The Perfect Chocolate Truffle

When you don’t know what to get somebody, an edible gift is usually a good way to go. Whereas a box of chocolates or macarons is pretty amazing to receive, I do enjoy going the extra mile, and making presents from scratch!

Today I was reading the Guardian article on making the Perfect Chocolate Truffle, and immediately had a strong desire to make some. Chocolate truffles always go down well as gifts, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment with some new recipes instead of always sticking to my go-to formula.

I tested out four recipes in total:

  1. My recipe for milky chocolate truffles
  2. Paul A. Young‘s chocolate muscovado truffles
  3. Cocoa & Me classic chocolate ganache truffles
  4. Tartlette’s truffes au chocolat

For the truffles, I used a mixture of Lindt Cooking chocolate, Lindt 70% eating chocolate, and Valrhona Noir 68%. I dusted the results in Green & Black’s cocoa powder. All of the truffles tasted equally fabulous, it was quite actually hard to discern any difference between the chocolates I’d used, but my favourite was the Lindt cooking chocolate, which had the most round-bodied flavour.

My own recipe for truffles always turns out slightly soft, which makes it perfect for using as a topping for chocolate cakes, but slightly difficult when it comes to forming little spheres, rolling them in cocoa powder, and packaging them up neatly.

I melted down milk and dark chocolate together, and combined it with an equal quantity of double cream. This mixture I popped into the freezer to set. It is quite soft, so it was with speed, and some difficulty that I rolled them out into balls, covered with cocoa powder, and stuck into the fridge.

Next up was the Paul A Young truffles. They looked very straightforward, and in terms of method and ingredient volumes – very similar to my own go-to recipe. However, the cream and sugar formed a much thicker mixture in the pan, and it was much richer-tasting as well, the dark chocolate being unadulterated by any additional milk chocolate flavours. Very delicious. This also took quite a long time to set, so I resorted to chilling the ganache in the freezer, and similarly, was on the soft side when it came to rolling them out and coating the balls in ganache. Another one to keep in the fridge.

Cocoa & Me  is one of the cutest blogs ever, written by a Japanese market stallhaller in London, she has some of the most beautifully crafted baked goods I’ve ever seen. Not surprisingly, I was keen to give her basic ganache truffles recipe a whirl.

The ganache split as I was making it, but it wasn’t too disastrous, so I gave it a good whisking, poured it into another bowl, and stuck it into the fridge, hoping it wouldn’t do any further separating whilst it was chilling.

The Cocoa & Me truffles set really well; a lot firmer than my usual go-to recipe, rich and dense. Whilst I do enjoy the convenience of not having to coat the truffles or leave them in the fridge permanently, these had a slightly crumbly texture which I wasn’t too fond of. The meltier texture of softer truffles somehow seems more luxurious, although it is more tricky to handle. This would be a good robust truffle if you were packaging them up and handing them out as gifts.

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Cocoa & Me truffles

Finally, Tartlette’s recipe! It is unusual here in that it doesn’t require any double cream, but relies on dark chocolate, butter, icing sugar and egg yolks. This was handy as I’d just used all of the cream up!

I made a half batch as I didn’t have quite enough butter, reduced the quantity of icing sugar to 50g, and altered the method for greater simplicity by heating the chocolate and butter together in a bain-marie; whisking the egg and icing sugar together, and finally mixing the sugary eggy mixture into the melted chocolate and chilling the tempting chocolatey goo in the fridge.

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Tartlette truffles

I actually really loved the Tartlette truffles, and they went down very well with everyone (except the resident chocolate hater). They had a great texture and flavour, and like the Cocoa & Me truffles solidified nicely, which is always a plus in my book as it means I don’t have to roll them in an additional coating of chocolate. They had a slightly less smooth mouthfeel than my usual truffles and I’m not quite sure why. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, just noticeable.

These truffles are definitely one to make again, and possibly experiment further with by adding other flavourings e.g. adding a bit of jam, and rolling them in freeze-dried raspberry powder.

So …

What wins the prize of Perfect Truffle?

