Black Forest chocolate brownies

Gooey, fudgy awesome.

Gooey, fudgy, awesome.

So yesterday was my first day back doing BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday show with Ben Jackson since my knee operation last month. I’m still wobbly and having to use a crutch or two but by far the most agonising thing has been not being able to stand up to cook. It still hurts but my body feels completely out of kilter and my mind suffers if I can’t spend at least a small amount of time each day creating stuff in my kitchen.

One of the positives of being on crutches is that I’ve had to get a cleaner to come and help me around the house, she’s all kinds of ace and as it turns out an awesome cake maker who was telling me about a Black Forest cheesecake she made recently, a lightbulb flashed on in my mind and these rather kickass fudgy brownies were created.

You can hear me making this, it’s only 11 minutes long, by clicking on this link where you will also find the recipe. We always have a blast in my kitchen and yesterday was no different, although he did edit out my “only special people get to drink out of Lady Diana’s cup” line….

What I also forgot about was the “surprise” that I mentioned in the clip, this is simply to swap the cherries for Cadburys mini eggs, perfect for Easter 🙂

Black Forest Chocolate Brownies (makes 12)

  • 300g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250g dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 1 handful dried cherries
  • 2 handfuls walnut pieces
  • 1 capful vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt flakes
  • 80g plain flour
  • 360g caster sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 x 400g can dark cherries in syrup, drained

For the glaze: (optional not essential)

  • 2 heaped spoonfuls morello cherry jam
  • 50ml kirsch or other alcohol such as dark rum

For the topping:

  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 3 heaped tablespoons mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180C. Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water and melt until silky and thoroughly combined then add the dried cherries and nuts.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir to mix.
  3.  Add the flour mx to the melted chocolate and gently stir to combine then add the eggs and continue to mix gently with a spatula until it is all thoroughly combined.
  4.  Line a 25cm x 25cm baking tray with greased baking paper that overhangs by a few cm to make it easy to remove the brownie later, and pour in the brownie mix, scatter over half of the cherries and push them into the mix.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes (it will be quite wobbly, it will harden on cooling) then remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the baking tray.
  6. Put the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 4 minutes. Brush over the cold brownie.
  7. Remove the brownie from the tin.
  8. Beat the whipping cream until firm then ad the mascarpone and mix well, put it in a piping bag and pipe over the top of the brownie to cover. Decorate with the remaining cherries and a dusting of coca.

 

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Easy Easter Baking: Chocolate Mini Egg Swirls

 

Easter mini egg swirls

I love chocolate mini eggs and I REALLY love the fact that Easter means that they’re usually on special offer, I even love them enough to want to get the pastry out and get baking.

If you haven’t bought the book Bread Revolution by Thoughtful Bread yet or borrowed it from the library then I highly recommend it, thanks to that ace book I made the best cinnamon swirls ever which were my inspiration for these little beauties.

Instead of making a dough I just bought a pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry, it cost just £1 and was brilliant, life’s too short for making your own puff pastry I reckon.

Ingredients: Makes about 10 swirls.

  • 150g soft brown sugar (I used dark)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 120g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 x 375g pack ready rolled puff pastry
  • 300g chocolate mini eggs
  • milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Combine the sugar, flour, butter and ground almonds in a food processor and blitz until completely mixed and powdery.
  2. Lay out the puff pastry, brush with some milk then cover with the flour mix then dot with the mini eggs.
  3. Roll up the pastry very tightly and brush the ends with more milk to help the seams stick, then using a very sharp knife cut a thick slice (about 3cm thick) then use a second knife to help transfer the slice onto a baking paper covered roasting tray. Repeat leaving about 3cms around each round.

Easter chocolate mini egg swirls5. Bake for 15minutes on the middle shelf then reduce temp to 180C and continue to            cook for about 8-10 minutes or until pastry is lightly golden. My oven is really  temperamental so just keep an eye on the first batch. Once cooked transfer onto a cooling rack, dust with vanilla icing sugar whilst hot then once again when cold if you have any swirls that made it that long without being snaffled.

