We all know about the great chocolate names in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Italy and these days the UK too, but watch out Belgium and the rest, here comes Lithuania.
I do like Nigel Slater, I like his style of cooking and I like his writing. I don’t, however, make many of his recipes because I generally operate freestyle when it comes to every day cooking. But when Sue of A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate and Janice of Farmersgirl Kitchen started #dishofthemonth, a new monthly challenge to cook Nigel’s recipes, it seemed like a good time to find out what chocolate recipes he might have up his sleeve.
It was Jac of Tinned Tomatoes that first alerted me to MOO business cards. I was so impressed by her wonderful photographs that I had to order some myself. Unlike any other cards I’ve seen, you can have a different picture on the back of each one if you like, which makes them not only fun but a walking gallery of your favourite blog photos. When I’m asked for a business card, not that I am very often, I can offer up several and ask the recipient to take their pick. It’s nice to get a few oohs and aghhs and watch while the all important decision is made. It offers a completely new dimension to a standard business card.
It took me a while to venture onto the MOO website as I thought it might be a rather complicated and time consuming process. But eventually I overcame my suspicions and duly ordered a pack of fifty standard size cards made using recycled paper. I needn’t have worried, the process was really easy. I was able to design my cards and choose the pictures in several stages as the design could be saved at any time and edited later. I chose two each of twenty five of my blog photos for the backs and on the front I used a section of my blog header photograph as a logo of sorts. The real difficulty was deciding whether to go for mini cards or the standard credit card size which fits easily into purses and wallets. The latter won out.
When the parcel arrived, I tore it open with indecent haste. I was thrilled with the results. To have a physical representation of my photographs was a first for me and I was impressed with just how good they looked. They are more expensive than cards I’ve bought before, but so much better – they look and feel classy. It was also good to have all my social media contact details together in one place.
No sooner had the cards arrived then I was regretting not having bought more – after all I wanted to hang on to one of each of my designs, Gollum fashion and that left only twenty five of my preciousses. As it happened, I spotted a giveaway over at Kavey Eats a couple of months later for a pack of MOO business cards. Amazingly, I won and like Gollum reunited with the ring, I was bouncing up and down with delight – thank you Kavey. I was able to recreate my favourite pictures and add some new ones as well. Another pack of fifty was soon winging its way towards me. These were somewhat different to my first batch as they were printed on standard paper, which is sourced from sustainable forests but is not recycled. The cards were thicker and slightly shinier.
The cards come in a handy holder with a “mine” and “theirs” tab to hold cards you are going to giveaway (maybe) and cards you collect. The top slides on and off easily and the whole thing is very properly made from recycled materials. My photographs don’t do the cards justice, the images are crisp and clear and a lot lighter than they look here. Mini cards, postcards, stickers and labels are also available and I am sorely tempted to add to my collection.
This month’s We Should Cocoa is being hosted by Shaheen (see my post on Hunky Dorys) and seeing as she is also known as MangoCheeks, it came as no surprise that she chose mango as the special ingredient. I recently made a mango and chocolate combination so I know the two flavours go well together – Mexican chocolate pudding with chilli lime mango slices. The mango mendiants I once made were also very successful.
I’ve been following Shaheen’s blog, Allotment2Kitchen, for a few years now. I first knew her as MangoCheeks when she was living in Glasgow with her productive allotment and creative vegetarian cooking. Somehow, despite having a full time job, she managed to blog almost daily. She now has less time for blogging because she is running a vegetarian cafe in Newport and is having plenty of practice in putting her creative culinary skills to even better use. The cafe is Hunky Dorys – if ever you are in the vicinity of Newport, I strongly recommend you hunt it out.
Back in April when we were in that neck of the woods for my cousin’s wedding, I was hoping we would find a bit of time to slip away and pay Shaheen and Hunky Dorys a visit. Luckily we did and a had a quick tour of Newport into the bargain. We slipped off after breakfast on Satruday morning and arrived in Newport bright and early, too early for Hunky Dorys, which didn’t open until 10:00. This actually worked out really well as we had a chance to explore the city. The highlight for us was an impressive mural of the Chartists in an underground passage in the town centre. We were rather horrified to learn later from Shaheen that it was going to be knocked down to make way for a new shopping centre. Apparently feelings in the city were running high as a demonstration to protest against its demolition was going to be held later that day.
