Chocolate Swirl Biscuits

Chocolate Swirl Biscuits
Wotchers!

These biscuits are my newest favourite, and that is due equally to the texture, the flavour(s) and the potential to vary (infinite).

They are a development of the shortbread-like Viennese Whirls, where inclusion of cornflour makes them delightfully crumbly and moreish.

Whereas Viennese Whirls are piped, these can be rolled between the palms in order to produce interesting swirly patterns as the different doughs are mixed together.

Alternatively, if neatness is important and you have a silicone small-hemisphere baking sheet, you can opt to press a mix of the dough into the holes in the sheet to make domed biscuits.

Another option would be to scatter small lumps of each dough over your work surface,  use a rolling-pin to roll them into a smooth sheet with a marbled effect, and cut out your biscuits with regular cutters.

So the method you choose is whatever suits you. What IS important, is that each biscuit has a mixture of all three doughs, especially if they are also flavoured differently as well as contrasting visually .

If you like things simple, you can go: Very chocolate/mildly chocolate/vanilla – which is lovely, delicious and has widespread crowd appeal.

However, ever the tinkerer, I decided to experiment with some alternative flavour combinations the best of which I am going to share with you now.

  • Very chocolate/mildly chocolate/orange: adding orange zest to the palest dough for a classic combination. Would make great Christmas baking/gifts.
  • Very chocolate/coffee/vanilla: mix it up a little with a little mocha combo, ideal if you don’t want to have to choose between coffee and chocolate.

Both of these combinations I found equally delicious, but the absolute best flavour combination I put together tops all of the above (she says modestly), and it is this:

  • Very chocolate/coffee/cardamom: the richness of the cocoa, the bitterness of the coffee and the heady aroma of cardamom are amazing together.
A gif of Emma stone saying Yum.

Actual footage of my face after sampling the chocolate/coffee/cardamom combination, warm from the oven.

I used to drink coffee Turkish-style, flavoured with cardamom, when I worked in the Gulf, so perhaps I’m a little biased, but I strongly urge you to try this combination for a real, to quote Peter Kay, TASTE SENSATION!

Chocolate Swirl Biscuits

This makes a large quantity of biscuits, so divide the quantities in half if you think they might be too much for you, just don’t blame me when they’re all gone in two days and you’re turning on the oven at 10 o’clock at night to make a new batch.

Whichever flavour combination you choose, use the following. Each amount will flavour 1/3 of the dough quantity below:

  • Dark chocolate: 2tbs cocoa powder
  • Light chocolate: 1tbs cocoa powder, 1tbs flour
  • Coffee: 1tbs espresso powder, 1tbs flour
  • Orange: zest of  orange, 2tbs flour
  • Cardamom: ¾tsp ground cardamom, 2tbs flour
  • vanilla: ½tsp vanilla extract, 2tbs flour

250g unsalted butter, softened
125g icing sugar
125g cornflour
120ml vegetable oil
1tsp baking powder
280g plain flour
2tbs cocoa powder
1tbs espresso coffee powder
¾tsp ground cardamom