Easter chocolate mini egg swirls

Great to make with kids over Easter

Lick The Spoon – Easter eggs that are really rather special…

lick the spoon easter eggsOh my, these really are rather wonderful indeed. I’ve been meaning to go and visit Lick The Spoon chocolatiers for about a year now as they are based about 2 minutes walk from my sister’s house down in Corsham, Wiltshire. I live about 3 hours away (sadly) and finally managed a visit last time I was down, Lick The Spoon chocolate is now yet another reason to move back home to Bath.

Like many artisan producers Diana started the business from her kitchen table. Having spent many years cheffing her way around Europe and working her way up to Head Chef, she met her husband Matthew, started her family and Lick The Spoon was born.

Diana’s passion for high quality ingredients is evident the moment she starts chatting, she sources the best cocoa from producers such as the truly wonderful Grenada Chocolate Company who are completely organic and even run their machines using solar energy (I love them and their chocolate) and Willies Cacao in Venezuela (my other absolute favourite). Diana then blends her couvertures to compliment the ingredients she is adding to each particular product:

“I adjust the blend depending on which items I’m making…for example, the wonderful fruitiness of the Madagascar blend is a dream with orange or raspberry but doesn’t work with mint and the subtle dried fruit richness of the Grenadan is perfect in rum & raisin…I always develop my recipes to make the best of the couvertures. It’s an ongoing process of course, because cocoa is a natural crop and there are fluctuations in flavour, so I taste test from time to time (hard job!) to make sure the blends are as I expect.”

lick the spoon salted caramel eggs

 

It’s a dream job basically! Diana gave me a pack of her salted caramel mini eggs to try which were rather special. The thin layer of milk chocolate snapped perfectly as I bit in to reveal a soft, luxuriant caramel filling. I think they could be a bit braver with the salt though but otherwise it really was absolutely divine.

lick the spoon milk honeycomb egg

 

Next up was a rather magnificent looking honeycomb Easter egg.  Extra thick chocolate embeddded with big pieces of honeycomb make this an egg for serious chocolate eaters. The chocolate had a perfect snap and melted silkily in my mouth to leave big chunks of homemade honeycomb that still had that lovely sizzle as it hits the tongue. Bloody splendid stuff.

lick the spoon

Just look at that thick chocolate and honeycomb…*drool*

Lick The Spoon have a shop in Cirencester but you can find their chocolates in luxury London shops such as Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges, John Lewis, Harvey Nicks and various farm shops and delis across the country. I highly recommend popping into Dick Willows Cider farm, just outside Bath where I first discovered them, and stocking up on some scrumpy and chocolate 🙂 or you can buy direct from Lick The Spoon’s online shop.

Each of their chocolates is decorated by hand by one of the chocolate makers, who really are chocolate artists. Check out these incredible edibles:

lick the spoon

 

Great handmade chocolate made using the best quality ingredients doesn’t come cheap, and it shouldn’t come cheaply either, but if you want to spoil someone (or yourself) then I absolutely recommend shelling out (geddit? I’m HILARIOUS *ahem*) for a top quality Easter egg from Diana and Matthew.

 

 

 

Beetroot, Chocolate and Cardamom Brownies

squidgy, fudgy brownies that count towards your 5 a day…

Oh brownies how I love you and your squidgy, gooey wonderment. Yesterday I headed into the BBC Radio Leicester studio to see presenter Ben Jackson with whom I do the Food friday radio cooking sessions with and gardening guru, chilli head and all round ace guy Ady Dayman. I decided to bake them something using goodies from my tiny garden and despite managing to set fire to the baking parchment TWICE during cooking the brownies turned out pretty damn awesome.

Ben and Ady enjoying the brownies during the phone in…

I managed to get to the studio whilst they were still warm and joined Ben and Ady for the Gardening phone-in, you can listen to us giving seasonal gardening and food tips by clicking here. It was a fab afternoon and the brownies went down a storm, even with Ben’s producer Nam who is somewhat vegetable averse! That’s the secret to people who don’t like vegetables, cover them in CHOCOLATE 🙂

They are really easy to make too:

Ingredients:

