A Weekend in Chocolate

Dan Lepard's Chocolate Custard Muffins

Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins

I had many reasons to celebrate this weekend, which was the perfect way to lift the gloom of a difficult and exhausting week. 

First up was my friend Jonny‘s birthday at Jack’s Bar on Friday night.  A few double Americanos had given me the boost I needed to power myself through the final Friday afternoon at work and get myself out for a drink.  Despite being tired, I was rather in need of gin and company.  Plus, I had made a cake for the occasion.

Inspired by a lone can of Guinness I found in a box of beer out on my balcony, I decided to make Jonny one of my favourite cakes: a chocolate Guinness cake.  Adding Guinness to a cake, at first, seems a little strange but the two work perfectly together.  In fact, I cannot stand the taste of Guinness as a drink, but I love the effect it has when it is added to food.  The first few times I made this cake, the Guinness merely added a subtle tang in the background – strong enough to know that there was something added to the cake, but not strong enough to give it a positive ID.  This time, I upped the amount of Guinness and the flavour was much more pronounced.  The texture is much like that of a flourless chocolate cake, although it does contain flour, and is quite dense and heavy.  You could eat it on its own, but I rather like it topped with a simple cream cheese frosting, particularly as it makes the cake look like a pint of Guinness with its white top.  A small helping will definitely suffice.

I was also lucky enough to visit some friends who recently had a gorgeous baby girl.  Many parents have told me that often the best gift for a new family is food – in the first few chaotic weeks there is never enough time to prepare or cook dinner.  Ideally, I would have liked to have made them a meal that could be frozen and heated up at a later date, but the journey from my flat in East Dulwich to their home in north-west London is a bit much for even the sturdiest of lasagnes, so instead I made them some muffins. Much easier to transport.  The recipe I used was Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Custard Muffins which, unsurprisingly, is one of the best chocolate muffin recipes I have ever found.  The name is ever so slightly deceiving as on first glance I thought this would be a muffin with an oozing custard centre, alas it merely describes the method with which the batter is made: starting with a custard and gradually turning it into a cake mix.  You could fill these with custard, I suppose, but that would be a project for another day.  The linked recipe makes 12 muffins: I took six to the new parents and six to Will and Claire‘s new flat as a housewarming present.

Who doesn’t like a gift of chocolate?

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Chocolate Guinness Cake

For the cake:

  • 300ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 85g cocoa powder
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 90g natural yoghurt
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder

For the frosting:

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 350g icing sugar, sifted
  • 150g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350º f / gas 4.  Grease a 9-inch springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Place a saucepan over a medium heat and add the Guinness and butter, stir together until the butter has melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.  Stir in the cocoa powder and sugars until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, yoghurt and milk and add this to the mix.

Transfer the mixture into the bowl of a freestanding mixer and sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on a medium speed until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.  Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until risen and the sides have shrunk away from the cake tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whisk the butter, with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment, until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and continue to mix until there are no lumps.  Finally, add the cream cheese and whisk until the frosting is light and fluffy.  Using a palette knife, cover the top of the cooled cake with the frosting.  Dust with cocoa powder.

Adapted from a recipe by The Hummingbird Bakery


Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

The weekend that the clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time always feels like the final death knell of summer.  A balmy autumn can keep the spirits up for so long, but once it becomes dark at 6pm, winter is most definitely here.  This weekend, more than any so far this year, was especially turbulent, as we were all preparing for the impending storm of doom.  Of course, none of us knew that it was not going to be the epic storm of 1987 proportions, as we had all feared, and were all fearing the worst.  This may have explained the Mother Flipper queue at Brockley Market on Saturday – if there was a last meal to be had, well….

This weekend was also the birthday of my friend Adrienne, so we braved the blustery streets of East Dulwich to spend the afternoon drinking prosecco at The Bishop.  Every year, for Adrienne’s birthday, I make her either a key lime pie or a lemon meringue pie instead of a birthday cake as she prefers citrus desserts to birthday cake and these pies give her a link to her North American homeland.  I was relieved that this year she chose key lime pie as I have been having some serious issues with meringue pies lately.  Every time I make one, it comes out the oven looking like a piece of cloudy perfection only to collapse completely when I take it out of the tin, haemorrhaging liquid everywhere (where does the liquid come from? the eggs?).  A couple of years ago, Adrienne’s birthday lemon meringue pie was little more than slop, and I don’t think I could face that again.

