Nakd Bars – a Review

Chocolate Reviews | 31st October 2012 | By

My goodness, I have fallen totally in love again (sorry CT). I was recently sent some bars of Nakd Cocoa Delight to review. These are bars of raw nutty fruity goodness which are not only healthy but are absolutely delicious. Nakd bars are made principally with dates, raisins and cashew nuts – and as far as I’m concerned are the ultimate in healthy snacks.

Cocoa Delight – dates (48%), cashews (29%), raisins (17%), cocoa (6%), natural chocolate flavouring. This all sounds wonderful, but I would have liked more information on the natural flavouring, which can often be anything but natural. The bar has a strong and pleasant aroma of both fruit and chocolate. The texture is fudgy but with crunchy pieces of cashew adding a bit of extra interest. It is sweet, but not excessively so – basically it’s a chocolate flavoured fruit & nut bar, but a particularly nice one and filling too. CT wasn’t quite as enamoured as me, which as he doesn’t really like dates is no surprise, but he still thought they were tasty.

The list of benefits is long: cold pressed unrefined raw ingredients, wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, no added sugar and nothing artificial (assuming my concerns about natural flavour are unfounded). But it’s not all about being healthy. The company behind these bars, Natural Balance Foods, is dedicated to making their wholefoods as delicious as they are nutritious. I know I would prefer to snack on one of these than many of the so called “health bars” that are marketed with such promise and they would be perfect to accompany a coastal or moorland walk too.

They come in 35g bars and can be found in some supermarkets and health food shops. Retailing at around £2.50 for four, these are not unreasonably priced and if you consider the quality of the ingredients, I reckon they are good value. If chocolate is not your thing, though I find that hard to believe, you’ll find a range of flavours to entice and delight such as: rhubarb and custard, cashew delight, ginger bread, berry delight and pecan pie.

As always on my blog, all opinions are my own, unless specifically stated otherwise.

Dorset Apple Cake with Chocolate Caramel – Best of British

Dorset Apple Cake

Best of British comes back to the South West this month from London and has now reached the county of Dorset. The first and if truth be told, only thing that came to mind when thinking about Dorset speciality food was Dorset Apple Cake. Strangely, with all of my cookery books I didn’t have a single recipe for this. So, I resorted to the net and came up with this winner – voted the Dorset National Dish in 2006 by Greg Coomer.

Like many other people this year, I haven’t had nearly as many apples from my mother’s trees as normal, but I still have a few. I’d been mulling over an apple cake for a while and wanted to include a bar of Lindt Luscious Caramel in it. Easy peasy, I would adapt Greg’s cake of course. I made a larger quantity as I don’t have an 8″ cake mould, omitted the lemon peel, substituted chocolate for raisins and used cardamom sugar. I also substituted buckwheat for the specified cornflour and did my usual mix of flours. I also used, err, Cornish apples – shhhhh!

This is how I did it:

  • Weighed out 10oz flour (4oz spelt, 4oz plain white, 2oz buckwheat) and sifted into a bowl with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda.
  • Added 5oz cardamom (caster) sugar.
  • Rubbed in 5oz unsalted butter until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
  • Peeled, cored and diced 250g of tart apples (Cornish variety – label missing) stirring into the mixture to coat as I went along so the apples didn’t brown.
  • Made a well in the centre and added 2 medium eggs and 2 tbsp milk.
  • Stirred until all combined.
  • Added a chopped 100g bar of Lindt Luscious Caramel and stirred in.
  • Spooned into a 21cm cake mould.
  • Cored and sliced one tart apple, but left the peel on. 
  • Drizzled over 1 tbsp lemon juice to stop the slices from browning, then arranged the slices on top of the cake.
  • Scattered over 1 tbsp of soft brown sugar.
  • Baked in the oven at 180C for 35 minutes.
Luscious by name, lucscious by nature and the only way to describe this cake. The apple shone through and was complemented perfectly by the caramel chocolate. As you can see, we felt it was also complemented by a large spoon of Cornish clotted cream. I now feel the urge to stock up on this type of chocolate so I can include it in other apple cakes.
Best of British is sponsored by The Face of New World Appliances and hosted once again by Karen of Lavender and Lovage this month.

