These chocolate hazelnut crackles were a Christmas gift bake that I made last year. They were so good, I meant to make them again this year. But flu got in the way and my Christmas baking was minimal.
I bookmarked this recipe from Apple & Spice a very long time ago. The biscuits are made with ground roasted hazelnuts which immediately grabbed my attention. However, the first time I made them for Christmas 2012, I was fast running out of time and space in the kitchen, so swapped the hazelnuts for ground almonds. They were really good and proved to be highly popular with the recipients. But the fragrance and flavour of these ones made with freshly roasted hazelnuts beat the ground almonds hands down.
The house smelt gorgeous whilst these were being made; first the aroma of roasting hazelnuts filled the air and then again when the biscuits were in the oven. Rolled in icing sugar before baking, these cookies are visually striking and conjure up a snowy Christmas with sleigh bells ringing. The biscuits expand, revealing dark crevices beneath the white icing. Rich, indulgent, chewy and delicious these are some of the best biscuits I’ve ever made. I’d thought they were set to be a regular feature on my Christmas baking schedule, so I’m quite sorry I didn’t manage to make any this year.
This is how I made:
Chocolate Hazelnut Crackles
- Roasted 80g hazelnuts at 180C for about ten minutes in order to give flavour and loosen their skins.
- Rubbed in a piece of kitchen towel to remove skins.
- Left to cool, then blitzed with 30g caster sugar to reduce to a finish crumb.
- Melted 175g dark 72% chocolate in a large bowl over hot water.
- Added 100g of unsalted butter – cubed. Stirred until melted.
- Beat in 275g dark muscovado sugar.
- Stirred in 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- Beat in 3 smallish eggs (or use 2 large eggs).
- Sifted in 330g flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white), 20g cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, a large pinch of rock salt and 1 heaped tsp of mesquite powder.
- Added the ground hazelnuts and 2 tbsp milk.
- Stirred until combined.
- Left in my cold kitchen for a couple of hours until firm – no need for a fridge at this time of year.
- Sifted 100g icing sugar into a bowl.
- Wet hands with cold water and rolled mixture into walnut sized balls between my palms.
- Rolled balls in icing sugar until thickly coated and placed well apart on lined baking trays.
- Baked at 180C for about 12 minutes until cracked and well risen.
I’m sending this off to Jac at Tinned Tomatoes as it is a Bookmarked Recipe.
If it wasn’t for We Should Cocoa, I probably wouldn’t have managed a Christmas bundt cake this year. I’m still recovering from flu and lacking in energy, so cooking has been mostly off this Christmas. However, I’m really glad I made the effort as it’s a light and delicious fruit cake that even CT will eat – he’s not a fan of either fruit cake or mincemeat, but is weirdly happy to indulge in this festive treat.
Gingerbread is almost synonymous with Christmas and making some to hang on the tree is something I aspire to each year. This year, I’ve actually done it. Not that we have a tree to hang any on, but I’m hoping that the friends we are giving them to will.
Reading through a review copy of What to Bake & How to Bake It, I noticed a recipe for iced gingerbread cookies that used treacle as a variation. I find the word treacle very hard to resist – something to do with childhood memories of my mother’s treacle pudding, I imagine. Decision made: I would knock up some gingerbread. I followed the recipe almost exactly, adding only a little chocolate (of course) and a few additional spices. A pinch of black pepper for additional warmth was needed I thought as well as some allspice for Vanesther’s Spice Trail and some nutmeg.
What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby (published by Phaidon Press at £19.95), is a rather beautiful book. It’s quite a large hardback and has a turquoise textured paper cover that makes me want to stroke it. Two matching turquoise bookmarks add distinction and there are plenty of gorgeous pictures to admire. It appears to be more a work of art than a manual. It’s certainly a book to treasure.
