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.

 

 

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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Eight-minute chocolate orange cake

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What’s not to love about a cake that you can make entirely in one cake tin? Hardly any dishes and quick to boot.  Because, although I love to cook and bake, there are times when I am too greedy or impatient to fuss around.  If it’s delicious and you can get it in the oven in under ten minutes, count me in.

I have been fiddling around with this particular recipe for a few weeks now, having found myself in need of a cake on several occasions (mainly the delicious shared morning teas for which my workmates are justly famous, but also once or twice just NEEDING CAKE).

It is adapted from this recipe for six-minute chocolate cake, which I understand is an old Moosewood one.  And perhaps this is why I am particularly drawn to this notion, because I have an enduring soft spot for all things Moosewood. I think The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is one of the sweetest cookbook titles of all time.  I still rue the day I trustingly lent out my own lovely Moosewood Cookbook, never to be seen again.

I have called this recipe an eight-minute chocolate cake, as I don’t feel I can truthfully say it takes six minutes like its predecessor, since I ask that you zest an orange. But, I promise it’s still eight minutes-quick with a chocolatey, satisfying cake at the end that’s worth the orange zesting.  It’s also pretty easy to whip up, as most of the ingredients are generally in the pantry.  I like the little dash of ground almonds for the moist and grainy texture the give, but if you don’t have these to hand, just use an extra 1/4 cup flour instead of the almonds, and it still works a treat producing a slightly firmer cake.

You will need:

  • 1 & 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds (or, if you don’t fancy ground almonds, use 1 & 1/2 cups of plain flour)
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1
 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 
cup brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 
cup coffee (cold)
  • 2 
teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 
tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice

Preheat your oven to 190 celsius.

Put the flour, ground almonds (if using), cocoa, baking soda, salt, sugar and the orange zest into an ungreased 9 inch round cake tin and mix it together, breaking up any lumps.

Mix together the oil coffee and vanilla and add to the dry ingredients in the tin.  Mix the batter until smooth with a whisk or a fork.

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Add the vinegar and orange juice and stir quickly. You will see pale stripes in the batter – this is where the baking soda is reacting with the vinegar and orange juice.  Stir until the vinegar and juice is just distributed through the batter.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Set aside the cake to cool.

It’s tasty dusted with a little icing sugar and served with whipped cream.  Or, as I have done in the picture, it responds well to a hearty dose of chocolate icing.

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