Well, I still prefer my go-to recipe in terms of simplicity, and all-round pleasing flavour, especially when it comes to a younger, more sweet-toothed audience. Accolades for flavour and ease of packaging go towards the Tartlette ones. For the sophisticated palate, the Paul Young truffles are a winner. Pick and choose your chocolate vice 🙂

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Granary Loaf

Following on from my quest to create the perfect loaf, Easter has been a good excuse to try baking my own daily bread instead of popping to the supermarket for a readymade sliced loaf. While I’m never going to make all my own bread from scratch, there’s something very satisfying about turning out a home-baked loaf. This was absolutely delicious – and we cut slices from the loaf before it even had the chance to cool down properly. Perfect with a swipe of salted butter, or sandwiches.

Granary Loaf

Makes 1 loaf

  • 450g granary flour (or any seeded bread flour)
  • 50g spelt flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7g dried yeast
  • jug of lukewarm water

Combine all the dried ingredients together and mix well. Add enough water to bring it together into a slightly sticky dough. Knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave somewhere for around 2 hours until it doubles in size. Gently shape it to fit a greased 2lb loaf tin, cover with clingfilm, and leave for 1 hour to double in size again. Preheat the oven to 220˚C and put a tin of water on the bottom of the oven to create lots of steam. Bake the loaf for around 30 minutes, remove from the tin, and wrap in a clean teatowel. Leave to cool.

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Sultana and Walnut Loaf

This is based on the Ottolenghi recipe for Sour Cherry and Walnut Loaf.

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I have made it a couple of times, as I didn’t seem to get it quite right the first few tries, possibly partly down to not having the correct ingredients, but also my relative inexperience when it comes to baking with bread. I’m still working on it, but it’s pretty tasty fresh, especially spread with a slathering of salted butter.

Chocolate Tiffin

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I was at a funeral a few days ago. It was a time when I saw some friends I hadn’t seen for years, and strangely wonderful seeing them again, albeit in dreadfully unfortunate circumstances. I was a bit melancholic afterwards, and had a really bizarre dream that night that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days afterwards. Weird.

Anyway, this recipe is not related to funerals, death or anything morbid at all, but I noticed that I had an enormous stash of dried fruit, nuts, and some really rather disappointing Waitrose disgestive biscuits that were nothing like the McVities sort (it just so happens that the McVities factory is quite simply the most divine smelling place on earth, regardless of the awful industrial estate surroundings).

Anyway – dried fruit and nuts, plus half a packet of digestives, and I knew that tiffin would be a good way to go. A word of warning – I was complacent about how easy I thought this recipe would be, and didn’t crush the biscuits, or chop the nuts small enough the first time round, so the mixture was too chunky to hold together firmly.

Fortunately tiffin is a malleable mixture, and happily reforms with the aid of a rolling pin/large knife, and generous quantities of melted chocolate. So remember…small chunks, and compress together REALLY firmly. Oh, and only slice once completely set.

Chocolate Tiffin

  • 250g dark chocolate (or a mixture of dark and milk)
  • 125g butter
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g digestive biscuits, some crushed small, some crushed to a powder
  • 50g nuts, coarsely chopped (I used hazelnuts)
  • 100g dried fruit, coarsely chopped (I used dried blueberries, dried cherries, prunes, and sultanas)

Line a square baking tin with clingfilm. Melt the dark chocolate together with the butter and golden syrup in a big bowl over a pan of boiling water. Mix in the biscuits, nuts and fruit until thoroughly coated. Compact the contents down really firmly with your hands, cover tightly with clingfilm, and press down again to get the mixture as compact as possible. Chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours, then slice with a sharp knife into squares.

Back to (Running) Basics

As I said in a recent post, I have been finding it difficult getting out and running regularly. In the last week, there have been budding signs of improvement…I have managed to go out for a run for five consecutive days!

Anyway, nothing spectacular in terms of distances yet, but I’m just glad I’m throwing myself out there. What’s changed? Well, I did take quite a long break from my old running routine, and I’m not back into it yet. I’ve tried to take everything back to the way it was when I first started.