So to Hunky Dorys. I knew the food was going to be good, but had little idea what else to expect. I was delighted with what we found, we both were in fact. I now have serious cafe envy and wish we had something like it closer to home. The style was informal and friendly with wooden tables and chairs, cushions if you wanted them and various blackboards listing the scrumptious fare on offer – now that’s what I call a proper vegetarian cafe. Breakfast and lunch are served as well as coffee and cake of course. I was impressed by the wide selection of speciality teas which included some particularly unusual ones. The menu changes regularly, so customers don’t have a chance to get bored and vegans have plenty to choose from. Some of the fresh produce is home grown adding resonance to the name Allotment 2 Kitchen, or in this case Allotment 2 Cafe. I would have been very happy to stay for lunch as there were several things that sounded specially appetising and Shaheen’s pies in particular are legendary. She has recently written a post about the first one she made, garlic mushroom parsley pies. My photographs, sadly do not to it justice, but they are the best I have.
Having ordered our cake and cups of chilli and ginkgo tea respectively, we sat down to soak up the ambience. Cakes? Yes, even after a massive breakfast at the hotel, we could not resist the array of tempting treats laid out before us. CT went for a strawberry chocolate cake and I had an Oreo chocolate one – both vegan and both absolutely delicious. We were soon joined by Shaheen, who managed to spare us a few minutes from her busy cooking schedule for an impromptu chat. CT thought she was absolutely gorgeous (which she was), so I had to remind him she was already taken. Corroboration came in the form of her husband D, who I was really pleased to meet as he is often mentioned on the Allotment 2 Kitchen blog. After a longer chin wag than she’d intended, Shaheen had to get back to ensuring her customers had something to eat for lunch, D had to go into town and we had a wedding to attend. It was with some regret that we had to leave so soon. It was a joy to meet Shaheen and finally get to see her excellent cafe. We both wish her every success with it.
Shaheen is hosting this month’s We Should Cocoa and has chosen a particularly appropriate ingredient – do take a look.
I do love a good macaroon, so when I was hunting around for a K for this month’s Alpha Bakes, I was delighted to find these kransekake (otherwise known as marzipan macaroons) in Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen. Until I found this recipe, I had no idea that almond macaroons were a Scandinavian speciality. I’ve always thought of them as very British, that is until the sophisticated Parisian macaron came along and swept all before it. Luckily, rustic macaroons are much more my style, I say that as I’d never have the patience to create the elegant structures beloved by the French. If you’d like tips on how to make the perfect macaron, hop over to Jill’s blog, Mad About Macarons.
Anyway, I digress. These macaroons contain marzipan as well as almonds and can be finished off in any number of ways. I chose to use a chocolate drizzle; the only thing that can improve macaroons or marzipan in my book, is chocolate. The bitterness of dark chocolate helps to counteract the sweetness of the macaroon resulting in a nicely balanced biscuit.
This is how I made:
- Melted 50g unsalted butter in a pan and left to cool.
- Roughly chopped 200g marzipan.
- Whizzed 100g whole almonds in a food processor with the marzipan and 100g golden icing sugar until the almonds were more or less ground, but with some larger chunks still intact,
- Broke 3 duck egg whites into a bowl and whisked briefly with a pinch of salt and a scant teaspoon of vanilla extract.
- Whisked in the melted butter.
- Stirred in the almond mixture. At this point I realised my mixture was too wet – I had used duck eggs rather than the medium hens eggs stated. So I added 50g ground almonds.
- Placed in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours.
- Placed large teaspoonfuls on two lined baking trays – I made 20 but as the recipe stated 40-50, I suspect the macaroons were meant to be a lot smaller than I made them.
- Baked at 200C for 7 minutes until just golden.