  • Remove 3 tablespoons of flour and set aside.
  • Put the butter, icing sugar, cornflour, oil and baking powder into a bowl and mix gently until thoroughly combined.
  • Gradually add the flour until the mixture comes together in a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into three and add the flavourings, using the reserved flour for the two lighter doughs. If using a mixer for this, start with the lightest colour dough and finish with the chocolate, to avoid smudging the colours.
  • Roll each dough into marble-sized balls. Due to the baking powder, they will grow slightly during baking, and with each biscuit being formed from six balls of dough, you want to err on the side of caution, sizewise.
  • Decide on the style of your biscuits:
    • If you’re cutting out your biscuits, scatter the different balls of doughs over your work area, cover with a sheet of clingfilm and roll into a marbled sheet. Use cutters of diameter 5cm.
    • To make the swirled biscuits (top left and bottom right in the pic) arrange two balls of each flavour in a circle either 1,2,3,1,2,3 (top left) or 1,1,2,2,3,3 (bottom right). Gather them together until they form a drum shape (similar to biscuit on the bottom left of the pic), then roll this between your palms, with your hands moving in opposite directions, for 6 or 7 rotations until swirled together. Flatten slightly to finish. NB: I adore the swirl this produces, but a word of advice: if you are a perfectionist, do not choose this method. I made 6 or 7 batches of this dough, experimenting with flavour combinations and wotnot, and I can count the number of perfectly swirled biscuits I managed to create on two hands. I definitely got better with practice, but my husband’s work colleagues had to munch a LOT of biscuits in the process. Which is how the silicone mould method evolved, and beautifully neat and dainty top-right style is now my favourite (as well as being so much quicker).
    • If using a hemisphere mould silicone sheet, proceed as above but instead of rolling the dough between your hands, press it into the mould (bottom left). For the biscuit pictured top right, put the balls of dough in pairs, then arrange them side by side, like the pattern of a six on a dice. Press into the mould.
  • Heat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Arrange the biscuits on baking sheets liked with parchment, leaving space between them to allow for spreading.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes, until crisp and slightly risen. NB: If using a silicone mould, the biscuits may take a little longer, as the silicone shields most of the biscuit from the heat. Before removing from the oven, sample a biscuit, break it apart and check that it is cooked all the way through.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Molehill Cake

Molehill Cakes
Wotchers!

It’s been a while since I posted a cake recipe, so I thought I’d cheer up the chilly weather with a cakey treat.

And it’s fabulous!

I was initially a little conflicted about this cake: on the one hand it tastes amazing, but then it also falls into the category of my pet hate of ‘food looking like something that isn’t food’, even though it is achieved almost by accident. In the end the ease of baking/construction, coupled with the amazing flavours persuaded me to bend my own rules and I hope you’ll be as delighted with the result as I am.

It’s very straightforward, based on a chocolate sponge, and takes almost zero skill to put together. Huzzah!

I found it on a Romanian version of Pinterest, and it appears to be something Romanians can create from a Dr Oetker box cake mix.

However, there’s no need to resort to box cake mixes, no matter how convenient they might be. Hands up anyone who has eaten one and thought “Oh my! This tastes so convenient!”.

Quite.

So this is a hand-made version, which is only marginally less convenient but with added fresh, natural ingredients. I call it the very best kind of clean eating. I might start a food trend…..

ANYHOO….

Requiring just 2 bowls – one if you rinse it out after mixing the cake – it also requires practically zero washing up! Bonus!

The cake is my go-to, one-bowl chocolate yogurt cake, so easy you could mix it with just a spoon – although I recommend a balloon whisk. Once baked and cooled, the cake is hollowed out and the bottom filled with whole (or as whole as possible) bananas, then a creamy filling mounded on top. The cake that was hollowed out, plus any excess you cut off to level the top, are blitzed to crumbs and patted onto the mound of cream and voila! Something that resembles a molehill but with a much more appetising taste!

You can make one large cake, or, as I managed, one large and several small, individually-sized versions.

The filling can be as simple as sweetened, whipped cream, a custardy diplomat cream (crème patissière + gelatine + whipped cream) or, my favourite, a combination of cream cheese, crème fraiche and double cream, whipped to firmness with a little vanilla paste and icing sugar.

Also optional is whether or not to include some chocolate in your creamy filling. My daughter voted for chocolate chips in an earlier version (she also preferred diplomat cream), however I went for hand-chopped chocolate. Other options might be pure chocolate sprinkles or indeed none at all.

The comforting combination of the richness of the chocolate sponge, the freshness and sweetness of the banana, the creamy topping and the novelty of the overall appearance have immediately shot this cake into my top five list. In fact, the only downside of this cake is the time spent waiting for the cooked cake to cool down before you can fill it!

