On Saturday we went to a family wedding and had to leave after three hours because Nino (who we’d left with his loving grandparents) had got himself hysterical and was refusing go to bed. He settled, of course, once we were home but this isolated incident sums up the last week or so of our lives – we’re discovering that life with an eight month old baby can be busy and hectic and hard. He’s crawling all over the flat and and attempting to walk, exploring everything and finding it frustrating when he can’t have/reach/walk unaided to what he wants. Sleeping, it seems, is cheating and some of the foods he found delicious a few weeks ago have become a bit of a battleground. That’s not to say he’s unhappy – for the most part he’s the same scrumptious, sunny baby he’s always been – but our little boy is learning to push boundaries, assert his preferences and establish himself as a voice to be reckoned with in our family of three. Continue reading
‘There are a million and one directions in my waking hours, but I find there’s a welcome habit in cooking, in the routines of the kitchen around which our lives revolve. It’s what gets us going in the morning and brings us back together each night.’
This is the closing paragraph of the introduction to food blogger Tara O’Brady’s beautiful debut cookbook, Seven Spoons. It’s a sentence that seems to sum up her approach and the way this book will work its way into your kitchen. If you’re into cooking, I suspect that Tara’s is the kind of food you’re already making, but a new improved version, introduced with passion and such elegant prose, peppered with little surprises and tips along the way. Continue reading
As a child, there’s something slightly exciting about spending a day off school sick. Not, of course, if you’re seriously unwell, entirely bed-bound and unable to eat. I’m talking about those days when you’re possibly still contagious but ultimately on the mend, able to appreciate eating on the sofa, watching too much TV and your Mum (or another adult) making a great big fuss of you. Continue reading
What’s your favourite thing to do with a blackened banana?
Breads, cakes, cookies, muffins and smoothies are all pretty wonderful ways to use up an overripe banana or two. The ice cream I’m sharing today is even better. But to be honest, I’d be happy if you made any of the items listed above, as long as your bananas don’t end up in the bin.
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…)
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.
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.
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.