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


Pumpkin, Part 3


OK, so the pumpkin thing was never meant to be a trilogy – the roasted pumpkin with tahini was supposed to simply be a savoury sequel to the pumpkin pie (and a way to use up the leftovers) – but then I couldn’t resist these muffins.  So this is now a three-parter, but given the abundance of pumpkin and squash at the moments, more recipes containing them can hardly be a bad thing.  Again, these are rather a good way of using up leftover pumpkin or squash as you only need about 250g (the average butternut weighs about a kilo) and you could easily modify the other ingredients to use up leftover bits you have hanging around the fridge, although we’ll get on to that later.

Savoury muffins, for me, are always the acceptable face of baking.  Yes, they’re technically a cake, but they also contain vegetables.  In fact, screaming “They contain vegetables!” is often a useful tool in deflecting the judgemental stares of a friend / relative / colleague to whom you recently bemoaned your weight gain and who knows you probably shouldn’t be reaching for that second (or third…) treat.  The fact that they contain vegetables means that you can get one of your five-a-day on the move and without resorting to supermarket salad pots to keep up the nutrient levels.  I know that two of my friends and fellow bloggers use savoury muffins as a tool to trick their children into eating more vegetables. Yep, if you are a salad-dodger, these are great.  If you eat them warm from the oven, you can even kid yourself that through the consumption of vegetables, protein (cheese) and carbs (dough) that one or two muffins equals a balanced meal.  Almost.

For me, the only cheese to set off the sweet pumpkin is a salty feta – it also keeps its shape during cooking and does not melt into the dough.  This combination alongside the tang of coriander and slight oiliness from the pine nuts makes for a handful of autumnal deliciousness.  As mentioned before, the individual components of this recipe are fairly small in quantity, so it is a great way to use up leftovers.  You could, of course, make some substitutions:  you could forgo the spinach in favour of other greens, replace the pine nuts with chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds or even use a different root vegetable instead of pumpkin.  I’ve tried this recipe with other cheeses and they do not tend to work as well, although if you are a fan of blue cheese, a crumble of Stilton or Dorset Blue Vinny may be an interesting substitute!

Savoury Pumpkin Muffins

  • 250g pumpkin or squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 handful spinach
  • Small handful coriander leaves, chopped
  • 40g pine nuts, toasted
  • 40g parmesan
  • 100g feta, cut into small cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 175ml whole milk
  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases or pleated baking parchment.

Put the squash on a roasting tray and coat with olive oil and salt.  Roast in the oven until tender and crispy at the edges.

Reserve a handful of the squash and tip the rest into a mixing bowl with the spinach, coriander, pine nuts, parmesan and 75g of the feta. and gently fold together.  Add the eggs and milk and beat together.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, mustard powder, salt and pepper and fold into the other ingredients until fully incorporated.  Do not overmix.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling each one about ¾ full.  Top the muffins with the remaining pumpkin and feta and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Recipe adapted from one by 101 Cookbooks