As the title suggests, this book is aimed principally at those who are new to baking or who require a confidence boost. Each recipe is spread over four to six pages, with lots of step-by-step aerial photography and accompanying instructions. Ah, so it is a manual, albeit a rather lovely one. Methodologies, terms and equipment are covered at the beginning and there are plenty of tips and tricks to be found throughout. Anyone working through a few of these recipes would learn pretty much everything they needed to turn out fabulous, cakes, breads, biscuits, pies and desserts. Despite this, I think the book is also useful to the more experienced baker; most of us still have something to learn. Creating a Swiss roll is one of my bêtes noirs, so maybe I’ll be able to crack it with the steps shown here.
There are fifty recipes in total and although the classics are represented, there is plenty here to keep the more experienced baker interested and inspired. Shortbread is covered for example, but orange, lavender, pecan and chocolate versions are also given. I have my eye on the malted chocolate birthday cake as I’m a sucker for a malteser and if I hadn’t been ill in the run-up to Christmas, I would have made the pistachio and fig biscotti which sounds exotic and comforting in equal measure. Other bakes that might restore me to health include: blueberry-cinnamon crumb cake, cranberry stollen and Linzer cookies.
This is how I made:
Spicy Gingerbread with Limoncello Icing
- Melted 110g Rodda’s salted butter in a large pan with 200g dark brown sugar, 2 tbsp treacle and 25g dark chocolate.
- Allowed to cool a little then beat in a duck egg (large hen’s egg would be fine).
- Beat in 2 drops Holy Lama cinnamon extract (2 tsp ground cinnamon), a drop of black pepper extract and a drop of nutmeg extract.
- Sifted in 150g wholemeal flour and 200g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp allpice and a heaped tsp ground ginger.
- Mixed until just combined, then left in my cold kitchen to firm up for an hour.
- Gathered the mixture together to form a ball of dough and rolled out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a £1 coin.
- Cut various shapes from it, rerolling the leftovers again and again until the dough was all used up.
- Placed biscuits on a lined baking tray and baked at 180C for 7 minutes – mine were quite small and larger biscuits would need a couple of minutes or so longer.
- Used a chopstick to make holes for threading whilst the biscuits were still hot from the oven, then removed them to a wire rack to cool.
- Mixed 3 heaped tbsp icing sugar with just enough limoncello to make a thick, but slightly runny icing.
- Piped this onto my biscuits and left them to dry.
- Made about 80 biscuits.
The biscuits smelt wonderful, both in and out of the oven and were as warming and delicious as I’d hoped. The touch of limoncello icing gave an added note of sophistication. They may not have looked very sophisticated, but I’m blaming the flu virus for that. CT and I quickly polished off all the rejects and the rest got packed into bags for gifts.
I am sending these biscuits of to Vanesther over at Bangers & Mash for The Spice Trail, which is allspice this month.
Some are also winging their way to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage who has appropriately chosen sugar and spice for this month’s Cooking with Herbs.
Some time ago, I received a set of chocolate making kits from Chocolate at Home. I made the milk chocolate truffles almost immediately and was impressed, both with the kit and the resulting chocolates. I was saving the other kits up for Christmas. With the party season in full swing, I was pretty sure there would be an occasion to use the Dessert Canapé Kit and I wasn’t wrong.
Sadly and rather frustratingly, both CT and I have been hit by the flu – a result of overcrowding on the trains I suspect and no easy escape from contagious fellow passengers. I can only assume that the old saying, “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” did for us. The result being a rather low key Christmas with no outings in site. Tomorrow our friends hold their annual Solstice dinner and I was saving the canapés for the occasion. Well, we can’t go now, but I’m hoping the canapés can.
This kit was just perfect in my time of need. Cooking and baking is still beyond me at the moment and if truth be told, I don’t fancy eating that much. I was able to make the canapés simply and easily, but still feel I had a hand in the creative process. Both the effort required and the washing up were minimal and I finished the task feeling a lot better than when I started. Contents:
- 15 chocolate canapé cups
- 100g dark chocolate mousse powder
- 40g caramelised hazelnuts
- 50g candied orange peel
- piping bag
Unlike the first kit, when I followed the exact instructions, I thought I’d add my own twist on this one; I created an orange and rhubarb flavoured chocolate mousse, with a bit of a kick to it. I added some organic orange zest and a little of my rhubarb liqueur.
