The Cranks Bible: a timeless collection of vegetarian recipes by Nadine Abensur is one of my treasured cookery books. I bought it when it was first published in 2001 and have taken inspiration from it ever since. Despite its frequent use as a bed time read, there are many recipes I’ve barely looked at. The one for aubergine purée with cumin pitot is one such, or in my more prosaic terminology, aubergine dip.
Whereas chocolate peanut butter cups have long been popular in the US as has peanut butter and jelly (jam), the salty sweet combination has only recently blossomed here in the UK. Following on from the craze for salted caramel, comes chocolate combined with peanut butter and it seems to have taken the nation by storm. I’ve become rather enamoured too.
With my sweet tooth and lifelong addiction to sugar, I was fascinated to find a whole encyclopaedia has been devoted to the story of the human predilection for sweet food – ah, it’s not just me then. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein, has just been published and happily a copy landed on my desk.
It’s always exciting when a fellow food blogger publishes a book and when it’s a book as good as Teatime in Paris, it doubles the pleasure. French pâtisserie is something many of us aspire to, but believe it’s too complicated to make at home. This book debunks that myth and makes many of these elegant pastries accessible to us all, as suggested by the subtitle a walk through easy French pâtisserie recipes.
Gingerbread is almost synonymous with Christmas and making some to hang on the tree is something I aspire to each year. This year, I’ve actually done it. Not that we have a tree to hang any on, but I’m hoping that the friends we are giving them to will.
Reading through a review copy of What to Bake & How to Bake It, I noticed a recipe for iced gingerbread cookies that used treacle as a variation. I find the word treacle very hard to resist – something to do with childhood memories of my mother’s treacle pudding, I imagine. Decision made: I would knock up some gingerbread. I followed the recipe almost exactly, adding only a little chocolate (of course) and a few additional spices. A pinch of black pepper for additional warmth was needed I thought as well as some allspice for Vanesther’s Spice Trail and some nutmeg.
What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby (published by Phaidon Press at £19.95), is a rather beautiful book. It’s quite a large hardback and has a turquoise textured paper cover that makes me want to stroke it. Two matching turquoise bookmarks add distinction and there are plenty of gorgeous pictures to admire. It appears to be more a work of art than a manual. It’s certainly a book to treasure.
As the title suggests, this book is aimed principally at those who are new to baking or who require a confidence boost. Each recipe is spread over four to six pages, with lots of step-by-step aerial photography and accompanying instructions. Ah, so it is a manual, albeit a rather lovely one. Methodologies, terms and equipment are covered at the beginning and there are plenty of tips and tricks to be found throughout. Anyone working through a few of these recipes would learn pretty much everything they needed to turn out fabulous, cakes, breads, biscuits, pies and desserts. Despite this, I think the book is also useful to the more experienced baker; most of us still have something to learn. Creating a Swiss roll is one of my bêtes noirs, so maybe I’ll be able to crack it with the steps shown here.
There are fifty recipes in total and although the classics are represented, there is plenty here to keep the more experienced baker interested and inspired. Shortbread is covered for example, but orange, lavender, pecan and chocolate versions are also given. I have my eye on the malted chocolate birthday cake as I’m a sucker for a malteser and if I hadn’t been ill in the run-up to Christmas, I would have made the pistachio and fig biscotti which sounds exotic and comforting in equal measure. Other bakes that might restore me to health include: blueberry-cinnamon crumb cake, cranberry stollen and Linzer cookies.
This is how I made:
Spicy Gingerbread with Limoncello Icing
- Melted 110g Rodda’s salted butter in a large pan with 200g dark brown sugar, 2 tbsp treacle and 25g dark chocolate.
- Allowed to cool a little then beat in a duck egg (large hen’s egg would be fine).
- Beat in 2 drops Holy Lama cinnamon extract (2 tsp ground cinnamon), a drop of black pepper extract and a drop of nutmeg extract.
- Sifted in 150g wholemeal flour and 200g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp allpice and a heaped tsp ground ginger.
- Mixed until just combined, then left in my cold kitchen to firm up for an hour.
- Gathered the mixture together to form a ball of dough and rolled out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a £1 coin.
