Thursday, 28 February 2013

Chocolate Babka

A wiser individual than I once proclaimed "you can't beat a babka" and after recently sampling one for myself, I find this hard to dispute. A brioche-like sweet bread, it is as satisfying as it is shameless, rich, buttery and smeared with chocolate. It's a real rascal of a loaf and one that I shall be making frequently in the future. As the name suggests I've used chocolate alone when making this version, but there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. Chopped nuts, spices, fruit or a combination of each would all be welcome additions.

Prep time: 30 Mins (Plus time to prove, etc)
Baking time: 25 Mins
15g Fresh Yeast
100ml Warm Water
320g Strong White Bread Flour
50ml Milk
50g Caster Sugar
50g Unsalted Butter (Melted)
2 Large Egg Yolks
1tsp Salt
1tsp Vanilla

For the filling and topping
100g Chopped Chocolate
35g Unsalted Butter
3tbsp Golden Syrup

A fair few ingredients for this one, but worry not, it's so simple to make. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large bowl, then pour over the water and mix together until most of the yeast has dissolved. Tip in the flour, followed by (deep breath) the milk, caster sugar, melted butter, egg yolks, salt and vanilla. Mix it together with a wooden spoon until it starts to form a loose dough then tip out onto a clean dry surface. Knead the dough for about 7 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky initially but I promise it will come together with just a little elbow grease. Speaking of grease, when the dough is smooth and elastic place it in a clean bowl that has been lightly greased, cover with cling film and place in the fridge overnight or for around 6-8 hours.

Remove the dough from the fridge and leave for 30 minutes just to come up to temperature a bit. Whilst the dough is warming up, you can melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or over a bain-marie. Grease a large surface with a little oil, remove the dough from the bowl and roll out to a large rectangle, around 30x40cm. You could even go a bit bigger if your surface allows. Spread the melted chocolate/butter all over the surface of the dough, leaving a border of about 3cm around the edge.

Now, here comes the really fun part. Roll the dough up to a long sausage, pressing along the seam and squashing together each end to seal. Take a sharp knife and make an incision lengthways, making sure you don't go quite to each sealed end, then fold the dough end to end and twist together three or four times. What will happen is the dough will bulge and the chocolate will seep from where you made the incision. This is exactly what you want as it will then start to cover the outside of the dough as you twist. Place the chocolately monstrosity onto a clean greased surface, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and grease a large flat baking tray. Carefully transfer the dough to the tray and bake in the centre of the oven for around 25 minutes, until the bread is a dark chocolatey brown, then remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack or large chopping board. To finish brush over some golden syrup that has been warmed through in the microwave for 20 seconds and it's finished. There's a few processes involved, but this loaf is tremendous fun. What I really love about it though is you can get it started the night before or even in the morning, then go off to work and it's ready to finish off when you get home. Simple, spectacular and scrumptious, it's a classic in the making.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Chamomile Fruit Loaf

Chamomile tea has such a wonderful soft sweetness, so I'm ashamed to confess that I've only recently tried it out in a recipe. This loaf accentuates the floral fruitiness of the tea and is perfect both as a lunchtime snack or an after dinner treat. Moist and dense, it can be enjoyed naked, but for a real indulgence defile it with butter or peanut butter. It may only be a mild corruption, but trust me when I say it's worth it!

Prep time: 15 Mins (Plus steeping time)
Baking time: 75-80 Mins
300ml Strong Chamomile Tea (Hot but not boiling)
Zest of a large Orange
300g Mixed Dried Fruit
100g Golden Syrup
100g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
250g Self Raising Flour
1 Large Egg

So let's get going. In a large jug or bowl mix together the fruit and zest, then pour over the hot tea. Add the syrup and sugar, then mix together and leave to go cold. When you come to revisit the mixture, you will find it has become unctuous, with a heady aroma.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease a 22cm loaf tin, lining the base with baking paper. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl then pour in the tea mixture. Crack in the large egg and mix together to an evenly combined batter. Pour into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 75-80 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the loaf. When cooked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully remove and leave to cool on a wire rack until just warm. It's now ready to be sliced and enjoyed.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Caramelised White Chocolate Thins

When it comes to caramelised white chocolate I'm not sure if I'm late or early to the party. All I know for certain is I'm glad I came as quite the event it is. I am a fan of white chocolate as a baking ingredient, so it was with no small amount of excitement that I discovered it could be infused with deep flavours of toasted caramel, with only the minimum of effort.

To make this nectarous delectation, all you need to do is spread some white chocolate chunks (I used 200g) evenly over a shallow baking tray and place in the centre of the oven at 130C/250F/Gas ½ for about 45-60 minutes. The key to it though is, every 5-10 minutes you need to remove the tray from the oven and smear the chocolate around with a silicone spatula or palette knife, spreading it evenly. Keep doing this until the mixture is deep golden then spoon into a dish and stir until smooth and glossy. You can then use it immediately or transfer to a jar or container lined with baking parchment, melting over a bain-marie as required. It is simply divine and can be treated just like any other type of melted chocolate, spread, stirred through, or set. My current preference is to salt and set it into little bars!

