Chocolate Rolo Cake

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Chocolate rolo cakes. The holes are from birthday candles

I’ve been trying to post the recipe for this cake for quite a few days now, but life, as they say, has gotten in the way.  I actually made this cake for my friend Dan’s birthday nearly two weeks ago and have only just managed to get myself a cup of tea, sit down in my laptop and write this thing up.  Good things, however, come to those who wait.  Or so the phrase goes.

I have a bit of a tradition of making vertiginous chocolate cakes for Dan’s birthday, getting more and more elaborate each year.  This year, I was struggling to find something to top the Chocolate Behemoth of 2013, until I came across this rolo cake by the brilliant Raspberri Cupcakes.  If you have not yet visited this beautiful baking blog, prepare yourself to feel both inspired and completely inadequate all at once.  Her cakes truly are masterpieces.

This particular creation is a rich chocolate brownie cake, sandwiched with a thick salted caramel and covered with a glossy slick of chocolate ganache.  As if that isn’t decadent enough, it has the added surprise of having a whole packet of rolos baked into each of the two cake layers; which melt a little to create pockets of caramel within the cake.  And more rolos piled on the top, natch.

To be honest, it really is best not to think too much about the ingredients for this cake.  Especially the 400g of butter.  Being the evil feeder that I am I also neglected to mention to my dining companions that it probably had hundreds and hundreds of calories per slice.  Especially those who went for second helpings.

A little bit about making caramel:  in short, don’t bother. I’ve tried every method from heating sugar to boiling condensed milk and both are time-consuming and fraught with hazards.  Use pre-made caramel or dulce de leche.  Carnation make one in a 397g tin that is just perfect.

Chocolate Rolo Cake

For the cake
400g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large eggs
200g caster sugar
200g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tubes rolos

For the filling
1 x 397g tin of carnation caramel
½ tsp sea salt

For the ganache
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
300ml double cream

To decorate
4 tubes rolos, each sweet cut in half

Preheat the oven to 150ºc.  Grease two 8inch sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter and sugar in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water and set aside to cool.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale.  Fold through the chocolate mixture and then gently fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tins.  Push the rolos into the surface of the cake mixture and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes.  The cake will have shrunken away from the edges of the tin but may still have a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool completely in the tin before transferring to a wire rack until needed.

Stir the sea salt into the caramel and, using a palette knife, spread a thick layer over one of the cooled cakes.  Place the other layer on top.  Reserve a small amount of the caramel to spread thinly over the top and sides of the cake.  This will help the ganache to ‘stick’.  Chill the cake in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.  Place the chopped milk and dark chocolate in a large bowl.  In a saucepan, heat the cream until it just reaches boiling point.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to sit for a couple of minutes.  Stir with a balloon whisk and the chocolate will melt into the cream to form a smooth, thick ganache.  Allow to cool.

Place the chilled cake on a rack over a tray.  Pour over the cooled ganache, using a palette knife to spread it out.  It should coat the cake evenly and any excess will be caught in the tray below.  Stack the chopped rolos on top.  Transfer to the fridge to set the ganache, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Adapted from a recipe by Raspberri Cupcakes.

One Year Ago:  Key Lime Pie

A Chocolate Beetroot Cake for Chocolate Week

Chocolate beetroot cake

Chocolate beetroot cake

This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.

Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture.  I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket.  The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.

Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical.  A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears.  It sounds silly, but it worked.  Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work.  It has the same effect.

I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings.  With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble.  I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.

I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake.  Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success.  Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake.  Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food.  It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.

This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks.  It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it.  It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot.  The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny.  Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked.  The good old purple kind will do just fine.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g beetroot
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 eggs
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender.  Remove and cool under cold running water.  Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.

Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated.  Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.

Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.  Do not overmix.  Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin.  There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools.  Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.

Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Pie

A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes for National Cupcake Week

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Chocolate orange cupcakes

There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked.  I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues.  When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags.  The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks.  We were hooked.

It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London.  It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold.  Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate.  As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off.  The cupcake seemed unstoppable.

Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods.  I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves.  The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it.  After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.

This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.”  As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.

I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week.  These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off.  They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream.  This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases.  Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar

For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating

Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until fully combined.  In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix in the melted chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot.  Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.

To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.

Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top.  Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Brownies

Chocolate and salted caramel brownies

Chocolate and salted caramel brownies

This is the third salted caramel recipe I have written for this blog, which is far more than anybody needs.  I am so 2012.

Whilst offering my apologies for the repetition, this one was, in fact, the brainchild of Ollie.  We were heading to the new house of some friends for dinner and I had offered to bring dessert.  Whilst I walked around the kitchen with two bars of chocolate in my hands, opening and closing the cupboards and looking for inspiration, he said could you make those really squidgy brownies again, but maybe with salted caramel?

I know that everybody thinks they have the best brownie recipe, or knows where to get the best brownie in town, it’s one of those things that people are incredibly proud of, like their roast dinners.  I have been making brownies for a long time, but never found a recipe that gave a perfect result until I discovered Felicity Cloake’s recipe in her How to Cook the Perfect… column for The Guardian.  If you’re a baker and love a good brownie, I cannot recommend it enough.  There are a few more processes than your standard recipe, but they create a brownie with the perfect crispy top and molten interior.

And for the record, the best brownie in London, in my opinion, is from Paul A. Young.

A salted caramel brownie is hardly groundbreaking, there are a number of recipes online, but these were so good I just had to share.  This recipe is a combination of Cloake’s perfect brownie recipe (which I also used as the basis for my coconut brownies) and a method for adding the salted caramel taken from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog.  This involves making a tray of set salted caramels, stirring some into the brownie batter before it goes into the tin, and pressing the others into the top just before it goes into the oven.  This has the double-edged effect of creating pockets of molten caramel throughout the brownie, and nuggets of set, crispy caramel on the top.

At first I thought that the caramel could have done with a little more salt, but everybody else who tried them disagreed.  The little touch of salt stops them from being too sweet, despite the combination of chocolate and caramel.  If you’re a salty sea dog, you could add a little more to the caramel if you wish, but be careful not to overload it as there is also salt in the brownie batter.

Ollie has already asked me to make a tray of these for his birthday dinner next month, instead of a birthday cake.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Brownies

For the caramel:

  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 50ml double cream

For the brownie batter:

  • 200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk
  • 100g chocolate chips
  • 60g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 60g cocoa powder

Lightly butter a square of greaseproof paper and set over a dinner plate.  Set aside.

To make the caramel, melt the sugar in a dry pan over a medium-high heat.  This should take about five minutes and should give a mixture of a copper colour.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted.  Stir in the cream and salt and return to a medium-high heat to bring to a simmer.  Cook for another minute, until the mixture has darkened slightly, then pour onto the prepared plate.  Transfer the plate to the freezer for approximately 30 minutes until the caramel has solidified.

Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 5.  Butter a 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Whilst the caramel is setting, make the brownie batter.  Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, then set aside to cool slightly.  In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until just incorporated.  Once all the eggs have been added, turn the mixer speed up to high and best the mixture for around five minutes until the batter has increased in size slightly.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and beat in the chocolate and chocolate chips.  Fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.

Once the caramel has set, cut it into 1 inch squares using a sharp knife.  Fold three-quarters of the squares into the batter, then scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Scatter the remaining squares across the top of the batter and press in slightly,  Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes until risen, but still very wobbly.  Although the mixture seems uncooked, it needs to be taken out of the oven at this point to get the squidgy texture, cooking for any longer will give it the consistency of a cake.  Leave to cool completely in the tin, then remove and slice into squares.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

 

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

I’m not really sure that my blog needs another chocolate recipe, but as chocolate is the theme for tonight’s Band of Bakers event, there is one.  In any case, it is good to get this one in before Easter gets any closer and the blogosphere is awash with chocolate recipes.

It seems like a very short time since our last Band of Bakers gathering, when we were all at The Crooked Well eating far too much cheese than is healthy to eat in one evening.  Tonight’s event is a rather special event as we will be hosting it at The Chocolate Museum in Brixton.  Yesssss, there is a whole museum devoted to chocolate.  It’s run by the lovely Isabelle who also brought gourmet chocolate to the streets of Peckham in the form of her chocolate shop, Melange.  If you haven’t been over there yet, do go, their hot chocolate is to die for.

