Tag Archives: Treats

Chocolate Indulgence

Thalia II

There are times when only chocolate hits the spot. Despite the sunny weather we’ve experienced this week, it’s still pretty cold here on the Kent/Sussex border. After a mild start to the year in which some of the early daffodils bloomed in January, my beautiful Thalia daffodils are still flowering away, yet the tulips are still for the most part in bud – apart from down at the allotment, where they’re flowering away in the middle of my asparagus bed, strangely! I can’t think it’s warmer at the allotment site, as it’s on an exposed (but sunny) hillside, but perhaps they’re planted less deeply than the bulbs at home. These are the bulbs emptied from last year’s tubs, so I’m delighted they’ve flowered again – but can’t bring myself to pick them as they look so pretty!

Tulips in asparagus bed

My seedlings, sown before my recent skiing holiday, are doing well in the conservatory, but the soil is far too cold to sow straight into the ground, so I’m going to have to hold fire this weekend and hope for warmer weather by the end of the month. Tomorrow’s tasks will include pricking out and potting on the seedlings – and hoping that the conservatory window ledges are big enough to hold the many resulting individual pots! My second-early potatoes can go into the ground, though, as they’re planted sufficiently deeply to avoid any lingering cold or frost.

The house is pleasantly heated by the warmth of the sun from the conservatory during the day, but I still have the heating set to come on morning and evening to take the chill off. Even so, comfort food is definitely the order of the day and that nip in the air means that only chocolate will do! This is one of my favourite indulgent recipes, from Nigella Lawson, and probably amazingly calorific, but absolutely delicious at the same time. Think Marathon bars (or Snickers, if you insist!), only ten times nicer, and you’ll get the picture. To be made once in a while, when you’re in need of a pick-me-up, salty yet sweet at the same time. Just make sure you have plenty of guests to share it with, as it’s far too tempting to sit in a tin and ration….

Nigella’s Chocolate & Peanut Crunchie Bars

Choc and peanut bars

200g milk chocolate
100g dark chocolate
(or any combination, all dark, all milk, etc – I prefer all dark, personally)
125g butter
3 x 15ml golden syrup
250g salted peanuts (yes, salted!)
4 x 40g Crunchie bars

 1 x 25cm round cake tin or 1 baking tray approx 30 x 20 x 5cm

Line tin with foil.
Break chocolate into pieces and put in a saucepan with the butter and syrup.
Melt gently over a low heat, stirring as you go.
Tip the peanuts into a bowl and crush the Crunchie bars in their packets, then add the pieces to the bowl.
Take the melted chocolate off the heat and stir in the nuts and crushed Crunchie bars.
Mix together and tip into your lined tin, pressing down with a spatula.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, then cut into slices, either 24 skinny wedges if using a round tin, or 20-24 large rectangles if using a baking tray.
Enjoy!

My next indulgent recipe is a variation on a brownie that’s suitable for gluten-free visitors as it’s flourless – but definitely not for anyone looking to cut down on their sugar intake! Every now and again, though, you can surely bend the rules and treat yourself to these insanely good brownies? The recipe came from the Waitrose Kitchen magazine in the first place, along with a number of other scrumptious traybakes that I make again and again (see also Rocky Road Flapjack and Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake).

Chocolate Caramel Brownies

300g dark chocolate
250g butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
350g caster sugar
5 eggs, beaten
200g ground almonds
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 397g can Carnation Caramel

Set oven to 160°C fan/Gas 4 and grease a 30 x 20 x 5 cm baking tin, then line with baking parchment.
Melt the dark chocolate with the butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Stir in the vanilla extract and caster sugar, then mix in the 5 beaten eggs, ground almonds and baking powder.
Tip into the prepared tin, then swirl the contents of the can of Carnation Caramel over the top with a knife.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until set on top, but still moist inside.
Leave to cool in the tin before slicing into portions – at least 16!

Here’s hoping the weather picks up soon, so we can get digging to work off all those chocolatey calories….

Nigella's choc and peanut bars with flowers

Advertisements

Tray bakes – Très bon!

