Sunday, 30 August 2015

Chocolate biscuits


I have never liked bourbon biscuits.  I don’t know why, because I should like them – chocolate biscuit and a chocolate filling…there’s nothing to dislike, and yet we’ve just never bonded.  I’ve always found them a bit stale and musty tasting, like they pretend they’re chocolate but they’re not really.  For me they are the biscuit equivalent of that person who your friend builds up saying, ‘you must meet X, they’re hilarious and you have so much in common.  You will become such great friends’, and indeed it sounds so promising and – of course - you trust your friend’s judgement but, when you meet them, you take against them so violently that you wonder if faking a seizure will get you out of the situation quicker.  Not that that’s ever happened to me.  Obviously....

The reason I chose this recipe is that the comments on the BBC Good Food website noted that the biscuit was like a bourbon.  Mr CC is rather partial to a bourbon but I’m not altruistic enough to make a batch of biscuits I don’t like.  This seemed a good middle ground as I suspected that the decoration being actual chocolate would add flavour, plus the fact that the biscuits weren’t sandwiched would make them a lighter eat (I know, I know....I’ve changed).  Plus, I’ve been sorting out my biscuit cutters and found this adorable sausage dog cutter and I’ve been so desperate to use it!

I always have a fondness for biscuit dough made with icing sugar; it is the smoothest, softest loveliest feeling dough you will ever handle.  It rolls like a dream and re-rolls patiently.  The biscuits held their shape well during baking too and, as they bake quickly, it’s a good recipe for fiddly cutters that produce details that might burn during a longer bake time.

The chocolate vermicelli and sugar balls added a nice crunch of texture to the biscuit but, more importantly, makes the dogs look like they’re wearing little jumpers!  It’s a hard hearted person who doesn’t smile at a tiny dog in knitwear.


For the biscuits:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
85g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon milk
175g plain flour
55g cocoa powder

For the decoration:
100g milk or dark chocolate
Chocolate vermicelli or crumbled flake
Sugar paste eyes


Beat together the butter and sugar until light and whippy.

Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla and milk.

Add the plain flour and cocoa powder and mix gently to bring together into a ball of dough – it will be very soft because of the icing sugar.

Shape into a fat disc, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper of non stick foil (the latter is always my preferred option).

Roll out the dough between two sheets of clingfilm – this stops you having to flour a work top and risk changing the consistency of the biscuits.

Once the dough is about the thickness of a £1 coin take your chosen cutter and cut out; the dough re-rolls well so don’t waste anything!

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet, leaving a little room for spreading whilst baking, although they don’t spread much.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until the biscuits feel sandy to the touch.

Leave to cool on the tray for 10 minutes before attempting to move to a wire rack, as they will be fragile straight from the oven.

Once cool, melt the chocolate – either in the microwave, in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a pan using a gas diffuser ring (my preferred option these days).

Using a pastry brush pain the chocolate over the part of your biscuit you wish to decorate and then sprinkle over the chocolate flakes.

Decorate further as required.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

Spiced oat traybake

The mornings are staying darker longer, and we’re putting the lights on much earlier in the evening – if that doesn’t mean Autumn’s on its way then I don’t know what does!  I therefore take this as my trigger to start thinking about spices and oats and more substantial baking…in truth, my thoughts never leave such things but it’s nice to be a tiny bit seasonal if possible.

This traybake is simple to make and, next to fancier fare, could look a bit plain but that’s just how I like it.  There are very few decorated fancies that can hold a candle to something with raisins and oats in; they’re so wholesome and like eating a big hug.  If raisins aren’t your thing then replace with any other dried fruit, or be a complete maverick and use chocolate chips or even chopped ginger.  As long as you choose something dry, that won’t ooze during baking, the cake will work.

The smell of this baking will drive you wild.  I went for a cinnamon/mixed spice mix as I find cinnamon on its own can be overpoweringly dominant but, as with the fruit, mix it up to suit your tastebuds.

I think the oats and raisins mean you can get away with eating this for breakfast.  I do like a cake that is acceptable at any time of the day (ok, that’s all of them in my world, but I do try and fit in with ‘normal’ views…or at least pretend to!).  Now, you might think this photo is blurry, but I prefer to think of it as ‘how Monet would’ve viewed the cake’:

The final thing it is my duty to point out(!) is that the texture of this cake is lighter than sponge.  I know, I know, you see ‘oats’ in the title of a bake and it’s impossible not to think of flapjacks and that heavy, dense texture.  But this cake is a million miles away from that; it is unbelievably light and airy...and I say that as someone who has done their research*.

*Research = eaten three pieces in one sitting.


