phenomenon . . .

So why a recipe? Because this much maligned sauce doesn’t deserve these bogus impersonators; mean little jars of processed cashews, sunflower oil, preservatives and stabilisers. Pesto should be eaten fresh. It should sing with the rich green notes of freshly torn basil, toasted nuts and salty cheese. Yes, the ingredients can be expensive, but, as with good quality meat and other little luxuries in life, I’d suggest quality over quantity. Instead of plonking pesto onto every baguette, salad, sandwich and snack in sight, savour it, allowing the flavours to shine through.

This recipe is so simple, it’s hardly a recipe at all. Almost as quick and easy as opening a jar of pesto, but infinitely nicer, once you’ve tried it, I’m pretty positive you won’t look back. My recipe mixes rocket and basil for a really light, fresh flavour, and I’ve included  few ingredient variations below for the budget conscious or more adventurous amongst you. If you have any other favourite or interesting pesto recipes, I’d love you to share them below.

Rocket & Basil Pesto (makes 1 jar)

2 tbsp pine nuts
Pinch of salt
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
150g rocket
100g freshly picked basil leaves
50g Parmesan, grated
300ml extra virgin olive oil

Dry fry the pine nuts in  pan until lightly toasted and golden. Pound in a pestle and mortar with salt and crushed garlic. Add the rocket and basil leaves, continuing to mash until it becomes a thick green paste (you could do this in a food processor, althoug purists would argue against this, preferring the subtler flavours of the bruised ingredients). Add the grated cheese and most of the olive oil until fully blended, reserving a little oil for the top. Transfer to a jar, cover with remaining oil and keep in the fridge for up to one week.

Serve simply with al dente linguine, Ligurian style with trofie pasta, potatoes and green beans, as I’ve done above with ravioli or spoon over chicken or white fish. Delicious.

Some tasty pesto variations:

Basil & pine nut – the classic
Coriander & cashew – omit the cheese and try a little chilli for more of an Eastern feel
Watercress & walnut – earthy and rich, perfect in winter

Chocolate & Dulce de Leche Brownies

dulce_de_leche_chocolateIf you’ve read many of my previous posts on this blog, you’ll know that I love chocolate and I love baking. It’s been a while since I last made brownies, and a pre-Easter dinner party at a friend’s flat this week seemed like the perfect excuse to try a new recipe. I’ve been reading David Lebowitz‘s gorgeous blog for a while now, and amongst a number of delicious looking recipes, I’d bookmarked these amazing looking Dulce de Leche brownies.

If you’ve not tried Dulce de Leche before, now is your moment. Literally ‘milk sweetness’ or ‘milk candy’, it’s an unctuously thick caramel-like sauce made from sweetened condensed milk, and one of the most delicious things you’re ever likely to put in your mouth. Continue reading

Praline Meringues with Frozen Maple Mousse

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Last night Carniverous Boyfriend and I headed South of the river to my parents’ house for our first BBQ of the year (woohoo!). After the glorious sunshine of last weekend the weather didn’t quite deliver, but it was definitely warm enough to be outside. Sipping a glass of cold prosecco as the smoky smell of chargilled meat filled the air,  I started to feel like summer could be on its way.

My Mum asked me to bring a pudding and, knowing my Dad had been put in charge of buying the meat, I decided to go for something light and summery to cleanse our palates after the protein onslaught. Platters of rare sirloin steak, garlicky chicken supreme and three different types of sausages later, a delicately creamy dessert proved exactly what the doctor ordered.

praline_meringues

These praline meringues are crispy, delicious and so simple to make, the brown sugar and praline adding a delicious nutty crunch which works well against the smooth maple mousse. I opted to freeze my mousse for an extra contrast of textures, but I think it would work just as well without. And if you’re feeling really lazy, you could forgo the mousse altogether and serve with a dollop of thick cream or Greek yoghurt, drizzling a little maple syrup over the top to finish.

Praline meringues with frozen maple mousse
Serves 8 comfortably (depending on the size you make your meringues!)

Pecan praline

  • A handful of pecan nuts
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tray with parchment.
  2. Mix the pecans and maple syrup together then spread on the tray and bake for 8-10 minutes until golden – the maple syrup will caramelize around the nuts, creating a delicious crunchy praline. Remove from the oven and cool on the tray.
  3. Chop the cool pecan praline roughly to a chunky crumb, leaving aside a few whole pecans to decorate later.

Pecan praline meringues

  • 4 egg whites
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 120 degrees C. Line a baking tray with parchment.
  2. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl to a soft peak. Add the soft brown sugar and continue to whisk to form very firm peaks. Finally fold in the caster sugar and praline crumbs with a large metal spoon, leaving as much air in the meringue as possible.
  3. Spoon the meringue mixture onto the prepared baking tray. I used a dessert spoon to make nine even sized meringues, slightly spaced apart.  You could vary this but remember you’ll need to adjust cooking times according to size.

praline_meringue

  1. Cook for one hour at 120 degrees C, then reduce the oven temperature to 100 degrees C and cook for another hour. They should be hard when you tap the outside, and slightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool on the tray.
  2. Store in an airtight tin until you’re ready to assemble.

praline_meringue

Frozen maple syrup mousse

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 100g maple syrup
  • 425 ml double cream
  • A pinch of sea salt

Method:

  1. Whisk the 3 egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl until thick and foamy. Warm the maple syrup over low heat until nearly boiling, then pour over the egg yolks and continue whisking over a bain marie until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and continue whisking until cold. Put in the fridge to chill further.

 maple_mousse

  1. Softly whip the cream and fold into the chilled egg yolk and syrup mixture. Put back in the fridge while you complete the final stage.
  2. Whip the egg whites to firm peaks with the pinch of sea salt. Fold in the chilled syrup, cream and egg yolk mixture then freeze.

Assembly:

Put the meringue on a plate. Using an ice cream scoop, place a large dollop of maple mousse on top. Decorate with remaining pralines.

delicious_dessert

You could also make flatter meringues and stack in layers with the mousse for something  bit fancier. And if you have any leftover mousse you can serve in little ramekins like the one below. Enjoy!

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