Brownie and blondie hearts

I wanted to bake something special for Tom this week. Partly because it’s Valentine’s day coming up, though we don’t usually go in much for this over-commercialised excuse for card shops and chocolate manufacturers to make a killing, and mainly because I wanted to show him that I appreciate all his help this week whilst I’ve been poorly and he’s done even more around the flat and looking after the boys than usual. When I asked him a while ago what kind of cake he likes the most when I bake, he said ‘anything chocolatey…. well, anything at all, but anything chocolatey in particular’! So chocolate was on my mind when deciding what to bake this week.

I hadn’t made brownies for a while, and I’d also bought some white chocolate recently (some of which I used on the Thomas the Tank Engine cake), so I came up with the idea of making some classic brownies with dark chocolate and some blondies with white chocolate. As I looked in the cupboard for flour, I realised that I still have some wheat-free self-raising flour that I bought a while ago when I baked some cupcakes for my mum-in-law who came to stay (she is wheat intolerant) and it really could do with being used, so that got added to the mix rather than the usual wheaty variety. I find the wheat-free stuff has quite a distinctive flavour but when you mix it with plenty of strong (particularly dark) chocolate, this is less noticeable. Another thing about wheat-free cakes is that they tend to be stodgier and less light and airy than their wheaty counterparts, but brownies are supposed to be stodgy, so they work well with wheat-free flour.

A brownie and blondie circle - the lighter coloured blondies are ones that I shaped into hearts from the very gooey trimmings using the biscuit cutter as a mould

Cutting the brownies and blondies into hearts was slightly tricky and I didn’t get that many which came out in a clear heart shape because they were so soft and gooey – as they should be in my opinion – even after some chilling in the freezer. The blondies turned out even gooier than the brownies – maybe something to do with the consistency of white chocolate compared to dark chocolate, or maybe the different tins that I used to cook them in. I used some of the very gooey trimmings from the blondies to shape into hearts using the biscuit cutter as a mould. But we ate all the trimmings so none of it went to waste.

If you fancy having a go for Valentine’s day, or any other day, here’s the recipe…..

Ingredients

Brownies

  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g chopped nuts

Blondies

  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g dried strawberries

Method – the same for both types

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan), and prepare a cake tin – for the brownies I used I rectangular swiss roll tin lined with greaseproof paper and for the blondies I used a round silicone cake mould as I wanted to compare how both turned out.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
  3. Mix in the sugar and flour until well combined.
  4. Stir in the chopped nuts / dried strawberries until evenly distributed.
  5. Melt the margarine and chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, then add it to the rest of the mixture and stir until smooth.
  6. Pour into a cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Ideally you want them still gooey, if you like them that way at least, so don’t overdo it in the oven – there’s a very fine line between being raw and overdone for brownies.
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature in the tin, then use a heart-shaped biscuit cutter to cut some hearts; before removing them from the tin, place in the freezer for about half an hour to firm up the brownie/blondie a little so that the hearts are easier to get out in one piece.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible, or leave in the freezer until you want to eat them at a later date (as if…!)
Link up your recipe of the week

 

Marmorkuchen – Mummy-sized and toddler-sized

One of the presents that Father Christmas brought for Andrew was an Ikea children’s baking set; it has a baking tray, pie tin, biscuit cutters, rolling pin and Bundt tin (if you don’t know what this is, hang on, I’ll explain shortly!) – all perfect mini replicas of my own adult-sized baking equipment. When he opened it, I thought the Bundt tin was particularly cute. This is a circular tin with a hole in it, to make ring-shaped cakes; it is a traditional shape in Germany for certain types of cake, and it’s there that I first saw such ring cakes.

When I was 14 and in Germany on the exchange trip organised by school, my exchange partner and I baked a Marmorkuchen, or ‘Marble Cake’ in its classic shape – the Bundt tin. We went on to become good friends and are still in touch today, albeit less frequently than back then when neither of us had such busy lives. For our wedding, she and her husband bought us some typically German presents, including a Bundt tin and a German cook book with various cake recipes in. I’ve mainly used this tin for baking Marmorkuchen, and when I saw Andrew’s mini version, I thought that this would be the first thing that we’d bake in it. We also made a Mummy (and Daddy) sized one at the same time!