Mini Molehill Cakes

Molehill Cake

Chocolate Sponge Cake

150ml vegetable oil
150ml plain yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g plain flour
50g cocoa
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Line the bottom and sides of a deep 20cm cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
  • Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
  • Bake in the oven for 60-75 minutes, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides, no bubbling sounds can be heard and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Yes, it does seem a long time, but the low temperature means it really needs the full allowance. The result is a beautifully-textured cake that actually improves on keeping, if you want to make it ahead. Additionally, the low-and-slow cooking means it is invariably gently and perfectly rounded on top and without any cracks.
  • Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Filling

300g cream cheese at room temperature
300ml low-fat creme fraîche
1-2tsp vanilla paste
2-3tbs icing sugar
300ml double cream
100g good quality chocolate – white, milk or plain – chopped fine

  • Mix the cream cheese, vanilla paste and creme fraîche thoroughly.
  • Add icing sugar to taste.
  • Add the double cream and whisk until firm.
  • Stir through the chopped chocolate.
  • Cover with plastic and chill until required.

To Assemble

cooled cake
4-5 bananas
cream filling

  • Cut the cake horizontally at a height of 4cm. If the cake has risen a lot, you might be able to cut it in half and make 2 large molehill cakes. Alternatively, you can cut out circles of sponge from either one or both halves using a baking ring to make individual-sized portions.
  • Cut a circle 2cm deep around the edge of the cake, 2cm from the edge.
  • Hollow out the middle of the cake so that the remaining sponge resembles a tart case. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake. Reserve the cake scraps.
  • Lay whole bananas in the hollow, making sure they cover the whole of the bottom of the cake.
  • Pile the cream filling on top, using a palette knife to shape it into a tall mound.
  • Blitz the cake scraps to crumb and press lightly onto the sides of the cream until completely covered.
  • You can serve the cake immediately, but it does benefit from being wrapped in foil and thoroughly chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.
  • Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Gluten-free Dairy-free Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Wotchers!

These biscuits are delicious! Crunchy, chocolatey, rich and rounded caramel flavour, they are light and crisp and decidedly moreish.

They are, perhaps a little surprisingly, also free from gluten and dairy products.

I made these for a friend who has dietary restrictions and have such a wonderful texture and taste, I didn’t want to label them as “allergy only”, since this tag can be offputting.

These biscuits are everything you’d want in a biscuit, they just happen to be gluten and dairy free.

My own priority as regards recipes and food in general, is flavour; how a dish tastes. Which is probably why my presentation has a tendency to veer towards the C-minus-could-do-better grade. (I’m working on it!) If a dish tastes good, you can always improve the appearance to make it look attractive, but if it tastes mediocre or bland, then all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t going to make it a success.

Apart from being common sense, this attitude probably stems from an experience I had, back in the mists of time, whilst backpacking in Nepal. (Bit of a crunching of the gears, topic-wise there, but try to keep up.) Kathmandu used to be something of a culinary beacon in the old overland backpacking route, since after months of rice and dal, weary travellers were treated to shimmering visions of mile high cakes and gateaux and froths of pie confections to entice the palate. Whilst in Pokhara, I was tempted by a stunning display in a tea shop and opted for a slice of their magnificent layered cake. Alas, the analogy of a mirage proved all too accurate, since it turned out to be all style and no substance. Sawdust-textured cake and greasy buttercream, it was as if someone had made it from a picture, with no reference to how it was supposed to taste. Quite possibly, this is exactly what happened. It served to emphasise to me, the importance of taste. It’s food, not art. It all looks the same in your stomach. So make the effort with taste, not appearance.

OK, maybe make a little effort with appearance; we’re not completely uncivilised.

For the batch of biscuits in the photo I used dairy-free chocolate chips I found online, but I have also made these by chopping up the dairy-free chocolate bars (see pic below) I found in Morrisons (also available in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose).

Kinnerton's allergy-free chocolate bar

Kinnerton’s allergy-free chocolate bar

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

This recipe has been adapted from Alton Brown’s Good Eats recipe, to make it dairy-free and suitable for use with ingredients available in the UK. I like the dark, caramel flavour that the sugars bring, but if you prefer a more delicate flavour, change the dark brown sugar to soft, light brown.