Marshmallow Madness: a review

Book Reviews | 27th October 2012 | By

Some time ago I was sent a copy of Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever to review. I was quite excited by this as I’ve been wanting to make marshmallows for a long time. But as I’m a vegetarian I needed to find a gelatine alternative and this step proved to be tricky. When I remembered, I wasn’t anywhere that stocked it and when I was somewhere that might stock it, I didn’t remember. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, this review is well overdue.

My first impression when receiving the book was that it was a bit of fun. The cover was pink and fluffy and covered in pastel shades. The cover was also squishy; something that was a little surprising, but also enjoyably tactile and reminiscent of an actual marshmallow. The book is well illustrated, with enticing pictures appearing on every other page or so. The photographs are particularly interesting as they are not all in one style: some are practical, some impressionistic and others just mouth watering.

My second impression was that there was a bit more to it. The introductory pages cover a bit about the history of marshmallow, which surprisingly goes back to the Ancient Egyptians who, not so surprisingly, used the marshmallow plant. Ingredients are covered, including alternatives and possible allergies. Alternatives to gelatine were not covered, however, which as a vegetarian I found a bit annoying. Later, I discovered a recipe for vegan marshmallows, but this wasn’t obvious in this rather crucial introductory chapter. There are a few pages on equipment and if I’d read this bit properly before embarking on my marshmallow making venture, I probably wouldn’t have attempted it. Shauna recommends a sturdy stand mixer, as hand mixers aren’t quite up to the job and also make it more difficult for one person to manage when drizzling in the hot syrup. Guess what sort of mixer I have? The basic method for making marshmallows is covered in detail.

So how do you get a whole book out of a marshmallow you may well ask? Well there’s more to a marshmallows than you might think. There are two main methods for making them, one using egg whites and one using gelatine only. The deeply chocolate marshmallows I wanted to try uses the gelatine only method. You can flavour your marshmallows with just about anything it seems, including fruit purees; blackberry was one I found particularly appealing. There is a chapter on the classics, although I’m not sure I’d consider kahlua filled marshmallows a classic. A few additional recipes used to accompany your marshmallows are also covered including the American classic Graham Crackers.

There are seven chapters in all and pretty much anything anyone could possibly think of relating to marshmallows is covered. How about cocktail inspired marshmallows? Now wouldn’t that have been a good one for last month’s We Should Cocoa? The final chapter is using mallow to make delectable bakes and desserts including the famous American S’mores. The hot chocolate recipes at the end made me want to make marshmallows more than anything else I’d seen on the subject. Serving up a spiced hot chocolate with your own homemade Aztec chocolate marshmallows would make a classy end to a Mexican inspired dinner party – no human sacrifice necessary.

This is an American book so all measurements are in cups and one of the main ingredients used is corn syrup, which is not widely available here in the UK and is also suspect in terms of its high-fructose levels. I substituted golden syrup for this, but honey or other syrups such as maple could be used instead.

My introduction to marshmallow making came in the form of Deeply Chocolate and I was soon deeply out of my depth. It all went horribly wrong for me, but I put this down to my lack of competence rather than the recipe. I overcooked the sugar and when I added it to the cooler chocolate syrup, it seized and went into one huge lump. No amount of whisking “mallowed” it and I was petrified I was going to burn out my poor hand held whisk; I gave up after 15 minutes and poured the contents into the prepared tin and hoped for the best. The hard lump banging against the whisk also meant the liquid went mad and sprayed across my kitchen covering just about everything with specs of dark chocolate goo – not fun to clean up! My result was more like Turkish Delight than marshmallows, but despite being very soft and squidgy, it did taste good.