So what is Marmorkuchen (Marble Cake) anyway? Don’t worry, it’s not rock hard, well not unless you do something seriously wrong! It’s a basic sponge mixture, half of which you keep plain (vanilla flavoured) and the other half of which you add cocoa powder to for a chocolate flavour. You layer each half of the mixture in the tin, plain first, chocolate second, and then use a fork to swirl them together, to make a marble effect once the mixture is cooked and you cut a slice from the ring. It’s a simple recipe which looks very pretty and a bit different from the usual sponge you might bake.

I’ve given the recipe below. I’m not sure where to buy Bundt tins in this country, but there must be some lurking online somewhere. It would work just as well in an ordinary cake tin or loaf tin, just without the interesting ring shape. The recipe is based on one in the German cook book that I was given, but slightly adapted – there is no rum in it, which, if I remember rightly, in Germany you can buy in little capsules for using in baking cakes such as these. I think it works without it though, as there is vanilla flouring in it anyway.

Ingredients

  • 300g margarine
  • 275g sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 375g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • splash of milk

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C )fan) and grease the inside of the Bundt tin.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and mix until well combined.
  5. Put half the mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to fill the ring.
  6. Add the cocoa to the remaining mixture and mix until well combined, and add a splash of milk if the mixture gets too stiff, to loosen it up.
  7. Put this mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to make a layer on top of the plain mixture.
  8. With a fork, make circular motions from top to bottom and back to top in the tin, so that the plain mixture below comes up and is swirled into the chocolate mixture and vice versa, all around the circle tin.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes – check it is cooked by inserting a skewer and it comes out clean.
  10. Leave to cool in the tin and turn it out onto a plate when cool. Enjoy!

Christmas party cake pops

When I left work just before Joel was born, my very thoughtful colleagues (read: friends) bought me an amazing gift – a cookery book all about cake pops and a cake pop silicone mould. Now, I’d heard of cake pops, via a few blogs by other mums, but I’d not got round to figuring out how to make them myself. If you’re not sure what a cake pop is, as I wasn’t when I first saw the words mentioned on a blog, it’s basically a cross between a cake and a lollipop – a small piece of sponge cake on a stick. Traditionally (can an idea so new be called traditional?!) cake pops are balls, but you can be more creative and make various shapes – the key is that they are bite-size, so they look really cute. The book I was given is called Pop Party, and it tells you how to make some incredible looking cake pops that would be fantastic for kids’ (or adults’!) parties. For example there are various animal designs, balloons, mini hot-dogs, mini tiered cakes, to name but a few.

This present has inspired me to have a go at cake pops, though I thought I’d start with something simple rather than going for a fancy design from the book just yet. To make the fancy designs, or balls for that matter if you don’t have a mould to cheat with, you make cake pops by baking a big sponge cake, breaking it up and mixing it with cream cheese, and moulding the stiff mixture into whatever shape you want. Then you can decorate with various icings and colours to create the final design on a stick.

My main reason for having a go at pops this week was that Andrew is going with Daddy to a Christmas party tomorrow that requires him to take some food to share. I thought Christmassy decorated cake pops would be perfect for little mouths to munch on, and the kids would love holding the stick. The mould I was given came with reusable sticks, but since I knew I wouldn’t be likely to get them back in the chaos of a children’s party, I used disposable drinking straws instead for sticks. There were 2 designs: a plain sponge dipped in white chocolate and purple glitter sugar; a red-coloured sponge dipped in milk chocolate and snowflake sprinkles.

Here’s the recipe, for which you’ll need a silicone pop mould (rather than the method of remoulding sponge cake using cream cheese).