Thirty-minute fruit cakeOn a quiet, wet afternoon at the tail end of summer, conjuring up a quick tray bake often feels like exactly the right thing to do. Quick to make, usually with straightforward, readily available ingredients, they’re the ideal way to restock empty cake tins for afternoon tea and unexpected visitors – and your freezer too, should you so choose.

I often make my straightforward Victoria sponge mix (Delia’s classic all-in-one with 6oz SR flour, butter, caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder and 3 large eggs – sorry, I’ve been making this for so long that it doesn’t come naturally to specify metric units!) and cook it in a deep tin (measuring approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm deep) at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When cool, ice with glacé icing or spread with home-made jam and sprinkle over desiccated coconut to make quick and easy Lamingtons. In season, of course, you can add chopped chocolate to the sponge mixture, ice and decorate with mini eggs for the perfect Easter treat. The possibilities are endless.

Another of my favourite tray bakes at this time of year is a Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake that appeared some years ago in a Waitrose Kitchen magazine summer fête special. I’ve cooked quite a few of these recipes and they’re all good (see Rocky Road Flapjacks), but they do make substantial quantities, so cook for a crowd or be prepared to freeze some!

Blackberry, Lime & Elderflower Drizzle Cake

225g self-raising flour

75g polenta

250g softened butter

250g caster sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 tbsp milk

150g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

6 tbsp granulated sugar

Juice and zest of ½ lime

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a hand whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to the greased and lined tin (see above), then scatter over the washed blackberries. Leave them on top of the mixture as they will inevitably sink as they cook! Bake for 30 minutes at 160°C fan, Gas 4, or until the sponge bounces back when pressed gently with a finger. Leave in the tin while you mix together the elderflower cordial, granulated sugar and juice and zest of ½ lime. Prick the cake all over with a fine skewer, then pour over the cake while it’s still hot and leave in the tin to cool completely. Slice into at least 16 – 20 squares and serve with afternoon tea and a happy grin.

This cake won’t keep more than 3-4 days because of the fresh fruit content – but it’s so delicious, that’s not normally a problem…

Another favourite tray bake when I have limited time to bake is the so-called Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake. It’s now a much-splattered cutting in my ancient recipe scrapbook, so I can’t remember where it came from originally – probably Good Housekeeping magazine. This really is child’s play to make and consists almost entirely of store cupboard ingredients. Served just warm, it’s delightful, but it keeps well in a tin for a good week if necessary.

Thirty-Minute Fruit Cake

125g softened butter

125g soft light brown sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon (or lime)

2 large eggs

Few drops vanilla extract

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

50g glacé cherries, chopped

50g each currants, sultanas and raisins

25g desiccated coconut

25g demerara sugar

50g flaked almonds

Lemon (or lime) juice to mix as required

Grease and base line a deep 28 x 18 cm baking tin. Beat together the first eight ingredients, adding the lemon juice if necessary to create a soft dropping consistency. Then gently mix in the cherries, dried fruit and coconut.

Transfer to the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and flaked almonds – I don’t actually bother to weigh these, just add what looks right, but I’m sure I must have started off with the recipe amounts back in the mists of time!

Bake at 160°C fan, Gas 4 for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Slice into 16-20 bars and enjoy!

Leo and the apples

Winter weekends in front of the fire

January and February are invariably the bleakest months of the year, with little doing on the gardening front and little inclination to brave the elements apart from the twice-daily dog walks. Far nicer to stay inside and gather together with family and friends in front of a blazing log fire! Fortunately it’s a busy few weeks for birthdays in my family, so plenty of excuses to get together and enjoy good food and convivial company.

Poppy in front of fire

A few weeks ago it was my elder son’s birthday and 14 of us gathered for a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant at the foot of the castle (Mango Lounge – well worth a visit!), rounded off by a brisk walk in the wintery sunshine of Windsor Great Park to the raucous sound of parakeets. By the time we returned we’d worked up enough of an appetite for birthday cake and my contribution to the feast (as instructed in case the cake didn’t go round!) – chocolate amaretti bars. My son’s girlfriend is increasingly wheat-intolerant; she’s found that she feels so much better if she omits wheat from her diet and has progressed from just cutting down on bread and cake to abandoning it completely. She made the delicious birthday cake, a gooey and scrumptious chocolate mousse cake based on ground almonds, so my challenge was to produce another wheat-free treat.

