Homemade mincemeat is a revelation, once made it’s hard to go back to a commercial product. Even inveterate mincemeat sceptics like CT are happy to partake of this. In fact it was hard to keep his hands off the Chilli and Chocolate Mincemeat Slice I made last year.
Bettys Tea Rooms is one of those Yorkshire icons which must be visited if ever you are in the vicinity of York or Harrogate. I only managed a five minute visit on my one and only trip to York, but it was five minutes that has lodged in my memory. The place was crammed with delicious looking baked wares, fine teas and artisan chocolates as well as afternoon tea revellers. I had gone in for a curd tart, having been told by a Yorkshire colleague before my trip that this was a must. I had no idea there would be chocolates too. I ate the curd tart on the train home and mused on the delights I could have tried – not that I was the least bit disappointed with the curd tart, it was delicious. One day, I shall go back to Yorkshire and pay a proper visit to Bettys.
Luckily, a couple of years later, which happened to be last week, I finally got to try some of those tempting looking chocolates. When offered a box of Bettys Dark Chocolate Selection to try, I was not going to say no. Last year I was sent a Bettys Christmas Chocolate Gugelhupf which I was really impressed by, so my expectations were running high.
A delightfully elegant little box duly arrived in the post. As I am usually motivated by quantity as well as quality, at first glance I was a little disappointed at how small the box was. I needn’t have worried. When I opened it, not only were my nostrils filled with the wonderful aroma of dark fruity chocolate, but my eyes were filled with the sight of fourteen very tightly packed and rather attractive chocolates.
With fourteen chocolates and six different fillings, I was bound to find something I liked. Most were covered in a glossy dark Swiss chocolate couverture which was rich with fruity notes. All of them had that lingering-on-the-palate characteristic, which I take to be a sign of good quality chocolate. I tried them in the order in which they appealed to me. I enjoyed every one of these and am happy to report that the standard of Bettys chocolates is as good as I hoped it might be. And as for the matter of the small box, a little goes a long way.
Spiced Port Truffle – I was particularly taken with the ying yang pattern in dark and milk chocolate. This was a Christmassy truffle if ever there was one. I couldn’t quite identify the “stollen” spices, but they were definitely there and combined beautifully with the port, which was very noticeable. I felt the warmth travelling down my throat and body in a most delightful way. I thought I detected orange. CT also noted citrussy flavours along with cinnamon and just a hint of nutmeg.
Vanilla Caramel Heart – Brushed with gold, this looked particularly elegant. I’m a sucker for a good caramel, so I was pleased to see there were three of these in the box. A pleasant note of bitterness from the dark chocolate combined well with this sweet and creamy vanillary caramel, which we both found most pleasant.
Orange Marzipan – This had a lovely scent of orange. I adore marzipan, but often find it a little too sweet. This was the case here, but the flavour was excellent and lingered on most pleasantly in the mouth well after all traces of the chocolate had been consumed. It had a good chewy texture. CT who is not a fan of artificial tasting orange chocolate, really enjoyed this and found the bitterness of the crystallised orange peel made for a more authentic experience.
Cru Sauvage Truffle – Goodness these were nice. A rare dark chocolate from the Bolivean Amazon was dusted with cocoa and covered a soft and very smooth rich chocolate ganache with toffee notes. I would have been very happy with an entire box of these. As it happens Betty’s do sell such boxes. The others were all delicious, but this was by far and away my favourite. We noticed the difference in the chocolate which CT described as having an oaky quality reminiscent of whiskey.
Raspberry Ganache Truffle – No mistaking this one, the aroma of raspberries was strong. Tart fruity raspberries in a smooth ganache and not overly sweet, these were good too.
Cognac Truffle – To me cognac conjures up images of sophistication and that was definitely the case here. With its smooth ganache, this was delicious and indulgent. It felt as though one of these might even put you over the limit. CT thought it had a definite restorative quality.
If, like me, you live a long way from a Bettys Tea Room, you can still buy a goodly number of things on their online shop. They have quite a selection of Christmas items on offer including some very special hampers I’d be utterly delighted to recieve. This 115g box of chocolates cost £15.95.
