Chocolate

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

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These are the things I haven’t given up for Lent.

Cake, coffee and a good book.

How can I not be happy with those marvellous things still in my life?

For me Nigella is the queen of cakes – even better than Mary or Delia – and this dairy free chocolate one is delicious and very simple to make.

There are a few members of my family who don’t eat dairy so this is a useful recipe to have in my ever expanding collection of chocolate cakes (this is the fifth one on this blog and that doesn’t even include chocolate brownies, muffins and fondants!).

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Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

Makes a big cake which cuts into 12 large slices

  • 150ml of regular olive oil, plus a little to grease the tin
  • 50g of cocoa powder
  • 125ml of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 125g of plain flour (or, if you want a gluten free cake, use 150g of ground almonds instead, although this will result in a heavier cake best served warm with cream)
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a 23cm diametre spring form tin with baking parchment and grease lightly with olive oil.

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl or jug and stir in the boiling water until well combined and without lumps. Add the vanilla extract and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to combine.

In a large bowl add the eggs, olive oil and sugar and whisk with an electric hand whisk on a high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Nigella uses a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment but I don’t have one of these.

Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly on a low speed until just incorporated.

Then add the flour and mix on low again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is just set. Mine was perfect after 40.

Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out and leave to cool. Or, eat warm with cream or ice cream.

This cake keeps well but if my family is anything to go by it won’t last more than a day or so.

Post Christmas notes

Happy New Year!

This was the Christmas present I received from my children.

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This made me so happy – the promise of a delicious sounding meal is the perfect present for me. I am particularly intrigued by the ‘salted caramel light bulb’ – the idea of my 6 year old son who has obviously been watching too many reality cooking competitions.


Despite my last post (where I was very grumpy about Christmas) the festive spirit did eventually kick in and I actually ended up doing quite a bit of seasonal cooking. Mainly with my children as a way to keep them entertained during the holidays.

You will most probably not be interested in reading about these recipes now that Christmas is well and truly over. But I am just making a note of them ready for next year – because the main user of this blog is me!

Scroll down to see recipes for yule log, a gingerbread house and a chocolate salami (or just look at the photos).

Or ignore and wait for my next post which will probably feature something healthy.

Yule log

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I’ve been making this for a couple of years now but for some reason haven’t posted the recipe. The cake part comes from my trusty Peyton and Byrne British Baking cookbook. The icing is Nigella’s and it is the best chocolate icing I have ever tasted. I’m not a fan of yule log but it always goes down well with the chocolate lovers in my family and makes a good Christmas Day dessert alternative for those crazy people who don’t like Christmas pudding.

For the cake

  • A tablespoon of melted butter for greasing
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 130g of caster sugar, plus 35g
  • 100g of self-raising flour, plus some for dusting
  • 25g of cocoa powder
  • A pinch of cream of tartar
  • A little icing sugar for dusting

For the icing

  • 175g of dark chocolate
  • 250g of icing sugar
  • 225g of soft butter
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180oC.

Brush a 33cm x 23cm swiss roll tin (or shallow baking tin) with melted butter then line with baking parchment. Brush the parchment lightly all over with melted butter and then dust lightly with flour tipping out the excess.

Beat together the egg yolks and 130g of sugar until pale and creamy.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder and fold into the egg/sugar mixture.

In a separate, scrupulously clean, glass bowl whisk the egg whites with 35g of sugar and the pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Stir a third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture to slacken the mix, then gently fold in the remainder with a metal spoon taking care not to knock out too much air from the mix.

Pour into the prepared tin and spread out as evenly as you can with a palette knife.

Bake for 15 minutes until the cake has risen and is springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar and place a layer of clingfilm on top followed by a chopping board. Tip the cake out onto the chopping board, then take the short end and roll up incorporating the clingfilm into the roll. Leave to cool completely all rolled up.

For the icing, melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Let it cool a little.

Mix together the soft butter and icing sugar until pale in colour. Then add the melted chocolate and the vanilla essence. Beat until smooth.

Unroll the cake and spread with an even layer of icing. Then cover the outside of the log with icing and use a skewer to make log like marks.

Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

NOTE: For a less rich cake, make half the amount of icing and fill the centre of the roll with whipped cream saving the chocolate icing for just the outside.


 

Mary Berry’s Gingerbread House

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I once made a gingerbread house from a kit. It was fun to make but inedible. The gingerbread itself was vile – stale and tasteless.

