27 July 2013

Chocolate and caramel cookie bars

First of all, I want to apologise for being so distant recently. I was visiting family in Leeds all last week and I've been really ill with a horrible infection this week. Luckily, the antibiotics are working their magic and yesterday I found myself back in the kitchen.
Whilst I've been ill my appetite has been way down and barely any food has actually appealed to me. One thing I have wanted however, is cookie dough. So it seemed only appropriate that my return to the kitchen involved making something cookie related. I wanted to be a bit experimental and do something new so my littlest brother and I decided on chocolate chip and caramel cookie bars.

These are not delicate and elegant.
These do not look like some beautiful masterpiece you could find in a french patisserie. 
These are delicious.
These are dangerously moreish. 

These are like the best kind of sweet sandwich you could imagine. The bread is gooey chocolate chip cookie dough. The filling is melted soft toffees which turn into a beautiful sauce. You bake that sandwich and let it cool and all of a sudden you have some tasty magic begging to be eaten.

Let's get down to the recipe.

170g butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 1/8 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups chocolate chips (milk or dark depending on your preference)
225g soft toffees, melted (I used werther's originals)

Preheat the oven to fan 150. Grease and line an 8 x 12 inch pan.
Put the melted butter and two sugars in a large mixing bowl and stir until combined. 
Add the egg and egg yolk (if you have recently melted the butter, be careful the mixture isn't too hot or you'll end up with scrambled egg) and beat along with the vanilla extract.
Fold in the flour and baking powder and fully incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Spread half the batter into the pan.
Melt the toffees either in a pan over a low heat or in the microwave using short bursts of 30 seconds. 
Pour the melted toffees over the cookie dough layer then top with the remaining cookie dough. Bake for 30 minutes until lightly golden. 
Cool in the tin on a wire rack. Once cooled place in the fridge for about an hour for the caramel layer to firm up then cut into slices.

12 July 2013

Chocolate Cassis and Cherry Cake


With my brothers at home for the holidays I am literally baking every other day to keep up with the amount they eat. This means that not only do I get to spend a seriously pleasing amount of time baking but also that I can experiment a little with new flavour combinations. 

This time I didn't feel like doing any old chocolate cake (not that there's anything wrong with the classic). I felt like adding a little something different to give the cake a kick. So i sploshed in, with a slightly heavy hand, a good ol' glug of cassis to the cake batter. And it tastes good. Not only does the blackcurrant liqueur add a prominant fruityness which compliments the bitter chocolate really well but it also gives the cake an adult kick since it's alcoholic. 

At the minute I'm also really enjoying cooking fruit to add to my baking. For this recipe I cooked about 150g of cherries with just a splash of water and a sprinkling of sugar to help them soften and then let the simmer for 10 minutes to reduce the juices until I had an intensely flavoured cherry syrup. 
I used this a filling between my two cake layers as it added a perfect brake of sweet fruitiness to the otherwise rich and decadent cake. 

To any of you thinking "chocolate cake and bikini season don't go well together", I think you should note at this point that I've pretty much just provided 2 of your 5 a day in this cake - cherries and blackcurrants (despite being in an alcoholic form). To deny yourself this cake would be to deny your body of much needed vitamins and minerals - I'm only thinking about your health.

Side note - I used to HATE recipes in cups. I would avoid them at all costs in the belief that cups were really difficult to use and quintessentially un-British. I was wrong. Cups are the easiest things in the world to use and without scales this recipe is crazy quick. You could honestly have this batter ready in under 10 minutes. So, if you are an avid cup avoider like I used to be, give them a go.

Chocolate Cassis Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsps coffee granules
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsps vinegar or lemon juice
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup creme de cassis (for a strong flavour, 1/4 cup if children will be eating)
2/3 cup water

Preheat the oven to fan 160. Grease and line two 7-inch baking tins.
Measure out the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, coffee and baking powder and add to a large mixing bowl.
In a seperate bowl combine the remaining ingredients.
Add the wet to the dry and mix until fully incorporated. Separate the batter between the two tins and bake for 15 minutes.
Cool in the tins for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cherry filling ingredients:
150g fresh cherries
1-2 tbsp water
1 tbsp caster sugar

Slice the cherries in half and remove the stones. 
Throw them in a pan with the water and sugar and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until they have softened and any juices produced have reduced to a sticky syrup. 

Chocolate ganache ingredients:
100g dark chocolate
50ml double cream
2 tbsps water
25g greek yogurt

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or a microwave. Stir in the cream, water and greek yogurt until you have a thick, glossy mixture. 