That isn't the end of the story though, for there is titillating twist. If for whatever reason the melted chocolate goes to far, it will seize into nuggets. These should certainly not be discarded, far from it in fact, as they are beautiful sprinkled over ice cream, or tossed into cake batter or cookie dough. And just to prove I'm a (gentle)man of my word, here is a lovely little recipe that makes use of them in just that way.

Prep time: 15 Minutes
Baking time: 15 Minutes
110g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
175g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg
1tsp Vanilla Extract
150g Plain Flour
200g Caramelised White Chocolate Nuggets

To the kitchen! Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a large flat baking sheet with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg with the vanilla extract. Mix in the plain flour until evenly combined, then fold through the chocolate nuggets. Moisten your hands with a little water, then break off a small amount of the biscuit dough, roll into a golf ball shape and place on the tray. Repeat, making sure there is a large gap between each ball as they will spread considerably during baking. You should get about 12 out of the mix and I actually bake them in batches of four. Place the tray in the centre for the oven for about 15 minutes, until each ball has spread to a thin round biscuit and turned an even golden on top. Remove from the oven, carefully slide the paper off of the tray and leave on the paper until cool. Carefully peel each thin biscuit from the paper and you're finished!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Carrot and Pistachio cake with Orange Mascarpone Icing

When is a carrot cake not a carrot cake? This version is an entirely different animal from it's more traditional namesake. In fact it's an absolute beast of a cake, with buttery pistachios and the seductive, romantic fragrance of orange blossom water. Not so much moist, but melt in the mouth, the velvety sponge is covered generously with a sweet, silky and citrussy mascarpone icing, then finally scattered with more pistachios and orange zest. If bland and boring is what you are looking for then this one isn't for you, but if like myself you crave the extraordinary then prepare yourself accordingly, as the fun is about to begin...

Prep time: 20 Minutes + 30 Minutes for the icing
Baking time: 50-55 Minutes
200g Shelled Pistachios
200g Light Muscovado Sugar
125g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
200ml Vegetable Oil
1.5tsp Orange Blossom Water
3 Large Eggs (Beaten)
300g Carrots (Peeled and grated)

For the icing
250g Mascarpone Cheese
150g Icing Sugar (Sifted)
The juice of 1 Large Orange
75g Shelled Pistachios (Chopped)
Zest of 2 Large Oranges

We begin as we often do, by preheating the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, greasing a 21cm square baking tin and lining it with baking paper. Roughly chop 100g of the pistachios and set to one side. Take the other 100g and grind as finely as you can, then mix in a large bowl together with the sugar, flour and baking powder. Pour in the vegetable oil along with the orange blossom water and eggs, then beat to a smooth batter. Fold through the grated carrot and the 100g of pistachios you chopped earlier, then pour the batter into your prepared tin. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake. Once cooked, remove from the oven and set to one side for 30 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the icing, beat together the cheese, icing sugar and orange juice until smooth, then cover and leave in the fridge for around 30 minutes to firm up slightly. Spread the cold icing all over the top of the cooled cake and finish by scattering over the 75g of chopped pistachios and orange zest. Time to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labour!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Chilli Chocolate Brownies

Valentines day is upon us once more and if you've yet to complete your arsenal of enticement then these should be added to your repertoire post-haste. Seductive and sultry these brownies showcase two of the most potent of aphrodisiacs, chilli and chocolate in a manner that can only be described as downright sexual. Divinely dense and moist, with a dark, rich chocolate flavour the warm tickle of the chilli adds just the required amount of raunch. The amount of chilli you use depends on your preference, but if in doubt be brave. A little danger will only add to the excitement!

Prep time: 15 Mins
Baking time: 30-35 Mins
175g Dark Chocolate (Melted)
200g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
250g Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
50g Plain Flour
50g Cocoa Powder
1/2tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
2tsp Fresh Red Chilli (De-seeded and as finely chopped as you can)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 21cm square baking tin and line it with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the melted chocolate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then sift in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Add in the salt and chopped chilli, then mix the whole lot together to a smooth batter. Spoon into your prepared tin, even out to the edges and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until a metal skewer comes out slightly wet and sticky.

Once the brownies are cooked remove from the oven and leave in the tray until cool. To finish carefully remove from the tray, slice into squares with a sharp knife and peel each from the paper. Serve just as they are, or for the ultimate delectation warm in a hot oven for 2 minutes and serve with cold vanilla ice cream. Shamelessly sinful and all the better for it!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Roasted Hazelnut and White Chocolate Cookies

I'm not one to normally insist on specific ingredients but occasionally I simply must. You can pre-buy roasted hazelnuts and they are fine for many things, but this time they just won't do. It is an understatement to say the minimal effort of roasting and chopping them yourself is worth it. The depth of flavour is sublime, ambrosial even and when combined with the other ingredients the result is a cookie unlike any you will have tried before. To prepare the hazelnuts, used blanched whole ones (you can get them in the supermarket) and place them in a hot oven for a few minutes until golden brown, then when cool roughly chop, or blitz for (literally) a couple of seconds. Easy!

