Monthly Archives: December 2013

A last minute Christmas present idea: Kumquat chocolate slab

 

This is a really easy, delicious thing to make. Yes you do need a) chocolate and b) kumquats in the house to make this exact one, but the idea is that with a bit of imagination, you have a really easy, original gift to make for someone at the last minute. Perhaps you’ve been invited round to someone’s house and want to take a little gift.

I used kumquats, because that’s what I saw in Martha Stewart Living. This decision also resulted in perhaps my most middle class quest of the year: going in search of them (Sainsbury’s had them). It was worth it because kumquats lend themselves really beautifully to this idea and weren’t madly expensive. A packet that would have made this twice over cost £1.50. Plus they look festive, colourful and this was absolutely delicious: like a grown up, not too sickly, Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

But if you don’t have kumquats, or don’t like them you can put anything on top of the chocolate: slices of stem ginger, roasted hazelnuts, sliced pistachios, what ever takes your fancy, you get the idea.

For this I used a mixture of Green and Black’s milk chocolate and Waitrose Continental 70% cocoa chocolate, because I wanted it to be quite creamy. You want the slab to ‘snap’ when you serve it so don’t go too milky chocolatey, even if you want to serve it to children. To make it really grown up and ‘snappy’, make it out of all 70% cocoa chocolate. I used about 250g of chocolate in total to make this slab, which fed sixteen at after lunch coffee.

Melt in a bowl, over boiling water, then pour onto baking parchment on a baking tray. Scatter over your topping of choice. Put in fridge to set. If giving as a present – and not serving at your own dinner party – then break it up and put it in cellophane bag or if you have food-grade cellophane wrap (naturally, ahem, I do) then you can wrap the whole thing in one piece.

That’s it. So easy and looks so impressive.

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How to make your own salted caramel wagon wheels

What I want to know is, when did this blog become almost exclusively about food? I used to write about coffee machines, and fridges ‘n’ stuff. I think it’s partly to do with laziness, greed and also that as I get more serious in my day job, I want to write about things that comfort and soothe.

This is my excuse for writing about Wagon Wheels a week before Christmas when I have at least twenty-three other things to be doing.

I never liked original Wagon Wheels. So this wasn’t about trying to recreate something I loved, but in more, ahem, nutritious format. This is entirely about being seduced by a picture in a Donna Hay magazine in which she makes them. I hesitated before posting the recipe. These are, by no stretch of the imagination, good for you. They use Fluff – jarred, spreadable marshmallow – which contains corn syrup which is really really bad for you. So you must ASSURE me that you will only make these once a year.

These biscuits are, however, really fun. They are not difficult to make, and can be made in stages. The trickiest bit, I found, was the dipping them in chocolate. There is no easy way to do this and you end up making a great big mess. I made the biscuits differently to how Donna recommended – she uses three tiers and smaller biscuits. In an attempt to recreate a more authentic WW look I went for two tiers and larger.

Big mistake. They end up being quite a biscuit. I’d say probably 500 calories a piece. Which isn’t good. I definitely wouldn’t serve these if Gwyneth were coming round to tea. When I first made them I stored them in the fridge which was a mistake as they go kinda crispy and I didn’t like them so much (so perhaps not a mistake after all). After a few hours out of the fridge and stored in a biscuit jar, they were just perfect. Strangely addictive. People I gave them to started making weird, primal noises. They started telling me they loved me.

Be warned.

Don’t go fooling yourself you will only take one bite of these and not eat the whole thing. So make them small. And make them when you have lots of people coming round so you’re not left alone with them. I made a few changes: I substituted salted caramel for jam as I had a jar of caramel that my friend Helen had made for me and everyone preferred them to the jam version (I made a few with jam to try).

And I used about 2/3rds 34% cocoa chocolate and to 1/3rd 70% cocoa chocolate to coat them instead of doing half of them with white chocolate and half with plain as Donna Hay suggested. I actually think I’d slip into a diabetic coma if I made these with white chocolate.

Anyway, enough chat, here is the recipe as I did them, and the low down.

170g unsalted, softened butter

160g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 teaspoons of honey

1 egg

335g plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

A jar of Fluff – marshmallow spread in a jar

Either a jar of blackberry jam/jelly or salted caramel (I say jelly as that’s all I could fine, not because I’ve gone American)

About 200g high cocoa content milk chocolate (I used Green and Blacks, which is 34%)

100g 70% cocoa chocolate (I always use Waitrose Continental)

Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in an electric mixer (I used the whisk attachment) and beat for 5-7 minutes. Imagine doing this by hand?! Scrape down the sides and then add the honey and egg and beat again for a bit until combined.

Now add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat on a low speed until combined – just a minute or so. Flatten the dough into a disc. It will be very soft. Put in cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour (longer is fine). It should be firm before you start to roll it out.

Now, preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Roll the dough out bit by bit between two pieces of baking parchment until about 5mm thick. This is a very soft dough so after a few rollings out it will be hard to handle so put it back in the fridge if need be.

