Tag Archives: chocolate

Chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake

Henry is away in Sweden, so I decided to make him a nice welcome-home cheesecake…. well… okay I admit it, I wanted cheesecake! BUT I did decide to make a sort of Henry-themed one as a kind of “you’ve been away nerding out and eating junk food for five days, now have some cheesecake” sentiment. See? I had everyone’s best interests at heart.

Now, a couple of weeks ago he asked me to make some sort of pumpkin and bourbon cheesecake concoction. Luckily tinned pumpkin, one of the chief ingredients, is not readily available in the UK. At least, none jumped out at me as I was browsing the peanut butter shelves in Sainsbury’s. Obviously, I had thought about what alternate flavour Henry might like, and quite quickly settled on peanut butter. That wasn’t hard, seeing as he has been known to eat spoonfuls of the stuff as a snack. (He claims it’s a nutritionally sound snack, secretly I think it’s one of those things you eat because you were never allowed to as a child; for example, cereal for dinner – in fact cereal for every meal, and snacks too – or coffee and hula hoops for “brunch” on a weekend.) Of course it had to be peanut butter and chocolate, because, well, why would you not add chocolate?

chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

Clearly, things are better when there are layers.

I prettymuch used the recipe I used for the one a day cheesecake:

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
75g smooth peanut butter
100g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, melted

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well with butter
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Pour half of the mixture into a bowl
6.  To one half, add the peanut butter; to the other half, add the melted chocolate
7. Pour the peanut butter layer onto the base and smooth it out with a spatula, then pour the chocolate layer on top and smooth that out too
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9.  Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then remove it from the tin onto a plate and put it in the fridge to set for a few hours

The finished article:

Ignore that tiny crack that I just pointed out (on the plus side, this was a result of careless manhandling rather than it cracking while baking).

Total deliciousness… I had my first helping with a sliced banana, then my second helping on its own. The third helping was a pre-dinner snack (it’s good for you). I expect Henry will enjoy his washed down with a glass of milk. I just hope, when he does get back, he doesn’t mind that a significant portion is missing.


Macaroons vs. Macarons

I recently bought Jill Colonna’s Mad about Macarons, figuring that there had to be some basis to the extreme fashionableness of macarons these days. These are most certainly not to be confused with macaroons. I remember the macaroons my mother used to make (erm, that makes it sound like she’s dead or something – she’s decidedly not, but now I don’t live in my parents’ house any more I don’t really keep up with what they’re cooking). These macaroons had no fancy flavours or colours. Just pure almond deliciousness (don’t get me started on coconut macaroons. One word: abomination) , and I would always try to choose the one with the most rice paper. I think that was what made me want to try them in the first place – the fact that they were baked on paper, and it was paper you could eat, and it was delicious.

macaroons(just to confuse matters, I photographed these on our French placemats…)

So. Macaroons. Rustic, humble, I-need-to-use-up-egg-whites macaroons. A world away from these Parisian macarons with their jewel colours and fancy fillings. This is absolutely reflected in the ingredients and method for each. I am not even going to write out the recipe for the macarons, firstly because you can find it in the book, secondly because it would take an age, and thirdly (most importantly) because I didn’t really rate them that highly. Suffice it to say that it involved ageing my egg whites in the fridge for four days (talk about the antidote to instant gratification – award another point to the macaroons), sifting various things, beating egg whites to firm peaks only to later use the end of a spatula to press out all the air (um, what?), piping out the macaron shells, leaving to set for half an hour, baking in batches, cooling, piping on ganache, and finally sandwiching two halves together. I might add that you need a perfectly flat baking tray (something I apparently lack), or they slide a bit and become misshapen when they bake. Finding two halves that were similarly misshapen just added another level of complexity.


The macaroons, however… Well, the recipe speaks for itself. I used the recipe from the BBC food website, which called them marunchinos. I like this: it sounds kind of cute, like an odd Italian pet name (“Hello my little marunchino, how is your baking today?” – Henry, take note). It actually is the word for Sephardi macaroons, which apparently are popular at Pesach. I changed it slightly – they say to use almond slivers on the top, but my mother always used whole almonds so of course I did too.

