Vegetarian food blog featuring nourishing home cooked recipes, creative baking and luscious chocolate.

Vegan Speculaas Chocolate Cake

Vegan Speculaas Chocolate Cake

Our family, my mother’s side at least, used to be nicely contained within the boundaries of England and Scotland. As a child growing up, my holidays were usually spent visiting one or other of them and we were close. These days, the family has become international and live in Australia, Spain, California and Colombia. Needless to say, I don’t get to see them very often anymore. So I was delighted when a bunch of relies came down to visit us in Cornwall earlier this month. I was particularly pleased to see my vegan cousin from California who I haven’t met since his wedding five years ago. Of course I had to make him a cake.

Speculaas Spice Mix

I’d recently been sent a special spice mix from the Speculaas Spice Company and was keen to try it out. It’s based on the vanDotsch family’s secret recipe and only some of the spices are revealed in the ingredients. Speculaas is a Dutch spice mix dating from the 17th Century when Holland was sailing the Seven Seas in search of exotic spices. Today the spice mix has been mostly standardised and is best known for its use in Speculaas biscuits. This mix consists of nine spices including Sri Lankan cinnamon, cloves and ginger. The overwhelming aroma emanating from the opened packet was of cloves and cinnamon – a heady mix indeed. But other less obvious scents were there too. On trying the spice, we all had a go at guessing what the secret ingredients might be. My aunt was convinced it contained black pepper, CT was pretty sure nutmeg was in it and I thought I could taste allspice. It certainly has a hint of a kick to it and is full of flavour. The company tries to source its spices at as high a grade as possible and to ensure that they are pure with no additives of any kind. They are also mostly organic, fairtrade or both.

Hot Chocolate Powders

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out some pure chocolate powders from the chocolate company Mortimer. These are not cocoa powder, but ground up chocolate. Well, what a very good idea I thought; no need to faff around melting chocolate and creating extra washing up for baking purposes now – the chocolate can be added directly into the mix. And this has proved to be the case. You wouldn’t know from eating the cakes I’ve made that the traditional method had not been used. Finer than grated chocolate and similar to cocoa powder, it gets completely incorporated into the baking mix. I did try melting the white couverture powder in these burnt butter cupcakes and it melted almost instantaneously.

Hot Chocolate Powder

In addition to the white couverture powder (40%), which smells deliciously vanillary, I also had two different 70% dark chocolate powders to try. All of the powders come in 220g packs and are suitable for drinking as hot chocolate as well as in baking recipes. Each packet has a recipe printed on the back; I want to make all of them, although the white chocolate coconut ice-cream sounds the most intriguing. To see what differences we could spot between the two dark chocolates, CT and I tried both, in powder form and as a hot chocolate. The powder melted into the hot milk really quickly, leaving no bits behind, as can sometimes be the case. They were different in colour with the Ecuador being slightly darker and redder. Both were quite delicious. For convenience, I reckon these are excellent products. They retail at £3.80 and are now available at Sainsburys. South America and Ghana versions are also available to buy online.

Mortimer Hot Chocolates
Two continents, two colours, two tastes

Pure Dark Chocolate Powder (70%): Ecuador
Described as flavour 4 intense, this tastes less sweet than the West African, but surprisingly less bitter too. In hot chocolate form it was also less sweet as well as being more refreshing and robust. I have heard that Ecuador is the home of the best quality cacao and this is reflected, we think, in our perceptions here. The recipe suggestion was for sumptuous chocolate sauce.

Pure Dark Chocolate Powder (70%): West African
Described as flavour 2 mellow, we found this had a fruiter and sweeter smell and tasted slightly of cardamom. In hot chocolate form it also came across as fruity with notes of coconut and was slightly sweeter than the Ecuador. The recipe suggestion was for gorgeous chocolate brownies.

Everyone enjoyed the cake and my cousin was delighted with his welcome back vegan bake. We all thought it was strong on flavour and not too sweet – the way things should be.

