Dark Cocoa Brownies

The house is burstingly full of sugary treats right now. There’s a tub of M&S brownie mini-bites, some leftover fairy cakes from a decorating session with the little ones, a salty chocolate cake, and now this too! I feel a little as though I may be on the brink of diabetes…

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These are the richest brownies you can make without recoursing to the delights of melted chocolate. In fact, these don’t use dark chocolate at all, relying entirely on the powers of good cocoa powder. These aren’t squidgy sugary fudgy brownies, but dense solid brownies that deliver a richly satisfying chocolatey kick. They’re particularly great for a quick bake when you haven’t got that many ingredients handy. Even better, you can pretty much make everything in one bowl, minimising washing up.

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The brownie recipe is based on a good old Hummingbird Bakery one, but I’ve dialed back the sugar, and thrown in a handful of white chocolate chunks instead. Blissful. They went down swimmingly at work and home!

Dark Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Makes 16-24 squares

  • 4 large eggs
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 120g plain flour
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 200g unsalted butter, melted
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped roughly into chunks

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Grease and line a brownie tin.

In a bowl, whisk together the 4 eggs, and the sugar until frothy. Then add the flour and cocoa powder, and mix in. Melt the butter until liquid, allow to cool, then slowly pour this into the mixture, beating as you go. Add half the white chocolate, and mix in well. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared tin, and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining chocolate chunks.

Bake the brownie for around 20 minutes until it is just set. Leave to cool in the tin until barely warm, then slice into squares.

Peach and Blackberry Crumble

Brr, it definitely feels like Autumn is on the way. The evenings are getting cooler and darker, the bathtub is populated with giant spiders, and the summer dresses are disappearing in favour of big woolly jumpers and novelty socks. I just want to cuddle up with a pillow and watch girly films, with a big spoonful of hot crumble at the ready.

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Interestingly, crumble is one English pud that’s really taken off round the globe. My French patisserie books all feature le crumble in gussied-up versions featuring pineapples, grapes, ground almonds, and a seriously heartstopping volume of butter.

With the sky overhead charcoally grey, heavy with rain, and the dim light filtering through the windows, I cut a glut of summer bounty. Juicily ripe peaches, tiny tart blackberries, a sprinkling of brown sugar. Then with the scatter of the topping, and this crumble, in all its simplicity was ready to be baked.

The rain paused, just as we tucked into the crumble. It was still hot, vivid deep purple-red juice bubbling up from its golden crust. There was pouring cream to drizzle on top too.

A simple, very seasonal, and delicious delight.

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Peach and Blackberry Crumble

Adapted from Nigel Slater on BBC Food

  • 1kg fruit
  • sprinkling of sugar
  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 100g brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Core and slice the peaches. Toss in a little sugar if they aren’t very sweet, and pop into a shallow ceramic dish with the blackberries.

Rub the flour and butter together until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the oats and brown sugar, and sprinkle over the cooked aples. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until crisp and golden-brown on top.

Serve with lashings of custard, or pouring cream.

A Little Opéra

The Great British Bake Off has been compelling me to bake bake bake! Perhaps not in the direction I was expecting though. After watching last week’s episode, you’d think that I’d have fougasse on the brain, or perhaps a chicken tikka stromboli (british-indian-italian fusion anyone?) but instead I baked this:

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Oh Gâteau L’Opéra, I thought I was done with you last time.

I totally blame Paul and Mary.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went this time. I had planned to break the making down into manageable chunks spread over several days. Thursday – concoting the coffee syrup and the coffee extract. Friday – buttercream and ganache. Saturday – assembling everything and finishing off the glaze.

Then I got impatient, and decided I couldn’t wait any longer. So come Friday evening, I’d used up every single mixing bowl in the kitchen, and there was an absolutely enormous scrumptious coffee-flavoured confection chilling merrily in the fridge. Excellent!

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First time round, I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. On this occasion, I replaced the joconde sponge recipe with the one in Christophe Felder’s PatisserieI also doubled the quantity of coffee syrup by accident, but somehow managed to use all of it up anyway!

Despite the gigantic 30cm x 30cm cake this produces, and the many eggs you consume along the way, Dorie Greenspan recommends you do not halve the cake ingredients, and now I can see her point. When you put so much time and energy into making a complex cake like this one, why not bake a big one, and freeze half of it for another time?