- Cut various shapes from it, rerolling the leftovers again and again until the dough was all used up.
- Placed biscuits on a lined baking tray and baked at 180C for 7 minutes – mine were quite small and larger biscuits would need a couple of minutes or so longer.
- Used a chopstick to make holes for threading whilst the biscuits were still hot from the oven, then removed them to a wire rack to cool.
- Mixed 3 heaped tbsp icing sugar with just enough limoncello to make a thick, but slightly runny icing.
- Piped this onto my biscuits and left them to dry.
- Made about 80 biscuits.
The biscuits smelt wonderful, both in and out of the oven and were as warming and delicious as I’d hoped. The touch of limoncello icing gave an added note of sophistication. They may not have looked very sophisticated, but I’m blaming the flu virus for that. CT and I quickly polished off all the rejects and the rest got packed into bags for gifts.
I am sending these biscuits of to Vanesther over at Bangers & Mash for The Spice Trail, which is allspice this month.
Some are also winging their way to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage who has appropriately chosen sugar and spice for this month’s Cooking with Herbs.
Here are a few ideas for stocking fillers if you are feeling a bit stuck. You will surely find something here for the food lovers in your life. I’d certainly be happy to find any of these in mine.
Drinking Chocolate Christmas Baubles
Hans Sloane is probably my favourite hot chocolate and I’ve tried a few over the years. It makes a rich and creamy beverage, even without the addition of milk and it is not overly sweet. Made with water, these make excellent drinks for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. You can read my previous reviews of Hans Sloane drinking chocolate Madagascar 67% and Ecuador 70% and Rich Dark (53%) and Natural Honey.
|Photo courtesy of Hans Sloane|
The latest to come my way is this adorable Christmas Bauble full of 53% chocolate beads that rattle around when you shake it. The sight of a Christmas tree groaning under the weight of these substantial baubles would be a remarkable sight; when I tired of the spectacle, it would be good to know that I could pop them individually into mugs and liberate the contents with some hot water or milk. From tree to tea-tray in a trice. Perfect! £2 per individually packaged bauble and they will arrive in time for Christmas if you order by 18 December. Alternatively the 270g packs cost between £4.49 and £5.49 and can be found at Tesco and Waitrose as well as online.
Personalised Cornishware Mug
I grew up with Cornish Blue and the plates, cups and jugs are still in regular use in my mother’s kitchen on the edge of Bodmin Moor, though somewhat cracked and chipped these days. They hold a special place in my heart, though I now have a preference and yearning for Cornish Red. This personalised mug adorned with my moniker I found especially appealing. It’s just the right size and has a chunky, hand warming quality about it – perfect for those bedtime mugs of cocoa I’m so fond of, or even chocolate tea. Next time maybe Santa will bring me a red one. £10 for an 8oz personalised Cornishware mug.
Having received my dose of antioxidants and minerals internally, how about applying chocolate externally, in this case in the form of soap? Made locally in Liskeard by Cornish Soapcakes, I was frothing at the mouth at the thought of trying this. With its simple but effective packaging, this certainly looked good enough to eat when I opened it. Made with Green & Blacks chocolate rather than the usual cocoa butter. Is this a first for Liskeard and who knows, the world?
Cheese Making Kit
Cheese making is all the rage at the moment and Cheeky Monkey Cream Chargers have cleverly seized the opportunity and are making kits for home cheese making. I was sent a Goat (Chèvre) kit, which I’m excited to try, but haven’t quite found time to do so yet. I adore goat’s cheese which is fabulous for cooking and pairs remarkably well with chocolate. You can see some of the recipes I’ve tried with this combination. The kit comes with instructions, recipes, cheesecloth, citric acid, cheese-salt and herbs de Provence. It will make about 3 lb of chèvre. All I need to do is buy the milk and follow the instructions. I will report back when I have done so. There is a mozzarella and ricotta kit too, which sounds equally attractive. Both kits cost £6.
Made by husband and wife team Soph and Ian in Suffolk, Raw Nibbles are on a mission to create delicious and healthful products which retain the nutritional benefits of chocolate by keeping processing to a minimum. All products are handmade, vegan and free from dairy, wheat, gluten, beet sugar, cane sugar, soya, egg and artificial additives. Not only that but they are organic, with Soil Association certification, which always endears a producer to me.
