Make cake, not war

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Happy 2017 everyone!  I think we can all agree that the year we have just ushered out was rather bruising, whether you’re talking politically, artistically, or for many of us, personally.  So, what we really need to ring in the New Year is not cucumber sticks, lycra, mineral water or resolutions. No, what is called for is a big, comforting, chocolatey cake.  Or at least that is how I felt today in amongst reading, watching Netflix and snoozing on the sofa with our cats.

I’m not going to pretend I was feeling sparky enough to whip up my own recipe.  And why would I need to, when I’m lucky enough to have my very own copy of Alice Arndell‘s Alice in Bakingland?  This recipe, sweetly titled ‘Nanny’s chocolate cake’ is a winner, delivering a pleasingly chocolatey cake every time.  Because I really felt the need to up the nourishment factor on this one, I slathered jam and cream on cut halves before sandwiching the cake back together and topping it with a generous serving of chocolate icing.

Take care everyone and I’m hoping this cake sets the tone for a much sweeter, kinder year.

Nanny’s chocolate cake by Alice Arndell

Ingredients:

  • 170g butter
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2/3 cups cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp intant coffee granules
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 & 1/2 cups milk

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Place the butter and golden syrup in a microwave-proof bowl and heat on high until the butter is melted – this is 1 minute 10 seconds in my microwave.  Stir to combine and set aside.

Place all other ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 5 minutes.  The original recipe calls for a stand mixer, which I don’t have, so I find a handheld electric beater works well.  You may need to beat for a little longer if you do this by hand.

Pour in the butter and syrup and mix through.

This mixture is runny so don’t worry!  Pour it into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean with a few crumbs.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

Russian fudge

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If you fancy a sugar hangover, look no further.  This fudge is mouth-suckingly sweet and all the better for it.  A firm Kiwi favourite, it is dense and rich, comprised largely of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and golden syrup.

I can’t get to the bottom of its name.  In my travels through the internet, I was delighted to find Nigella acknowledges we call Russian Fudge in our little country, although she calls her version Vanilla Fudge.

This lovely Polish-authored food blog includes a recipe for Polish krówki, which translates as ‘little cows’ (how I love that!).  Krówki is a sweet fudge very similar to our Russian fudge, and apparently Russia have a version too.  New Zealand has a strong Polish connection, most famously through our post-World War II Polish refugee children.  Could this explain it?

I won’t keep you all waiting while I trawl through the history of New Zealand confectionary in hope of an answer.  Here is my preferred recipe for Russian fudge.  The best tip I can give you is beat the fudge for as long as it takes in the final stage – it really is important for making it set.

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 Tbspns golden syrup
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tspn vanilla essence

Method:

Place everything except for the vanilla essence into a pot and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.  Once it is boiling, keep stirring and let it boil for about 20 minutes, until a blob of fudge dropped in cold water can be formed into a squishy little ball.

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Take off the heat, add the vanilla essence, and beat the fudge until it starts to thicken (I’m always into doing things by hand but I can really recommend an electric beater for this bit if you have one!)

Spread into a baking tin and leave to set for at least two hours.

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Cinnamon & pear muffins

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I’m finding myself with a lot of tinned goods recently, not unlike many people in our little shaky isles in the wake of our 7.8 earthquake.  It pays to be prepared.

I’ve heard the comment more than once that tinned pears are the least exciting of the tinned fruits….pale, bland, only good when topped with ice cream.  I had a hunch that this was wrong, but how to prove it?  By coupling tinned pears with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, that’s how.

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I’ve taken my inspiration for the muffin base from Donna Hay’s basic muffin batter.  Which is delicious if you’re on the hunt for a reliable basic muffin, by the way.  I will of course buy a replacement tin of pears for our emergency food stash, but this idea for pear-topped muffins could not wait any longer.  Sunday night requires a sweet little pick-me-up, amiright?

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For these you will need (makes 12):

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

For the topping:

  • 1 tin of pear quarters, drained and cut into thin slices
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 knob of butter, melted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Place the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and vanilla essence.  Add this to the dry ingredients and mix only until just combined.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tray cups.  Arrange the sliced pears on the top of the batter.

Combine the topping ingredients and distribute over the top of the pears.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

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Homemade Hundreds and Thousands biscuits

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Toddlers and sugar, a match made in heaven?  Probably not for their parents, but when it’s your niece’s third birthday party and you said you’d make biscuits, it’s hardly time to skimp on the sugar.

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I was inspired to make these little numbers by one of New Zealand’s favourite cookie treats…the Hundreds and Thousands biscuit.  The name is pretty self-evident, although perhaps not if you hail from elsewhere in the world outside of New Zealand.  ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ is our antipodean name for the rainbow sprinkles on top of these cookies, but other terms include nonpareils and jimmies.

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I can’t find must history about this biscuit itself, but there are a few stories behind the origins of Hundreds and Thousands.  Some claim they were invented in a New York candy factory in the 1930s, whilst others say that they come from Parisian bakers.

Whatever the origin, it can’t be denied that a liberal sprinkling of on a pink-iced vanilla cookie is an appropriate party treat.  I used Donna Hay’s vanilla snaps recipe for the base and the rest was pretty simple.

Vanilla biscuits:

  • 250g butter
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 & 1/4 cups plain flour, sifted

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 & 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring
  • Strawberry essence
  • Hundreds and Thousands / Sprinkles / Jimmies or whatever you call them!

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.  And the vanilla extract and egg yolk and beat again.

Finally add the flour and beat until a dough forms.  Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

 

Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick.

Cut rounds or shapes from the dough and place on baking-paper lined trays.  Bake until just golden – this took ten minutes in my oven.

