Saturday, 30 October 2010

My Chocri Prize

Chocri sell customised chocolate bars. Starting from a base of plain, milk or white chocolate, or a milk and white combination, the buyer can choose from a multitude of toppings to make a bar to their own specification. As well as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices there are luxuries such as gold leaf, and fripperies such as tiny sugar flowers or gummy bears. According to Chocri, there are over 27 billion possible combinations. The chosen bar can then be further personalised  by choosing a name for your creation.

The average bar, with up to 5 topping choices, costs around £5.00, which is expensive for a 100g bar, but not so expensive as to make it prohibitive for special occasions such as birthday presents. If you think a recipient would prefer to chose their own favorite combination of flavours, gift vouchers are available.

Even if you don't want to buy, a chocoholic can have hours of fun making chocolate bars, looking at suggested combinations of toppings or seeing what people have ordered recently.

I was lucky enough to win a competion on the blog Kavey Eats, for a £10 voucher and free P&P. My competition winning suggestion was for my ideal bar, called Tropical Temptation; dark chocolate with ginger, dates, mango, macadamia nuts and cocoa nibs.

As my daughter's birthday is looming, I allowed her to choose one bar, then used what money was left to choose a bar for myself. Any money left on your gift voucher  can be donated to a German charity which supports homeless and orphaned children in the Ivory Coast, Africa. I can't yet comment on the taste but the bars certainly look very appetising. The chocolate was very well packed, to avoid the possibility of breakage, and the parcel also contained a cool pack to avoid damage by excess heat in transit.

My daughter chose a very classy dark chocolate, raspberry, blueberry and real gold combination, and I went with dark chocolate topped with sour cherries, pistachios, ginger and cocoa nibs. Unfortunately I didn't have enough money on the voucher to see how my competition winning suggestion would turn out!

I'm certainly looking forward to trying my custom made creation! Will I be able to resist temptation until Christmas?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Chestnut Brownies

There were mixed feelings here, about Dan Lepard's  recent recipe for Chestnut Brownies. Yes, they tasted rich and decadent, boozy and well flavoured, but they also had such a soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture that they didn't fit into either of the usual brownie categories - they weren't moist and cakey nor dense and chewy. Eating one was more like eating a mousse - it was almost a surprise that you weren't spooning it out of a dish.

We weren't too sure about the chestnuts, either. I liked the added texture of the almost-candied little chunks, but felt they didn't add much to the flavour, whereas Hubs really disliked them and felt they spoiled the brownies and were a waste of an expensive ingredient. If the recipe had been promoted as a dessert, and served with a scoop of ice cream or creme fraiche then I'm sure we would have liked it more! Expecting a more  traditional brownie, we were slightly disappointed!

The recipe wasn't really complicated, although there were several unusual steps, such as making a meringue from egg whites and brown sugar and then beating in the egg yolks. Because I didn't think things through very carefully, I used several bowls more than I needed to, as I had to move some ingredients into bigger bowls before I could go onto the next stage. My only deviation from the recipe was that I only had 200g of chestnuts - not the specified 240g. I used dark muscovado sugar to mix with the chestnuts and light muscovado sugar with the egg whites, as my dark sugar was a bit lumpy! Although I cooked the brownies until a cocktail stick was clean when poked into the centre, they were still very moist - I think a minute or two more cooking might have been better.

Because I can't make up my mind whether I like these or not, I think this is recipe which will probably eventually just get forgotten about - although not for a while, as my daughter wants  them for her birthday visit home in a few week's time.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Apple Gingerbread with Cinnamon Glaze

Sometimes recipes are just too vague - I should have learned by now to be suspicious of any recipe which starts with 1 large cooking apple. What does that cook call large? Are my apples large or medium by my standards, let alone someone elses? I should also learn to read a recipe and have some idea of how big the finished cake is going to be; this one was much smaller than I expected! I think I was influenced by the fact that the recipe claimed to be from the Women's Institute - that should be reliable, surely?

 I followed the recipe quite closely, the only change was that I used 2/3 black treacle and 1/3 golden syrup, and added half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the cake batter too. I cooked the apples with a pinch of ground cloves, until they had collapsed and the purée was quite dry. I cooked the gingerbread in a 7" round tin - it rose quite a lot in the oven but fell back as it cooled. I glazed the cake with icing sugar flavoured with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and mixed to a flowing consistency with clear apple juice

The gingerbread was very moist and tasty, but a little too dense. I think that was probably due to too much apple and possibly not enough raising agent because of the acidity of some of the ingredients such as treacle. Next time I will double all the cake ingredients, err on the side of caution with the apple and perhaps add a little bicarbonate of soda to neutralise the black treacle and give a better rise.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Pear and Chocolate Pudding

This is simply a chocolate flavoured sponge mixture studded with lumps of chocolate and topped with pear slices. Eaten warm, the chocolate is still molten and provides an interesting contrast in texture. Serve with cold whipped cream for maximum delight!

Use more pears if you have them - I was using the last of my neighbour's windfall gift and would have been happier with a few more slices to strew around. These pears were very ripe by the time I got round to using them - if they were still hard I would have poached them gently first.