- Much to my annoyance, the biscuits had all merged into each other, although it was my own fault for not leaving the suggested space in between each one – something I never seem to learn. So I took out a cutter and used this to shape the macaroons into presentable rounds, then left on a rack to cool.
- I reckon from the amount of offcuts I had, I could have easily made another five or six biscuits.
- Melted 30g dark chocolate and drizzled it over the macaroons.
Apart from my spacing disaster and ending up with two very large biscuits which I then had to rescue, I was very pleased with these macaroons. The end result looked perfectly respectable. I shall definitely make them again and take more care next time with both size and spacing. They were chewy, flavoursome and the larger pieces of nut gave added texture.
Don’t forget it’s World Baking Day this coming Sunday 19th May, so have a look at the website and #BakeBrave
It is Coeliac Awareness Week starting today (13th-19th May) and these biscuits are perfect for anyone unable to eat wheat or gluten as long as the marzipan and chocolate are properly gluten free. Some products may contain traces of gluten if they come from factories where gluten is used, so it is always worth checking the packaging. For more information on gluten free baking, pay a visit to Katie’s blog Apple and Spice.
I’m sure most of you will know Ruth Clemens as the highly accomplished finalist in the first series of The Great British Bake Off on BBC television three years ago. I expect most of you will be familiar with her engaging and informative blog The Pink Whisk. But did you know that she has published not one, but two print books as well as several e-books? The Busy Girl’s Guide to Cake Decorating which I have to confess I have not seen, came first. I was, however, recently sent a copy of her second book, The Pink Whisk Guide to Cake Making to review. Published by David & Charles it is priced at £12.99 and is available in most book shops as well as from The Pink Whisk’s very own online shop.
I have been following The Pink Whisk blog since its inception back in 2010 and have found it interesting, thorough and informative. I’ve tried a few of Ruth’s recipes in the past and they have worked really well every time; she is not a ‘fling it all together and hope for the best’ type of girl. She has her readers very much in mind when writing and delivers well researched, practised and reliable recipes. This approach carries through to her book. In the introduction Ruth explains how she made 25 versions of her golden syrup cake before she was satisfied enough to include this recipe in her book – see what I mean about thorough?
Aimed primarily at the novice or unconfident baker, this 127 page step-by-step guide leads the reader gently but smartly through the art of making cakes. There is a guide to equipment, a comprehensive guide to basic ingredients and a few pages of techniques such as how to tell when a cake is properly baked, how to line a tin and how to rescue your cake when it looks as though it’s gone wrong. The main part of the book contains the recipes and is divided between the three main methods of creation: creaming, whisking and melting. Top tips are given throughout and whilst the reader is given explicit technical instructions to follow, they are also encouraged to be adventurous and play with different flavours. Although there are only 28 recipes in total, they are by no means standard fare. Ruth has come up with a diversity of types and flavours and there are bakes here to interest the more experienced cook as well as the beginner. The rhubarb and custard bombe sounds particularly fun and quite a technical challenge as well – it’s rhubarb season at the moment …..
As you’d expect from the pink whisk, pink is the dominant colour of the book with either text or pages in pink with flourishes of pastel blue which gives a bit of contrast. There are plenty of pictures to give an idea of what the final bake should look like, something that is lacking in most cookbooks these days. Many of the recipes have photos to accompany the step-by-step instructions. These recipes are then followed by something similar, so the same method can be used – a nifty way of providing interest without having to photograph every step again. Once a Victoria sponge has been mastered, for example, a whole world of combinations is opened up.
The banana and cardamom chocolate brownie cake grabbed my attention and I fully intended to make it. But when I was ready to start baking, I realised I didn’t have any bananas. I did, however have some fudge made by my aunt and given to me at Christmas, so I rapidly changed track and turned my hand to Ruth’s choc chip and fudge Madeira cake. I made a few adjustments of course – I just can’t help myself (sorry Ruth!). For a start, I decided to make this as a traybake rather than a loaf cake.
This is how I made
Choc Chip and Fudge Madeira Squares
- Creamed 150g unsalted butter with 150g vanilla sugar (caster) until very light & fluffy.