Cool on racks.  Make the icing by adding the icing sugar to the butter, a drop of colouring and strawberry essence and beating well, using a little hot water to soften as needed.   When cold, ice with pink icing and sprinkle liberally with hundreds and thousands.

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Edmond’s apple steamed pudding

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Steamed pudding is like a sweet, jammy hug in a bowl.  I love it.  It’s a special favourite in our little country.  I was recently introduced to a New Zealand specialty steamed pudding which is the queen of both steamed puddings and now of my heart…burnt sugar steamed pudding.  Oh wow.  Like hot, soft caramel made into a cake and served with lashings of runny cream.  My mouth waters at the mere memory.

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So, it’s not a surprise that steamed pudding features in that bastion of all that is cooking and kiwi, the Edmonds cook book.  This particular version is jazzed up with a little apple, and all the better for it, as the tart apple partners nicely with the sweet apricot jam and the fluffy sponge.

To make this you will need:

  • 50g butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T apricot jam
  • 1 C plain flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 T stewed apple

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well.  Stir in the jam.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the butter mixture and fold in.

Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add to the mixture, along with the apple.

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Grease a 2-cup pudding basin.  Spoon in the sponge mixture and cover the bowl with some greased baking paper.  Secure with string.

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Steam the pudding for half an hour, or until it is springy to the touch.  This took about 45 minutes for pudding.

Serve with cream and a cup of tea!

 

 

Chocolate-espresso shortbread

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I was the happy competitor in a baking competition recently.  I say ‘happy’ because how could you ever not be happy when you have a genuine excuse to make sweet delicious treats several times over?  And the competition was for a great cause too…Good Bitches Baking  and their inaugural Mystery Box Challenge.

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I was delighted to find coffee and dark chocolate in the mystery box. I would be delighted to happen upon this combination anywhere, granted, but having the opportunity to make two of my favourite things into something even better?  Yippee is all I can say.

When in need of something sweet and decadent, shortbread is never too far from my thoughts.  I’m a self-confessed butter-lover (yes, I did eat it in slabs straight from the block as a child). Shortbread  may as well be a slab of butter that has been baked in an oven.

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You might think shortbread couldn’t be any better and perhaps, even, should not be messed with.  I’m sympathetic to this. There are few pleasures in life as scrumptious as a some buttery sweet shortbread and a hot drink, or during Christmas, a nip of single malt.

But do give this a go if you enjoy dark chocolate and coffee as much as I do…shortbread provides the perfect backdrop, and this can be whipped up without much bother.  The ground coffee beans add a lovely coffee punch, but leave out or reduce if you want a hint of coffee rather than a cup.

For 10-15 pieces, you will need:

  • 150g softened butter
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornflour
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 T espresso or strong coffee
  • 60g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 T ground coffee beans

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Beat the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift the flour and cornflour together into the bowl with the butter and icing sugar mix.  Stir lightly until just combined.

Add the coffee, chocolate and coffee grounds. Use a spoon to combine into the other ingredients until the mixture starts to form a dough.

Turn out onto a floured baking tray and knead lightly.  Spread out into a circle or rectangle (up to you!) – it should be a lovely tan colour, like below.  Cut into bars and prick with a fork.

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Bake until slightly golden – about twenty minutes.

 

 

Chocolate & beetroot brownies

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I know, I know, vegetables and chocolate.  My reflex reaction is ‘blurgh’ too.  But bear with me, these brownies are good, contain lots of dark chocolate and are a handy way to use up beetroot if you find yourself needing to do so.

Not that I often have spare beetroot about the place.  I love the stuff, in line with my enthusiasm for pretty much all vegetables.  The humble beetroot is a member of the Amaranthaceae family and related, would you believe, to chard.  Our modern-day beets descend from the sea beet of the Mediterranean.  Our little beet has an ancient and distinguished history.  Remains of beets have been discovered in illustrious and ancient places, including the third dynasty pyramid Saqqara and the Neolithic site Aartswoud in the Netherlands.

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So naturally we people of the 21st century have found that mashing up beetroot and baking it with chocolate is a delicious, modern usage.  The best tip I can give you about this recipe, as warned in the excellent original from BBC, is to wear gloves and ideally an apron when peeling the beets.  Beetroot has a brilliant red juice, which is a stunning, attractive colour, but will make it look as though you killed someone and it takes some time to scrub off.

You will need:

  •  3-4 medium-sized beetroot
  • 100g unsalted butter and a little extra for the tin; I have done a dairy-free version too, and used 100g dairy-free olive oil spread
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • Icing sugar for sprinkling over

Set the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Butter then line a 20 x 30cm tin.

Cover up with rubber gloves and an apron then peel the beetroot and cut it into chunks.  I find it helps to do this bit in the sink, so that you are not left with a pink kitchen.

Place the beetroot in a large microwave-proof bowl and cover with water.  Cover the top of the bowl with cling film, pierce the cling film with a few holes and microwave on high for 12 minutes.

Drain the beetroot then place back in the bowl with the butter, chocolate and vanilla extract.  Use a hand-held, bladed blender to mulch into as liquid-y a mix as you can manage.  You can also do this bit in an electric mixer, although I find my hand-held one works fine as the beetroot is soft and its warmth melts the chocolate.

Crack the eggs into another large bowl and add the caster sugar.  Beat until foamy and pale, about two minutes with an electric beater.  Gently fold in the beetroot mix, then sift in the flour and cocoa.  Mix in the flour and cocoa gently with a metal spoon.  It will be quite pink!

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Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is all risen.  Cool completely in the tin and once cooled, dust with icing sugar.

This is sweet and chocolatey and honestly, not a hint of beetroot.  It has a very pretty pinkish tinge, not unlike a red velvet cake.

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