1 egg white
175g ground almonds  (freshly ground is best, but you can use pre-ground ones)
125g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
whole almonds for the tops
rice paper (optional)

1. Line a baking tray with rice paper or a silicone liner. Preheat the oven to 180C
2.  Whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the almonds, sugar, salt, and extract
3. Mix it all up, then roll into walnut-sized balls and squash flat and put on the baking tray
4. Press an almond into the centre of each macaroon, then bake for around 20 minutes until lightly coloured

Easy as that.


Now, it sounds like I don’t like macarons at all. This is not true. They were very tasty. But, in my mind, they were no more tasty than the macaroons, and considering the former took an evening of sifting and electric whisking and piping and baking in batches and sandwiching, after all of which the recipe suggested I don’t actually eat my creations right away but wait at least 24 hours, but ideally 36, before tucking in (apparently this improves the taste. My opinion after a taste test: no difference), not to mention that afterwards the kitchen looked like I’d tried to find an innovative way to get icing sugar everything and used every piece of baking equipment in the process; while the latter can be whipped up in about 45 minutes and only require a large bowl (yes, I know you’re meant to whip the egg whites until foamy, but if you really can’t be bothered it’s actually not a big deal if you don’t), AND there is no icing sugar so I don’t have to wipe down every surface in the kitchen afterwards. Not to mention I am slightly obsessed with chewy things, and these are practically the definition of the delicious chewiness I so adore.  It is most definitely a case of resource/reward.

Having said all that I will give the macarons another go. They do look very impressive, and Henry says he prefers them. I think that the recipe may have been overly complicated. I think if I bake them a little longer they will take on a bit more of the solid chewiness I so adore. I think they would make lovely gifts for people, if I were planning to make a baked gift. But I tend towards thinking that simpler is better, and this comparison has not given me any reason to think otherwise.

One a Day Cheesecake (or, hazelnut caramel chocolate cheesecake)

I never used to like cheesecake. This fact would enough to make me very sad and angry, now that I have discovered the One a Day Cheesecake, except that the recipe book it’s from (The Humingbird Bakery – Cake Days) was only recently published. So I haven’t been missing out for that long.

It was pure luck that led me to make this cheesecake. Henry bought me the book (which I highly recommend) for my birthday, then got a new job. Obviously my natural response was to bake something from my new recipe book to celebrate. The cheesecake looked so tasty – all I had to do was get Henry to use his remaining days of being a stay-at-home husband to pick up an obscene amount of cream cheese and we were good to go.

caramel hazelnut chocolate cheesecake

I have come to realise that I find it almost pathologically impossible to follow any recipe to the letter. I tend to skim read then erroneously reconstruct the instructions in my head, then read again after the relevant step to find out I’ve done it differently. Or I can’t be fussed with having two different types of butter in my kitchen. And I definitely can’t be bothered with lining things with baking parchment. I suppose I am also blessed in that the vast majority of what I make turns out fine (and comes out of the pan…) – perhaps if it didn’t I would be a more conscientious baker. But I promise you this works – so here is the glory I call the One a Day Cheesecake.

Serves one (me) , or two at a push, for a good five days

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
50g caramel or dulce de leche (you can buy it ready made in a tin, or make your own if you are inclined)
50g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

More caramel/dulce de leche (if you want to be scant you can be scant, likewise if you want to be generous do so. The original recipe suggests 4 tablespoons. I just poured it on until I felt like stopping)
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts (dry fry in a pan, shaking often to toast. When they’re browning, tip onto a plate to cool. If you have whole hazelnuts, whack a few times with a rolling pin to break them up a bit)

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Take out a third of the mixture and set aside (preferably in a bowl… not just on your kitchen counter)
6.  To the 2/3 mix, add the caramel and stir well. To the 1/3 mix, melt the chocolate and stir in
7. Spread the caramel cheesecake mix onto your biscuit base, then spread the chocolate cheesecake mix on top
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9. (ESSENTIAL STEP)* Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then put it in the fridge to set for a few hours. Remove it from its tin and top with the caramel and toasted hazelnuts

caramel chocolate hazelnut cheesecake

*I am too used to baking things that go into the oven liquidy and come out more solid. This cheesecake comes out of the oven still liquidy. Luckily I took a photo before I cut into it, but I was too keen to try it (and it was about 11pm by this time and I wasn’t going to stay up to allow for chilling time). When I took out a couple of slices, there was a sort of cheesecake landslide and it all ended up very sunken and messy. I was amazed when the next day it was all set (amazed like, “wow! I didn’t know it would do that!” because I really thought I’d undercooked it despite my oven being preheated and cooking it for the specified time). So yes, chilling time is essential, unless you are really really hungry and don’t mind having a sunken landslide cheesecake mess. It’s not that much of a disaster as it just means that it is not in a state to be seen by others as it might cast doubt on your baking prowess, so you have to eat it all yourself.

