I’d like to say a big thank you to all my lovely readers, visitors and commenters. Without you this blog would not have become what it is and I expect I would have given up long ago. I’d also like to wish you all the very best for 2013 and look forward to your continuing visits next year.
So, what were your favourite recipes on Chocolate Log Blog in 2012 and what were mine? I first saw this retrospective on Farmersgirl Kitchen yesterday and thought it a great idea. I was very tempted to do it myself, but didn’t want to copy. However, I’ve now seen it on so many blogs, I feel I really want to have a go myself.
When I sounded the call for cinnamon in this month’s We Should Cocoa Christmas special, 32 bold bakers rallied to the cry. Unsurprisingly Christmas baking took centre stage. I just love, love, love the wonderful assortment of festive cakes, tarts, desserts, chocolates, muffins and so many delightful biscuits that have been inspired by that most excellent of spices, cinnamon.
Having made such glorious scented chilli and chocolate mincemeat, I was keen to use it in various festive bakes. The first was a recipe I adapted from co-op’s in-store magazine and were made as a thank you to our lovely neighbours who take in our parcels with monotonous regularity and never complain.
This is how I made them:
- Creamed 125g unsalted butter with 125g golden caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Broke in 2 duck eggs, beating well between each egg.
- Added 1/3 teaspoon almond extract and beat some more.
- Sifted in 125g self-raising white flour and 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
- Spooned into 10 muffin cases.
- Placed a heaped tsp of my homemade mincemeat on top.
- Baked at 180C for 15 minutes until risen and golden.
They were so good, I made another batch to take to my 2nd festive party – in the rain! This time I added 1/2 a 1 lb jar of my mincemeat to the mix, instead of spooning on top and omitted the almond essence. I used my usual mix of half wholemeal spelt and half plain white flour with 1/4 tsp of baking powder added (which I didn’t first time around). These made 12 cakes and were even better than the first batch; I brought home an empty plate.
The most delicious of all the mincemeat bakes I made were for the 1st festive party, where it also rained, but I shall post those at a later date.
I’ve made so many Christmas bakes with chocolate in this month, but keep forgetting to include them into this month’s Chocolatey Tea Time Treats, so I’m doing it now whilst I remember. Hosted this month by What Kate Baked, this is a toothsome challenge hosted alternately by Karen of Lavender and Lovage.
And what is Christmas without chocolate? Well, in my book, it’s not up to much. And seeing as it’s a special day, just any old chocolate won’t do. Something rather special is called for. So it give me great pleasure to present to you some of the best chocolate around – Zotter.
Austrian chocolatier, Josef Zotter has made a name for himself for producing high quality but quirkily individualistic chocolate. He has also set himself apart from his peers with a staunchly ethical approach to production methods: all Zotter chocolates are fairtrade and organic. Not only that, but packaging is carbon neutral – cardboard outer and organic plastic which is claimed to be 100% biodegradable. All chocolate is handmade, from bean to bar. So far, so good. It seems that Austria’s pivotal role as a cradle of chocolate innovation continues from the far-off days of the Sachetorte down to the present.
The packaging is also highly individual with striking, colourful and sometimes impressionistic illustrations on the wrappers. Once the wrappers have been removed, the chocolate bars themselves are unusual in appearance and the fun and general air of excitement continues once the bars are tasted.
I was recently sent four bars to try.
Mitzi Blue (Indian Chai) – The chocolate is round like the wheel of a wagon with a slightly off-centre hub and geometric patterns scored into the surface. The hub tastes of spicy hot sweet chai milk tea; the outer disc is of dark chocolate which is beautifully smooth and melts wickedly in the mouth. The dark chocolate is unusually sourced from Kerala in India and is 68% cocoa. It is refreshing and zesty with citrus notes but a hint of coffee bitterness slowly inveigles its way onto your palate.
French Nougat – This is one of the 70g hand-scooped bars that Zotter are now famous for. I couldn’t wait to try this one. First off the chocolate was a dark milk with 60% cocoa, my favourite kind, but one which is very hard to get hold of. It was filled with a layer of salty honeyed pistachio and hazelnut nougat on top of a layer of cinnamon and ginger flavoured almond praline. This is the most divine bar of chocolate I’ve had in a very long time; all of my favourite flavours in one bar made doubly interesting by the layers of flavour and interesting textures. One to truly savour.