115g coconut butter
160g Doves Farm wholemeal gluten-free bread flour
30g cornflour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g Demerera sugar
115g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
170g dairy-free chocolate chips, or bars, chopped

  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.
  • Melt the coconut butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat. Once melted, pour into a bowl.
  • Add both of the sugars and whisk together for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.
  • Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  • Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
  • Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC Fan.
  • Shape the dough into 30g balls. An ice-cream scoop can help. Mine has a diameter of 4cm and makes a perfect 30g hemisphere of dough. If your scoop is large, just cut each ‘scoop’ in half and roll each piece into a ball.
  • Chill again in the fridge for 15 minutes of so, to firm up. This will help keep them from spreading too much.
  • Place on parchment-lined baking trays, 8 per pan. On a half-sheet (30cm x 45cm) pan, I set them out in a 3-2-3 formation. The cooked biscuits are approximately 10cm in diameter, so you want a decent 3cm space all around the ball of dough to allow for spreading during baking.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the trays after 5 minutes to ensure even baking. If you’re baking 2 trays at a time, be sure to swap the baking trays between shelves as well as rotate them. If you like your biscuits chewy, you should try a test bake with just once biscuit and a shorter cooking time. Remember to allow to cool before you taste as they do crisp up when cold.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the biscuits to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Move the biscuits to a wire rack and cool completely.
  • Store biscuits in an airtight container.

Fudge

Fudge

Wotchers!

Confession: This is not my recipe.

It is the original fudge recipe that used to be posted on the Carnation website and for some reason was taken down a few years ago.

Luckily for me – and you – I have it ingrained on my brain as it is the best, no-fail recipe I have ever used, and I am posting it here so I can be lazy and just point everyone who asks for the recipe here, instead of writing it out again and again.

It makes the kind of fudge that has texture: when cooled, it is hard to bite into – yet it melts in the mouth.Very similar to the confection known in Scotland as Tablet.

The secret is two-fold: boiling the mixture to the correct temperature, and beating it as it cools to ‘grain’ the sugar.

You CAN make this the Old Skool way, testing for the Firm Ball stage by doing the drop test in water, and by beating the cooling mixture hard with a wooden spoon. However, I’m all for using gadgets wherever possible, so a thermapen or similar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer are my recommendations.

Each batch makes a 1.2kg slab large enough to last over the festive season. Alternatively, you can make a batch and divide it up into small batches in clear plastic bags and use it for presents, or make two batches of contrasting flavours and make it go even further.

You can use the basic recipe to make a number of equally delicious variations, and I’ve thrown in an extra one by Nell Heaton – a favourite author of mine from the 1940s/1950s, who deserves greater recognition for her delicious, trustworthy recipes – which is a real explosion of flavour when made with home-made candied peel, fruit and nuts.

Fudge

1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
150ml milk
125g butter
450g Demerera sugar

  • Line a baking pan with parchment. The size of the pan doesn’t really matter, but I recommend a rectangular pan, for ease of cutting the fudge into cubes once cooled. The original recipe suggested a pan 18cm square, which will make for a small, very thick slab. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 116°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
  • When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly until the mixture thickens. Alternatively, use your electric hand mixer directly into the pan, also whisking until the mixture has thickened.
  • When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Leave to cool completely.
  • When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.

Variations

  • Rum and Raisin Fudge: Warm 115g raisins in 3-4tbs dark rum and leave to plump. Add just before beating.
  • Chocolate Fudge: Melt 170g dark, 60% chocolate and add just before beating.
  • Fruit and nut fudge: Stir in 85g mixed dried fruit and chopped nuts.
  • Nell Heaton’s Tutti Frutti Fudge (my favourite) Add 350g – yes, a whopping 12 ounces in old money – of mixed chopped nuts, dried fruit and candied peel sliced or diced small. I suggest about 90g candied peel, 130g flaked or slivered almonds and chopped walnuts, and 130g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots.

Luxury Brownies

Luxury Brownie

Luxury Five-Layer Chocolate Brownie

Wotchers!

