Truffles and Christmas go together like Batman and Robin. Or peanut butter and jam. Or gin, tonic and sunshine. They’re the perfect treat to have around the house over the Christmas holidays, but they also make a lovely present for someone special, and they’re surprisingly straightforward to make (once you master the rolling!). Even better, they can be customised so that they are totally unique to you. I think the flavourings in these ones work particularly well with dark chocolate, with a hit of festive brandy and the odd burst of sea salt, but orange zest and Cointreau would be gorgeous, as would coconut-rum truffles rolled in desiccated coconut, or even sea salt and peanut butter truffles.
Ingredients (makes about 20-25 truffles) 150g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) 150ml double cream 25g butter Pinch of sea salt flakes Brandy
Method 1. Finely chop the dark chocolate into as small pieces as you can – you could also pop it in a food processor if you have one.
It feels like there’s always a long gap between my latest blog posts, since I’ve only been posting one recipe a week for a while now. Life has been busy, especially what with a certain political event happening in my country next Thursday (oh, and I guess there’s that PhD thing to be getting on with too). As much as a healthy dose of democracy is wonderful (and necessary) in life, at times what you really need is a respite from excessive politics. And what is the greatest antidote to politics? No, not alcohol: that is fuel of politics (or at least, “politics” around the dinner table with friends and family). Chocolate. Chocolate is the answer.
This chocolate mousse recipe could not be simpler if it tried – in fact, it comes from a children’s cookery book that we absolutely loved as kids. Posh it up with berries and cream if you want to serve for a fancy dessert, but really this can be whipped up in an instant (barring the chilling time in the fridge) if life is getting just a bit much and you need a large dose of comfort.
Ingredients (serves 2) 60g good quality dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids) 2 eggs Sea salt Berries, or other fruit, to decorate
Crème fraiche for serving
Method 1. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pan of water, without the bowl actually touching the water) over a low heat. Heat slowly until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and set aside to allow the chocolate to cool.
2. Separate the eggs and beat the two yolks together well.
3. Pour the yolks into the cooled melted chocolate and mix well to form a thick, glossy mixture.
4. Add a large pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until the whites are fluffy and make stiff peaks when you lift the whisk.
5. Now the whisked whites need to be combined with the chocolate mixture – this is the trickiest step as you want to retain as much of the air that you just whisked into the whites as possible, so that the mousse has a lovely light texture. A good technique is to add about a third of the whites to the chocolate and stir fairly briskly to combine well and loosen the chocolate mixture. Now add another third of the whites, but this time fold gently with a large metal spoon until just combined – this should be a lot easier since the first batch of egg white went in. Finally fold in the remaining egg white, again folding gently.
6. Spoon the mixture into two small dishes or glasses and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.
When you’re ready to serve, top the chocolate mousses with your chosen fruit and a small spoon of crème fraiche.
This is a rich pudding, with quite a bitter taste from the dark chocolate. You can use a lower coca content if you don’t like that bitter edge, but some gorgeously sweet berries will balance everything out otherwise. Comfort eat away!
We’re not big biscuit eaters in this household. However, that’s not to mean that we won’t say “Yes please” when the right one comes along. It was a lazy Saturday and I had a few hours alone in the flat before we were off out for a game of pitch and putt and then back for a movie night with friends (The Wolf of Wall Street – so brilliant, I highly recommend it). Cookies seemed like the ideal film-watching snack, something sweet and satisfying to graze on with a glass of wine in hand.
Every recipe that I have made from the The Londoner’s blog has turned out beautifully, from meatballs to jerk chicken to banana and Nutella muffins. Her recipes are usually simple and straightforward, but with consistently tasty results. In the back of my mind I remembered seeing a chocolate and peanut cookie recipe, so to my laptop and google it was. I only made a few small tweaks to the original cookie dough recipe: I used dark chocolate and salted peanuts since these were what I had in the cupboards, and added peanut butter for an extra peanut hit. I also slightly reduced the amount of vanilla extract as it seemed like a lot for the amount of dough, and, at £5 a small bottle, vanilla extract is a luxury in my kitchen!