We are off to Cambridge for a few days – anything to escape the incessant rain and Cornish floods. Just in case I don’t happen to get any special chocolate this year, I’m saving the other two bars for emergency rations.
Cookies in a jar are a wonderful concept, but how do they stand up to reality, I wondered? The proof of the pudding is in the eating – or baking in this instance. It was time to try making the cookies in a jar recipe I posted a few days ago. As One Ingredient, hosted by Laura of How to Cook Good Food and Nazima of Franglais Kitchen, is ginger this month, I thought ginger and chocolate chip cookies would be a fine festive bake to give to a friend. I had a bar of Seed & Bean mandarin and ginger organic dark chocolate that I hoped would give a sense of indulgent luxury to the biscuits.
This is how I made them:
- Melted 50g butter.
- Sieved 75g of wholemeal spelt into a bowl with 1/4 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda.
- Added 60g rolled oats.
- Added 75g light muscovado sugar and whisked to remove any lumps.
- Chopped 70g dark ginger and and mandarin chocolate and added to the bowl.
- Chopped 30g crystallised ginger and added to the bowl.
- Made a well in the centre and broke in 1 egg and added the butter.
- Stirred until all combined.
- Rolled the dough into 15 balls between my hands and placed well apart on a baking tray.
- Flattened slightly and baked for 9 minutes at 180C.
I was relieved when they came out of the oven and looked just like biscuits should. They were in fact very tasty. They were crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, but with a nice chewy texture which enabled the ginger to really hit home. They were just what was needed on a miserable dreich day – of which we seem to be having rather a lot lately. Note to self, make more and give less away.
Once again, I apologise for the rubbish photographs – I blame the weather.
As some of you may know, I do like a good praline and the Guylian seashells I reviewed earlier in the year are superior to most you will find on the high street. So when I was offered the chance to sample some more and host a giveaway, I was delighted. I know we will all be suffering from Christmas overload, but by the time the giveaway closes in late January, I suspect the taste for chocolate will have returned for most of you.
In the excitement leading up to the Liskeard Christmas Vintage Market, I came across this post on cookies in a jar over at the Pink Whisk. I thought they would be a fun item to try selling at the stall I was helping out on. And if they didn’t sell, I could give them as Christmas gifts.
In these days of lavish and wasteful packaging, these make a great low waste alternative gift: they are fun, attractive in their own right, you get to make some cookies (always a good thing) and you have a handy jar for reuse.
This is how I did them:
- Sterilised three 500 ml jars by washing them out in clean soapy water then putting them in the oven for 20 minutes at 100C.
- For each one, weighed and sieved 75g plain flour, 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder and carefully spooned into bottom of the jars to create an even (ish) layer.
- Spooned in 75g light muscovado sugar in an even layer.
- Added 50g dried cranberries followed by 50g dark 70% chocolate (roughly chopped) to one jar.
- Added 50g white chocolate chips, followed by 50g dried cranberries to another jar.
- Added 50g white chocolate chips, followed by 50g raisins to another jar.
- Finished off the layering with 60g rolled oats.
- Labelled the jars, then covered the tops with a couple of layers of red tissue paper and tied with twine and added a card with the baking instructions. As follows:
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl with 1 egg and 50g melted butter (or 2 tbsp sunflower oil).
- Place spoonfuls (about 12) onto a lined baking tray and bake at 180C for 6-8 minutes.
I’ve just made a batch of these cookies and can report that they worked really well and are absolutely delicious. I will do a quick post about them soon.
When Dom announced that this month’s Random Recipes was to choose something from a book gifted at Christmas last year, I thought oh good. I was thrilled to have received Tea with Bea as a present last year and really haven’t used it much. Now was my chance, I thought. But something was drifting around in the back of my mind, trying to get break through to the surface. With a feeling of doom, the thought finally emerged: I received two books for Christmas last year. The second was the highly regarded Cooking with Chocolate by Frederic Bau from the Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona – eek! Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic book and I love poring through its pages whilst having fantasies about reproducing the high art of patisserie found therein. But these are, I should stress, fantasies, not actuality. I mean to say, me? Actually make something from it?
