Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Chocolate

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

“There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate” – Linda Grayson

Like so many regrettable decisions, this one seemed like a good idea at the time. Surrounded by selection boxes, tins of biscuits and assorted boxes of chocolates, with the remains of half a Christmas Cake still to be eaten, and an almost malevolent Chocolate Santa, goading us from under the tree with his chocolatey-goodness, the decision to stop buying cakes and biscuits from January 1st made perfect sense. “By the time we finish all this, we won’t WANT any more treats!” we mumbled between mouthfuls, wiping crumbs away from our faces, then tearing open the wrapper of another Curly-Wurly.

How naive. How terribly, terribly naive…

The get-out clause that, at home, we could only eat cakes and biscuits we made ourselves was a sensible, if ill-thought out, back-up plan. Because it’s a plan that requires restraint. So when I open the press and look for a packet of biscuits to eat with my mid-morning coffee, my natural reaction, upon finding the cupboard bare, should be to look a shelf lower, and take a handful of nuts and raisins instead.

And not, say, I don’t know,  to pick an example out of the sky, to spend the rest of the afternoon making a Chocolate Hazelnut Tart instead.

To whit, please find below a recipe for Nut and Rais … Chocolate Hazelnut Tart.

Another smashing recipe from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy, which I seem to be slowly but surely working my way through. This double chocolate tart is really luscious, so caution is advised – small portions are the order of the day. Serve with slightly whipped cream sweetened with a couple of spoons of sieved icing sugar (and an obligatory cup of coffee).

INGREDIENTS – CHOCOLATE PASTRY

2 egg yolks

seeds of a vanilla pod or 2 drops of vanilla extract

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) butter, softened

165g (5 1/2oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

40g (1 1/2oz) good cocoa powder

pinch of salt

INGREDIENTS – CHOCOLATE FILLING

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) good (at least 60% cocoa solids or more) dark chocolate, grated

1 egg

2 egg yolks

130g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

60g (2 1/2oz) plain flour

80g (3 oz) hazelnuts, chopped and toasted, plus a handful for sprinkling

EQUIPMENT

23cm (9″) loose-bottomed tart tin, about 3cm high

 

To make the pastry, put the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar in a bowl and mix together. Add the butter and mix briefly until well combined. Add the flour, cocoa powder and the salt and, using your hands, mix together to make a soft dough. Use as few strokes as possible to bring the mixture together and uniform. This way the pastry will remain crumbly and tender when cooked.

Scoop up the pastry with your hand and bring together to form a ball. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200degC (400F), Gas Mark 6.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Line the tart tin with the pastry. Take a small ball of pastry rolled in flour and use it to ease the pastry into the “corners” of the tart tin. Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry around the top of the tin then run a small sharp knife around the edge between the pastry and the tin to loosen it slightly. This will make it much easier to unmould it once it is cooked. Any remaining dough can be used to make small biscuits or the dough can be wrapped up and frozen for up to a month. Place the tart tin in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Once the pastry is firm, remove it from the fridge. Take a piece of baking paper slightly larger then the tart tin and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and place it in the tin. Fill the baking paper with baked beans or dried beans and blind bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry feels firm to the touch.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 160degC (315F), Gas Mark 2-3. Remove the baking beans and baking paper and leave to cool.

For the filling, melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add the grated chocolate and stir well to combine. While this is melting whisk the egg and yolks until they go really pale and frothy, then gradually add the sugar, whisking all the time until the mixture becomes even lighter and more fluffy. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, around the sides rather then the middle so the air, which has been whisked in, does not get knocked out. Fold everything together slowly and gently, keeping is as much air as possible. Fold in the flour and then gently fold in the toasted hazelnuts.

Spoon the mixture into the tart case and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. The top will be just set and the inside still gooey. If the edges of your pastry are going too dark, put foil over them to prevent further colouring.

Leave the tart to cool for 5 minutes. Use oven gloves to push the base to remove it from the tin, then run a palette knife underneath the tart to loosen if necessary. Sprinkle with a handful of hazelnuts before serving.


