Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

It was last weekend. A was sat on the sofa, intermittently groaning, immersed in the rugby. I was sprawled on the floor, pondering brownies. Priorities, priorities.

These brownies are serious bites. Each one comes with a rich seam of golden, salted caramel, and a sprinkling of bitterly dark crunchy cocoa nibs on top.

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I was inspired to bake these after salivating over the brownie selection in Paul A. Young’s chocolate shop. However, they’re pretty expensive, so I thought I’d have a go at the recipe on Poires au Chocolat instead.  Not to mention that they’d use up some of my cocoa nibs. You know when you buy all these exotic baking ingredients and never get round to using them up? Yeah that happened. Anyone got any other good uses for cocoa nibs?

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They taste every bit as good as I expected them too, rich nuggets of dark chocolatey flavour, crammed full of silky buttery caramel, and the sprinkle of cocoa nibs perfectly balancing the rich buttery sweetness from the other ingredients.

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Texture-wise, they’re very different from any other brownie I’ve made before. These are baked for only 20 minutes on a rather low oven temperature of 160˚C. This makes them very soft at room temperature, the interior of each piece sticky and gooey. After a stay in the freezer overnight, they firmed up considerably, with the dense, smooth texture of homemade fudge.

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Although I think that the aim of the cooking instructions is to achieve this textural state, I prefer my brownies to be a little firmer. So I baked a second batch, throwing in a little more flour, at a slightly higher temperature for longer. They’re more robust once cut than the originals, and a tiny bit cakier around the crust. However, they’ve still got that smooth dense fudge-like texture inside, and just as much rich chocolatey flavour that I love.

My brownies are a little on the tall side, as I don’t have a good eye for measurements, and the cake tin I thought was 20cm squared all along is actually a tad smaller at 18cm. It simply makes these bites even more truffle-like, rich and decadent so I’m not complaining too much!

Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat

For the salted caramel:

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 50ml double cream
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

For the brownie:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 275g dark chocolate, chopped finely
  • 4 eggs
  • 90g plain flour
  • small handful of cocoa nibs

Make the caramel. Toss the sugar in a dry saucepan, and gently heat until it melts and turns golden brown. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Then stir in the butter, followed by the salt, until smoothly combined. Scrape the caramel into a bowl and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a 20x20cm tin with baking paper.

Using the same saucepan for the caramel again, gently heat together the butter, sugars and syrup until melted and combined. Take off the heat and add in all the chocolate. stir until melted and uniform.

Lightly whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then gradually incorporate them into the brownie mixture, whisking together to combine. Then add the flour and beat everything together until smooth and glossy. Pour into the prepared tin.

Spoon/drizzle the cooled caramel evenly over the brownie mix and use a skewer/sharp knife to lightly swirl it through. Scatter the cocoa nibs on top.

Bake for 25 minutes, then take out and leave to cool. Once cool, freeze or refridgerate overnight until solid. Cut into squares.

Chocolate Layer Cake

Five signs you are a baking blogger:

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1. You have enough cake stands to fill a museum

2. Your kitchen is full of weird baking implements, like a cake saw. And you bought a blowtorch just in case.

3. There is never a lack of baked goods to eat round the house. Otherwise, you are either having a life crisis, or in the kitchen busily whipping up the next batch.

4. Your weekly shopping includes two of the following: butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour, cocoa powder, or chocolate.

5. You bake your own birthday cake. And before it’s time to eat it, you cut out a slice for photography purposes, then slide it back in, and patch the icing back together again. Shhh

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This chocolate cake is loosely adapted from Geraldene Holt’s Cakes. It’s essentially a chocolate victoria sponge, gently brushed with syrup, filled with whipped double cream, and draped in an excess of glorious chocolate ganache. I didn’t add any cinnamon as per Holt’s recipe, because chocolate-and-cinnamon is not my favourite flavour combo.

This cake actually had a bit of a disaster post-baking. The top half split into three pieces, when I was trying to move the cake around, and I had to stick them back together with a dab of leftover ganache. You can’t tell to look from looking at it though! Phew!

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The “Happy Birthday” candles are from Waitrose. I do like a novelty candle. For my brother’s birthday cake, I used a firework candle, which was the most exciting thing to happen to my parents since perhaps his actual birth. Next time I’m going to hunt down one of those flower-shaped ones that spin around and play music.

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I’ve never put whipped cream in my cakes before, but I’m certainly going to do it again in future. It adds a lovely lightness, a bit of extra moisture, and isn’t too sweet. I am definitely noticing I’m nowhere near as fond of sweet foods as I was as a teenager. This cake has the richness and flavour you want, but there isn’t too much sugar to overwhelm and make you feel sick afterwards.

