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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
- 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
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8-10 servings
It was time to make a cake for my wonderful mother for Mothering Sunday. The question was, what cake to make? Simnel cake is traditional for this Christian festival which falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. It was a day’s reprieve from the Lenten fast and domestic servants were given the day off to visit their mother church. This meant being able to spend time with their families and specifically their mothers. These days Simnel cake is more closely associated with Easter, but the old tradition of baking a cake and picking flowers for our mothers lives on.
With spring in the air, a cake with a floral theme seemed appropriate. I happened to have some lavender chocolate in the house and although lavender isn’t exactly spring like, it is floral. So a chocolate lavender cake it was going to be. Excitingly, it is the season for goose eggs and I had bought one especially to make my Mother’s Day cake. Goose eggs have a very short season, so I pounce upon them with glee whenever I see them in the spring. They are very large and have a whopping yolk, so are excellent for baking – they roughly equate to three large hens eggs. I scattered the cake with edible red dust, pink hearts and lavender flowers. Sadly most of the flowers all blew off in the wind when I took the cake outside to photograph it, but I reckon the hearts say it all anyway.
I made the cake yesterday and am off to deliver it later this afternoon along with a bunch of primroses and a card.
Update 31 March
The cake was sensational. I was really pleased with it and more to the point so was my mother. The lavender flavour was good without being overpowering and the cake was beautifully light.
I am sending this over to Emily’s #recipeoftheweek over at A Mummy Too.
- 1 tbsp lavender flowers
- 125ml hot water
- 150g unsalted butter
- 175g sugar (half caster, half dark muscovado)
- a pinch sea or rock salt
- 40g cocoa powder
- 175g flour (half wholemeal, half white)
- 1 scant teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 85g ground almonds
- 1 heaped tbsp Greek yogurt
- 80g dark lavender chocolate (70%)
- 70g unsalted butter
- 1 heaped tsp Cornish honey
- 3 tbsp double cream
- 1 goose egg (or 3 large eggs)
Yield: 1 8″ cake
Creme Egg doughnuts are one of those phenomena that seem to be doing the rounds at the moment. The sugar hit that comes from eating one of these must be something else; I have it on good authority that running around in circles for sometime after having consumed one is not unusual. As someone whose childhood sweet tooth has mellowed, I still have a ridiculous fondness for Cadbury creme eggs. But I wasn’t sure I could cope with ladling on even more sugar.
When I was asked if I’d like to review some creme eggs, I had doughnuts very much in mind and knew that the time had come to try baking with these chocolate eggs. To temper some of the sweetness, I thought I would try baking them into an unsweetened bread roll – well pain au chocolate works!
As soon as I figured that out, I thought I could make pizza dough and use a little of it for two small bread rolls, leaving enough for a pizza supper. Instead of using olive oil in the dough, I tried using hazelnut oil instead, thinking that would give a welcome nuttiness to the pizza and make the bread part of my creme egg bun a little more interesting.
Creme eggs, just in case anyone is unaware, are a classic Easter treat from Cadbury: a milk chocolate shell filled with sugar fondant, white with a yellow centre, mimicking an actual egg. They are very sweet. As a child, I used to be sent a pack of them every Easter from my grandmother and I’d try and eek them out for as long as I could.
Along with the creme eggs, I was sent two packs of a new to me cadbury product which came out last Easter: Egg ‘n’ Spoon – one of each kind. Ingeniously packed into an egg box, the four eggs come complete with two spoons, which I thought rather cute. A milk chocolate shell contains either a white chocolate or milk chocolate mousse depending on which variety you have.
I decided to try mine in an egg cup and eat it with the spoon. The top comes off easily, leaving a nicely jagged shell and the contents were easily spooned out of it. Personally, I didn’t find the eating experience that good, the chocolate was soft, so I’m guessing the cocoa content was very low and the mousse was OK, but no more than that. However, these are great for sharing and are a really fun Easter idea; I suspect kids would love them, I know I would have done.
To keep the kids, or even yourself, amused after the eggs have disappeared, you can get crafty and create a Batty Aunt Polly’s Earring Drum out of the two empty boxes.
