A few weeks ago, I wandered across a video featuring the French chef Jacques Pépin preparing a three-course meal. Amongst the recipes was this no-knead bread, mixed/proved and baked in just one pot. Now I love a gimmicky shortcut as much as anyone, so I was keen to give this a try.
A key detail of Jacques’ method, is that he uses a non-stick saucepan. I don’t have a non-stick saucepan, so I thought I’d improvise with my cast-iron casserole. It was not a success. Smooth and unblemished as the inside of my glazed casserole might be, non-stick it is not. The dough stuck like a very sticky thing. I had to cut the – admittedly quite airy – loaf out, then soak the casserole for several hours until I was able to chisel off the rest of the crust.
Tempting as it was to dismiss the whole thing as a gimmick, I still yearned for something that appeared so simple and fuss-free. I love the no-knead bread revolution begun by Jim Lahey, but it requires such odd AND long timings. If I want some Jim Lahey no-knead bread for lunch, I have to start the previous day at about 3.30pm, and then find somewhere for this bowl of fermenting goo to sit, undisturbed, for the optimum rising time of 18 hours. I never seem to remember this in time – I remember at suppertime, or bedtime or any time that’s not the right time, whereas Jacques’ seemed so simple: Mix at night, bake in the morning. Another aspect of Jacques’ method that appealed was the pan that went from fridge to oven. Jim Lahey’s method involved heating your oven AND casserole to its roaring maximum, and then transferring the resting but incredibly lithe dough into this almost unbelievably hot pot and getting it back into the oven without losing any heat. I’ve lost count of the number of burns sustained at this point of the recipe – but Jacques didn’t even use an oven glove!
So I persevered with trying to make Jacques’ method work with what I had to hand and this is the result. It is an adaptation of the best bits of Jim Lahey’s and Jacques Pépin’s methods, and just to add some original content, I decided to test it on a range of flours. I was also stuck for a name, and some followers on Twitter were kind enough to answer my call for suggestions:
- Sleeping One Pot Bread (Ben)
- Pain Nocturne, Pain Dodo, Ubernachtsbrot (Dr Dan)
- Slumber Loaf (Joe)
- Pajama Pain, Duvet Dough (Adam)
- Chillax Dough Bake (Mojo)
- All-in-1 no-knead overnight bread, Effortless come to bed bread (Jan)
- Dozey Dough (Tipsy)
which just goes to show how much more creative everyone is than me. :D
Ultimately, I had to abandon the ‘all in one pot’ aspect, due to the aforementioned lack of non-stick saucepan, but if you have some, then go for it!
When I tried this method with different flours, I was pleasantly surprised at the results, mostly because it was the stoneground wholemeal flour that produced the loaf that rose the best – see below for side-by-side results.
Obviously, the gluten-free loaf requires more work, so we will draw a discreet veil over that particular bake. On the plus side, I have a new door-stop! That aside, the textures inside the other three were impressive – see below.
Rather than write three versions of this recipe, just follow the measurements for the type of flour you are using.
600g white bread flour/ brown bread flour/stoneground wholemeal bread flour
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
700ml/800ml/900ml warm water
- An hour before you go to bed, put the ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine. It will make a very sticky dough bordering on a batter.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 1 hour.
- Grease a heavy casserole with a close-fitting lid.
- When the hour is up, stir the batter/dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to knock out the air, then pour the dough into the greased casserole. If you’re very tired, you can do this after only 40 minutes.
- Cover with the lid and put in the fridge overnight. I have, when short of space in the fridge, put the casserole outside on cold nights, with no ill effect. The heavy lid prevents anything untoward happening to it.
- Next morning, after 10 hours, remove the casserole from the fridge (or bring it in from outside). Leave the lid on.
- Preheat the oven to its highest setting, about 220°C, 200°C Fan
- When it’s hot enough, put the covered casserole into the oven for 45 minutes. The lid will contain the steam, increase the heat inside the casserole and make the bread rise into a dome – Jacques’ loaf was baked lidless and consequently comes out rather flat.
- After 45 minutes, remove the lid of the casserole and allow the top of the loaf to brown for 5-10 minutes. No need for a baking sheet, the hot bars of the oven shelf are fine.
