Chocolate fondant

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It’s either the saviour or the downfall of Masterchef contestants everywhere. If perfected then in the words of Gregg Wallace “Ah, mate, I tell you what, that’s the sort of thing I would dip my head in”. If it doesn’t work then there’s no bigger disappointment and a contestant’s dream will be fading fast. But! I’m here to tell you that it need not be the downfall of the home cook. Sure, it takes a bit of time, and you need to stick to the recipe instructions meticulously, but this is my go-to impressive pudding for a dinner party and it has worked every time. I really hope you give this recipe a go, and please let me know if you do – it’s such a satisfying dessert to make. Good luck!
Ingredients for melt-in-the-middle chocolate fondants
Ingredients (serves 4)
25g butter, melted
4 tsp cocoa powder
100g dark chocolate
100g butter
Large shot of chocolate liquor (or any liquor of your choice)
2 medium eggs, plus two extra yolks
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour
Double cream or ice-cream to serve

Method
1. Brush the inside of four small pudding tins or ramekins with the melted butter.
Pudding tins to be prepared for chocolate fondants
Use upward strokes with a pastry brush to line the sides – this helps the puddings to rise nicely.
Brushing the inside of the pudding tin in upward strokes 1
Brushing the inside of the pudding tin in upward strokes 2
Place in the freezer for 10 minutes, or in the fridge for 30 minutes, and brush on a second layer of butter when the first has hardened. Chill again.
Double line the pudding tins with melted butter
2. Put a teaspoon of cocoa powder into each tin, shake and tip out in order to completely coat the inside – this stops the puddings from sticking to the tins and will guarantee your little cakes will tip out easily after cooking.
Sprinkle cocoa powder onto the butter to line the tins
3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Melting dark chocolate and butter in a bain-marie
Melted chocolate and butter cooling to room temperature
4. Add a shot of your chosen liquor to the chocolate mixture and stir well.
Adding chocolate liquor to the melted dark chocolate and butter 1
Adding chocolate liquor to the melted dark chocolate and butter 2
Chocolate liquor will result in a deeper, richer chocolate flavour, but coffee or mint liquor, Cointreau or brandy would all work as well.

5. Use an electric whisk to beat the eggs and sugar together.
Eggs and sugar to be whisked for chocolate fondants
You need to achieve a really thick, bubbly texture so keep whisking until the mixture turns considerably lighter in colour and the batter leaves a trail from the whisks.
Beating the eggs and sugar to form a thick fluffy mixture
You can of course use a hand whisk, but be warned, you will need guns of steel.

6. Sift the flour into the egg mixture and beat to combine.
Sifting plain flour into the eggs and sugar mixture
Plain flour sifted into the eggs and sugar mixture
Beating the flour into the eggs and sugar
7. Add the chocolate a bit at a time, beating well to ensure that it incorporates evenly into the batter.
Starting to add the chocolate mixture to the fondant batter
Chocolate and butter fully combined into the fondant batter
8. Now you’re ready to fill the pudding tins or ramekins. I find that the easiest and most mess-free way to do this is to transfer the batter into a jug and then pour the mixture into the tins from there.
Chocolate fondant batter ready to be poured into tins
Fill the tins evenly and then chill in the fridge until ready to cook – wait at least 30 minutes, but you can leave them overnight if you’re preparing ahead.
Pudding tins filled with fondant batter
9. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Place the puddings on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. I have always found that this timing works perfectly, so I trust it every time and don’t let myself be tempted to take them out sooner or leave them in longer.
Chocolate fondants after baking
The puddings should rise out the tins slightly and be well cooked round the outside, but soft in the centre.

10. Gently tip the fondants out onto small plates or bowls (this should be easy due to the double layer of butter and the cocoa powder in steps 1 and 2).
Double chocolate fondant
Serve with lashings of double cream or good quality vanilla ice-cream.
Chocolate fondant served with double cream 1
Chocolate fondant served with double cream 2
Sit back and revel in the ooh-s and aah-s that will ensue as your guests cut into the fondants and the chocolate centre oozes out. To. Die. For.

Christmas pudding

Wrapping up the Christmas pudding for storing
Christmas pudding after the first steam
I know, I know: IT’S NOT EVEN DECEMBER YET, SHUT UP ABOUT CHRISTMAS. I feel ya. I’m a great believer in no Christmas decorations, shopping or music before December. Don’t get me wrong, I bloody love Christmas and all the festivities that go with it. The moment December 1st arrives I will be all Micheal Bublé on repeat, festively scented candles and wreath-making. Let’s savor the festive period for a few weeks, packing in as many glasses of mulled wine and repeats of Elf as possible. But let’s not drag it out too long until the sight of another mince pie makes you feel a bit queasy and the sound of Mariah Carey singing All I Want For Christmas makes you want to smash your head off a wall. Nobody needs that.