Adapted from a Mary Berry recipe, the Chocolate and Amaretti Bars are wheat-free and deliciously rich, yet light at the same time, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea. I love amaretti crumbled into a mixture of whipped cream, natural yogurt and lemon cheese for an ultra-quick and delicious pudding, or squished in the base of a sundae dish as a speedy base for a trifle, or crushed with melted butter and brown sugar as a substitute for a fruit crumble (plums and blackberries being a particularly yummy combination). Here is Mary’s recipe, adapted ever so slightly to the contents of my store cupboard:

Chocolate and Amaretti Bars

4oz butter

2oz flaked almonds (or whole almonds chopped, if you prefer)

2oz pine nuts

3 tbsp golden syrup

7oz dark chocolate, chopped (I use Waitrose Belgian dark)

2 tsp cocoa powder

4oz dried apricots, chopped

1 bag (8oz) amaretti biscuits (I like Doria)

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur (optional)

Line a deep rectangular cake tin with foil and grease lightly – my favourite one for tray bakes is 7” x 11” x 1”, but use the nearest you have. Put the almonds and pine nuts on an enamel plate in a hot oven (180°C, Gas 4) for 5 minutes or so until golden – watch like a hawk as they catch extremely quickly!). You could dry-fry them in a frying pan or toast them under the grill, but I find the oven method easiest and most reliable for an even golden colour. Put the butter, syrup and half the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and allow to melt, stirring gently every so often. (Add 2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur if using – see below!) Remove from the heat, stir in the sieved cocoa, apricots and nuts, then coarsely crumble in the amaretti biscuits. Stir to mix evenly, then transfer to the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, melt the remaining chocolate (either over a pan of water as before, or I find it as easy to do this in the microwave, for 1-minute bursts, stirring after each session – it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes in all, but don’t forget to stir otherwise it can burn in the centre!). Spread thinly over the top of the cake and leave until set. Cut into 18 bars with a sharp knife and serve – hopefully to general acclaim!

Next time I made these, I added 2 tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur to the chocolate mix after melting, before adding the rest of the ingredients, to make this even more almondy – even better! You can leave it out if you don’t want the alcohol hit, but it works really well. Good as an after-dinner treat, cut into daintier bars…

Amaretti bars

Plum Perfect

It was the allotment barbeque today, an event that always falls “plum” (sorry) in the middle of the main fruit harvest, so I inevitably find myself cooking a plum or apple dessert to take along. I love this annual get-together; despite the fact that there are a good many plots, I often don’t see a soul when I go down, so it’s great to catch up with other plotholders and compare notes, as well as sharing our bounty and tasting others’ delicious recipes from their home-grown produce. I loved the beetroot, bean and toasted hazelnut salad that one friend had prepared today, and the roast vegetable and halloumi kebabs were as good as ever.

I often make an upside-down plum cake with my late-season plums, but fancied a change today, and ended up making a plum Bakewell tart inspired by Sarah Raven’s party plum tart from her “Cooking for Friends & Family”. On checking out the recipe, I realised it used a much larger tart tin than I had available, and probably more ground almonds and eggs than I had lying around on a Sunday morning too. I therefore adapted the recipe with a slight nod to John Tovey’s frangipane tarts in “Wicked Puddings” and more than a hint of my ex-mother-in-law’s original Bakewell tart recipe. I was hoping that there would be some left to have for dinner this evening, but no such luck – it disappeared at the speed of light, although I was able to have a little taste to confirm that it was as good as I’d hoped!

Plum Bakewell Tart

Pastry:

8oz plain flour

2oz butter

2oz lard or vegetable fat

Water

Salt

Filling:

3-4 tbsp jam, preferably homemade – I used plum and blackberry from last year, but any good jam would work.

6oz butter

6oz caster sugar

6oz ground almonds

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Grated rind of one orange

3 tbsp self-raising flour

Topping:

10-12 plums (mine are bluey-purple Marjories, but use whatever you can find!)

