Fudgy Chocolate Brownies: infinitely adaptable

Experimenting with peanut butter and salted caramel brownies.
Experimenting with peanut butter and salted caramel brownies.

Recently, I was asked in an interview, “what do you contribute to a team?” The first thought that popped into my head was brownies. However, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a professional way to answer the question? So, instead I answered something about how I am a really good team player and the many different skills I’d bring to the team, rather than saying that my contribution is a baked sugar high laden with chocolate. I meant to mention my excellent brownies at the end as an aside, but I forgot.

Immediately once the interview was over and as I reflected on how it went, I wished that I had led with the brownies though because it would have revealed more of my true self. My flatmate and colleague concurred (now assigned to the status of previous flatmate and colleague: that teaching job contract having just ended and we’ve moved out). Though, we then agreed in the next breath that my crack cookies are my best work. So, another time, I’ll be that little bit braver, relax and say, “brownies and cookies.”

The first time that I made these during lockdown was at the beginning of marking many, many student essays whilst living at my sister’s. I’d broken a personal record and spent 5 hours on a paper, checking for plagiarism and looking up citations, and still hadn’t finished it when thoroughly fed up and discouraged, I decided to put it down until the next day. A WOD (workout of the day) with 100 burpees and an evening spent singing, baking these brownies put me in a better mood. I left it out on the side to cool down and develop even more flavour overnight. My sister said that her contribution to my happiness was not diving into them that night. I shared a photo of them on a work group chat and subsequently made friends with a colleague who wanted the recipe.

Pretty Raspberry Brownies
The raspberry burst brownies which fuelled the essay marking

Awkwardly, I didn’t have the recipe at hand to share. It lived in the form of an excel spreadsheet, a hangover from my baking business days. Instead, I sent her a link to my raspberry burst brownies and made a mental note that it was time to publish this recipe.

I created this recipe in Cambodia whilst supplying brownies for a cafe because I wanted to create a brownie with more height and volume that I could adapt with a variety of fillings, such as cheesecake and salted caramel. In addition, my usual go to, very easy brownie recipe which the raspberry burst brownies are adapted from suddenly stopped working for me after I upgraded my oven. They were coming out cakier. Some people prefer their brownie consistency like that but I much prefer them to be fudgier with that delightful cracked top. The timing of it might have been purely a coincidence and have nothing to do with me switching from one of these electric toaster ovens to a standing oven cooker. I’ve shared the only decent photo that I appear to have of my toaster oven for you. If you’ve always lived in the UK, then you may have no concept of what I’m talking about. In most parts of S.E Asia, ovens do not come standard in a furnished kitchen. This is the oven in which I began my baking business and I used it for the first 2 years. It only allowed me to do one tray of cookies, a cake or brownies at a time and by the end it wouldn’t heat above 150°C. When I moved and invested in a new oven, it was a game changer.

My toaster oven that lived on the floor
My toaster oven lived on the floor. I’m piping coconut churros.
my new oven
I moved apartment and my new oven fitted into this space perfectly. This was taken the day the oven was delivered and fitted. If you look carefully you can see I had to buy extra long wiring because the power socket was on the other side of the room.

Anyway, it gave me an excuse to try out a new brownie making method for me that I’d seen Ed Kimber use in this video in which you mix the eggs and sugar for about 10 minutes until they form into a ribbon stage (I’ve explained what ribbon stage is in step 4 of the method) and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mixing the eggs and sugar for that long, creates volume and structure and I deduced, would help me create that dense fudgy consistency and crinkly top each time. It did. At the bottom of the post, I’ve also included for you, a few photos of the different flavours that I’ve played with and how I’ve adapted them.

I played around with the sugar quantity. Most brownie recipes ask for larger quantities of sugar, but I’ve always liked the challenge of seeing how little sugar I can add to baking and it still taste good. From experience, 150g is too little but anything between 200-230g is perfect. I’ll adapt it depending on the additional flavours I want to add. For example, with salted caramel, I use less because of the added sweetness from the caramel. With raspberry I use more to counteract the tartness of the raspberries.