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Vegan Chocolate Spice Cake

Vegan Chocolate Spice Cake

by June-28-2014
A well flavoured spicy chocolate cake with a dark chocolate glaze. Simple to make, it produces a nice textured crumb which isn’t too sweet.
Ingredients
  • 200g (7oz) flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white)
  • 1 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 heaped tsp speculaas spice (or mixed spice)
  • 60g 70% Ecuador dark chocolate powder (not cocoa)
  • 130g dark brown sugar
  • 1 large banana
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
  • 150ml water
  • 20g coconut oil
  • 25g 70% dark chocolate powder (or finely grated chocolate)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
Instructions
1. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Stir in the chocolate and make a well in the centre.2. Mash the banana up with the sugar, then beat in the oil. Pour gradually into the dry ingredients, mixing from the centre outwards.3. Add the water and vinegar and mix until just incorporated.4. Scrape into a 21cm round cake mould or lined tin and bake at 180C for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.5. Melt the coconut and chocolate in a pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup until smooth. Pour over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Scatter over some grated dark chocolate if desired.
Details

Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8-10 servings

Chocolate Bean Burgers To Go – With Hot Chilli Sauce

 To call these vegetarian patties, chocolate burgers, is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. Leftover burgers would be a more apt name. It was hot, I wanted to eat something with salad and there were a few things in the fridge that needed using up. I’ve never added chocolate to burgers before, but if it works in chilli as it did in these falafels, I reasoned, so why not with burgers?

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Redcurrant Ripple and White Chocolate Ice-Cream

Ice Cream | 22nd June 2014 | By

 

Here is another recipe I’ve been meaning to write up for a very long time. Our redcurrants aren’t quite ready to make this ice-cream yet – assuming the birds don’t get there before us! But we do still have some left in the freezer from last year – amazing isn’t it?

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Raw Goodness and a Tropical Smoothie

Tropical Chocolate Smoothie

Whilst not quite at the forefront of raw food consumption, it does make up a part of my diet and I don’t just mean salad leaves. I’ve been a fan of raw chocolate since long before I started this blog; the concept of raw chocolate and other sweet treats that are actively good for you is one I find most appealing. Unlike cheap chocolate bars, I find these satisfy quite quickly and I’m unable to gorge myself on them.

The UK has a long tradition of coconut use, one of the advantages of a global empire I suppose. However our usage has been somewhat limited to desiccated coconut and whole coconuts, usually found as a target in fairgrounds and often past their best. In recent years the products have become much more diverse and coconut has now gained the status of a superfood. I’ve always been a fan and use coconut in a number of ways. However, when I was sent a bundle of coconut products from Cocofina to try out, the coconut oil was the only item I was familiar with.

Cocofina

Cocofina, meaning fine coconuts, was conceived with the idea of selling a healthful drink that was naturally sweet and would need no added artificial colours or preservatives. Starting off in 2005 selling 100% pure coconut water, the company has now branched out into other coconut products. There are over 100 varieties of coconut and they have many uses. Harvested young they are best for water and the mature ones are best for oil. I was pleased to see that all Cocofina products are organic and certified by the Soil Association. The company also supports Action Against Hunger, vowing to raise at least £5,000 a year.

Once again, I roped CT in to help out with some of the tasting. As coconut is one of his favourite foods, he was not averse. After tasting all of the products, I set to and baked this coconut chickpea chocolate cake using the nectar and oil.

Coconut Water – 100% filtered coconut water from green coconuts.
A multi award winning drink, this claims to refresh, reenergise and rehydrate; it is full of vitamins and minerals and is naturally isotonic. I was expecting it to taste like the water you get when cracking open a mature coconut, but it was noticeably different. It was sweeter with a slightly smokey taste, pleasant but not quite as nice. I was really rather excited to find you can buy coconut water, as a natural alternative to dairy is hard to find. This came in a 500ml plastic bottle. I know plastic is the modern way, but I would prefer to see a healthy drink put into a glass one. After sipping it to see what I thought, I decided it would make a great base for a tropical breakfast smoothie. It did. See recipe below.

