Oh so yummy, festive, orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

oh so yummy, festive orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

Merry (belated) Christmas everyone!

It’s funny the foods that you crave.  I keep surprising myself with what my tastebuds hanker after.  My latest three cravings are mature cheddar cheese and milk chocolate digestives.  Those two cravings kicked in a year after I moved and as I didn’t buy or eat a lot of cheese in the UK, can you see why I surprised myself?!

My friend Hannah came to spend Christmas in Cambodia this year.  I asked whether she’d like to bring out a selection of cheeses out with her so that we could have a cheese and wine evening.  And she did!  She had an unexpected 24 hour delay in Doha, and amazingly the cheese survived!  I don’t think that I’ve ever relished the flavours of each of those cheeses, as much as I did that evening!  Thank you, Hannah.

A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men. Thank you Hannah!
A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men.  The camembert is baking in the oven. Thank you Hannah!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!

I said three, right.  Well, there’s this bread…

I’m pretty sure that Sainsburys does an AMAZING chocolate, cranberry and orange bread at Christmas time.  I’ve eaten it pretty much every year since discovering it.  Except last year.  Last year, was my first Christmas in Cambodia and I couldn’t find any cranberries, frozen, fresh or dried in the whole of Phnom Penh.  Not that I could search very far and wide because of my poorly left knee.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

I’ve been thinking about this eating this bread for a couple of months now.  So in November, I bought a bag of dried cranberries whilst I was in Australia to bake it as my festive loaf.

dark chocolate chunks dried cranberries

I couldn’t find a recipe for this bread online.  So, I modified Richard Bertinet’s cranberry and pecan bread recipe from Dough to recreate one of Sainsbury’s festive bread creations.  I loved it.  Hannah loved it.  (She’d never heard of or eaten it before – WHAT?!?!? and she lives in the UK!)  It smells intoxicating and the flavours balance and complement each other perfectly.  We were happy to eat it, just as it was.  No spread, it doesn’t need one.  If you want to, you could try eating it with cheese, like we did.   Surprisingly it works.

Three things:

  1. Make sure that you use chocolate chunks and not chocolate chips.  Chocolate chunks are bigger and taste more satisfying than chocolate chips.
  2. Make it a white loaf.  It’s meant to be a festive treat.  Don’t spoil it by adding more fiber to it.
  3. The chocolate makes it a messy bread to cut and eat.   That could be because it’s just a wee bit warmer in Cambodia than the UK at this time of year… But I dare you to resist eating it when it’s fresh out of the oven!

Finally, finally (and this isn’t late!).  Hope that you have a wonderful New Year’s Day celebration and wishing you all the best for 2015.

orange zest

orange, cranberry and chocolate dough

Ingredients for my oh so yummy, festive Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Bread.

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g water – you can do 350ml but weighing it is always more accurate I think.
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 100g dark chocolate cut roughly into chunks
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

1. Put the dark chocolate, cranberries and orange zest in a small bowl and give it a good mix.  I discovered that the orange zest actually starts plumping up the cranberries while you’re making the dough – cool!

2. In another medium sized bowl, weigh out the flour, add in the yeast and give it a quick stir to mix it into the flour.  By mixing the yeast with flour first, I don’t worry about the salt touching the yeast and thus deactivating the yeast.

3. Now add in the salt, give it a stir.  Then add in the water.   Use a dough scraper, or your hands to combine the water and flour together as much as possible before turning the mixture out onto your work surface.  It is quite a wet dough to begin with, so don’t worry.

4.  Knead until the dough is springy and smooth.  This probably takes about 10 minutes but it depends on what method you use and how wet the dough was to begin with.  I use Richard Bertinet’s slap and fold method.

5.  Now transfer the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate into the medium sized bowl you used for the dough mixture.  Then, lay the dough on top and spread it out so that it envelops the entire surface.  What you’re going to attempt to do next is wrap the dough around the chocolate and the cranberries and mix it so that you can combine them with the dough.  Doing it this way in the bowl makes it a much neater, efficient process, than if you were to do it on a work surface.

6. Once the chocolate and cranberries are combined with the dough, turn it out from the bowl briefly.  Add a little bit (about a tablespoon) of vegetable oil to the bowl to prevent the dough from stick to it as the dough rises.  Cover with cling film or a wet tea towel and leave it rise.  I leave mine to rise in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the flavours have longer to mature.  You could leave it at this stage, in the fridge, for a couple of hours to 2 days.

7.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper, or covering it with a layer of semolina so that it doesn’t stick to the tray.  Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto your work surface.  Push your fingers firmly into the dough to leave dents.  This is a much gentler way of knocking the air out.  While you’re doing that try to shape it roughly into a rectangle.

8. Next, strengthen the dough.  Mentally divide the dough into three sections.  Take a third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly in the middle with the heel of your hand.  Then take the other third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.  Finally fold the mixture in half and again push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.

9.  This next bit is up to you.  I cut my dough into two halves and shaped one into a circle and the other into a square-ish loaf.  You can shape it into one or as many loaves as you wish.    Cover with damp tea towel or oiled cling film.  Let them rest until they have doubled in size again.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

10.  When the dough is ready, cut deep, clean incisions in it to help create shape and release gas.  I made a hash (#) sign on one loaf and cut three slices on the other.  I then sprayed the tops of them with water to create a bit of steam as they bake.  (My new electric oven doesn’t like it when you spray the inside of the oven with water.)