I used a random generator hoping against hope that Tea with Bea would be chosen; after all I did have a 50% chance. But, it was not to be. With heavy heart, I used the random generator once again. Page 378 gave me a concoction so complicated I nearly fainted on the spot. A cake made up of seven, yes seven different recipes: chocolate sponge, ginduja pastry, gold-dusted chocolate shards, chocolate custard, cocoa syrup, chocolate mousse and a chocolate glaze. I could see Christmas would have to be cancelled as I locked myself in the kitchen for the next few days. No, sorry Dom. For the first time in all these months of entering Random Recipes I was going to cheat. I had a tentative look at the recipe on the previous page and then looked again. Yippee, Golden Palets (or truffles to you and me). I was wanting to make chocolates for Christmas and to enter Vanessa’s virtual Lets Make Christmas chocolate event having sadly missed the real live one at the Rococo Chocolate Factory in London, so these would be perfect. Even the thought of tempering chocolate and the three stars donating hardest level recipe, did not put me off. These seemed to be simplicity itself in comparison to the da Vinci Code of cakes.
On 12/12/12 it was my Great Uncle’s 100th birthday. There is a big family get together up in Kent this weekend to celebrate this momentous and unusual event. I wanted to make a particularly good job of these chocolates as some of them are destined for the birthday boy. No pressure then.
Inevitably, I changed the recipe, but like to think I stayed true to the spirit of the golden palets. I flavoured the ganache with rosemary rather than vanilla and upped some of the quantities as I wanted to make a goodly number.
This is how I made rosemary chocolate truffles:
- Placed a large sprig of rosemary from the garden into a pan.
- Poured in 250ml double cream and bought to a simmer.
- Turned the heat off and left it to infuse until cold.
- Removed the rosemary.
- Added 2 tbsp of set Cornish honey and warmed the mixture up again until it was just hot and the honey had melted.
- Gave it a good stir.
- Melted 240g dark chocolate (Green & Black’s Cook’s 72%) in a bowl over hot water.
- Stirred until smooth then removed from the heat.
- Poured one third of the cream into the chocolate and stirred in quick small circles until all incorporated.
- Poured in another third and repeated followed by the final third.
- Added 25g of diced unsalted butter and stirred until smooth.
- Spooned some into 24 chocolate moulds and left to set overnight along with the rest of the mixture.
- Turned out the ganache from the moulds onto a silicone mat and rolled teaspoonfuls of the remaining ganache into 30 balls.
- Melted 340g of dark chocolate (Green & Black’s 72% Cook’s) in a glass bowl over hot water, ensuring it didn’t go over 58C.
- Removed from the heat and let it cool down to 29C
- Placed it back on the heat and raised the temperature to 32C
- Dipped the ganache pieces into the chocolate with a fork and placed on a silicone mat to set. Decorated some with a sugar flower and some with a light dusting of edible gold glitter – 54 in total.
- Hunted around for hours, trying to find suitable boxes to put them in.
- Used the remaining melted chocolate for other items which will feature on the blog in due course.
My tempering didn’t give my the glossy chocolate I was hoping for, but I wasn’t really surprised. Apart from anything else, my kitchen was colder than the fridge, which doesn’t make for happy chocolate. However, after the three hours it took me to temper the chocolate and dip everything, I was determined to be pleased with the results. They certainly tasted fantastic, with the flavour of rosemary coming through nicely, but not too strongly. The texture was beautifully smooth and with a bit of dressing up, they looked fine.
Dom may have a lot to answer for, but Random Recipes spurred me into action and produced a huge number of chocolate gift boxes, so I will forgive him 😉
I was so sorry to have missed the fabulous Lets Make Christmas gift swap with Vanessa Kimbell and Chantel Coady, but am delighted to be able to submit this post to the virtual version and thus play some part in the great chocolate event of the year. Incidentally Vanessa is very excitingly now running a cookery school in Northampton called Juniper & Rose.
With the rosemary playing such an important part in these chocolates, I am also submitting this to Karen’s Herbs on Saturday.
To get us all in the festive spirit, assuming we needed encouragement of course, I chose cinnamon for this month’s We Should Cocoa. I had a few ideas for this, but in the end I went for these Spicy Stars, adapted from the brilliant Polish Spice Biscuits that I made last year. This is a family recipe from Ren of Fabulicious Food and combines some wonderful ingredients which produce absolutely fabulicious biscuits. They are really quite different from the normal festive gingerbread type of fare as these use rye flour, honey and most importantly cocoa.