Coconut Nectar
It has the look and feel of runny honey, but the scent and taste of light molasses. We both really liked it and had to restrain ourselves from spooning it directly from the jar into our mouths. It made a really tasty chocolate glaze which I used for the coconut chickpea cake and a subsequent vegan cake I’ve made. The nectar has a low GI so is a healthier option than sugar and would also make a great vegan substitute for honey. I was pleased that this product did come in a glass jar. It contained 350ml.

Coconut Oil
I’m a big fan of coconut oil and have written a fair bit about it on this blog already. It is a particularly healthy oil and is good spread on toast, used in baking and for frying as it has a high smoking point. This one is cold pressed extra virgin and organic. It smells and tastes deliciously of coconut. Like the nectar, it came in a 350ml glass jar.

Coconut Snack Bars
All of the bars weigh 40g and are organic, dairy free, wheat free and have no added sugar.

Organic Coconut & Cocoa Bar – raisins (containing sunflower oil), dates, coconut, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder.
Described as a pre-workout snack, this is toothsome bar that in my book could be eaten at any time. Coconut and chocolate is one of those combinations that just work: the flavour here is well balanced with the coconut being dominant and the cocoa enriching the flavour and reducing the sweetness. Both chewy and crunchy from the coconut and cocoa nibs, the texture encourages you to savour at length. Hello Cocofina, goodbye Bounty, quipped CT.

Organic Coconut & Date Bar – raisins (containing sunflower oil), coconut, dates, oats.
It’s nice and coconutty with shards of dried coconut which make it particularly chewy; in CT’s own words “it’s fun to carry on chewing and squeeze out every last bit of flavour”. It is quite sweet with an almost honey like taste and very enjoyable. CT suggested that a Levantine merchant would stock up on these in preparation for a long camel train trip.

Cocofina Macaroon Bar
I’m guessing this is a recent addition to the range as the wrapper is plain and has no information on it other than the name and best before date. Firmer in texture than the other bars, it tastes of coconut and honey. It’s quite sweet, but due to its firm and chewy texture, it gives the jaws a good work out.  It reminds me of the sweets I used to eat and enjoy in Egypt. Sweet is the operative word; it feels more like an item of confectionary than an energy bar, but is nonetheless delicious.

Brownies by Rawness

Based in Richmond, Rawness is a company that started making 100% raw desserts for local consumption. Take a look at their website if you need to be convinced as to the allure of raw cakes and chocolates. They have recently introduced a range of brownies that are more robust and can be sent by post and thus distributed more widely. Despite the name, these didn’t really resemble classic brownies which, in my opinion,  should be soft, fudgy and uba-sweet with a crusty top. These were in two layers and whilst the top was indeed fudgy, the bottom was decidedly chewy. Forget the name though and you have one very tasty and satisfying piece of confection which I defy anyone not to enjoy.

As I read the list of ingredients, I got more and more excited; they sounded both exotic and luxurious. I was intrigued by the Medicine Flower mentioned, so went off to investigate. It turns out they are an American company offering a range of concentrated extracts using a cold pressed extraction method. They have some very unusual flavours and are certified organic. The brownies, though small, are quite substantial and weigh 55g each. Sitting in their little wooden trays and encased by protective plastic, they would make ideal picnic fare. I was sent three flavours to try. CT helped me out in the task. We found sharing three between us was more than enough to satisfy us after a long session of gardening.

Hazelnut Caramel Browniehazelnuts, hazelnut butter, dates, Peruvian cacao powder, Peruvian cacao butter, heather honey, lucuma powder, extra virgin olive oil, vanilla, Himalayan crystal salt.
Whilst hazelnut is dominant and caramel notes are obvious, other complex flavours weave their way around the palate. We were hard pressed to describe them, but how about this: slightly floral, heathery taste and an elusive whisky tang.

Cherry & Walnut Browniewalnuts, almonds, walnut butter, dates, Peruvian cacao powder, Peruvian cacao butter, honey, sour cherries, sour cherry powder, lucuma powder, extra virgin olive oil, vanilla, Medicine Flower Cherry Extract, Himalayan crystal salt.
Crikey those cherries are sour. Eat this if you are flagging in front of your computer and you’ll soon be woken up. We really liked the contrast between the sweet chocolate, crunchy walnuts and tart cherries. This is less complex in flavour than the previous one, but unusually for a brownie it is quite refreshing.