- Tip the loaf out of the casserole and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes to crisp the crust, if it seems to require it.
- Cool on a wire rack.
It’s that time of year again, where heart-shaped food is everywhere, and this dessert suggestion is no different. Valentines Day falls on a Saturday this year, so I’ve gone for simplicity in that there’s no actual baking involved, thereby freeing up the rest of the day for a constant stream of romantic gestures. It’s also not the original recipe I had planned for you, but that other one, although unusual, simple and delicious, delicately plucked from the fading pages of a centuries old manuscript…. involved peeling 20 grapes and who needs that kind of stress on the weekend???
This is basically a refrigerator cake with a posh frock on, where frock = booze, although you can use orange juice/zest if you prefer. A quick dip in some melted chocolate, a sprinkling of freeze-dried strawberry powder and it looks quite the picture of elegance.
This quantity makes two, admittedly quite thick, hearts. I initially made them thinner, but promptly got into all sorts of bother/mess trying to dip the tops and bottoms in the chocolate and still keeping them looking neat and well finished. So for ease of dipping, I’d recommend making just two – after all, you don’t have to eat ALL of it in one go and a Valentine token for your beloved isn’t supposed to require a batch bake!
You won’t need all of the chocolate, but using this amount makes dipping easier. You can keep any excess for use in other recipes.
125g Rich Tea biscuits (about half a packet)
30g softened butter
30g caster sugar
15g cocoa powder
60g dark fruit conserve or jam – cherry, raspberry, damson, etc.
2tbs port, fruit liqueur, or zest/juice of an orange
200g dark (60% cocoa) chocolate
20g vegetable oil
freeze-dried fruit powder
- Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles crumbs. Because that’s exactly what it will be. Tip into a bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and either mix by hand, with a spoon, or with a stand mixer fitted with the standard paddle.
- It should come together quite easily, and hold together when pressed. Tip out onto a silicone mat (it will be rather sticky).
- The easiest way to form the hearts is to divide the mixture into two and press it into a heart-shaped biscuit cutter.
- Once the mixture is packed tightly, a gentle press will ease it out of the mould.
- Carefully wrap the two hearts in cling film and place in the freezer for at least an hour, or overnight, whichever is most convenient.
- Break the chocolate into a bowl and melt, either over hot water or in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, stirring after each minute.
- Add the oil and stir thoroughly.
- Remove the frozen hearts from the freezer and unwrap. Lay a sheet of baking parchment or silicone baking sheet next to the bowl of chocolate for putting the hearts on, to set.
- Dip the top of each heart into the melted chocolate about 1cm. Lift it out and turn it on its side, letting the excess chocolate run off the side, leaving the surface smooth and even. When it has stopped dripping, turn the heart upright and set onto the baking parchment. The coldness of the biscuits will cause the chocolate to set within a minute.
- When firm, carefully lift the hearts, keeping your fingers away from the chocolate top, to avoid smudging. Dip the bases. Set aside to cool completely.
- Decorate with freeze-dried powder sprinkled inside a mini heart-shaped cutter, or make a ribbon by laying two sheets of paper across the chocolate heart and sprinkle the fruit powder between. Carefully remove the sheets and shake the excess powder back into the sachet.
Here’s a recipe I came up with for a charity a couple of years ago. Seeing as the weather has been a bit on the brisk side lately, I thought it would be the ideal treat to enjoy all snug and cosy on a Sunday afternoon. Or at 11pm, straight from the fridge. Your call.
It’s a tart of contrasts: crumbly pastry, crunchy oats, rich caramel and sharp apples. I love it!
And with a tin of caramel in the cupboard, it comes together in just a few minutes.
Probably gone is as many, too.
Short and sweet. Like this post.
To the recipe!
Caramel Apple Crumble Tart
112g plain flour
40g icing sugar
zest of ½ lemon
1 large egg
egg-whites for glazing
3 Bramley Apples
1 tin homemade Banoffi Pie filling (method here) or 1 x 397g tin of Carnation Caramel
20g Demerera sugar
60g plain flour
Pinch of salt
40g steel rolled oats
- Make the pastry:
- Put all of the pastry ingredients except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Whisk the egg, then gradually add to the mixture while the motor is running until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Tip out the pastry and knead a little until smooth.
- Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed tart tin.
- Roll the pastry out thinly, about 5mm.
- Line the tart tin with the pastry, easing it gently into the sides of the tin. Do not trim the excess pastry, but let it hang over the sides of the tin.
- Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the tart tin from the fridge and prick the base of the pastry with a fork, to prevent blistering.
- Line the tin with parchment and pour in some baking beads/beans/rice.
- Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes.
- Remove the tin from the oven and lift out the parchment paper and its contents.
- Return the tin to the oven for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to finish baking. If the edges of the pastry seem to be browning too much, cover them with foil.
- Brush the inside of the pastry with whisked egg white and return to the oven for three minutes to dry. Set aside.
- Make the crumble:
- Put the butter, lard, sugar and flour into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Tip the mixture into a bowl and stir in the oats and salt. Set aside.
- Make the filling:
- Peel the apples and cut each into 8 slices.
- Remove the core and chop each slice into chunks – about 5-6 per slice.
- Melt the butter in a pan.
- Add the chunks of apple and cook gently over a moderate heat until the apples have softened and any juice has evaporated. NB Bramley apples WILL reach a point where they just collapse in a pile of fluff if you cook them fully. You need to stop before this happens. They will continue cooking in the oven, so don’t worry about making them soft, it’s making sure the excess juice evaporates that is important here, otherwise you’ll get soggy pockets of apple in your tart.
- Add the caramel and stir gently until thoroughly combined and warmed through.
- Assemble the tart:
- Pour the caramel and apple filling into the pastry shell and smooth over.
- Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.
- If you’ve not already done so, cover the edges of the tart with foil to prevent them from becoming too brown.
- Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumble topping is crisp and golden.
- Cool in the tin for ten minutes.
- Trim the pastry edges neatly with a sharp, serrated knife, then carefully remove the tart from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
- Serve warm or chilled, with cream.
Welcome to the first post of 2015. Yes, I know I’m a bit slow out of the gate and that January is almost half over, but I’ve got several plates spinning just now *she says, enigmatically* so it’s all going to be a bit ad lib for the next few months, I’m afraid. Bear with.
As a reward for your patience, I have a delicious treat for you to try this week – drowned doughnuts!
Not drowned in gooey stuff, for as you can see from the picture, the most they can boast is a light dusting of caster sugar. The ‘drowned’ relates to the method of making the dough – unusual and bizarre and so ‘out there’ it’s practically left the solar system. But it works. And it’s delicious. And so incredibly light and delicate you won’t believe.
“I can’t believe it!” you’ll cry, as you jam yet another vanilla-scented pillow into your mouth (little finger crooked, of course – we’re not ANIMALS here).
For once this dough is mixed, you cover it lightly with a cloth – or plastic, your choice – and drop it into a bucket of cold water.
Yes. Drop it into water. For real.
It’ll sit at the bottom until the yeast has worked its magic sufficiently, whereupon it will rise like a……*stares blankly into the middle distance for a while* ………. well, a very risey thing, and float on the surface. That’s when you know it’s ready.
None of this tip-toeing around, nervously chewing your lip and wondering
“Is it done yet?”
“Why isn’t it done yet?”
“Is it in a draft?”
“Shall I poke it now? “
“Maybe it’s too hot!”
“Did I kill the yeast?”
“I think I killed the yeast!”
“What about poking it now?”
“Did I poke it too much?”
“Why isn’t it done yet??”
No, none of that palaver here – just weigh, mix, wrap and *splash!*
There’s lots you can do with this dough – and we’ll be coming back to it in a few weeks (although do remind me, because you know what I’m like for getting distracted!), but as an introduction I’d like you to enjoy it elegant simplicity.
If you need any further convincing of the high esteem in which I hold this recipe, let me just say I thought it worthy of using a vanilla pod. In a dough! *lets that sink in*
1 sachet easy-blend fast action yeast
200 g unsalted butter
400 g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 heaped tbs caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 ml milk
1 large egg
Milk for brushing
- Put the yeast, butter, flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Tip the mixture into a bowl.