3-4 ripe Conference pears, peeled, cored and sliced ino 6-8 slices depending on size. Hold the prepared pears in acidulated water to prevent browning. (As mentioned above, poach in sugar syrup until soft, if not ripe enough)
150g butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pan
150g caster sugar
180g SR flour
20g cocoa
3 large eggs
150g plain chocolate (I used 85%)
milk to mix, as necessary

Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 9" (22cm) ovenprooof dish or skillet with butter, if not non-stick.
Chop the chocolate roughly and reserve about a quarter of the pieces for toppoing - I picked out the larger pieces.
Put all the ingredients except the pears and chopped chocolate into a  large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended, adding a tablespoon or two of milk, if necessary, to give a dropping consistency.
Fold in the larger portion of the chocolate pieces, then transfer the batter to the baking dish, levelling the surface.
Drain the pear slices and arrange on top, then dot the reserved chunks of chocolate between the pear slices.
Bake for around 30-40 minutes, or until the cake mixture is dry when tested with a probe.
Serve while still quite warm, or cover and reheat in a low oven when needed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Maple and Pecan Squares

I've said before that Autumnal cooking, with its use of spices, nuts and seasonal fruit such as apples and pears, suits our tastes better than the more delicate flavours of Spring and Summer. This cake is a case in point, even though I'm borrowing flavours from another part of the world, and I'm not sure maple syrup is even Autumnal - don't they harvest as the sap rises? Anyway, it's something that I probably wouldn't think of making in the Spring.

The original recipe for these packed the cake batter with cocoa nibs and butterscotch chips, and called the result Maple Blondies. I replaced these additions with a smaller amount of chopped pecan nuts and am going to call the result a cake, because it was far too light  to fit in with my ideas of what a Blondie should be! The  simple flavours of pecans, maple syrup and vanilla made this cake delicious and somehow pure, for not having a range of competing flavours jostling together.


200g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
180g salted butter - softened
150g light muscovado sugar
125mls maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150g chopped pecan nuts - a mix of fine and coarse pieces

maple flakes - optional

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a 9" square tin with baking parchment.
Whisk the baking powder into the flour.
Cream the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour.
Fold in the rest of the flour and the chopped nuts. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface.
Sprinkle the surface with a thick layer of maple flakes. (Most of these dissolved during cooking to give a crisp sugary topping to the cake.)
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a test probe comes out with a few moist crumbs still clinging.
Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then cut into squares and leave to cool completely.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Hazelnut Mocha Cream Biscuits

This is my entry to the October 'We Should Cocoa' challenge - to make a product containing chocolate in some form plus an added special ingredient - in this case hazelnuts or cobnuts. This month the challenge is hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and full details of the 'We Should Cocoa' challenge can be found there.

These biscuits are a crisp hazelnut, shortbread type of biscuit, sandwiched with a coffee-flavoured, chocolate cream filling.

Ingredients - biscuits
100g whole hazelnuts
190g plain flour
175g butter
115g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling (based on a recipe by Dan Lepard)
100g plain chocolate
125g icing sugar
50g butter - softened
25ml double cream
25ml Tia Maria or other coffee liqueuer
1 teaspoon instant coffee of coffee extract flavouring

To make the biscuits
Finely grind the hazelnuts with 3 tablespoons of the flour.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then mix in the nuts and remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Wrap the ball of dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough, in two batches, to roughly 3mm thick and cut into circles with a 6cm cutter. Re-roll the trimmings to make more rounds, trying to get an even number! Place the rounds on baking sheets lined with parchment, allowing a little room for spreading, and bake at 170C for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.
Leave on the trays for 3 minutes to firm up, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.
To make the filling
Dissolve the teaspoon of coffee in the cream and liqueur. Melt the plain chocolate and leave until barely warm but still soft. Beat the butter into the chocolate, followed by the cream mixture, then the icing sugar. When the mixture is smooth, use it to sandwich two biscuits together.

This filling recipe has been in my mind since I first made it nearly a year ago. It sets fairly firm, so is ideal for sandwiching biscuits together; no messy squirting when the biscuit is bitten into! This was the first hazelnut shortbread recipe I tried, and although it worked quite well and made a crisp biscuit, they spread more than I expected while cooking. If I had more time (and if hazelnuts were cheaper!), I might have tried other recipes to find a better one, but this will have to do for now!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Chocolate Crumble Date Bar

Dan Lepard describes his recent Guardian recipe  in this way "Hazelnut and milk chocolate fragments are buried in a layer of chocolate shortcrust, under a stratum of soft dates and a crumble crust". What more do I need to say?

I followed the recipe exactly, even to the extent of using the dreaded milk chocolate, except I baked in a fractionally larger tin. The resulting bars were still thick and gooey so I don't think it made a lot of difference. As there were no instructions in the recipe, I cut the tray-bake into 16 squares while still warm, but cooled completely in the tin before removing.

Using only a little cocoa and milk chocolate, rather than plain, allowed the flavour of the dates to come through properly. Together, the orange flavoured dates, hazelnuts and chocolate made a very pleasing combination, with the gooeyness of the dates offsetting the crispness of the crumble topping. My only worry is that the shortcrust base and topping will soften in storage, as the date layer is so soft, meaning this needed to be eaten fresh - only time in the cake tin will tell.

Using both hazelnuts and chocolate this could have been my entry for this month's 'We Should Cocoa' challenge, but I want to make something where the flavour of the hazelnuts is more dominant, so instead I will dedicate this post to National Chocolate Week!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Gianduia Brownies

Unfortunately, by the time these Gianduia (Nutella and Hazelnut) Brownies  (recipe from Epicurious) were cooked, cooled and cut, the light conditions weren't right for a photograph. It was also the day before I went off to Cornwall for a week's holiday, so I never did get a photograph of them.

From what I remember of them, the flavour was excellent but the brownies were a little too cake-like and crumbly for my taste. However, here's the gripe - why do so many American brownie recipes produce such shallow brownies? I cooked these in a 8" square pan, rather than the 9" one stipulated in the recipe, and they were still shallower than I like. I think a shallow brownie looks so mean on a plate!

Here's what they should look like - carefully photographed to avoid showing any scale, I think!