Banana Pecan Browniepecans, almonds, pecan butter, dates, Peruvian cacao powder, Peruvian cacao butter, honey, banana pieces, banana powder, lucuma powder, extra virgin olive oil, vanilla, Medicine Flower Banana Extract, Himalayan crystal salt.
Decorated with a piece of dried banana and a pecan nut, there is no doubt what this brownie contains. The banana is very much the dominant flavour here, but it somehow tastes fresh and quite pleasant. And that is the opinion of two banana sceptics. Like the others, the nuts provide plenty of crunch which encourages you to keep right on chewing.

The brownies can be bought direct from Rawness, but I don’t think their site has been updated to reflect this yet.

Creative Nature

Heavenly Cacao with cacao & red berries sultanas, dates, cranberries, goji berries, oats, vegetable glycerine, cacao powder, cacao nibs, cacao butter, maca powder.
Described as a cold pressed cacao and goji berry flapjack, this is a 38g bar which is packed full of goodness. The cacao is cold pressed making it additionally nutritious. The texture is complex and interesting with crunchy cocoa nibs, oats and chewy dried fruit which makes it virtually impossible to wolf down. It is rich in cocoa and quite filling, but also has a slight tartness which I found particularly refreshing. Not only did it taste nice, but with added goji berries and maca powder I was sure it could only be doing me a power of good. This is just the sort of pick-me-up bar I love to have with me when out walking the Cornish moors and coast paths. The only thing missing for me was the fact it was not organically certified.

Indigo Herbs of Glastonbury

I’ve recently been sent a raw chocolate kit with a host of other organic goodies from Indigo Herbs of Glastonbury, so my exploration of raw foods will continue for a while longer yet. So far I have used the organic mango and banana they provided to make the smoothie recipe below and some coconut flakes to decorate the coconut cake I made last week.

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Tropical Chocolate Smoothie

Tropical Smoothie

by June-20-2014
A sumptuous and refreshing non-dairy smoothie with coconut, bananas mango and raw cocoa powder.
Ingredients
  • 500ml coconut water
  • 1 banana
  • 1 mango
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 scant tsp maca powder
  • 1 heaped tsp raw cocoa powder
Instructions
1. Cut the mango in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Peel the banana.2. Place all ingredients into a liquidiser and process for a few seconds.3. Pour into glasses and serve.
Details

Total time: Yield: 4 x 220ml glasses

Coconut Chickpea Chocolate Cake (GF) – We Should Cocoa #46

The theme of this month’s Clandestine Cake Club was free as a bird. I have to say, I was somewhat stumped by this and the best I could come up with was a free to make whatever I liked cake. The theme for this month’s We Should Cocoa is gluten free, so that got me wondering. I’d also been sent some coconut oil and coconut nectar to use from Cocofina – review to follow in a later post. Suddenly it all clicked into place and I would do a free from cake – free from gluten, free from dairy, free from eggs and free from sugar (sugar in the everyday sense anyway).

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Bettys Chocolate Tour de France Bear – Giveaway #49

Chocolate Bear

Whilst so many are caught up in football fever, lets not forget another sporting epic which will soon be hitting our very own shores. Yes indeed, the Tour de France kicks off in Yorkshire this year and as this is only the fourth time the UK has hosted the race, I suspect that Up North they might be even more excited about this than they are about the “Beautiful Game”.

Somewhat surprisingly, as it is a little out of the way, one distinguished Tour de France competitor recently made his way to my door. He was such a charmer, I couldn’t help but let him in. Although he wore a medal proudly around his neck and sported a very jaunty yellow jersey, he didn’t boast of his prowess once during his stay. In fact he watched over us for several days, in a sometimes excited but friendly way, ensuring we wouldn’t forget the upcoming race. Then one day he just disappeared. Actually he disappeared over several days as he was rather large, weighing in at 400g. He was also quite delicious, made as he was from Bettys Swiss very moreish grand cru milk chocolate and coated with sweet luscious marzipan creating the prized maillot jaune or yellow jersey. The coveted yellow jersey has never tasted batter.