Elizabeth and I had a lot of fun making this one from scratch but it wasn’t easy. She made the gingerbread mix but I did the rolling and cutting out using this template:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/christmasbakeoff/gingerbread_house.pdf

Do follow Mary’s advice about rolling between baking parchment it makes it much easier. Also remember to trim the gingerbread after cooking using the template as a guide as it will have spread a bit. I forgot to do this but it would have been easier if I had. I had a lot of gingerbread left over which I made into biscuits. The gingerbread itself is absolutely delicious.

Next year I’m going off piste and designing my own template.

For the gingerbread

  • 375g of butter
  • 300g of dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g of golden syrup
  • 900g of plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of ground ginger

For the icing

  • 3 egg whites
  • 675g of icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180oC fan.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a large pan. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the melted butter mixture, stir it in and, when cool enough to handle, knead to a stiff dough.

Divide the mixture into five equally-sized pieces, cut one of these pieces in half (so you have six pieces in total). Roll each piece out between two sheets of baking parchment until it is about ¾cm thick. Using the templates as a guide cut out all the sections and slide onto baking trays before baking.

For the pieces with windows remove from the oven after 7-8 minutes, sprinkle boiled sweets (crushed with a pestle and mortar) into the window holes and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes until the sweets have melted.

For the other pieces (without windows) bake for 10-12 minutes.

You will need to do this in batches unless you have a very large oven and several baking trays.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. You will not be able to remove the windowed pieces from the baking parchment until the windows have cooled and hardened completely.

For the icing, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Using a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric mixer on slow speed, add the icing sugar a tablespoonful at a time. Stir in the lemon juice and beat the icing until it is very stiff and white and stands up in peaks.

On a cake board spread a layer of icing thinly over the surface to stick the house on to and to create a snow effect.

Use the icing to glue all the pieces together and assemble the house. It is helpful to have another pair of hands but the mixture sticks and hardens very quickly so this part is not as tricky at it looks. Mary suggests using cocktail sticks to hold the roof in place but I didn’t find this necessary.

I don’t believe in being prescriptive about the decoration. Buy lots of sweets and chocolate buttons and be creative. Use a little blob of icing to glue each sweet to the gingerbread and pipe icing around the edges of the house if you want a neat look.

For younger children just smear the icing all over the surface and then let them add sweets in any way they like. Try to let go of any urge to be neat and tidy and buy extra sweets as for everyone that goes on the house another will go in the mouth.

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Nigella’s Chocolate Salami

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This is good fun – it’s basically a chocolate biscuit fridge cake doing a very good impression of a giant meat salami. It flummoxed everyone in my family. It keeps very well in the fridge so it can be made well in advance. My husband is still ploughing through ours and will not entertain the idea of throwing it out.

  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 250g of amaretti or rich tea biscuits (I used rich tea because I do not like almond flavourings)
  • 100g of softened butter
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of amaretto liqueur (I used brandy instead)
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 75g of almonds, roughly chopped
  • 75g of hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 50g of pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Icing sugar to decorate

Melt the chocolate either in a microwave (which is what I do) or in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool a little.

Smash up the biscuits in a polythene bag with a rolling pin. You want a rough texture not dust.

In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar and add the eggs one by one. Then mix in the liqueur. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.

Sift the cocoa powder into the melted chocolate and then stir the whole lot into the egg mixture.

Finally add the crushed biscuits and nuts and mix thoroughly to make sure that everything is covered with chocolate. Put in the fridge for half an hour to firm up a bit.

Now for the shaping. Lay a couple of sheets of cling film onto your work surface and tip the chocolate mixture into the middle.

Shape the mixture into a rough sausage shape (approximately 30 cm long) and then roll up with cling film and twist the ends of the clingfilm to tighten. Then put it in the fridge for to set for at least 6 hours but overnight would be better.

Dust your work surface with icing sugar. Take the salami out of the fridge and tie some string onto the twisted clingfilm of one end. Trim away as much cling film as you can but leave the two twisted ends. Dust the whole salami and your hands with icing sugar and then string up the salami – this is tricky to describe but this video is helpful. Finish by tying the twisted end with string. Roll up in tin foil or a new layer of clingfilm until you are ready to serve.

Serve fridge cold.

Chocolate Guinness fondants with cheesecake ice cream

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The above photo does not do this pudding justice. I was a bit tipsy by the time I served/photographed it (as one often is after two previous courses and two bottles of wine!).

On the subject of food photography, I really enjoyed reading this article by the brilliant Ruby Tandoh about sharing pictures of food online. In it she argues that food that looks amazing doesn’t always taste so.