However, there are quite a few Christmas recipes that need weeks, if not months, of storing and maturing before they are ready, so in this case we’ll make an exception and think about Christmas early. The best of these recipes is, of course, Christmas pudding. This is my Grandma’s recipe and I can safely say that it is the best and only Christmas pudding recipe you will ever want or need. It’s an all-in-one Christmas dessert, with sweet dried fruits, festive spices and warming alcohol.

For me, there is something happy and sentimental about Christmas puddings. I love the traditions that come with making it, that are either old (hiding a sliver coin inside, which brings wealth in the new year to the finder) or new (for example, Colum and I having to nearly set fire to a kitchen each year during the flaming, or spiking the pudding with brandy from a syringe as it matures); the stories of forgotten Christmas puddings discovered at the back of the cupboards after years, which are still edible and in fact the tastiest ones of all; and the fun of the pudding on Christmas Day when the lights are dimmed, the flaming pudding is ceremoniously presented and my little cousin manages to pack away 5 large portions.

Traditionally, Christmas pudding is made on “Stir-up Sunday”, which is the last Sunday before the season of Advent and this year it is Sunday 23rd November. That’s this Sunday people! Also traditionally, everyone in the household has to give the mixture a stir and I guess this is another reason why I love this recipe so much. Gather everyone together this Sunday, fill your house with an early treat of Christmas smells and then enjoy the satisfaction when you pull out your matured homemade Christmas pudding in four and a half weeks time!
Ingredients for Christmas pudding
Ingredients (makes one small pudding)
85g plain flour
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp salt
125g vegetarian suet – it doesn’t need to be vegetarian but I like to be prepared just in case
85g breadcrumbs
175g currants
175g raisins
125g sultanas
125g dark brown demerara sugar
85g chopped mixed peel
125g grated apples
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 large egg
½ small wineglass of brandy
A bottle or can of stout
A well-washed silver coin

Method
1. Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large bowl.
Flour, spices and salt for sifting
Sieved flour, spices and salt
2. Add the suet, sugar, bread crumbs, dried fruit and peel, and mix very well.
Dry ingredients for Christmas pudding
Mixed dry ingredients for Christmas pudding
3. Add the grated apple and lemon rind, and mix well again.
Adding grated apple to the Christmas pudding mix
4. Beat the egg and add in, then add the lemon juice and brandy, and mix well one more time.
Adding brandy to the Christmas pudding mix
5. Add a little stout until the mixture is quite moist (but not too wet!). Usually a substantial amount of the bottle is leftover so one lucky helper will get to polish it off…
Grease your bowl well. Put about half the mixture in and then pop in your clean silver coin (don’t forget to remind everyone that there is a coin hidden inside when it comes to serving…we don’t want any chipped teeth!).
Hiding a silver coin in the Christmas pudding
Fill the bowl with the remaining mixture.
Christmas pudding mixture
6. Cover the pudding with cloth, foil or baking paper (or a combination) and tie tightly with string to keep out the steam.
Preparing the Christmas pudding for the first steam 1
Preparing the Christmas pudding for the first steam 2
Place on top of a small plate, in a large pan and fill with a few inches of water. Cover with a lid and steam on a low heat for 8 hours – keep an eye on the water level to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.
First steam of the Christmas pudding
7. When cool, wrap well in a few layers of new foil, baking paper or wax paper and tie tightly with string again. Store for at least 4 or 5 weeks, or any time longer!
Wrapping up the Christmas pudding for storing
8. On the day you are serving the pudding, re-steam in the same way for 3 hours. Top with a sprig of holly, flame with some lightly warmed brandy and serve with cream or, even better, homemade white sauce.