It just so happens that the finish line of the first stage is at Harrogate, home of Bettys, the famous tea rooms and chocolatier. When they discovered that 1919, the year of their founding, was the same year the yellow jersey was introduced, the idea for the 1919 Victory Bear was born. Wearing hat, riding goggles and a spare inner tube strapped across his chest, he looks the epitome of intrepid, debonair sportsmanship.

The 1919 Victory Bear is joined by a whole host of limited edition cycling treats all with a Bettys twist. Retailing at £29.95 this is a must for any cycling enthusiast or even just those partial to cute chocolate teddy bears.

Thanks to Bettys for the chocolate Victory Bear. There was no requirement to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.

Giveaway
To get into the spirit of the tour de France, Betty’s have kindly agreed to allow one lucky Chocolate Log Blog reader to win their very own 1919 Victory Bear. To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Gleam widget below. You will need to leave a comment on this post, answering the question, which then gives you additional chances to enter if you so wish. Gleam will pick a winner at random from the entries received. If you are commenting anonymously, please give me some way of identifying you as I will be verifying the validity of entries. Any automated entries will be disqualified. This giveaway is only open to those with a UK postal address. Winners will need to respond within 7 days of being contacted. Failure to do this may result in another winner being picked.

Bettys Chocolate Bear
Prizes are offered and provided by Bettys and Chocolate Log Blog accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of said third party.
Closing date is Monday 14 July 2014

Do take a look at the Chocolate Log Blog giveaway page to see if there is anything else you would like to enter.


Victory Bear

Whisky and Walnut Cakes for Father’s Day

4 Star, Small Cakes | 14th June 2014 | By

Walnut Whisky Cakes

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Father’s Day tomorrow and if you’re still wondering how to celebrate this or what to give the man in your life, Dr Oetker has the ideal solution. These whisky and chocolate cakes are quick and simple to make and taste quite delicious. You can find the original recipe here on the Dr Oetker site. Containing more than a dram of whisky, made with ground walnuts and covered in dark chocolate, these cakes are manly fare.

I didn’t have the mini loaf tins stated in the recipe, so used muffin moulds instead. The only whisky I had to hand was a high quality Scottish malt, so these cakes really did taste extra special. I used my usual half wholemeal and half white flour mix and decided to toast the walnut decorations for extra flavour.

This is how I made:

Whisky and Walnut Cakes

  • Melted 125g unsalted butter in a pan over low heat. Allowed to cool a little.
  • Ground 100g walnuts in a coffee grinder then mixed with 100g golden caster sugar in a large bowl.
  • Sieved in 200g flour (half wholemeal, half white) with 2 tsp Dr Oetker baking powder and stirred into the walnuts.
  • Made a well in the centre and broke in three small eggs. Started to stir this from the inside out, adding the butter, 45ml whisky and 45ml milk as I went along until just mixed.
  • Divided the mixture into 8 large unlined silicone muffin moulds and baked at 180℃ for 22 minutes when they were well risen and a skewer inserted into the middle came out clean.
Meanwhile
  • Dissolved 75g golden caster sugar in a pan over low heat with 45ml water, then bought it up to a boil and simmered for 3 or 4 minutes to give a syrupy consistency.
  • Left to cool slightly, then stirred in 45ml whisky.
  • Poured this over the hot cakes and allowed them to absorb the liquid and cool in the moulds for 5 minutes or so, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melted 75g Dr Oetker 72% dark chocolate in a pan over low heat with 25g unsalted butter.
  • Stirred until homogenised and glossy, left to cool slightly, then spooned over the cooled cakes allowing the chocolate to dribble down the sides.
  • Toasted 8 walnut halves in the oven, then placed these on top of the melted chocolate and left to set.
Whisky Walnut Cakes

True to my assertion that these cakes were manly fare, CT was quite enamoured and he doesn’t even like whisky that much. The cakes rose high and resembled volcanoes without the craters when they emerged from the oven. This made adding the melted chocolate a little tricky, but I was pleased with the final result. The cakes were quite substantial, but had a great texture and flavour and were not overly sweet. I found I too was not averse to having seconds.