I particularly loved this paragraph and I will bear it in mind every time I beat myself up about my poor photographs for this blog. Whilst my photos maybe a bit crap they are at least honest and the food has tasted good (otherwise I would not offer you the recipe).

If you want to post your meal online, post away. Upload a picture of that sausage and mash. Don’t worry that the light is dim, that the gravy sloshes in a swampy pool across your plate. Sharing is a generous act, but perfectionism smothers that goodness. Upload the unfiltered, ugly pictures of your failed birthday cake, or your fish and chips in grease-soaked paper. Or, if you want to fuss over the exact positioning of four blueberries on top of a smoothie bowl for an hour before you tuck in, do that – but don’t forget to enjoy your food.


Getting back to the point, it was my 10th wedding anniversary on Friday and to celebrate I wanted to cook a special meal inspired by the food served at our wedding.

Our ‘big day’ was not at all fancy and our budget cake was a Chocolate Guinness one kindly made by my sister.

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I wanted to remember this in my anniversary menu but I don’t believe in serving cake as a dessert (unless it’s hot with custard). So I had the idea of making hot chocolate fondants flavoured with Guinness instead. And then to mirror the cream cheese icing on the cake serving the fondants with a cheesecake ice cream.

It worked really nicely so here are the recipes.

Chocolate Guinness fondants

Serves 4

  • 100g of good quality (70% cocoa) dark chocolate
  • 75g of butter
  • 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
  • 50g of muscavado sugar
  • 50g of plain flour
  • 100ml of Guinness

Butter four ramekins with butter and place in the freezer to chill.

Set your oven to 170oC.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a pan over a low heat or in the microwave. Allow the mixture to cool a little and then stir in the two egg yolks.

In another bowl, beat together the two whole eggs, sugar and Guinness until light and foamy.

Fold in the chocolate mixture and the flour with a metal spoon until well incorporated.

Spoon the mixture into the chilled ramekins and bake for 9 minutes, or until the surface is set but there is a slight wobble in the middle.

Turn out onto plates and eat immediately with cheesecake ice cream (see recipe below).

NOTE: You can make these up in advance and keep covered in the fridge until you want to bake them. This is good if you’re making them for a dinner party. They also taste fine baked and then reheated in the microwave the next day.

Nigella Lawson’s cheesecake ice cream

  • 175ml full fat milk
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125g Philadelphia (or other full fat cream cheese)
  • ½ a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 350ml of double cream

In a bowl beat together the sugar, Philadelphia, vanilla and egg.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until hot and then pour this over the cream cheese mixture.

Then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and place over a medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking all the time. Try not to let the mixture boil or it will curdle.

Once the consistency of smooth custard, remove from the heat and whisk periodically until cooled to room temperature. Then place in the fridge to get really cold.

Finally add the double cream (lightly whipped) and lemon juice and pour into an ice cream maker. Churn until thick then put in the freezer to finish hardening.


Here’s a random photo of some baguettes I made this week. Aren’t they beautiful?

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Not beautiful but very happy – Ben and I on our wedding day 10 years ago.

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Microwave chocolate mug cake

mugcake

This week I’ve been experimenting with microwave mug cakes.

I tried a few different recipes and most were terrible. Any that included egg were horrible – a dry and rubbery texture which was so awful that even my children were slow to eat it (notice I didn’t say ‘wouldn’t eat’ – it was a sort of cake after all).

Finally though I found a recipe that worked. This one has the molten texture of a traditional chocolate fondant. I wouldn’t argue that it’s the same, or better than one cooked lovingly in the oven, but when you’re in desperate need of a quick, hot, chocolaty fix this does the trick very nicely.

Microwave chocolate mug cake

Serves 2

In a large mug, melt the following in the microwave:

  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (preferable, but vegetable oil will do)
  • 30g of good quality dark chocolate

For me this took 40 seconds on high (800W).

Stir to cool a little, then add:

  • 4 tablespoons of plain flour
  • 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Mix well until smooth.

Then cook for 80 seconds on high in the microwave.

Leave to cool for a minute then eat straight away.

Hveteboller (Norwegian buns)

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When we were on holiday in Norway we lived on these buns or boller. They were delicious, the children’s loved them, they were easy to buy from 7-elevens (which are everywhere in Norway) and cheap (well by Norwegian standards at least).

I’ve been meaning to have a go at making them ever since our trip (well over a year ago now) and I found this Norwegian recipe online. The google translation was somewhat eccentric so I had to use my small amount of common baking sense filling in the gaps. The result was good though – I’m judging this on the fact that the whole batch didn’t even make it past lunchtime.

