Christmas Foodie Gifts 2010

Gifts | 30th December 2010 | By

Every year, I have grand plans of giving lots of home made foodie gifts to my friends and family.  I do usually manage something, but time is rarely on my side and I never create the bounteous hampers that I intend. This year, I still didn’t manage it, but I did do better than I have done in previous years. I will be posting some of the recipes up over the next few weeks, but meanwhile, here is what I did:


Candied Orange PeelCandied orange peel dipped in chocolate from Black Book Kitchen Diaries

Dan Lepard’s salted oat crackers (which I only tweeked a bit). To go with the crackers, I bought some St Alet cheese – a local hard goat’s cheese that’s won lots of awards. We are very lucky in our part of the country and not only have lots of really good local cheeses, but several that have won major awards.
Chocolate Hazelnut  & Orange Biscotti – from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial
Sloe Gin
Ginger & Orange Cupcakes adapted from the Primrose Bakery
Cranberry orange and redcurrant sauce.
As well as cookbooks and chocolate, I was lucky enough to receive some very delicious home made orange brandy truffles, ginger biscotti, cashew nut amaretti, damson liqueur and some Breton grey sea salt.
What home made goodies did you make or receive?

We Should Cocoa – The Date Challenge Round Up

We Should Cocoa | 28th December 2010 | By

Amazingly, despite the frenetic nature of the festive period, fourteen of us have participated in this month’s challenge. Thank you all for taking the time to participate. Well I did say I was looking for something a bit challenging for December, but I hadn’t realised quite how difficult it was going to be for some of you. I now know that dates are not everyone’s favourite ingredient, so that makes some of these entries even more impressive. For the date lovers amongst you, there are some lovely festive treats to be found here. I would certainly have been happy with any (all) of these on my Christmas table. Once again, I am amazed by the diversity of what people have come up with.

Please do follow the links and take a look at the recipes everyone has put together on their blogs. Comments are always appreciated.

Chele will be posting the next We Should Cocoa challenge on the Chocolate Teapot on 1 January 2011 – getting the New Year off to an exciting start!

Again, in the order that these were received:

Participating for the first time, Stephanie of Confectionary Designs has made a good start with these really luscious looking Chocolate Praline Stuffed Dates

Lucy of The KitchenMaid, having forgotten to submit her entry last month, got in good and early this time. I’m really glad about that, as this Dreamy Date Truffle Fudge should not be missed.

For those not keen on mincemeat, these gorgeous Date Chocolate and Orange Festive Tarts from Suelle at Mainly Baking would make a great alternative to traditional mince pies.

Another first time participant, Snowy from Cookbooks Galore has used dates to give an extra squidginess to her brownies with this recipe for Date and Walnut Brownies.

Helen of Fuss Free Flavours has gone for a complete antidote to the typical over indulgence of December with her Chocolate Date Smoothie.

Veena Krishnakumar of veg junction is another first timer to this challenge and has come up with a very different fudge recipe – Microwave choco-date fudge.

Unbeknownst to me, Chele of Chocolate Teapot was one of those who was not a date fan. But she womanfully took on the challenge and came up with these superbly decorated Christmas Pudding Cupcakes.

Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Date Crumble Bars have made a well deserved comeback this month from C of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking – could they have possibly won her over to the date side?

Phil of As Strong As Soup came up with an inspired twist on the classic cake from Brittany with his Gateau Breton with Dates and Chocolate.

Hanna of Corner Cottage Bakery also went for a twist on a French classic. She went one further and had it for breakfast – yum – Date and Chocolate Clafoutis.

The fruit Christmas cake was not forgotten, BrownieVilleGirl made a Chocolate Christmas Cake that I think I might be making next year.

My entry was a stand in for a classic Christmas Cake – Festive Date and Walnut Cake

Here’s something doubly festive from Sarah of Maison Cupcake with these lovely pots of yumminess – Date Chocolate Chestnut Verrines

Racing in at the very last minute was Gillian of some say cocoa, some say cacao with another and equally tasty sounding version of Date Bars.

Christmas with Dan’s Date & Hazelnut Bars

For Christmas this year, we were going take a break from tradition and have Christmas lunch on the beach with friends.  Something robust, nutritious, filling and delicious was needed for this and what better candidate to take along than Dan Lepard’s chocolate crumble date bars. This was yet another post I first saw on Suelle’s fabulous blog, Mainly Baking as her October entry for We Should Cocoa. It was only a matter of time before I gave these a go and if Suelle had not already done so, I would probably have entered them for this month’s date challenge.