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.

Luxury Brownies

Day 1

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
1g salt
135g flour
10g cocoa
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine [1]

  • 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
50g flour
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.

Praline Ganache
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar                   ) for the praline paste.

You CAN buy praline paste ready made[1], 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 [1] 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.

Day 2

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.

[1] http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.


Banana Ganache Tarts

Banana Ganache Tart

Wotchers!

Here’s a very indulgent treat, just in time for Mothers Day.

I’m really rather pleased with the star of the recipe, the banana ganache. Looking at other online recipes, people SAY it’s banana ganache, but when you click on it, you find they’ve mixed it with chocolate or fruit or caramel or rum. Not that any of those aren’t delicious combinations, but I wanted something that captured the pure flavour of fresh banana, and here it is. Of course, as can be seen from the picture, I then proceeded to pour it ONTO chocolate and then slather it IN chocolate, but the ganache itself is wonderfully unadulterated and fresh-tasting.

This is one of my, what I like to call, Lego™ recipes. I take a brick from this recipe, and a brick from that recipe and click them together with some new bits and bobs to make a new recipe. In this case I’ve taken the mirror glaze recipe from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake, and the chocolate pastry from the Midnight Meringue to make this very rich and delicious dessert. If you have some Crepes Dentelles biscuits, you could make the base out of the Feuilletine recipe (also from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake) for a quick, no-bake recipe, or go cheap and cheerful with either cornflakes or rice crispies mixed with melted chocolate.

I’ve used a nifty trick to make individual servings by making a thin tray-bake and then using a flower-shaped pastry/biscuit cutter to cut out the un-glazed-but-set ganache. The mirror glaze is then poured over the top and makes for a seamless and wonderfully glossy finish.

I’m hoping some of you might try this for Mothers Day, but you can just as easily keep everything simple as a tray-bake. Another alternative is to use just the ganache either dipped in tempered chocolate or rolled in either cocoa or dessicated coconut to make bite-sized truffles. You could  also use the ganache in/on a cake, but plan ahead, because it does need several hours in the fridge to firm up before it is spreadable.

Banana Ganache Tart

Chocolate Pastry
100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
60g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp milk

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C 180°C Fan.
  • Grease and line with parchment a rectangular baking tin. You want something quite large, so the pastry and ganache layers will be thin. I used a roasting tin of dimensions 20cm x 30cm. If you’re not going to cut individual portions, a 24cm loose-bottom, spring-form cake tin is another option.
  • In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
  • Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
  • Add the tablespoon of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
  • Press the mixture into the base of your tin. Keep the layer thin – no more than 5mm before baking – otherwise it becomes to clunky for a delicate dessert.
  • Prick the pastry thoroughly with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.
  • Check pastry for done-ness (always a little tricky with chocolate pastry, but it will be firm to the touch and have shrunk from the sides a little when filly baked). Return to the oven until fully baked if necessary.
  • Allow the pastry to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Banana Ganache
275g banana – about 3 ripe bananas
25ml syrup [1]
140ml double cream
400g white chocolate
45g unsalted butter

  • Mash the bananas to a smooth puree. I’ve found the best way is to break them into pieces and then use an immersion/stick blender to get rid of all lumps. Alternatively, mash them by hand then pass through a sieve.
  • Put the banana puree, syrup and cream into a small pan.
  • Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a bowl.
  • Bring the puree mixture to a boil, stirring continuously, then pour over the chocolate.
  • Leave for 5 minutes to melt.
  • Stir gently until thoroughly combined. Set aside to cool
  • When the banana mixture has cooled to 35°C add the cubed butter and use the immersion/stick blender again to whisk it in. The combination of the butter and the vigorous whisking will help to emulsify and thicken the ganache.
  • If making the tarts/tray-bake, pour the ganache over the chocolate base and set aside to cool. Cover lightly with a flat sheet of parchment only – using plastic film at this point will trap condensation which will then drip onto your ganache – ew.
  • When completely cold, cover with film and chill in the fridge.