Apparently if you add a layer of pulverised cake crumbs in between the filling and the meringue, it soaks up the liquid and stops this happening.  I have yet to try and need to practice!

A key lime pie is an American dessert and so named as the variety of limes traditionally used were called ‘key limes’ and originated from Florida.  The pie consists of three individual components, two of which vary greatly according to recipe.  I am told that the traditional base for a key lime pie is shortcrust pastry, although in recent years this has been substituted with the kind of biscuit base that you would find on a cheesecake.  Similarly, traditionalists claim that the original pies were topped with meringue, although many pies are now topped with whipped cream or, often, not topped at all.  The filling is the only consistent component – a thick custard flavoured with lime juice and zest – although some are set in the fridge and some baked in the oven.

My key lime pie has a chocolate shortcrust pastry, which almost recreates the flavour of those chocolate lime sweets we all remember from childhood.  Chocolate and lime are a seriously good combination.  The pie has a baked filling that contains only four ingredients: lime zest, lime juice, condensed milk and egg yolks and is topped with whipped Chantilly cream.  For decoration, there is drizzled dark chocolate and candied lime slices.   I added a little extra lime than I usually would in the hope that the sharpness would cut through the richness of the chocolate, and it worked.  The flavours compliment each other, rather than fighting for pole position.  It takes a long time to make: the pastry has to be chilled twice and the filling chilled in the fridge for several hours, but if you plan your time well, it need not take over your weekend.

Key Lime Pie

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 140g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks

For the filling:

  • 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1½ tbsp lime zest
  • 120ml lime juice

For the topping:

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1 lime, sliced horizontally into 5mm slices
  • 250g caster sugar

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and icing sugar and pour into a food processor.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Turn out on to a floured surface, and gently knead for a few seconds.  Form the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface and use to line a loose-bottom tart tin.  Gently push the pastry into each of the grooves, but do not trim the edges.  Return to the fridge and chill for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2, remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the pastry case, uncovered, for a further five minutes.  The bottom of the pastry case should be dry and cooked through.  Trim the edges and allow to cool.

To make the filling, combine the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice and lime zest in a large bowl.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon or balloon whisk until all of the ingredients are fully combined and smooth.  Scrape this mixture into the cooled pastry case – there should be a gap at the top, this is where the cream will sit – and bake at 170ºc / 325ºf / gas 3 for about 15-20 minutes.  The filling should be firm with a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool completely at room temperature and then chill in the fridge for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

For the cream topping, whisk together the whipping cream and icing sugar until thick, but not stiff.  Spread the cream over the cooled filling with a palette knife, filling to the top of the pastry case.  Return to the fridge to chill while you make the toppings.

Heat the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until melted.  Allow to cool to room temperature and scrape into a plastic piping bag.  Place the cooled pie on top of a large sheet of newspaper, snip a hole in the bottom of the piping bag and drizzled the chocolate back and forth across the pie.  Be sure to start and finish each of the lines on the newspaper, not on the pie, so you don’t end up with any blobs.  Return to the fridge to set the chocolate while you make the candied limes.

Place the lime slices in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil.  Drain and repeat four times.  Combine the sugar and 250ml water in a separate saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the lime slices and cook over a low heat for around 40 minutes, until tender.  Use to decorate the pie.

The Chocolate Behemoth and Some Cupcakes

The Chocolate Behemoth: a Four-Layer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate,ate Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache

The Chocolate Behemoth: a Four-Layer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate,ate Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache

The french have rather an interesting phrase that may just serve to sum up the way I’m feeling this morning.  Gueule de bois, the french term for a ‘hangover’, literally translates as ‘wooden mouth’.  Two pots of Earl Grey, a can of Diet Coke and a litre of water and I’m still not feeling normal. I think today is going to be a quiet day spent in the kitchen and on the couch – luckily I have very little do to.

Rewind 18 hours or so, and I was sitting at a large table in Donde in Honor Oak Park with friends, celebrating my friend Dan‘s birthday.  We drank wine and sangria and feasted on plates of manchego with quince, cured meats, olives, grilled seafood, chorizo stews and some stunning morcilla that was so good I actually considered walking over this morning and ordering some more to help me through my current booze-soaked malaise.  We then headed back to Dan’s house for birthday cake and more wine. Perhaps a little too much wine, hence my state today.