11. Whack them in the oven.  After 10 minutes turn the oven down to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and bake for 40-50 minutes.  Check that the bread is ready – it should sound hollow when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 5 minutes and check again.  Let them rest for at least 5 minutes before you enjoy and devour it.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

 

Claire’s cookie: Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat Cookies

Raspberry, White Chocolate, Oat Cookies

Over Christmas and New Year, I visited my friend Claire in New Zealand.  It was my first trip to a first-world country, since I’d moved to Cambodia.  And boy, could you tell!  If you know the story of country mouse (moi) visiting town mouse (Claire).  Well, that says it all really…  The first night that I got there and I was snuggling into my bed under my duvet after a hot shower, I was beaming.

I also enjoyed:

1. Larking about with Jen and Claire.

Fish and Chips at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop with Claire and Jen
Fish and Chips at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop with Claire and Jen

2. Drinking in the greenery, mountains and sheep!!!

Reminds me of Scotland. Mount Maunganui - 10 minute cycle from Claire's house.
Reminding me of Scotland. Mount Maunganui – 10 minute cycle from Claire’s house.

3. Claire’s hospitality.

Claire baking the cookies in NZ
Claire baking the cookies

One evening we were having quite a frank discussion together with her housemates about what can hold us back from doing things or giving it a go.  I’m not referring to procrastinating doing the ironing or filing away the bank statements.  You know what I mean: shying away from ‘that’ conversation, not putting your hand up to ask the conference speaker a question, refusing to speak a foreign language.  So, what is it for you?  Is it the fear of losing, the dislike of being in the limelight, the discomfort of your brain cells having to work so hard, the embarrassment of looking like a fool?   We all owned up to at least one of those things.

Ingredients for raspberry, white chocolate and oat cookies

Then Claire very matter-of-factly put out there, that one of the things that helps her to just give things a go, is that she gets a kick from doing something but not doing it well.  She gave her own example that she’ll never be a pro-surfer but nevertheless, she keeps surfing and enjoys it a lot.   Is she slightly kooky for owning such an attitude?  Or is that one of the secrets of relishing life and taking hold of opportunities when they present themselves?  I leave that to you to mull over.

Frozen raspberries

Undoubtedly, her philosophy contributes partly to her willingly trying new ingredients, techniques and recipes.  But let me just say – there is nothing not good about her food.  In fact, her chocolate cookie recipe got me published in a magazine.  She inspired me with how she’s embraced the Kiwi food culture whilst she’s been there.  The Paleo diet, the almond milk…

And Jo Seagar.  I’d never heard about Jo before but she’s a big star in the Kiwi culinary world.  Claire and her housemates love her recipes, and I’ve taken note of her name now.  Claire adapted this cookie recipe from one of Jo’s recipes and now it’s known as ‘Claire’s cookies’ by her friends.  Perhaps because she makes them a lot, and they are incredibly deliciously and more-ish.

white chocolate shards

I know because she made them when we got back from our camping trip in Russell. Her housemates and I pretty much gobbled up the whole batch in one sitting. (I hasten to add that she did halve the recipe.)  Even so, she was amazed that they went so quickly.  Seriously?  They go down so well with a cup of tea.

Claire’s genius was replacing the glacé cherries in the original recipe with raspberries.  White chocolate can be sickly-sweet sometimes.  The sharp, sweetness of the raspberry cuts through this and complements the white chocolate beautifully.  The oats provide texture and bite.

Stir in the dry ingredients

When I made these cookies back home, I made the mistake of stirring in the raspberries too vigorously, breaking up the raspberries so that the mixture turned pink.  Pretty, but not tasty.  The flavour of the raspberries dissipated and they weren’t nearly as nice as I’d remembered them to be.  The two photos below illustrate the difference.  The photo on the left was my first batch of cookies and I broke up the raspberries too much.  The second batch (photo on the right) was much better.  Take note, gently mixing in the raspberries is the secret to the having bursts of raspberry in your mouth.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat cookies attempt 1Raspberry, White Chocolate, Oat Cookies attempt no. 2

I also found out that in Phnom Penh a) frozen raspberries are difficult to source and b) cost $22 per kilo from Thai Huot!  So, when you make these in a temperate climate where raspberries grow naturally, remember $22 and just how lucky you are.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Oat Cookies adapted from It’s easier than you Think by Jo Seagar

Makes 30 large cookies or 40 slightly smaller-medium sized cookies

Ingredients

  • 250g butter
  • 175g sugar – Claire uses ordinary white granulated sugar and they turn out amazing. I used a combination of white and light brown sugar and they were also good. Moral of the story – use whatever sugar combination that tickles your tastebuds.
  • 3 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 140g oats (jumbo oats are even better, but I only had normal rolled oats)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 250g white chocolate chopped
  • 150g raspberries, fresh or frozen

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°c/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Line baking trays.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and condensed milk together until the mixture is pale and smooth.

3. Stir in the vanilla, rolled oats, flour and baking powder until the dry mixture has just combined with the wet mixture above.

4. Gently mix in the white chocolate and the raspberries.  Be careful not to break up the raspberries too much.

5. Place a tablespoonful of mixture on the baking trays and press flat with a wet fork.  They will spread out slightly so leave a couple of fingers width between each tablespoonful of mixture.

6. Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown. Allow to cool for 2-3 mins on the trays and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Apparently they will keep in an airtight container for 10 days to 2 weeks.  They lasted less than 5 days in mine.

 Mmmm... bringing back memories of kiwiland

Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake: the first foray into baking in Cambodia

Banana and chocolate chunk cake

I hadn’t meant to create an entirely different cake when I decided to bake the chocolate, whiskey, currant banana cake (or Dumb Rum Banana Cake, as it’s known in Emma’s house) as my hello gift to Liberty Family Church.  The cake just morphed into something different as Becci and I trawled along the aisles in Lucky Supermarket, looking for ingredients, on my first Saturday in Cambodia.