I don’t want to end on a bad note, however. If I had a stand mixer, I would most certainly be attempting these again and there are a number of recipes in this book I would love to try.

Pumpkin and Goat’s Cheese Tarragon Brunch Muffins – We Should Cocoa 26

When Natalie of Hungry Hinny chose pumpkin for this month’s We Should Cocoa, my first thought was not a happy one. Normally we manage to grow a fair few winter squashes; this year, if we are very lucky and the mild weather continues for a bit, we might get one. So, for the first time in many a long year, I had to buy a winter squash, in this case a butternut. Once I got over this unfortunate turn of events, a number of possibilities went flying around my head. Last year, I made a really light almond and squash cake and some really dense pumpkin and ginger cakes, both were delicious although very different. I quite fancied making a marble cake to get the bright orange from the pumpkin contrasting with the chocolate, but others got there before me. In the end, I thought I’d go for a triple whammy and do something using pumpkin oil, pumpkin seeds and squash flesh.

With thoughts of my very successful beetroot muffins lingering on, I thought I’d try something similar and enter it into the #CapricornChallenge. Sadly I only had 70g of goats cheese, so had to make up the 100g with cheddar. I also decided tarragon might compliment the flavour of squash, so I used the last few withering sprigs of tarragon from our garden.
This is what I did:
  • Roasted 350g of cubed butternut squash in a little olive oil at 200C for 20 minutes.
  • Toasted 40g of pumpkin seeds by dry frying them in a pan for a few minutes until a substantial number had popped.
  • Put 300g flour (100g wholemeal spelt, 200g white) in a mixing bowl.
  • Added 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda and 1/4 tsp salt.
  • Added 2 tbsp cocoa powder & whisked together to ensure all was incorporated and there were no lumps.
  • Stirred in the cooled pumpkin seeds.
  • Grated in 30g cheddar cheese.
  • Divided 70g goats cheese into two.
  • Chopped half into small pieces and stirred into the flour.
  • Chopped the other half into 24 portions and put to one side.
  • In a separate bowl beat 3 small eggs with 200ml yogurt.
  • Beat in 50ml of pumpkin seed oil and 50ml sunflower oil.
  • Beat in 100ml milk and a good good grinding of black pepper.
  • Chopped a few tarragon leaves into tiny pieces and beat these in too.
  • Mashed the roasted squash roughly with a fork and stirred into the milk mixture.
  • Made a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and added the batter.
  • Stirred as lightly as possible until everything was just incorporated.
  • Divided between 12 silicone muffin moulds.
  • Topped each with a few raw pumpkin seeds and two pieces of goats cheese.
  • Baked at 200C for 20 minutes
  • Left for a few minutes in their moulds, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool.

As I hoped, these were a match for the beetroot muffins and made a very tasty lunch for CT and I for the next few days. Toasting the pumpkin seeds first worked really well, bringing out their rich nutty flavour. The squash was more subtle, but played its part very well in keeping the muffins moist. The tarragon added a nice aniseed hint, although a few more leaves would have given a better flavour; it was only just detectable. The cheese added that yummy umami quality which just makes you want to come back for more.

One Ingredient is also featuring pumpkin this month, so in addition to entering this, I’m also looking forward to seeing the other entries – squash is one of my favourite vegetables. This month’s challenge is hosted by Nazima of Franglais Kitchen, but is co-hosted by Laura of How to Cook Good Food.

As the last of our tarragon was used in these muffins, I am entering them into Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage.