Ingredients (makes 24 large cookies) 170g butter 200g light brown muscavado sugar 100g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk 250g plain flour ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda ½ tsp salt 2 tbsp peanut butter 80g dark chocolate – I used half dark chocolate chips and half dark chocolate broken into chunks
100g salted peanuts
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/180C/Gas Mark 4. 2. Melt the butter over a low heat and mix with the two sugars.
3. Lightly beat the egg and egg yolk with the vanilla and add to the sugar mixture.
4. Weigh out the dry ingredients (flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt) and sift. Or, if you’re too lazy to sift (read: I’m too lazy to sift) give the flour a light whisk: hey presto, lump-free aerated flour! Add the wet ingredients and the peanut butter and mix well.
5. Add the chocolate and peanuts and mix thoroughly so the ingredients are evenly distributed.
6. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper. Wet your hands as this will make it easier to roll the cookie dough without getting it stuck to your hands. Roll the cookies into balls, roughly the size of a golf ball or a little larger, and place on the baking trays. Remember that the cookies will spread quite a lot as they cook so generously space them apart – this meant I had to do mine in two batches, so place the dough in the fridge while you wait for the first batch to cook if you need to do the same.
7. Use a fork to gently press the cookies down. Note: if you don’t do this last step then the cookies will take a little longer to cook, so be aware of this.
8. Bake for 12 minutes and remove onto a wire rack to cool. The cookies will seem incredibly soft when first out the oven but will firm up slightly as they cool, so don’t worry.
These cookies were deeeelicious. The texture is crisp on the edges, but satisfyingly chewy in the middle just as a good cookie should be. The dark chocolate chunks melt slightly and stay gooey after cooling, while the peanuts add a lovely saltiness to the cookies. Salty and sweet is just the best combination right?
I think it’s safe to say that the cookies were a hit: David took a doggy bag of cookies away with him after movie night, Ross has been taking them to work every day since I baked them and I took a couple for some kids I look after: one inhaled the whole cookie in about 30 seconds and the other savoured every mouthful (ate half before swimming, wrapped the rest up, ate half of the half after swimming, wrapped the rest up, ate the final quarter when we got home – unbelievable restraint for a 6 year old, how do I achieve that?!). Both declared “These cookies are even better than the ones from the Commie Pool Café”. If that’s not high praise indeed I don’t know what is.
I’m back! March and April have been two of the craziest months I’ve ever had. It began with three birthdays in one week, immediately followed by Hen/Stag weekends. We moved into our first home and spent just two weeks moving, unpacking, drilling, painting and making multiple trips to Ikea, before we packed up again and sped up north for a fantastic Easter week in the highlands with family and friends. We left a day early to travel to Glasgow to see two of our loveliest friends tie the knot and enjoyed a glorious, fun, exciting and relaxed day celebrating with them in the Scottish sun. And then, this Easter Monday, BAM! No, not bus, but a nice double dose of spring illness. Blocked sinuses, runny noses, sneezing, sore throats: all of the fun. However, life is slowly returning to normal and I’m looking forward to May and June passing in a slightly more chilled fashion….wishful thinking?
Now I have a confession for you. A couple of weeks ago on Instagram I promised to put up the recipe for an Easter cake I was making. I fully intended to – an introduction was written, photos had been taken and the recipe was scrawled in my notebook. However, in the end I wasn’t satisfied with the result. The frosting (ohhhhh the cream cheese frosting), now that I could have eaten an entire bowl of. But the cake itself was just a little too dry. I don’t know if I over baked it or if the recipe needs tweaking but either way it needs another test run (or two). So I’ll save that recipe for another day, but if you’re still with me next Easter then I promise to perfect it by then and hopefully it will be worth the wait!
So today we’re moving on. And we’re moving on to something that I can guarantee you will work and be so ridiculously delicious that you’re actually tempted to go back for a second piece even though you know it will make you queasy. Last night we got to catch up with our old flatmate and dear friend for the first time in a year and half since he jetted off to work in Swaziland. Famed for inventing the greatest party game ever, Does It Float, and for his fish eye stew, he also has the sweetest tooth I know. Seriously, chocolate is not safe in your house if he is there. There was only one thing for it, so I present to you, Triple Chocolate Cheesecake…
Ingredients (serves 10-12, depending on how large you slice!) 250g milk chocolate digestive biscuits 100g butter 300ml double cream 600g cream cheese 300g white chocolate
Dark chocolate to decorate – I used dark chocolate chunks, but you could grate over dark chocolate, use a knife to make chocolate swirls from a large block or melt dark chocolate and drizzle it over the top
Method 1. Place your biscuits in a plastic freezer bag and tie the top. Select your weapon of choice (the trusty rolling pin is a classic, but without one I used the humble tin of beans) and bash the biscuits into small crumbs. Try not to take too much of life’s frustrations out on them or you risk the bag splitting. If you’re worried that you can’t hold back then wrap the bag in a dish cloth just in case. Tip the biscuit crumb into a bowl.