One last thing, why do I call it the One a Day Cheesecake? Because I believe I could happily eat a slice of this cheesecake every single day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it. It is delightfully textural with the creamy cheesecake and crunchy hazelnuts, and the chocolate layer really makes it something special. I did have a mini-depression when I finished it then wanted a slice after rollerskating. I missed the cheesecake… like a lost lover snatched from a dream. Though, it has put me on a real cheesecake kick, so I am excited to explore what other cheesecakey delights are out there. Watch this space.

Chocolate espresso pots

I had a hankering for chocolate espresso pots. Perhaps it was because I had been going to make a chocolate tart but then didn’t, or because we were eating al fresco and a little dessert in an espresso cup seemed fitting. The use of pancetta may also have had something to do with it. Sometimes it’s nice to make an event out of dinner on a random weeknight.

Now I was sure I had a recipe for these, but when I looked it up it wasn’t the recipe I thought. So after consulting several recipes and deciding I didn’t want to use 6 egg yolks (meringue/macaroon anyone?), I took matters into my own hands and made up my own recipe.

Serves 4

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
pinch salt

Break the chocolate into pieces. Add the cream and microwave for 1 minute on high. Stir until choc is melted, then whisk in the egg yolk. Once smooth, mix in sugar, salt and coffee until all smooth. Divide between four espresso cups and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.

I very much enjoyed these. I would happily serve these at a dinner party as a mini dessert if I’d made a really big main, or even as an extra bonus dessert for people too full for the chocolate tart (or greedy enough to want both). Or for a decadent weeknight, as they really took next to no time to actually make. One egg white is not too hard to use up. I am fairly sure my cupboard will always have at least 50g dark chocolate in it. You could easily mix them up by adding vanilla instead of coffee granules, or orange chocolate, or baileys, or rum… definitely rum. I think I will be making these again very soon.

Eggless double chocolate cookies

I am still searching for the perfect cookie recipe, so I was delighted when I picked up the June edition of Sainsbury’s magazine and found six variations on a cookie recipe. What is interesting is that the recipe uses condensed milk instead of egg, so while I now have half a tin of condensed milk in my freezer that I will pull out in three month’s time and wonder what the heck it is, the brilliance is that you can eat as much raw cookie dough as you like. You could also use it to make cookie dough ice cream, but I suspect I will really start to appreciate the egglessness in the future when I am pregnant. Just saying.

Makes 16

125g butter, softened
125g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons condensed milk
125g self-raising flour
50g cocoa, sifted
pinch salt
100g white chocolate, chopped (or white chocolate chips)

1. Preheat the oven to 150C (fan 130C). Line or grease two baking sheets
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, then the flour, cocoa and salt. Finally, stir in the chocolate
3. Roll into balls then squash flat onto a baking tray, leaving space for the cookies to spread
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack (but not for too long. We all know cookies are best still oven-warm)

Firstly, I have to say that the cookie dough was delicious. I probably ate a whole cookie’s worth before I managed to get them in the oven. And the cookies themselves were delicious too – crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I look forward to trying some of the other variations… toffee fudge chunk here I come… after I finish off the chocolate ones, of course.

The Chewy

I’ve been having one of those evenings. You know the ones? Yeah, one of those ones. The ones where you’ve had a kind of unproductive day, then you get a call – dinner date, great, kicked back into action. Dressed nicely, hair looking good. Then you get another call, which you were beginning to suspect anyway, because it comes half an hour late – sorry, cancelled, something came up. Can’t be helped.

So I have no dinner and my hair looks nice for nothing and I trudge on over to Tesco’s to pick up a ready meal, practising my look of aloof desolation, as I really am dressed rather too nicely for this, and also feeling rather sorry for myself.