Brownies components ready to mix together
All the components ready to mix together

I prefer to make these in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment because it is easier to leave the stand mixer running during the egg and sugar whisking part whilst getting on with other tasks, rather than holding an electric hand mixer for 10 minutes.

Top tip 1: if using an electric hand mixer, place a tea towel underneath the bowl to keep it stable and stop it moving around.

Top tip 2: once baked, leave these to cool down completely, cover and place in the fridge overnight. Not only will they taste better as the flavours mature and deepen, but they will also be cold. Cut them with a sharp knife and you’ll get those beautiful clean lines.

So here’s the recipe for the Infinitely Adaptable Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They’ll make between 12-16 brownies or 20 mini brownie bites.

Ingredients

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 150g dark chocolate (at least 60%), broken up, roughly chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200-230g caster sugar (depending on how sweet you’d like them and the additional flavours you want to add)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of instant coffee granules (optional) – I use it because it helps bring out the chocolate flavour
  • And then whatever flavours* you’d like to add, or not.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep tin. For this quantity a 20cm square tin or a rectangular 27×20 or 28×18 will work.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together and just after it has melted, add in the salt, vanilla extract and the optional instant coffee granules and leave it on the side to cool down. There are various ways you can melt chocolate and butter.
    • The more cautious, ahem proper, approach is to use a bain marie, that is put the butter and dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl that can sit on top of a saucepan with simmering water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water in the saucepan. Slowly melt the chocolate and stir regularly. This way you won’t burn the chocolate.
    • Another easier way is to use the microwave. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, place a paper kitchen towel on top of the bowl so that butter won’t pop out as it melts. Melt it in 20 second bursts, stirring each time.
    • My way, is to use a heavy bottomed saucepan. I put the chocolate and butter in it and melt it at a low heat, stirring regularly. I take it off, just as the last few chocolate/butter bits aren’t quite melted because they will melt in the residual heat of the saucepan.
  3. In the meantime, measure out the flour and cocoa powder into a small bowl. Sieve it if there are lots of lumps in the flour and cocoa. Otherwise, use a whisk to loosen and mix them together.
  4. As soon as the chocolate/butter mixture is off the heat, crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl and add the sugar. Use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on high speed to start whisking the eggs and sugar until they are at a ribbon stage. Ribbon stage is when the egg and sugar mixture are a pale yellow colour, doubled or even tripled in volume and when you lift the whisk over the mixture, the batter will fall slowly and leave a trail like a ribbon that will hold its shape for a few seconds. It will take about 10 minutes. I still use a timer to make sure I beat them for long enough. Don’t start beating the eggs/sugar until the chocolate/butter has melted because the chocolate/butter mixture needs this time to cool down.
  5. When the eggs and sugar have reached a ribbon stage, reduce the speed to low and add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar. Whisk until it all appears to have mixed together. If you are using an electric hand mixer, you may need to turn off the mixer, add the chocolate/butter and then switch it back on again to avoid a mess. I speak from experience, haha.
  6. Now fold in the flour and cocoa powder using a spatula, or a spoon until it is well combined.
  7. Pour into the baking tin.
  8. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. They should be firm to touch at the top but still wobble when you shake it. Leave to cool completely in the tin and if you can bear it, cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge. They will be easier to cut and the flavours will have deepened.

*You can add various flavours to this, or not if you want them plain. I’ve given you a few of suggestions and photos below. Do let me know how else you adapt them.