My offering for tonight’s event is a chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate pastry.  The filling comprises a layer of firm salted caramel, topped with a decadent dark chocolate ganache.  Both layers are chilled rather than baked, so were it not for the pastry having gone in the oven, I wouldn’t be able to bring it to the event (we aren’t called ‘Band of Assemblers’, after all).  Adding salt to chocolate and caramel is kind of old hat, heck, there probably a salted caramel product in every cafe and supermarket in the land.  Twinings have even brought out a salted caramel green tea, which I am highly skeptical of.  When done right, though, the combination of sweet and salt can be wonderfully tantalising and appeals to those who claim not to have an overly sweet tooth, my boyfriend included, who has already snagged a slice of this tart for later.

There are about 25 bakers attending tonight, all bringing chocolate bakes.  Something tells me that the combination of caffeine and sugar might lead to a sleepless night indeed.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

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 salted caramel:

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1½ tsp sea salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream
  • 65g chocolate malt powder

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.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, make the caramel.  Put the sugar and 75ml water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium and add the butter, stirring until it melts, then let it bubble away until it turns a light toffee colour, about 10 minutes.  Add the cream and the sea salt flakes and boil for a couple more minutes until thickened.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before speading over the base of  the cooled pastry case and setting aside to cool completely.

To make the ganache topping, break the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it almost reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate malt powder.  Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir constantly until the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth ganache.  Leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring over the cooled caramel.  Place the tart in the fridge for one hour to set the ganache before serving.

A Chocolate Coconut Brownie for Fairtrade Fortnight

A couple of years ago, I took part in a Fairtrade baking challenge with a prize for the bake containing the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I honestly thought that with nine ingredients I would win, however one of my colleagues managed to use twelve and swiped the prize.  What this exercise taught me, as well as not being a sore loser, was how many Fairtrade products there are.  Not so long ago, it was only really the chocolate and coffee that you could buy in Oxfam and various health food shops, but now there is a Fairtrade stamp on everything from tea, beer, fruit and spices to clothes and beauty products.  Many supermarkets, particularly the Co-op, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are committing to having more and more Fairtrade products in their range, hence helping workers and communities in developing countries across the world.

Yesterday I visited the Divine pop-up shop in Covent Garden.  Divine is a pioneering chocolate company and 45% of its shares is owned by the cocoa farmers.  Its board also comes from a range of forward-thinking charitable organisations across the UK such as ChristianAid and Comic Relief.

From this visit, I was inspired to go back to the idea of baking something using a number of Fairtrade ingredients, this time without the competitive element.  Fairtrade chocolate, cocoa and sugar can be found in most supermarket baking aisles, so the task of buying ingredients for a Fairtrade brownie is an easy one.  Baking the kind of brownie that has a thin crust on top and an almost molten chocolate centre is slightly trickier – you need both a good recipe and the balls to take it out of the oven at the right time, even though it looks completely uncooked.  For the former, I have Felicity Cloake’s failsafe brownie recipe from her Guardian column (works every time), and for the second I have a number of friends who are happy to eat any baked goods, even those that fall apart because they are so underbaked.

To this particular brownie I have added two extras:  milk (not dark, please) chocolate chips that no brownie should ever be without, and some desiccated coconut, which adds a delightful graininess but no real flavour.

(Mostly) Fairtrade Chocolate Coconut Brownies
Adapted from a recipe by Felicity Cloake

  • 250g Fairtrade dark chocolate (I used Divine’s 70% dark chocolate)
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g Fairtrade caster sugar
  • 150g Fairtrade light soft brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
  • 60g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 80g desiccated coconut
  • 80g milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Be careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  With the mixer still running, gradually add the eggs, a little at a time, until fully incorporated.  Turn the speed of the mixer up to high and beat for five minutes until the batter has a sheen and has increased in size.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and carefully fold in the melted chocolate, being careful not to beat too much air out of the eggs.   Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, coconut and chocolate chips in a small bowl before gently stirring them into the mixture.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes.  A knife inserted into the centre of the cake should not come out clean, but a little sticky.  If you feel it is not quite done, return to the oven for a further three minutes, but be careful not to overbake.  Leave to cool for an hour before cutting into squares.