This cake has a very very delicate crumb (hence why the top layer broke so easily). I think it was also a tiny bit on the dry side. Holt suggests baking it for 30-35 minutes, and I’m sure I baked it for 36. I seem to frequently bake my cakes a little over because I’m so paranoid that they’ll be underbaked and raw in the middle when I test them. So next time I would definitely reduce the baking time by 4 minutes, and hopefully stop overbaking so many of my cakes in the future!

Oh You Fat Rascal!

I ate a fat rascal for the first time when I travelled oooop North. My priority – of course, was checking out Betty’s tearooms, because I am so cool and in with the hipsters, and all that.

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Betty’s, I have to say, is fabulous. It has a well-deserved reputation as the grande dame of tearooms in Yorkshire. The food was generous, glorious, set in surroundings as olde worldly and quaint as you could wish for.

So, I had no idea what fat rascals were before I actually ate one, but it’s like a cross between a rock cake and a scone, stuffed full of pannettone-esque flavours. According to Wikipedia, they used to be made from leftover bits of pastry, that Yorkshire housewives would stuff with currants for a bit of bedazzle. Now, they are most recognisable in the Betty’s incarnation, which has a cute face on the front, fashioned from glacé cherries and almonds.

Of course, I had a hankering for a fat rascal as soon as I got home. You can order them online, but at £8 for a box of four? Eeek, I was going to try making them myself.

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The only problem is that the Bettys’ recipe itself is a closely guarded secret. All you have to go on is the knowledge it is based on a rock cake recipe, and the ingredients themselves, which are listed on the Betty’s website. So armed with these, I decided to do some kitchen experimentation.

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First, I considered the proportions of a traditional rock cake recipe:

  • 8oz flour
  • 3 oz butter
  • 2/3 oz sugar

So I could use 8 oz flour as a starting point. Butter forms 17% of Bettys’ fat rascals. So if I measured up all the ingredients for rock cakes, accounting for dried fruit too, there would be around 4 oz butter in the recipe.

So flour and butter proportions seemed pretty clear. There was less sugar than butter, so I decided the rest of the recipe could run along standard rock cake proportions, and I would see how it turned out.

My first batch of fat rascals were rather craggier than the ones for sale in Bettys’ but they were scrumptious with a wonderfully short crumbly texture, and magnificent flavour. With all the dried fruit, I thought I could include less sugar next time.

Then I started on my second batch with less sugar, and decided to eggwash half, and leave the other half plain. I baked this entire batch at 200˚C. The glazed fat rascals were slightly shiner than the unglazed ones, but they were all equally well-coloured. With the reduced sugar, they tasted even better. However, they did still look pretty craggy, and when I compared them to the Betty’s fat rascals, they were a lot smaller.

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For comparison purposes, here is the actual fat rascal from Bettys, look how enormous it is!

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So for the third batch, I split the dough up into fewer portions, so each fat rascal would be a lot fatter. To compensate for the increased baking time the larger rascals would require, I reduced the oven temperature to 180˚C, and chose not to eggwash them, in case that contributed towards cracking on the surface. They still looked a little cracked, and I realised towards the end of baking I forgot to throw in any zest, but they still tasted good!

Well, until I next trek up to North Yorkshire, there’s plenty of substitutes in the cake tin to keep me busy for a while!

Fat Rascals

Makes 6 small rascals, or 4 large rascals

  • 8 oz/225g self-raising flour
  • 4 oz/110g salted butter
  • 2 oz/50g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • zest from 1 orange
  • 2 oz/50g currants
  • 2 oz/50g mixed peel
  • 1 egg
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 12 glace cherries
  • 18 blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Rub the butter and flour together form fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar, mixed spice, citrus zest, currants and mixed peel.

In a jug, beat together the egg and milk. Pour in 3/4 of the egg-milk into the rubbed in mixture and stir together with a knife to bring together into a slightly wet, soft sticky dough. Don’t overwork or it will toughen the texture.

Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, and divide into four or six portions. Form each one into a ball. Lay them out on a baking tray, well spaced apart.

Glaze each fat rascal with the remaining egg-milk, if desired. Then stud two glace cherries for eyes, and three blanched almonds for a mouth, very closely together, to account for spreading during baking. Pop into the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until fragrant and golden brown.

Ottolenghi Carrot Cake

“Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length, and said in a piercing whisper:“Carrots! Carrots!”

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!….Thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it – slate, not head, clear across”

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

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I do love a good dollop of nostalgia. Passages from childhood favourites make me laugh again, and I once again become enveloped in a tiny world where all that matters is becoming Top Swot of the class, having a dress with the puffiest of puffed sleeves, and beating that Gilbert Blythe.