This is how I made:
Orange and Rhubarb Chocolate Canapés
- Poured 125g milk into a bowl and added 1 tbsp rhubarb liqueur.
- Added the mousse powder and whisked briefly.
- Grated in the zest from half an organic orange and whisked again for a few minutes until the mousse was smooth and silky.
- Spooned the mousse into the fifteen chocolate cups provided. A piping bag was provided for this, but as my mousse wasn’t that firm due to the added liqueur, I didn’t think this bit necessary.
- Allowed the mousse to settle and firm up slightly, then removed the cups from their holder and placed on a serving platter.
- Decorated the mousse with the candied orange peel and caramelised hazelnuts provided, then dusted with a little edible glitter (not provided).
The mousse tasted like a sophisticated version of Angel Delight. It was very chocolatey and the orange and alcohol fortified without overwhelming. The chocolate cups were all set at a slight angle, giving an elegant tilt to proceedings and making for a stylish end to any feast.
An old hand at bread-making I may be, but I was a little daunted when I was recently sent an automatic Panasonic bread maker to try out. I have never used a machine to make bread before, other than an oven and I was a little concerned I would fall at the first hurdle. In truth I’ve always been a bit wary of bread makers as I’d heard they weren’t great for the flours I like to bake with – spelt and rye.
Here are a few ideas for stocking fillers if you are feeling a bit stuck. You will surely find something here for the food lovers in your life. I’d certainly be happy to find any of these in mine.
Drinking Chocolate Christmas Baubles
Hans Sloane is probably my favourite hot chocolate and I’ve tried a few over the years. It makes a rich and creamy beverage, even without the addition of milk and it is not overly sweet. Made with water, these make excellent drinks for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. You can read my previous reviews of Hans Sloane drinking chocolate Madagascar 67% and Ecuador 70% and Rich Dark (53%) and Natural Honey.
|Photo courtesy of Hans Sloane|
The latest to come my way is this adorable Christmas Bauble full of 53% chocolate beads that rattle around when you shake it. The sight of a Christmas tree groaning under the weight of these substantial baubles would be a remarkable sight; when I tired of the spectacle, it would be good to know that I could pop them individually into mugs and liberate the contents with some hot water or milk. From tree to tea-tray in a trice. Perfect! £2 per individually packaged bauble and they will arrive in time for Christmas if you order by 18 December. Alternatively the 270g packs cost between £4.49 and £5.49 and can be found at Tesco and Waitrose as well as online.
Personalised Cornishware Mug
I grew up with Cornish Blue and the plates, cups and jugs are still in regular use in my mother’s kitchen on the edge of Bodmin Moor, though somewhat cracked and chipped these days. They hold a special place in my heart, though I now have a preference and yearning for Cornish Red. This personalised mug adorned with my moniker I found especially appealing. It’s just the right size and has a chunky, hand warming quality about it – perfect for those bedtime mugs of cocoa I’m so fond of, or even chocolate tea. Next time maybe Santa will bring me a red one. £10 for an 8oz personalised Cornishware mug.
Having received my dose of antioxidants and minerals internally, how about applying chocolate externally, in this case in the form of soap? Made locally in Liskeard by Cornish Soapcakes, I was frothing at the mouth at the thought of trying this. With its simple but effective packaging, this certainly looked good enough to eat when I opened it. Made with Green & Blacks chocolate rather than the usual cocoa butter. Is this a first for Liskeard and who knows, the world?
Cheese Making Kit
Cheese making is all the rage at the moment and Cheeky Monkey Cream Chargers have cleverly seized the opportunity and are making kits for home cheese making. I was sent a Goat (Chèvre) kit, which I’m excited to try, but haven’t quite found time to do so yet. I adore goat’s cheese which is fabulous for cooking and pairs remarkably well with chocolate. You can see some of the recipes I’ve tried with this combination. The kit comes with instructions, recipes, cheesecloth, citric acid, cheese-salt and herbs de Provence. It will make about 3 lb of chèvre. All I need to do is buy the milk and follow the instructions. I will report back when I have done so. There is a mozzarella and ricotta kit too, which sounds equally attractive. Both kits cost £6.