This is what I did:

  • Simmered 375g pitted dates with 100ml orange juice and 100ml water for 10 minutes until soft. Left to cool.
  • Roasted 75g of hazelnuts for 10 mins at 180C, then rubbed off their skins and roughly chopped.
  • Rubbed 125g unsalted butter in 250g plain flour (150g wholemeal, 100g white), 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tbsp cocoa, 2 tsp dried orange zest and 125g light muscovado sugar until mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
  • Stirred in 100g roughly chopped milk chocolate (G&B 35%) and the hazelnuts.
  • Pressed 2/3 of mixture into the bottom of a 9″ sq silicone mould until firm. 
  • Spread over the date mixture.
  • Stirred in a tbsp of water into the remaining crumble to make the mixture stick a little.
  • Spooned this over the dates.
  • Baked at 180C for 30 minutes.
  • Left to cool and cut into 16 squares.
As it happened, we didn’t make it to the beach. The roads were just too difficult to negotiate, so we had a stomp around Bodmin Moor instead. 
It was a glorious day, sunny and without a breath of wind.  We sat atop Sharp Tor and ate our sandwiches, with coats and hats stripped off. As we ate the date slices, we surveyed the wonderful snowy scenery that lay before us for miles around.
The slices were just what I was hoping for – filling, crumbly, rich and unctuous. The hazelnuts gave a lovely crunch and the chocolate pieces an unexpected and welcome addition. I had been a bit concerned that, because of their crumbly nature, they wouldn’t hold together very well. Luckily, they were in fine fettle by the time we made it to our lunch spot and that was despite being bumped around in a rucksack for an hour or two. Thanks to Dan for this much appreciated take on the traditional date slice.

Festive Date & Walnut Cake – We Should Cocoa 4

Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la ….. and all that. I chose dates for the December challenge because they seemed suitably festive, but oh what to make? Should I stuff madjool dates with walnuts and dip them in chocolate, make a cake, biscuits, cupcakes or those wonderful date slices I’ve been coveting since first seeing them on Suelle’s blog?  I know, I’ll make all of those – hmmmm.  Reality set in and I realised I had very few non working days before Christmas and rather too much to do. So, I’ve gone for a cake and if I have time I might have a go at some of the others.

Again, it was a cake I’d seen on Mainly Baking that inspired this one, Dan Lepard’s Hazenut Prune Cake.  I was initially going to substitute the dates for the prunes and try and follow the recipe to the letter.  As it happened, I had some walnuts that really needed using up, so it turned into something different again.  I substituted the nutmeg for mace and added some orange for an extra festive note.  The mix itself, I found rather too dry, so I also added some orange juice.  Having made some candied orange peel, which I will blog about at some future date, I had quite a bit of orange syrup going free to a good home – a good home was found. And finally, I wanted to make the cake more chocolatey, it is after all a chocolate challenge – a datey chocolate ganache found its way onto the top of the cake. So once again, my version bares little resemblance to the original, but it’s the inspiration that counts. I’ll stop this stream of consciousness now and get on with the recipe.

  • Creamed together 100g unsalted butter with 100g dark muscovado sugar and 1 heaped tbsp of golden syrup until pale and fluffy.
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs, one after the other and the zest of 1 orange.
  • Sifted in 125g flour (100g wholemeal, 25g white), 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of bicarb of soda, 1/2 tsp ground mace and 1 tbsp cocoa.
  • Stirred in the juice of 1 orange.
  • Mixed n 300g chopped dates and 100g chopped walnuts.
  • Spooned into a 23cm silicone mould and smoothed the top down.
  • Baked at 180C for 35 minutes.
  • Whilst cake was hot, poured over 3-4 tbsp of orange syrup left over from making candied orange peel, then left to cool.
  • Melted 100g chocolate (50g milk & 50g Maya Gold), 25g unsalted butter, 2 tbsp date syrup and 1 tbsp orange syrup.
  • Stirred until smooth(ish) – couldn’t actually get the milk to melt properly so don’t look too closely as there are a few lumps 😉
  • Spread over the top of the cake.
  • Decorated with candied orange peel.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

PS – this cake was not only moist and very tasty but kept well for weeks.

Chestnut Brownies

There seems to have been a recent spate of Dan Lepard’s chestnut brownies appearing on food blogs and I didn’t want to be left behind! We were visiting friends for dinner and I thought these would make a rather nice after dinner treat – or at least I hoped they would.

I had very kindly been sent another bag of Chocolate by Trish that I wanted to try out – 74% cocoa solids this time, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.  For those that didn’t catch the last batch I had from her, take a look at this ganache recipe.

When I went to the cupboard to get out my jar of organic chestnuts that had been lurking there for quite some time, I was surprised to find it was a jar of chestnut puree.  Oh well, never mind, I would adapt the original recipe to take the puree into account and do without a contrast in textures. As I was somewhat stretched for time, I used my all in one pan method to make these rather than whisking the egg whites separately etc etc. This is what I did:

  • Melted 175g unsalted butter with 200g 74% dark Chocolate by Trish in a large bowl over hot water.
  • Stirred in 150g dark brown sugar until all the lumps had been incorporated.
  • Beat in 240g jar of sweetened chestnut puree (could have eaten spoonfuls of this on it’s own it was so delicious, but managed to resist).
  • Beat in 2 duck eggs.
  • Stirred in 100g wholemeal spelt and a pinch of salt.
  • Poured into a 9″ square cake thingie and baked at 175C for 20 minutes.
  • Left to cool, then cut into 36 small squares.