For raspberry burst brownies 2.0, I add 90g of raspberries. I mix in half before I pour it into the baking tin and then scatter the remaining half where there are spaces.
For raspberry and white chocolate, do the above and add 100g of chopped white chocolate. Mix half the chocolate into the batter with the raspberry and then fill the spaces with the remaining 50g.
Walnut Brownies
For nutty ones, I use 100g of nuts. For this one, I’ve used walnuts. I pick out 12-16 walnut halves to place on top for evenly then roughly chop and mix in the rest to the mixture before I pour into the baking tin and then place the remaining walnut halves on the top.
Salted Caramel and Hazelnut Brownies
For hazelnut and salted caramel. I made these to use up leftover ingredients as I was packing to return to the UK. Use 100g of roughly chopped hazelnuts and 100g of salted caramel. I mixed in half the hazelnuts into the mixture, then after I poured it into the tin, I blobbed salted caramel with a teaspoon evenly and scattered the rest of the hazelnuts over the top.
Swirls of cheesecake in brownies
Swirled cheesecake brownies, but I’ve realised that the salted caramel and the cheesecake ones are a little more complicated, so I’ll post those recipes another day.

What happened next with that interview? How many points have I accumulated? In this current job hunting cycle, I racked up 103 points. Incidentally, I got offered that job, even without the promise of these brownies. So, I’m currently in the throes of transition once again and relocating down to the Midlands.

Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies

I meant to publish this recipe a few months ago, but I didn’t have the photos ready.  I still don’t have the perfect photo sequence for how to make these cookies.  But it’s the middle of the Open and these cookies were thought up between a few crossfitters so better like this than never, right?  Besides, what better timing than the middle of the CrossFit Open Games to tell you how I got started on CrossFit and baking paleo cookies.

The ingredients for the cookies minus the bicarbonate of soda

I started CrossFit in February last year.  I had been given a tough teaching schedule at my school and they weren’t letting me push back on it.  As I despaired, I felt God say to me, “Han-Na, you’re stronger than you think you are.” Since I often experience God in physical activities, I decided to also translate that into trying out CrossFit to see how strong I was.  This was after months of pushing back on my coaches because I was very happy in the Bootcamp classes and not interested in getting stronger.

Pretty soon, it was clear to my coaches, that I had the potential to lift heavy weights.   I, on the other hand, intimidated by lifting anything vaguely heavy and the technicalities of the lifts, really did not enjoy the barbell work for the first few months.  Not long ago, one of them encouraged me, as I was going for my 1 rep front squat max, that I had the ideal physique of a squatter.  I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, do you?  Still, I managed 72kg that day, which I was delighted with.

Then one day, one of my coaches asked me when I was going to bake some paleo cookies for her.  I told her that Christina (of Joyfully Nutty) and I had just been talking about how to use cashew almond nut butter in baked goods and so why not try them in a cookie.

So, thank you Minna and the CrossFit community for pushing us into trying to make these paleo cookies.

I use the Dazed and Cashewed, cashew almond nut butter from Joyfully Nutty.  You could make these with a cashew nut butter or an almond nut butter, it comes down to preference.  I went off the back of Julie Wampler’s recipe from Table for Two, and experimented with reducing and changing the sugar to make it suitably paleo.  I was also baffled as to whether palm sugar is paleo or not.  It would appear that the paleo community embrace coconut sugar but differ on palm sugar.  The little personal research that I’ve done suggests that palm sugar is produced in the same way as coconut sugar, and therefore is paleo.

Then I discovered this delightful nugget.  With the addition of different spices, I could halve the sugar or omit the sugar completely and they would still result in tasty ‘sweet’ morsels, that are soft yet chewy.  Curious, I tried a sugar free version, which admittedly, is more delicate and will thus crumble more easily, but because there’s a lot of dark chocolate, you hardly notice that the sugar is gone.

Top tip: by adding spices, you can reduce or omit the sugar.

I believe that you could make these vegan by replacing the egg with flaxseed or chia seed but I’ve yet to try it.

Baking these is a cinch (read the method below), which is another reason why I like them.  You want to satisfy that cookie craving but don’t have to wait 24 hours to rest the cookie dough.  From start to finish, you could be sitting down with a cookie (or twelve) in 30 minutes, or less.

So here is the Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies, adapted from Table for Two.