I’m also submitting these to Weekend Herb Blogging as I’ve used both tarragon and pumpkin seeds. This is a weekly challenge where any recipe featuring some part of a plant can be submitted. This week is being hosted by La Cucina di Cristina

Blackcurrant and Rose Nonnettes

The letter for this month’s Alpha Bakes is N. Apart from nuts, I could think of nothing else other than Nonnettes and as I haven’t made any of these wonderful eggless French honey cakes for a while, this seemed like a good opportunity. I decided I’d adapt and use half the amount of the original Nonnette recipe to make 12 smaller cakes using my new muffin cases. A half eaten jar of my mother’s delicious blackcurrant jam was sitting in the cupboard and I still had a bit of rose syrup that really needed using up. Blackcurrant and rose proved to be a nice combination as evinced by the blackcurrant, rose and white chocolate ice-cream I made in the summer.

Here’s what I did:

  • Melted 40g unsalted butter in a pan.
  • Added 100g local Cornish honey and 50g light brown sugar.
  • Turned off the heat and added 50g milk and 50g rose syrup.
  • Stirred until smooth then left to cool.
  • Sifted 100g plain white flour, 50g rye flour, 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda into a bowl.
  • Added the grated zest from 1/2 a small orange.
  • Stirred in 25g chopped white chocolate.
  • Made a well in the centre and poured in the honey mixture.
  • Stirred until just combined.
  • Divided the mixture between 12 silicone muffin cases and left in my cold kitchen for half an hour.
  • Placed a small teaspoonful of blackcurrant jam on the top of each one.
  • Baked at 180C for 16 minutes.
  • Left to cool
  • Mixed 1 heaped tbsp icing sugar with about a tbsp of rose syrup to form a slightly runny icing.
  • Drizzled these over the cakes whilst they were still slightly warm.

These were as good as I imagined they would be, that is to say, thoroughly delicious. They were sweet, sticky and flavoursome with a lovely smooth texture. The blackcurrant was a good strong flavour and its tartness helped to counteract the overall sweetness. CT was surprised by the little bits of white chocolate, but enjoyed them. Licking fingers is an occupational hazard with these, although CT didn’t seem to be unduly bothered.

I am entering these into Alpha Bakes with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes as N for Nonnettes.

As October is such a great time to preserve Autumn’s bounty, Kate of What Kate Baked has cleverly chosen preserves for this month’s Tea Time Treats. TTT is co-hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage.

Chris over at Cooking Around the World has started a new challenge Bloggers Around the World. Sadly I didn’t manage to join in last month with Germany as the selected country. This month, it’s France so I’m submitting these Nonnettes.

As these honey cakes are eggless, I am also submitting them to Cook Eat Delicious Desserts where the theme this month is honey. It is being hosted this month by Nivedhanam.

Wilko Muffin Cases and Giveaway #14

I was recently sent some baking bits and bobs to review from Wilkinson (Wilko), the UK family value town store. Most of it was aimed at children, including a pack dough cutters which I would have loved when I was a child, but are no longer quite my thing. However, I pounced on the colourful pack of 12 silicone Wilko muffin cases. As some of you may have gathered by now, I am a big fan of silicone cookware and use it a lot in my baking. As I’ve stated before, it has revolutionised my baking life, with no more arduous lining of tins, or cakes sticking and refusing to come out. These cases were a welcome addition to my collection. For a start I loved the vibrant colours of purple, deep pink, turquoise and lime green. With my eco hat on, it means less wastage and no need to use and then throw away lots of paper cases. But most usefully, they are smaller than the paper muffin cases I usually choose, which means I can make daintier morsels for my less piggy friends.

The cases were soon christened by some honey cakes – the recipe and exact details to be revealed in a later post. I made half of my usual quantity which fits 12 regular sized muffin moulds. This makes for hefty sized cakes, which is fine if you’re very hungry, but not so good if you just want a tea time snack. This half batch size still managed to nearly fill these 12 cases and produced the perfect size honey cake.

Wilkinson sell a range of bakeware and it’s worth checking out your local store to see what you can find. Wilkinson are offering my readers the chance to win £20 worth of vouchers to spend in store on the items of your choice.