Place on of the cake layers upside-down on a serving plate/cake stand. 
Top with the cooked cherries and drizzle over the cherry syrup.

Spoon about 1/3 of the chocolate ganache mixture on top of the cherries.

Add the second cake layer, right side up. 
Spoon over the remaining ganache and spread until the cake is evenly covered.

Top with a few more sliced cherries for an elegant finish.

It might seem that a lot is involved in making this cake but it hardly takes any time at all. You can whip this up super speedily and make like me and be back out in the sun in no time - promise 


10 July 2013

Chocolate Mousse...with a twist

I know, another blackcurrant recipe. But bare with me, this one's a cracker. 

As I said in my last post, our blackcurrant bush is really going to town this year so we're making the most of it. Given I wear the baking crown in this house and we were all out of sweet treats, the kitchen called. Problem was, I really didn't want to turn on the oven. This heat (which I'm loving, by the way) really is not oven-friendly. I was, however, in the mood for chocolate. Inspiration struck - chocolate mousse was the answer. A beautifully light, chilled dessert that really hits the spot.

I could have folded through the blackcurrants to have a tart contrast to the sweet chocolate but didn't want to just stop there. Instead, I cooked the blackcurrants until they were bursting juicily then folded in a little cream and white chocolate to make a beautiful blackcurrant-white chocolate truffle mix. Dang, it was good! 

Finally, because I don't like to make life easy for myself, I made edible containers for my mousses. I painted silicone cupcake liners with white chocolate then unmolded them to have white chocolate pots. Whilst this isn't technically all that challenging, doing it in 25+ degree heat may not be the best idea. 

I don't like to toot my own horn but you really need to try these. They are so good. My oldest brother even told me "these are one of the best things you've ever made...and that's saying something" before going back for seconds. 

Mousse ingredients:
85g dark chocolate
1/2 tsp coffee granules
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp boiling water
50g greek yogurt
2 egg whites
1 tbsp caster sugar

Start by melting the dark chocolate either in a bain marie or in the microwave. In a small bowl combine the coffee, cocoa powder and boiling water to a smooth paste. Add this to the melted chocolate and mix until blended. 
Add the greek yogurt and mix again to fully combine. (Side note - at this point you have a really delicious and light truffle mixture)
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar and continue whisking until thick and glossy.
Fold one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen then add this mixture back into the remaining egg whites. Fold until fully mixed and no white bits remain.
Chill this in the fridge for at least an hour.

Blackcurrant sauce ingredients:
100g blackcurrants
1 tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp double cream
25g white chocolate, melted

In a saucepan heat the blackcurrants, sugar and water until the blackcurrants are softened and about to burst.
Transfer the berries to a bowl and add the cream and white chocolate. Mix until fully combined. Taste and add more white chocolate if you would like the sauce a little sweeter. Don't be afraid to crush some of the blackcurrants whilst mixing, it only adds to the flavour and beautiful purple colour.

White chocolate cups:
Melt 150g white chocolate. Paint a thin layer over 6 silicone cupcake liners. Place them in the freezer for 5 minutes until the chocolate is set. Paint another layer. You have to do this quite quickly because the melted chocolate sets almost as soon as it comes into contact with the frozen chocolate. Once a second layer has been spread return to the freezer for 20 minutes.
Take the molds out of the freezer and check that there are no patches where the chocolate is a bit thin - you don't want these cracking. 

To construct, a spooned a little of the blackcurrant sauce into the bottom of each white chocolate cup. I then filled the cup to the top with a big spoonful of chocolate mousse. For a final flourish I added a little more blackcurrant sauce to the top.

My cups were certainly not the neatest thing I've seen in a long time. But they're going to be filled with beautiful chocolatey goodness and tart blackcurrant sauce so who cares, right?

(Keep these in the fridge until ready to serve)

3 July 2013

Dark Chocolate and Blackcurrant Macarons

For some reason macarons have a notorious nature of being really difficult to make. I really don't understand where this comes from. There's this big rumor around the baking world that they're super temperamental and a massive challenge to take on. I'm going to try to set things straight - they're not. In fact, they're seriously easy. All you have to do is a little bit a whizzing with the food processor (and let's be honest, the machine does all the hard work), then a little bit of egg-white-whisking (and you can get an electric whisk to do that too), followed by a spot of folding together, and ta-dah. Macarons.  

At home we've had a blackcurrant bush for years now and every summer nothing grows. Not a one. But this year, it is flourishing. So I thought I'd get a little bit inventive with flavours and make a blacurrant and dark chocolate ganache to go in the middle of these bad buys. It might just be, but the combination of cream and chocolate makes me intensely happy. Pity, it will make me intensely fat if I eat it every day (and I so would). 