I use a mug to measure everything out in, my mug holds 350ml water.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 mug caster sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cardamom powder (or 8 crushed cardamom seed pods)
  • 1/2 mug  good rapeseed oil (or olive oil would be nice also)
  • 1 capful good vanilla extract
  • 2 beetroot (about tennis ball size)
  • 1 mug plain flour
  • 3/4 mug cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
Method:
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Put some gloves on or you will get very purple hands from handling the beetroot. Peel the raw beetroot, chop roughly and put into a food processor until chopped finely. If you don’t have a processor just grate the beetroot.
  2.  In a large bowl whisk the eggs, sugar and cardamom powder until quite creamy (I use an electric whisk but a hand whisk will be fine) then whilst still whisking pour in your oil in a steady stream.
  3.  Tip in your beetroot and stir in until fully mixed together.
  4. Sift in your flour, salt and cocoa and fold into the mixture completely.
  5.  Line and grease a 20cmX30cm tin, pour in your brownie mix and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until you can insert a skewer into the centre and just a few crumbs are stuck to it.  Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating if you can manage to resist, sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar and serve warm with some good vanilla ice cream.
If you find that your brownies are still too squidgy for you just pop them back in the oven for a little bit longer.

Radio Leicester food friday: ginger and caramel trifle

The lovely Ben Jackson from BBC Leicester in my kitchen

So every month the wonderful Ben Jackson heads out to my cottage in Melton Mowbray to record a cooking session.  Last time we made my divine Melton Mess which went down a storm with the radio team and listeners so this time I made another really simple dessert, in real time, for people to make this weekend:  I made a rum, ginger, chocolate trifle….yum!

What happens each time is that Ben arrives, we spend about an hour and a half catching up, geeking out about food and inevitably about knives! I was at the BBC Good Food Show on Wednesday and saw the gorgeous Natalie from I.O.Shen knives and came home with the most beautiful new Sahm Khom knife. Now Ben loves a good knife just as much as I do so when he felt it slice through a potato using just it’s own weight it really was love at first slice!

This link will take you to the recording, I am 1hr:42 into the show .Now I’ve just listened to it again as lots of people have sent me messages saying how rude it sounds! Yes, I *may* have sniggered at the name “Willy” but it would seem the whole 10 mins is all a bit naughty…something to do with the sounds of the cream and custard being whipped and our noises….

The mini version with oozy caramel filling

Ingredients:
  • 1 x Jamaican Ginger Cake
  • 35-100ml Golden or dark rum (depending on how boozy you like it, obviously I used 100ml!) or for non  alcoholic version use stem ginger syrup.
  • 100g milk/dark chocolate
  • 1 x 500g pot fresh custard
  • 1 x capful vanilla extract
  • 300ml pot whipping cream
  • 1 x 400g tin dulche du leche/tinned caramel (or make your own from a tin of  sweetened evaporated milk)
  • buttons/grated chocolate to garnish
Method:
Slice your ginger cake and lay it on the bottom of your trifle dish and pour over your rum and spoon over a layer of dulce du leche. Melt the chocolate, add your vanilla extract then whisk in your pot of custard.  Allow the custard to cool then layer it over the caramel. Whip your cream, spoon it over the chocolate custard and garnish with your grated chocolate/chocolate buttons. See, dead easy!

I always open my cupboards and introduce him to fab food products that I come across and send him home with a bit of a goody bag! We spent a long time talking BBQs, Ben has just acquired his first Weber and so I introduced him to the wonderful Laissez Chef new Orleans spice blend, yep he fell in love with that too! Her is now also a new convert to Essential Cuisine powdered stocks having tried their powdered veal and Little Doone Ginger Balsamic which I discovered at the show which also blew me away.

So I will be cooking again in 4 weeks time with Ben but in a couple of weeks I am taking him around my local Farmer’s Market so he can meet my favourite producers. Ahhh we can geek out about food all morning!

Jubilee Choc Pops!

Ready and set in about 20 minutes

In the run up to this Jubilee weekend I have seen dozens of Jubilee Battenburgs and Union Jack cupcakes on Twitter and glossy magazines. My nod to the red white and blue mania that’s so abundant at the moment are these Choc Pops that I made for Domestic Sluttery.  If you haven’t visited the Sluttery website then you really are missing out on a whole host of awesomeness that covers food, travel, fashion, homewares and booze, yes, there is lots of booze.

Because chocolate can always be naughtier

You should most definitely check out the naughty bunting that caused a bit of a fuss the other day then buy some and make some of these naked chocolate people and head off to the village Jubilee tea party….

Whats in store for 2012?