I have always thought cinnamon was the quintessential Scandinavian spice but the main flavour in these buns is cardamom. Cardamom is not grown anywhere near Norway but apparently the Scandinavian love affair with cardamom is deep set –  dating back to Viking times when those pesky, marauders bought it back from their raids on Constantinople where it had been traded from India.

To make the buns I used my special new flour – locally grown and then ground at Nottingham’s Green’s Windmill (bought in bulk in a large 12.5kg sack). How lovely it was to use local, organic, unbleached flour which was comparable in price to the Allison’s I usually buy in Tesco. I know for a fact that this flour is well regarded and used by some top quality restaurants (Sat Bains name was above mine in the order book!). But do make sure you phone ahead before making a special trip to Green’s Windmill to buy flour as they struggle to keep up with demand and often run out.

Hveteboller (Norwegian buns)

Number of servings – 12

  • 500g of strong white bread flour
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom
  • ½ a teaspoon of baking powder
  • 100g of butter
  • 350ml lukewarm milk
  • 12g of quick yeast
  • 1 beaten egg for glazing

For a chocolate version

  • Good quality dark chocolate (one small square for each bun)

Start by mixing half of the flour with sugar, salt, cardamom and baking powder. Then crumble the butter into the bowl and rub with your fingers until you have a mix the texture of fine breadcrumbs.

In another bowl or jug stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and add the other half of the flour. Leave to stand for half an hour to bubble up.

Add the yeast mixture to the rest of the flour and knead for about 10 minutes until elastic. It is a very wet mixture but it will become a lot less sticky as you knead. Cover with cling film and let the dough rise until doubled in size – somewhere between 1 and 2 hours.

Divide the mixture into 12 and shape into rounds (inserting a piece of chocolate in the centre for the chocolate version). Place seam down in a baking tray and cover with cling film.

If you are cooking straight away

Leave to prove for 30 minutes and set the oven to 220oC.

Brush the surface of the buns with lightly beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.

Cool on a rack.

If you want fresh buns for the morning

Put the buns in the fridge and leave to rise slowly overnight.

In the morning set the oven to 220oC and take the buns out of the fridge to come up to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

Brush the surfaces with lightly beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack but eat whilst still warm.

NOTE: You don’t need to add the chocolate surprise – they are just as delicious without. You could also add chocolate drops to the mix instead – or some recipes use raisins.

Hvetteboller

Rich chocolate cake

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About two years ago my husband made his very first cake. It was this ‘rich chocolate cake’ and it got such a great reception that he hasn’t bothered to try any others since. Whenever he makes a cake (which is not often) it is always this one. It blew Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness cake completely out of the water and my children now hail it as the ‘best cake in the world ever’. This is slightly annoying (since I bake lots of different cakes, all the time) but I have to admit that it is very delicious (hence the reason for this post) and I’m not usually a fan of chocolate cake.

This recipe doesn’t contain flour, so providing you use gluten free chocolate you can make it for your gluten free/coeliac friends. And if you don’t like almonds (like me) don’t worry – the rich chocolate completely disguises any almond flavour.

It’s not the easiest cake to make as there are quite a few processes involved (note how many times I use the words ‘carefully’ and ‘gently’ below). However, if (like my husband) you only bake cakes two or three times a year, you might as well go to a bit of effort.

It’s also not a showstopper lookswise. Don’t bake this if you want to make a grand cake entrance and wow your friends. It does however have a depth and richness on tasting that will quietly impress – rather like my husband really!

Rich Chocolate Cake – from the amazing Peyton and Byrne book – ‘British Baking’*

*I saw this in a charity shop recently and couldn’t believe that anyone would give such a brilliant book away.

  • 160g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 160g of cold butter, cut into small cubes (about 1cm squared)
  • A pinch of sea salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 120g of caster sugar
  • 160g of ground almonds

Set your oven to 180oC.

Butter and line a 23 cm diameter cake tin with baking parchment.

NOTE: I recently used a 20 cm square cake tin instead. This produced a slightly thicker cake which I liked much better. It needed 5 minutes longer in the oven however (30 minutes total). ZS 25/09/16

Put the chocolate (and salt if using) in a bowl and melt over a pan of barely simmering water. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the pan and tip in the cubes of butter. Let the mixture sit until the butter starts to melt, then give it a quick stir and leave it for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, in another scrupulously clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks with a whisk. Then add the caster sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. An electric whisk makes this much easier.