Nearly every new brownie recipe I make I think it’s the best one I’ve ever done and this was no exception.  The smell of the mixture baking was wonderful and each dense choclatey square smelt wonderfully of both chocolate and chestnuts. A crisp top followed by a deep dark smoothness, that isn’t fudgy or gooey but is moist and uncakelike – it melts on the tongue and lingers in the mouth. This is rich for a brownie, all that lovely 74% chocolate and it’s not too sweet either.  I think I got lucky with this puree, it was thick and almost creamy and tasted of marron glace – a flavour which was very much there in the finished brownie, playing its own role alongside the good strong taste of chocolate.

Most of these disappeared during a prolonged post dinner fireside chat, but I had thoughtfully kept a couple back for home consumption.  We had these cold from the kitchen the next day and they were still delicious.  They were differently delicious with a new fudgy consistency which was very moreish – unfortunately that was our lot.

The dark Chocolate by Trish didn’t disappoint.  I couldn’t help but try a few of these buttons. They had a fragrant fruity aroma which was the first note to hit the tongue followed by varied spicy notes. I had to restrain myself from eating more as they were so good. Like the milk chocolate buttons these melted beautifully and being such a dark chocolate gave a really rich quality to the brownies. Luckily, there were some buttons left over and I’m planning to use these to make some chocolates for Christmas.

Chocolate and Coconut Bars

Traybakes | 16th December 2010 | By

It was film night at a friends house a week or three ago and I needed something to take for us all to munch on – something that was easily portable and could be made the day before.  The first book I took off the shelf to get inspiration was Bake by Rachel Allen. About three pages in, I saw the recipe for these bars – perfect, no more hunting needed. I recollected having seen them recently on another blog, but couldn’t remember whose they were, I do remember they had a good report though.  Apart from the chocolate topping, I mostly followed the original recipe.

  • Bashed 3oz cornflakes up in a bowl until they were large crumbs.
  • Added 5oz desiccated coconut and a pinch of salt then stirred until well mixed.
  • Creamed 8oz unsalted butter with 5oz caster sugar until soft and fluffy.
  • Mixed in the cornflakes and coconut.
  • Finally added 5oz flour (1/2 wholemeal & half white), 1 tsp baking powder and 1oz cocoa.
  • Incorporated this as best I could – it wasn’t very easy.
  • Tipped contents out into a 9″ square silicone thingie and pressed the mixture down with the back of a spoon until it was firm and level.
  • Baked at 180C for 20 mins.
  • Left to cool.
  • Melted 6oz 35% milk chocolate (Green & Black’s) in a bowl over hot water.
  • Stirred in 1oz unsalted butter.
  • Spread this over the base and left to cool.
  • Cut into 16 squares.
This was a sophisticated version of the good old children’s favourite, chocolate cornflake clusters.  It had a lovely crunchy texture and a nice combination of flavours with the coconut and chocolate – strange that! The base wasn’t at all sweet, by which I mean it wasn’t too sweet and was set off nicely by the sweeter chocolate topping.  These would be ideal for a picnic or as emergency rations for a long cycle ride; perhaps the calorie hit would be more deserved under those circumstances rather than slobbing out in front of a DVD – but hey, we enjoyed it.

Chocolates from Chocadores

Chocolate Reviews | 13th December 2010 | By

Having heard a couple of reviews about these fruity chocolates, I was very keen to try some. After a bit of wheedling on my part, Sarah from Chocadores finally caved in and sent me four of these fresh chocolates.  They arrived in a beautiful gold box which is normally used for wedding favours. Unfortunately, the chocolates themselves had been a bit battered in transit so the decorations looked a little the worse for wear. Attractive leafy transfers decorated the tops, each matching the colour of the fruit or herb featured inside the dark rectangular chocolate shells. None were overly sweet and they were all very fresh tasting. The flavours were intense with the real essence of the fruit and herbs coming through.

Fresh Mint – powerful scent of mint, the taste of which lingered on the palate long after the chocolate had been demolished.

Lemon – delicious, zesty and lemony, this white chocolate ganache reminded me more than anything of lemon flummery – completely delicious.

Mediterranean Orange – delicately scented of orange, this did not taste like your average orange flavoured chocolate; it tasted of the fruit itself with wonderful chocolatey notes coming through.