- Beat in 2 duck eggs.
- Sifted in 180g flour (half wholemeal spelt, half white) and 3/4 tsp baking powder.
- Added 60g dark chocolate buttons and 50g chopped fudge.
- Spooned into an 8″ (20 cm) sq cake mould and baked at 180C for 25 minutes, when it was risen, golden and an inserted skewer came out clean.
- Melted 25g dark chocolate and drizzled it very inelegantly over the top of the cake.
- Scattered 25g chopped fudge over the top.
- Allowed to cool then cut into 12 rectangles.
I had complete confidence in Ruth and knew this cake would turn out well and it did. It rose well, cut well, looked good and tasted good. It was not as sweet as I thought it might be, which I take to be a bonus. It’s a real crowd pleaser that I suspect would go down well at any cake sale. That banana and cardamom chocolate brownie cake is definitely on my radar.
Dom has tasked us with randomly picking a bread recipe this month. Since I’ve started baking the odd yeasty loaf or two as an aside to my regular rye sourdough, I was quite excited by this challenge. The recent success I had with bagels spurred me on and as soon as I found out what the challenge was, I started randomising immediately, then dashed off to the bakers to buy some yeast with a big smile on my face. I’ve started using fresh yeast again recently because I’m wary of the “improvers” listed in the ingredients of dried yeast. As most of my cookbooks have a bread recipe or two in them, I decided to use Eat Your Books again to select my recipe from. Once I’d got my random number I simply counted down the list until I hit number 69 (of 88) and just hoped it wouldn’t be one of my books with no bread recipes to be found. It wasn’t. I picked Gaia’s Kitchen by Julia Ponsonby, one of my favourite vegetarian cookbooks. Despite the favour I have shown it over the years, evinced by its rather tatty appearance, I’d never made one of her bread recipes. I counted them out and she had six. Another random number gave me Figgy Bread Roll, which amazingly gave me the very recipe I’d been eyeing up AND there was absolutely no cheating involved.
Although Dom asked us to stick to the recipe religiously, I couldn’t do it – I had to get chocolate in after all. I did make the bread dough more or less as written, but changed the filling significantly. I had a Spanish fig and almond round that had somehow got pushed to the back of a cupboard a rather long time ago and was definitely in need of using. I therefore forwent the use of the other dried fruits and nuts in the recipe and used the whole round instead. I was also keen to take this opportunity to use the dandelion honey I made recently – recipe to follow in a future post.
This is how I made:
Figgy Bread Roll
- Weighed 450g of wholemeal spelt and placed it in a bowl.
- Added 1/2 tsp of Himalayan pink salt, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 tbsp cardamom sugar (golden caster).
- Stirred together and made a well in the centre.
- Dissolved 1/2 oz fresh yeast in 300 ml warm water and poured this into the flour.
- Mixed together until all incorporated then covered with a plastic bag and left in a warm place to rise for 1/2 an hour.
- Kneaded for a few minutes, then rolled out onto floured surface into a rectangle about 10″ by 6″ and about 1 cm thick.
- Chopped 500g of a dried figs and almonds (probably around 400g figs and 100g almonds).
- Added 1 tbsp cocoa, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and 6 tbsp of dandelion honey and stirred to combine.
- Spread this over the rectangle leaving a good cm clear all around.
- Rolled up the dough lengthways and sealed the sides.
- Placed on a lined baking tray seem side down.
- Left to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Brushed with milk then sprinkled 1 tbsp sesame seeds over the top.
- Baked in centre of oven at 180C for 30 minutes.
Thanks to Dom of Belleau Kitchen for this wonderful loaf. It was simple to make requiring virtually no kneading and was not only light in texture, but delicious too. Hooray for Random Recipes.
As this loaf entailed using up a very old fig almond round given as a present and using homemade dandelion honey rather than real honey and malt extract, I am submitting this to Credit Crunch Munch which is being guest hosted by Janice of Farmersgirl Kitchen. Camilla of Fab Food 4 All and Helen of Fuss Free Flavours are the usual suspects.