300ml boiling water
80g porridge oats
110g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g dark brown soft sugar
125g caster sugar,  plus an extra 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon mixed spice
200g plain flour
70g raisins


Pour the boiling water over the oats and leave to stand for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Grease a 30cm x 20cm traybake tin. (I recommend greasing or using non stick foil as this is a sticky sponge and it didn’t seem to get on well with the baking paper I stood it on to cool after baking).

Beat together the butter and both sugars until well combined – it will never go light and whippy with dark sugar.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Stir in the oats and vanilla, mixing well to ensure all the ingredients are combined.

In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients i.e. bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, mixed spice and flour.

Stir the raisins into the dry mix – this will coat them and stop them clumping in the batter.

Add the dry ingredients to the oat mixture and stir well enough to combine all the ingredients.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Sprinkle over the extra caster sugar.

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the mix comes out clean.

Leave to cool, in the tin, on a wire rack.

Serve in generous slices with a mug of tea.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Chocolate and vanilla marble madeira bundt

I’ve had my square bundt tin for a while now and have frequently stopped to admire it, even giving it an appreciative pat every now and then (you think I’m joking……!).  What I haven’t done with it is bake.  Realising that this could not continue I decided to pick a simple cake that required no icing as I wanted to showcase the beauty of the tin.

The cake is based on the madeira cake recipe on the BBC Good Food website.  I find denser crumbed sponges work better in bundt tins than lighter ones and also retain better definition when baked, which is important when using a finely detailed tin.

Like a more domesticated Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big bundts and I cannot lie (I may have made this joke before, apologies if I have, but it still made me laugh).  This is a 10 cup capacity’s a big one!

I decided to make the sponges separately as it’s a big cake and wanted to avoid worrying about whether I’d divided the creamed mixture evenly; I know you can weigh it to ensure evenness but I couldn’t be bothered.  When the batter is quick to make like this one, there is no detriment to one batter sitting to one side and waiting for its compadre to be born.

For those who watch the Great British Bake Off, I am pleased to report that I got a crack on the top of my Madeira.  Sadly, being a bundt, this became the bottom on turning out so the world at large never got to see my glorious crack!


For the chocolate sponge:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon chocolate extract - optional
170g self raising flour
30g cocoa powder
50g ground almonds

For the vanilla sponge:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g self raising flour
50g ground almonds


Preheat the oven to 170C/fan oven 150C/340F/gas mark 3.

Generously grease a large bundt tin – I used cake release spray.

Start by making the chocolate sponge: beat together the butter and sugar until light and whippy.  Don’t skimp on this stage.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Beat in the chocolate extract, if using.

Beat in the flour, cocoa powder and ground almonds.

Put to one side.

Now make the vanilla sponge following the same method but using vanilla extract instead of chocolate, and the adjusted amount of flour (it will be more in the vanilla cake – per the ingredients above – as there is no cocoa).

Spoon the batters alternately into the tin, then use a skewer to swirl them together.

Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before taking a bread knife (or other big knife) and levelling the top – I use the tin as a guide. This will ensure the base will be level when you turn it out.

Turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve in generous slices.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Pistachio and almond cake

Sometimes, a cake comes about simply because you have an ingredient that you are desperate to use.  My wonderful friend Jasmin has recently been on holiday to Sicily and, amongst other foodie goodies, kindly bought me back some intriguingly green pistachio marzipan.  It has sat on my baking shelf for almost a month as I mused how best to use it…and now I’m ready!

The marzipan wasn’t enough to use around a battenburg-style cake so I decided on baking it into a nutty sponge cake.  I rather like the idea of the cake looking like a normal sponge only to reveal a layer of marzipan when cut into.  Enclosing it entirely in the batter also meant that it retained its bold colour.

No icing needed for this rich fragrant sponge; the topping is simply some chopped pistachios mixed with honey.  I put this on top of the sponge while it was still warm so any excess honey would be absorbed into the sponge making it even more soft and moist.  Cakes like this age so well too as the nuts release their oils over time and the flavour and texture is enhanced.

If you don’t have (or indeed, don’t like) marzipan, the cake would still be lovely without it.  You could have it as a plain sponge, or cut the sponge through on baking and fill with buttercream.  What I hadn’t banked on (this is my last attempt to sway you to use marzipan!), was that the sponge under the marzipan absorbed the oils from it as it baked and ended up crisp and delicious.

Personally, I see this as more of a dessert cake simply because of the rich nuttiness of the sponge.  It isn’t a dry crumbed sponge.  Serve either warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream or even some natural yoghurt.

Thanks for the gift Jasmin - wish I could send you a slice!