So its that time again when we are bombarded with food trend predictions for the coming year – so here are mine. Some predictions, some wishful thinking but ones that are relevant to my life.

1 Cupcake Fatigue

I don’t know about you but I am sick to death of seeing cupcakes everywhere. What Bridget Jones did for Chardonnay a decade ago the onslaught of TV baking programmes have done for the cupcake.  Even the lovely Edd Kimber the 2010 Great British Bake Off winner who dislikes cupcakes “reluctantly” included 2 recipes for them in his book The Boy who Bakes.  At this years Leicester Winter Food and Drink Festival there were stall after stall of women making cupcakes that looked pretty much exactly like the next, and the next, and the next.  While I love the fact that people are taking the bowl by the horns and setting up food businesses from home, it did make me feel sad that they were all basically cookie cutter copies of each other: Bunting: check. Cutesy name: check. Vintage looking tableware bought from Argos: check. Disappointment that everyone else has also made that Lemon & Poppyseed cupcake: check. And like the ABC backlash (Anything But Chardonnay) that soon followed the Bridget Jones booze boom, I am keeping my fingers crossed for Anything But Cupcakes.

2: Own a Pig Schemes

Where last year was definitely the year of the home chicken keeper I think this coming year will see a rise in more people opting for this method of meat purchase.  If you haven’t heard of these schemes the basic gist is you pay a pig farmer for a piglet that the farmer then takes complete care of.  The pig will be a traditional, slow growing breed that you can go and visit and feed and then when it is ready (about 6-7 months) the pig is slaughtered and butchered to however you fancy and you know that you are eating meat that has lived a happy life and will taste all the better for it. Neighbours can club together for one, pubs, community groups or you can just keep all the meat for yourselves! Personally I think if you are planning on getting married this summer and want a hog roast then this is definitely the way to go!

A few Own a Pig schemes: HerePigPig, Samphire Shop, Chater Valley, Emmas Pigs, Chalk Newton. There are several dotted about the country so just google it and find one near you.

3: Chocolate

Where 2011 was the year of the salted caramel chocolate, I’m hoping 2012 will see many more experimental chocolatiers such as the wonderful Paul A Young and Boutique Aromatique appear and hopefully the high street start to catch on so more people start trying new flavour combinations.  People at home will start experimenting with making chocolates using flowers and herbs from their gardens and raiding their spice jars. Well, I will be anyway. If you are up for experimenting I have it on good authority that Global Harvest’s wild Fennel pollen is incredible in a chocolate truffle!

4: Kombucha

2011 was a big year for sourdough and now homes all over the country have a jar of sourdough starter (most likely named) in their fridges.  Well, for me at least, my new starter is going to be a Kombucha tea.  While it may look like an alien creature has been captured and preserved in formaldehyde it is actually really easy to make and keep alive once you have got your hands on a starter culture.  I first came across Kombucha tea 17 years ago on the window sill of the most wonderful hippy lady and I was completely engrossed in this brown living entity inside the tea filled jar.  She said I could have one of its “babies” if I wanted but seeing as at the time I was living in the woods in the Forest of Dean with lots of other hippies it seemed somewhat impractical! These days I have a cottage complete with a kitchen so theres no excuse but to give it a go.

5. Sheep’s Curd Cheese

This year I discovered Homewood fresh Sheeps curd and it was a revelation. It is just the most wonderful lemony, soft, creamy cheese that has that beautiful sweet sheep’s milk taste. Perfect for deserts and the cheese board alike this is a definite winner.  Soft fresh sheep’s cheese is really hard to come by in the UK as it has such a short shelf life.  I picked mine up from Neston Park Farm Shop just outside of Bath but Abel and Cole also deliver it and Tim can be found at Bath’s Farmers Market. I really hope this style of cheese becomes much more popular in 2012 so that it becomes much more widely available!

6. Better Farmer’s Markets

Earlier this year I contacted the organiser of a Farmers Market about having a stall.  I was met with the response: “sorry, we already have a stall selling those”. I was stunned. I receive emails from this Market that travels around our area that always ask for street performers to turn up in order to make the market more vibrant.  Its the stalls themselves that should be the vibrant element! Only allowing one artisan bread stall, one organic veg, one chutneys and jams, one cake etc is why the market looks so small and depressing.  Farmers markets in this country can be incredibly limited whereas if you wander around a Farmers Market in somewhere like France or Spain you find a buzzing cornucopia of stalls to excite your senses and tickle your fancy.  Times are hard for our small producers and they need all the support that we can give. You may be lucky enough to have a fantastic, vibrant Farmer’s Market that offers the shopper plenty of choice but if you don’t, perhaps ask the Market Manager why.