A number of factors combined recently leading to the creation of these hot! hot! hot! biscuits, which I can only describe as a chilli lovers delight. This month’s We Should Cocoa theme is “cookies”. I’d already bookmarked a recipe in Miranda Gore Browne’s book Biscuit for Passionate Chocolate Hearts, which is basically white chocolate shortbread with a passionfruit filling. I omitted that filling as I was going to create one using our last remaining persimmon, but in the end realised I had some leftover orange & white chocolate buttercream from my mother in law’s birthday cake, sitting in the fridge and in need of using up. I had also been sent some Christmas cutters to try out, courtesy of Eddingtons, a supplier of all things kitchen. The cutters were all stainless steel and consisted of one set of three snowflake cutters and a set of three angel cutters in various sizes. The Angel cutters came as a kit with red ribbon and a pin to make the all important holes for threading the ribbon.
Lastly, the jewel in the crown: half a bar of Dartmoor Dragon. This is a powerful white chocolate bar containing Naga chilli from the Dartmoor Chilli Farm. Too hot to eat on its own, at least for CT and I, it makes an excellent addition to baked goods; I found this out when I used it in the pastry for the persimmon tarts I made a couple of weeks ago. It packs a powerful punch, even when diluted by flour, butter and sugar.
This is how I made:
Chilli Christmas Biscuits
- Softened 50g of white hot chilli chocolate by putting it in the mixing bowl and placing it on the storage heater for ten minutes.
- Added 170g of unsalted butter cubed and left to soften.
- Creamed the butter and chocolate with 85g golden caster sugar until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
- Added 175g plain flour (half wholemeal, half white), 80g brown rice flour and a pinch of rock salt.
- Stirred until incorporated, then formed into a ball and left in my cold kitchen to firm up for half an hour.
- Rolled out to about 3mm thickness and stamped out shapes using my new Christmas cutters. I made 12 largish snowflakes and 18 slightly smaller angels.
- Left to firm up in my cold kitchen for 15 minutes.
- Baked for 10 mins at 180°C.
- Made a whole in the top of each snowflake by pushing in the metal pin provided with the angel cutters, but a skewer would probably do as well.
- Dusted all of the snowflakes with golden caster sugar and half of the angels, then transferred to a wire rack to cool and harden.
- Sandwiched the angels with orange buttercream, using the plain ones as a bottom and the sugared ones as a top.
As I think I may have mentioned, there was no mistaking the chilli kick in these biscuits. But in addition to that, they were truly delicious. Shortbread is probably our favourite type of biscuit and these didn’t disappoint. They were crisp on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle with a nice rich buttery flavour. The angels sandwiched with buttercream, were slightly less hot and had the additional orange flavour for the full Christmas effect. I’ve never made hanging biscuits before and surprised myself with how effective they looked. Will they last until Christmas? No comment.
We Should Cocoa is being hosted this month by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt who has chosen cookies (or biscuits). So if you haven’t done so already, you still have three days left to get your entries in for any type of biscuit that includes some sort of chocolate.
These chilli shortbreads also fit very nicely with the festive theme of this month’s The Biscuit Barrel with Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than …, so a few of those are winging their way in that direction.
As the base recipe I used for this was bookmarked from Miranda Gore Brown’s book Biscuit, I am submitting this to Bookmarked Recipes with Jac of Tinned Tomatoes.
Using local produce where possible is something I have always tried to do and usually manage to include local eggs, flour or milk in my bakes. This time in addition to Cotehele flour, I have used some chocolate bought from the Dartmoor Chilli Farm at a farmer’s market in Plymouth. So, I am entering Shop Local over at Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary.
The nights are drawing in, it’s cold, it’s damp, it’s dreary and it’s November. To defy this and to raise much needed funds, Cancer Research UK has a new initiative for this very month of November – do The In Thing and have a great night in with the girls. There are plenty of ideas for hosting a great night in with friends, colleagues and neighbours: embarrass yourself with karaoke, watch a film, feast your way through a dinner party or just have a good old chin wag. More ideas can be found on The In Thing web pages.
Cancer is a pernicious and devastating disease and I doubt there is a single family who has not been touched by cancer in some way or other. Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research and it is funded entirely by the public. Raising money for a worthwhile cause and having fun whilst you’re can be a win-win situation. Oh and by the way, there is still time to take part.
A games night. I love a good games night but haven’t had one of those in a very long time. Time to dust off that cupboard full of games. What fun. No night in is complete without some sort of food and drink, however. Snacks and gaming are a natural combination. Olives, nibbles and some chocolate cake!
I was sent some Dr Oetker goodies to help me on my way. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate were included along with some chocolate hearts; I was going to use them all.