Chocolate Crackles

Bad New Year’s Resolution: “I will give up eating biscuits and cakes”. Good New Year’s Resolution: “I will only eat biscuits and cakes I make myself”. This first recipe for 2012 is from The Great British Bake-Off How To Bake book, which is one of the three baking cookbooks I was lucky to receive as gifts over Christmas (more to follow from the other two at later dates!). A fantastic book that does justice to a very enjoyable TV show (probably my favourite from last year), it includes all of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s Masterclass recipes, as well as clear step-by-step instructions on how to make the more difficult bakes.

These dark chocolate biscuits are rolled in icing sugar just before baking, which gives them their crazy paving look. The following quantites make about 30, so there’s plenty to put aside in a airtight container to eat over the next five days, or else bring in to work the next day to impress your colleagues!

INGREDIENTS

100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

100g softened unsalted butter

150g light brown muscovado sugar

1 large free-range egg, room temperature

half teaspoon vanilla extract

175g self-raising flour

half teaspoon bicarbonate soda

2-3 tablespoons icing sugar

Put the chopped chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of steaming hot but not boiling water (don’t let the base of the bowl touch the hot water). Leave to melt gently. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir in the butter. When the mixture is completely smooth stir in the muscovado sugar. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Beat the egg with the vanilla just until combined, then add to the bowl. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill for about one hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Divide the chocolate dough into 30 even-ish shaped pieces and roll into neat balls. Spoon the icing sugar into a shallow dish. Roll the balls, one at a time, in the sugar to coat thickly. Set the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing well apart to allow for spreading (bake the biscuits in batches, if necessary).

Bake for 10 minutes for a softer biscuit, or 12 minutes for a crisp result. Remove from the oven and leave on the sheets for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. The biscuits will continue to firm up as they cool.


Afternoon Tea: Lemon Squares, Half-blondie/Half-brownies, Crunchy Top Scones

“There are few hours in life more agreeable then the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

A dining experience that has come back into vogue in the last few years, the rebooted 21st Century Afternoon Tea can sometimes fall between being a stuffy, mock-aristocratic pastiche, or a doilies and egg sandwich “granny chic” event. This article lists a couple of the best options for Afternoon Tea around Ireland.

The key to hosting a successful Afternoon Tea at home is a diversity of sandwich fillings served on a selection of breads, a variety of tea (and coffee) options, and a selection of bite-sized cakes! Tray bakes are your best bet, as they can just be cut into slightly smaller portions then you would normally serve.

I’ve previously blogged about the Half-blondie, Half-brownies – the other treats in the photo are Lemon Squares from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and Crunchy-Topped Sweet Scones from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookbook.

LEMON SQUARES

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

For the base, put 290g plain flour, 70g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, 230g unsalted butter and 2 tsp grated lemon zest in a freestanding electric mixer and beat until the mixer resembles breadcrumbs. Press the dough together with your hands, then press it evenly into the base of a deep baking tray, lined with baking parchment. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until light golden. Leave to cool, with the oven left on, while you make the topping.

Put 210g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 tsps grated lemon juice in a bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until well mixed. Pour carefully over the baked base and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the top has set. Leave to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

CRUNCHY TOP SWEET SCONES

Sieve 450g plain flour, a pinch of salt, 25g caster sugar, and 1 and a half heaped tsp of baking powder into a large bowl. Cut 85g butter into cubes, toss in the flour then rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk 3 eggs with 215ml milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.

Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to 2.5cm and cut into scones with a ring cutter. Put on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with jam and a blob of whipped cream.


National Baking Week – Whoopie Cakes

It’s National Baking Week, so what better excuse is there to get in the kitchen and bake yourself some tasty treats! To celebrate, here’s a batch of Whoopie Cakes from, you’ve guessed it, Baking Made Easy. According to food historians, Amish women would bake these desserts and and put them in farmer’s lunch boxes. When farmers would find these treats, they would shout “Whoopie!”. It is thought the original Whoopie Pies may have been made from cake batter leftovers (thanks Wikipedia!).

