Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Lorraine Pascale

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).


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


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


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.


Pumpkin and Rosemary Muffins

These savoury muffins were a flavoursome accompaniment to the Pumpkin and Chilli Soup, as well as being an economic solution to using up leftover pumpkin at Hallowe’en! The baking paper cases can be a bit fiddly, but you can just use normal muffin cases if you prefer. Lorraine Pascale does use the word “scrumbunctiousness” to describe these in her Baking Made Easy book, which is a pretty good point of reference for their moist, light texture.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Cut out 12 squares of baking paper, approx 14x14cm each. Oil the muffin tin and push the squares down into each hole so the paper sticks up. The squares of paper have a habit of popping up out of the holes, which is OK for now as once the muffin mixture is spooned in the squares will stay down.

In a large bowl, sift 180g self-raising flour, 130g wholemeal flour, 1 tsp baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda together, then stir in a good pinch of salt and 3 sprigs of rosemary, very finely chopped. Put aside the wholemeal husks that will be left in sieve, as these will be sprinkled over the top of the muffins.

In a medium bowl, mix 160g of cooked pumpkin (cut into .5cm dice), 2 lightly beaten eggs, 100ml plain yoghurt, 275ml milk, 3 big squidges of honey and 60ml vegetable oil – stir well until they are all combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and, using a large spoon and about 8 turns, mix all the ingredients together. It does not take much to over-mix muffins at this stage and although the end result will still taste sublime the texture will not be as tender. Leave the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then spoon into the paper cases.

Sprinkle the leftover wholegrain flour, 80g of diced pumpkin, and a few pumpkin seeds over the muffins. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

You can make these double choc by replacing 30g of flour with cocoa powder. Make ’em big to get them soft and chewy! Another winner from Lorraine Pascale.

Preheat the oven to 190degC. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment.

Put 110g softened butter with 200g soft light brown sugar in a large bowl and cream together until combined. Stir in one egg with a few drops of vanilla extract and mix well. Add 200g plain flour, a pinch of salt, half a tsp of baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda and mix until the dough looks uniform. Add 100g chopped dark chocolate and mash together with a wooden spoon (the recipe advises using 100g milk chocolate chips AND 100g dark chocolate chips, but that looks a bit much – you can decide yourself how chocolatey to make it!).

The dough will be very stiff – divide into 9-10 balls and space about 10cm apart on the baking trays – they will really spread out so give them loads of room. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes – the cookies will have a cracked top and will be very soft. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave to cool on the baking trays. They will quickly harden as they cool.

Blueberry and Lemon Millefeuille

Using shop-bought puff-pastry for this recipe makes it a reasonably hassle-free but exceptionally elegant dessert. Being a baking masochist I spent the morning making my own puff pastry, though. The recipe here is as it appears in Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy book, and she recommends shop-bought puff pastry. As an aside, I can’t recommend that book enough. You can pick it up in some of the bargain bookshops like Book Value for less then a tenner now – everything I’ve made from it has worked out perfectly.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Dust the work surface with lots of icing sugar and roll out 250g puff pastry to a rectangle just larger that 27x30cm, trimming the edges straight. It should be as thin as you can get it. Cut out 18 rectangles 9cm long by 5cm wide and place them on the prepared baking tray. Sprinkle with lots of icing sugar and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200degC. Remove the tray from the fridge and bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the pastry with more icing sugar. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the cream, put 165ml whipping cream, 25g icing sugar, and a few drops of vanilla extract into a large bowl and whip until medium soft peaks form. Fold in the freshly grated zest of one lemon, the scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle (I poured it into a freezer bag and cut off the bottom corner, that technique for piping is fine if you have soft mixture like cream to pipe – something stiff like buttercream will split the bag).

Place one pastry thin on a serving plate. Pipe blobs of cream over the pastry, alternating the blobs with a fresh blueberry. Put another pastry thin on top and repeat. Add the top pastry, sprinkle with icing sugar, and repeat to make six millefeuille.

In her recipe, Lorraine Pascale includes a chocolate sauce to pour over them. I didn’t make the sauce, but the recipe is as follows: Heat 165ml double cream in a pan until just boiling. Remove the pan from the heat, add 100g finely chopped dark chocolate and 25g butter. Don’t stir the ingredients, just leave to stand for 5 minutes, then stir until everything is smooth. Add 1tbsp golden syrup and stir again.