This is the second Dr Oetker Father’s Day recipe I’ve made and I’ve been really pleased with how both of them turned out. If you haven’t already seen them, do take a look at the coconut chocolate bars I made a couple of weeks ago.

I am sending these over to Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior’s Cookin w’Luv – a weekly event where everything must be made from scratch.

As a celebration of Father’s Day, these are also being sent off to Bake Fest – a month long feast of all baked goods over at Cook’s Joy.

This month’s Baking with Spirit is all about reinventing a classic. Well this may not have been me that’s reinvented it, but I reckon this is a very good take on the classic Coffee and Walnut Cake. Janine of Cake of the Week has allowed Craig of The Usual Saucepans to take over the reins this month.

These may not be biscuits, but they could possibly be squeezed into a Biscuit Barrel, so I’m sending these off to Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than … who has chosen summer as this month’s theme. As Father’s Day falls in June, it must surely count as summer.

Burnt Butter Cupcakes – Random Recipes #40

Cupcakes | 11th June 2014 | By

Burnt Butter Cupcakes

Once upon a time, many years ago, I made Nigella’s burnt butter cupcakes using jaggery instead of the prescribed sugar. They have lived on in my memory ever since as one of the most delicious cakes I’ve eaten. The reason I haven’t made them subsequently is because on the rare occasion I visit an asian shop, I forget to look out for jaggery. Jaggery is one of the most natural and least harmful forms of sugar and is traditionally eaten on the Indian subcontinent. Natural cane juice is dehydrated and formed into blocks. It has a slightly fudgy texture and a unique caramel flavour. It is also high in minerals and has a much lower GI than refined sugar.

Random Recipes has reached the grand old age of 40 this month (months, not years), so Dom has ingeniously tasked us with finding our 40th recipe book and cooking whatever comes up on page 40. I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I got burnt butter cupcakes from Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Doubly delighted because I had recently come across some jaggery and bought it with the very intention of trying these cakes out once again.

Because I needed to get some chocolate into the bake and wanted to use jaggery, the recipe for the cake is somewhat adapted. The recipe for the icing is quite different. I was intrigued recently when I saw a recipe for old fashioned flour frosting over at Delightful Repast. This is a basic sweetened white sauce which is then whipped up with butter and uses a lot less sugar than buttercream. This was my chance to try it out using burnt butter of course.

This is how I made:

Burnt Butter & White Chocolate Cupcakes

  • Melted 75g unsalted butter in a pan over moderate heat then allowed to bubble for a few minutes until the butter smelt nutty and flecks of brown appeared.
  • Sieved the butter to clarify it and take out the burnt solids.
  • Added 65g of jaggery and 25g of finely grated white chocolate (I used Mortimer’s white couverture powder). This allowed the chocolate to melt, the jaggery to soften and the butter to firm up. Left for about 10 minutes.
  • Creamed the butter, jaggery & chocolate together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in 2 small eggs (1 duck egg or extra large would be fine) and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Sieved in 90g flour (half wholemeal, half white) and 1 tsp baking powder.
  • Stirred this in as gently as possible followed by 1 tbsp water.
  • Spooned into 6 cupcake cases and baked at 180℃ for 20 minutes.
  • Melted 75g unsalted butter in a pan over moderate heat then allowed to bubble for a few minutes until the butter smelt nutty and flecks of brown appeared.
  • Sieved the butter to clarify it and take out the burnt solids. Left to cool and solidify.
  • Whisked 45g plain white flour in a pan with 100 ml of milk and a pinch of salt until there were no lumps.
  • Added 50g jaggery and cooked over a low heat whisking all the time until the mixture was very thick. Left to cool.
  • Creamed the butter until light then beat in the custard. I added some extra milk at this point as the mixture was too thick I thought. Beat until it had the consistency of whipped cream.
  • As it turned out, I’d added a little too much milk as my icing didn’t hold its nicely piped shape. Or perhaps my impatience got the better of me as it firmed up later – I live and learn!
Burnt Butter Cupcakes

Despite the disappointment of the shapeless icing, I was really pleased with its taste and mouthfeel. Smooth, creamy and quite delicious, it was not nearly as sweet as your average buttercream can be. I shall most certainly be trying this again. The cupcakes were nearly as good as I remembered them – time, like absence, tends to make the memory fonder.  The burnt butter worked a treat and they were rich, caramelly and delectable.