2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other alcohol of your choice

1 tbsp vanilla (or caster) sugar

Make pastry by rubbing fat into flour and salt, then adding water as usual and chilling in fridge for 15 mins before using to line a 10” deep flan tin. Bake blind for 10 mins at 200°C, then remove beans and bake for a further 15 mins. Trim pastry to ensure a neat edge.

In the meantime, halve and stone the plums and place in a bowl with 2 tbsp Grand Marnier (or whatever you have in the drinks cabinet!) and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Set aside to macerate.

For the filling: whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually whisk in the eggs, vanilla extract and orange rind. Fold in the ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spread the jam evenly over the base of the baked pastry case, then spoon in the almond mixture to cover and level the top. Press the halved plums, skin-side up, into the mixture so that they just touch and form a couple of concentric circles.

Bake in the oven for at least an hour at 160°C, covering if it starts to get too brown. I found mine needed at least 1 hr 20 mins, but much depends on your oven temperature and the juiciness of your plums! When done, the frangipane should feel just springy to the touch and look sponge-like, not liquid.

Sift icing sugar over the top and serve warm. Mmmmmmm….

Plum Bakewell

Weekend treat: Rocky Road Flapjack

ImageMy student son is home for the weekend, back for a bit of rest and relaxation, respite from the hectic whirl of studying for finals and applying for jobs, and of course the opportunity for home cooking in a clean, warm house with Sky TV and a powerful shower. Not that he isn’t an excellent cook himself, but this weekend’s request menu featured steak – and that’s beyond the average student budget! Rhubarb crumble was also on the menu with the first of the season’s rhubarb – delicious!

Also on the list was something to take back to university next week to sustain him through the late nights at the essay coalface, and Rocky Road Flapjack was his chosen treat. This recipe was adapted from a Waitrose Kitchen magazine special on traybakes last summer, tweaked a little, and resoundingly approved all round. Try it and see!

White Chocolate Rocky Road Flapjack

300g butter

80g light muscovado sugar

150g golden syrup

450g porridge oats

100g unsalted peanuts

100g mini marshmallows

100g dried cranberries

100g white chocolate

Grease and line a deep 12” x 8” roasting tin with foil.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large pan over a low heat. Mix in the oats, then the peanuts, cranberries and marshmallows. Roughly chop the white chocolate and mix though last of all, when the mixture has cooled slightly. Transfer to the tin and bake at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool completely in the tin, then cut into at least 16 squares. Serve and eat with a cup of tea, convincing yourself that something so delicious and with all those healthy ingredients (fruit, nuts, oats…) MUST be good for you….

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be varied according to what you have in the store cupboard. I used dark chocolate this time, which was equally scrumptious, and cashew nuts work well instead of the peanuts, as would apricots or sour cherries/blueberries instead of the cranberries. A date and walnut or pecan version would be good too, although I haven’t tried that yet, I must admit. The original recipe replaced a third of the oats with jumbo oats, but I’ve never had those in, so haven’t attempted that either. It also drizzled the melted white chocolate on top of the cooked flapjack, but I have a horror of melting white chocolate, as it can all too easily go too far and form lumps, so I opted for the cheat’s solution! They did suggest placing the white chocolate in a freezer bag, sealing and putting the bag in a bowl of just-boiled water until melted, then snipping a corner of the bag and drizzling over, which sounds as though it should work – give it a go if you fancy a challenge…

However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

 Image

However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

The start of it all?

At last! Having knocked my perennial borders in the garden at home into shape last weekend, breathing in the deliciously sweetly-scented daphnes (Jacqueline Postill and aureomarginata) as I worked, I finally managed to make it down to the allotment to start my spring clear-up, the traditional start of my allotment year. I suppose it was really a case of cutting down dead foliage from last year: the autumn rains came upon us so fast and persisted so long that I just hadn’t had chance to take down my runner bean and pea supports or finish cutting things back. No matter, now is just as good. And in the case of asparagus and dahlias, I always feel leaving the spent stems in situ over the worst of the winter protects the precious crowns and tubers underneath. The weeds are shooting fast and furious, but the soil was surprisingly crumbly and workable in my raised beds, so weeding was easy and quite pleasurable – especially after weeks of not being able to get out in the garden at all…. The badger-ravaged sweetcorn stems finally came out today too, and all the woody material and pernicious perennial weeds like couch grass, buttercups and dandelions went straight up to the allotment bonfire heap for burning.