Double Chocolate Brownie – dates, cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, vanilla powder, almonds hazelnuts.
This is substantial and dense, but with a fudgy texture consistent with a good brownie. It’s certainly very tasty; I noticed that the date flavour comes through quite strongly – maybe it’s my Middle Eastern genes, but I really liked that: I found myself desiring more than a nibble. Weighing it at 110g, it’s currently on offer for £2.80.
Crispy Raw Chocolate – cacao butter, coconut sugar, cacao powder, cacao paste, sprouted buckwheat, vanilla powder.
Sprouted buckwheat in chocolate? This was a first for me and I have to say I was a little dubious. My mistake. Buckwheat usually has a powerful and distinctive flavour, which is not to everybody’s liking. I needn’t have worried, they tasted just like nuts with the same crunchy texture. The chocolate had a good snap with a feel of “real” chocolate. My mouth didn’t feel assaulted by vast quantities of sugar – really nice. Currently on offer at £2.40 for a 50g bar.
mberry – Miracle Fruit Tablets
The fruits of the miracle berry, Synsepalum dulcificum, a West African shrub, are compressed and dried into tablet form. The effects are the result of a taste modifying process caused by miraculin, a glycoprotein found in the berry’s flesh. So what does all this mean? The theory is, it turns sour and bitter flavours sweet.
CT and I gave it a go. We each let one tablet dissolve on our tongue. It took rather longer than I was expecting and tasted fruity with a berry like tartness. So far, unremarkable. Then we tried drinking some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Wow! We’d heard it was meant to make things taste different, but it was still a surprise to find the lemon juice tasted sweet, really sweet. What fun. Fool your tongue like never before. An ideal party piece to amaze your friends at Christmas to go with the magic lantern show and other curiosities. Dickens would have loved these. Available from mberry at £12.99 for a pack of ten.
Crumb – Ruby Tandoh
For those that haven’t been following the Great British Bake-off, Ruby, a young law student, was a finalist in the 2013 competition and now writes regularly for the Guardian. For fans of this iconic programme, she will need no introduction. Her book Crumb is filled with enticing recipes for bakes of all kinds; they not only sound highly flavoursome, but are down to earth and fancy free. The law’s loss is our gain.
The book is both intelligently and clearly written, so it’s engaging as well as informative. The recipes are easy to follow and full instructions are given for the novice cook. Each chapter begins with a “how to” section explaining ingredients and techniques. Answers are given throughout to many of the common questions which even experienced bakers may have: why is my cake too dense? Why is my bread too yeasty? Why is my Danish pastry leaking butter as it bakes? Ruby is also good at demystifying those little tips and tricks that the experienced baker takes for granted. So what does it mean when you say a curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon? Well she shows you.
Innovative bakes and twists on old favourites abound, inspiring me to get off the computer and into the kitchen. So far I have only made a batch of wholemeal walnut cobs and a jar of her lemon curd; both were simple to make and delicious. I have, of course, bookmarked a rather ambitious number of other recipes. These include: cherry stollen with pistachio marzipan, dark chocolate orange bourbons, blackberry ricotta cheesecake, chocolate lime mudcake and spiced chocolate tart. There you have it, my New Year’s resolution.
Published by Chatto & Windus in September this year, the substantial 336p book costs £20.
Some festive chocolatey treats rolled in, just in time for Christmas – a stocking to fill a stocking it would seem. Hotel Chocolat is the best High Street chocolatier out there and I do miss not being able to pop in to the Plymouth store with the regularity I was once able to. A box of chocolate reindeer made from the house special 40% milk chocolate was much appreciated as was the Christmas stocking filled with white, milk and caramel chocolate santas, presents and bells. Thank you Hotel Chocolat.
Well, three of a kind is a bit of a misnomer really – I just liked the snappy title. There are three books and they are all cookbooks; they are even all of the same size, but there the similarities end. The fact that all of them contain recipes for chocolate is, of course, a given.