Raspberry & Rose – another intense fruity flavour, this raspberry coloured puree matched the raspberry and rose colour scheme of the top.  Rose was the first flavour to hit the tongue but with the intense fruity flavour of the raspberry rushing to catch up.

If offered only one of these, my preference would have been raspberry and rose. Now I have tried them, I have no firm favourite – they are all truly delightful. They left my mouth feeling fresh and zingy for a considerable time afterwards.  Of course having sampled only four, I am very keen to try a few more in this range.

Triple Apple & Orange Cake – Snow Day Bake Off

Large Cakes | 8th December 2010 | By

I wanted to enter something for Julia’s Snow Day Bake Off, but as we still haven’t had any snow here, I didn’t have a picture to send in.  I made a cake anyway and then the frost came – no snow, but lots of frost.  I’ve been waking up to a white roofed town every morning for the last few days.  So I now feel I can submit this recipe, even if it wasn’t taken on a particularly white day. 

The weekend before last, I spent 3 1/2 hours stirring apple puree to make apple butter – a labour of love I’m not sure I will repeat, although the result was rather a good one.  Now I have a few more jars sitting in my kitchen with nowhere to go – my store cupboard is already overly full.  I’ve given one away and we’ve been eating apple butter on toast, but how about using some in a cake?  It was Wendy from the Omnivorous Bear who got me in to the whole apple butter thing in the first place and I had a vague recollection that she had made a cake with hers.  Indeed she had and a very nice cake it sounded.  One of the points of using apple butter in a cake is that you can substitute it for fat – that’s the theory anyway. Wendy had reduced the oil in her recipe rather than eliminating it all together, which sounded very sensible to me. So without looking further I adapted her recipe in a number of ways, but mostly to include chocolate and flavouring it with orange rather than vanilla as follows:

  • Peeled, cored and chopped 2 large cooking apples (unnamed Cornish variety) mixed in 1 tbsp lemon juice to stop the apple going brown.
  • Beat 200g castor sugar, 60ml rapeseed oil and 2 duck eggs together until thick and creamy.
  • Beat in 2 large tbsp of apple butter followed by 200ml Greek yogurt.
  • Sieved in 300g flour (150g wholemeal spelt, 120g white spelt, 30g quinoa flour), 1.5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, a pinch of salt and a dsp of dried powdered orange zest (could use grated zest of 1 orange).
  • Mixed in 50ml cider
  • Stirred in 100g finely chopped orange milk chocolate (Divine) and the apples.
  • Spooned into a 23cm round cake thingie.
  • Scattered 1 tbsp demerara sugar over the top.
  • Baked for 40 mins at 180C.

The cake rose beautifully.  It was light, moist, not too sweet and had a lovely crunchy top.   It tasted really good with the apples predominating as you might expect with this much apple, but the orange flavour kicked in soon after. The chocolate chunks were oases of sweetness in the surrounding fruitiness. One week on it tasted just as good. It went very nicely with clotted cream – but what doesn’t?

Chocolate and Cinnamon Eve’s Pudding

Pudding | 5th December 2010 | By

After reviving Eve’s pudding and realising what I’ve been missing all these years, what could I do but try a chocolate version. This is what I did:

  • Peeled, cored and sliced 4 cooking apples (unknown Cornish variety from my mother’s garden)
  • De-husked 100g ground cherries.
  • Mixed these in a baking dish with 1 heaped tbsp demerara sugar, 1 tbsp honey, a dash of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.
  • Placed in the oven, 175C, to soften for about 15 mins.
  • Melted 2oz unsalted butter with 50g dark 70% chocolate
  • Beat in 2oz dark brown sugar.
  • Mixed 1.5 oz spelt wholemeal flour with 1.5 oz polenta in a bowl.
  • Added 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon.
  • Made a well in the centre and poured in the chocolate mixture.
  • Added 1 duck egg and stirred.
  • Beat in 170g 0% fat Greek yogurt
  • Spooned this onto the softened fruit and baked for 20 minutes until the top was well risen and looked done.

The chocolate sponge rose really well – it must have been the addition of yogurt.  It went very nicely with the apple and ground cherries and made a most appetising dessert. Sadly we had no clotted cream this time, but I guess … too much of a good thing and all that!  Substituting cinnamon for the lemon flavour and adding chocolate gave it a more wintery cosy feel, which was just right for the cold day. CT thought he preferred this version, although was very happy to demolish either.

And the Winner is …….

Giveaway | 4th December 2010 | By

The competition to win Crave is now over and the winner picked.  Names of all those who answered correctly were written on pieces of paper which were then folded and thrown into a hat.  CT had the honour of picking the winner.  The hat was tossed a few times, CT put in his hand ……..

and pulled out ……….

Congratulations to Eira – can you please let me have your snail mail address so that I can get the book into the post for you in time for Christmas? Thanks to all those who took the time to enter this giveaway and better luck next time.