Still experimenting with persimmons, I wanted to try this newly-discovered fruit in cake form. With its sweet mango-like flavour, I thought the persimmon would be best paired with milk chocolate rather than dark. I modelled the recipe on my rhubarb muffins and then took it up a notch by adding icing. For this, I envisaged a mascarpone and vanilla white chocolate ganache using the vanilla paste I recently reviewed.
These had a pleasant, fudgy, pudding-like consistency. In fact, they tasted a bit like fudge too. Put another way, they tasted grand: sweet and fruity with the aforementioned fudgy notes, which I guess came from the chocolate. And the mascarpone and white chocolate topping was equally grand, with those tell-tale flecks of fragrant vanilla which combined splendidly with the cake beneath. I was glad I’d opted for mini cakes as these might have been a bit too rich for a large cupcake, plus you can have a second one without feeling too guilty.
For some real indulgence, I also made a chocolate Amaretto biscuit cake which will feature soon in an upcoming post. Let’s just say it’s good.
I’m submitting these little cakes to Let’s Party, a new blogging challenge from lovely Alida of My Little Italian Kitchen.
And as this was a bit of a Bake Fest, I’m submitting this to the challenge of the same name hosted over at Cook’s Joy.
- 85g unsalted butter
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 100g milk chocolate (I used 35% cocoa content)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs – large (I used duck eggs)
- 225g flour (half wholemeal, half white)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 100g Greek yogurt
- 1 soft ripe persimmon
- 80g white chocolate
- 150g mascarpone
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 24
Where would the British baker be without vanilla? It’s hard to imagine cakes, biscuits and custards without that sweet and fragrant flavour which we all know and love so well. And life without vanilla ice-cream is virtually unthinkable. We sort of take it for granted, but it is worth remembering that vanilla is a tropical orchid originally from Mexico and now cultivated in other tropical regions. Recently there has been more awareness about the production of vanilla and the exploitation of workers that so often goes with it. To produce good quality vanilla and provide workers with a decent livelihood means that it is never going to be a cheap ingredient. In fact, it is the most expensive spice after saffron. So when I received a vanillary scented parcel of products from Australian company Taylor & Colledge, I was really pleased to find that most of the products are fairtrade or organic. In their own words Taylor & Colledge are: makers of award winning vanilla bean extracts for more than a century. These items are available in the UK at Waitrose and Ocado.
Bottles of good quality vanilla extract, especially if they are fair trade and / or organic are expensive. I certainly go through a lot of the stuff. In recent years, I have made my own by infusing good quality vanilla beans in Vodka for a few months. It’s very easy to do and saves a lot of money. The 100 ml bottle of Vanilla Bean Extract in this bundle, not only smelt wonderful, but the flavour really came through in the bake that I made with it. Although it is not organic, it is fairtrade.
Vanilla bean pods themselves are wonderful things and can be used for all sorts of purposes. Generally the seeds are scraped out to flavour any number of dishes, including custards, labneh and various baked goods. The pods can also be used whole to infuse milk, alcohol or other liquids. I’m looking forward to making hot chocolate with my own vanilla infused milk for a special occasion. I have used them whole in the past to make vanilla and apricot jam, which was truly delicious. These pods were organic and came in a pack of four, contained in a heavy duty plastic tube for freshness. They had a heady smell and complex aroma which you simply don’t find in the extract. CT noticed how the smell lingered in his nose for quite some time after closing the lid. This is an unorthodox use, but just sniffing them early in the morning when writing this post, seemed to lift our mood. They were soft and plump, which is just what you are looking for in a good quality pod.
Once vanilla beans have been scraped out, I add the remaining pods to a jar of golden caster sugar to flavour it and always have one on the go. I have not thought of doing this with icing sugar before though, so I was intrigued by the Vanilla Bean Dusting Sugar. So far, I’ve used it to cover a cake and it worked very well. The recipe for this will be appearing shortly. I can see myself following one of the suggestions on the container and dusting my porridge liberally with this.
Vanilla paste is new to me. Essentially, it is the scraped out seeds combined with vanilla extract and sugar. I recently used it in some mini chocolate persimmon cakes and was really pleased with the results. It gave a good flavour and the flecks of vanilla seed looked attractive in the icing. I will be posting the recipe for this tomorrow.
Last but by no means least, was this fabulous Vanilla Bean grinder and I have fallen in love. Working to the same principle as a pepper grinder, this contains shards of dry (ish) vanilla pod and enables you to top off any dish you care to with freshly ground vanilla. It even has two settings, one for a fine grind and one for a coarser one. I trialled it out on my chilli, ginger & persimmon tarts and was impressed that the vanilla flavour came through so well. The black flecks on top looked rather good too, I thought.