Chocolat by Eric Lanlard
The subtitle of this book, seductive recipes for bakes, desserts, truffles and other treats says it all really. If you know anything about Eric Lanlard you will know that moderation, when it comes to ingredients, is not his strong point – something I heartily approve of. Last month’s We Should Cocoa was all about making chocolate cakes for £1, these recipes go to the other extreme. The book screams indulgence and my goodness what a lot of mouth watering recipes there are.
Eric starts off with a brief history of chocolate. Given the extraordinary and long history of chocolate, this one page summary really is rather brief, but will no doubt be interesting to those who have little knowledge of it. In the context of this work, it’s absolutely fine; it’s a book of recipes not a treatise on chocolate. Next up is a short section on working with chocolate which includes melting and tempering. Again, there isn’t a great deal of detail given, but the basics are there. The main part of the book is divided into four chapters: From the Bakery, Desserts & Puddings, Truffles & Treats, Drinks, Spreads & Sauces. Here are some recipes that took my fancy: white chocolate and passion fruit cheesecake would make a perfect dessert for a dinner party; salted butter caramel cake is on my absolutely must bake list; pink fizz champagne truffles are surely an essential for any wedding and I’m planning on drinking my way through the swathe of cocktails, shakes and hot chocolates.
As you can imagine, the photographs look absolutely sumptuous and I was pleased to see there were a lot of them. Not every single recipe has an accompanying picture, but the vast majority of them do. I defy anyone not to crave something dark and decadent after viewing any one of them.
I’ve made a number of recipes from this book and they’ve all proved to be a rip-roaring success. Last year I made the dark chocolate moelleux for a Liskeard event and it was one of the first cakes to disappear. A large rich, dark and very tasty chocolate sponge is filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with a dark chocolate ganache and as much summer fruit as you want to put on it.
For the same event I adapted Eric’s recipe for white chocolate strawberry tarts. These also proved to be extremely popular and disappeared rather fast. I had already played around with making some white chocolate raspberry tarts based on the same recipe, so I knew they were good. An enriched sweet pastry is filled with strawberry compote, topped with a white chocolate Chantilly cream and then decorated with strawberries. The Chantilly cream works wonderfully with fruit and I’ve used it on a number of occasions since.
White chocolate and lemon madeleines are another recipe I’ve tried. Like the others, they still haven’t been written up – oh the life of a busy chocolate blogger! Again the recipe worked extremely well. Not only were they very tasty, but they had the classic foot too, which isn’t something that always happens with madeleine recipes in my experience.
Everyone needs a book of indulgent chocolate treats I reckon and this is one well worth having. This 176 pages of sumptuousness is published by Octopus Books as a hardback and retails at £18.99
Chocolate by Jennifer Donovan
Compared to the previous book, the recipes and photographs are more restrained and less extravagant. The subtitle, heavenly recipes for desserts, cakes and other divine treats is still highly applicable though.
I’d not come across the author Jeniifer Donovan before receiving this book, so I was interested to find out about her. She was born in in Australia, but now teaches cooking in London. She has written several cookbooks including The Big Book of Chocolate – gosh!
The introduction briefly describes what chocolate is, how to store it and how to cook with it. Tempering is mentioned but not described, which seems a little strange for a book all about chocolate. This is followed by a few basic recipes such as shortcrust pastry, chocolate custard and caramel sauce.
The main recipes are divided into seven chapters: Quick-Fix-Desserts, Chocolate Heaven Desserts, Cakes & Bakes, Pastries & Puddings, Ices, Chocolate Treats & Drinks and Sauces, Icings & Frostings. After the index there is a handy page to make your own notes on, something I’d find useful as I don’t like to spoil books by scribbling all over the recipes – I am a Librarian by training after all!
I haven’t had the book as long as Chocolat so although many of the recipes are bookmarked, I’ve only made a couple of them so far. We had these chocolate scotch pancakes for Pancake Day. They worked well and were thoroughly delicious especially smothered, as they were, with maple syrup and nectarines.