  • Firstly, I discovered that butter is expensive.  The cheapest block of 227g of butter was $3.50
  • Chocolate is expensive as I expected.  There isn’t a tesco value or sainsbury basic equivalent block of dark chocolate that I can use either.  Hmm…
  • Sultanas and currants are ridiculously expensive.  The 180g of sultanas was going to cost me $1.90.
  • I couldn’t see a bag of walnuts or pecans that I can use in baking.
  • Rum or whiskey – well, alcohol is pretty cheap in Cambodia.  I wasn’t sure whether Cambodians would like the flavour of either one of them in a cake.

I’m standing looking at the dried food shelves and wondering if there’s any cheap dried fruit in Cambodia.   I’m scratching my head, ‘what am I going to do about flavour and texture?’  All my normal options were out and obviously I needed to economise on some ingredients.  And thus the cake transforms from a chocolate, nutty, whiskey, currant, banana cake into a spiced, banana cake with chocolate chunks.  ‘Out with the dried fruit and nuts’, I decide.  ‘I’m going to add flavour with a mix of spices and create texture by adding a greater quantity of chocolate chunks to it.’

Plenty of chocolate surely covers over a multitude of improvisations.

There was never a moment of questioning whether I should bother baking.  Needs must and all that – I wanted to give a hello present to the church and I needed to do some baking.

ingredients for banana and chocolate chunk cake

Ingredients for the Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake

  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 tsps of mixed spice or 1 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger, 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line (preferably) springform cake tin, anywhere between 23-25cm. I only had a 25cm round cake tin at hand.  It was the first time I’d used it and it worked beautifully for sharing with so many people.

2. Measure out the plain flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

3. Melt the butter either in a pan or in zap it in the microwave in a pyrex bowl.  Now add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture.

Top tip: Emma shared a really good tip with me, if you are going to melt the butter in the microwave.  Use a pyrex bowl, add the butter and COVER IT WITH KITCHEN PAPER.  It means that if the butter happens to explode in the microwave, because you zap the butter for a bit too long, it won’t go all over the inside of your microwave.

preparing to bake banana and chocolate chunk cake

4.  Now add the mashed bananas,vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and mix them in well.

5. Add in the flour mix (from step 2) but add a third of it at a time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. The time needed for the cake to bake will vary depending on the size of the cake tin that you use, so don’t worry if the cake needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and the tester comes out clean.

6.  Let the cake cool completely.  Then cut it up into as many pieces as you like and share it around.

Of course, you could serve it whilst it’s still warm with cream or icecream.  I just find that the cake is easier to cut when it is cold and you don’t get so much chocolate goo all over the knife as you are cutting it.  The cake stores well in an airtight container – not that this one had a chance.  It was all gobbled up in under 10 minutes.

The verdict? The cake is really tasty.  The chocolate chunks give it texture and bite that would be missing if you omitted them.  The spices worked really well in transforming the flavour of this cake and it went down really well with the Cambodian palette too.  I still prefer the chocolatey, whiskey and currant version of the cake (who would blame me) but while I’m here, I will quite happily bake this new banana and chocolate cake.

Cake, anyone?

How to… A beginners guide to creating chocolate butterflies


Cupcakes decorated with salted caramel buttercream and chocolate butterflies

Butterflies resting on banana cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream

I wanted to make a chocolate butterfly, the moment that I saw Emma’s beautiful chocolate butterfly resting on top of her Fleur de Sel Caramel Cake.

But I’d never made any form of chocolate decoration before. So, how could I do it?

I found out that Emma had bought some special chocolate that didn’t require tempering, which I didn’t want to splash out on. Otherwise, I needed to temper my chocolate using a thermometor. That put me off for a few weeks because it felt a bit too complicated and pricey, if I’m honest.

And then, a cherry blossom cake started to take shape in my imagination. Dark chocolate forms the silhouette of the tree and branches and I’d use real cherry blossoms for the flowers. However, I’m not sure what the cake mixture will be so this cherry blossom cake is still locked away in my mind. Since then, I’ve looked at some pictures of beautiful cherry blossom cakes but they mostly seem to rely on sugarpaste and fondant decorations. I’d still like to do my chocolate version.

Well, true to character, I read a few more blogs and watched a couple of youtube videos. On the note of youtube videos, I recommend watching Ann’s How to cook thattutorials for the variety of methods and decorations that one can attempt with chocolate.

Then, at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, armed with a bit more confidence and knowledge, I simplified the process of tempering chocolate as much as I dared, filled a piping bag, traced a butterfly template and gave it a go.

There are more complicated ways of tempering chocolate than the one that I’m going to share with you. Strictly speaking you need to use a minimum of 300g of chocolate in order to temper it. I chose to use 100g because it was meant to be a small trial and if it went wrong then it would be less of a waste. I also wanted to experiment with white and dark chocolate to see if they differed at all and 100g of each felt like it would be sufficient.

Next, I realised that I didn’t have enough pyrex bowls. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s not meant to be – as if! I used my Denby bowls (they’re microwave and oven proof, so I was pretty sure they’d be okay).

Here’s how I did it.

You’ll need:

  • Chocolate for melting. I began with 100g but, as you know, you’re supposed to have a minimum of 300g of chocolate to temper it.
  • Non-stick baking paper
  • Template
  • Pen/Pencil
  • 1 large hardback book. I used 1 hardback and 2 smaller books to lift it up even more.