Whilst Anne Shirley might not have been a big fan of carrots, I most certainly am. Carrots in cake? Even better.

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I must own around ten or eleven different recipes for carrot cake, all so varied and manifestly separate – from the easy children’s cookbook recipe, to the fruity slabs from Geraldene Holt’s book, the trendy Ottolenghi version, the triple layered offering from the Hummingbird Bakery, then Peggy Porschen, and Dan Lepard’s Arabian Nights version to name but a few.

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With so many carrot cake recipes, seriously, how’s a girl going to choose? I fancied something airy rather than dense, yet still full of flavours, chopped nuts, and shreds of finely grated carrot.

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So Ottolenghi it was.  It looked straightforward, airy, and more importantly, everybody online raved about how good it was. Although many Ottolenghi cake recipes in that cookbook have been hit-and-miss for me, I knew that I had to give it a go.

Others online commented how easily it sank in the oven, but thankfully, this one didn’t! I piped on some dots all over the top at first, but it didn’t look quite right, so away with the palette knife, and sweeping swirls was the icing order of the day.

I was tempted to adapt the recipe, but stuck to my guns and followed it exactly as written. I’m extremely pleased at how it turned out – both light, fluffy, and satisfyingly substantial.

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I’m in a really spring-ish frame of mind, now that the snowdrops are everywhere, the daffodils are blooming, and I’m actually seeing a spot of daylight during the morning and evenings! Being my favourite season of the year, I’m going to relish it and make the most of it.

Just for fun, here are some other great spring-themed baking bits and bobs to get you into the mood:

This amazing bee-hive shaped lemon cake, complete with cute marzipan bees

Duck egg-blue, egg shaped measuring cups from Anthropologie

Creme egg brownies, perfect for Easter

Currant-dotted Easter biscuits perhaps using this rabbit-shaped cookie cutter?

Marbled Chocolate and Vanilla Weekend Cake

Given my long working hours, it always amazes me how I manage to slip in so much baking. Often it’s a blessedly quiet weekend here, or a quick evening bake where I’ve prepped all the ingredients before heading out to work (great way for making sure butter softens to room temperature).

Even more so, it’s about swift, easy bakes. Something to cut into doorstep slices and savour with a steamingly hot drink. So after that languishingly long day at work, there’s something that brings a smile to my tired face, and fills in the gaps in my growling tum.

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A weekend cake (or cake weekend en français) fits this bill perfectly. From what I can gather, it seems to be a style of pound cake particular to France, which is so named, because the cake is made and enjoyed over the weekend. Cream replaces half the butter, and the remaining butter is melted and gently stirred in at the end, making a tightly-crumbed cake that is best baked into a loaf shape, and sturdy enough to be transported to picnics or sit magnificently over the kitchen counter, looking decorative.

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Creating two batters for this marble cake does require a little more effort in the kitchen – an extra bowl and spatula to wash up afterwards, and a dab hand with layering. The chocolate batter was much thicker after I had swirled in the chocolate, and I managed to dab it in a layer with the aid of a spoon. Puzzlingly, I noticed on cutting the cake that most of the vanilla sponge seems to have disappeared!

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It’s a pleasantly tasty cake, perhaps a little drier than I would like, but I suspect that’s because it sat in the oven for a lot longer than I expected. The original recipe states 45-50 minutes, but I baked it for 1 hour 15 minutes in total. I’m not sure if it’s an issue with my oven in particular. Next time, I would increase the temperature slightly, and I have altered the recipe below to adjust for this.

Marbled Chocolate and Vanilla Weekend Cake

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

For the cake:

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 120g butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 120ml whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 220g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 10g dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the syrup:

  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp water

Melt the dark chocolate and set to one side to cool slightly. Melt the butter separately.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C and prepare a 2lb/1kg loaf tin.

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar and whipping cream. Whisk in the vanilla paste. Then using a spatular, fold in the flour and baking powder, followed by the cooled melted butter.

Remove about half the batter (around 440g) into another bowl, and fold in the melted chocolate.

In the loaf tin, spoon in one third of the vanilla cake batter, followed by half the chocolate cake batter. Sprinkle over half the chopped chocolate. Then spoon over another third of vanilla cake batter, then the remaining chocolate batter. Sprinkle over the rest of the chopped chocolate, and finally spoon over the last third of the vanilla cake batter.

Pop the cake into the oven and bake for around 50 minutes until risen and a sharp knife comes out clean. Brush the syrup over the cake until all used up and leave to cool.

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