I was sent a range of Taylor & Colledge vanilla products to try out with no requirement to write a favourable review. As always, all opinions are my own.
Recently my mysterious fruity godmother (or is it secret admirer?) sent me a tray of beautiful Spanish Persimon. Well what can you do with such a gift other than create some fiery and joyous persimmon tarts?
Time to visit the land of the Hampshire Hogs. It was my mother in law’s 80th Birthday and a cake was called for. She has quite a sweet tooth and is not a fan of dark chocolate so when I saw a recipe for orange poppy seed cupcakes in the Australian book High Tea; recipes with a sense of occasion, I decided to adapt this into cake form with the addition of white chocolate, both in the cake batter and the buttercream.
When it came to decorating, I wanted something simple with the numbers 8 and 0 standing out boldly. CT cut some templates for me out of greaseproof paper with the idea of laying them over the cake and scattering bling over the rest. A good idea, but sadly, this didn’t have quite the desired effect and the figures were a little hard to decipher. One wag likened it to a face with a moustache – it wasn’t meant to be an advertisement for Pr**gles, you know, but I was hoping that just like the tubular snacks, once this was started, we’d be unable to stop.
This is how I made:
Orange, Poppy Seed and White Chocolate Cake
- Measured 150ml sour milk into a jug and added 40g poppy seeds. Stirred and left for a while.
- Melted 40g vanillary white chocolate in a bowl over hot water, then left to cool a little.
- Creamed 150g unsalted butter with 170g caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the grated zest of an organic orange.
- Beat in the white chocolate.
- Beat in 2 duck eggs, one by one.
- Sifted in 190g self-raising flour and stirred this in as gently as possible.
- Gently stirred in the milk and poppy seeds until just incorporated.
- Divided the batter between two 20 cm silicone moulds and baked at 180°C for 25 minutes when the cakes were well risen and a cake tester came out clean.
- Melted 60g white chocolate in a bowl over hot water, then left to cool a little.
- Creamed 250g unsalted butter together with 300g icing sugar and the grated zest of an organic orange.
- Beat in 1 tbsp orange liqueur.
- Beat in the white chocolate.
- Sandwiched the cakes together with a good thick layer, then spread the rest over the top and sides.
O is for Orange in this month’s AlphaBakes, so a virtual slice of this orange, poppy seed and white chocolate cake is being sent over to Caroline Makes and The More Than Occasional Baker c/o CT’s mum.
Once upon a time, many months ago, I wrote a review of Honeybuns: gluten free baking. by Emma Goss-Custard. It’s not often I get thanked for a book review, but I was surprised and delighted to receive a box of Honeybuns minis in the post one day with a lovely note thanking me for the review. Now I had every intention of reviewing this box of delights, for delightful every one of those gluten free treats most certainly were. I did make a bit of a start, but somehow, CT and I managed to polish them all off before I got very far.
Tidying up my desk recently, I came across the Honeybuns note which reminded me of just how good the cakes were. Somewhat shamefacedly, I renewed contact and lo and behold another box arrived. This one contained a biscuit, a cake and four minis – all chocolate.
All of the Honeybuns range is gluten free with some products being dairy free too and made with good quality ingredients containing no artificial colours or preservatives. Whether one is gluten intolerant or not, the cakes I have tried are all interesting, not overly sweet and tasty. Very few of the products have sugar as the main ingredient, which, in my experience, is highly unusual in commercial cakes and biscuits. All products are made on the family farm in Dorset. Looking after nature, especially bees is a key objective and to this end the farm includes a nature reserve and is involved in various conservation projects. Packaging is biodegradable and comes with fun facts and stories about Honeybuns and their products. The minis, as the name suggests, are little cakes weighing in at 40g; they are the perfect size for sticking in your pocket to maintain energy levels on a bracing Cornish cliff walk. The full sized cake bar (85g) carries the following salutory warning: this cake is an indulgent treat, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Oh bother, another fifty mile hike needed!
Heathcliffe Brownie – dark chocolate, free range eggs, butter, sugar, ground almonds, whole almonds, orange zest, ground coffee, orange oil, sea salt, vanilla.