Anyway, macarons first.

Macaron ingredients:
110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
2 egg whites
40g caster sugar

food colouring - optional

Start of by whizzing the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processor. Now the first time I ever made macarons, I thought to myslef "no way am I washing up that big ol' machine. Icing sugar's crazy fine as it is so I'll just skip that step". Mistake. Do this step! 
Next, whip the egg whites to a stiff peak. If you're feeling lazy, or a little short of time, you are more than welcome to use an electric whisk. Or you could make like me and give your arms a little bit of a workout by doing this by hand

Once you have stiff peaks start to add the caster sugar. Do this a little at a time and make sure you whisk really thoroughly after each addition so that the sugar gets fully incorporated and the mix isn't grainy

Once all the sugar is added this is where you add food colour if you're using it. It's not necessary but I think it adds a little something. I was going for a pretty purple to match the blackcurrant flavour. It didn't really work too well; ended up being more of a pale pinky-grey. But ho hum. 
Finally, fold in the icing sugar and almond mixture. Do this carefully so that you don't knock all the air out of the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small rounds of mixture onto lined baking trays. Once you're done piping bang the trays against the work surface a couple of times to get rid of any larger air bubbles. Then leave them for at least half an hour. This stage is crucial in achieving the final result. This time lets the hard shell and the 'foot' develop. The longer you can leave them, the better.
After they've sat, pop them in an oven set to fan 160 and bake for 10 minutes. You know they're done when they come away easily from the baking paper. If they're still sticking put them back in for a minute or two. Let the cool completely on the tray. 

Dark chocolate and blackcurrant ganache:
50g dark chocolate
50ml double cream
50g blackcurrants
1tsp caster sugar
1tbsp creme de casis

Start off by cooking the blackcurrants over a low heat with the caster sugar and a teaspoon of water. Cook them for about 5 minutes until they're soften and starting to burst. 

Push them through a sieve to get rid of the seeds then mix in the casis. 

Heat the cream until it just starts to boil then pour over the chocolate. Stir until completely blended then add the blackcurrant mix. 
Set aside until cool then sandwich between two macaron shells. 

1 July 2013

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

My mum has a thing about rhubarb. Every time she sees it in a shop she buys it. No matter if we already have an excess of fruit in the fridge (ahem, 3 boxes of strawberries, a box of rasperries, 8 peaches, 1 punnet of nectarines, 2 bags of grapes, a pineapple and a mango), or if she already knows I sometimes struggle with rhubarby ideas. I can guarantee that 99% of you, myself included, immediately think of crumble when you hear the word 'rhubarb'. But when the sun comes out, crumble is the last thing I want. This weekend the sun came out in full force...I have the sunburn to prove it. I'm by no means complaining though; being the absolute sun-lover I am, I'll take a little bit of sunburn any day over chilly winds and rain. So I had to come up with something that used up our rhubarb but wasn't as dense or as wintery-comforting as crumble. After a little bit of searching I found quite a few recipes for rhubarb cakes and rhubarb crumble tarts. I did a bit of a hybrid of both and made a rhubarb crumble cake. 

It's a pretty simple cake mixture, topped off with some rhubarb chunks and the sprinkled with crumble topping.

So, recipe time:

Crumble ingredients:
50g butter, melted
25g light brown sugar
40g caster sugar
100g plain flour

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. Add the two sugars and stir quite vigorously until they're fully incorporated and it looks a little a toffee sauce. Beat in the flour and set aside to cool whilst you cut the rhubarb and make the cake batter.

Rhubarb ingredients:
300g rhubarb
50g caster sugar
2tbsp lemon juice

Cut the rhubarb into inch-long chunks and place in a large bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice and toss a few times before setting aside.

Cake ingredients:
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp baking powder
75g butter
50g ground almonds
6tbsp natural yogurt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1tsp vanilla extract

Cake method:
Preheat the oven to fan 160. Grease and line an 8-inch square tin.
Place the flour, sugar, bicarb, baking powder, butter and ground almonds in a mixing bowl. With your hands (clean preferably) rub the butter into the other ingredients until it looks like breadcrumbs. 
In a mixing jug, or smaller bowl, mix the egg, yolk, yogurt and vanilla. Add this to the other bowl and mix, this time with a spoon, until fully combined.
Spoon the cake batter into the tin. Top with the rhubarb then sprinkle over the crumble bits.
Bake for 40 minutes and leave to cool completely in the tin.