This is how I made:
Creme Egg Buns
- Threw 250g flour (half wholemeal, half strong white) into a bowl together with 1 tsp instant yeast, 1/4 tsp salt and ½ tsp maca powder (one of those super foods that are meant to be so good for us).
- Made a well in the centre and added 1 tbsp hazelnut oil and 150ml warm water.
- Stirred until just combined, then turned out onto an oiled worktop and kneaded for about 10 minutes.
- Cut off an ⅛ of the dough and returned the rest to a covered bowl and left to rise in the cool for a few more hours.
- Cut the small bit of dough into two and rolled each piece into a rectangle just big enough to wrap around an egg.
- Encased two eggs in the dough ensuring they were properly sealed.
- Placed on a lined baking tray and left to rise in a warm place for an hour.
- Brushed with milk and baked at 200°C for 12 minutes when the tops were golden and the bottoms sounded hollow when tapped.
- Placed on a wire rack to cool.
I thought CT wouldn’t be able to handle anything quite as sweet as these, so I only left him half of one to try. I had one warm and a half cold. I have never had a warm cream egg before, but I can attest it is an experience worth having. In fact it was rather delicious, the contents having completely melted and soaked lusciously into the bread. However, it was the second one where the egg had time to set which I enjoyed the best and surprisingly CT enjoyed it too. As I’d hoped, the plain bread acted as a good foil for the sweet egg and worked very well indeed with the hazelnut notes giving a little added interest.
These would be a fun and interesting way of using up leftover Easter chocs – assuming you ever have such a thing! Of course if you really wanted to party, you could forget the pizza and use this amount of dough to make 16 creme egg buns
Last month on Valentine’s Day, I received a surprise tray of stone fruit from Beautiful Country Beautiful Fruit – I felt the love. These colourful, juicy ripe and ready to eat plums and nectarines were most welcome after the months of excessive grey, rain and cold we’ve been experiencing this winter. They tasted of warmth and sunshine. With summer very much in mind and wanting to show off the fabulous purple of the plums, ice-cream was the first thing that sprang to mind. Just like cherries, I find that almonds go particularly well with plums, so I decided to use some amaretto liqueur in the mix along with a few amaretti biscuits for a touch of additional luxury.
The ice cream turned out just as I’d hoped. The fruit gave a welcome splash of tartness, cutting through the sweet cream and the flavour of both fruit and almond was well to the fore; the additional crunch from the biscuits gave added interest.
I am submitting this to #RecipeOfTheWeek over at A Mummy Too
I’m entering this into Dead Easy Desserts over at Maison Cupcake where any preparation has to be achieved within 30 mins. Despite cooking plums and melting chocolate, this is a simple dessert that can easily be achieved in this time if the chocolate is melting whilst the plums are cooking. You could even melt the chocolate over the cooking plums.
- 500g purple plums (6 large ones) – washed and stoned
- 2 tbsp Amaretto
- 200ml Condensed milk
- 600ml Double cream
- 80g White chocolate
- 7 amaretti biscuits
- Chop the plums and place in a pan with the 2 tbsp water. Simmer until soft (about 10 mins). Leave to cool. Add Amaretto & blend to a puree.
- Melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over hot water (make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Stir in 100g of the condensed milk.
- Whip the double cream until soft peaks form, taking care not to over whip. Add the rest of the condensed milk and whip again to ensure peaks remain.
- Add the white chocolate and stir in.
- Crush 5 amaretti biscuits and stir in.
- Fold in the fruit mixture to create a ripple effect. Spoon into a 2 x 1 litre freezer containers. Crush an amaretti biscuit over each batch. Cover and freeze.
Yield: 2 litres
Occasionally, CT likes to explore his Welsh heritage. When we woke up this morning, he announced, “it’s the 1st of March, St David’s Day. Why don’t we have leeks?”. Well why not indeed. With Shrove Tuesday fast approaching, pancakes were on my mind and I’d been planning to make some for breakfast, so why not make them savoury. In fact, why not go one step further and make Welsh pancakes.