I feel obliged to issue a public health warning before I go any further with this post. This dessert is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for anyone on a calorie-controlled diet. It’s extremely rich and something of a colossal beast, easily serving 12 to 14 people, so only make this if you’ve got the man, woman and child-power to tackle it, and be sure not to feed them too much beforehand. Continue reading “Chocolate cheesecake with blackberry cream”
Right up there with mini cocktail sausages and cheese and pineapple chunks on sticks, vol-au-vents are the epitome of 1970s retro chic when it comes to party food. Continue reading “Easy filling ideas for party vol au vents”
There’s been a bit of a baking frenzy in our house recently. There was a PTA cake sale at my daughters’ school last week and we decided to get all creative with these love heart cupcakes with a double chocolate and cream cheese topping. Jess hates buttercream so cream cheese is a good alternative.
Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to bake for the cake sale and at the last minute we’ll resort to buying plain fairy cakes or biscuits, which the kids will decorate with gaudy-coloured icing and a few sprinkles. But other times I go the whole hog. And this was one of those times. I was definitely spurred on by my earlier success with a classic Victoria sponge and also by a big bag of chocolate goodies from the kind people at Dr Oetker. My youngest daughter Mia, who is a self-confessed chocoholic, couldn’t believe her luck when she opened up the parcel.
Dr Oetker are running a competition, challenging UK bakers to come up with their most creative chocolate cupcake and I thought I might try my chances. One lucky baker will win the fantastic prize of a trip for two to New York City, the home of the cupcake. The closing date is 17 October 2013 if you fancy having a go too. Pop over to their Facebook page for more details on how to take part. Having seen the other hugely impressive entries, I don’t think I have even the slightest smidgen of a chance of winning anything but it’s the taking part that counts, as they say.
The cupcakes were a big hit at the school cake sale. Admittedly they’re a bit more of a faff than I’d usually go in for when it comes to decorating cupcakes but it was worth it to see the children’s faces when they spied them. And if you fancy a pretty-looking sweet treat, the love heart cookies on their own seem to go down rather well with the little ones.
Love heart cookies
Makes around 40 cookies – so you’ll have plenty left over to enjoy later
250g butter, softened
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
a drop or two of red food colouring
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
25g dark chocolate
hundreds and thousands
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Add a couple of drops of red food colouring and combine well.
Sift in the flour and salt and mix thoroughly to form a dough. You’ll need to get your hands in at this point.
Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment until it is roughly half a centimetre thick.
Use a small heart-shaped cutter to cut out your cookies, or work freehand using a sharp knife.
Line a baking tray with more baking parchment and carefully lift the cookies onto the tray, spacing them apart a little.
Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until just firm to the touch. Remove from the tray and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Place the dark chocolate in a small bowl and melt in a microwave. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate onto each love heart cookie and then sprinkle on some hundreds and thousands.
Chocolate chip cupcakes
Makes 12 – six chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips and six plain cupcakes with dark chocolate chips
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp cocoa powder, mixed with a few drops of water into a paste
25g white chocolate chips
25g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla extract into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the milk and mix again.
Split the mixture equally between two separate bowls. Into the first add the cocoa paste and mix in carefully. Then add the white chocolate chips and stir until well dispersed through the mixture. Into the second bowl of plain mixture add the dark chocolate chips and again stir in.
Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the cupcakes are springy to the touch and just golden on top.
Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Double chocolate and cream cheese marbled topping
100g cream cheese
200g icing sugar
75g white chocolate
75g dark chocolate
Scoop the cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Beat together until thoroughly combined. Place half the mixture into a second bowl.
Place the white chocolate and dark chocolate into two separate bowls and melt in the microwave. Add the white chocolate to one bowl of topping mixture and the dark chocolate to the other. Combine well.
Place alternate spoonfuls of white chocolate and dark chocolate topping into a piping bag until it is full. Swirl a generous amount onto each of the cupcakes.
And finally, top with one of your pretty love heart cookies.
Disclosure: Dr Oetker provided me with a complimentary selection of cooking chocolate and cake decorations for this post. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.
In the parcel I received 72% Extra Dark Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, 26% White Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, and Hundreds and Thousands, all of which I used in this recipe.