Chocolate & chestnut mess sounds like an excellent alternative (or addition) to the Christmas Day pud and one that I might be trying this year. A handy tip for making some rather striking mini white chocolate cheesecakes is to line a muffin tray with a strip of paper so the finished cheesecakes can be lifted out easily without damage. A chocolate ricotta cake I spotted has absolutely to be tried. I’m still unsure as to the combination of dark chocolate and lemon, so I might need to make the tangy lemon and chocolate tarts to help me decide. Chocolate sorbet has long been on my to make list, so I was pleased to see a recipe for it in the Ices section. Peanut butter & milk chocolate truffles sound quite unsophisticated compared to the cranberry & port truffles, but just the thing I would find quite scrumptious. In my book, you can never have too many sauce and icing recipes, so chocolate rum frosting here I come.
If you like coconut, as we do, these chocolate cherry macaroons are rather moreish, though the glacé cherries did make them quite sweet. This was the first time I’ve every made coconut macaroons using coconut cream. This gave an extra dimension to the general coconuttiness and made these macaroons more sophisticated than your average.
I was surprised to see that the recipes in this book have no introduction, something I take as a given in any serious cookery book. A little note from the author giving some background information or stating why they like a particular recipe makes a big difference when choosing a recipe to make. It also personalises the book making it an interesting read in its own right, rather than just a collection of recipes.
This is a good book for cooks who have some experience but want to increase their recipe repertoire.
Published by Duncan Baird in 2013, this is a hardback with 207 pages and retails at £14.99.
Paris Pastry Club by Fanny Zanotti
Whilst not exactly a chocolate book, this is all about the sweet stuff and does include a fair few chocolate recipes. Sumptuous was the word that sprang to mind when I first saw the book. Like Eric Lanlard’s Chocolat, the recipes are rich and indulgent and the photographs leave you in no doubt of this fact. I guess it must be that French love of butter, cream and other naughty fare – oh la-la! I can’t be far wrong because the subtitle here reads: a collection of cakes, tarts, pastries and other indulgent recipes. Fanny is a pastry chef who grew up in France, has travelled the world and now lives and works in London. This is her first book.
As can be seen from the front cover, there is a sense of fun here. I found it to be really quite delightful. The book is “served” by the author with the following recipe:
- 150g kneading
- 100g piping
- 120g whipping
- 100g drinking
- 2 tsp talking
- a fat pinch of laughter
- a pinch of crushed delight
- Classics (everything a girl needs to know).
- Some Thing Are Bound to Happen (like chocolate cake on a rainy day).
- Break-up Menders (treats for one).
- Breakfasts of Kings (or anyone you want to wake up next to).
- Lazy Summer Sweets (for glittery days and balmy nights)
- Dinner Party Desserts (the perfect end to a perfect evening)
Fanny demonstarably has a very sweet tooth. Whilst ricotta & honey doughnuts sound delicious in the extreme, I can’t see these making their way to my puritan breakfast table any time soon. However the almost-instant chocolate fondant cake is a must. Pistachio nougat sounds delicious, but it is one of those things you really need a stand mixer for and I don’t have one, so this will have to wait. Vanilla ice-cream with olive oil is a completely new one on me and now must of course be tried. The deconstructed pumpkin pie really isn’t my thing, but I guess all chefs have to have a go at this trendy style. Spicy chocolate pots-de-crème are definitely on my to make list, especially after the recent success of my Amaretto pots au chocolat. I do adore spices and these ones are flavoured with cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and chilli.
I had a go at making an adapted version of the banana split(isn) sundae in the Treat for One section. Despite the chapter’s title, the recipe stated that it served two! According to Fanny “my super-decadent treat is to layer some better-than brownies cookies in a tall glass with caramelised banana, vanilla ice-cream and an insane chocolate fudge sauce. The perfect break-up cure”. Well I hoped breaking up wasn’t on the cards so went ahead and made it anyway. I opted for fresh strawberries and whipped cream instead of the bananas and ice-cream, but I made her cookies for the base and insane chocolate sauce to drizzle over it all. The quantities seem a little off, I halved the amounts given for the sauce and there was still plenty left over, not that I’m complaining. Unsurprisingly, it was very good indeed, a real treat, although vraiment I wouldn’t say the cookies were anywhere near as delightful as a brownie.
Published by Hardie Grant in 2014, this is a hardback with 160 pages and retails at £20.
If you are anything like me, you will have odds and ends of recipes scattered around the house, used as bookmarks, scribbled on scraps or in piles somewhere or other and never to be found when needed. I keep meaning to get organised and to collect my favourite not to be forgotten recipes in one place, but somehow don’t seem to have managed it – yet.