Made by husband and wife team Soph and Ian in Suffolk, Raw Nibbles are on a mission to create delicious and healthful products which retain the nutritional benefits of chocolate by keeping processing to a minimum. All products are handmade, vegan and free from dairy, wheat, gluten, beet sugar, cane sugar, soya, egg and artificial additives. Not only that but they are organic, with Soil Association certification, which always endears a producer to me.
Double Chocolate Brownie – dates, cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, vanilla powder, almonds hazelnuts.
This is substantial and dense, but with a fudgy texture consistent with a good brownie. It’s certainly very tasty; I noticed that the date flavour comes through quite strongly – maybe it’s my Middle Eastern genes, but I really liked that: I found myself desiring more than a nibble. Weighing it at 110g, it’s currently on offer for £2.80.
Crispy Raw Chocolate – cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, sprouted buckwheat, vanilla powder.
Sprouted buckwheat in chocolate? This was a first for me and I have to say I was a little dubious. My mistake. Buckwheat usually has a powerful and distinctive flavour, which is not to everybody’s liking. I needn’t have worried, they tasted just like nuts with the same crunchy texture. The chocolate had a good snap with a feel of “real” chocolate. My mouth didn’t feel assaulted by vast quantities of sugar – really nice. Currently on offer at £2.40 for a 50g bar.
mberry – Miracle Fruit Tablets
The fruits of the miracle berry, Synsepalum dulcificum, a West African shrub, are compressed and dried into tablet form. The effects are the result of a taste modifying process caused by miraculin, a glycoprotein found in the berry’s flesh. So what does all this mean? The theory is, it turns sour and bitter flavours sweet.
CT and I gave it a go. We each let one tablet dissolve on our tongue. It took rather longer than I was expecting and tasted fruity with a berry like tartness. So far, unremarkable. Then we tried drinking some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Wow! We’d heard it was meant to make things taste different, but it was still a surprise to find the lemon juice tasted sweet, really sweet. What fun. Fool your tongue like never before. An ideal party piece to amaze your friends at Christmas to go with the magic lantern show and other curiosities. Dickens would have loved these. Available from mberry at £12.99 for a pack of ten.
Crumb – Ruby Tandoh
For those that haven’t been following the Great British Bake-off, Ruby, a young law student, was a finalist in the 2013 competition and now writes regularly for the Guardian. For fans of this iconic programme, she will need no introduction. Her book Crumb is filled with enticing recipes for bakes of all kinds; they not only sound highly flavoursome, but are down to earth and fancy free. The law’s loss is our gain.
The book is both intelligently and clearly written, so it’s engaging as well as informative. The recipes are easy to follow and full instructions are given for the novice cook. Each chapter begins with a “how to” section explaining ingredients and techniques. Answers are given throughout to many of the common questions which even experienced bakers may have: why is my cake too dense? Why is my bread too yeasty? Why is my Danish pastry leaking butter as it bakes? Ruby is also good at demystifying those little tips and tricks that the experienced baker takes for granted. So what does it mean when you say a curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon? Well she shows you.
Innovative bakes and twists on old favourites abound, inspiring me to get off the computer and into the kitchen. So far I have only made a batch of wholemeal walnut cobs and a jar of her lemon curd; both were simple to make and delicious. I have, of course, bookmarked a rather ambitious number of other recipes. These include: cherry stollen with pistachio marzipan, dark chocolate orange bourbons, blackberry ricotta cheesecake, chocolate lime mudcake and spiced chocolate tart. There you have it, my New Year’s resolution.
Published by Chatto & Windus in September this year, the substantial 336p book costs £20.
Some festive chocolatey treats rolled in, just in time for Christmas – a stocking to fill a stocking it would seem. Hotel Chocolat is the best High Street chocolatier out there and I do miss not being able to pop in to the Plymouth store with the regularity I was once able to. A box of chocolate reindeer made from the house special 40% milk chocolate was much appreciated as was the Christmas stocking filled with white, milk and caramel chocolate santas, presents and bells. Thank you Hotel Chocolat.