Divine Chocolate Fairtrade Fortnight Pop-up Shop, Covent Garden

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It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, which is an annual awareness campaign run by the Fairtrade Foundation that aims to get us really thinking about where our food comes from and how the trade and consumption affects and benefits the local communities in developing countries.  Of course, many of us are aware that Fairtrade has made an enormous difference to workers in these communities by offering better prices, better working conditions, fairer terms of trade and, most importantly, a focus on sustainability so that the communities can continue to trade in a sometimes uncertain future.  It used to be the case that only a few specialist products were Fairtrade, however as time goes on, more and more products are proudly displaying the badge; everything from the traditional Fairtrade products of coffee, chocolate and bananas to less likely items such as clothing, beer and honey. 

During Fairtrade Fortnight there are a number of events to engage with people around this issue.  A couple of years ago I took part in a Fairtrade Bake-Off with a prize for the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I thought I had it in the bag with nine, until my colleague swiped the prize with a massive twelve.

For the second year, Fairtrade chocolate supremo Divine have opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden for Fairtrade fortnight.  This has coincided with the launch of two new flavours:  a 38% milk chocolate with whole almonds, and a 70% dark chocolate with mango and coconut.  Of course, Divine chocolate is readily available in a number of shops and supermarkets, but having a shop entirely devoted to their range certainly appeals to the chocoholic within me.  Little samples are available of their various bars, of which I tried many, and there is a little coffee machine at the back (Fairtrade, obviously).  In addition to this, they have a counter at the back selling some delicious looking baked goods including millionaire’s shortbread and little macarons.

There are a number of events on at the pop-up throughout Fairtrade Fortnight including sampling, chocolate workshops and meeting the cocoa farmers.

I ended up going home with an incredibly gluttonous four bars:  milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, dark chocolate with mango and coconut, orange milk chocolate and dark chocolate with chilli and orange.

Divine Pop-Up, 53 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9DA.  Open until Sunday 9th March.

MyChocolate Workshop

I have sadly come to the realisation that there is not, nor ever will be, a glittering career as a chocolatier ahead of me.  For one, it’s tricky stuff.  You only have to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off to see how quickly making ganache or tempering chocolate can turn into a car crash.  Use a chocolate with too low cocoa solids, you end up with a ganache that won’t. bloody. set., or use large amounts of the extra dark stuff and you might end up with something so insomnia-inducing that it leaves you wired for days.  Like most people, I absolutely love chocolate in all its forms, so when the opportunity to learn more about it arose, I jumped at the chance, hoping that I might become somebody who effortlessly turns out beautiful confectionery without ruining their clothes and kitchen worktops in the process.  Not quite,  but they tried.

I was invited to take part in a truffle-making session with MyChocolate, a company that organises chocolate-making workshops for groups.  Run by chocolatier Hannah Saxton, the school employs a number of staff and teachers who seek to deliver a range of events for corporate teams, hen parties, stag parties and birthdays; all around the process of making and tasting chocolate, as well as forays into the worlds of cupcakes and cocktails.  They operate events out of venues in London, Brighton and Manchester, but have recently developed a mobile workshop, so can put on classes in other parts of the country when needed.

This class was run from their main kitchen in central London, close to Farringdon station.  Once we were seated in groups at large tables full of chocolate-making paraphernalia, had out aprons on and a glass of prosecco in hand, we were ready to begin.

The first part of the course focuses around learning to understand and taste chocolate.  The first task was to blind taste two pieces of chocolate and decide which is the good-quality organic stuff, and which was cheap supermarket chocolate.  Everybody in the class guessed correctly, but I was surprised to see that several of my fellow bloggers preferred the cheaper chocolate to the good stuff.  I myself am partial to the odd bar of Dairy Milk, but it really was no contest.  We were then given three pieces of chocolate with varying percentages of cocoa solids to taste.  The amount of cocoa solids in chocolate gives it many of its characteristics, including how quickly it will set when made into a ganache, which is the basis for truffles.

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The traditional method of making truffles is to make a ganache by heating cream to scorching point, removing it from the heat and stirring in chopped chocolate until smooth.  This is then set in the fridge for several hours until firm and spoonfuls of ganache scooped out and rolled into balls.  As the workshops lack the luxury of such time, ganache is made by pouring cold cream into melted chocolate and rapidly stirring until it sets.  Charlotte, our teacher for the evening, showed us how to do this before demonstrating a method of piping out the soft ganache on to parchment and letting them set in their shapes.  If you don’t want to end up with completely brown hands, a la the rolling method, this could be for you.  Once set, the truffles are dipped into bowls of melted milk or dark chocolate and either rolled in cocoa powder or decorated.

