Category Archives: Confectionery

Milk shake mix-ins

This is a great way to use up scrappy bits of ice cream ‘n’ bits you may have, or just to amuse yourself for five minutes in the kitchen – it’s permissible to buy ice cream just to make these, too.

I got the idea from an ice cream shop in Aldeburgh called The IceCreamery – which is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Here you select your ice cream ‘base’ – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry etc., then add a ‘mix in’. And here’s where it gets fun, and slightly diabetic-inducingly crazy.

The mix-ins can be M&Ms, Jaffa Cakes, Oreos and a million other alternatives, and these get added/crushed into your ice cream to give you a custom-made ice cream.

Or you can have it made into a milk shake.

My eldest chose vanilla and Oreos and my youngest chose chocolate and M&Ms. I watched, in awe/horror as about four scoops of ice cream were put into a mixer and then – in the case of the M&Ms – a WHOLE PACKET of M&Ms were put in. I would never, in a million years, let my youngest (who is tiny) eat a whole packet of M&Ms in one go, let alone with four scoops of ice cream.

But I had to metaphorically shut my eyes and switch off my inner mummy-OMG-ness and just go with it.

The milk shake was amazing, I hesitate to say the best ever as of course the best ever milk shakes were those my dad made for me in his cafe, when I was a child. But aside from that:

BEST EVER.

The vanilla and Oreos was particularly memory-hogging.

So when I got home I sought to recreate these but using less ice cream and less mix-ins and the way I make them isn’t more calorie-laden than a regular ice cream in a cone, I put two scant ice cream scoops in my Nutribullet, with some milk and some mix-ins (like one cookie if it’s an Oreo, maybe one and a half) and blend the whole thing together.  So far we’ve done:

Strawberry ice cream with fresh mint

Strawberry ice cream with Milky Way Magic stars

Chocolate and fresh mint

Coffee ice cream with Oreos

Vanilla and Oreos

Vanilla and Milky Way Magic stars

Vanilla and jam ‘doughnut’ sponge crumbs (these were left over from some Nigella jam doughnut muffins which my eldest made which stuck to the tin and I scraped out and froze and I add them straight into the mix and it works beautifully).

Chocolate and peanut butter……you get the idea.

Of course I had to buy the special cups and lids and straws.

26 July 2016 update: I made raspberry cheesecake milkshakes today: vanilla ice cream, frozen jam doughnut sponge crumbs, fresh raspberries, milk and a dollop cream cheese. DELICIOUS. I didn’t have one (just tasted it) otherwise I’d be the size of a house come the weekend with all the milk-shaking we have going on..

 

 

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.

A white chocolate lolly ‘cake’

I don’t even like white chocolate, but let me tell you, these were so good I almost ate them all in ‘quality control’ before the actual day.

Yesterday was my eldest daughter’s first holy communion. I made her a cake made entirely of white chocolate lollies. Since first experimenting with chocolate lollies last year, I’ve really moved on with them and by investing in a few things: proper moulds, sticks and a stand, you can really make something quite simple and easy to make (but ssssh, don’t tell anyone) into something that looks spectacular.

I made these the day before, and just assembled them on the day (i.e. slotted them into the holes in the stand). Once I’ve had an alcoholic drink, my guests have to pretty much fend for themselves so anything that can be pre-made plays to my great organisational skills and my weakness for being a dreadful, drunk, host.

I usually make chocolate lollies in 70% cocoa chocolate. But a few months ago, my friend Lucy (who is the only person in the whole of East Anglia who possibly has more baking gadgets/biscuit cutters than I) mentioned that she had made some lollies in white chocolate using crystallized violets. I stored this bit of information away in my brain, thinking white lollies would be lovely for a holy communion, instead of a cake, say. We had some crystallized violets that my partner and the girls had made for mother’s day (every aspect of that sentence sounds smug, but I don’t mean it to), I used Green and  Black’s white chocolate (which is, I have to say, absolutely superb). And this is what I did.

Melted the white chocolate.
Poured it into the moulds.
Put in lolly sticks.
Scattered on some crystallized violets or freeze dried strawberries (from Waitrose, they come in a tube, in the baking aisle).
Put in fridge to set.
Removed from moulds after a couple of hours.
Tasted one for quality control purposes.
Decided they were so amazingly good I had to have more.
Cycle to Waitrose to buy more white chocolate.
Repeat process.
And then, when time comes, slot the lollies into the holes in the stand and da-dar.