Ingredients – makes 28 cake pops (using pop mould)

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 3 eggs
  • red gel food colouring
  • 75g milk chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
  • 50g white chocolate, broken into pieces to melt
  • decorations – snowflake sprinkles, glitter sugar
  • drinking straws

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan).
  2. Start by making the sponge. Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg until smooth.
  4. Add the flour and mix until well combined.
  5. Fill half the balls on one side of the cake pop mould with mixture. Then add red gel food colouring to the rest of the mixture and stir until the colour is evenly distributed and the desired colour. Fill the other half of the balls on the one side of the mould. I found that this amount of mixture made 28, and my mould only does 20, so I saved some mixture for a small second batch once the first was cooked.
  6. Put the other half of the mould (its lid) on, and bake for 20 mins.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely, then remove the balls from the mould.
  8. Melt 25g of milk chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  9. Dip about 1.5cm of the end of a drinking straw in the chocolate, and push it carefully into the centre of a sponge ball, being careful not to push it all the way through. Repeat with all the other balls and straws, then leave to cool in the fridge until the chocolate sets. This will keep the straw in the ball when you do the decorating.
  10. When the sticks are set, melt the remaining milk chocolate and white chocolate in separate bowls as before. Be especially careful with the white chocolate as it burns easily when melting if done with too high a heat.
  11. Dip the top of each ball into the chocolate – plain sponge in white and red sponge in milk chocolate.
  12. Then sprinkle glitter sugar over the white chocolate and snowflake sprinkles over the milk chocolate.
  13. Stick the straws into an upside down colander to leave the chocolate to set whilst the cake pops are upright.
  14. Finally your cake pops are ready to enjoy!

Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.

Choconana muffins

Baking a batch of biscuits or cakes seems to be a great form of toddler entertainment at the moment. As it’s pretty much dark by 4pm these days, we can’t make it to the park any more after Andrew has finished napping in the afternoon. Instead a baking session is the perfect length to fit in between Joel’s feeds at this time of day, and Andrew likes to sit in his high chair and help me measure and mix ingredients. He still needs a lot of supervision of course, and much of the time it’s really me doing it and him watching intently, but he enjoys just being part of the activity no matter how much he’s actually involved.

This week I decided to make some muffins with him, mainly because we seemed to have a sudden abundance of ripe bananas that needed to be eaten. I also fancied making something chocolatey, so adapted my usual recipe for banana muffins to include chocolate – in the form of both cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate. I think it works well, and isn’t too sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the banana rather than the chocolate. Andrew enjoyed himself, stirring the mixture on his own was the highlight for him, and we only lost a little bit on the table, which was not bad going I thought! Joel was contentedly sitting in the sling whilst we baked, so I feel like he was part of it too. Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 100g oats
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 125g sugar
  • 75g margarine
  • 50g dark chocolate (I used one with 75% cocoa)
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 ripe bananas, chopped small
Method
  1. Put the flour, cocoa powder and oats in a large bowl and mix.
  2. Melt the margarine and chocolate in another bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  3. Add the sugar and milk to the chocolate mixture and stir well. Then add the eggs to this.
  4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and add the chopped bananas. Stir until just combined – don’t over mix.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases.
  6. Bake at 180ºC (fan) for about 15 minutes.
  7. Leave to cool and eat as fresh as possible. You can also freeze these.

To us a child is born

It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.

Guarding the Advent calendar from early morning predators - you never know who might want to get at your mini socks!

Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.

It's a bit fiddly to get at the contents of these socks, but I'm determined to do it without help, and that's part of the fun of it!

In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!

Wow! There's shiny stuff in these socks - cool!

In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.

The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.

Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.

In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.

Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!

Ha ha, I have chocolate.... not sure I should share it with Mummy, Daddy and Joel....!

Blueberry and white chocolate sponge puddings (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 6)

PIcture a bit out of focus, but here's a ring of the finished puddings, on a matching plate!

This week on the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) saw the contestants having to bake puddings. In my dialect of English, ‘pudding’ refers to anything that you eat after your main course of a meal, whether it be a traditional sponge pudding, a cake, a chocolate bar, or even a yoghurt or a piece of fruit. Others may think of this as ‘dessert’ or ‘afters’ or something else. For the GBBO, pudding definitely referred to traditional puddings – the first bake was the contestants’ own choice of sponge puddings (two varieties of six individual puddings), the second was a ‘Queen of Puddings’ (not my thing as it contains custard, yuk!), and the third was a Strudel. The second and third looked extremely hard to make, especially the pastry for the Strudel, which had to be rolled out to be paper thin. I decided to stick with what I know best for this week, and make some sponge puddings. I used to make proper puddings quite a bit when Tom and I were first together (the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?!), but recently I haven’t make them, particularly since being pregnant (both times) and not wanting anything too sweet and stodgy.