1. Preparation: I found a template of a butterfly and traced it onto my baking paper. Then I flipped the paper over, so that the chocolate doesn’t pick up the ink, folded the paper down the middle of the butterfly’s body and opened the paper back out so that it was flat on my worksurface. I opened up the hardback book in the middle. That’s where I rested my butterflies so that they’d dry in 3D.

butterfly template

2. I chopped up the chocolate and set aside 20g of the chocolate and put 80g of chocolate in the bowl and zapped it in the microwave at 15 second intervals to begin with, reducing it to 10 seconds. I burnt my first batch, but only in the middle. Rather than waste the chocolate, I scooped out the burnt bits with a teaspoon, gave the remaining chocolate a good stir and learned my first lesson.

When microwaving chocolate to melt, the chocolate in the middle of the bowl melts quickest. Stir the chocolate at each interval, even if they don’t look like they’ve begun to melt.

3. Once the chocolate in the bowl had melted, I stirred in the 20g. By doing this step, you are, in effect, bringing down the temperature of the chocolate. This is my very simple way of tempering the chocolate.

filling a piping bag with melted chocolate

4. I filled a disposable piping bag with the chocolate, pushed the chocolate down and twisted the top end. It’s better to do it now rather than when you snip off the tip, otherwise the chocolate will squirt out the hole. I’m not sure what you’d do if you weren’t to use a disposable one… If anyone’s got any helpful suggestions then please leave them as a comment at the bottom.

5. I snipped a bit off the tip. I began with the tiniest of openings and gradually made it bigger. Mostly because I realised, whilst piping, that I hadn’t fished out all the burnt bits and they were causing a blockage. Ooopsies.

piping bag readysnipped off end of piping bag

6. I barely used any pressure on the bag to pipe the chocolate carefully over the butterfly template. Once I finished, I lifted up the tip and quickly began work on my second, third, fourth.. you get the picture. That night, I went on to make chocolate stars and dragonflies.

chocolate butterfly 1butterfly setting in the books

7. I rested the baking paper in the open book so that the fold in the paper nestled into the fold of the open book.

8. Leave them to dry and then carefully peel the baking paper away from the chocolate.

gently peel off the butterfly

See. Not so difficult afterall and the decorations will certainly impress your friends.

The Han-Na of 6 months ago would have been put off making a chocolate butterfly because of the notion of tempering chocolate; I guess my resolution to push myself in developing new baking skills is slowly paying off. Recently I noticed that my attitude is taking on a bit more of a ‘if it’s difficult, I’ll give it a go’ sheen.

This makes me giggle ruefully. I always describe myself as one who ‘doesn’t like pushing themselves’. Honestly, really, I’m not. I’m part of a triathlon club and I constantly see evidence of everyday athletes pushing their physical limits. I don’t do that: my swimming at the end of lane two just doesn’t mirror their drive.

So… is it baking that is going to knead that push and determination into me?

Maybe.

A Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache


hazelnut brown butter cake slice
I had already decided that I was going to like this hazelnut brown butter cake the moment I saw it. And then I read on:

‘This is a cake that has it’s roots in dacquoise and meringue.’ – Shuna Fish Lydon

A whatcha, whatchamacallit? Dacquoise and meringue.

Meringue is a dessert that we’re pretty aware of, but dacquoise? I’ve been blissfully ignorant of its existence until Monday evening. I was trying to find another cake recipe to make for Sarah’s birthday, other than Praline Almond Cake, because I didn’t have enough butter for that recipe and I was much too tired to trawl round Tescos. I can’t even remember how my brain jumped from praline almond cake to hazlenut brown butter cake, but somehow I found myself reading Smitten Kitchen Deb’s enticing blog entry on it. Debs links onto Eggbeater Shuna’s detailed poston how to make this cake. I highly recommend reading Shuna’s step-by-step instructions before baking the cake because if you follow it, it’s pretty fool-proof. And that’s where I first stumbled across dacquoise. A dacquoise, so Wikipedia tells me, is a french dessert made with layers of nut meringue and whipped cream or buttercream. The meringue is normally made with almonds and hazlenuts.

I decided to read up a bit more on the cake. I got as far as Jibuyabu’s metricised description on making this cake(thank-you) and then I stopped. It was 9:30pm and I needed to begin the baking.

My preliminary reading on this cake intrigued me. All three bloggers were in awe of this chef named Suzanne Goin, like we should all know her. “Chef Goin served this as her wedding cake. Need I say more?” – Smitten Kitchen. Well yes. Who is she? and why should that sway my decision on whether or not I should make this cake? As it turns out she is one of America’s most highly-acclaimed chef. That is, at least, according to her book on Amazon. Debs and Shuna are US based food bloggers so that probably explains their awe of her. So, okay maybe that should sway my mind. But it doesn’t really. At least, not yet. I wondered, whether she is the equivalent of say, Tom Ketteridge in the UK. Now, all you non-Brits, might be typing Tom Ketteridge into google search because you’re scratching your head and wondering, ‘who is this Tom Ketteridge dude?’ Just this incredible michelin starred chef! Ah – the nuances of across the pond baking.

I tell you what, though, if we just call the cake what it is – a hazelnut brown butter cake – I think that it makes it sound utterly enticing. Don’t you think so?

hazelnut brown butter cake ready to go
The ‘not your standard cake’ ingredients and the fun of trying out a new technique, validated it as the one to make as Sarah’s birthday cake (the same Sarah of the Cardamon, White Chocolate and Rosewater angst and Chocolate Macarons)

In Suzanne Goin’s original recipe, she serves it up with sauteed pears and icing sugar; Debs from Smitten Kitchen went for a chocolate ganache. It’s a no-brainer which option Sarah would prefer, and I tweaked Deb’s version and replaced the coffee with baileys liquor.