A note about the stand. I bought mine from Amazon. It doesn’t appear to be sold anymore, but I’m looking out for other stockists as it’s really lovely and minimalist and classy.

Willie’s Delectable Cacao Single Squares

Happy Easter. This is what I got today instead of an Easter egg. I really love plain chocolate, preferable 70% cocoa one, for a real punch.

You can get these Single Squares from Waitrose and they cost from £1.80. Not cheap (they weigh 50g) but the chocolate is excellent; I much prefer it to Green and Black’s dark chocolate which I find bitter. And I’d rather have a hit of really good chocolate than lots of cheap, sugar-filled stuff.

The ones I got – you can see them above – were hazelnut and raisin, ginger and lime and luscious orange. They are all delicious. There are others that are just chocolate: milk, plain or white.

I haven’t managed to ascertain what the fairtrade credentials, if any, are (I do try to buy fairtrade wherever possible). But you can read more about Willie’s chocolate  here.

Torrone

Torrone with dried cherries, almonds and pistachios. Sweets for grown ups

 
Torrone is Italian nougat. It’s usually sold at festas, and at Christmas we always get some. Usually it’s of the rock hard variety (I get the impression this is easier to make as the softer one – which I thought of as the ultimate luxury as a child – is much harder to find and more expensive). Sometimes it’s covered in chocolate and sometimes it’s pantorrone which is torrone with a booze-soaked sponge that runs through it, covered in chocolate.

The only person I know who ever made their own torrone was my uncle Bruno, but he died some years ago, so I couldn’t ask him.  I knew it was fiendishly difficult.

I was not proved wrong.

Actually I don’t want to scare you. It’s not that it’s difficult, difficult. But it’s a lot about technique and temperature and there’s no correcting it if you get it wrong. My heart was beating really fast when I made it and I think I probably shortened my life by six months.

Please do not try to make it if you’re in a rush or you have young children running round the house.

Don’t make it if you haven’t got the right ingredients or utensils. You really need a sugar thermometer for example. 

You heat the mixture up to 130C and you have minutes to make it once it’s at temperature. You really need to have all your equipment near to you (I actually moved my Kenwood Chef out of its specially built cubby hole next to my cooker and I strongly suggest you have your mixer next to your hob, too).

I wouldn’t try to make this without a freestanding mixer.

And as I said, no small children that only you are in charge of; getting 130C sugar solution on skin is not a joke. I know, I’ve done it (when I made toffee apples one year) and the burn was ferocious.

So now that I’ve scared you stupid, here’s the good bit. If you get it right – and you will – it’s glorious. It looks lovely and it’s pretty much all over in half an hour.

I got this recipe from the Donna Hay (I LOVE HER) magazine Dec/Jan2012 magazine, however I can’t find it on line so I can’t link to it. Which is a shame cos the pictures are GORGEOUS. If you have an iPad, do get the app (which is currently free). I’ve adapted it slightly in that I added the nuts and dried fruits I wanted to add. Basically once you’ve got the nougat done (and I wouldn’t mess with that part of it) you can add any nuts/dried fruits you want up to a point. You don’t want to overload the mixture. I’d say 400g total of nuts/dried fruits is probably the limit. I used about 200g and could easily have had more.

You need 2 x sheets of confectionery rice paper (I got mine from Amazon; Lakeland also sells it as does the Jane Asher on line shop. You may be able to get it locally, I couldn’t).

550g caster sugar
350g liquid glucose
115g honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 eggwhites, at room temperature
100g butter, softened – mine was melted but cooled
then whatever nuts/dried fruits you want. I used about 160g almonds and pistachios and 60g dried cherries. Hazelnuts would also be lovely I think. Toast the nuts gently first.

A word about liquid glucose. You can buy it in small tubes/tubs from the supermarket. Your chemist may be able to sell you culinary grade liquid glucose in bigger quantities. I buy mine from Jayson’s Pharmacy. JM Loveridge also sells it (and in fact the one I got from Jayson’s was marked Loveridge) but I couldn’t work out how to buy it on site and was in a rush.

You need to line the base of a 20cm square tin with the rice paper. My rice paper wasn’t big enough so I overlaid another sheet to fill the gap. Keep the other sheet for the top.

Now, place the sugar, glucose, honey and vanilla in a saucepan with a handle. Very important this, as you’ll need to use just one hand to eventually pour the ingredients into the mixer bowl.

Over a low heat, let it all dissolve. Stir until this happens. Once the mixture starts to boil, put in a sugar thermometer and watch the temperature rise as it heats. You need to watch it. Don’t wander off. Donna Hay says that once it gets to about 110C put the egg whites in the free standing mixer and start whisking until stiff peaks form. I found that by doing this (my mixer was right next to me by the hob, have I mentioned) I had plenty of time.