Twinings, it’s all about Tea

The prime purpose of my trip to London last month was to visit the home of Twinings and experience a tea tasting of both new and old. The Twinings shop on the Strand was a particularly apt venue to sip tea in, as it was the very first establishment in England to start serving tea back in 1706. This bold move was the inspiration of one Thomas Twining, a coffee house owner and trend setter of his day. Despite various difficulties encountered along the way, including a high tea tax and opposition from beer and coffee providers, tea drinking soon took off and by the 1750s had become the British drink of choice.

Arriving at Paddington Station from Cornwall, the easiest route to Twinings seemed to be to take the tube to Charring Cross and take a stroll along the Strand. Not only did this give me a  nice walk, but it was a chance to wander down down memory lane as well. As a student in London I was very familiar with this area. Charring Cross was where one of our prime bookshops was located and obviously, being a keen student, I frequented it regularly 😉 For a while I commuted from Charring Cross station and got to know it rather more intimately than I might have wished. To avoid the rush hour fight for trains, I’d often go and while away half an hour or so in the National Gallery. It’s many years since I’ve visited this august institution, so I made a mini detour to have a look around. It seemed as though nothing had changed. Walking along the Strand, I couldn’t help but glance cheekily at The Strand Palace Hotel on the other side of the road. We had many a time filled up on the cheese and biscuits there, which were plentifully supplied along with an apple for a ridiculously small sum. What others ended their meals with was a meal in itself for us.

When I arrived at 216 the Strand, I found I was one of a small but select group of tasters and was particularly pleased to discover that Fiona of London Unattached was in attendance as well as Caroline of All that I’m Eating. The shop is long and narrow and steeped in history and packed to the gunwales with tea and tea making paraphernalia. I urge you to have a look at the pictures online as mine were less than perfect – hey ho, the joys of iPhone photography. The shop also contains a small museum which is worth a look if you are passing by. At the back is a tasting bar, where you can sample your tea before you buy – now what a fabulous idea that is. For the more adventurous, you can book a tea tasting for around £30 at one of the regular events. Having established that my preference was for green tea, I was offered a freshly brewed cup of Jade Pillars, a refreshing tea with floral notes that went very nicely with the chocolate tart I chose from the accompanying plate of patisserie.

Whilst we were sipping our welcome cup and munching on the tarts, we were welcomed by Stephen Twining, a 10th generation member of the Twinings family; he is still involved in the business, although it is now owned by Associated British Foods. He told us a little about the history of tea and the family business, which I found really interesting. Some of it I knew, but much of it I didn’t. I learnt for instance that China tea was our mainstay until 1838 when cheaper Indian tea started to be imported into the UK. Because of the high tax on tea, smuggling was rife and much of the tea that made its way to the British cup was adulterated with dried leaves and twigs. Richard Twining was instrumental in getting the tea tax substantially reduced in 1774 which effectively put an end to smuggling. In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings the Royal Warrant for tea.

Feeling suitably steeped in the historical aspects of tea, we then had a session with two master blenders. It takes five years of training to reach this dizzying height and as a mark of achievement the blenders receive an engraved tea spoon of which they are justifiably proud. Traveling to plantations and sourcing teas from around the world is another of their rewards. Twinings take their tea blending very seriously indeed. Whilst excellent single origin and premium loose leaf teas can be bought at the shop or online, the teas that most of us drink on a daily basis need to be consistent, both in taste and quality. Every batch of tea is tasted at least seven times before it is packaged and sent out for sale.

I quizzed Philippa on the best teas to be taken with chocolate and she gave me such a fulsome answer I didn’t have time to write it all down. The essence of it is as follows: Assam for milk chocolate, strongly flavoured teas such chai for dark chocolate and Darjeeling for afternoon chocolate indulgence.