  1. Not caring about distances covered. 
  2. Slowing down, or walking for a bit up some steep inclines
  3. Going out when I felt most energetic and motivated – which isn’t necessarily first thing in the morning
  4. Not forcing myself to run in a tempest, or snowstorm, or pelting rain.
  5. Changing my music
  6. Not even wearing my normal running kit…just going out there in whatever old comfy clothes I happen to be wearing that day
  7. Mixing up my fitness routine – be it walking or cycling or dancing

I hope it’s working. I definitely feel refreshed, and the mental exhaustion that was plaguing me before seems to be slowly clearing. No marathons for a while though, that’s for sure.

Baci di Dama

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Baci di Dama, also known as Lady’s Kisses, are Italian hazelnut biscuits sandwiched together with a dollop of chocolate. I first saw them on David Lebovitz’s blog, and then a couple of months later, when an Italian friend introduced me to these delights. And with the newly replenished stock of hazelnuts in my baking cupboard, here finally was my opportunity to recreate these delights!

I can’t resist playing with a recipe. I had made some hazelnut butter, and wondered if that would make a good subtitute for part of the butter, and I wanted to reduce the butter content anyway. I decided to make a small batch following David Lebovitz’s recipe, and one batch reducing the butter content and replacing it with hazelnut paste.

The biscuits smelled wonderful as they were baking. All of the biscuits had a fantastic flavour, and short crumbly texture, which made for slightly messy eating! The hazelnut butter batch was slightly less cracked in appearance, and tasted just as great.

Hazelnut Cupcakes

Thanks to my successes so far with the recipes from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, I couldn’t help but give another one of them a go this weekend. This time, it was the turn of the hazelnut cupcakes, which looked and sounded divine. I love the flavour of hazelnuts, and if it came in a cake, well how could that go wrong?

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The method is slightly different from my usual cakes, and it did require a lot of elbow grease to bring it together, but they went into the oven, and away they rose.

At first, I thought they had gone completely wrong. The cakes started to peel away from their cases the moment they exited the oven. The flavours were delicately nutty, but it didn’t pair well with the heavy and dense texture of the sponge. I wasn’t sure if they had been underbaked, although they all passed the skewer test upon exiting the oven. Disappointed, I boxed them up, and baked another batch with yoghurt instead of sour cream.

Happily, they worked beautifully. The texture of the yoghurt cupcakes is much lighter and fluffier than the original version. It is still quite a close crumb, but works very well in the setting – reminding me of a hazelnut-flavoured financier. Batch 2’s cupcake cases didn’t peel at all. I used a different set and from browsing online, it appears that using poor quality cupcake cases is the culprit here.

To give an extra happy ending to this process, and extra tick boxes for Ottolenghi, Batch 1 micraculously transformed overnight into an incredible gustatory delight. The sponge remains dense, but in a highly delicious manifestation. They were very rich, far richer than the yoghurt version, so I would prefer them in petit-four, as opposed to cupcake sized portions.

Hazelnut Cupcakes

Makes 6

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

  • 75g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 75ml plain yoghurt
  • 90g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 22g toasted hazelnuts, coarsely ground

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Cream the butter, sugar and hazelnut oil thoroughly together until pale and fluffy, then gradually add the egg little by little until well-incorporated. Whisk in the plain yoghurt.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, and mix in the ground hazelnuts. Add this to the creamed mixture in one go, and fold in gently with a spatula. Divide between 6 cupcake cases. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top. Leave in the tins to cool for 10 minutes, and then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Best eaten cold.

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Where’s my running mojo gone?

I’ve stopped running.

I’ve noticed this as a slow decline in mileage over the last couple of months, to the point where I am managing to complete a short run about once a week now. I feel awful about it.

It’s never a pleasant feeling going through a running low. This has been one of the longest dry spells I have ever experienced, and it’s literally like my brain is telling me I do not want to go out and run. 

Walking, that’s ok. Just about.

Running? Nahhhh.

I miss my trainers, but at the same time, actually, I don’t. My mind and body are torn.

I wonder if it is route exhaustion that I am experiencing, or whether I have to jazz up my fitness routine with something new instead. Is it because the weather hasn’t been that great? Is it because there is something wrong health-wise? I just don’t know.

I wish I could regain my enthusiasm for pounding the pavements.

I really do.

