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Farewell to Summer

What an amazing summer we’ve had – who knew outdoor living in Ireland could be so much fun! My barbeque was in constant use and I finally got to use all my garden furniture.

One of the bonuses of the sunshine is that my apple tree is laden down with fruit. Last time the harvest was this bountiful the Chief Taster and I carefully picked the fruit, wrapped them individually in paper and stored them in crates. This project did not have a successful outcome….. So I’m looking for ideas to use them up before the birds eat them. All suggestions welcome.

One thing I’m going to do is stew and freeze a batch of them so I can make one of my favourite cakes over the coming months. It’s a Sophie Grigson recipe that can be adapted for almost all fruit and it’s so simple you have to try it .
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Easter Chicks Chocolate Cake

bunnies and chocolate

Mention Easter and what comes to mind? Chocolate of course – in all shapes and forms – the more the better !

 

chicks on eggs

We have a traditional Easter Egg hunt here on Easter Sunday with competition to see who can find, and in some cases, eat the most eggs !

 

Thankfully the last few years have been dry so the Easter Bunny had plenty of choice when it came to hiding places in the garden.

Easter Egg Hunt CollageI even found a few ‘escapees’ a few days after !

After the hunt is over there there has to be coffee and cake – to help the adults recover. And what else could it be except chocolate cake?
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Happily Ever After Tart

Now that January is over and we’ve all been good and stuck to our resolutions to eat healthier (what do you mean you haven’t??)  it’s time to start thinking about treats for Valentine’s Day.
And speaking of resolutions it’s high time I stuck to mine and updated my blog.

I’ve been doing some research on aphrodisiacs in advance of my Valentine’s cooking and I’m now a font of trivia!

Did you know that basil was used for seduction by women in Moldova? Or that Catholic priests in Spain banned avocados because they found them obscenely sexual? Continue reading

Junior Cooks & Soda Bread

My nieces, nephews and friends’ children seem to love cooking here and I enjoy working with them and encouraging them to try different things. Though I suspect the freedom to make a mess could be one of the main attractions ………

I’ve been asked more than once if I would do cookery classes for children so with two of my nieces visiting and my friend Kay about to head back to Brunei with her two children, I decided it was time to experiment.

We started with traditional Soda bread ….Thanks to Isabella and Savannah for setting up the table

Soda BreadThe table didn’t stay clean for long once the mixing started.  I think there was a competition to see who could shake out the most flour and some of the mixes were a bit wet! They loved the stories about the cross in the cake to to represent the four provinces and there were lots of holes made to let the fairies escape.

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Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

When we were children everywhere was closed on Good Friday, the Fast day was adhered to and you weren’t even  supposed to speak between 12 and 3pm. There wasn’t  anything to watch on TV except the Long Good Friday.  The only good thing was the bag of hot cross buns that my Mum used to buy from McGinn’s bakery. These sticky buns were delicious with lashings of butter – we protested that they counted as a collation and so formed part of the Fast Day diet.

Good Friday is now almost  like any other day except for Hot Cross Buns that is. McGinn’s no longer exists – it’s now the CopperPot Still Pub. I’m not even sure how many people observe the Fast Day anymore.

In the last few years I have started making my own hot cross buns to see if I can recreate that childhood taste. I’ve had various degrees of success but I never seem to remember to write down how I made them or which recipe I followed.

This year I am going with a twist as I want to include Hot Cross Buns in my Easter Chocolate Class in Butlers Chocolates.  And because people like to know how to reproduce what I demonstrate I’ve even remembered to write down how I made them 🙂

I took my inspiration from a number of recipes but I’ve broken a few rules by adding everything in together. I came across the idea of using the muffin trays on the Taste Australia website and it’s such a good idea I can’t believe I hadn’t come across it before.

There’s a bit of time involved in making these but trust me they’re worth it 🙂

Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Makes 12 

What you need:

  • 450g strong flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 25g cocoa
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 *7g sachet dried yeast
  • 150ml milk, made up to 200ml with warm water
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 75g mixed peel
  • 75g Butlers milk chocolate, chopped
  • Zest & Juice of 1 orange
  • To decorate:
    • 4tbsp plain flour
    • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
    • Water

What you do:

  • Make your dough by mixing together the flour, sugar, cocoa, mixed spice and yeast in bowl of your Kenwood.
  • In a jug mix the warm milk mix, melted butter and beaten egg. You want this mix to be lukewarm so it will activate the yeast.
  • Pour this mix into the dry ingredients and knead using the dough hook ( or you could do by hand if you’re feeling energetic!)
  • Once the mix comes together add in the mixed peel, chocolate, orange zest and juice and continue to knead for another 5 mins.
  • When the dough mix is smooth and springy transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover lightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back and knead for a minute or two (by hand this time!)
  • Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper liners. I knew I’d eventually find a use for the lovely ones that have been languishing in my baking cases box for the last two years.
  • Divide the mix into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball and place one in each hole of the muffin tray.
  • Cut a cross in the top of each bun using a scissors . Cover the tray and leave to rise for another 20 mins.
  • Heat your oven to 200C/180Fan/Gas6
  • To top the buns mix the 4 tbsp. of flour with enough water to form a paste.  Put the paste into a plastic bag, snip of the corner of the bag and pipe into the cross on each bun.
  • Bake in a hot oven for 12-15 minutes. To check  they’re cooked tap one of the buns on the bottom and you should hear a hollow sound
  • To get that lovely sticky glaze on top melt the 2 tbsp. sugar with a tablespoon of water and then brush over the top of each bun.