I cut a large rectangle from the cake, and squeezed this into my tiny freezer. The remaining pieces I cut into slices and photographed. The sun kept popping out and retreating, so it was a bit of a challenge shooting this with manual settings as I had to keep changing the shutter speed and aperture settings.

Visually, I’m really pleased with how the cake turned out. The sponges and layers of filling stayed nicely level, and I had just the right quantity of ingredients for every step. More importantly, it tasted just as lovely as I had remembered. Buzzing on a caffeine high now!

Hazelnut Praline Dacquoise

There comes an untameable desire to bake things weird, wonderful and off the wall whenever I have leftover half-used ingredients in the fridge. As you can imagine, some of the results are horrifically bad. Luckily, this minature hazelnut praline dacquoise was not!

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I had half a bowl of leftover hazelnut praline buttercream from Pierre Hermé’s Pietra Macarons. I’d also lately acquired Christophe Felder’s neon pink tome Patisserie. Combining his hazelnut dacquoise recipe with the remaining buttercream seemed only natural.

P1030993As I had a relatively small quantity of buttercream leftover, I divided the dacquoise recipe by three. The method was incredibly similar to the french meringue method of making macarons, but given that macarons are essentially a form of ground nuts suspended within a meringue this is not all that surprising. When I think about it, this dacquoise was actually lot more straightfoward than making macarons – no sifting, no delicate piping, sheet slamming or resting required!

The divided quantity made just enough mixture to cover one baking sheet. After all the cutting and trimming, I was left with a very small rectangle of cake! Mary Berry makes a similar cake where circles of dacquoise are piped instead of a rectangle. I imagine this would result in fewer offcuts, but perhaps a less elegantly structured cake too, unless you are lucky enough to be in possession of a pastry ring!

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It’s not the prettiest of desserts, but cut into small squares, with a dusting of icing sugar, it makes a very elegant petit-four. The dacquoise tastes deliciously nutty, and not too sweet. I’ve spotted the dacquoise formed into bite-size fingers on Tartlette’s blog, which is an inspirational idea to keep in mind for the future. I’m certainly sure I will try my hand at making more recipes from Felder’s book. There’s plenty inside to tantalise, and feed my obsession with French sweets.

Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

The first time I baked this chocolate cake, it was a resounding success. But for such a simple recipe, the next two occasions were complete flops. It had me scratching my head, wondering what went wrong.

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I mulled over it for a while.

The cake fails were an odd texture before baking. On adding the eggs, the mixture would go grainy. On baking, the cakes came out without their characteristic crackly surface, a layer of melted butter completely separated from the chocolate cake ,which in itself was unrisen, and a strange, very loose texture, that looked more akin to a cow pat than a delicious chocolate cake.

I looked a lot of factors. The eggs, the oven, the chocolate and the whole method of incorporating the ingredients. Well, after a lot of faffing about and scratching my head in puzzlement, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Not only does the melted chocolate and butter mixture have to be fairly cool before adding the eggs, everything has to be lightly mixed together with a whisk. Not just with a spatula, or a wooden spoon – specifically, a whisk. It keeps the mixture aerated, makes sure everything stays nicely emulsified, and the whisking stops it curdling once the eggs are added.

The more air you add, the more the cake will dramatically rise and fall, so it’s up to you how much of a cratered appearance you’re going for. It’s never going to be the most photogenic of chocolate cakes, but it’s stunningly delicious. I stuck with 70% cocoa, followed the recipe to a tee, with a perfectly crackly salty surface, with richly chocolatey goodness hiding beneath.

If you want a full shot of the cake, here’s one from the first time I baked it below.

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Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

  • 100g 70% dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp plain flour
  • sprinkling of flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 15cm springform cake tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or a bain-marie. Stir in the sugar and leave to cool down.

When cold, whisk in the eggs, and the plain flour. Pour into the cake tin. Level the surface and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Pop into the oven and bake for 21 minutes until the top is set. Set onto a cooling rack to cool down, and unmould. Cut into small slices with a sharp knife. Yummy warm, and cold!

Pierre Hermé Pietra Macarons

After a short break from macaron-making, you know it was time for them to make a reappearance on my blog again!

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Macarons take time to master, but after a number of attempts, you do get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t. Yet the real game-changer with macarons is how good the filling is. That’s what elevates a macaron to true deliciousness.