Chocolate Mirror Glaze
4 leaves (8g) gelatine
175ml water
150ml double cream
225g granulated sugar
75g cocoa powder

NB If you’re making the tray-bake, halve these quantities. If glazing individual tartlet portions, you’ll need the full quantity.

  • Soak the gelatine in plenty of cold water. I leave the sheets whole, as it is easier both to fish them out of the water and to shake off the excess water from them once hydrated.
  • Put the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, to dissolve the sugar.
  • Continue stirring and, once the sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil.
  • Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of about 104°C.
  • Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Keep stirring as the base of the pan will still be very hot and might burn the mixture. If you’re glazing individual tartlets, pour the mixture into a jug and prepare your tartlets (see below).
  • Leave to cool until the mixture reaches 50°C, then drain the gelatine and stir into the mixture until it is fully dissolved.
  • Let the mixture cool further until just 35°C and is beginning to thicken and set.
  • If you’re making the tray bake, pour the glaze over the cooled and chilled ganache and leave to set. Chill in the fridge. Otherwise, see below:
    • Glazing individual tarts
    • Select an appropriately-sized cutter. I used a flower-shaped cutter of diameter 8cm. Other shapes might include hearts or stars. This might sound small, but as already stated, the ganache is very rich, and anything larger is going to push the portion size toward sickly.
    • Grease the cutter, inside and out, with a non-flavoured oil. Almond oil is very mild, personally I used grape-seed oil. The ganache is very sticky and the oil will help the cutter pass easily through and, more importantly, help it pass easily out again. NB: Be sure to clean and re-oil the cutter after each use.
    • Use the cutter to cut out shapes and move them to a wire rack. Make sure they are evenly spaced out on the rack as this is where they will be glazed. If the cut tartlets are reluctant to come out of the cutter, run the point of a sharp knife around the edge of the cutter from the underside.
    • If the glaze is still too warm, put the rack into the freezer to firm up the tartlets.
    • When the glaze has cooled enough to pour, put the wire rack with the tartlets over a bowl wide enough to catch all the drips.
    • Slowly pour the glaze over the tarts one at a time. Pour onto the centre of the tart and the glaze will spread smoothly across the surface and down the sides. Don’t rush this. If you have to go back and ‘patch’, then the glaze will not be smooth. It is better to glaze 3 or 4 tarts perfectly first time, than glaze them all in one go but have to go back and patch up the missed bits.
    • The glaze that drips through the rack into the bowl can be re-used, provided it is done at once, before it has cooled too much. Set the rack aside and scrape the glaze back into the jug. Replace the rack over the bowl and continue glazing.
    • Allow the glaze to cool, and chill thoroughly in the fridge until required.

[1] I used maple syrup because I had some, but any liquid sugar will do – honey, golden syrup, agave, etc.


Ultimate Dessert

A slice of the ultimate dessert

Wotchers!

Here’s a little something that popped into my head trying to combine a childhood favourite (banana custard) with an all-American classic (banana cream pie).

Instead of using custard powder from a tin, I wanted to make proper, egg-yolk custard with a vanilla bean for flavouring. Whilst scanning the recipes on Tastespotting I noticed several recipes included peanut butter as an additional flavouring. Others had used chocolate. I thought: bananas, peanut butter, chocolate, custard – what’s not to like? Why not pile all four together into one glorious, outrageously decadent dessert?

Let us pause here for a confession – I find that all the huge, towering and generally overblown portions seen on many American food shows make me slightly unwell: it’s just too much food. If it tastes good, why does it have to be stacked 20-25cm high? Do 30 slices of brisket taste any better than two slices? The desserts are frequently the same. It really doesn’t make my mouth water to see a whole mountain of cream and cake and custard and toppings and goo and anything else that can be thrown at a dessert poised precariously on a woefully inadequate plate.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching American cooking shows. For a long time I was a great Man v Food fan, although the pig-out ‘challenges’ I found a bit gross. Now I’ve moved on to Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. He shows some delicious food, and best of all, you see the restaurant owners making some of their best sellers, and the recipes are usually available on the food network website. There’s lots that I would like to try, but I’d make them in normal, regular-sized portions rather than the vast quantities shown on the show.