We started our tea tasting with a semi fermented oolong from Taiwan. We could see the large leaves unfurling in the glass teapots as the tea brewed. This was highly perfumed and quite delicious; I would have been happy going no further in my tea journey that day. I’m glad we did though as I think the second tea was even more irrisistable. This was a first flush Darjeeling. Although a black tea, this is fine and delicate and like the oolong is best drunk without milk. Darjeeling has a high price tag as it accounts for only 1% of the world’s tea. It has two harvests per year with the first flush being the cream of the crop. It tasted like it. We went on to taste keemun, a Chinese black afternoon tea which again is best drunk without milk. The last black tea we tried was a second flush Assam. In contrast to the Darjeeling, the first flush is best avoided and the second is the one to go for. This was smooth and malty and would be good with or without milk.

Innovation continues to be at the heart of what Twinings does. Realising that many people wish to drink green tea for its health benefits, but find it heard to accustom themselves to the taste, they have come up with a new range of sweet greens. Despite the name, these teas have no added sugar or other sweeteners but have an air of sweetness about them and do not taste bitter. Being a bit of a purist, I’m not normally a fan of flavoured teas, so was a little sceptical. We tried the caramelised apple first, which with added cinnamon and apple flavour smelt exactly like apple crumble to me. I was surprised to find that I didn’t dislike this tea and in fact didn’t dislike any of them. Salted caramel was next. The name alone makes this hard to resist and it actually tasted quite pleasant. I drink a lot of ginger tea, but the gingerbread tea smelt and tasted nothing like my familiar brew. The aroma was quite nostalgic and reminded me of old fashioned ginger cake. It is recommended that these teas are brewed for only two minutes which seems very sensible; in my experience less is more when it comes to green tea. Interestingly, my mother who would like to drink green tea, but doesn’t like the taste has found these new flavours quite palatable, so game set and match to Twinings.

When we thought we might have had our fill of tea for the afternoon, out came the cocktails. We quickly realised we could very easily manage a caramelised apple Martini made with green tea and vodka. Very tasty it was too.

I’m not at all sure it was kind of Twinings to introduce me to the concept of green tea cocktails. When I got home, I had a go at creating a salted caramel chocolate cocktail and found I couldn’t stop drinking it. Chocolate and salted caramel are one of my all time favourite flavour combinations and this drink did not disappoint. The flavour of salted caramel was there without the drink being overly sweet and the chocolate melded well.

After the tea tasting we were taken out for a late lunch at The Delaunay. Those more knowledgable than myself tell me this hotel is well known as a first class venue for business meetings. I didn’t clinch any deals, but I certainly enjoyed the food. I had my first tasting of pierogi, vegetarian Polish dumplings which were quite delicious. Needless to say I had a dessert and it just happened to be a chocolate one.

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Martini

by June-4-2014
A rather moreish cocktail made from green tea and chocolate liqueur.
Ingredients
  • 1 Twinings salted caramel green tea teabag
  • 50 ml chocolate liqueur of choice
  • 3 ice cubes
Instructions
1. Place the teabag in a teapot and pour 100 ml of near boiling water over it. Leave to brew for 2 minutes then remove the teabag. Leave to cool.2. Pour into a cocktail shaker together with the chocolate liqueur and ice cubes. Shake well and strain into two martini glass.3. Sip as slowly as you can.
Details

Yield: 2

Many thanks to Twinings and Hill & Knowlton for a fabulous afternoon out. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.

Eton Mess Chocolate Cake

Layer cakes | 6th June 2014 | By

It was a friend’s birthday last week and she was having a party to celebrate. It was time to spring into birthday cake action. I’d recently seen a recipe  over at Mummy Mishaps for a Blackberry Eton Mess Cake which I thought was a fabulous idea. This was my inspiration, but with strawberries finally coming into season I was going to base mine on the original fruit. I also had some strawberry yogurt that needed using up from the Lactofree event I attended in London and I wanted to get in some of the lilac syrup I’d just made.

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