We’re getting lots of beetroot in our weekly veg box at the moment. And that is a very good thing as I have come to rather like beetroot in recent years. Whereas once I’d automatically roast them in the oven and serve alongside a roast joint, I’ve discovered just how versatile the humble beetroot can be. It’s wonderful raw in winter slaws or sweet and sour salads, partners well with a tangy goat’s cheese in a simple tart, and it’s incredible juiced with carrot and lots of ginger.
Beetroot is also fantastic in cakes and has a natural affinity with chocolate. These brownies for example always go down well with my children and are so incredibly moist and gooey. So when I saw an Abel and Cole recipe for a beetroot and chocolate cake which also used fresh ginger and ground cardamom, I knew I had to give it a go at the earliest opportunity.
At the weekend we all went to London to stay with my Dad and Step Mum, or as they’re known to the kids, Grandad Chris and Nana Sue. Since Nana Sue had treated us to her heavenly clementine polenta cake the last time they came to stay with us in Somerset, I felt it only polite to return the favour by taking some tasty homemade offering. And of course it had to be this chocolate, beetroot and ginger concoction.
After a lovely Sunday morning brunch in Highgate, followed by a walk up Parliament Hill to look out over the hazy London skyline, a couple of games of What’s the Time Mister Wolf? and some tree-climbing and green-parakeet-spotting, a cup of coffee and a slice of cake was very much required. While my Dad looked a little dubious at first, the chocolate, beetroot and ginger cake seemed to go down with all, children and adults alike – even Dad, with the whole family making lots of positive mmmmming noises as they got stuck in.
As well as using fresh ginger in the cake itself, the Abel and Cole version also adds ginger to the mascarpone topping, along with orange zest. I opted to leave these out, and I’m glad I did as I think a calmer, creamy topping acted as a perfect foil for the spicy cake.
Spicy chocolate and beetroot cake
150g cooked beetroot
150g dark chocolate
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
6 cardamom pods, seeds extracted and ground to a powder
125g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g soft butter
150g caster sugar
100g mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
Puree the cooked beetroot in a food processor. Pop into a bowl along with the dark chocolate, broken into pieces, and heat gently in a microwave for a minute or two until the chocolate has melted.
Combine the chocolate and beetroot well, then mix in the grated ginger and cardamom powder. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy. Whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks.
Gently fold the egg yolk and butter mixture into the flour. Then gently fold in the egg whites, a spoonful at a time. Finally stir in the beetroot and chocolate mixture.
Grease an 23cm cake tin with butter and dust with flour. Pour the cake mix into the tin. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. You want it be a little soft and gooey in the middle. Leave to cool on a wire tray before removing from the tin.
To make the topping, simply put the mascarpone and cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Mix together well. When the cake is cool, use a palette knife to spread over the mascarpone topping. Dig in!
As this cake features both chocolate and ginger, I’m entering it into February’s We Should Cocoa, a blog challenge created by Chocolate Teapot and Chocolate Log Blog, and hosted this month by Blue Kitchen Bakes.
While it might be unlikely you’ve arrived at this page if you dislike parsnips, these cakes actually happen to be perfect for anyone who isn’t a member of the parsnip fan club as you would never guess they contained any if you hadn’t been told first.
Beautifully moist and incredibly moreish, they’re a great way to use up unwanted parsnips, particularly when they become a slightly too frequent inclusion in the veg box this time of year.
Personally, I rather like parsnips. They’re delicious roasted, when they take on that sweet caramelised flavour, with a slightly crunchy, slightly chewy texture. My other half however strongly disagrees and groans if he sees them in the fridge. Despite that he gobbled up these parsnip cakes more than happily.
Without the cream cheese topping, they are very tasty and ideal for the children’s packed lunch boxes or an after school treat. But with the topping, they are elevated to a decadent and indulgent level of scrumminess you’d simply never believe a root vegetable could reach.
Parsnip and carrot cakes
Makes 12 muffin-sized cakes
250g demerara sugar
250g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
250g parsnips, peeled and grated
150g carrots, peeled and grated
For the topping (optional)
400g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
50g soft butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.