….and of course I can’t let this post go by without pointing out the adorable, and aptly lettered, bowl that I made this year’s pudding in, which was bought for me by my dad…

Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse served with redcurrants and creme fraiche
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 for homemade dark chocolate mousse
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.
Dark chocolate in a bain marie
Melted dark chocolate
2. Separate the eggs and beat the two yolks together well.
Seperating eggs for homemade chocolate mousse
3. Pour the yolks into the cooled melted chocolate and mix well to form a thick, glossy mixture.
Adding egg yolks to melted chocolate for chocolate mousse
Dark chocolate and egg yolk mixture for` chocolate mousse
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.
Egg whites whisked until stiff
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.
Chocolate mousse to be spooned into dishes
6. Spoon the mixture into two small dishes or glasses and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.
Dark chocolate mousse to be chilled
When you’re ready to serve, top the chocolate mousses with your chosen fruit and a small spoon of crème fraiche.
Chocolate mousse served with redcurrants and creme fraiche 1
Chocolate mousse served with redcurrants and creme 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!

Mini puff pastry apple pies

Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
The days are getting a little shorter, the temperature has dropped a noticeable few degrees and a few tell-tale leaves are already turning brown. It’s all pointing to the inevitable fact that Autumn is creeping up on us. Perhaps we still have a few more warm September days to come, but if not we have lots to look forward to: cold mornings with hot porridge, crisp afternoons with a bowl of soup or a steaming mug of hot chocolate and evenings wrapped in a blanket while tucking in to a hearty stew or a slice of pumpkin pie. Although eating apples aren’t quite ripe yet, the cooking apple tree at my grandparents’ house was laden with a huge crop of fruit. At the weekend we helped strip the tree bare, ending up with buckets and boxes and bags of cooking apples. A traditional apple pie made with short crust pastry is a beautiful thing, but here is something just a little bit different – miniature individual apples pies made with puff pastry.

I’ve been planning to share a recipe for puff pastry with you for a while now, and pastry week on Great British Bake Off seemed like the perfect timing. Puff pastry is a scary beast for most people, and we always hear chefs telling us not to bother making it from scratch, but to buy the ready-made pastry available in the shops. Now there’s nothing wrong with using shop-bought puff pastry – it’s relatively cheap, easy to store and use and cuts down cooking by a reasonable amount of time – and I often do so. However, “rough puff pastry” is actually very, even surprisingly, straightforward to make. Granted, “proper puff pastry” is a little more complicated, but this quicker version below produces beautifully light, flaky, buttery pastry.
Ingredients for mini puff pastry apple pies
Ingredients (makes 12 individual pies)
190g flour
Pinch of salt
125g chilled butter, cut into cubes
100ml iced water
400g cooking apples (about 4 small apples)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and lightly butter a 12-hole muffin tin.
2. Add the butter to the flour and salt and mix to coat.
Chilled and cubed butter and flour
3. Add 10 tbsp of the iced water, stirring with a knife to roughly combine. Add a little extra water if the mixture seems much too dry, but don’t worry that the mixture doesn’t come together completely – you need to be able to gather the mixture together with your hands, but you don’t want it to be wet.
Adding iced water to the puff pastry mix
4. Flour a surface and tip the pastry out, forming into a rough rectangle with your hands.
Making puff pastry - gathering the ingredients together
5. Gently roll the rectangle longer. Again, don’t be scared if the mixture cracks a little at this point, it will become smooth soon.
Making puff pastry - the first roll
6. Fold the top third down on itself, and the bottom third up over this.
Making puff pastry - folding down the top third
Making puff pastry - folding up the bottom third
7. Turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat this process of rolling and folding. Repeat a total of 4 or 5 times, until you have a lovely smooth block of pastry. Wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 15 minutes while you make the filling. (If chilling for longer, leave it in the fridge and take out 10 minutes before you need to roll, so that it’s not too hard. This pastry can be frozen if you want to store for another day.)
Making puff pastry - the pastry after 4 or 5 roll-and-fold processes
8. Peel, core and chop the apples into very chunks. Mix together with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Apple pie filling flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla
9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and roll out to a half centimetre thickness on a well-floured surface. Move quickly at this point, since the high butter content of the pastry will make it sticky and hard to work with if it gets too warm. Use a pastry cutter to cut 12 circles of pastry and gently press them into the buttered tin. Fill with a large spoon of the apples.
Filling the mini apple pies with the cinnamon and vanilla apple mixture
10. Dab a little egg around the edges of the pastry using a pastry brush to help stick the pie tops and bottoms together. Cut another 12 circles of pastry, lay them over the filling and gently press round the edges with a fork. Brush egg over the tops of the pies and make two small cuts on the top of each pie with a sharp knife to allow any steam to be released from the pies during cooking.
Mini puff pastry apple pies ready to be baked
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies on a wire rack
These can be eaten warm from the oven, or you can let them cool completely and then reheat them at 180C for about 5 minutes. They will keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days.
Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
Mini puff pastry apple pie
Serve these with cream or ice-cream for dessert, or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. This is also how I usually make mince pies at Christmas time, replacing the apples with mincemeat, but for now miniature apple pies seem like the best way to celebrate the fact that Autumn has really arrived.