These were very chocolatey, which I guess should be no surprise given this was the main ingredient. It had a noticeable, but not dominant orange flavour which CT would have approved of, except he didn’t get a look in. Nice fudgy brownie consistency, that was both smooth and chewy at the same time, due to the generous amount of almonds chunks. If Cathy had any sense, she would have gone for this rather than the man himself.
Triple Chocolate Tinker Cookie – ground almonds, rice syrup, milk chocolate, plain chocolate, dark chocolate, salted butter, cocoa powder, vanilla, baking powder, ground coffee.
Strong chocolate aroma. We both liked the texture which was slightly sticky and rather chewy; it forces your jaws to get some exercise even if the rest of the body is static. Not too sweet with a good chocolate flavour and a hint of treacle. Tinker Tuesdays are an institution at Honeybuns it seems; each week, they give away a tin of their cookies. I’m definitely tempted to enter this, what about you?
Congo Bar – caramel, pecans, polenta, ground almonds, butter sugar, milk chocolate, nibbed almonds, coconut xanthan gum.
A little like millionaires shortbread but more interesting and not as sweet. A polenta and ground almonds shortbread base, covered with a layer of caramel and then topped with a crunchy layer of toasted pecans, coconut and chocolate. Just as well CT was around when I tried this one or I would have had to have put my walking boots on again. Then again, I think it would have been worth it.
Milk Chocolate Brownie – milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butter, sugar, ground almonds, free-range eggs
Like the Healthcliff Brownie before it, this had crunchy nuts and chocolate pieces studded throughout, but was slightly sweeter and had a vanilla and coffee flavour rather than an orange one. The taste lingered on the palate in a pleasant manner with the coffee coming more to the fore, but without any bitterness.
Chocolate Caramel Shortbread
The first thought in biting into this, was thank goodness it’s not tooth-achingly sweet. It was in fact delicious with a dark top? and a the polenta base seemed ideal to mop up any excess sweetness and was deliciously biscuity.
Snowy Hills (the only one I wrote up from the first batch)- Ginger and polenta shortbread with a lemon sponge topping – delicious, moist, nice varied texture with nibbed almonds for extra crunch. Not too sweet and just a subtle flavour of ginger and lemon.
It’s back to basics with Random Recipes over at Belleau Kitchen this month. Randomly pick a book and then randomly pick a recipe from it. I headed straight over to Eat Your Books (EYB), where I found to my astonishment I now have 100 recipe books. I picked a number using a random generator and got 37. Counting down on EYB, I got Charlotte Pike’s wonderful book, The Hungry Student: Vegetarian Cookbook. The random generator gave me page 185 which happened to be a simple recipe for chilli corn muffins. The recipe looked most enticing, especially as it was nearly lunchtime – all it needed was a bit of chocolate. I dashed down to the kitchen and promptly made some. It was all done and out of the oven in 35 minutes. Apart from adding 100% chocolate for extra umami, I used some of Mrs Middleton’s lovely cold-pressed rapeseed oil and substituted most of the flour for wholemeal spelt. Oh and I added some garlic – you can never have too much garlic.
This is how I made:
Chilli Corn Chocolate Muffins
- Sieved 250g flour (200g wholemeal spelt, 50g white) with 2 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp paprika.
- Grated in 100g cheddar cheese and 20g 100% dark chocolate.
- Added a grating of black pepper.
- Finely chopped half of one of our manzano chillies and a clove of garlic and added this to the bowl with 100g of frozen sweetcorn.
- Stirred until all was evenly mixed.
- Made a well in the centre and broke in 2 duck eggs.
- Stirred the centre, then added 4 tbsp rapeseed oil.
- Stirred again, then slowly added 200ml sour milk whilst incorporating into the dry mix.
- As soon as the mixture was just combined, spooned into 12 large muffin moulds.
- Baked at 180°C for 22 minutes until well risen and golden brown.
The muffins were so good, especially straight out of the oven, that I couldn’t help myself and ate four of them for lunch. They had enough heat in them from the chilli to make you sit up and take notice, but that didn’t detract from the other flavours. The sweetcorn made them nice and chewy and the chocolate added just a touch of sophistication. CT’s demeanour visibly improved when he was presented with a couple of these on his arrival home that evening.
So over to Dom at Belleau Kitchen with these Chilli Corn Chocolate Muffins.
As these are perfect for lunch and are easily portable, I am submitting them to November’s Family Foodies where the theme is Lunchbox Ideas. Hosted by Vanesther of Bangers & Mash and Lou of Eat Your Veg.