It’s a little back to front, but the chocolate course I did at L’atelier des Chefs on my recent London adventure was the first event I attended soon after arriving at Paddington station. You can read about what I got up to by heading to Friends of Glass and the Paddington Afternoon Tea. The venue was conveniently located just behind Oxford Circus, which meant I could take the tube on a direct line – always a bonus. Oxford Street was busy with Christmas shoppers and I found the festive mood infectious.
Not surprisingly, I was rather excited about getting stuck into chocolate making and was looking forward to the two hour course. There is always something new to learn and new people to meet on such occasions. I was cordially greeted on arrival and offered a drink whilst I waited for the other attendees to turn up; I ended up getting there rather earlier than expected. Surrounded by a plethora of lovely kitchen gadgets in the well stocked shop, I was sorely tempted to buy something, especially as there was a 10% discount on that day. But I had vowed to travel light and managed to resist.
As it happened, there were only two others on the course which meant we had plenty of opportunities for hands on experience as well as the chef’s full attention. As soon as the chef was ready, into the kitchen we went. Laid out before us was a veritable feast of cream and other goodies not to mention chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate – I was feeling more festive by the minute.
Lots of whipping, stirring, beating and tasting ensued. In two hours we made chocolate orange fondants with Grand Marnier cream and orange syrup: chocolate mousse flavoured with cointreau and topped with hazelnut crumble; we also made two types of chocolates. These entailed making quite a bit of ganache, which I found particularly useful. I sometimes have problems when making this at home; it has been known to split or I can’t get the chocolate to melt properly. The top tip I took away from the course was don’t be afraid of boiling the cream. I’ve always been rather wary of overheating cream and now realise why I can’t always get my chocolate to melt – the cream is just not hot enough.
L’atelier des Chefs started in France ten years ago where it now has 17 workshops around the country. It came to London five years ago with the Oxford Circus venue being the first, followed by one in St Pauls three years later. There is also now one in Dubai. Classes cover all sorts of cuisine and range from quick 30 minute sessions to four hour masterclasses. I would love to attend pretty much all of the classes on offer and was particularly tempted by the Christmas baking class and the one for afternoon tea. So much choice. In a more savoury mood it would probably be the Thai class or the vegetarian. If you are stuck for a present for a food loving friend, a voucher for one of these courses would be much appreciated – or is that just me?
Despite having only three of us on the course, L’atelier des Chefs was both busy and popular. A happy bunch of diners, consuming the meal they had just cooked told us how much fun they’d had and one of the other cheerful chocolate makers was on his third course and coming back for more. Regulars, I later found out, get discounts. My only quibble was that although links to the online recipes were sent to us after the event, I would’ve preferred to have paper copies with me, so I could write notes as I went along.
Our chef was friendly, confident and knowledgeable and talked us through the whys and wherefores of chocolate as we went along. I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients we used, most of which was cream and dark chocolate. The kitchen was large and well equipped and the washing up magically disappeared down a hole in the wall, leaving the work surfaces clutter free.
I enjoyed all of it, but especially the chocolate making. I made salted butter caramel for the first time, I’ve only ever used cream before. It was scrumptious indeed and we used it to fill some of our chocolates. The other chocolates were filled with rum soaked raisins and chocolate ganache. These were delicious too and I really must get some raisins soaking in a jar of rum so they are ready when needed. The mousse was an eggless one which was easy to whip up and a great idea for a dinner party. Topping it with some caramelised hazelnuts gave it additional glamour. The fondants are also perfect for dinner parties as they can be made well in advance and just popped in the oven for ten minutes prior to serving.
We took the chocolates away with us, but managed to eat both the mousse and fondant before we left and jolly delicious they both were too. We all had a fabulous time. Cooking with others is usually fun, but creating a huge mess with chocolate together is an absolute riot.
Thanks to L’atelier des Chefs for inviting me to attend the course. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.