Grilled pineapple with rum

Grilled pineapple with rum and brown sugarThis is an almost embarrassingly easy dessert recipe. It’s perfect for a last-minute pudding panic, for using up ripe pineapple or for a dinner party where you really want to keep the cooking simple. Although it’s incredibly quick and straightforward, this is a super tasty and refreshing dish. The sugar on top becomes dark and caramelized with a bitter taste, the rum gives a light kick and if you’ve picked a perfectly ripe pineapples then the fruit is sweet and juicy.

Top tip: to check whether a pineapple is ripe before buying, gently pull on one of the leaves. If it comes away easily then the pineapple is ripe, if not then root around for another one.
Ingredients for rum grilled pineapple
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 ripe pineapple
4-6 tsp brown sugar
Small shot of dark rum

Method
1. Heat the grill to high.
2. Cut the pineapple into quarters – if you’d like to make this easier then you can cut the top off, but I think it looks prettier to keep it on. Use a sharp knife to remove the hard core and then slice down to (but not through) the skin at 2-3cm intervals.
Preparing the pineapple quarters
3. Lay the pineapple quarters on a grill tray lined with foil.
Preparing the pineapple quarters
4. Pour a couple of teaspoons of rum over each quarter, followed by the brown sugar.
Topping the pineapple with sugar and rum
5. Place under the hot grill for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar is bubbling and the pineapple is warmed through.
Grilled pineapple with rum and brown sugar
These are lovely enjoyed by themselves, though you could also serve it with some vanilla, or even rum and raisin, ice cream.
Grilled pineapple with rum and brown sugar

Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse

Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
This is an absolute killer of a recipe. It’s perfect for a dinner party or special weekend meal because it tastes divine and looks both appropriately impressive and ridiculously pretty, but is actually very simple to make. It does require a little last minute work, but you can prepare steps 1 to 3 in advance and then spend less than 10 minutes in the kitchen between the main course and pudding.

This recipe comes from Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David, one of the highest members of the royal family of cookery writers. It’s a retro-looking book that’s been sitting on my parents’ shelves for decades, but it’s packed with gorgeous seasonal recipes and this is one of the best. This is barely altered from the book – the only change is that we heat the berries before squeezing the juice from them as it makes it easier to extract the maximum amount.

This is our go-to recipe for a fancy dessert during the summer months when my dad’s allotment provides a glut of redcurrants and raspberries, though the beauty of it is that if you freeze the berries when they’re at their peak you can have a taste of summer all year round. A word of warning before we start: you really want an electric whisk for this recipe. Believe me, it’s extremely hard to achieve the right consistency with a hand whisk; even my mum, who is vehemently against the use of an electric hand whisk, admits it is necessary for this one dish!
Ingredients for hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
Ingredients (serves 2-3 generously)
110g raspberries
100g redcurrants
60g sugar
1 egg white
Crème fraiche, to serve

Method
1. Weigh out the berries, removing the redcurrants from their stalks – the quickest way to do this is to run a fork down the length of the stalk.
Raspberries and redcurrants for a hot berry mousse
2. Warm the berries in a pan until they begin to release their juice and become soft.
Raspberries and redcurrants for cooking to release their juice
Cooked raspberries and redcurrants
3. Sieve the juice from the berries, using the back of a spoon to squish out as much as you can from the seeds and pulp. Stir the sugar into the warm juice.
Straining the fruit juice from redcurrants and raspberries
Redcurrant and raspberry juice for a hot berry mousse
4. Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks.
Egg white to be whisked for a hot berry mousse
Whisked egg white for a hot berry mousse
5. Put the juice and egg whites into a pan over a low heat and whisk continually for about 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken and rise substantially. Remove from the heat when you have achieved a smooth, fluffy consistency.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
6. Serve in small tumblers or wine glasses, topped with red berries and crème fraiche.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
The flavour of this mousse is an incredible mixture of sharp and sweet, almost like a berry sherbet, and the texture is as light as air. The warmth is a really unusual element that I’ve never come across in a mousse before and it contrasts beautifully with a dollop of chilled crème fraiche.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
If left for too long the mixture splits, leaving a layer of juice at the bottom, however good whisking will ensure this doesn’t happen too quickly. Immediate serving and quick eating will also guarantee avoiding this!…