Unfortunately, my chocolate-making skills were still not of a high standard, and I still managed to end up with more on my face and in my hair than I had hoped, but my technique improved somewhat under Charlotte’s guidance.  The truffles I made were, let’s face it, never going to be of the kind you might find in a little Belgian-chocolate shop, but they looked like less of a mess than I feared they may, even after I went crazy with the freeze-dried raspberries.  Several hours later, drinking G&Ts in The Actress, they tasted rather good.

My Chocolate, Unit B1 Hatton Square Business Centre, 16-16a Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ  @MyChocolateUK

I was invited to review MyChocolate

Mint Cream Chocolate Biscuits

Mint cream chocolate biscuits

Mint cream chocolate biscuits

Sometimes I feel that we have the tendency to get over-sentimental about baked goods.  In the past few years, there has been a trend for nostalgia in food blogs and some cookbooks, and we all seem to be delving into the past for ideas.  My own food blog is no exception and I have, in the past, written about the comfort of making my late Nan’s tea loaf, and the memory of baking scones with her as a child.  There has always been a link between food and our personal histories; the food we ate with our families, what they served up at school, the dishes we despised and the treats we relished; but are we starting to overdo it a little?

Last week, I watched Jamie Oliver, in an act of patriotism, try to revive the Colchester Pudding, an old Essex dessert that had fallen out of favour.  Of course, he succeeded, even after feeding tapioca pudding to skeptical Essex theme-park-goers, and several caterers agreed to reinstate it to their menus.  A little victory for history, you may think, but actually, like many old puddings named after British towns and cities, the Colchester Pudding has no real historical significance other than that it was simply named after Colchester.  Oliver did a rather good job on making it palatable, but it made me think that some puddings that were lost in the past should perhaps stay in the past.  The Winchester Pudding, for example, consists of bread layered with sugar and suet, and no amount of re-working (and believe me, I’ve tried) has yielded anything that anybody I know would choose for dessert over a chocolate fondant or panna cotta, for example.  Winchester is close to where I grew up, so I thought reviving it might be fun. This is still a work in progress.

Biscuits seem to be the baked goods that we get the most nostalgic about.  I noticed that when reading blogs to research recipes, most came with a lovely rose-tinted story about biscuits in childhood.  The little pieces of shortbread that hung on the Christmas tree, or the Jammy Dodgers arranged on a doily at Grandma’s house.  It seems that we really do associate them with our pasts.  This was confirmed in spectacular fashion in Nigel Slater’s Great British Biscuit, an hour-long programme convincing us of the importance of biscuits in our history, national identity and every day life.  Just as I thought it couldn’t get any more full-on, they brought in Stuart Payne, a man so obsessed with and passionate about biscuits (and who refers to them as ‘friends’) that you begin to realise that you know very little at all about these treats.  The number of holes in a Bourbon, for example?  Stuart knows this.  We all enjoyed biscuits, but did they really shape our lives? I guess that’s for you to decide.

Of course, if you order a biscuit in America, you will get something resembling a scone, but that’s another story.

In recent years, I make far fewer biscuits than I used to.  These days, I only ever seem to make them when people come for tea, and then only really a few varieties.  I used to make batches and batches of chocolate chip cookies, but found that I ate too many and suffered all of the consequences that went along with that, popping waistbands et cetera, so stopped. 

A year or so ago, I came up with the idea that I would bake everything from Dan Lepard‘s baking bible Short and Sweet and came across a few very good biscuit recipes.  My favourite was a sandwich of two bittersweet chocolate cookies and a slick of sweet peppermint cream.  Sandwich biscuits are always the most decadent of all, which is why the custard creams and bourbon creams disappeared from the tin far quicker than the plain biscuits.  These don’t disappoint and are always a favourite with visitors.  They look a little like Oreos and, despite some unkind remarks made by my boyfriend about ‘toothpaste’, the mint filling is always a pleasant surprise.  For a while I have toyed with the idea of making a version with an orange cream filling, perhaps adding orange zest and cointreau to the buttercream mixture and a little cinnamon to the biscuits.

The recipe, by Dan Lepard, can be found here.