I cut back my autumn raspberry canes too (Autumn Bliss and Joan J), a job which should ideally have been done last month, but never happened – too many family birthdays and celebrations on the few sunny days! The early rhubarb is looking very promising, but I think I’ll wait another week before I try my first taste of the year.

My autumn-sown broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia – what else?) are looking good, but I filled in the few gaps there were with a spring-sown variety, De Monica, which extends the season a little, although I never find the later-sown ones do as well as the delicious November-sown crop.

My raised beds have been in situ for 6-7 years now and some of the boards are starting to rot. I definitely need to contact my local scaffolding company and see if I can arrange a delivery of more used boards before the growing season really begins in earnest. Other plotholders have also expressed an interest, so I’m hoping we can combine our orders and save on delivery.

My couple of hours down on the plot flew by – and I still had time for the inevitable and enjoyable chat with fellow allotmenteers: such a sociable pursuit! I had to leave time to walk the dogs before darkness descended, though, so I downed tools, tired but very content, at 5 o’clock and returned home with a highly satisfactory haul of leeks, parsnips, purple-sprouting broccoli and a bunch of daffodils just starting to show their golden yellow.

Time for a cup of tea and a well-deserved piece of tiffin, I think.

Tiffin

1 8oz pack Nice biscuits

4oz butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

2oz sultanas

1 tbsp golden syrup

4oz dark chocolate

Melt all ingredients apart from the biscuits and chocolate in a saucepan. Crush the biscuits finely in a polythene bag with a rolling pin and stir into the mixture. Spread into a shallow, 7” square tin (lined with foil for ease) and chill in fridge for a couple of hours. Melt chocolate in a bowl in the microwave at a gentle heat (I do it in short bursts as it burns very easily!). Spread on top of the tiffin and leave to set, then cut into 16 squares. Perfect with a cup of tea after a good day’s work in the garden!

Tiffin

Mouth-meltingly good Coffee Macaroons

Coffee Macaroons

LEFTOVER EGG WHITES in the fridge from the Christmas festivities and an afternoon stretching ahead of you with the rain streaming down the windows? What better to do than to whip up some delicious coffee macaroons? My macaroon adventure started a few summers ago with Nigella’s delectable chocolate macaroons from her Domestic Goddess book, but they use four egg whites and considerable amounts of dark chocolate and cream – perhaps not quite what I had in mind after the excesses of Christmas eating, scrumptious though they are. Instead, I tried this recipe, loosely based on one of Great British Bake-off winner Jo Wheatleys’s from A Passion For Baking. Definitely moreish – and easier than you’d think – especially if you use the special macaroon moulds from Lakeland (http://www.lakeland.co.uk/15816/Silicone-Macaroon-Mould-) to stop them spreading and resist the urge to make bigger and bigger macaroons. I ended up with a miscellany of odd-shaped macaroons when I first made Nigella’s chocolate version as it’s harder than you think to make consistent sizes – needless to say, my son and his best friend were very appreciative of the jumbo macaroons and still maintain they are the best (even better than the pretty pastel ones we brought back from Paris, or so they say…)!!

 

Coffee Macaroons

4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites (not a problem if these have lingered in the fridge for a few days!)

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp Camp coffee essence

Espresso coffee powder to decorate (optional)

Filling:

4oz icing sugar, sifted

1oz  butter, softened

1 tbsp Camp coffee essence

1 tbsp milk

½ oz dark chocolate, just melted in the microwave

 Recipe

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the coffee essence until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking. Sprinkle with finely sieved espresso powder if liked.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

For the filling

Cream together all the ingredients until light and fluffy, but only adding half the milk until you can gauge the consistency. You need it to be firm enough to sandwich the macaroons without oozing out, but not too firm that it becomes stiff.

When the macaroons are cold, spread one half of each pair with the filling and sandwich together. Serve and enjoy!