As for the marathon I was preparing for – well the decision has been pretty much taken out of my hands now. I haven’t trained for it at all. Disappointing, but at the same time, somewhat of a relief.

Strasberry Triple Layer Cake

Spring really is in the air now. There are snowdrops clustered in the garden, vibrant purple and gold crocuses, and daffodils proudly standing tall. For me, pink and spring have always seemed to go hand in hand. I wanted to make a pink cake, and here’s the beautiful result.

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This cake already wins the award for “Most Rapidly Consumed Cake of the Year.” I baked it in the afternoon, but 2 hours later, more than half of it had already vanished.

The name was a bit of a conundrum. Calling it a Strawberry and Raspberry Triple Layer Yoghurt Cake seemed a bit long-winded, so straspberry it is.

The recipe for the sponge itself was adapted from the yoghurt cake from Chocolate & Zucchini, an excellent French foodie blog. I made a few modifications – I didn’t know the volume of yoghurt in Muller Strawberry Corners, for instance, so I used 2 and hoped for the best.

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Anyway, the speed at which it was consumed should be testimony to how delicious this cake was. It was light and fresh, but substantial and satisfying all at the same time. The flavours are very delicate, with the tang from the yoghurt complimenting the strawberry and raspberry flavours beautifully. The crust does darken considerably (in fact, in the photo it looks alarmingly black) but I assure you it definitely wasn’t burnt.

Also another note for this who prefer to healthify their baking – I tried making the cake a 2nd time using fat-free fromage frais, and the results weren’t nearly as tender or light, so here, I would highly recommend using the full-fat version for the best results.

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Straspberry Triple Layer Cake

Cake recipe adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini.

For the cake:

  • 2 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 pots of yoghurt (I used Muller Strawberry Corners – save the compote for filling the cakes with)
  • 80ml vegetable oil
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20g finely chopped, freeze-dried strawberries/raspberries

For the filling and icing:

  • strawberry compote from 2 Muller Corners 
  • strawberry jam
  • milk/water (optional)
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 3-4 powdered freeze-dried raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line 3 x 15cm cake tins.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together. Whisk in the yoghurt, followed by the oil, and vanilla extract. Mix the flour, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda together. Add it to the liquid mixture in one go, and fold in gently, just until the flour disappears, even if the batter is still lumpy. Fold in the freeze-dried fruit. Divide between the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and springy.

Remove the cakes from the tins and leave to cool. Trim the cakes flat with a bread knife.

Make the buttercream by beating together butter and sugar until fluffy, then adding a little milk if it is too stiff. Add a spoonful of compote or jam, to tint the icing pink. Pipe a ring of buttercream on each cake layer, and a spiral going into the centre of the cake. Smooth out to form a smooth layer with a palette knife. On the 2 middle layers, sprinkle over half the powdered freeze-dried strawberries, then top with a thin layer of compote/jam. Stack the layers on top of each other. Finally, on the top layer, sprinkle with the remaining freeze-dried raspberries.

Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Macarons

Most successful attempt at macaron making yet, and I am over the moon!

I did say no more after the last billion attempts, but I just couldn’t stay away. The recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook,  has lots of rave reviews online, so I thought it was worth a try.

The method was the French meringue I have been struggling along with, and first attempt looked pretty good when piped onto the trays. I left both trays to set for around half an hour. I’m not sure this had anything to do with the resulting lopsidedness but none of the macarons rose evenly, with a foot on one side and pretty much nothing on the other.  Some of them had burst as well, and strangely enough, it was the macarons on the very last tray that turned out the worst.

Somewhat crestfallen, I had a second go. I mixed the almonds/icing sugar with the meringue more vigorously this time, and this mixture turned out less viscous and harder to pipe. I managed to pipe it onto two trays again, and sprinkled chopped peanuts over the macarons on the 2nd tray, before leaving both to set for around 15 minutes. The first tray turned out a bit lopsided again, though there were more good ones this time, than the last lot. The second tray turned out almost completely perfect, with only 2-3 dodgy looking macarons.

Hurrah!

The original recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook is for salted peanut and caramel macarons. I didn’t have any caramel or dulce de leche, so I substituted jam instead, to create the PBJ macaron. Still yummy, not quite so French.

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