Put the butter, sugar and honey in a large pan and melt over a gentle heat, and allow to cool slightly. Mix in the eggs, and then the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Then stir in the parsnip, carrot and sultanas.
Spoon the mixture into paper muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin tray and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and the top is springy to the touch.
Cool the cakes for five minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the topping, cut up the butter and then cream together with the cheese. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat in until there are no lumps. Smear generously and lovingly over your cakes.
Best eaten with a fork in polite company. But if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself devouring these late at night, straight from the tin and with such gusto you end up with topping all over your face. Bliss!
This is a quick and easy pasta dish for summer days when you don’t want to spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Flavoured with fresh mint and zingy lemon, it’s ideal for using up the last of those broad beans on the veggie patch.
Fusilli with Broad Beans and Mint
Serves 3 to 4
200g dried fusilli
100g shelled broad beans
3tbsp creme fraiche
juice of half a lemon
large handful of fresh mint, chopped
125g grated Cheddar cheese
glug extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile boil or steam the broad beans for a few minutes until just cooked, with a little bite, and drain. Refresh in cold water.
When the pasta is tender, drain – reserving a little of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the hot pan.
Add the broad beans, creme fraiche, lemon juice, mint, cheese and olive oil to the pasta and mix thoroughly until the pasta is well coated. Stir in a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if required. Season to taste and serve.
There you go – told you it was easy!
As this dish features lots of lovely broad beans, I’m entering it into August’s Simple and in Season – a wonderful blog challenge hosted by Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food, celebrating the best in seasonal produce.
Tarragon is one of my favourite herbs, especially when paired with chicken. Its unique flavour lifts simple dishes to new heights.
I first got excited about tarragon many years ago when my father-in-law cooked us Elizabeth David’s sumptuous poulet et l’estragon one summer holiday in France. It was incredible and my husband and I have recreated it many times since and it always takes us back to those long hot days in the Dordogne.
But that is really one to save for special occasions (my husband last cooked it for me on my birthday), while this pasta dish is much more of a quick, every day family favourite. Nonetheless it tastes fantastic and all because of that lovely fresh tarragon.
Penne with chicken, tarragon and broccoli
400g dried penne pasta
250g purple sprouting broccoli, cut into manageable chunks
1 large leek, washed and finely sliced
2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
70ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
100g cream cheese
salt and pepper
Cook the penne in a large pan of salted water following the packet timings. About five minutes from the end of the cooking time, add the broccoli to the pasta water and cook until both pasta and broccoli are tender. Drain.
While the pasta (and broccoli) are cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and sweat gently for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken pieces and cook for about five minutes until there is no sign of any pink inside.
Pour the stock into the pan, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes before stirring in the tarragon and cream cheese. Season to taste. Mix in the pasta and broccoli and serve.
I’m entering this dish into July’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, set up by Lavender & Lovage and hosted this month by me! If you have a herby recipe you’d like to enter, you can find out all the details here.
Food is such a fantastic conversation starter the world round, isn’t it? As a freelancer I’m constantly in and out of different work locations getting to know new groups of people, and I find that food is always a common denominator. Or maybe it’s just me?
Anyway, I’m working for a few months in the marketing team at Bath Spa University where I sit next to the lovely Stef and we talk food quite a bit. It was Stef who passed on this easy peasy idea for livening up manky (or was it skanky?) Digestive biscuits lurking in the bottom of the tin: turn them into strawberry cheesecake biscuits – genius!
That same day, knowing I didn’t actually have any biscuits (neither manky nor skanky) at home, I stopped off on my way back to pick some up just so I could give it a go. I opted for Hob Nobs instead of Digestives as I thought these might be more reminiscent of the cheesecake base.
Stef wasn’t wrong – these really are good. A great way to use up old biscuits or a ridiculously simple sweet treat when you don’t have the time or energy to make a proper pudding. And they take only a minute to make.
No recipe required here – simply take your biscuit of choice and spread with cream cheese, then top with strawberry jam or any other flavour jam you happen to have at your disposal. My girls, Jessie and Mia, made them with me after tea and they were a big hit all round.
I’m only at Bath Spa for a couple more weeks, so I’ll need to get Stef to share the rest of her cheat’s repertoire with me before I move on…