To have your chance of winning a £20 worth of Wilkinson vouchers, please complete the Rafflecopter below. You will need to leave a comment on this post which then gives you additional chances to enter if you so wish. Rafflecopter 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.
Closing date is Saturday 17 November 2012

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Chocolate Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake – Random Recipes #21

Random recipe maybe in the title of this post, but it’s actually a random ingredient we had to select this month for the Random Recipes challenge over at Belleau Kitchen. CT got the joy of sticking his arm in the cupboard and pulling something out – a half used packet of hemp flour! Hemp is a gorgeous green coloured flour, but it has a slight bitter edge and goes off fairly quickly. The whole point of the challenge was to use up things that tend to hang around at the back of the cupboard unnoticed, so the box was truly ticked on this score.

The next step was to enter hemp flour onto Eat Your Books. Not surprisingly, I only had one result and that was for Dan Lepard’s Marrakesh express loaf cake from Short and Sweet. As there was no chocolate in his recipe, I had to adapt it and what with one thing and another, it got adapted more than I’d originally intended.

This is how I made it:

  • Placed a tsp of instant coffee in a large pan and poured 300ml of boiling water over it and stirred until dissolved.
  • Added 150g chopped dried dates and left to simmer gently for a few minutes whilst I added some other ingredients.
  • Added 130g molasses sugar, 1 tbsp honey and 2 tbsp pomegranate syrup.
  • Stirred and removed from the heat.
  • Added 75g unsalted butter and 100g Maya Gold (G&B dark orange spiced chocolate) – chopped.
  • Grated in the zest of a lemon and then added the lemon juice as I thought the additional tartness would help cut through the richness of the cake.
  • Beat in 2 small duck eggs (medium hens eggs).
  • Sifted in 150g spelt flour, 75g hemp flour and 2 tsp of baking powder.
  • Stirred this in followed by 100g chopped walnuts and 2 tbsp of sesame seeds.
  • Poured into a 2lb loaf mould and baked for 45 minutes at 180C when a skewer inserted in the middle came out more or less clean.

The result was a dense but moist cake with a lovely fruity flavour. Overall it was quite tart and worked particularly well spread with a good layer of butter. It was hard to detect the dates specifically, but the walnuts had their usual delightful crunch. I felt I made the right decision not to include further spices, as there was plenty going on already. The hemp flour gave a distinctive nutty flavour, but also had a hint of bitterness about it. So if you happen to get the munchies on the night train to Marrakesh, CT reckons this is the ideal antidote – inadvertantly revealing some of his dark past.

Cornwall Clandestine Cake Club Celebrates its First Birthday

What a glorious first birthday party. A bunch of Cornish cake fans gathered last Friday to celebrate the first birthday of Cornwall’s Clandestine Cake Club. Ellie Michell, our generous founder and mistress of ceremonies, has been coming up with interesting themes and locating fabulous venues over the last twelve months. You can see her write up here. As this was a Friday, I was not at work and thus able to attend – making this my fourth CCC. I was particularly pleased to catch up with this month’s We Should Cocoa host, the HungryHinny.

Watergate Bay

We gathered on a bright and sunny, if showery, day at the Watergate Bay Hotel near Newquay. The function room has been newly built and enjoys fabulous sea views over the bay. CT, who somehow blagged his way into this event and was the only man present, attempted to eat his body weight in cake. I’m pleased to say he failed in this venture, but I followed his lead and enjoyed more cake than was probably good for me, not sadly, that I managed to try all of them.

Nigella’s Birthday Custard Sponge by Ellie
My Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake
Cocoa & Sweet Potato Cake
Carrot, Courgette and Orange Cake
Carrot and Walnut Cake
Chocolate Chess Cake
Gorgeous Lemon Cream Cake
Nigella’s Chocolate Delight
Caramel Apple Cake by HungryHinny
Malteser Cake
Iced Lemon Curd Layer Cake
Banana Cake by The Cow Lady
Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
Round One!