The blueberries and white chocolate chunks seemed to settle more towards the bottom when cooking, so they came out on top, and this created a kind of saucy bit on the top. I was going to make a separate chocolate sauce, but the 'topping' was enough in itself and I didn't think it needed it. You could serve with custard, if you like the stuff (which I don't!)

With that in mind, I went for a relatively light and not too sweet option. I used margarine instead of butter, so the consistency was light and fluffy. The blueberries were quite tart, and that blended well with the sweetness of the white chocolate, so neither flavour overpowered the other and it was a good balance of sweetness. I love the colour that blueberries give to cakes and puddings – more of a purple than a blue, to my eyes at least, and it gives an otherwise plain-looking sponge a ripple of bright colour running through it. Here’s the recipe if you fancy giving it a go – it’s very easy!

A good view of the 'topping' on the right-hand pudding!

Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g blueberries
  • 100g white chocolate, cut into chunks

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan)
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Beat in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and not lumpy in texture.
  4. Add the flour and stir until well combined.
  5. Add the blueberries and white chocolate, and stir until evenly distributed, but don’t over-mix the mixture.
  6. Spoon the mixture into 6 individual pudding basins, so they are about two thirds full.
  7. Place the basins into a large ovenproof dish, like a roasting tin. Add cold water to the roasting tin so that the basins are sitting in a bath of water (in techie baking speak this is called a ‘Bain Marie’, and it means that as the water heats up in the oven, the steam produced helps keep the puddings moist).
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool, and then remove from the basins. Eat as fresh as possible, but can be heated up in the microwave if eaten later.

    Waiting for them to cool before turning them out and revealing the lovely colours and flavours 🙂

Black-forest-inspired cheesecake

Last weekend we went away for my cousin’s wedding. We stopped off to stay with my parents on the Friday night, and mum had prepared a lovely tea of various interesting homemade salad dishes that were perfect for me and my lack of desire to eat hot cooked food. For pudding she produced a cheesecake that was fridge-set (so no baking involved) and didn’t involved raw egg. Again this was perfect, because it wasn’t too sweet; in fact it was quite tart, and not particularly to Andrew’s liking! He seems to have inherited my sweet tooth (which has disappeared during pregnancy). Then at the wedding reception, what should turn up for pudding but a fridge-set cheesecake, very similar to the one mum had made. None of us minded at all, because we all enjoyed it, and it was just what we needed on what turned out to be a lovely day weather-wise – something refreshing and not too stodgy. I just checked with the chef that it didn’t contain any hidden pregnancy unfriendly ingredients (my main concern is the raw egg that sometimes goes into such things), and he confirmed that it was fine for me to eat.

So these two cheesecakes (one blueberry and one lemon) inspired me to make my own cheesecake using similar ingredients. After all, it involved no baking in the oven, so no smells that I’m not too keen on right now. The secret to making it set in both cases (according to my mum and the wedding chef) is lemon juice. I hadn’t heard of this before, and was curious to try and find out the chemistry behind it (I’m a scientist, this is how I think!) But after some, admittedly not very long, time googling, I couldn’t find anything from a reputable source. I saw a couple of hints at the fact that the acid somehow makes the cheese and cream mixture more solid, which does make sense to me as I think back to science lessons at school. If anyone has a more technical (but still understandable) explanation of how this works, please let me know!

But back to the culinary point, below is the recipe that I came up with. The name ‘Black-forest-inspired’ comes from the fact that it contains chocolate and cherries; this is a winning combination if you ask me, particularly at the moment when cherries are in season, so fresh and juicy. I just guessed at how much of each ingredient should go in to the cheesy mixture, by tasting as I went along. The base is my standard cheesecake base recipe. It turned out very well – nicely soft and fluffy, but solid, and not too sweet. I have to say that it was best on the day I made it. The day after it started to lose its shape and run slightly into the hole that was made by cutting the first slices. It still tasted nice, but the texture wasn’t so cheesecake-y, more like mousse or yoghurt. So the moral of the story is…. eat your cheesecake on the day it was made (I feel we would have been ill if Tom and I had attempted this just between the two of us!)