Hot cross buns

These hot cross buns are best enjoyed warm with lots of butter. The Chief Taster is in the UK on business so I’ll have to make another batch when he gets back to see what he thinks of the chocolate twist. Any excuse I know….

Buttered bun

 

 

Happy Cooking !

 

Love is in the Air

My poor blog has been very neglected of late so it’s time to pay it some attention and share a recipe for Valentine’s Day.

In preparation for my ‘Cupid’s Cookery‘ class last week I did a little research on aphrodisiacs and found lots of trivia. Did you know that basil was used for seduction by women in Moldova? Or that Catholic priests in Spain banned avocados because they found them obscenely sexual?

Other reputed aphrodisiacs are honey, almonds and chocolate – so what better way to celebrate St Valentine’s Day than to present the object of your affections with a combination of all three?

This recipe is based on one I found in the course of my research….I’ve made a few alterations and  I hope you like it……

What you need:

  • Heart Shaped loose bottomed tin
  • 180g dark chocolate digestives
  • 60g butter
  • 2 tbsp. flaked almonds
  • 200ml Avonmore Fresh Cream
  • 3 tbsp. Limefield Honey
  • 300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), in pieces
  • Generous splash of Cointreau! 

What you do:

  • Crush the biscuits finely and add in the melted butter. Then press into the bottom of heart shaped tin.
  • Toast the almonds in a dry pan.
  • Whisk the cream and honey together in a small saucepan over a low heat and then slowly bring the mix to just below the boil.
  • Pour the mix over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.
  • Stir in the toasted almonds and the Cointreau.
  • Pour the mix into the lined tin and leave to chill for a few hours until set (overnight is best)
  • Decorate to your heart’s content with almonds, hearts and sparkles!
  • Serve with lots of extra Avonmore Fresh Dessert Cream

    chocolate heart -001

I also made individual ones for last week’s date night  – one with added sea salt which I preferred but The Chief Taster preferred the Cointreau version!

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Did it live up to expectations? Well, let’s just say there were no complaints ……

Happy Cooking!

 

Extremely Chocolatey Christmas Wreath

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here – the tree is up, the lights are on and I’m doing up my Christmas menus which will include this Christmas Wreath Cake as an alternative to the traditional fruit cake

I may have mentioned that I’m not really a dessert person – give me savoury any day – but I love making desserts and watching others enjoy them! I came across this wreath cake a few years ago – in a copy of Good Housekeeping I think – and have been using it every Christmas since.

I should warn you that this is a cake for serious chocoholics and not for the fainthearted, but it makes a great centrepiece on Christmas Day!

It’s an easy cake to make and it freezes well (un-iced ) so you can make it in advance and take it out to decorate on Christmas Eve.

The only special piece of equipment you will need is a ‘wreath’ tin i.e. a 23cm spring form cake tin with a but missing in the middle! I use one I bought in  Ikea  but  I know my local  shop ‘Kit Your Kitchen‘  now stock similar .

Turn your oven to 180 C or Gas 4 before you start and grease your tin with butter.

What you need:

  • 1 * 400g tin of pears (in natural juice)
  • 50 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp.  espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 175g cocoa (I use Green & Black ‘s)
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 340g caster sugar
  • 6 egg whites
  • 250g crème fraîche
  • 175g dark chocolate (I use 70% )
  • Christmas decorations

What you do:

  • Drain the tin of pears and whizz in food processor to a purée.
  • Mix the pear purée with the milk, espresso granules, oil and vanilla extract.
  • In another bowl mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • Whisk the egg whites and the sugar together at high speed until stiff and glossy
  • Add in the pear purée mix  to the eggs and whisk slowly to blend
  • Finally fold the flour mix into egg and pear mix.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in your preheated oven for 30 mins or until firm to touch
  • Allow cake to cool slightly in tin before turning out onto rack.

Cooling

  • As I said, if you’re making this ahead of time , you can freeze it at this point. Just make sure you wrap it carefully!
  • The icing is very simple : heat the crème fraîche in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  • Then remove from heat and add in chocolate. Allow to melt and then mix in until smooth.
  • Place pieces of parchment paper under the cake to protect your cakeboard/plate. Then using a palette knife spread icing over the cake . Remember you want it to look like a wreath so it doesn’t have to be smooth

christmas 11 006-001

Then it’s time for your (or your children’s ) imagination to take over…..

You can make chocolate leaves …..

christmas 11 008-001

…. use sprinkles ….Santas…..Robins….Snowmen……..

christmas 11 012-001

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……whatever you like!

But whatever you decide please be warned that this cake is INCREDIBLY rich and a little goes a long way!

Happy Cooking! 

PS I have been known to make this into an Easter Cake by covering it with flowers and mini eggs – you see a cake’s not just for Christmas!