You’ll find the temperature goes up in leaps, then seems to stagnate (you may need to gently increase the heat but keep watching it), then jumps up again. Once it’s at 130 you are green for go.

With the mixer beating (I had mine on medium speed), pour the molten sugar mixture very slowly into the egg whites. The idea is that it you cook the egg whites with the sugar mixture. A slow, steady, thin stream is what you’re looking for. Beating continuously all the time. Don’t stop! Once all the sugar mixture is in, continue beating for about a minute, until thick and glossy. But don’t hang around or it will start to set and you won’t get anything else into it. Now add the softened butter, whisking til well incorporated before adding more. It may start to look greasy and slightly separate. Do not panic. Once all the butter is added, keep whisking for another minute until it all looks well combined.

Now, working fast, lift up the mixer and take the bowl out. Stir in the nuts and fruits manually – you need to make sure they’re evenly distributed but as you stir it you’ll feel it setting so be quick – and pour/spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.

Cover with the other rice paper (again, using more than one sheet if yours isn’t big enough) and flatten with another tin or just your  hands. Now leave to set. Donna doesn’t say where, I think a cool kitchen is fine. Leave to set for eight hours (mine was done way before this). Then turn out – it can take some wrestling and cut into strips/cubes.

When I first made it and tasted it, it was really chewy. So chewy that I thought “hmm, my dentist isn’t going to like this” but after a few days it changed to a really lovely, soft consistency that wasn’t remotely filling pulling. Donna Hay says to keep it cold as the humidity will make it melt. In Italy they say to keep it in the fridge, too. But it’s zero degrees here in Suffolk and my nougat has been at room temperature (room temp being about 20C) and it’s absolutely fine. But if you do want to keep it cold, just remember to get it up to room temperature before eating it.

It’s very delicious. Would make – has made – great presents. I wouldn’t make this for every day but once/twice a year, a wonderful treat. And I feel it’s elevated me onto a whole other level of ‘cooking’. I mean, I made torrone and lived!

Pate de fruit

Fruit pastilles or pate de fruit. Not chewy, just soft set jellied sweets. Mmmm.
Each Christmas my eldest and I make Christmas cards that you can eat, or use. You know the sort of thing: gingerbread men, bath bombs etc. To give out to her school friends. I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from making cards with my daughter. And it’s very useful deadline-avoiding fodder. Please don’t let this make you tense, it’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but it is mine. (Even as a child Id make cakes to avoid doing homework. Then I’d flog them to my dad who had a café.) 
So anyway. This year I had the fanciful idea of making a sheet of fruit pastilles, then cutting them into Christmas tree shapes and putting them in clear front photo bags (I got them in bulk some years ago, which was in part what started this Christmas card project thing as I was determined to find a use for them). 
This was the idea anyway, making Christmas tree shaped red fruit jellies. In the end, I realised that you’d need an enormous amount of fruit to make the number of fruity Christmas trees we’d need, to enable her to give one to each of her school friends. I’m keen, but not that keen. 
But I made the fruit pastilles anyway and cut them into cubes. If you fancy whiling away half an hour, these make a pretty present (although they don’t really last long) and are intensely fruity (don’t expect Haribo chewiness, these are like fruit jellies, or pate de fruits). I haven’t yet experimented with other fruit but I know people who make them with all sorts: rhubarb, apple, blackberry, mango etc. The only thing I will suggest is that you think of the final colour and use the fruit accordingly. You want something that looks appealing so if you use a wishy washy coloured fruit (apple, say) don’t let it dominate. Personally I think berries are ideal as the main ingredient.
This is what you need:
Some fruit – you really need to start with about 300g of it to make this worth your while. I used raspberries and apple for the ones here. About 90% raspberries to 10% apple.
Preserving or jam sugar (the one with pectin in it)
Put the fruit into a saucepan – chop up if necessary. Obviously that doesn’t apply to berries and if you’re interested I used frozen berries.  Squeeze some lemon on them, I squeezed a wedge on my 300g of fruit. It doesn’t have to be precise, as you can probably tell.
Cook over a gentle heat until sludgy. If you’re using a mixture of fruit (say, like I did apple and raspberry) you may want to start the harder fruit off first. Cook until mushed up. Towards the end, I help break everything up with a stick blender.
Now, take off the heat and sieve into a bowl or other saucepan. Be aware you’ll need to weigh the resulting puree. If you have chickens, you can feed them the sludge left in the sieve.
Whatever you’re left with, weigh it and add the same amount of sugar. I think I was left with about 150g of fruit puree so I added 150g of the preserving sugar.
Put the puree and sugar in a saucepan, and heat gently. Stir until al the sugar is dissolved, then keep heating gently for about 30mins. Stir occasionally. You know it’s done when it’s thickened and if you take a spoonful out it will dangle off the spoon as you drip it off (this will make sense when you do it) instead of just falling off. You want it to be glutinous.
Line a suitable tin/tray with baking parchment. I used the bottom of a loaf tin. It’s easier if you have nice straight sides as they’ll be less to cut off and straighten up later.
Put in the fridge and let it cool. Mine were done after about three hours. You can leave it overnight.
Turn out onto a chopping board. It should be one solid mass. Tidy up the sides but cutting (I use them as fruit snakes), and cut into cubes or whatever damn hell shape you want. Roll in caster sugar and let them air dry for about an hour to set. Personally I store them in the fridge as they can go a bit sludgy (gosh, I’ve overused that word today).