Cut circles of 5cm. I did larger but as I said, I think that was a mistake as I ended up with a really calorific biscuit!

Place on baking trays – they don’t spread out much so you can go quite close together but not too close. About 1cm is fine.

Bake for just a scant 4-5 minutes, until the edges are just tinged with a golden brownness. Take out of the oven and leave to cool completely. You will need to cook these in batches.

When the biscuits are completely cool it’s just a case of assembling them, then dipping. So, spread one biscuit with the salted caramel, one with fluff and sandwich together. Don’t be too mean with the filling but don’t go mad either. When they are all sandwiched together put in the fridge to firm up for a bit whilst you melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop a saucepan of boiling water.

When melted, dip the biscuits in the chocolate. If there’s an easy, non-messy way to do this, I haven’t discovered it yet. I tried painting the biscuits with chocolate and that worked but left brush marks. After several goes I discovered the best thing to do was coat the edges then dip quickly one side then another. If you end up with bald patches where your fingers were then you can remedy by just spreading a bit over with the back of a spoon. Leave to drip for a few seconds over the chocolate bowl, then leave to set on a rack. Be careful though. If you do like I did one time and put it straight in the fridge, the chocolate will set around the bars of the cooling rack and you will end up with half a wagon wheel when you prise it off.

This is no bad thing in a way, as you immediately lower the calorific value, but it makes a mess. So be aware this can happen.

Do leave them to set in the fridge at some point, then you can store them in a biscuit jar in a cool place, preferably at someone else’s house.

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Toffee apple apple crumble

I have become slightly obsessed with this apple crumble. It appeared in Good Food magazine in October (I cannot find a link to it on line) and my photograph doesn’t do it justice. But it’s one of those puddings that, once served up, I itch to eat and cannot be bothered to really photograph.

I have made this a lot recently and my partner says it tastes really Christmassy. I agree, but it only really started tasting Christmassy as we got into late November…

The ingredients for the underneath bit:

100g raisins

100g pitted soft dates, chopped up

85g light muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of dark rum (I have also used sherry or marsala)

25g unsalted butter

1 teaspoon of mixed spice

Zest and juice of one lemon

4 Bramley apples, about 800g in total, peeled and cored and cut into wedges or rings

The ingredients for the crumble topping:

125g plain flour (I mix a bit of wholemeal flour in there too)

100g unsalted butter

50g light muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of jumbo oats

25g flaked almonds

What you do:

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put everything for the underneath bit, save for the apples and lemon juice, into a pan and cook on the hob until the butter has melted and the sugar is syrupy and it looks nice. Then toss into the pan (once off the heat) the apples with the lemon juice, mix around until all coated and put in a suitable oven proof dish. I use a Le Creuset thing that is approx 20cm square.

To make the topping I put the flour and butter into a food processor and go past the fine breadcrumb stage and pulse until big clumps form. Then I stir in the sugar, oats and almonds. Spread this on top of the fruit mixture. At first it will look like you don’t have enough mixture but don’t panic as it all works out. Cover with foil and then * put it into the oven for one hour in total, but for the first thirty minutes keep the foil on, then whip it off to let the crumble brown, for the last thirty.

Leave to stand for about 10mins before serving with custard or cream or ice cream or all three. Oink, oink.

It’s delicious and wonderfully comforting and warming. I hardly make crumble any other way now, although I might find it all a bit much come the spring time.

*note: you can easily make this a few hours ahead, assemble, cover with foil and then put it in the oven as you sit down to main course.

Apologies again for the not great pic…

Stollen

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Stollen was, like panettone and panforte, one of those things that appeared at Christmas that really wasn’t very nice. Of course, that was back in the days before I realised you could make, almost, anything yourself (I’ve still not been brave enough to try panettone, because to make it properly takes three days and involves hanging it upside down).

My friend Lisa Durbin, posted some pictures of the stollen she was making and they looked so delicious, I asked and she passed on her recipe. And yesterday, really quite late in the day, I decided to give it a go.

I have a few notes to add, which is that the marzipan stipulated seemed a bit mean to me to begin with, so for one of the loaves I doubled the amount from 50g for each loaf to 100g. As I was doing this, my partner walked into the kitchen and he reminded me that, actually, with marzipan in cooking more is not necessarily a good thing. So, suitably chastened, I went back to Lisa’s recommendation of 50g for each loaf for the others. I haven’t tasted the turbo marzipan one yet but the one with ‘just’ 50g held out his theory and Lisa’s recipe.

After making this stollen, ahem, a couple of times, I’ve settled on 75g per stollen as perfect for me.

I found 45mins too long in my oven. I cooked mine for 25 mins.

This stollen really doesn’t keep. If you don’t freeze it EAT IT on day of purchase. It won’t be so good again after that.