I had baked an array of hazelnut macaron shells which were happily awaiting some filling in the freezer. They had been in hibernation a couple of weeks before I fancied pairing them up with some praline buttercream. This is not strictly speaking an exact reincarnation of Pierre Hermé’s Pietra Macarons as I didn’t have enough ground hazelnuts for either the shells or the praline. Everything else pretty much is.

As always with a French patisserie recipe, there was much scope for error.

The issues came, as always, when it came to combining all the ingredients together. The recipe stated to delicately stir the meringue together with the beaten butter. Maybe I hadn’t whipped everything enough, or I mixed the ingredients together too firmly. Either way, the buttercream curdled. It became evident I hadn’t ground the praline finely enough either.

I had a think back to when I made Pierre Hermé’s salted caramel macarons. Again, the buttercream had split. It hadn’t incorporated a meringue, but certainly the buttercream had been fixed by vigorous chilling and whipping. What harm could it do if I tried it here?

I scraped out the buttercream from the macaron shells, dumped it all into the mixing bowl, and chilled it for about 10 minutes. Then I got out the beaters, and whipped the crap out of the buttercream. Yay, it seemed to have done the trick! The texture also changed, becoming less moussy, and more sturdy.

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The buttercream doesn’t look completely cohesive, but it compares favourably to the pictures in the book, which also feature a fairly lumpy bumpy filling.

I think the hazelnut flavour in these macarons is rather delicate. I wonder if this is partly because I used a reduced quantity of hazelnuts. Next time I make these, I’ll try and use the full amount. I’ll also grind the praline to a finer consistency, and perhaps I’ll have better luck with folding the meringue in!

On another note, I’m very pleased with how the photos are coming along with the new camera. I’ve been taking pics quite late in the evening, so there’s been a bit of a rush to catch the daylight before it goes. Bloglovin’ is also confounding me at the moment – none of the blog images are appearing on the Bloglovin’ feed. If anybody has any inkling why this might be, advice would be much appreciated! 

Lemon and Raspberry Cake

Wooohoo, the Great British Bake Off is back! I’m so excited to have this on our screens again, and particularly pleased at how the first episode didn’t go into wild and wonderful, but concentrated on making some really excellent classic recipes again. If it continues this way, I’ll be very happy. It was getting a little too esoteric and the level of achievement somewhat impossible in the last series.

Anyway, the last few weeks have been busy, and I’ve been neglecting the baking. I have on the other hand discovered Richmond Park is utterly gorgeous. Deer everywhere just casually sunning themselves along the road. How can I have lived so close to such a stunning place for so many years and never noticed?

Anyway, the return of GBBO is a fantastic motivator for turning the oven back on. I found a neglected pat of butter in the fridge, a few lemons, some eggs….and hey presto, lemon cake.

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This time I paired it with some juicy raspberries, and a generous slathering of jam to sandwich the two layers together.

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It was sweet, and tangy, a glorious cake perfect for tea time. I took far too many photos, but I’m still trying to get the hang of the manual settings on my camera. I keep over or underexposing.

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I wish I’d had my camera with me in Richmond Park. There’s always next time, eh?

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The pairing of raspberry and lemon worked really well. It was a tad on the dry side – I think I overbaked the sponges in my determination not to under bake them, and by trimming the sponges whilst they were still hot, probably let them dry out even more in the process. It makes me feel a bit better that some of the GBBO contestants overbaked their sponges too.

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Also, on a more bakey themed note, I was wistfully window shopping in Anya Hinmarch a few weeks back and saw the MOST AWESOME BAG ever. It’s a giant golden custard cream!

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The downside is…you don’t want to know how much it costs. You could buy approximately 3,000 packets of custard creams with the amount.

Just Another Chocolate Cake

I haven’t been in much of a mood for baking lately. It’s been too hot, and I had a few baking boo-boos.

So nothing particularly new or exciting to report. I did bake this chocolate fudge number a few more times, and I thought I’d share a pic.

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I baked one rendition for A’s birthday but the ganache actually melted as soon as I finished lighting the candles, and so there was a hurried sing through of “Happy Birthday” and a flurry of “quick blow the candles out before the whole thing collapses!” I made it again for my cousin, and once more for another family birthday. I’m not adding as many candles this time, I’ve learnt my lesson!