Recently, I was sent A Cake Lover’s Recipe Notebook by Jane Brocket which would be perfect for this exercise or at least for keeping all my favourite cake recipes together. Published by Jacqui Small, it comes as a spiral bound hardback measuring roughly 20 x 23cm with a pretty vintage style textured cloth cover. The notebook is divided into sections, mostly categorised by type of cake and separated by tabs. It starts with an introduction, encouragingly entitled, let’s eat cake which celebrates the joy of baking. There then follows a chapter on baking essentials, which usefully outlines essential ingredients, equipment, methods and techniques. At the back of the book, you can find a list of addresses for suppliers. Each section includes two pre-prepared recipes. These are not meant to be particularly innovative, but classic cakes which, we are assured, are failsafe and perfect for the beginner. The recipes are all accompanied by beautiful vintage type illustrations that make me want to throw a tea party immediately.
Each section has about 16 recipe cards with space for ingredients, method and what size cake it makes or how many. It also has a handy little tick box for “make again”. There is a page to list the shape, size and number of your baking tins (or moulds in my case). I think I shall find this particularly useful as I don’t have the room to have them all in one cupboard or even all in the kitchen and often lose track of what I’ve actually got. At the back of the book, you will find pages for notes as well as favourite cake and baking shops, an idea I felt was particularly appealing.
Out of the twelve recipes included, I was relieved to see that three of them were chocolate ones: brownies, mocha cake and bûche de Noël. However, after considering making fondant fancies and covering them with chocolate icing, I decided to adapt the almond slice recipe instead. I had a jar of my chilli chocolate mincemeat left over from the Christmas before last and it was in need of using up. I thought it would make an ideal substitute for the raspberry jam in the recipe. I made only half the quantity as sadly, I had no tea party to give.
This is how I made:
Almond Mincemeat Slices
- Poured 100g flour (half wholemeal, half white) into a mixing bowl together with 25g ground almonds and 25g cardamom sugar (caster).
- Added 60g cubed unsalted butter and rubbed this into the flour until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs.
- Added 1 tbsp of cold water and stirred with a knife.
- Poured the mixture into a 7″ sq silicone mould and pressed it down with a spoon to form an even layer on the bottom.
- Baked at 180°C for 10 minutes.
- Creamed 70g unsalted butter with 70g cardamom sugar (caster) until light and fluffy.
- Beat in 1 duck egg.
- Sifted in 70g ground almonds, 40g flour (half wholemeal, half white) and ½ tsp baking powder.
- Stirred until just combined.
- Spread a layer of mincemeat over the shortbread base (about 8 tbsp) then covered this with the frangipane topping.
- Scattered a handful of flaked almonds over the top and baked at 180°C for 18 minutes until the top was risen and golden.
- Left to cool in the mould, then cut into 12 slices.
These slices were a true delight. The shortbread base was short and crumbly, the frangipane top was light and almondy and the chocolate mincemeat held it all together very nicely.
As my mincemeat was about to walk out of the cupboard and into the bin, I just got there in time. So I’m submitting this to the No Waste Food Challenge, normally hosted by Elizabeth’s Kitchen but this month by the wonderful Chris of Cooking Around the World.
Thanks to Jacqui Small for the notebook. There was no requirement to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
Jacqui Small have kindly agreed to give two of my readers a copy of A Cake Lover’s Recipe Notebook. To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Gleam widget below. You will need to leave a comment on this post which then gives you additional chances to enter if you so wish. Gleam 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 or invalid entries will be disqualified. This giveaway is only open to those with a UK postal address. Winners will need to respond within 7 days of being contacted. Failure to do this will result in another winner being picked.
This recipe for super cute mini orange sponge cakes are filled with whipped cream and blood orange curd. They’re a little fiddly to make, but well worth it if you’re looking for dainty additions to an elegant afternoon tea. There’s also a recipe for the curd which is sweet and zingy with an attractive strawberry pink colour. If you’re looking for more miniature treats, read on for a book review that might be of interest. Otherwise, head to the bottom of the post for the blood orange cakes recipe.