Stir the chocolate mixture until all the butter has melted and whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Then fold in the egg white mixture as carefully and gently as you can.

Now lightly fold in the ground almonds being careful not to knock the air out of the mixture. It will have the texture of shaving foam at this point.

Pour into the tin and level off carefully with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. It will not spread and rise very much so it is worthwhile taking your time to do this carefully.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and serving.

This is best eaten as fresh as possible and is amazing served slightly warm with a small scoop of mascarpone. If you can’t eat it on the day then cut the cake into slices and blast in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.

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Afternoon coffee (mid-century style) in the Marvellous Furniture shop

Brownies with cheeky beetroot

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I’m still on a mission to use up copious amounts of home grown beetroot.

I have a fridge shelf dedicated to jars of pickled beetroot and a whole freezer full. I was running out of ideas and then I did what I always do when I’ve run out of ideas – I stick vegetables into cake.

I have experimented with  lots of vegetable cakes in the past – carrot cake (dull), courgette cake (not bad), even a parsnip cake (a bit wacky and actually not very nice). And the first time I made a chocolate beetroot cake was the day before I gave birth to my daughter. My mind was clearly on other things because I forgot the sugar.

I did attempt the beetroot/chocolate combination again with these brownies (writing in the margins, in giant letters, ‘DON’T FORGET THE SUGAR’). They are very nice and the beetroot can hardly be detected – it just adds a moist earthy sweetness. Although my daughter (who has astute taste buds) declared them ‘delicious’ and then asked what the “little bits that tasted of soil” were.

These are good brownies to make for friends with nut allergies, or for small children (like my son) who don’t like nuts or, for that matter, beetroot. He ate them perfectly happily until my tell-tale daughter revealed the cheeky ingredient.

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

(Based on the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday)

Makes 16-20

  • 250g butter roughly cut into small cubes
  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 250g of cooked beetroot, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g of self-raising wholemeal flour (or plain wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt

To cook the beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible. Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this is the time for medium sized beetroot). The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and grate. You can also boil the beetroot until tender (about 20-30 minutes) if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 180oC. Line and grease a 23 x 33 cm baking tin with baking parchment so that it goes all the way up the sides.

Put the butter and chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt in short 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring after each until smooth. Or you can do this in the more traditional way over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix well and then lightly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Finally add the beetroot and stir to incorporate but don’t over mix.

Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set but the middle still has a very slight wobble.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For me these are best served warm and it is fine to reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds.

They are great served with ice cream or mascarpone.

Chocolate brownies with a cheesecake swirl

marbled brownies 4

We’ve recently been on holiday to Norway. It’s a wonderful country and I could go into detailed raptures about the stunning fjords, the attractive cities of Bergen and Oslo, and how it’s a great place to travel with children, but this is a recipe blog (not a travel one) so I’ll leave that to others.

The only downside was that we mainly survived on a diet of bread and economy salami (from the supermarket) because food and drink are so expensive. We did however splash out on strong coffee and the occasional sweet treat. I particularly loved their Hvetebolle – a sweet bun with chocolate and cardamom which you could buy from the 7-Eleven for just £1.20 (each!).

Hvetebolle

Another standout was a delicious chocolate cake with a vanilla and blueberry cheesecake ripple that we had at the Aquarium cafe in Ballestrand. This bought to mind a recipe in my folder of cutouts which I had not yet tried (despite it being there for over 10 years).

So this week, with the children back at school and some time to myself, I spent some quality time in the kitchen and made ‘marbled brownies’. They were great and my husband (a man who doesn’t give praise easily) called them ‘seriously delicious’. I’ve had ‘delicious’ before but the ‘seriously’ part was a first!

Chocolate brownies with a cheesecake swirl

Makes about 24

For the chocolate brownie mix

  • 200g of good quality plain chocolate
  • 200g of butter
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g of plain flour

For the cream cheese mix

  • 400g of full fat cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 125g of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs

Heat the oven to 160oC (fan assisted) and butter and line a deep baking tin about 20 cm x 30 cm with baking parchment.

For the cream cheese, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until well incorporated and smooth. Set aside.

For the brownie mix, first melt the chocolate and butter either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave (which is what I do). Stir until smooth and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl whisk together the caster sugar and eggs, then add the melted butter/chocolate and mix again. Sieve in the flour and fold in gently.