Home made Nutella

Not the most amazing pic but it’s real life home made Nutella-type spread in a jar, look!

I know this doesn’t look good; two consecutive posts concerning chocolate.  There is tons of other stuff I could be writing about, I’m just not very fired up about them though. And as this is a blog, and I’m not being paid, it has to be a bit enjoyable for me.

In Italy Nutella comes in glass jars you can use, when you’ve scoffed the lot, as glasses to drink out of. They come in pretty patterns. I think you could get them here at one point too, but I don’t see them anymore.

I used to eat Nutella out of the jar, on a spoon. I can’t believe this now as I find it quite disgustingly sweet. The ads sell it to you as having slow release energy thanks to the 1.5 hazelnut you get in every serving…we have Nutella in our house but I loathe it now. It’s laden with sugar.

So when I saw Annie Rigg’s book about Edible Presents and saw there was a recipe for Chocolate and Hazelnut spread in it, I jumped.

You probably can do this without a food processor, but I don’t.

Makes 1x 450g jar

75g blanched hazelnuts
100g 70% cocoa chocolate
100ml condensed milk
1-2 tablespoons of hazelnut oil
a pinch of salt
3-4 tablespoons of hot water (if you even need this much)

The recipe asks for you to use sterilised jars. I use them straight out of the dishwasher, if it’s good enough for Nigella, it’s good enough for me.

Toast the hazelnuts; you can do this in an oven or in a dry frying pan. Until they’re golden. Cool slightly and then  grind to as smooth a paste as you can get in your food processor.

Melt the chocolate, condensed milk and hazelnut oil, very gently, in a saucepan. When the chocolate has melted and it’s all mixed up nicely, pour this into the food processor, add the pinch of salt (I always use ground up rock salt in sweet things) and blend. Add as much hot water as you need to give it a thick, spreadable consistency. Don’t panic if, like me, you see it has gone really runny. It firms up in the fridge. That said, you shouldn’t overdo it, I’m just saying don’t go into a tizz if you have (you can always use it as super luxurious ice cream topping if it does go wrong).

Spoon into a jar and keep in the fridge. Rigg says it keeps for up to two weeks. I doubt it will last that long.

Now, I didn’t want to interrupt the recipe further up, with my tales of hazelnut essence, but I bought some from Bakery Bits.  I was wary because, unlike the excellent other ‘essences’ I have from there (Aroma Panettone and Aroma Veneziana are exceptional) which have natural oils in them, the ingredients listed seemed decidedly un-natural. Stupidly I thought it was like extract of hazelnut or something (this is probably impossible to do). Anyway, the jury’s out on whether it’s nice or not but my verdict is: disappointing. Its aroma is rather synthetic and artificial. I liked it at first, but you need to go really easy on it as it can become very overpowering; and I’m not sure I’d use it again. My partner’s nose is far more sensitive and he found it overwhelming.

This recipe doesn’t call for essence of any kind, but because I had it I added a few drops – about four. My seven year old loves this spread but says it’s too ‘hazelnutty’ which is probably accurate. I think this essence is good for when you really need to convey ‘this is made of hazelnuts’ without actually adding that many real nuts and that isn’t the case for this spread, or anything I’m likely to make.

This spread is, anyway, delicious and whilst still not a health food, is a damn sight healthier than shop-bought.

Mmmmm. Eat on toast, or on a croissant or straight out of the jar with your fingers.