2. Melt the butter and pour over the biscuits. Mix well.
3. Firmly press the buttery biscuit base into a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and place in the fridge to cool – I left mine for a couple of hours but 30 minutes should do it.
4. Slowly melt the white chocolate in a bain marie, ensuring that the bowl with the chocolate in it does not touch the water in the pan underneath. White chocolate can become grainy if it’s heated too much, so be patient. Remember that chocolate has a very low melting point so you can even take it off the heat before all the chunks have melted and it will still fully melt. Set aside to cool slightly.
5. Whip the cream cheese and double cream until thick, but not over whipped. Over whipped cream is a sin.
6. Thoroughly mix in the white chocolate.
7. Spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the base and smooth with the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours, or longer if you have time.
8. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Remove the cake tin and decorate with dark chocolate.
We had the cheesecake with raspberries which I had taken out the freezer a few hours before and sprinkled with a teaspoon of sugar. They went perfectly with the rich, decadent, creamy cheesecake.
Chocoholics, this one is for you!
There’s something about meringues that is pretty magical. Maybe it’s the way that a gloopy, anaemic liquid can be transformed into light, frothy clouds with just a whisk. Or maybe it’s the glossy, bright white mixture that appears once sugar has been added. It could be the texture after cooking, a perfect combination of crisp, soft and chewy. It’s definitely the wonder that only two basic ingredients, egg whites and sugar, can result in such a delicious treat.
Meringues can fit in equally well at afternoon tea or a fancy dinner party, and look impressive, but are easy enough that children love to make them. When we were small we had a wonderful step-by-step children’s recipe book which included a recipe for pavlova that we loved to make. Aged about 10 my little sister gave it a go all by herself. Unfortunately, she misread teaspoon as tablespoon and the end result was, shall we say, a little vinegary in flavour. A valiant attempt, but an advert for reading a recipe thoroughly if ever there was one.
I’d been contemplating making flavoured meringues a lot recently, and with four unused egg whites leftover from the custard I made last Sunday this seemed like the chance. I think the flavours I chose work perfectly together: the sharpness of the fruit, the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the intense sweetness of the meringue itself. If you want to try other flavours then go for it, but be careful when adding anything wet or runny as this can affect the texture of the meringue (for example, in this recipe don’t add any extra zest than stated because of the orange oil that will come with it). If you want plain meringues then just leave the added extras out, they will be just a scrumptious in their natural form.
Ingredients (makes about 14 meringues, depending on size) 4 egg whites 115g caster sugar
115g icing sugar
Zest of 1 small orange 2 tbsp freeze dried raspberries
Orange and pink gel food colourings (optional, but this gives a stunning finish)
150g dark chocolate
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Meringues require an extremely low oven temperature, which cooks them through without burning the outside and dries them out. 2. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. You are really going to want either an electric whisk or someone with tireless biceps to do this.
3. Add the caster sugar a spoon at a time, whisking constantly.
4. Add half the icing sugar, whisk, then add the other half and whisk. Pro tip: do not add the icing sugar while the blades are switched on. This results in unnecessary clouds of powdered sugar billowing around your kitchen and requires a lot of wiping down of surfaces, chairs and toasters.
5. You will now have a glossy, sticky mixture. Remove half of it into a different bowl and gently fold in the orange zest. Fold the freeze-dried raspberries through the remaining mixture.
6. Line 2 baking trays with parchment, not greaseproof, paper. Meringues will stick to greaseproof paper, but not baking parchment. I like to place a small blob of meringue mixture at each corner of the trays, so that the baking parchment has something to stick to and doesn’t slide around.