- Put the sugar into a mortar or small bowl.
- Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds to the sugar.
- Using the pestle, or the back of a spoon, stir/grind the sugar and seeds together. This will break apart the sticky mass of vanilla seeds and help distribute them evenly throughout the dough.
- Tip the now vanilla sugar into the flour mix.
- Gently warm the milk to blood temperature, then whisk in the egg.
- Gradually add the liquid to the rest of the ingredients, stirring thoroughly. It will make a soft dough. It won’t matter if you just tip all the liquid in at once and it becomes too soft to mould – just use a ziplock bag for the next stage. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
- Wet a clean tea-towel, squeeze out the excess moisture and lay it on your worktop. Place your ball of dough into the middle. Loosely tie opposite corners of the cloth over the dough, leaving room for it to swell. If your dough is very soft, spoon it into a lightly oiled ziplock bag, squeeze out all the air and seal it shut.
- Place (yes, I know I said ‘drop’ earlier – but I was being melodramatic! I also said bucket, but unless you’ve got clean, food-grade plastic ones, use an alternative.) the dough into a deep bowl or pan of cold water. It will sink to the bottom. Make sure there enough liquid to cover it. You can now safely leave it until it floats to the surface (about an hour).
- Remove the dough from the water and unwrap. You might want to let it drain a little before placing it onto your floured worktop. You can use paper towels to mop up any excess water.
- Gently pat the air out of the dough with the palm of your hand until the dough is 3cm thick.
- Cover lightly with oiled plastic and let it rest for 15 minutes,
- Using a 5cm plain cutter, cut out your doughnuts and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Press the cutter straight down and up again – no twisting, or your doughnuts will rise lop-sided.
- Press any scraps of dough together and pat out again to re-use.
- Cover the doughnuts lightly with cling film and set aside to rise for about 20 minutes while the oven heats up.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160ºC Fan.
- Once the doughnuts have puffed up, bake for 8-10 minutes until well risen and starting to brown on the tops.
- Remove from the oven and quickly brush with milk to keep the crust soft.
- Cover with a cloth and allow to cool till just warm.
- Dust with caster sugar and enjoy.
Here is your 2014 Festive Food Ready Reference page for all your holiday menus!
Click on the text to go to the recipe page.
I hope you all have a fab time and let’s meet up again in 2015 to do it all over again!
Nibbles & Starters
Breads & Side Dishes
Boxing Day Buffet
Final Festive Food recipe this week, and it’s fantastic!
Fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!
I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!
The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.
You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides. You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.
I’ll be putting up a Festive Food Index at the weekend – suggestions from the blog over the years, including this year – on a single handy page, but apart from that, this is the final blog post this year.
Happy Holidays to all and I’ll see you in 2015!
375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast
40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs
60g mixed candied peel 
40g flaked almonds
- Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
- Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
- Add the sherry or mead.
- If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
- Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
- Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
- If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
- Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
- the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
- Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
- Serve warm, with double cream.
- For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.
 I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup, which I made using the recipe on the blog. Do try it!
Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!
For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.
So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.
What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).
I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.
FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly cream and finally, to be topped with shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….
If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.
This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!
It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:
- Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
- Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
- Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
- Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
- Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.
You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.
WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down. Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!
I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.
Chocolate Biscuit Base
This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.
135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine 
- Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
- Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
- Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
- Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
- Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
- Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.
Rich Chocolate Brownie
100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter
- Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
- Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
- Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
- Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
- Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
- Fold in the walnuts.
- Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
- When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
- Set aside to cool in the tin.
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar ) for the praline paste.
You CAN buy praline paste ready made, but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.
115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).
- Make the praline paste, or see footnote  below:
- Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
- Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
- Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
- Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
- Leave to cool.
- Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
- Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
- Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
- Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
- Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- Stir in the vanilla, if using.
- Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
- If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
- Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set. If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache. Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.
Milk Chocolate Chantilly
This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!
400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
- Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
- Allow to cool.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.
You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.
- Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
- Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
- Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
- Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
- Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
- Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
- Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
- Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
- Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
- In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
- Put the trimmings on the side plate.
- Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
- Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
- Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
- Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
- Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
- Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
- Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
- Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.
 http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.