So with this dessert, I wanted great flavours, but in a restrained quantity. The slice in the photograph is just 4cm high, and 10cm long. For all it’s petite dimensions, it tasted amazing. I had to send the rest with my husband to his work, otherwise the temptation might have been too great.

I talked about this a bit on Twitter, but for those that missed it, the rundown of the layers, starting at the bottom, is: chocolate crust, banana slices, vanilla crème patissière, banana slices, peanut butter cheesecake, double cream, cocoa. I’ve tried this layering both ways – custard on the bottom & custard on the top, and I think it actually works better from a texture perspective, with the custard layer on the top, which is not how the slice in the photo was done, but it’s entirely up to you which way round you layer it.

Apart from being OMG AMAZING, this dessert is great because you can make everything separately and then just assemble it when convenient. Having said that, I found it was better if the custard was poured when warm, but you can use it cold just fine. This is very much a Lego dessert – I’ve taken recipes for each element from here and there and clicked them together to make something delicious. The chocolate crust is actually the scaled down recipe from the Midnight Meringue. I halved and tweaked a Raymond Blanc recipe for crème patissière and adapted the peanut butter layer from a pie recipe I found on the web.

I hope you enjoy the flavours enough to give this recipe a try, because together they are fabulous.

Ultimate Dessert

Chocolate Pastry
100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
60g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp milk

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C 180°C Fan.
  • Grease and line with parchment a loose-bottomed, 20cm tart tin.
  • In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
  • Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
  • Add the tablespoon of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
  • Press the mixture into the base of your pie tin. If you’ve got extra pastry left over, you could press it into the sides to make a full tart shell.
  • Line with baking parchment, fill with rice/beans/baking beads and bake blind for 10 minutes.
  • Remove beans and parchment and return to the oven until fully baked (8-10 minutes).
  • Allow the pastry to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

Crème Patissière

4 large egg yolks
40g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
15g plain flour
10g cornflour
250ml whole milk

  • Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
  • Put the seeds into a bowl with the yolks and sugar.
  • Put the pod into a small saucepan with the milk and put it over the lowest possible heat to infuse.
  • Whisk together the vanilla seeds, yolks and sugar until they are pale and creamy.
  • Whisk in the flour and cornflour and set aside.
  • Bring the milk to a boil and strain it through a fine sieve to remove the vanilla pod.
  • Whilst whisking, pour the hot milk down the side of the bowl onto the egg mixture.
  • Make sure , whisking all the time, then return the mixture to the pan.
  • Keep whisking the mixture over a low heat until it thickens.
  • Pour the thickened custard into a bowl and lay cling film onto the surface to prevent a skin forming.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake

100g cream cheese, room temperature
2tbs icing sugar
100g smooth peanut butter
125ml double cream

  • Whisk the cream cheese until smooth.
  • Add the sugar and whisk to incorporate.
  • Add the peanut butter and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the double cream and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

To Assemble
2 medium bananas
200ml double cream
cocoa for sprinkling

This is more of a suggestion than hard and fast rules. Order the layers how you like. If you have some food-grade acetate, use it to line the edge of the tin – it will make for a cleaner edge to the dessert when you slide it out.

  • Slice one of the bananas extremely thinly and lay the slices in a layer on top of the chocolate crust.
  • Select your next layer – peanut butter or custard. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and pipe the filling over the banana slices. You don’t HAVE to do this, but just spreading with a spoon tends to make the banana slices lift up and move out of place. Make sure the banana slices are completely covered – this will help to slow down the browning of the banana.
  • Slice the second banana thinly and place in a layer over the piped filling.
  • Put your second layer into the piping bag and pipe over the second banana layer. Again, make sure the banana slices are completely covered.
  • Whip the double cream to soft peaks and spread lightly over the op of the dessert.
  • Sprinkle cocoa over the whipped cream.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and chill until required.