I have a tradition for making towering layer cakes for Dan’s birthday and yesterday was no exception.  The Chocolate Behemoth, as it has come to be known is a four-layer chocolate cake, sandwiched with a rich chocolate buttercream and covered in a dark chocolate ganache.  It is a migrane-inducing chocoholic’s dream containing over half a kilogram of chocolate.  The sponge itself, although rich, is not too sweet, which prevents the cake from becoming too sickly.  Surprise ingredients such as dates, chilli and coffee give a warmth and richness without relying on too much sugar, and the use of cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate also tones down the sweetness.  We drunkenly got through far more slices than is acceptable and I have a suspicion that the leftovers will be scarfed for breakfast today.

A Late Night Cross-Section of the Chocolate Behemoth

A Late Night Cross-Section of the Chocolate Behemoth

The Chocolate Behemoth

For the chocolate sponge:

  • 220g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
  • 200ml coffee, made with a shot of espresso and topped up with boiling water
  • 100ml full-fat milk
  • 125g plain flour
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate buttercream:

  • 225g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken up
  • 750g icing sugar
  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 90ml full-fat milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Small pinch salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 350g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped finely
  • 285ml whipping cream
  • 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a round 8-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Heat the milk in a pan until it reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and stir in the coffee.  Put the dates in a large bowl and pour over the milk and coffee mixture.  Leave to soak for around 20 minutes.  Once soft, puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, chilli powder, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well incorporated.  If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together.  Add the vanilla extract and beat well.

With the mixer on a low speed, add the dry ingredients a little at a time, beating until just incorporated.  Be careful not to overmix.  Gently fold in the date puree until combined.  Scrape into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50-60 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin and later on a cooling rack.

To make the buttercream, melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over boiling water.  As soon as all of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat together the icing sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and salt until combined.  Beat for a further couple of minutes until the mixture becomes fluffy.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the cooled chocolate.  Beat on a medium speed until a thick and even chocolate buttercream is formed.

Using a serrated knife, slice the cooled cake into four layers.  Reserve the bottom layer to use as the top layer of the cake – the flat bottom will ensure a flat top on the cake.  Scoop some of the buttercream on to a layer of the cake and spread evenly using a palette knife.  Set the next layer on top and repeat the process until you have added the top layer.  Crumb coat the sides of the cake using a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for at least two hours – the ganache will be easier to spread on a cold cake.

To make the ganache, put a saucepan of water on to boil and reduce to a simmer – this will be used for a double boiler later, so ensure it is the right size to set a glass bowl on.  Put the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl and set aside.  In a separate saucepan, heat the cream, butter and vanilla until it just reaches boiling point – do not let the mixture boil.  Put the bowl of chocolate over the pan of simmering water and immediately pour the cream mixture over the chocolate.  Whisk together, using a balloon whisk, until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick and shiny.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and set on a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Pour the ganache, in one go, over the top of the cake and allow to flow down the sides.  The ganache will grip the cold buttercream and cover the sides of the cake.  You can gently use a palette knife to smooth any rough edges or cover any sparse areas.  Return the cake to the fridge for at least half an hour to set the ganache.

Once the ganache is set, you can pipe decorations on to the cake using melted chocolate or add your own decorations.  Serve the cake at room temperature.

Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats

This recipe produces a mountain of chocolate buttercream – far more than you would ever need to use for the cake even if you are quite generous with your icing, as I am.  You can either polish it off with a spoon before shame leads you to throw the entire lot in the bin, or you can use it for something else.  Below is a recipe for some chocolate chip cupcakes that would benefit very well from a swirl of leftover chocolate buttercream. You may have to go on the word of my colleagues as to their taste, as I cannot bear eating any more chocolate after last night!

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 100g chocolate chips
  • Chocolate buttercream (see above)

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.  This recipe made nine cupcakes, but if you use smaller cases, you may get 12 from the mixture.

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one by one, beating until smooth.  If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture and it should bring it back together.  Fold in the flour, cocoa and chocolate chips, beating until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake cakes and bake for around 25 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin and later on a baking rack.

Finish with a swirl of chocolate buttercream.