Malteser-decorated Cupcakes

In what was presumably one of the happiest moments of her life, competition winner Nashid Kalam was today presented with her prize – six extra-special celebratory Moveable Feast cupcakes. To rapturous applause from her work-mates who had gathered around at the presentation ceremony, Nashid (seen here proudly holding one of the cupcakes) made a humble and touching acceptance speech. Her real legacy will live on in the section of this blog which she christened “Beyond the Bottle”, thus earning her both the adulation of her peers, and half a dozen of the cupcakes described below.

These cupcakes are a traditional cupcake recipe (i.e. a simple vanilla sponge with a mountain of soft creamy icing) from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy.

Preheat the oven to 160degC. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

Put 200g softened unsalted butter in a large bowl with 200g caster sugar, and cream together until light and fluffy. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract, and the 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, making sure to stir fully so it doesn’t curdle. Once the eggs have all been beaten in, add 200g plain flour, a pinch of salt and 2 tsp baking powder. If the mixture is a bit stiff, add a teaspoon or two of milk to loosen it a little.

Plop the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, and the sponge bounces back to the touch.

While the cakes are baking, make a vanilla syrup. Put 200ml of water and 100g granulated sugar in a pan with 1 vanilla pod, and heat over a low heat, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 1 minute, then take the pan off the heat. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush them liberally with the vanilla syrup to make them really nice and moist (I had loads left over!). Leave the cakes to cool.

Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Put 300g softened unsalted butter, 750g icing sugar and the seeds of a vanilla pod in a bowl and beat well until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. I then split the icing into two bowls, and added a few drops of red food colouring to one, and a few drops of yellow to the other, stirring well to get a consistent colour.

Once the cupcakes are completely cool, you can ice them. I dropped a generous spoon of icing onto each cake, and spread it out with a palette knife (depending on how liberally you pile up the icing, you may end up with about 20% leftover – I transferred the extra to the fridge to coat another cake later!). Once smooth, I decorated with some sugar sprinkles.

To finish them, I used a decorating technique that involves pushing lengths of cake decorating wire into a malteser, and wrapping 5 of them together with floral decorating tape (both these things are pretty easy to get, I picked them up in Cakes and Co in Blackrock).

The easiest way to see this technique is on this clip by Exquisitely Abby. Voila – Malteser-decorated cupcakes!


APPLE WEEK! – Thursday: Pork Chops with Cider, Apple Sauce, Caramelised Apples and Mustard Mash

I’ve adjusted Lorraine Pascale’s recipe from Baking Made Easy for this savoury use of apples, changing one piece of pork for a couple of pork chops, and substituting dry cider for Calvados. The rosemary gives a great depth of flavour to each element of this dish. These quantities will serve dinner for two.

Get started with the mashed potatoes. Preheat the oven to 220degC. Prick 3 or 4 (depending on size) potatoes all over and wrap each one in foil. Bake for an hour, or until a knife inserted into the centre glides through easily with no resistance.

To make the apple sauce, melt 15g butter in a small saucepan and add about 4-5 medium sized peeled and roughly chopped garden apples. Add 1tbsp light brown sugar and a sprig of rosemary. Put a lid on the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes over a low heat. Then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, turn up the heat and boil until the liquid thickens. Whizz this mixture up in a blender, then squash it through a sieve back into the saucepan, and set aside.

Heat a knob of butter and 2 tblsp olive oil in a large frying pan over a moderate-high heat. Season 2 chops with salt and vinegar. Add the chops to the oil, brown on one side then turn over and brown on the other side. Add 2 large onions (peeled and roughly chopped) and a sprig of rosemary. Lower the heat and continue to cook, turning the chops once, until they are no longer pink when cut into. Remove the chops to the a warm plate, cover, and leave them to rest.

Pour 250ml dry cider into the pan, turn up the heat, and reduce by half.

While the cider gravy is simmering, make the caramelised apples. Melt 20g butter in a small pan and add 4 medium sized peeled and quartered apples, a sprig of rosemary and a tbsp of soft brown sugar. Cook gently until the apples begin to caramelise and go soft. Set aside and keep warm.

Once the cider has reduced, add 300ml chicken stock and reduce by half again.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and slice in half, then scoop out the insides into a saucepan and add 75g butter. Mix well obver a low heat, then season with salt and pepper and add 2 heaped tsp of wholegrain mustard (or more to taste). You can also add some English mustard to get some heat into the mash.

Heat the sauce gently. Strain the gravy through a sieve. Serve the chops with the caramelised apples, apple sauce, cider gravy and mustard mash.