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I also didn’t roll mine out on a floured surface, instead rolling out between two sheets of Magic Carpet type stuff (reusable baking parchment). It’s up to you if you make your  loaves more stout and thick or long and thin. Experiment.  As per picture above, you’ll see mine are quite flat.

I ate half of one, about 20mins out of the oven, whilst watching Masters of Sex. So the two things are now, indelibly, etched in my mind. At that temperature, just warm, the stollen are frangible and seriously delicious. If you can eat it at this temperature, at least once, do so.

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Otherwise they are really not difficult to make (although if I give you one as a present then, yes, of course they are really difficult) and you get four loaves so it’s a good result vs effort. You could easily freeze some Lisa tells me (before you add the icing sugar) for another day. Or just eat them all in a stollen frenzy. You can also leave them for the final prove (the one that takes 45 mins in Lisa’s recipe) overnight in the oven, waking up to freshly cooked stollen (well, for YOU to wake up to freshly baked stollen, someone else had to get up first to bake it, but the idea is there, yes?)

ImageChristmas 2014. I made these mini this year, just cutting bits of the dough off, and rolling it with my fingers around some marzipan. Worked really well and I got about 20 mini loaves out of it. I cooked the mini ones for 15 minutes.

IMG_0388(You’ll note one is missing, it’s very important to test the merchandise before selling.)

 

Chocolate sponge and chocolate custard

These have to be five of my favourite words.

And yet, when I was in my first year in primary school, two traumatic things happened to me at lunchtime (we all had to have school dinners). First, having come from a safe and loving home, I was one day confronted by a very troubled boy kicking me in the back and nobody doing anything about it. Second, another troubled boy spat in my chocolate sponge and chocolate custard. I didn’t, of course, finish eating it, but amazingly, it didn’t taint my memory of this pudding which I still see as elementally comforting. Despite history proving otherwise, I think nothing bad can happen when you’re eating a chocolate sponge and chocolate custard pudding.

I have made this several times over the years. And each and every time, I forget to take a photograph of it because everyone is in such a scramble to get it. This has nothing to do with me, other than I make it, but I think, everything to do with people’s associations with it.

This time, I only remembered to take a picture of it at the very last minute, when we were on the last slice; which is why it’s a close up, and not a very good photograph at that (still, better than Martha’s). Just out of shot, is my partner’s spoon, hovering in anticipation and annoyance at my interruption, and half the pudding already gone.

A note about the custard: it doesn’t make enough unless you eat giant portions of this at once. If you eat it like we do, in smallish portions, then you need more custard. Second, Waitrose does a perfectly good chocolate custard which you could easily use instead. It’s not as ‘good’ for you (no eggs) but come on..

A note about the pudding. It travels really well. I have made this in advance and taken it on a holiday rental, warmed it up in the microwave (10-20 seconds per portion) and it is glorious. I’ve easily kept this cake for a week and just zapped it in a microwave to make it soft and springy again.  If you like it cold cold (cold pud cold custard) then this could also travel, separately, to a picnic and be reunited to make a quite decadent pudding on the grass.  My children actually like this pudding cold, with cold custard and you can try it either way: hot hot, cold cold, hot cold, cold, hot. Knock yourself out.

This recipe originally came from Delicious magazine.

250g unsalted butter at room temperature (so soft, because room temperature in my house at the moment results in pretty hard butter still)

200g caster sugar

4 medium eggs

250g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

50g dark chocolate grated or chopped up very, very, very small (grating chocolate is one of my most hated kitchen jobs, I’d prefer to de-giblet a chicken)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

125ml warm milk

Oven to 180C. You’ll need a square 20cm cake tin which you have lined with baking parchment. I love this cut into squares but for goodness sake don’t sweat it if you don’t have a square tin and improvise.

Beat the butter and sugars together, whisk in an food mixer if you have one. If not doing it by hand is fine. BUT it does need lots of beating so if you have an electric whisk do use that for five minutes.

Gradually add the eggs and now sift over the flour and cocoa with the baking powder and grated chocolate. * Add the vanilla extract and the warm milk. It should be fairly gloopy. Put in the tin and cook for 45-50 minutes until a skewer comes out growling. I’m joking, a skewer comes out clean-ish. You know the score.

If you want to make the custard you need:

300ml whole milk (although I have used semi-skimmed and the world did not fall in)

300ml double cream

4 egg yolks

3 tablespoons of caster sugar

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

1 teaspoon of cornflour

Heat the milk and cream together until almost boiling. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cocoa and cornflour. Pour the hot milky cream over the eggy mixture, whisk and return to the pan. Cook gently until it thickens. Serve hot, warm or cool.

2016 note: I now just add chopped up chocolate to the warm milk and melt it that way if I’m in a rush. Nothing awful seems to happen. I’ve also improvised chocolate custard – the recipe above is lovely but it’s a faff and never quite makes enough – and used good quality shop bought custard and added melted chocolate and a tablespoon of cocoa to it.