One of the sub groups of the Liskeard Portas Pilot (of which I’m a member) organised a Vintage Christmas Market, held last weekend. It was a great success, with many dressed in vintage clothing, fabulous stalls, live music, a cafe and a great turn out. I had the pleasure of being the acting stall-holder for The Gingham Chicken, a fine producer of delicious Liskeard Cornish fudge. It seemed like a good opportunity to make and sell a few festive treats myself. These stars were one of them.
This is how I made them:
- Melted 110g unsalted butter in a small pan with 110g soft brown sugar and 8 tbsp runny honey.
- Stirred until combined, then left to cool a little.
- Sieved 225g rye flour and 225g white flour into a bowl with 2 tsp baking powder 2 tbsp cocoa, 2 heaped tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
- Made a well in the centre and poured in the butter mixture then broke in a large egg.
- Stirred the mixture together starting from the middle until all incorporated.
- Brought it all together with my hands to form a ball.
- Cut this in two then rolled out (one at a time) to the thickness of about 1/4 cm.
- Cut out about 81 stars by re-rolling the leftover bits several times.
- Placed them on lined baking trays about a cm apart and baked the for 8 minutes at 180C.
- Made 8 packs of ten biscuits and tied with ribbon and a name tag.
The biscuits turned out just as I hoped. They looked pretty, had a perfect texture and tasted of cinnamon and honey. They brought an added bonus too: the whole house smelt of sweet spicy cinnamon for days – who needs air freshener?
The biscuits could of course be iced, dipped in chocolate or decorated in any number of ways, but I think they are pretty much perfect just as they are. They could easily be used as Christmas tree decorations by poking a hole through one of the arms with a skewer before baking.
This is my entry for this month’s We Should Cocoa.
As my alternative name for these biscuits is Spicy Stars, I’m also submitting them to Alpha Bakes where the letter is S this month. This challenge is jointly hosted by The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes.
These are, of course, made from scratch so they are also being sent to Javelin Warrior for his weekly Made with love Mondays.
Now I do like to know the origin of words, language is interesting and the language of food tells a long and complicated story about food and our relationship with other places and cultures. I was recently sent a review copy of the Diner’s Dictionary: word origins of food and drink by John Ayto. CT and I both dived in with relish.
This second edition is a small hardback which makes it easy to handle and unlike other weightier tomes is more likely to be referred to on a regular basis. With over 2,000 entries from Abernethy biscuit to zwieback, it is full of fascinating facts and like pottage can be dipped into at will. Pottage, interestingly is the predecessor of porridge, a phonetic change from t to r creating the oaty breakfast we love so much in this household. Who knew? A brief perusal will lead you down all sorts of interesting avenues and before you know it half an hour has gone. It also makes excellent bedtime reading as proved by its strange and regular migration to CT’s bedside table. Biscuit lovers may be reassured to notice that the Alpha and Omega of this dictionary are both biscuits.
Strangely (or not), chocolate was the first word I looked up. I was not expecting to find anything I didn’t already know about this food of the gods, but I was curious to find out what sort of coverage it was given. I was gratified to see it was one of the longer entries. In fact, I did learn something. The Aztecs made their cocoa drink with cold water rather than hot. It was the Spanish who introduced the use of hot water, a practice for which I’m very grateful as I warm my hands on my mug of cocoa on chilly evenings.
For all those keen bakers out there, the words flour and flower, I learnt were once identical. “The usage goes back to the early Middle Ages. When grain was milled, the most highly valued part, the meal, was characterised as the ‘flower’, the finest portion, as contrasted with the husks or bran”. This makes perfect sense, but I’d never thought of it before.
The first word CT looked for was “oca”, one of his wacky root crops; hooray, it was there. This, he took to be a good omen. However, he very soon revised his opinion downwards as the scientific name was not included. On further perusal of the other entries, he was further disappointed to find that no plant or animal scientific names had been included anywhere. For a dictionary, he felt, this was quite a serious lack. My copy of The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, by contrast, includes scientific names of both plants and animals. The Diner’s Dictionary is also an Oxford University Press publication and we wondered if this represented a dumbing down of our great centres of learning.
With a recommended retail price of £12.99, this would make a fun and welcome addition to the food lover in your life’s Christmas stocking.