Makes between 12-14 cookies

  • 1 large egg
  • 60g palm sugar (*optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 250g cashew almond nut butter
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate*, broken into chunks. Or you could use dark chocolate chips. I use small round discs of chocolate.
  • *use one that is at least 65%.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF or gas mark 4.  Line a large baking tray (or two depending on size) with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the egg, sugar, salt, cinnamon and turmeric together in a small mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the cashew almond nut butter and the bicarbonate of soda and mix until it is all combined.
  4. Stir in the dark chocolate.
  5. Place generous tablespoon dollops (sort of ping pong ball sized) of the cookies on the baking tray.  I use a 1½tbsp cookie scoop for the sake of ease now.
  6. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 12-15 mins, or 10-12 mins in a fan oven.
  7. They will have puffed up a bit and be lightly golden brown in colour.  As they cool they will collapse slightly into themselves.  At this point, I like to place a chocolate disc on top of each cookie because I like how it looks.  Allow them to cool completely on the baking tray and then store them in an airtight container.
  8. In Cambodia’s humid climate, they’ll keep outside the fridge for about 3-4 days.  I normally store them in the fridge and they’ll happily chill out there for 2 weeks.  Or they freeze well.  But you know, they’re pretty tasty straight out of the freezer too.

The verdict?  You’d never know that this was a gluten free, dairy free cookie.  Soft  in texture and rich in flavour.  I get orders for these, with sugar, without sugar, without chocolate… hehe.  So you know that they’re customisable.  I like them as a pre-workout snack.  I also like them because it’s such an easy recipe.

Raspberry Burst Brownies

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Raspberry Burst Brownies

I don’t understand why I’ve never put raspberries in a dark chocolate brownie before.  The flavour combination is ingenious!  These brownies have quickly become my signature bake since I decided to bake them 7 weeks ago, popping out my oven week in-week out.

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I meant to follow BBC’s Good Food’s Best Ever Chocolate Raspberry Brownies and duly noted that they suggested mixing half of the raspberries into the mixture and reserving half of the raspberries to scatter at for the end.  However, I couldn’t quite understand why I’d want to put milk chocolate into the batter and dilute the intense dark chocolatey-ness that I wanted to couple with the raspberry flavour.

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So, I reverted back to my default brownie recipe.   This time, I have no microwave.  (However, I’ve kept the microwave bit in the instructions, in case you do).  I really wanted to demonstrate how the brownies can be made using one pot.  In all honesty, I never expected that this brownie would have it’s own post.  But when Sarah and I bit into one, the first occasion I baked them, a raspberry just burst in my mouth.  I laughed, said that they were amazing and promptly named them, Raspberry Burst Brownies.

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Ingredients for Raspberry Burst Chocolate Brownies adapted from Usborne First Cookbook.

  • 4oz/100g dark chocolate
  • 4oz/100g butter
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4oz/100g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 6oz/160g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 or 2 tbsp of milk if the mixture is too firm.
  • 85g-100g frozen or fresh raspberries (I find that 85g is enough)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.  Line a square baking dish with baking paper. I use a 20x20cm baking tin.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter together on a gentle heat, in a heavy bottomed pan.  Alternatively zap them in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.

3. As the chocolate and butter is melting, or being zapped in the microwave, measure out the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into another bowl.  Sift the flour if you want to, but it’s not necessary.

4. Add the vanilla extract, salt and sugar to the chocolate melted goodness and mix well.

5. Add the beaten eggs and keep mixing to combine it all.  Don’t worry – they won’t scramble.

6. Gradually add in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder so that the whole mixture is well combined.

7. Mix in half of the raspberries now.  With the remaining half, scatter them over the top to fill in any deficit spaces before you put it into the oven.

8. Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins.  The secret is to take them out when the top is firm to touch but still wobbles when you shake it.

Verdict?  They are amazing!  Sarah actually told me off for not telling her how amazing they were, when she ate one a few weeks later.  (But we’d taste tested them together that first time…) They are that combination of sweet but sour, and a perfect flavour partnership between the dark chocolate and the raspberry.  But what I love best about them is that the whole raspberries burst in your mouth as you eat them.  Bliss!
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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

 

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?

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!