Ingredients

  • 15 digestive biscuits
  • 100g margarine
  • 300g soft cheese
  • 150ml crème fraîche
  • 75g sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 100g chocolate (plain or milk), cut into small chunks
  • cherries, stoned and halved, to decorate

Method

  1. Grease the bottom and sides of a springform cake tin.
  2. Crush the biscuits in a large plastic bowl with the end of a rolling pin.
  3. Melt the margarine in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and add to the crushed biscuits. Stir until well combined.
  4. Spread the biscuit mixture on the base of the tin, and pat down until firm and smooth to make the base.
  5. Mix the soft cheese, crème fraîche, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  6. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  7. Pour this cheesy mixture over the biscuit base in the tin.
  8. Cover the tin and put it into the fridge to set. I left ours for about 12 hours and it was a good consistency.
  9. Decorate with the halved cherries as your creative side takes you!

Chocolate egg nests

OK, I admit it, these classic sweet eats are not exactly what you call rocket science baking (not really baking at all as no oven is involved), but I can’t resist making these at Easter time. One day, in the not too distant future, Andrew will be able to help me with them too – for now he just watched from a safe distance in Daddy’s arms. By combining some sort of cereal with chocolate, you end up (with a little imagination) with something resembling a bird’s nest, which can then be filled with chocolate mini eggs – in my opinion, mini eggs are one of the best things about Easter (after Jesus of course, the reason why we celebrate it in the first place). This year I made a couple of different varieties of nest: white chocolate with cornflakes, and dark chocolate with shredded wheat. Here are the recipes…

Ingredients

White choc cornflake nests

  • 100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 25g margarine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 35g cornflakes

Dark choc wheat nests

  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 25g margarine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 50g shredded wheat, crushed

Method

The method was the same for both – start with the white chocolate first, and you can use the same bowl for the dark chocolate (the other way round would risk making your white chocolate come out with a brown tinge!)

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter slowly in the microwave (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water on the hob).
  2. Stir in the honey to the molten mixture.
  3. Stir in the cereals until they are all coated evenly with chocolate.
  4. Spoon dollops of mixture into muffin or fairy cake cases in a muffin tray (so they hold their shape until set).
  5. Press 4 mini eggs into the top of each one, so form a hollow in the mixture, like a nest.
  6. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours.
  7. Once set, remove from paper cases and eat 🙂 (alternatively store in the fridge for a while, but that’s more boring)

Do you like making this sort of cake? What cereals do you think work best? I think the shredded wheat makes it look more like a nest, but I love the crunch you get from cornflakes or bran flakes.

Pink and white rock cakes

We were at our usual Friday morning breastfeeding support group meeting last week, and amongst the homemade goodies to eat there were some lovely apple and cinnamon rock cakes that a friend had baked. This reminded me of baking rock cakes when I was younger, and especially the time that a friend and I made some but forgot to put the sugar in. They still tasted fine, just not sweet, so we passed it off as suitable for my dad who’s diabetic. This got me thinking that I could make some with no or not much sugar in now, and they would be a very toddler-friendly treat. As we were going through the fruit aisle at the supermarket on Friday afternoon, I spotted some lovely looking raspberries for a reasonable price, and that gave me the inspiration to do some raspberry and white chocolate rock cakes. The raspberries would give colour and flavour without being too sweet, and the classic combination with white chocolate would be perfect, bringing a bit of sweetness to them, without the need for extra sugar. So here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped into chocolate chip sized chunks

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
  2. Combine the flour and margarine using your hands, until it becomes like breadcrumbs in texture.
  3. Mix in the raspberries, white chocolate and egg until you have a nice thick sticky mixture.

    Nice and thick sticky mixture
  4. Spoon blobs of the mixture onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, set a little apart from each other as they will spread. Don’t make them smooth, just leave them ragged – the more ragged the better, as they’re supposed to look like rocks, and taste much crispier and crunchier with a rough surface.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden.

    Just gone into the oven
  6. Let cool and eat as fresh as possible! Or freeze if you don’t think you’ll eat them all soon enough 😉

    Finished pink rocks - ready to be eaten as fresh as possible 🙂