And I’ll tell you what – the cake lives up to expectations and tastes perfectly divine. On Tuesday evening, I served it up and we all commented on how it smelled and tasted like ferrero rocher. It’s not heavy, even with all that butter. Moreover, I believe that it would taste better as it gets older because of all that lovely moist nuttiness. Do you know – I’m pretty sure that we all managed two slices, after a pretty big main meal – so there’s not much a chance of this cake hanging around that long.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with Baileys Ganache, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Jibuyabu and Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Ingredients for the cake

  • 140g blanched whole hazelnuts plus some extra for garnish
  • 225g butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1tsp of vanilla extract
  • 170g icing sugar
  • 45g plain flour
  • 180g egg whites, which is about the equivalent of 5 extra large egg whites or 6 large egg whites
  • 45g granulated sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and prepare a 23cm or 25cm springform cake tin, by greasing the sides and lining the bottom with baking paper. I only had a 23cm cake tin and it turned out fine.

toasted hazelnutshazelnuts and icing sugar
2. Toast the hazelnuts under the grill or in the oven, by spreading them out in one layer on a baking tray, until they smell gorgeously nutty and turn a golden brown. It normally takes between 10-15 minutes. Once done, leave them cool. I transferred them onto another baking tray so quicken the cooling process.

3. Put the butter in a medium sized pan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthways down the middle and scrape out all the seeds onto the butter. Add the vanilla bean to the pan. Now, make the brown butter. I was a bit intimidated by this ingredient until I read this tutorial on Poire au Chocolat. Cook the butter on a medium heat until the butter browns, finishes crackling at you and smells nutty. It’ll take a good couple of minutes for this amount of butter. Take the pan off the heat and leave it to one side to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and dump it in the bin.

preparing butter to brown with vanilla
4. Weigh out the icing sugar and place in a food processer. Once the hazelnuts have cooled down, add them to the food processer too and whizz them up until they are finely ground (this takes about 10 minutes, interspersed with moments of me scraping the sides of the food processer with a knife so that everything gets whizzed up). Add the flour and pulse it a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly mixed through. This mixture will smell gorgeously nutty and it tastes good too, if you happen to get some of it on your fingers while you are emptying this out into a large bowl. There are some perks for being a bit clumsy.

5. Whisk the eggs with a stand mixer or a handheld electic beater. I held off adding the sugar until the eggs had formed soft peaks, but in the original recipe she says to add the sugar in from the start. Keep whisking until they form stiff peaks.

6. In a small bowl, take a large dollop of egg white and a generous splash of brown butter and mix it together vigorously before re-adding and folding it to the egg whites. Eggbeater Shuna explains this process as creating an emulsion between two ingredients that would normally repel each other (whisked egg whites and butter) so that after it is introduced to egg whites, it makes it easier to incorporate the remaining large quantities of ingredients.

7. Alternate folding in the dry mixture of the icing sugar, hazelnuts and flour and the liquid brown butter to the egg whites, being careful not to overmix and knock back all the air that you’ve carefully worked into the egg whites.

cake batterhazelnut brown butter cake
8. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 40-50 minutes. It’s done when the cake is coming away from the sides of the tin and a knife comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes, before then inverting it onto a wire rack so that you can peel the baking paper from it’s bottom.

9. Turn the cake back over onto the plate that you’ll be serving on.

** You could serve it just like this with a dusting of icing sugar and sprinkle the reserved hazelnuts. To make it pretty, why not use a stencil?

Ingredients for the ganache

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp baileys or irish cream equivalent

Method

chocolate ganache 1chocolate ganache 2
1. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small pyrex bowl. As you can see, I put mine directly into a pyrex measuring jug to make the pouring bit over the cake easier.

2. Heat up the double cream in a small pan until it just starts bubbling and then pour it over the chocolate. Leave it for a few minutes, then gently stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add in the baileys and stir to incorporate.

preparing to dress the cake with ganachecake with ganache
 

3. Carefully pour the ganache evenly over the cake. It doesn’t matter if some of the ganache spills over the sides of the cake. I think that it adds a certain charm and elegance. Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining hazelnuts. I toasted and crushed them before sprinkling them over the cake. Alternatively, you could make caramel hazelnuts or a hazelnut praline (unfortunately, I had run out of sugar as well, so couldn’t pursue either of those options). Or… just serve it as it is. Plain with the chocolate ganache.

You can make this a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge or in an airtight container in a cold room. So, go on – bake this one up and impress your friends.

Happy Birthday Sarah Cake

Understudies in Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

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I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say ‘another’ because it isn’t the first time that I’ve improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman…

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The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across – ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that’s like a Christmas cake? You’ll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do 🙂 *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I’m asking – do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don’t know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg
So… a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I’m very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there’s always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella’s and Deb’s (from Smitten Kitchen).

 

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), ‘[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it’s fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.’Well that sold it to me… as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella’s and it is just a tad easier to make. I’ll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella’s banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

 

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

 

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I’m rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I’ve used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don’t seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don’t worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it’s warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I’ve made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you’ll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won’t dry out… if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I’d also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum – this is Nigella’s original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen’s version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. – gave this one away before tasting it.

chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
 

An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

beetroot chocolate cake
choc beetroot muffins

My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.

First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)

Oh dear…What was I thinking?

Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can’t believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.

I know that it’s silly, but there’s a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However – I just can’t face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I’ve been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It’s main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.

Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They’ll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.

beetroot beetroot

But first, I’ll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?

Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It’s alright. Not everyone tastes the “secret ingredient” in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I’m going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend’s picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend’s dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious’s recipe. I’ve never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, ‘frosting’) as I’m not very fond of it. So, I’m pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.

chocolate beetroot muffins

What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I’d recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There’s no fooling yourself that it’s healthy, however, as there’s an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)

So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you’ll use a lot.

Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine’s Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

  • 250g plain chocolate
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw grated beetroot

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn’t burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.

3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.

4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I’d recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don’t want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.

6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you’ll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.

8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don’t have to wait that long.

Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g sour cream
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.

Spread it over the cake, et voila!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake

iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

When Han–Na baked Chocolate Macarons (with a SPLASH of Baileys)

Item no. 25 on my 30 for 30 list is: bake macarons.

(That’s not a typo, by the way. Remember the song: “You say eether, and I say eyether.” Well, “You say macaroons, and I say macarons...” I’ve taken to saying macarons to describe these delightful creations because whenever I called them macaroons, people automatically assumed that I meant coconut macaroons.)

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not many photos (yet!) of these chocolate macarons. I was too busy focussing on getting them right.

Anyway, back to the subject of macaron baking. These chocolate baileys macarons were the first batch of successful macarons that I baked and I was so pleased with myself. You see, I decided to bake macarons as a birthday cake of sorts for Sarah (of the White Chocolate, Rosewater and Cardamon cake episode) because she likes things that are a bit different. However, I had a disastrous first attempt making white chocolate and raspberry macarons from the Pink Whisk because I over-folded the mixture. Thus, when I added the bright pink mixture into the piping bag, it all ran out of the piping nozzle… and there was no stopping it. What. A. Fail. The sides of my mouth dropped a few centimetres as I scrapped the pink batter into the bin, and my bottom lip came out a bit. No joke.

Well, on the plus side, at least I know what over-folded mixture feels like. However, that’s not much of a consolation prize when the clock is ticking.

The following day (which was the day I needed to present them), I decided to try another macaron recipe. I was still feeling somewhat deflated by the previous evening’s disastrous attempt so decided to skip the grinding together of the almonds and sugar. That’s why the macaron shells look rather rough and grainy, rather than smooth, on the photos. (I have done this for all subsequent macaron baking.) I was understandably slightly cautious when folding in the almonds and icing sugar into the eggwhites. I halted all folding action the second the batter slid slowly off my spoon in a somewhat ribbony fashion. No river of sugary, chocolatey, almond goo fell out of the piping nozzle this time. Success!

They (I don’t know who precisely ‘they’ are) say that chocolate macarons are harder to make than normal ones because the cocoa powder drys them out. So maybe I lucked out with this. But I’ll always remember them as the first batch of macarons that I baked successfully.

Ingredients for the chocolate macaron shells from Green and Blacks: Chocolate Recipes

  • 125g/4½oz ground almonds
  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder
  • 250g/9oz icing sugar (225g in with the almonds + 25g with the egg whites)
  • 100g egg whites, which is between 3-4 large egg whites
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 and line 3 baking sheets with non stick baking liners, such as Bake-O-Glide. Fit a large piping bag with a 1cm plain circle nozzle. Twist the piping bag and push the twist into the nozzle so that the mixture doesn’t spill out of the nozzle. Stand it in a large receptacle, such as a pint glass.

2. Measure out the icing sugar and ground almonds. Put them into a food processor to grind down to an even finer mixture. I use my Bamix Dry Grinder and have to do it in 3 batches. When you’re finished add in the cocoa powder then sift the almond, sugar, cocoa powder mixture and leave out the residue of ground almonds that weren’t ground fine enough. (I always find that there can be up to a tablespoon of ground almonds leftover.) Then leave the sifted powders to one side.

3. Measure out the eggwhites and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are thick and glossy. (I sound like I’m describing hair for a shampoo advert!)

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in the almond, icing sugar and cocoa into the egg whites in a figure of eight. It will feel really dry at first and you’ll wonder whether it’ll ever come together, but don’t worry. It will. It’s important not to over-mix (see above) so stop when you feel like the mixture is dropping off the spatula in a thick ribbon. This is the tricky part to get right and it even has a name – macaronage.

5. Pour or use the spatula to spoon the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Once it’s full, gently untwist the piping bag and begin piping the mixture onto the baking sheets. With the nozzle perpendicular to the baking sheet, squeeze out the mixture until it forms the circular size you’re after. Firmly flick up your nozzle and move onto the next one. Leave 2cm of space between each circle, in case the macaron mixture spreads a bit.

6. Next, here’s the noisy part. In order to remove spare air in the macarons, bang the baking trays firmly on a flat surface. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour for a film to form on the macarons. They’re ready when you can lightly press your finger on the wet macaron circles and your finger comes away clean. This is also a good time to press down any remaining peaks on your macarons. Something that I clearly forgot to do with the one in the top photo.

7. Put the baking trays in the oven to cook at 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 for 1 minute, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake the shells for another 10-12 minutes. The shells should still be soft to touch but not gooey.

8. Let them rest for a minute on the baking trays and then remove them gently from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for the chocolate baileys ganache filling

  • 100g double cream
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp baileys or an irish cream liquor substitute (or more splashes of baileys if you prefer)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a heat proof bowl.

2. In a small pan, bring to boil the double cream and then pour the double cream on top of the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes so that the chocolate starts melting of it’s own accord.

3. Gently stir the cream into melting chocolate to encourage the remainder of the chocolate to melt away. Add in the baileys for flavour.

4. Let it cool completely and put it into the fridge to harden for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.

To assemble the macarons:

1. Lay out the macarons so that the flat side is looking at you, and pair up similar sizes – you can tell that I’m a novice macaron baker.