7. Slow Cookers

Our purse strings are tighter therefore our cuts of meat are tending to be cheaper. My kitchen has always been a lovely safe haven for underrated cuts of meat to take pride of place on the plate, but thanks to TV chefs popularising these cuts they are now (rather annoyingly for those who have always loved them) becoming more expensive! The muscles that work the hardest taste the best in my book but as a result of all that hard work they tend to need a long, gentle cook. Our time, however, is becoming more heavily demanded upon and with energy prices rocketing the Slow Cooker is the perfect solution. Oxtail stews, Beef cheek casseroles, Mutton curries, Partridge tagines, poached Ox tongue, my slow cooker revels in them all!

8. A fresh look at Ale

Ale is traditionally seen as the domain of men but according to Sara Barton, founder of Brewsters Brewery, brewers up until around 1600 were predominantly female and were called Brewsters. This year I discovered the deliciously floral Brewsters Pale Ale made down the road in Grantham by Brewsters founder Sara. This was another joyful taste discovery of 2011 and has become a firm favourite of mine.  I like my ales golden, floral and light and this was just perfect.  Also this year we made several trips to Burrough on the Hill to the Parish Brewery to stock up on Trudy’s Tipple, a beautiful Elderflower Ale brewed right next door to their pub Grants Free House.  Morrisons has been experimenting this Christmas with small batch releases of more unusual ales. Their Chestnut Ale one sold out almost immediately and they are currently selling a Chocolate and Vanilla Stout which I didn’t expect to like but actually really enjoyed.  There is a slight shift happening in the world of ales and more and more women are getting back into the craft including Claire Monk, head brewer at another local Brewery The Welbeck Abbey Brewery.  There will always be the traditional brews out there but its fantastic to see some fresh flavours coming through for palates like mine. 

9. Sweet Chestnut Honey, Dukkah, Lapsang Souchong

Ok so these are just ingredients that I really hope become more popular in 2012!  I am a huge fan of Sweet Chestnut Honey and use it in stews, deserts, drizzles, dressings you name it.  Its a powerful flavour so use sparingly.  I’m particularly fond of it on toast with a thin layer of Marmite but hey, thats just me.  Dukkah is another underrated kitchen staple.  Its ridiculously easy to make and roasted new potatoes or bread dipped into your favourite oil then into a crunchy Dukkah dip can’t be beaten.  I love making my own and throw plenty of nuts and seeds into the grinder with the spices. If you can’t be bothered to make your own then check out Gourmet Spice Co for some ready made pots of their Pukka Dukkah. I have also been having a bit of a love affair with smoked tea.  Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea that has been smoke-dried over pinewood therefore giving it an intense deep smokiness that is just wonderful in cooking.  A few strands make a world of difference to stews, spirits, deserts etc.  It really is worth spending the money on a good quality tea with thick strands.  A little goes a long way and stored in an airtight jar it lasts ages.

10 A few things I’d like to see the back of in 2012

Anything thats referred to as “deconstructed” on a menu. Keep the dish  but lose the name.

Restaurants pretending to love local, seasonal food but actually sneakily buying the vast majority in from abroad (a whole separate blog post coming soon, grrr).

Cupcake craziness (also Cakepops…why?).

People making restaurant reservations and then not bothering to turn up – wishful thinking to see the back of this one but Australian restaurants are making a Twitter stand against it by naming and shaming the offenders.

Sliders. I want my burger to be roughly half the size of my face thanks.  Keep mini-food to the canapé tray please.

Restaurants putting things on the plate that you can’t eat just for decoration.

So thats my 2 pennies worth of musings for 2012. I also think Dorset and Norfolk are going to be the really important food destinations outside of London in 2012 and people are going to be getting really heavily into home charcuterie. If you fancy trying your hand at it well I can’t recommend anyone better than Marc Frederic and his book  Le Charcutier Anglais. Overall I think its going to be an exciting year for food and drink.  Happy New Year! x