Preheat the oven to 170degC and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Heat 120ml milk gently in a saucepan, add 190g demerara sugar, then take the pan off the heat, add 120ml soured cream and stir through to combine. Leave to cool to body temperature. Meanwhile, put 180g plain flour, half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, half a tsp of baking powder, 55g cocoa powder and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl.

Once the milk mixture has cooled, add one egg, plus an egg yolk, a few drops of vanilla extract and 115ml sunflower oil to the pan and stir to combine. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and fold gently together.

Transfer the mixture into a piping bag and pipe circles about 8cm diameter on the line baking trays, spaced about 8cm apart. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out clean.

Leave the whoopie cakes to cool on the trays. Meanwhile, to make the buttercream, beat 200g softened butter, 375g icing sugar, 25g cocoa powder and a few drops of vanilla extract together in a bowl until light and fluffy, and then beat in one tbsp of milk.

Once the whoopies are completely cool, gently release them from the baking paper. Take a generous dollop of buttercream and spread it onto the flat base of one of the whoopies, then sandwich it together with a second whoopie. Repeat with the rest of the cakes.


Home-made Brioche; Grilled Brioche Chocolate Sandwiches

A dish I am planning for the end of the week has brioche as one it’s main ingredients, so I experimented with a brioche recipe over the weekend to make sure I can get it right when I need to make it again.

Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course cookbook is my go-to book whenever I need a straight-forward recipe. Using her ingredients and instructions as a template, I dissolved 7g dried yeast with 25g caster sugar in 30ml of tepid water. I added 2 beaten eggs and poured everything into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. I sieved in 225g of strong white flour and a pinch of salt, and mixed it to a stiff dough with the dough hook on the mixer. When it was smooth I added 112g of soft unsalted butter, in small pieces bit by bit, until it was consistently mixed. It was quick sticky at this stage, and I placed it in an oiled bowl overnight in the fridge.

Traditionally brioche is baked in fluted tins, but I was making mine in a standard loaf tin. I preheated the oven to 180degC and lightly kneaded the dough. I formed it into a rough rectangle and put it into the well-buttered loaf tin, brushing it with a beaten egg. It needs to be left somewhere warm to prove until double in size. Once it has done this gently brush the loaf again with the egg wash and cook in the oven for about half an hour, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

While the brioche is at it’s tastiest served freshly warm with butter and jam, the following day I cut the leftovers into slices, and grated a 100g bar of chocolate between three of the slices. I put another slice on top of the chocolate to form a sandwich, and grilled them on a hot griddle pan on both sides until the chocolate had melted. You need to be careful turning the sandwich halfway as the unmelted chocolate will fall out the side!


Last Rolo Cupcakes

This awesome recipe was contributed by Marjorie’s Kitchen to No Room for Mushrooms, a mushroom-free cookbook with all proceeds going to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin.

Preheat the oven to 180degC. Cream 112g butter with 112g sugar, until light and fluffy. Lightly beat 2 eggs together, and gradually add them to the butter and sugar. Gently fold in 85g sifted self-raising flour and 30g sifted cocoa.

Place 12 cupcake cases in a bun tray and place a spoonful of the mixture in each case. Place a Rolo in the centre of each and top with a little more cake mixture, ensuring the Rolo is covered. Bake in the oven for about 15 mins until they spring back when touched in the centre.

When the cakes have cooled completely, beat 280g icing sugar, 125g butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until light and creamy. Spoon or pipe over the cupcakes, and dust with some sifted cocoa powder.


Broderick’s Bungalow

Nomnomnom… Awesome news for Hansel and Gretel – Brodericks have brought out a Bungalow packed full of tasty treats, wicked witch not included!

No news yet as to when this fusion of confectionery and architecture is due to hit the shelves, but at least it will resolve the issue of which bar to chose the next time I’m in the shops – damn you Rocky Road, you win again!

Keep an eye on their website http://www.brodericksbrothers.com/ and facebook page for more details.