2. When the ganache is ready, you can spoon the ganache onto the shells using a teaspoon, or better still, transfer the ganache into a piping bag, fitted with a 1cm nozzle, and pipe the chocolate ganache onto half of the shells. Sandwich them together with the other half of the shells.

3. Ta DA!

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How does the story end with Sarah’s birthday treat? Is it happily ever after? Oh no – my list of things that went wrong in baking macarons didn’t stop there. Once I’d arranged the macarons and the candles on the plate, I decided to hide them in the bottom oven. And then I used the top oven to warm the bread. You already know how this story ends, right? Yup, you’ve guessed it – when I took the plate out to surprise Sarah, virtually all the candles had bent over like the tops of walking sticks. Only three of them had survived the oven. We were all amused!

Oh and the verdict on the macarons? Tasty, of course. Sarah was really pleased with the alternative birthday ‘cake’. Now, if you were patient enough to eat one 3 days later – heavenly! The flavours had matured and melded together. Elegantly scrum!

Claire’s Chunky Chocolate Cookies

Chunky Chocolate Cookies

What’s my favourite chocolate cookie recipe so far? The recipe that came from a calendar of chocolate recipes and my then-housemate Claire baked, back in the day when I wasn’t very good at trying out new recipes. And, wow. Didn’t they smell gorgeous and taste incredible… with that wonderful chewiness that cookies should have, and a bit toffee-ish flavour (that’s the brown sugar talking)!! Lekker, lekker, lekker!

Without wanting to sound too much like a cookie monster, I decided to have a go baking them because I wanted to eat MORE! It turned out to be a really simple recipe (hurrah); a bit too simplified perhaps? I made quite a few basic mistakes when making these.

For instance, I discovered that cookies splay out in the oven, so if you don’t space them out enough, they can all meld into one big rectangular cookie, which you have to cut apart.

Next, I found out that if you don’t use baking paper, it’s hard to get the baked cookies off the baking sheet.

Then, there’s minutes in baking them so that they’re soft and chewy and them being rock hard. Err on the side of chewy caution, my friend and use a timer!

Finally, this is less of a mistake but a definite learning point. It was an eye-opener for me to realise how much sugar goes into making cookies. I kind of thought of them as a ‘healthy’ snack before then, but 500g of sugar doesn’t quite fit that category. Hmmm…. So, let’s say that you wanted to cut down the sugar a bit, then I’d try reducing the amount of white sugar you put in. I’ve not tried this yet, but I’d experiment with between using half or two thirds of white sugar. I’m not entirely certain how that will affect the chemistry and flavour. However, I would definitely not scrimp on the brown sugar because it’s the brown sugar that produces that more-ish nuttiness to the cookie’s flavour. That first time, I even asked Claire whether she’d put toffee in the cookies.

chocolate cookie dough

So, I’ve amended the method section so that you can build on my experience. Also, at the bottom of this post, I’ve listed some of different combinations that I’ve created by adapting this recipe.

This makes about 55 regular sized cookies (by regular, I mean 10-15 cm). Claire advised me later that she often halves the recipe so that there’s not an eruption of cookies. You can freeze them, if you have space in your freezer. I have rolled my spare cookie dough into ball shapes and frozen them in a ziploc bag. Later, all I’ll need to do is put the cookie dough balls out on some baking paper and sheet to defrost for an hour at room temperature, then pop them in the oven. A wonderful, ‘instant’ treat to have up your sleeve!

Ingredients

  • 250g soft dark brown sugar
  • 250g white sugar
  • 280g butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 300g chocolate, roughly chopped into chunks (you can use dark, milk, white and in any combination)
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 500g plain flour
chunky chocolate cookies 1

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prepare 2 baking sheets/trays with baking paper or greaseproof paper.
1. Mix butter with sugar until creamy and fluffy, with an electric mixer. If you don’t have one, then use a wooden spoon and beat hard!
2. Add the eggs, chocolate chips and vanilla essence and mix well. Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt to the flour and add to the other ingredients. Sitr to form a thick cookie dough.
3. Take ping-pong ball size amounts of the mixture, roll it into a ball and place spaced apart on the baking sheet/tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the oven. The cookies should be slightly golden brown. Let them rest for a few minutes and then gently place on a rack to cool.

chocolate chunk cookies 2
The top ones have been baked for 5 minutes too long and are too hard, whilst the bottom rather anaemic looking ones have been baked perfectly so that they’re chewy but with a bit of crunch.

Ideas for different flavours?
I’ve adapted the recipe a few times and substituted the 300g chocolate for:

  • 100g dried cranberries, 100g roughly chopped macadamia nuts & 100g roughly chopped white chocolate chunks
  • zest of 2 lemons & 300g dark chocolate chunks
  • 100g roughly chopped brazil nuts & 200g dark or milk chocolate chunks

Kids love the lemon and dark chocolate one – or at least the kids I’ve baked with when babysitting them.

Chewy Cornflake, Pecan and Chocolate Chunk Cookies: baking across the pond

cornflake cookies

I finally got to bake an american recipe, using american measurements in America. I know that, for some, that doesn’t sound remarkable; it was personally rather enlightening on a typical US baking environment and experience. I hope that any americans reading this don’t mind me saying that.