I am thinking it’s time to bake. I am thinking of a cookie recipe I have been wanting to try for ages but never got around to: The Chewy. I am thinking that if these are the best damn cookies in the world (or even, let’s be honest, just half decent) then this evening might just be salvaged.

Makes around 24
250g butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsps milk
1 tbsp vanilla essence
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups chocolate chips (or 200g chocolate, chopped)

1. Melt the butter, then cream with the sugars using an electric whisk (or stand mixer, if you’re lucky enough to have one that’s not a repository for kitchen detritus that you have nowhere else to put, so shove it in this handy large bowl so helpfully kept on the counter)
2.  Mix in the egg and yolk, then the milk and vanilla, until well combined
3. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add, but by bit, until all combined
4. Stir in the chocolate chips and chill the mixture in the fridge (you can chill for however long you like really – anywhere from half an hour, if you want your cookies ASAP, up to a day and a half. Apparently the flavour improves the longer you chill as the sugar does some sort of magicky caramelly thing which makes them richer and more delicious)
5. Preheat the oven to 180C. Drop balls of mixture onto greased baking sheets, being sure to leave lots of space as they really spread (I did approximately 1/8 a cup of mixture and 6 to a sheet, then for the next round a little less and 7-8 to a sheet). Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown.

Recipe notes
I modified the recipe very minimally, decreasing the salt and chocolate (as I read that they are almost TOO chocolatey… and I didn’t have enough chocolate anyway) and upping the vanilla. They were yum, and just right for eating while curling up on the sofa with a glass of milk and some knitting. I even tried thinking about Big Things like careers and my upcoming wedding. Now I’m not saying that these cookies spurred me into action on either count, though I did finally get around to emailing the caterer, which I had been putting off all week and had been filling me with apprehension for some reason. Coincidence? Maybe, but I have this recipe bookmarked for the next time I want a handful of comfort. Things somehow seem easier to tackle when you have a cookie in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, and if that is all it takes to make me feel better about life in general then, well, I might just help myself to another.

Birthday bundt

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, so as is the tradition it was on me to provide cake for my colleagues (small price to pay as they got me some lovely presents). Naturally I decided on a bundt cake, as I am still pretty excited by my new bundt tin, and there just seems to me something festive about bundt cakes – particularly when you add stars and sprinkles. Happy birthday me!

Birthday sprinkles
I used my favourite vanilla cake recipe, adapted from the Primrose Cafe cupcake book, which I perhaps could have scaled up as the tin could definitely have been filled a bit fuller, which would have had the added bonus of making a bigger cake. 
Get that bundt in the oven!
Vanilla bundt cake
225g butter, at room temperature
225g sugar (supposedly caster sugar; I used granulated as I don’t have loads of space in my cupboard for multiple sugar varieties – it worked fine)
210g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla exract
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 160C (fan) / 180C and greaser your bundt tin well
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
Alternate adding the eggs with 1/4 of the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition. 
Add the milk and vanilla extract and give it one last mix
Pour the mixture into the bundt tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and golden brown (a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the tin should come out clean)
When cool enough, carefully turn out onto the plate you are planning to serve on (this is where you find out how well you really greased your tin…)
Chocolate glaze
For the chocolate glaze, I did a bad thing and did not write down what I did to make it. I knew I was doing a bad thing at the time but the truth is that I had a godawful cold (yes, in August) which had me off work sick that afternoon, so all I had done was come home, sleep on the sofa, get up to make the cake, nap again, glaze it. I will work it out again as it was pretty damn tasty. 
For now, accept that I used good-quality 100g dark chocolate, maybe 3-4 tbsp sour cream, ditto golden syrup. Melt all together in a saucepan over a low heat, add more golden syrup to taste – I like mine quite tangy but if you like it sweeter then cut a bit of the sour cream (or use regular cream).
Cool so it’s not completely runny then drizzle over the cake, then add sprinkles. 
I want the biggest piece
For my birthday, I got this:
Engagement ring
Yes… Henry and I are getting married =) Hence why this update is so late, as I have been busy writing guest lists and visiting venues and thinking about dresses and flowers and centrepieces and a cupcake wedding cake! (More on this to come, no doubt. I am definitely making it myself :D)