For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
120g ground almonds
100g ground pistachios – make this yourself by grinding pistachios to fine powder in a food processor
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g pistachio or almond marzipan

For the topping:
60g pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon runny honey – just enough to coat the nuts


Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and whippy.  Do not skimp on this stage – keep going until the mix is pale and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Beat in the ground almonds and ground pistachios.

Beat in the flour and baking powder.

Spoon just over half the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Roll the marzipan out into a disc slightly smaller than the size of the tin – you want the batter to completely engulf it, so it’s a surprise when you cut into the cake.

Lay the marzipan on the batter.

Spoon the remaining batter into the tin and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean – don’t worry if it takes longer; mine took almost an hour.

NB. When you bake the cake, especially if you use a springform tin, you will see the nut oils dripping from the tin – we’re only talking a little, not a flood, but it’s a good idea to either stand the cake tin on a baking sheet, or place a baking sheet on the shelf below with some kitchen paper to catch any drips.

Now make the topping: roughly chop the pistachios.

Mix with enough honey to coat the nuts but not pool in the bowl.

Spoon onto the top of the cake.

Leave to cool for 20 minutes in the tin, before de-tinning and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve in generous slices.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

Coconut Cream tart

When Mr CC and I have a quiet Sunday at home it will usually begin with the Channel 4 show ‘Sunday Brunch’.  Most of this time is spent asking each other if we have heard of the ‘celebrity’ guests and complaining about the awful music they choose to showcase either side of the ad breaks.  I think we’re getting old! It is, primarily, a cooking show, yet I rarely want to replicate the dishes that are made….until last weekend’s show when this recipe for coconut cream tart cropped up.  They followed the US convention of calling it coconut cream pie but, to me, if there’s no pastry lid in sight….it ain’t a pie!

I have long wanted to make a coconut cream tart but, when I looked up US recipes, they often seem to include ingredients such as ‘pudding mix’ and I don’t know what that is.  This recipe uses custard powder, so I wonder if that’s what pudding mix effectively is – just a cornflower based thickening agent?

This is not a dessert for the diet conscious.  It is rich, creamy, and huge…all things that make it pretty ace!  The creamy mascarpone topping is so much nicer that plain whipped cream as it has a custard-like flavour; indeed, I have used it in the past as both a shortcut for crème patisserie, and custard in a trifle.  It is hard not to eat it all straight from the bowl.  I added a little sugar to the topping (as well as increasing the quantity of topping) as the whole tart is not overly sweet.  When a US guest on Sunday Brunch tried it she commented that it was not as sweet as American versions.  If you want a sweeter tart maybe add more sugar to the custard layer.

There is coconut in the biscuit base and the custard is bulked out with a lot of desiccated coconut.  It means the custard layer is not smooth but the benefit is that it really boosts the coconut flavour.  If, like me, you can never have anything too coconutty then this is heaven!

I suppose you could serve it with some berries in an attempt to make it look a bit healthier but I didn’t bother.  I decided to embrace its creamy, custardy goodness in all its white/yellow/beige splendour!


For the base:
225g digestive biscuits
90g unsalted butter, at room temperature
15g desiccated coconut

For the filling:
3 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
475ml milk
225g coconut cream
60g custard powder
30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g desiccated coconut
For the topping:
150g mascarpone
300ml double cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
Handful of toasted coconut flakes – I couldn’t find toasted flakes anywhere so toasted some coconut in a dry frying pan; keep it moving and don’t let it burn!


Start by making the base: place the biscuits in a food processor and blitz until you have fine crumbs. 

Add the butter and coconut and blitz again.

NB. If you don’t have a food processor and are crushing the biscuits using the ‘bashing them with a rolling pin’ method, you will need to melt the butter.

Press the damp crumbs into a 23cm loose bottomed tart tin.

Refrigerate for an hour.

Now make the filling: beat together the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and fluffy.  They will puff up in volume.

Beat in the vanilla.

Place the milk, coconut cream and custard powder in a pan and bring gently to the boil.  Stir enough to ensure the custard powder has dissolved and is not clumping in lumps at the bottom of the pan.

Remove from the heat and gradually pour over the egg mix, whisking well the whole time.

Sieve the mixture back into the saucepan (don’t skip this stage – there will be little eggy lumps that you don’t want in your creamy filling!) and simmer, stirring the whole time, until the mix is thick and creamy.  If it coats the back of a spoon it’s the thickness you want.

Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the butter and desiccated coconut.

Spoon into the biscuit base and level the surface.

Press clingfilm over the surface (to stop any skin forming) and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Now make the topping: beat the mascarpone just enough to slacken it a little.

Pour in the cream and beat until the mix is thick enough to hold its shape.

Beat in the icing sugar.

Spoon on top of the tart.

Scatter over the toasted coconut flakes.

Serve in generous slices.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.