Let me fill you in quickly on the back story. This all came about when Chang-Bum op-pa*, a friend of the family, invited my mum and I to spend New Year with them in Southern California. My mum and his parents go way back; I think that the last time I had met our host was when I was the age of his youngest son, aged 9. I remember going to Loch Ness with him and his sister. (*Chang-Bum is his name but op-pa is how I address him. Op-pa translates into older brother in Korean in case you’re wondering)

I offered to bake them Fiona Cairn’s amazing shortbread for them, as a taste of Scotland, and it is a great recipe.

cornflake cookie helpers

Well, it isn’t that they turned me down. It’s more like they redirected my offer. Chang-Bum op-pa had already read my food blog. So, his question was, “Would I like to bake a cookie/biscuit*/scone* recipe with his family instead? It would be the first time for them and they are mad for cookies/scones/biscuits.” (*US and UK versions of biscuit and scones are different.)

“Absolutely!”

Alarm bells ring when I am given a negative to the question, “Is there a set of weighing scales?” That’s when I’m pushed out my comfort zone and my education into american baking culture really starts.

So, I search online specifically for an american recipe, and in doing so, introduce my friend’s wife to Smitten Kitchen’s reliable collection of recipes. The next part is a trip to a grocery store, where we put all purpose flour and butter measured in sticks into our cart. But my biggest culture shock moment is whilst gazing flummoxed at the spices rack. There are no jars of mixed spice! I’m a bit shocked. (Question: why don’t they sell mixed spice in american grocery stores?) I apologise to any Americans who have hunted for mixed spice on account of my recipes and been given a blank look from a grocery assistant. And at that moment, I appreciate why some american recipes are so particular on their spice measurements. E.g. ¼tsp of ground cloves; ¼tsp ginger; ½tsp cinnamon…

After that culture shock, the actual baking of the cookies seemed fairly unremarkable. I understand why american recipes list the number of sticks of butter, because that is how they are sold. Besides, sticks of butter are exactly what we needed in the absence of weighing scales. Having said that, now that I’m writing this back in the UK, I’ve converted the recipe to grams and ounces.

The original recipe is for an oatmeal, pecan and chocolate cookie. The cornflakes were a subsitute for the oatmeal that had gone off. I like to think that I was truly original and no-one had ever thought to put cornflakes in cookies before. Then a few days later I read the side of the cornflake packet: a recipe for cornflake and cranberry cookies. Perhaps, I was being innovative rather than original then, but I still think fondly of my ingenuity.

This recipe made between regular sized 36-46 cookies. We baked them ALL. I haven’t tested this yet, but if you wanted to, I guess you could bake the amount you wanted and freeze the rest. Freeze them, unbaked, in a baking tray and then once frozen, you can store them in a container. To bake from frozen: lay them out on a baking tray and let them defrost for an hour or so before want to you bake them. Once I try it out, I’ll re-edit this post with how it worked.

Ingredients

  • 110g/4oz butter
  • 100g/3½oz granulated sugar
  • 150g/5½oz light soft brown sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 225g/8oz plain flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 120g/4oz crushed cornflakes or 90g/3oz oats
  • 250g/8oz pecans, chopped (rough or fine depending on your preference)
  • 2tsps orange zest
  • 300g/12oz dark chocolate chopped into chunks or use chocolate chips, if you prefer

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. This recipe makes LOTS of cookies so line various baking trays with baking paper.

2. Measure out the flour, bicarbonate soda, mixed spice and salt in one bowl and sift together.

3. In a big bowl, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. It’s much quicker when done with an electric mixer (about 4-5 mins), which my hosts didn’t own unfortunately. So, I had to use arm power and it took much longer, but good for toning the arms.

4. Add the orange zest, vanilla extract, white and brown sugars and cream together with the butter until they are thoroughly mixed.

5. Now mix the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time.

6. Add the flour mixture in two batches, ensuring that the first batch is well-combined with the butter/sugar mixture before adding the second. The reason for doing it like this is that it is easier on you to beat out any lumps of flour in the dough.

7. Now, obviously if you had to use a wooden spoon/spatula all this time because there wasn’t an electric mixer then you don’t have to switch over. But if not, with a wooden spoon/spatula, mix in the chopped pecans, chopped chocolates. Finally add in the crushed cornflakes or oats and mix well.

cookie doughbaked cornflake cookies

8. Using a tablespoon to measure it out, dollop out the cookie dough onto the baking tray, making sure that each of the tablespoon sized dollops are evenly spaced out. The high fat content in them means that they will spread out while baking, so don’t worry – they will flatten out!

9. Bake them in the oven for 12-14 minutes. Take them out when they are golden brown in colour and still soft in the middle. They will harden more in the cooling process. Let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking tray and then let them cool on a wire rack. If you’re limited on space, you’ll be itching to get the next batch onto the baking tray and in the oven as soon as possible.

And yes, since I was in America, I can confirm that they are perfect when they are still warm, with a glass of milk and the house has that wonderful smell of freshly baked cookies. Deb (from Smitten Kitchen) rates these as the perfect balance between chewy and crispy and that the combination of the spice and orange zest give it a grown up feel. I agree. Adapt it with milk chocolate, if you prefer. Next time, I think that I’ll try baking it with oatmeal or muesli, just to see how it turns out.

cookies and milkchewy cornflakes, pecan and chocolate cookies

On reflection, nowadays, I get the impression that kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic, make allowances for each other cultures. Most UK kitchens have US style cups, and lots of recipe books will give a glossary list of US and UK terms. Having majoredspecialised in cultural history, I find this all rather fascinating. (self-conscious note on my choice of vocabulary. A relic of my sojourn in the States.) Nevertheless, having grown up in the UK, I personally consider it normal to:

  • weigh out ounces and grams vs cups;
  • use plain and self-raising flour vs all-purpose flour style;
  • differentiate types of sugars, such as caster, granulated, demerara… vs white, brown or molasses;
  • and buy a jar of mixed spice in the supermarket!

But I am partial to the cookies and milk combo.