7. Use a large dessert spoon to create individual mounds of meringue mix on the trays. Dip the end of a skewer into the gel food colouring and swirl through the meringues to your hearts content.
8. Cook the meringues for approximately 1¼ hours, or until they are crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off, turn the meringues upside down and leave in the oven to cool. Pro tip: do not forget that you have meringues in the oven and switch it back on to cook something else. This will lead to burnt meringue (or pavlova, as it was in that case).
9. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water otherwise the chocolate will get too hot.
10. Dip the base of the meringues into chocolate, allowing a few seconds for excess chocolate to drip off. Leave to dry upside down, again on baking parchment.
We had these after a delicious Thai meal that my mum cooked on Saturday. She made her ridiculously simple, but exquisite tasting caramelised oranges. (**BONUS RECIPE** Allow 1 orange per person. Peel and slice. Slowly heat 170g sugar with 140ml water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the juice of ½ a lemon and pour over the sliced oranges. Chill.) As I banged on about before, oranges are at their primes right now, and they went so well with the meringues.
I think that the raspberry meringues would also be amazing served with fresh mixed berries and a generous dollop of cream during the summertime.
Speaking of which, is it summer yet? I have such a hankering for pesto and salad niçoise and fresh strawberries and Pimms.
These brownies were a gift, along with a ridiculously sized growler of porter, for a close friend who turns another year older and wiser today. Ok, maybe just older if the antics of Saturday night are considered. I would argue that the basic brownie recipe that these are based on (Nigella Lawson’s in “How To Be a Domestic Goddess”) is the best out there: a bold claim, I know. If you champion a rival recipe then I would love to hear it!
The original recipe adds chopped walnuts to the brownie mix, but I wanted to do something a bit different. A long list of potential edible extras came to mind: white chocolate chips, peanut butter, marshmallows, raspberries, orange zest, Oreos, and so on. Ross demanded “No Fruit”, but in the end he lost that battle. I think I struck a pretty fair compromise though, by balancing out fruit with booze. Rum and raisin is a classic combination – I love rum and raisin ice-cream – and, once that idea had popped into my head, I just couldn’t let it go without making it. Unfortunately, I had sultanas, not raisins, and the dregs of some apricot liquor, not rum. And so Not-Rum-and-Raisin Brownies were born.
Ingredients (Makes about 15 brownies)
Small handful of sultanas A few glugs of fruit liquor or rum 190g butter 190g good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids is ideal – or higher if you love dark chocolate 3 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 250g caster sugar (Note: this seems like a ridiculous amount of sugar when you weigh it out. We’re making full fat brownies here. Deal with it.) 115g plain flour ½ tsp salt
80g of fudge, chopped into small pieces
1. Soak the sultanas in the liquor and leave for a couple of hours, at least.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Butter an 18cm by 28cm tin (at least 3cm deep) and line with baking parchment. If you leave some excess parchment on either of the long sides then lifting the entire bake out of the tin is much easier.
3. Melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat, stirring until glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.
5. Sift the flour into a separate bowl and add the salt.
6. When the chocolate mixture has cooled enough (unwanted scrambled egg action would be a disaster here), beat in the egg and sugar mixture.
7. Combine the chocolate mixture with the flour. Drain the excess liquid from the sultanas and add to the brownie mixture with the fudge. Beat to a smooth batter.
8. Pour the thick brownie mixture into the lined tin, using a spatula to scrape every last drop out. Give the tin a shoogle (technical term) so that the mixture spreads into the corners.
9. Bake for about 25 minutes, depending on how you like your brownies*.
10. Leave to cool on a baking rack and then cut into pieces. Dust liberally with icing sugar.
*The consistency of brownies is very much a personal preference. 25 minutes in the oven produced a wonderfully fudgy consistency, but if you prefer your brownies soft and gooey in the centre then 20 minutes should do it. Any less than that and you might be scooping out your brownies into a bowl. Do remember that the brownies will keep cooking once they are out the oven.
These went down extremely well, if I do say so myself. The hint of booze was just right and the fudge was slightly melted but still chewy. They are very, very rich so one piece is definitely satisfying enough…unless you are the birthday boy, in which case no one is counting!
Happy Birthday Colum!