Prep time: 15 Mins (Plus some chilling time)
Baking time: 13-14 Mins
150g White Chocolate
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
100g Light Muscovado Sugar
1 Medium Egg
1tsp Vanilla Extract
100g Ground Almonds
100g Roasted Hazelnuts (Roughly Chopped)
75g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder

First up is the chocolate. Melt 100g of the white chocolate in the microwave or over a bain-marie. Whilst it's melting roughly chop the other 50g of white chocolate and leave to one side.

Once the chocolate is melted you can start on the cookie dough. Cream together the butter and sugar then mix in the melted chocolate until evenly combined. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla extract. Fold through the ground almonds, then do the same with both the hazelnuts and 50g of chopped chocolate. Sift in the flour with the baking powder and mix together to a stiff batter. Lay out a large rectangle of cling film, then spoon the cookie dough mixture into the middle. Wrap up tightly and place in the fridge for a couple of hours (even overnight), until firm.

I bake my dough in 3 batches as I can only trust one shelf of my oven, so if you're like me preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Unwrap the chilled dough, break off pieces and roll into balls about the size of a golf ball. Place evenly spaced on the baking paper, making sure they each have room to spread. Bake for 13-14 minutes, until pale golden in the middle and just starting to darken at the edges. When you're happy they're baked remove and carefully slide the baking paper onto a wire rack.

Repeat the process for the remainder of the dough. You should get 10-12 cookies out of this mixture. After they've cooled for about 30 minutes peel from the paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Put the kettle on as it's time to eat them!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Pistachio Coffee Cake

Pistachios are one of my favourite nuts and I really should use them more than I do. Rich and buttery, yet slightly fruity they are an interesting alternative to the more traditional nuts used in baking. Here I've tried them in a gluten and dairy free coffee cake. I think they bounce off of the deep dark black coffee flavour in a delightfully unusual way and provide a texture so soft and moist that it barely fits the definition of a conventional cake at all. I've dusted the finished cake with icing sugar and please note that this is not merely for decoration. The sweet tickle to the tastebuds it administers is a vital contribution!

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 40-45 Mins
100g Shelled Pistachio Nuts
125g Ground Almonds
180g Caster Sugar
1tsp Baking Powder
157ml Vegetable Oil
3 Large Eggs (Beaten)
3tbsp Strong Black Coffee (Cold)
Icing Sugar (To dust)

As far as I am aware it is not yet possible to purchase pistachio nuts ready ground, but for this small quantity it is straightforward to do this using a mini chopper or pestle and mortar. You want to try and grind the nuts as finely as you can, but don't worry if there are a few larger nuggets left.

Once the nuts are ground, that's the hard part done (and even that is easy). Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 21cm square baking tin and line it with baking paper. In a large bowl mix together the ground pistachios and almonds, along with the sugar and baking powder. Make a well in the middle, then tip in the oil and beaten eggs and mix to a smooth batter. Pour in the coffee and do the same, then tip into your prepared tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes, until a metal skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake. When you're happy it's cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

Once the cake is cool, carefully remove it from the tin and peel off the baking paper. Finish by dusting all over liberally with icing sugar and you're all done!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


I made some wonderfully tart rhubarb jam the other week and these are the perfect thing to spread it on. Fluffy on the inside with a buttery, almost scone like crust they are best sliced and toasted or (as I actually preferred) warmed through in the oven. Because of this they keep well too and are just as good the following day. I couldn't help but put a little spin on the traditional recipe by using actual Chai tea, which gives the buns a mild flavour of roasted spice. However they're just as delicious with traditional spicing or even other teas. Probably not coffee though!

Prep time: 30 Mins (Plus some time to prove, etc)
Baking time: 20-25 Mins
45g Unsalted Butter
75ml Milk
15g Fresh Yeast
300g Strong White Bread Flour
50g Caster Sugar
1/2tsp Salt
75g Sultanas
100ml Strong Chai Tea (At room temperature)
1 Large Egg Yolk

To start, melt the butter in with the milk on a low heat. When melted set aside until warm. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large bowl, then mix in the flour, sugar, salt and sultanas. Make a well in the middle and pour in the warm milk and butter, followed by the tea and egg yolk. Bring the mixture together with a wooden spoon, then transfer to a clean dry surface and knead for around seven minutes. The dough will start off quite sticky but keep at it and it will eventually become smooth and elastic. At this stage dust the dough all over with flour, place into a clean bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 90 minutes, until risen.

When the dough has risen, place on a lightly oiled surface and knead briefly, knocking out the air from the dough, then divide into six. Form each into a ball then roll out, just over 1cm thick. Leave on the greased surface covered with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film for a further 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400/Gas 6 and line a large flat baking sheet with baking paper. Carefully place each teacake on the baking paper and bake in the centre of the oven for around 15-20 minutes, until deep golden. At this stage I do something quite controversial and peel the teacakes from the paper, turn over and return to the oven for 5 minutes. I do this to ensure a nice even colouring all over the teacakes. Once baked remove from the oven and cover with a dry tea towel for 10 minutes, to slightly soften the crust. You can eat them straight from the oven if you like, or toasted and spread with butter, jam, chocolate spread or peanut butter. My favourite is both peanut butter and jam together!