Driven by guilt we decided to make our way up onto the cliffs and walk off some of our excesses. Somehow we managed to dodge the showers and enjoyed an invigorating hike along Bedruthan Steps.

Bedruthan Steps
The road to nowhere

Cornish Sea Salted Caramel Birthday Cake

5 Star, Cornish, Layer cakes | 14th October 2012 | By

On Friday, we celebrated Cornwall Clandestine Cake Club’s 1st birthday.  With this momentous event in mind, we were tasked with making something rather special, a “birthday cake”, not I hasten to add that the CCC cakes aren’t always special. I’d seen a few caramel cakes on the internet recently and had also just tried Green & Black’s new sea salted milk chocolate which I rather fell for. These combined to give me salted caramel on the brain, so I decided to indulge my new found obsession and make a salted caramel chocolate cake. I couldn’t find anything in my cookery books or on the net that appealed, so I adapted the chocolate caramel cupcakes I made a couple of years ago to fit my vision.

This is what I did:
  • Dissolved 225g caster sugar in a large pan on gentle heat with 100ml water.
  • Brought to the boil and left for a few minutes to bubble away. Then “watched like a hawk” for it to turn to a nice reddish brown caramel colour, but to ensure it didn’t burn.
  • Poured in 200ml double cream.  It all went very lumpy at this point, but I stirred and stirred and eventually it became more or less smooth.
  • Stirred in 1/2 tsp Cornish sea salt and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Creamed 250g unsalted butter with 200g dark brown sugar.
  • Beat in about 1/3 of the caramel.
  • Broke in three duck eggs (large hens eggs are fine) and beat well.
  • Sifted in 200g flour (1/2 spelt, 1/2 white), 40g of cocoa and 1 rounded tsp baking powder.
  • Spooned into two 21 cm cake moulds and baked at 180C for 20 minutes.
  • Left to cool for ten minutes then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Creamed 80g salted butter with 120g icing sugar until my arm was sore and the mixture was very light and fluffy.
  • Beat in another 1/2 of the remaining caramel.
  • Spread on top of one of the cooled cakes and placed the other on top.
  • Licked the bowl clean – reckoned it was the best buttercream I’ve yet made.
  • Spread the remaining caramel over the top of the cake.
  • Sprinkled various milk, dark and white chocolate bits over the top and dusted very lightly with two types of edible gold glitter.

Modesty be hanged, this cake proved to be very popular with the other cake club members and I only got to try a tiny slice. It was rich and chocolatey and offered the discerning punter three separate hits of salted caramel of differing intensities in the various layers. This just proves to me that salted caramel has not yet had its day!

I’d had visions of the caramel dripping down the sides of the cake, but by the time I got to apply it, it had set. This must mean that I am fated to make it again.

I shall be posting about the splendiferous fare that appeared at the first birthday celebrations of Cornwall Clandestine Cake Club in a few days time.

Chocolate Macarons, but not as we know them, Jim

Uncategorized | 13th October 2012 | By

Now who would have thought the perfect chocolate macarons would ever feature on my blog? Not me for sure, Gallic sophistication is hardly my style. I can and have made some very tasty chocolate macaroons, but not something that looks as elegant and polished as these French macarons.

I knew I couldn’t fool you for long. I must have done something right recently as I have just won these chocolate macaron earrings from Jill of Mad About Macarons. From across the Channel, these have travelled all the way from that well known capital of haute cuisine, Paris. They arrived beautifully packaged and were well protected, wrapped in the pretty floral cloth shown above. Made by Patricia Bourdell of the French Bakery, these charming earrings are not only fantastic replicas of chocolate macarons, but are also made with 14 carat gold. The French Bakery specialises in necklaces, earrings, rings and other jewellery inspired by French bakes.

Lady luck has been on my side in the past few months as evinced by the following wins:

Gorgeous Puddings by Annie Bell from Food Magazine


Hamper Tower packed with preserves from Homemade by Fleur


Russell Hobs food processor and blender from Fabulicious Food