To assemble, pour 3/4 of the brownie mix into the tin and spread evenly. Tip in the cream cheese mixture before spooning over the remaining brownie mix in dollops. Tap the tin sharply on the work surface to level the mixture and then take a skewer and marble the mixtures together using a wave like motion across the tin just once.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until just set. Test after 35 minutes with a skewer and if it comes out clean then remove from the oven.

Cool in the tin for 15 minutes before cutting into pieces.

View

I can take a week of bread and salami for views like this.

Peanut butter squares

peanut squares

Some of you will already be yawning because if you haven’t made Lorraine Pascal’s peanut butter squares I bet you will have eaten one made by someone else. They were quite the thing about three years ago when the TV programme and book came out. I’ve had many but it was only this week that I finally got around to making them myself  (I was at a loose end with two mardy and overheated children to cheer up).

These are good to make with kids because all young children like bashing up digestive biscuits with a rolling pin and breaking up chocolate into small pieces. But if you’re like me you’ll spend most of your time telling them off for trying to eat all the ingredients.

I’m trying to be good at the moment diet-wise, so it was torturous making such deliciously sweet, calorific delights and then trying not to eat them all up. I didn’t actually eat a whole one but I did wolf down all the crumbs left over from cutting them into squares (which probably amounted to more calories anyway). I’m not a huge fan of peanut butter but I do like digestives, Snickers bars and chocolate and so I just love these.

Lorraine Pascal’s peanut butter squares 

Makes 16

  • 150g of butter
  • 200g of good quality chocolate (dark, milk or a mixture)
  • 250g of digestive biscuits
  • 200g of soft light brown sugar
  • 300g of crunchy peanut butter (this is a staggering amount- almost a whole small jar). I only had smooth so I reduced the amount slightly and added some chopped peanuts (which are visible in the above photo).
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt (my addition because I’m a salt addict)

Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment, leaving some excess paper hanging over the edges (this makes it easier to lift out once set).

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, or do this in the microwave.

Blitz the digestive biscuits and brown sugar in a blender or food processor until you have fine crumbs. Or do this in the old fashioned way with a plastic bag and a rolling pin (much more fun and less washing up).

Tip the sugar and biscuit crumbs into the melted butter. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract and mix together so everything is well combined. Tip the mixture into the lined tin and press it down really hard with the back of the spoon.

Snap the chocolate into squares and throw into a small bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30 second blasts, stirring well between each addition or sit the bowl over a pan over simmering water.

Pour over the melted chocolate, tilting the tin back and forth a bit so that the whole thing is evenly covered. Pop in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up (or the fridge for an hour).

Once the chocolate is set, remove it from the freezer (or fridge). Lift it out of the tin with the help of the baking parchment. Remove the paper and then use a sharp knife to divide it into 16 squares.

NOTE: I think these are best kept in the fridge until you are ready to eat.

Millionaire’s shortbread

millionaires shortbread
I know I’ve written about this before, but I maintain that dieting in January is a rotten idea. We need tasty treats (and the occasional glass of wine) to make the dark mornings and freezing cold days bearable. These Millionaire’s shortbreads are just the thing to make life feel like it’s worth living and help you soldier on until spring.

And if you cut them really small there’s no need to feel at all guilty.

There are a few processes involved so I would not describe this recipe (which comes from Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking) as easy, but it does make a large amount so you will have enough to giveaway and share the love, as well as keeping some for yourself.

Millionaire’s shortbread

Makes about 30 small squares

Shortbread

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g semolina
  • 200g plain flour

Caramel

  • 300g butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 397g can of condensed milk

Chocolate

  • 300g of reasonable quality plain chocolate

Preheat your oven to 170oC fan.

Lightly butter and line a 33cm x 23cm Swiss roll tin or shallow baking tin.

Combine the shortbread ingredients in a bowl and mix with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed and the mix starts to come together into a crumbly dough. Press the dough into the tin and prick it all over with a fork. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until a light golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For the caramel, combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan over a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted. Turn the heat up to medium so that the mixture starts to simmer and keep simmering and stirring the mixture until it turns a deep golden brown and looks like thick caramel fudge (for me this took 15 minutes). Don’t be tempted to leave it for a second as it will catch on the bottom of the pan and burn. Pour over the top of the cooled shortbread in an even layer and leave to cool and set.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering walker or on a low heat in the microwave (which is what I do). Pour over the caramel layer and spread as evenly as you can with a palate knife. Leave to set and then cut into small squares (about 3-4 cm squared) with a very sharp knife.

They keep very well in a tin for up to 5 days (if they last that long).